The Obvious Decision

One of the most tangible times I have experienced God’s presence was during my second year of college. After another failure in learning French, followed by a series of stressful cultural situations, I sat down on the corner of the sidewalk. There, under the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, I curled up and wondered Was this the right decision?

When I first heard of a this college in Paris, I knew I had to apply. When acceptance and financial aide fell into place and when a trip during dreary February confirmed that I could imagine living in the city of lights for four years, the choice to move abroad seemed like a no-brainer.

Until it wasn’t. Until learning French didn’t come as easily as I’d hoped. Until the eight-hour time difference to call home to ask for advice seemed like an eternity. Until living all alone in a cute little studio at 19 made the idea of dorm rooms filled with instant community seem alluring.

So, there on the street, I felt lost and confused and questioning my easy decision. And then I felt something, a presence surround me. It was like I was enveloped in safety – I could physically feel something or someone hug me, right there on the dirty sidewalk. And, even though I still had a French failure to figure out and cultural mishaps awaited, I knew that I had made the right decision. That this was where I was meant to be, and that God would use these experiences. Maybe not for something grand, but for something.

I still don’t really know why I went to Paris – or stayed. Yes, it has shaped me and my worldview but looking at my life now, I could have easily gone to a college down the street from my parents. But, I didn’t. And I’m thankful for the resilience I learned, for the friends I made, and for the worldview I couldn’t learn from books. I hope to pass along that spirit of adventure and trust to my daughters. And, I’m thankful for that day when God reminded me that our decisions aren’t always easy but they are life-changing.

Do you have a choice that seemed obvious at the time but changed you unexpectedly?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt was “decide.”

Paris, je t’aime

It’s been over ten years since I’ve been to Paris. Travels, life, other adventures have always put returning on the back burner. Yet, it holds a very dear place in my heart. The four years I spent there were transforming. Like so many other people who experienced Paris in their early twenties, my experiences there made me who I am today.

DSCF0741In many senses, my college experience was typical: Testing out the world I grew up in against the world of different points of view; Finding friends who challenged me; Creating my own community apart from my parents. But set against the backdrop of the City of Lights gave all those typical experiences a certain magic. I solved the world’s problems at the same cafes students have been solving the world’s problems for generations. I learned the history of architecture at the actual pivotal churches. I read Les Miserables while walking those same streets Hugo references.

I didn’t realize those four years would so permeate my life a decade later. Even Bea, as we’re driving, looks for structures “similar to the Eiffel Tower.” (Anything tall made of steel counts.) She learned Bonjour! at a young age and loves her books about artists and life in Paris. She talks about going there with us someday.

And like so many others, when I heard about the tragedy, my heart broke for Paris. Not because other tragedies aren’t important or other lives don’t matter, but because it seemed to hit home just a little bit more. I knew the neighborhood and had friends checking in, confirming they were safe. I have a personal connection with this city.

Less than 24 hours after the news of attacks broke, people are already questioning the authenticity of grief. Are we grieving because Paris is a beautiful city? Are we grieving because Parisians look like us? (Do they?) Why aren’t we grieving for other bombings and tragedies like this one?

Am I praying for peace the world over? Of course. Do the events in Beirut, in Baghdad, in so many other places I don’t even know sadden me and cause me to pray for peace? Of course. The refugee crises, the immigration crises, slavery, trafficking, so many crimes and deaths closer to home sadden me. Do I wait in anticipation of a day when our world is at peace? I do.

But right now, in this moment, the city in which I became an adult, the city that gave me my voice and my confidence is in the news. Praying for Paris doesn’t mean I’m not praying for the world. It doesn’t mean I am less saddened by other tragedies that occur daily. It does mean that I have an emotional connection to this city and it just made the tragedy of our world feel a bit closer. And so I pray for Paris, for the families who are grieving, for the leaders who struggle to respond, and for all those who weep alongside this suffering.

Strength in Community

I’ve never had a dorm experience. When I decided to attend the American University of Paris, I also decided to forgo a typical college experience. From living with a family to cramming three of us into a one-bedroom to a small studio alone to finally finding a quintessentially Parisian one-bedroom shared with a best friend, I learned quickly the art of opening my home to my community.

Some of my favorite memories were hosting brunches and dinner parties and cocktail hours with other expat students and twenty-somethings. We would squeeze into small living rooms, eat off of borrowed plates, and share life together. No one cared how big or small or mismatched everything was. (Though we did love congregating at one friend’s massive two-bedroom flat in the heart of St. Michel.) We had all chosen, for various reasons, to come alone to a big, bustling city and we needed to create our own families and tight-knit community.

Easter in San Sebastien
Easter in San Sebastien

Looking back, over ten years later, I find myself thinking romantically of those days of picnics by the Seine, spontaneous day trips to Normandy, and weekends in San Sebastien. In reality, there were disagreements and misunderstandings and cliques and hurt feelings. Not many, but it was no idyllic community. For most of us, our commonality was being away from home. And yet, we chose to continue, to be vulnerable, to question and grapple and grow together.

When I moved back to Colorado, I was surprised at how quickly and easily it was to fall back into old habits. My first few years in Denver, I went from church to church, looking for that instant community. I slowly made friends, but those deep, shared experiences were hard to come by. As stressful as living abroad was, I longed for the instantaneous connection of needing a community.

I finally found a church and settled in. I made friends and joined book clubs that are still meeting. But, it was still easy (especially when the particular pastor I didn’t connect with was preaching) to find church in the mountains or with friends, rather than in the actual building. When Frank and I were first married, we tried to combine churches and communities and finally had to just choose one.

Now, five years later, we are still at the same church. We have, through bumps and questions, chosen to stay, to choose community. And, seven years later, I still meet weekly with the same book club. Through marriages and babies and misunderstandings and questions, our group has grown deeper because we have chosen community. I guess, that’s what I’ve learned: Community is a choice. Abroad, it was a choice that had to be made quickly, so seemed easier. Now, it’s a choice I make continuously but one that has given me deep and lifelong friendships.

When I think about the words in Nehemiah 8:10, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” I think of the choices we make to prepare food for each other, to choose joy over grief, and to allow those experiences to change and deepen us.

What is your community like? How do you make choices to create lasting relationships?

Linked with (in)courage’s Joy of the Lord is our Strength.