30 Days of Thankfulness: Days 17 & 18

thankfulnessI missed yesterday’s post so you get a 2-for-1 today!

The past couple of days I have been thankful for good health and for living in France.

With the weather getting colder each day, several of my friends here have colds and thankfully I don’t! I usually get a cold whenever the weather starts changing, but not this time :) It’s not easy being a teacher while feeling under the weather, especially when you also have a horrible cough and a voice like the Wicked Witch of the West.

So thank You God for good health and well-being. And for any of you readers who are currently battling a cold, know that our God heals:

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” [Psalm 103: 2-4]

I am also thankful that I am here living in France. I love this country! Even though I have had difficult times over the last ~2 years adjusting to the culture and the language, I still love living here. This afternoon I was taking a walk around my town (something that isn’t doable where I’m from in Florida), and even though every single shop was closed (just like they are every Monday here), it was still so nice knowing that I can walk to a produce market and then stop at the library I just discovered by the Town Hall before buying bread at the boulangerie on my way back home. I love living in my quaint French village :)

What are you thankful for today?

The Low-Down on French Parties

Yesterday Matt and I were at a surprise 30th birthday party for one of his longtime friends. Now, I have been living in France for a year and a half, and one thing I doubt I will ever get to used to about French culture is the fact that their parties, holiday meals, group gatherings, etc. last for hours. The problem I have with this is that most of that time is spent sitting at a table, and usually there are long waiting periods in-between courses (of which, there are 4-5: the aperitif, the main course, cheese, dessert, and coffee). I get restless very easily, so after 3+ hours sitting in the same seat, I become very agitated.

But this is part of French culture. Their culture is very strongly focused on their food, and it is quite normal and expected that when you go to someone’s house for a meal, or when you go to any type of party, you will be sitting, eating, and talking for hours on end. Americans do not do this. We are too fast-paced for this kind of lifestyle. This is why our culture is more focused on activities and shared experiences. All of our holidays involve eating, yes of course, but what else do we always do? We go places…we go see fireworks on the 4th of July, we go trick-or-treating for Halloween, we play football in-between our Thanksgiving Day courses, we go shopping or go to the movies during Christmas time. We never stay at the table from 1-7pm.

I love France. I love the more laid-back lifestyle and the adventuresome and travel-minded attitudes. I love the food! And I would love to one day even enjoy their table-dwelling parties and mealtimes. But right now, I prefer American celebrations, and that’s ok in my opinion since I am, you know, American.

And one last thing–I had a wonderful time at the party we went to yesterday, and that is probably because it was outside and we were free to get up and walk around! Plus we were able to catch up with some other friends whom we haven’t seen in a while. But I can definitely see myself slowly growing more accustomed to the “French way”, and that makes me very happy :)

(And another aside–French wedding receptions are much much more enjoyable, because there are plenty of games and activities throughout the night. I would even go so far as to say that they are probably a lot more fun than American weddings in that regard. I had an absolute blast at our French reception and at the only other French wedding I have attended. I just don’t want anyone to think that I find French parties, meals, celebrations, etc. to be awful because that couldn’t be further from the truth–I am just describing a part of the culture that is hard for me to adapt to. Ok, end of disclaimer!)

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Matt and I at a friend’s birthday party yesterday.

Carte de Séjour & God’s Faithfulness!

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)!

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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!).