Monday, September 28, 2015

the first 48 hours

Well, it’s finally my first new post on French soil. It’s been just under 48 hours since I arrived in Paris, and it’s been quite a whirlwind. I’m currently sitting in La Défense, in clear view of the Grande Arche, at 1 of 3 Chipotle’s in all of Paris. I know, right? Could I be more American? Give me a break. I wanted a little taste of home as I wrote about my first 2 days à Paris. And for the record, the Chipotle here tastes slightly different, but for the most part it’s exactly the same. Except for the fact the only bottled water they have is sparkling. Guess I’m going to have to get used to that. But this is good news for me. I will likely be a frequent visitor.

And I kid you not, some little girl is at this very moment standing right in front of me, staring at me through the glass, and tapping at a cup. When she can’t catch my eye, she moves on to the Chinese ladies sitting on the other side of the building. Disaster averted. And now there are 3 military guys holding very large weapons casually meandering by like they don’t have a care in the world. Where the heck am I?

Thoughts on La Défense so far. It’s basically the New York City-esque area of Paris. Tall skyscrapers and lots of businessmen and women, but the buildings are far more interesting to look at than your average urban downtown area. My current location seems to be the city center. It’s a large rectangular open space so you can clearly see the Grande Arche on one side, then you turn 180 degrees and you can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. 

Side bar: when I first got to Chipotle, I was the only one in here. And I’m thinking “of course, they know I’m American now.” But since I’ve been sitting here, it has gotten pretty busy. To the point where a police car drives across the square…which is not at all a road, but rather a pedestrian area with large pavers everywhere…parks in front of Chipotle and 3 cops walk in. Perhaps I’m don’t stick out as much as I thought I did…

I left Chipotle and started walking toward the direction of the Arc de Triomphe. I found the Areva headquarters, which is also based in Lynchburg, VA, and I found a sweet little carousel, which looks oddly out of place in such an urban part of the city. The architecture here though is incredible in its own modern way.

Allow me to back up to 47 hours ago, when I had finally landed in Paris, hauled my extremely heavy luggage onto a luggage cart, and walked out of the Charles De Gaulle airport to meet my host family. They were immediately welcoming, although Gaspard was a bit shy at first. But oh my word, is that kid adorable. When we got to their house, it was a surreal moment to walk in the door since I had seen it so many times on Google maps. Now I was here. It was a weird moment, almost like I wasn’t a stranger. I unpacked, had lunch with the family, and then passed out for several hours. During my nap, Gaspard brought 2 of his friends at various times so I could meet them. It was at this point, I gave him my presents I brought for him. A Steelers football and jersey. The kid likes sports, so if I’m going to introduce him to American customs, it will include American football and the best team in the NFL. Just sayin.

The rest of Saturday was a blur. I didn’t get to go to church on Sunday, mostly because the family hadn’t had time to take me to get Metro passes. I also don’t think I’d have been awake since I was still jet lagged. But Sunday was much more interesting. First, I helped my host mom cook lunch. She had friends coming over, and was making duck, which I have never had. But I actually enjoyed it. After 3 meals with the family, I’ve noticed that they eat a LOT of food. Tiny portions my butt. They keep piling food on their plates, and asking me if I want more. Then after they eat, they go to the fridge and grab a few snacks, mostly yogurt as a dessert (interesting). Carmel, my host mom, actually told me that the other au pairs they’ve had have gained weight. Hah….duly noted. We’ll make sure that does not happen to me.  

After lunch, Gaspard and the older son Hugo walked me to the RER/Metro station and bought me day passes until they can get me a new monthly pass at the start of October. Then they showed me how to use the RER, wished me the best of luck, and told me to call if I needed help (the family gave me a phone to use). Not surprisingly, it didn’t take me very long to get a hang of the RER. I’m so used to the DC Metro, and it works the same way. So I climbed aboard, sat down, heart pounding a bit and hoping I don’t look like too much of a noob, and then I was off. It was only 3 stops to the Arc de Triomphe, which is at the end of the Champs-Élysées. Paris was having a no-driving day down the Champs, so you were able to walk down the middle without it being super crowded on the sidewalks. I walked all the way down to the Place de la Concorde, hung a right and eventually crossed the Seine on the Pont Alexandre III bridge. I kept walking along the south bank (aka the Left Bank), and eventually came to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t even attempt to go near it because I could see how crowded it was. Normal for weekends. But I did walk around it a bit, then walked toward the bridge directly across from the tower.

It was at this point that some random French guy turned around and saw me, then became particularly interested in the fact I was an American and was staying for a year. Although he was friendly, I wasn’t really having it. When he asked if I was working here, and I said yes, and the conversation got to the “are you here with your husband?” point (I know you don’t see a ring on my finger dude) and the “so what part outside of the city do you live?” “I can’t remember.” (of course I remember, how do you expect me to find my way home?), finally we reach the bridge across from the tower. “I’m going that way for a walk along the Seine if you want to join.” he says. “I’m going this way.” “Ok, nice to meet you.” “You too, have a nice day.” 26 hours in at that point and already hit on.

