These Last Quiet French Days

I remember sitting in the airport crying and crying after having said goodbye to my mom and my younger brother. I’m not a big crier particularly in front of strangers, but let’s just say the floodgates opened as I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake. A year in France!? Was I crazy? How would I ever make it? My first instinct was to run back through the airport, chase after mom’s car, and run home to all that was familiar and comfortable. I realized then I would regret it for the rest of my life if I chickened out now. I dried my tears and prayed for God to give me grace and strength as I boarded the plane, and He did.

What a story has unfolded from day one.

{I mean, you can’t quite beat getting lost the first day trying to find your residence followed by tripping over your suitcase and falling into your room while trying to tell your landlady how much you love the purple walls. My landlady wasn’t entirely sure what to make of me really.}

French life has calmed down considerably in the weeks following the end of the semester. I believe this is one of the first times since I started graduate school five years ago when I’ve had time to just rest. I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as possible now because in the next few weeks, life is going to get crazy busy again, and it’s not going to let up for the foreseeable future.

So, how does one spend days like these among the French?

100_4114Well, let me tell you. You figure out what your favorite type of baguette is and pick up the French habit of keeping a ready bread supply on hand. You sit in the park with your journal and listen to some elderly French ladies argue about what kind of tree it is you’re sitting under (not sure they came to a conclusion on that one). You smile as little French kids run by chasing their siblings and screaming in delight. You pick up as much slang as you can on the tram and feel content and maybe slightly perplexed you can understand some of it even if you’d never repeat a lot of it yourself. You spend a quiet hour with a friend over a cup of tea. You laugh with friends over dinner. You take long walks around town and breathe in the scent of flowers, coffee, and bread and just soak up the sunshine. You answer countless questions about the American Presidential election because suddenly, several want to know who you’re voting for {In case you’re wondering, I don’t know yet}. You find people to speak French with to keep practicing with native speakers, and yes, some days you just stay home and read with the window open to let that Alpine mountain breeze in. You try to take mental pictures of these kinds of scenes because a camera just frankly can’t do justice to what the eye sees.

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No, life among the French has not always been enjoyable or easy. It’s often been, frankly, the opposite, but it has been worth it to come. The adventures are definitely not over yet, but I can see the curtain beginning to fall as this act reaches its conclusion and the next act prepares to begin. I both long for and dread the end and coinciding beginning.

However, I have learned a valuable lesson in these months of being far from home. That is, when you set all fears and doubting aside and trust God to write your story, the result will be far better than anything you could have imagined to pen yourself. That doesn’t mean everything will work out how you think it should or that you won’t suffer pain, loss, and disappointment, but it does mean you’re not alone. It means there’s a purpose and an unquenchable hope in how your story is unfolding. He also tucks in blessings that you might not be expecting along the way. He knows exactly what you need both of joy and sorrow as He molds you and helps you grow to be more like Himself.

I wish I could go back to the crying Stacey sitting in the airport and reassure her that she’d be just fine, that she’d make so many dear friends, that she’d have experiences beyond any she could have imagined, and that God was, is, and shall be with her every step of the way just as He is with each of His children. I think I knew even if my mind was flooded with fear of the unknown. I knew deep down this was going to be a journey of a lifetime even if I hadn’t quite reached Bilboesque excitement to yell “I’m going on adventure!” as I boarded that plane.

Next up on my blogging agenda {which does tend to change, so bear with me}: Paris and singing Sacred Harp with the French.

 

Dreaming of Home

It seems that although I feel like I’ve pretty well adjusted to everyday life in France with all its ups and downs, part of me never has. Any expat I’ve talked to relates. There’s a part of you that always misses home no matter how much you love your life abroad.

For me, it’s most apparent in my dreams. Almost every night, I dream of home. Sometimes I don’t remember the full dream, but I always have a feeling that my subconscious went home again and brought up happy scenes. Last night, I dreamed of my return to the church where I’m a member in Indiana. I saw their happy faces full of joy that I was safe and back to stay. I heard Brother Roger in his melodiously slow Kentucky accent tell me to come over and give him a hug. I heard the Forrests asking me if I could stay for lunch while Sister Suzy wanted to know all about where I’d traveled. But then, just as quickly, their faces faded from my view as I awoke to hear the early morning stirrings of my landlady’s young son.

I was still in France.

What a strange mix of emotions I felt both of joy that it wasn’t yet time to say goodbye to my dear friends here and sadness that it wasn’t time yet to return to those I love back home.

How similar this is to our Christian walk. A part of us always yearns for home, our eternal home. It doesn’t matter where our paths lead in this life, what trials we face, or burdens we bear, we’re continuing onward to that one goal: Home. We don’t fully understand what it will be like, but a love and yearning for something we haven’t fully experienced yet tugs on our souls and reminds us where our allegiance is.

