This year certainly had its ups and downs.
Having worked in college ministry, being back in grad school, and then being on a college ministry schedule again, I tend to view each year in terms of the school schedule (i.e., September-June) rather than the calendar year.
Until now I haven’t really reflected on 2018 as “2018;” I tend to think of last year as starting when we moved to France (September 2017), and this year as beginning this past summer (July 2018), since there was a definitive mark as our second year of life in France began.
As I think about 2018, however, I see SO much change, learning, spiritual growth, development of wisdom, refreshment, and settlement.
A few days into the new year we hopped on a train to Colmar for Whit’s team retreat. I’m so thankful I was included as well as able to join for this trip! Since I had to be in the US for 6 weeks in the fall, and while I was in France spent most of my time holed up in our apartment finishing my thesis, and then when I returned we hosted my parents for all of Christmas break, I felt like I had missed out on a lot of the relationship-building that happened the first few months of the year. Being able to go to the team retreat gave me a chance to bond with the team (who were basically my only friends in Paris!).
Right after the retreat it was back to the US for me. It’s depressing being forced to leave the country your husband lives in, not knowing when you’re going to be able to come back! Right before I left, though, we threw together a game plan for me to get on a student visa, seeing as I hadn’t found a job to sponsor a work visa. The visa would allow me to stay in the country for up to a year, and the plan to take language classes would give me purpose and a schedule, as well as improving my language.
My time in the US was absolutely wonderful! I NEEDED a break after a grueling, dragged-out finish to grad school which segued straight into a whirlwind Christmas break. For two weeks I rested – read, shopped, slept, watched TV shows, and hung out with friends and family. It filled my soul!! I have always craved adventure, travel, and escape from the ordinary, but for the first time, being back in my hometown in the relatively small Richmond, Virginia, was a dream. More than ever before, I appreciated the familiar and routine, and longed to do life with people who are dear to us – regardless of how cool and exciting the location is.
My visa came quickly – God answered my prayers – it was processed in only one week! Its arrival caught me off guard, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my friends, the comfort of home, trees and fresh air, and daylight. Whit understood my need for all of those things to continue refilling my soul, so we pushed my departure date back about a week. This meant that I got to cozy up and enjoy a snowfall from my in-laws’ cabin-esque home.
While the scenery turned white in Virginia, the snow was also falling in Paris! I wasn’t thrilled to end my comfortable time in America, but Whit’s texts of his walk through the city at night made me excited to come home.
It’s not often that snow accumulates in Paris, so the few inches that had fallen the day of my arrival completely disrupted the transportation system. Whit intended to meet me at the airport, but his train never left the station. After a slow and snowy ride into the city, we reunited in the most magical place – a romantic, quiet, white Paris! We threw down my belongings, bundled up, and spent the day walking around the city together. The next day I was able to go back out by myself to explore more. I don’t know if we will get any snow that sticks this year, but I sure hope so! It was seriously snow day dreams!
We sought out an unusual funk band concert for Valentine’s Day; listening to high quality experimental music and being surrounded by other music-appreciators filled our hearts.
Meanwhile, I started full-time language school at Alliance Française. Studying French in Paris was a life-long dream for this francophile who wanted to start learning French when she was four! The hardest part of attending class every day for four hours a day was getting back into a routine where I was required to be somewhere and follow someone else’s schedule every day! Twenty hours a week of French immersion was exhausting, I won’t lie! But I made progress, solidified the basics of grammar I’ve spent literal years on, got to finally practice speaking on all sorts of topics, and was able to ask questions to native French speakers.
The best part of all was getting to be the minority – often I was the only native English-speaker in my classes. I made friends from China, Moldova, Spain, Peru, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and tons of other places! Being around people every day helped pull me out of a funk/depression I had gotten into from finishing my thesis, fruitless job searching, being stuck in a small, dark apartment, and the difficulties that come from moving to a new country.
