Surviving and Thriving: Our First Year in France

 

Well, we did it! As of today, December 28, we have lived in France for an entire year. The emotions, experiences, and life lessons of 2017 are difficult to summarize and convey. In many ways we are the same, in some ways we are different, but for many things we have simply discovered ourselves individually and as a family. The overall, most important conclusion from this year is simple: We love France, the French, and our calling to serve here.

When our plane landed 365 days ago, we were understandably exhausted and overwhelmed by this large, iconic, crowded metropolitan region in and around Paris. Even so, we were determined to conquer the city on our third day here. December 31 is Elizabeth’s birthday, and she had only one request…to see the Eiffel Tower. So three days after landing we set out into the unknown, not yet having smartphones, any experience in the city, or a guide. Somehow, we survived that day, having seen the Eiffel Tower, and we slept VERY well that night.

As we look back now it seems so strange. This is a city that we love to walk and now maneuver with relatively little help from maps or phones, and we truly love living here. It’s our home. When we go to museums here and see the paintings, I am always fascinated by how the paint is not just a flat layer of combined colors (like our painting in elementary school). It is layered on in thick waves which rise from the canvas and capture our imaginations with color, light, and shadow. Imagine if you could miniaturize yourself and jump onto the canvas, climb up and slide down these colored textures, and take in every nuance. Imagine the discoveries you could make between the brushstrokes of genius. This is what it feels like to spend a day walking around Paris. This city is a work of art, full of life and character.

This does not mean that it is all good, because there is darkness in the art. This past year has taken the spiritual statistics residing in our heads upon arrival and has given them faces and names and stories which burn into our hearts. One cannot overstate how dismissive this culture is of what Christ freely offers them. I know that the statistic tells me there is only one church for every 30,000 people, but it feels even more daunting when you are in the midst of it. They need Jesus so desperately. The beauty, the art, the culture, the baguettes…none of that can give them hope, life, or salvation.

So, yes, there is darkness, but God is faithful, and he has blessed us immeasurably this year. Upon arrival, Maddie would yell and scream at extreme levels when we left her in the language school nursery. Now she misses all of her friends there. Hannah used to have nightmares about staying for lunch at school every Friday (the only day we asked her to do it). Now she complains that she can’t stay every day. In the spring Elizabeth struggled with her French and her teacher actually told us in June, after being here six months, that she had not learned anything (not true, by the way). She just got her grades for this fall, and she got the same high grade in French as she did in English.

God has opened up so many doors for us to be connected and serve here in and around Paris. This past Thanksgiving we actually struggled in a sense, because we felt like we needed to host 3 or 4 meals for all the connections we had made here, but that just wasn’t possible.

There are so many wonderful, meaningful memories. On the first day our good friends brought us groceries. Jessica had an amazing weekend at a ladies retreat. We spent four days with Christian friends in the south of France, which was a life-giving getaway. Grandparents visited, encouraged us, and got some amazing views from the Eiffel Tower. We witnessed the birth of a new church in September, where we still worship and serve. God is good!

All of this looking back has a singular effect on Jessica and I. When we consider the events of year one, we are incredibly excited for year two! Thank you for riding this rollercoaster with us and encouraging us every step of the way.

May God bless your next year as well!