“O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan which we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s streams, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.”
-Isaac Watts

I love how the last part of this hymn I grew up singing just came to mind. If you’d like to hear what it sounds like, I did manage to find the version my mom used to play on her stereo at home:

I’ve said over and over that I would know when it’s time to go back home to the U.S. I know it’s not time yet. I think it will be the same when it’s time to go Home too. This old world is getting increasingly dangerous and decayed, and it makes me wish even more fervently for home in both senses. However, my Captain has me here for now and as long as it’s His will for me to be here, I’ll press on and pray for the strength to be faithful to the end when He does call me Home.

It is sweet though that truly anywhere He sends us is home if only He is there with us. Just as another hymn says “I need not go abroad for joys, I have a feast at home…”

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Redeeming the Time

What a blessed Sunday it’s been. I met a pastor from one of the other regions who just had an expression on his face and in his manner that seemed to exude the love and peace of God. I’m not sure how else to describe it. He brought a sweet and blessed message, and we had a dear time of fellowship with him afterwards. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again in this life, but I suppose, as Timothée, another pastor I met a couple of months ago, said in bidding me goodbye “May God be with you and even if I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in heaven.” I thought of Tim’s farewell as I watched this pastor walk into the train station. He had likewise bid me goodbye saying that he wasn’t sure that we’d cross paths again but hoped that God would be with me tomorrow as I teach as well as during the rest of my stay here in France.

God brings people into our lives for a reason even if it’s as brief as just a few hours on a Sunday. Time is valuable. We’re not always meant to meet people and know them for a lifetime. Sometimes we only know them for a few hours. In either case, we should never miss an opportunity to use what time we have to encourage one another and realize that life is so much more than just what’s going on inside of ourselves. Our prayer should always be to stay faithful to the Lord no matter what happens and that through our lives we may be a blessing to someone else.

I came here to expand my knowledge and understanding of the French language and culture, but my experience so far here has been so much more than that. God has shown me His people here. He has given me a love for them. He has given me glimpses of how their lives though different in culture and language are not so vastly different from my own as I originally thought. How else could I love His people from the moment I meet them to then realize in some cases that only God knows if our paths will ever cross again in this life? It may seem to be a depressing thought, but I don’t really find it depressing so much as just “frappant” as the French say. “Frappant” means “striking” or “gripping.” I just feel like the French word more closely approaches the feeling I’m trying to convey. Essentially, it’s one of those times when you feel a need to stop and ponder.

It’s a strange thought to ponder indeed especially as I’ve started working on arrangements to go home in July. Part of me is tempted to see if I could stay another year since I can technically renew my contract with the university here, but the practical side of my brain usually reminds me that I have duties and commitments back home. Maybe some might say to go for it and stay another year, but I could never take such a decision lightly.

I’m in such a strange quandary of feeling so homesick for the U.S. while at the same time nearly crying at the thought of leaving France. It’s not unusual, I know. It’s all part of it. One moment you’re nearly counting down the days until you leave and within a couple of months you want to hang on to each day begging time to not pass too quickly. We’ve been exhorted to redeem the time. It is my prayer that I effectively do so with what time I have left here. God gave me the grace to come and to get through what seemed like a mountain of complications. He’ll give me the grace to go when it’s time to leave too. He’ll continue to take care of my friends who have become like family here in France just as He cares for my dear ones back in the U.S.

Do forgive me for getting so incredibly behind on the blog. I’m back from vacation and am working on a post which gives a glimpse of the traveling my brother and I did. Until then though, may the Lord be with you even if our paths never cross (again) in this life.

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Home

Just think of all of the feelings and emotions associated with that word.

When things go wrong and we’re terribly lonesome, what do we long for most? Home. While we know it’s not perfect, it’s the place where loved ones are and where one feels at peace. It’s like in the game of tag when you run to home base to be safe and catch your breath before continuing the game. At least, that’s how we played it.

The location and the building are neither of consequence. For, that is not a home that is a house and a place.

"Mother and Daughter" By William Sergeant Kendall

“Mother and Daughter”
By William Sergeant Kendall

No, home is a feeling, it is where dear people are, where love is, where laughter is, where the solace is when sorrow and trials come. At home there is always someone who will hold you when life has gotten tough. There is always someone there who will cheer for you when you’ve triumphed after hard work. There is someone to give you the nudge and encouragement you need when you feel discouraged and down. Home is around the table with smiles and happy aromas. Home is warmth and solitude on a cold winter evening. Home is safety and togetherness. Home is unity. Very often home is with family, but it doesn’t have to be. One can feel at home thousands of miles away from home.

Home is sweet and home is dear. Home gives us a glimpse of an even better Home above. This is why it’s okay to long for home both here on earth and in heaven. It’s okay to long for home maybe even cry a little and yet, feel like you are where you’re supposed to be. It means that you have been blessed and are still being blessed. God made home for a reason. He made it as a refuge, and He smiles upon it.

"Going Home"  By Joe Cartwright

“Going Home”
By Joe Cartwright