To celebrate our (dating) anniversary (which is Valentine’s Day), we had a mini marriage retreat to spend time together. We stayed in a nice hotel, explored a small French town in Normandy, and marveled at the cliffs of Étretat.
Another challenge we faced during this time was continuing to discuss and make big life decisions such as where we would live the following month (if we would stay in our cramped apartment or spend energy moving somewhere else) and whether we would stay in France another year. Our marriage was certainly strained as we spent most of our time together talking about what we needed to do while being drained from living abroad and all the others factors that had added up.
Our good friends from college came to visit us at the end of March, which breathed life into our lives here! For one, I was able to do the most life-giving thing, which I had been impeded from doing despite the endless opportunities over the past few months – plan and organize the trip! We felt so loved that they wanted to spend time and money to visit us. Riding the metro and walking the streets of Paris with old friends made it feel like this is our normal life.
Spring started to show up, which for Paris meant that 6.5 out of 7 days of the week were finally not GRAY! We started seeing the sun again and getting outside, and we felt like new people.
While we were still struggling with the decision over whether or not to stay for a second year, and whether to stay in our current apartment (which was basically a bi-monthly decision for most of the winter/spring), we saw a renovated apartment two floors above ours and had a vision of what life could be like if we stayed in Paris! We talked through all the options and decided we would stay in Paris for another year, even if I didn’t wind up landing a job. Our year had not turned out anything like we had planned, but we were learning and growing closer to the Lord and each other through all the obstacles, and we had no real reason to return yet.
At the beginning of May we got a much-needed vacation together where we could spend time together and just REST. Our time in France had been 1000 times more trying than we could have expected. Going to a calm and sunny lake-front village in Italy gave us the chance to re-connect and rejuvenate.
With summer beginning and the school year coming to a close, we started saying goodbye to Whit’s teammates one-by-one. Though I was sad our time with them was over, I was actually relieved that we could initiate more and have more intimate conversations with the people who remained. I had felt like my personality and desires had been depressed the way it had worked out not being able to suggest plans and host people in our home. With fewer teammates, those things became feasible again.
We made the decision to move into the apartment upstairs, which gave us hope to close out the rest of our time in our 240-square foot apartment, and got us excited for the coming year.
With warmer weather and fewer people to make plans with, summer in Paris officially started. We started spending nights on the Seine with a bottle of wine and walking around parks on dates. We didn’t have a whole lot of time in the city just the two of us though…
Mid-way through June we headed to the US for a quick trip to see family and celebrate Whit’s grandpa’s life, who passed away earlier in the year. We were constantly on the go, but each moment with family was so meaningful.
One night while I was looking for ways to make connections to find job leads, I stumbled upon a week-long economics summer school program. I quickly emailed to see if they were still accepting applications for the program which started in just two weeks, and they approved me to join! I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but was hoping I would meet people who could connect me to the international development network in Paris.
Long hours pumping my brain full of economic theory was incredibly draining, but it was refreshing to jump back into my field and make friends with people who think like me. Again I was in the minority as an American; I loved making cool, impressive friends from Budapest, Mexico City, Oslo, and more. In the end I made a ton of connections, but the more I learned about working in my field in Paris, the more impossible it sounded like it would be to get a job.
July was ultra slow and relaxing as well as absurdly chaotic, depending on the day! We had some nice time in the city by ourselves and with the few remaining teammates, who we continued to say goodbye to. Whit traveled to the US for a week for work. We started attending a community group with our church, which opened up new relationships and gave us real-life language practice.
July 14 is the equivalent of Independence Day for France; we participated in all the festivities – from the parade on the Champs Elysees in the morning to watching the EPIC firework show and concert on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower at night.
Though we have barely any interest in sports, some coworkers convinced us to watch a couple of the World Cup games, since France was playing. As the Bleus progressed in the tournament and we saw the usually-reserved French people get riled up cheering for their country, we became more invested. Once France made it to the finals, I even decided on my own to watch the semi-final between England and Croatia to find out which team we would be playing in the final match!
