France 2018: "The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men"

Tuesday, July 31

Before we left for France, I asked our prayer partners to pray for God to give me rest on the flight over the Atlantic (which he did), and on the day of the wedding rehearsal. I knew that I would need energy to lead the wedding party through the ceremony in preparation for the wedding itself.

To ensure that I would be refreshed before the rehearsal, I communicated early with Yun, the woman in charge of all travel, lodging, and logistical arrangements. She readily agreed to allow me to check in to our room at the castle as soon as we arrived, so I could take a nap immediately. In talking with the wedding coordinator on the phone before we left home, I also persuaded her to schedule the rehearsal for a half an hour later than originally planned.

In these ways, I hoped to allow enough time to sleep before we would gather in the chapel for the rehearsal.

The day started off beautifully. We woke up refreshed after a good night’s sleep. We found a superb Continental breakfast waiting for us downstairs in our hotel, with everything I could want, including healthy granola, yogurt, fruits of all sorts, croissants, and – as a bonus – delicious crepes. Though the dining room was pleasant, both Dori and I opted to eat out on the patio, which was surrounded by a high wall on two sides, affording privacy and quiet.

As I usually do, I struck up a conversation with the young woman who had laid out the morning meal for us. I found her quite affable and easy to talk with, though I was a bit taken aback by her response to my answer to her question, “How do you like Paris?”

“I love it!” I answered, going into detail about the pleasures of this justly famous city, and ending with, “And the Parisians are most charming.”

“Yes, they are,” she replied, matter-of-factly. I took this as an instance of someone who was secure in herself and her identity as a Parisian, until I discovered that she was from Romania! In Europe these days, you never know the nationality of the person with whom you are speaking!

To make sure that we arrived at the meeting place in time to get the bus to the castle, we left the hotel early. We had read that the Starbucks at the North Station (Gard du Nord) was always crowded, so we wanted to grab a seat so we wouldn’t have to stand around with our luggage while others straggled in.

We needn’t have worried. When we entered the spacious restaurant area, we found several empty tables. To our delight, we spotted the mothers of the bride and groom, who invited us to join them. For the next forty-five minutes, we had a thoroughly enjoyable conversation with them. We had met the bride’s mother, but not the groom’s. Their husbands arrived just before we were to meet the others.

Soon, we joined the whole group going to the castle. In all, we filled two buses. Dori and I were thrilled when we encountered Sabrina, a classmate of Yangyou, the bride, at UVA. She was one of our favorites, too, partly because she always asked the most difficult but pertinent questions in the Mandarin Sunday school class and also because she pursued Christ and his kingdom relentlessly, regardless of the cost.

Predictably we boarded the buses after the appointed time, but I wasn’t worried. My attitude changed when they told us that we would have to wait another forty-five minutes for a girl who had gotten delayed. I began to be anxious. The schedule was already very tight, which is why I had taken the precautions I mentioned above. Now it looked as if we would arrive later than expected.

The last person got aboard and we set off. It was time for my noonday nap, so I put on my eye shades and turned on the “white noise” on my iPhone, snuggled up to the neck pillow I’d brought on the airplane, and tried to get some sleep.

I knew that would be difficult in urban traffic, but thought that the open road would be smoother, which it was. I didn’t count on having Dori and Sabrina, who sat across the aisle from her, chat the entire time. I didn’t want to stop them, of course. We hadn’t talked with Sabrina since he had returned to China last year, and wouldn’t see her again for who knows how long. This time was precious.

It’s just that I wanted to sleep!

After we left the highway, we began to take smaller and yet smaller roads towards the village of Valery, the site of the castle. Now I really began to fret. Clearly, this journey was going to consume far more time than the itinerary had called for, and we would arrive much later than we had planned.

Sure enough, when we finally drove up to the entrance of the castle grounds, my time was running short. The people at the chateau honored my request for a quick registration, and soon we were settling into our very quaint suite in a 13-th century building inside the walls of the citadel, the oldest part of the castle complex.

While Dori arranged our things, I lay down for the briefest of rests, washed, changed clothes, and walked up to the late-medieval church building where the wedding would be held.

All my plans had been in vain! I was just as fatigued as I feared I might be if I didn’t get the all-important siesta.

What could I do now? I had to appear calm, alert, and friendly to these young people, with their elders sitting on the front row. I hadn’t met most of them, and at least half were not believers. I must try to represent Christ as well as I could under the circumstances.

I had only one recourse: To cry out to God for enough strength to fulfill my duty as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.