Anyway, I crossed the bridge, and at this point I pull out my map for the first time to make sure I find the right street that will take me back to the Champs. I’ve walked about 4 miles at this point, and didn’t need a map. I pride myself on my sense of direction, and I poured over maps of Paris before I came to get well acquainted with the lay of the land. Finally, I reach the Champs, and since I have no where I need to be, I decide to go stand in line at Ladurée Paris, makers of the best French macarons money can buy. I was only in line about 20 minutes, and although they were a little pricey, they were completely worth the experience. And oh man were they delicious. After I got my 6 macarons in a souvenir box (€18 later), I made my way back to the RER and headed home.

Gaspard came to my room last night to hang out a bit, and was fascinated by my clothes and hats and shoes. He brought in a sign his parents had made him of common English phrases so he could communicate with me a little when I arrived. He’s super cute. Which brings me to today. I helped make sure Gaspard was ready for school, and Carmel walked with me the first time to make sure I knew where to go. I am free until 6, when Hugo, the older son who’s 20, will go with me to pick him up. I guess I have to take my passport the first time so they know who I am before they will let me take Gaspard on my own. Apparently he stays until 6 PM every night for activities and to work on homework with other kids.

I’m not going to lie. The minute I left the school after dropping off Gaspard, I started singing “Little Town” from Beauty and the Beast as I made the trek back home. It’s about a 10 minute walk, but it’s in a cute little town on the outskirts of Paris. Very quiet and safe, and the houses are so French. I know it’s only been 2 days, but I feel like I’ve been here a week. I feel like I can get from place to place without help, and I feel pretty safe during the day being out in the city alone.

The family is super friendly and hanging out with them over meals is really fun. Yesterday, they had some friends over, one of which has been studying English for 2 years and wants someone to be able to talk with to practice. Umm yes, you can talk to me, and while you’re at it, help translate to the family for me. She was really fun though. Overall, people in France are pretty much the same as people in America, except I can’t understand what they are saying. Hopefully, I’ll learn soon enough. There was a bit of an issue with my language school, but I’m hoping Carmel can work it out today.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for now. À bientôt

Sunday, September 20, 2015

september 18th

Yesterday was a day I will never forget. In just 24 hours, I felt so much love, support, and encouragement from everyone I encountered. It has been a month since my last update, and there has been a reason for that. I had to visit the French Embassy in D.C. on September 4th to apply for my visa, and since then there has been nothing for me to do but wait. Wait and wonder when I would actually be leaving, and feeling like that day was just so far off and would not come. I hated having to answer the same question I'd get multiple times a day "So when are you actually leaving?" To which I'd sigh and respond "I don't know. Still waiting for my visa." 

I didn't know how fast my visa would be approved. It could be very quick, or it could take the full 10-15 business days they told me at the consulate. The day after Labor Day (also my birthday), I put in my notice at work. It didn't feel real, and it was like taking a huge gamble since I didn't know when I'd be able to actually leave Lynchburg. I felt like listing my last day as September 18th was the right move, so I did it. 

Every day has felt like I'm extending out my leg, taking a step, and not knowing if there is going to be ground to support the weight of my foot. I still don't have renters for my house, and yesterday morning, there were still so many more unknowns. It was frustrating, and it tried my patience and my relationship with the Lord in so many ways. Why, you ask? It was just a matter of waiting, right? Have you ever been in a period of extended waiting, not knowing if or when the answers to your prayers will be given? It may seem silly that this was such a test of faith for me (and still is, with no renters yet), but there is so much more going on than meets the eye. I have wanted to leave Lynchburg for quite some time. I love it here, I made my home here, but I've known it's time to move on for a while. I applied for a lot of jobs in another city, but none of them worked out. Then this wonderful opportunity came along, and it has been a quick process, but still has felt like ages to me since my initial application. All I've wanted to do is pick up and go, and I couldn't. All I wanted to do was to do something new, something that was a breath of fresh air, and I had to wait for an indefinite amount of time. So in the meantime, I've spent my downtime browsing Pinterest for things to do in Paris, and making so many notes of places to go and things to see. Waiting is never easy, and there are still things I'm waiting on, and just having to trust in God's provision and timing.

