This is a post about God’s faithfulness. It’s also a post about how stressful living in a foreign country can be, but mostly it’s about how God really shows you when He wants you somewhere.
Most of you reading this probably do not know all about how I came to live in France. Long story short: my husband is French, and when we got engaged we kind of procrastinated on the fiancé visa, therefore we had to come up with other alternatives on how to legally get married. Moving to France a month after our wedding was actually the most practical and flexible way to go, since Matt could work and we would both be able to travel internationally. Fast-forward a year later to this past May: Matt has been approved for his green card and we are finishing up paperwork for that, he has a job he loves, I am much more adapted to living in France and, although I am by no means bilingual, I can now speak and understand a decent amount of French, and we enjoy spending time with our family and friends here. However, in June my visa was due to expire and I discovered two weeks in advance that I should have gone to renew it/apply for my carte de séjour three months before the expiration date! (Aside: a carte de séjour is the equivalent to an American green card) This was because I foolishly expected OFFI, the immigration organization I had been contacted by when I first moved here, to contact me again about it. But no, I now needed to get myself to the Prefecture ASAP, and for you Americans who are unfamiliar with the Prefecture, it is the DMV on steroids (you go there for identification cards and driver’s licenses, because they are not the same here, car-paperwork, green cards, work permits, basically anything related to immigration, and I even think associations have to register at the Prefecture as well). Imagine that your local DMV looks like The New York Stock Exchange on the inside, with people everywhere, numbers being announced on screens and intercoms, babies crying, you get the idea… (I kid, I kid…that’s just a little Dark Knight Rises humor for ya).
Anyway, after I realized the gravity of my situation, I panicked. I have never been one to react calmly in dire situations: I either avoid dealing with it, or I panic. However, over the past 5 or so years God has really been helping me to trust Him instead of panicking, and so, after my initial 10-second breakdown, I immediately had the urge to pray. And for the next three days I prayed HARD. I found all this out on a Monday, and we couldn’t go to the Prefecture until Thursday, so I had three days to either worry myself into developing an ulcer, or to fervently pray, fast, and seek God. And let me just say, for anyone with doubts: never underestimate the power of prayer. The Bible says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 4:6-7
By the end of that Monday, I had already begun to feel this supernatural peace over myself and my visa situation. I had confidence in that fact that, no matter what happened, whether I was able to renew my visa or not, that God’s will would be done, and that’s what I prayed for. I could have simply prayed out, “God, PLEASE allow me to get my carte de séjour!” but I wanted more than that. I prayed, “God, if it is YOUR WILL (remember Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane? “Not as I will, but as You will.”), please allow me to get my carte de séjour…” And from that moment on I knew God was there no matter what the outcome.
Before I get back to what happened at the Prefecture on that Black Thursday (Ok, ok, that’s my last Stock Exchange joke), I have to say something about fasting, because I didn’t just pray unceasingly that week, I also fasted. Last semester during one of our Remix meetings (Remix is the student ministry we are involved with here in Grenoble), we discussed fasting. I came to understand that it is not depriving ourselves of things to please God, but it’s an act of expressing to God that we want Him more than anything else. And I just love that image, and so I fasted that week to express to God that, above all else, I wanted His will to be done, even if that meant I would have to go back to the U.S.
And I should tell you the list of things I prayed for before I went (and even during my visit) to the Prefecture:
- That I would be able to receive my carte de sejour
- That I would have all of the documents I needed
- That I would at least be seen by someone (I read that in Paris, you can wait all day and not even be seen before closing time)
- That the employees would be friendly, helpful, and compassionate (people with prior experience at the Prefecture or even the DMV, feel free to laugh)
- That I would not have to pay any extra fees for being late
- That Matt would be able to return to work in the afternoon (he only took half a day off, and he still had things to get done for a meeting the following day)
- That my sister-in-law would be able to find someone to watch my niece for me while I was still waiting (I babysit her two afternoons a week, while her parents are at work)
- That we would not get a parking ticket (because our meter expired ~20 minutes before we left)
So we arrived at the Prefecture at 9:15am, just fifteen minutes after opening time, and we were already #44 in line. I brought a book to keep me entertained during the wait, but all I could really do was look around and continue to pray for everything to go smoothly. Finally, after 5 long hours, we were seen, and let me spoil everything for you readers by saying that EVERYTHING ON MY PRAYER LIST WAS ANSWERED. EVERYTHING.
The agent who met with us was very friendly (what!?), and even compassionate because–and here’s the most amazing part of the story–although we were missing a couple of proofs of residency, she let us mail them to her after our visit. When does something like that ever happen? When can you go to the DMV, not having adequate proof of residency, and STILL get your driver’s license? I did not have to pay any extra fees, I was not declared to be a “situation irrégulière” (which could cause problems if/when I want to become a dual citizen)…I was given my récépissé (basically a temporary card that lasts for 3 months) and told I might have to come back and get it renewed if my actual carte de sejour does not arrive in time.
And on top of all that amazing news, my sister-in-law was able to find someone to cover babysitting for me (because if not, I guess she would have had to miss work or we would have had to leave the Prefecture early?), Matt did get to work later than he wished, but it turns out he didn’t have much to do after all, AND, although our parking meter had expired nearly half an hour before we left the Prefecture, there was no ticket (although there was an ad for a florist stuck in the wipers that nearly gave me a heart attack).
This all happened at the end of May, and yesterday I went back to renew my récépissé and it turns out that my actual card was ready and I only had to wait 45 minutes to pick it up and pay the 106€ fee (which is still cheaper than the American green card fees we’re paying for Matt)!
Finally! I no longer have to carry my passport around! AND, it’s much smaller than a regular French ID card as well! Much more practical.
And what did I learn from all of this? That God is faithful. That He provides. That if He wants you to be somewhere (like France), He will make it happen (by bestowing upon you more than enough grace). That there is NO prayer request too little, too insignificant, too impossible that He will not hear. That prayer and fasting are powerful, and they deepen our relationship with God. That the French system is not as scary and unforgiving as the internet will have you believe. And lastly, I finally realized that God wants us here in France, and although we were planning on being back in the States by Christmastime, I think we’ll be holding off on that for a little while :)
So there you have it. I know this was long, but I hope it was entertaining and inspiring enough. And for anyone who is in the process of getting their own carte de séjour, please feel free to ask me any questions about my experience, or even for my advice (but definitely do things a lot sooner than I did!).