With GREAT SADNESS, Whit had to leave the morning of the final World Cup game to attend a conference in the US. We had loved seeing everyone on our neighborhood streets get psyched for the previous matches, and we were so, so bummed that Whit wouldn’t get to watch the final game here in France! I promised him I would go somewhere and watch it, so even though my plans to meet up with a friend at the Eiffel Tower were foiled (the 90,000 fan zone was capped out a few hours before the game started), I frantically searched for a bar to watch the game in by myself. You know how the story ends – France won the World Cup Finals and for the rest of the day I got to be part of one of the most celebratory events I’m sure I will ever participate in, outside of Heaven! The entire city went mad – everyone flocked to the Champs Elysees, singing, chanting, setting off fireworks, and smiling more than you would think was possible for the French. 😉
Finally, after months of long, hard waiting, we moved into our new apartment! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. I am so grateful and appreciate every single aspect of it because of what we had to get used to in our previous place. Our current 400-square foot apartment feels like king’s quarters to us. It wasn’t until the night before we moved in that I realized how thankful I am that God kept us where we were last year to teach us the lessons of gratefulness so we can really appreciate the gift of being in our new place.
August blended in with July as far as the pace of life going back and forth between zero and sixty. Whit had to travel back to the US AGAIN for work, we settled into our new apartment, and took advantage of the daylight lasting until 11pm. Seriously, April through October in Paris is 100% the opposite of November-March in Paris. It was sunny and cloudless almost every day as opposed to being cloudy and drizzly almost every day.
Moving into our new apartment was such a joy, but was also very time-consuming as we had almost no possessions to move into our unfurnished apartment. Fortunately it’s small so we didn’t need many things, but it took a long time to make sure we had every little thing we needed.
We celebrated my 30th birthday by going to an amusement park outside of Paris called Parc Asterix. The theming, which is based around a classic French comic book series, was incredible, and the rides were really fun. It was HOT and I absolutely loved it!! We cooled off with popsicles and rested our 30-year old bodies more than we’ve previously had to do at theme parks. 😉 (And I was sore for days afterwards! Ha!)
The difficulties that came with August were due to heat and my continued fruitless job search.
While one of my favorite aspects of our new place is the floor-to-ceiling set of windows across one entire side of the apartment, the reaching-to-ceiling trait means that we can’t put up real curtains, and the cheesy blinds we have (look nice, but) don’t block out much of the sun. And because the French don’t use screens, we couldn’t open the windows to let in the air for fear that our cat would jump out the 4th story window (we had a scare the very first day we moved in!). There were several days in a row that the heat index was over 100 and we had little to no way of cooling off (there isn’t very much air conditioning in Paris!!). It was miserable, but I admit a part of me felt connected to Daisy and Gatsby that day they melted in the New York City hotel room.
Secondly, the more I reflected on my time in summer school, I became more convinced that I don’t want to do research and work with data full-time (I was exhausted just jumping in for one week!); however, I learned later that that is the mostly the kind of work you can find in international development in Paris. I was already lacking motivation to continue a job search that had yielded ZILCH, so getting myself to keep writing cover letters and editing CVs was a struggle.
In September we were starting to feel settled in our new home. Welcoming Whit’s new team was a joy – we loved not having jet lag or culture shock, and having energy to get to know them and show them around.
Most of the month we were in a good routine with our new normal. I finally stopped taking French classes in August, which freed me up to work on my job search full-time. I just hadn’t had any energy to devote to it when I was studying full-time. Coupled with having a nice new airy work space in our new apartment, I was able to focus more on applying for jobs. I was also able to start clearing out a lot of my digital files and work on organizing all the emails, photos, and documents that have accumulated over the past three years since grad school took over my life.
We enjoyed hosting our first visitors – my cousin and his wife on their first trip to Europe. It was so fun to hang out with them and such a blessing to be able to host people again.