And that is why yesterday was a day I will always remember. When I initially applied for the au pair position, my two biggest concerns were finding renters for my house, and wondering If I would be finished my Invisalign treatment. I began treatment in April of 2014, with no exact time frame as to when it would be complete. I knew it would be around this fall, but I didn't know how close I was or what I would do if I wasn't finished and I had to leave. Around mid-August, I went in for one of my appointments, and my Dr. told me I'd be finished by the first week of September, but that they would have to prepare my retainers at that point. So the first week of September, after going to my next appointment, they scheduled my last one to pick up my retainers for (you guessed it) September 18th. I had to marvel at God's timing on that one. Somehow I end up making my last day at LUO on the same day I would be done my treatment, after starting this almost a year and a half ago. The fact that I was so so worried about what to do back in July when it came to finishing it up, and all the while I didn't have to because the Lord had perfectly scheduled it to be complete when I needed it to be over. That amazed me.

Then there was this week. Earlier this week, through other circumstances the Lord brought to my attention, I've just been so in awe of God's incredible providence and His ability to use seemingly insignificant moments in our lives sometimes years later to accomplish His perfect plan for us. I'm just amazed by the things I've realized this week. It hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows though. I don't want you to get this picture that I have been on some spiritual high this week and I've just been some perfect little Christian woman whose unwavering faith never doubts God. I can assure you, that has not been me. I've questioned God, been angry, frustrated, and through those moments, yes, I have also experienced God's overwhelming grace and love through these revelations of His divine providence. I wanted to know when I was leaving. I wanted to be able to plan and do things my way. But I'm going to be completely honest. Earlier this week, I just had a feeling that God was going to wait until yesterday, September 18th, for my visa to come. Why did I feel like this? Because I thought...if God really wanted to show off His sovereignty and timing in ways that would just overwhelm me and blow my mind, He would wait until my last day at LUO and the same date I was finished with my Invisalign. I think you can already tell where this is headed...

Yesterday at work, I received so much love and encouragement from the coworkers I've been with over the past 6 years. I was given hugs, handshakes, told how much I would be missed, and I had to say goodbye to my closest friends and colleagues that I am going to miss so very much. It was an emotional and very surreal day. On my drive home, it hit me that I no longer have any ties to Liberty University other than being an alumna. That gripped at my heart pretty bad. As I made my way home, I had thoughts about the yard sale I had the next day, with dozens of to-dos to get done before then. I wondered when I would have to call around town for a storage unit, and when I would have to ask for people to come help me move. I wondered when my visa would arrive, when I would get to go home to spend time with my family, how I would get everything finished. I wondered if I would be going to Paris, finally going, next weekend or the weekend after. Every day this week, I thought I would open my mailbox and there would be my visa, and I could finally book my flight, but it was never there. Until yesterday. I pulled in my driveway, slowly walked to the mailbox, my heart pounding, and I'm just hoping without getting my hopes up that it would be there. I took a breath, opened it, and not only is my visa there, but the final document I needed, my apostille for my birth certificate, was sitting in there too. God certainly has a knack for showing off.

Then the tears came. I quickly got back in my car, pulled the rest of the way down my driveway, and sat there uncontrollably sobbing and laughing at the same time. I kept checking to make sure none of my neighbors could see me because at this point I probably look like a crazy person just sitting in her car, ugly crying, while the worship music I had been playing continued to blare from my car. After getting a hold of myself, I ran inside, opened the visa envelope, and there it was, neatly stamped in my passport and ready for use. I opened the second envelope, and there was my official apostille from the Maryland Secretary of State. The shock and happy tears lasted for probably a good 30 minutes. I emailed GeoVisions and my host family letting them know. My host family emailed me back this morning, and there was only one thing left to do.

Tonight, I booked my flight. This Friday, September 25th, I'll fly out of Dulles Airport, hop onto an Icelandair flight for a layover in Reykjavik, and Saturday I will finally arrive in Paris and meet my host family. One week from today, I will be in Paris. It still doesn't feel real, and I have dozens of things to get done before then. I have to pack up my house in the next 2 days so I can go home and spend a few days with my family before having to say goodbye to them for a year. I am so ready, and yet so not ready at the same time. I am so excited to start my adventure, and yet so sad to be leaving my home of the past 11 years. The transition will be a difficult one, I'm sure. But this whole ordeal has been so clearly orchestrated by the Lord, I know I can handle it. I just need to take one step at a time. 

If I ever cross your mind during your day, say a prayer for me. My emotions are all over the place, my stress level is through the roof, and I'm sitting here blogging among a myriad of boxes, some packed and ready to go and others half full. It'll all get done. I have to keep telling myself that. I still don't have renters for my house, so also pray for that to happen quickly. If this week has taught me anything, it's that the Lord is sovereign and ultimately in control. We are commanded not to worry, and you'd think that would have sunk in by now, but I'm only human. I want to see the plan, but sometimes you just have to sit back and trust that there is one and it's not for us to see or know until God wants us to. 

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive and interested in my journey. I can't wait to actually be over there and start blogging about my adventures. 

Paris, a bientôt!