With the accumulated difficulties of life and grad school, we decided that I would move from job searching to working part-time tutoring American students online. I needed to go back to the US to get a new visa that would allow me to stay for another year.
Before my visa renewal trip, Whit’s parents visited!! They had cruised around Europe on the Rhine river for 2 weeks before catching up with us in Paris, and we were impressed with their energy to keep up with us and explore so many places! We were also impressed with their flexibility on their first cross-cultural trip. They loved seeing so many historic sites and picturesque spots, and they can’t wait to return. We had a blast showing them around our city and being their tour guides. They were gracious to follow us around and were great sports when things didn’t go according to plan. They were truly just happy to spend time with us, which was so kind and made us feel very appreciated!
Shortly after they returned home, I followed them, beginning with my visa appointment and a visit with one of my good friends in DC. If you followed my Instagram stories, you heard about the chaos surrounding my visa appointment. Long story short, prayers were answered and God provided!
This US trip was different than the two previous ones. I felt blasé about American culture – I wasn’t even that interested in shopping at my favorite stores or picking up my favorite food items. It was surprising to feel reverse culture-shock; I found myself missing the way that Whit and I do life in France and felt a bit out of place back in America. Ultimately I accepted feeling that way about things as it made me appreciate all the time I spent with people. I’m usually not a people person by any means, so it felt significant for me to care more about being with people rather than wanting to do things. Though I still did a lot – I celebrated Halloween with my nephew and nieces (on both sides!), caught up with my and Whit’s parents, and gathered with friends.
I also got to catch three nights of Phish at our favorite venue. I missed Whit greatly but had a blast listening to great music!!
I came back to France just in time to see Whit for our 8-year anniversary! Every year I can’t believe we have been married another year – it keeps going by so fast! This year we learned a lot about life, priorities, and responding to the Lord. We experienced tons of new things together and enjoyed each other and helped each other grow, too.
To celebrate our anniversary, we took a trip to London and the English countryside. To be brief, we absolutely loved it all!! We loved the food, the architecture, the culture, and the scenery. There was so much to explore and do and soak up. We can’t wait to go back!!
Thanksgiving came around and while we missed our families, we had plenty of people to celebrate with! We attended a “family” Thanksgiving at Whit’s boss’s house, we went to a lunch at his office, celebrated at church on Sunday, and were invited to two other gatherings with our small group! I was Thanksgiving-ed out by the end, ha.
Right after Thanksgiving Whit headed off on a work trip to the Middle East, but as soon as he got back we picked out a tree and started getting into the Christmas spirit.
Finally, the last month in a crazy long, roller coaster, whirlwind of a year! December was filled with parties, making lots of food, hosting friends, video chatting with family, and enjoying resting at home with each other.
I made dinner on Christmas Eve for four of our friends/teammates. It didn’t feel like it was actually Christmas since Whit didn’t have much time off beforehand and we didn’t see any family this year. We were so glad that we could spend time with friends-turned-family, though! Two of the girls whose boyfriends or families weren’t visiting stayed with us on Christmas Eve and we made breakfast and opened presents on Christmas morning.
A couple of days later the four of us got back together for a quick trip to the French Alps in Annecy. It was gorgeous – a charming French village at the base of the alps.
December brought two other quick visits from loved ones – my cousin Lauren, who I was super tight with growing up, and her boyfriend took us out to dinner, and we had them over for a little while; and we also met up with one of Whit’s and my friend from college and his wife for breakfast. I’ve gotta tell you, it’s fun living somewhere that tons of people visit! We love seeing friends and family without having to be the ones who travel!
Christmas break was over before we knew it and we rang in the New Year with a shindig chez nous, finishing off the night popping champagne on the Seine with the glittering Eiffel Tower in the background.
I wonder what 2019 will bring! This year I’ve learned that God wants to give me more of Himself. Whatever comes in this next year, I know He will be there.
Happy New Year, friends!