(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
It’s December and it’s winter and every now and then, I notice a crispness and bite in the air that wasn’t there before. And yet, at the same time, there’s a buzzing warmth and cheer in the air that heralds the Christmas season that approaches, as students and workers alike feel the pull of the holidays fill the sleepy corners of their offices, classrooms and commutes. While a part of my heart desperately misses the bright summer mornings and glistening blue sea of Sydney’s beaches and coast, there’s an anticipation and magic about experiencing December in winter that is filling the child-like part of me with a sort of gleeful giddiness and bringing to the surface a strong desire to eat and drink nothing but hot chestnuts and mulled wine that I didn’t know was there before. Europe kindly hasn’t thrown me too far in in the deep end though, as I’m repeatedly told by European friends that December this year has, for the most part, been uncharacteristically warm!
The Thursday before last, I walked out of my Politics of the EU exam in Amphithéâtre Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu and officially completed my first semester at Sciences Po. I’m never one to hide my excitement and joy when walking out of my final exam each semester, but this time, it felt a little extra special. As I reflected on the thirteen weeks of university that I’d just completed in Paris, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by God’s kindness and graciousness in upholding me, strengthening me and growing me through it all. I’d be lying if I said that this semester was easy. Amidst the already-hectic experience of settling in at a new university, processing wave after wave of emotion, homesickness and thankfulness, joining the GBU and starting afresh at Eglise Connexion and everything else in between, my mind and heart have borne the weight of it all, to varying degrees of ease and difficulty. So, as I approach the halfway mark of my exchange and look back at how kindly God has guided me through these last five and a half months, I’m filled with nothing but humility and thankfulness for how He has weathered me through the storm and anchored me to Himself all the more tightly through it all.
Last weekend didn’t leave much room to relax, but was filled with lots of warmth and good company all the same. Filled with birthdays, end-of-semester drinks and farewells, the days following the end of semester felt like a bit of a mad rush to catch up with friends (some of whom had gone a little AWOL during the avalanche of assessments that filled November, haha) before they jetted off on various holiday adventures and to give others one last hug goodbye before they left Paris to head back home. This weekend also bore witness to the best confit de canard that I’ve ever eaten! #importantmilestones
Monday was particularly cold and gusty, but saw me spend a lovely morning and afternoon with Lucy as we headed up north to the famous St Ouen flea markets and wandered the seemingly endless alleyways filled with shops and stalls selling their antique wares. The displays and shelves boasted everything from vintage postcards and packets of vintage bottle caps, to Parisian street signs that had been wrenched off building corners, wedding photos that must have once belonged to two souls in love and antique furniture encrusted with gold. Lucy and I spent quite a while rifling through a box of old postcards that bore photos that had been taken in various parts of Paris a century or two ago. Ooh-ing and aah-ing when we saw grainy photographs of landmarks and areas that we recognised, they offered another glimpse into the history laced behind this beautiful city as we imagined what it might have been like to walk along those black and white streets. In the afternoon, we wandered back down to Jardin des Tuileries and stopped by Musée de l’Orangerie to bask in the peaceful glow and transcendent light of Monet’s Nymphaea collection/water lilies. As I walked home that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about how even in the biting wind of winter when the trees are stripped bare and people are bundled up in even more black than usual, Paris is effortlessly beautiful – basked in the soft, white glow of the gentle dance between the sun and the mist.
Tuesday saw an unexpected guest arrive, as a friend who had been on exchange in the UK this semester sadly lost her passport while holidaying in Strasbourg and needed a place to stay in Paris while she went to the embassy and applied/waited for a new emergency passport. After making the necessary trip to the embassy, we made the best of things and went to Angelina’s for what’s heralded as the best hot chocolate in Paris as well as some eclairs. Before this whole debacle, our contact had really been limited to being in the same Foundies class in the first semester of first year Law, so it was a nice opportunity to get to know each other a little better, despite the circumstances.
Wednesday was an exciting day, as it marked the beginning of a new part-time job! In short, I’ve started baby-sitting for a French family and get to look after and play with their 6 year-old daughter (Marie) and 2 year-old son (Tristan) for a few hours each week. We spent my first shift imagining up new games, learning some new English words and phrases here and there, hiding “treasure” (read: a plastic lemon) in nooks and crannies of the apartment for each other to find, dealing with the occasional sulk and insistence that the other sibling had cheated in one way or another, climbing up to the kitchen counter so that they could spoon their own formula powder into their bottle of milk and introducing me to their pet bunny rabbit named Cookies. One of the aims of this arrangement is to accustom Marie and Tristan to hearing and ideally speaking English and despite their (still endearing) insistence on speaking French to me, it was incredible to see small steps of progress as the two and a half hours passed, from identifying the numbers on playing cards in English, counting down “3, 2, 1, go!” in English and happily instructing me to “close my eyes” and “open my eyes” as she ran off to hide aforementioned treasure.
Thursday was spent with Mirjana and Lucy, in what we jokingly termed the Day of the Dead. In the space of six hours, we made our way along Canal Saint-Martin, stopped by Holybelly for brunch in a delightfully Australian fashion, made our way through Père Lachaise Cemetery (stopping by the spots commemorating the lives of Molière, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and the like) and walked through the winding Catacombs where the city’s infamous ossuary containing thousands and thousands of bones and skulls continues to exist under the bustling streets of Paris. The day ended on a bittersweet note, as we parted ways and had to say goodbye (but not for forever!) as Lucy and Mirjana were both preparing to head back to Sydney in the coming days.
On the weekend, Miri and I met up for our final breakfast and Bible reading/prayer session for the year. We alternate the hosting role and in anticipation for Christmas, Miri had gone out of her way to find a traditionally German type of Christmas bread/cake, which was filled with pieces of marzipan, raisins and all sorts of festive goodness. Over the meal, Christmas present exchanges and our time of Bible reading and prayer, my heart felt so incredibly full, as I marvelled at God’s provision and sovereignty even over things like friendship, as He brought Miri and I together, growing us in friendship and closeness, as we’ve navigated this crazy experience of exchange together.
All in all, I’ve been thankful for the moments where all has been calm and all has been bright this week.
Since beginning this belated blog post, Iris has also arrived (!!!) :’) More on that in my next post though – I’ll try not to leave you hanging for too long! Hope you’re all enjoying or approaching a Christmas break. Will be thinking of you all over Christmas this year, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
I’m almost halfway through my exchange!
As some of you may remember, I shared some reflections on this quote from C.S. Lewis a few weeks into the beginning of my exchange:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Thank and praise God for how He has used these testing, trying but also joyful last five months to do so much “construction” work in my life. I know He’s nowhere near finished yet, but thank and praise God for how He has grown, shaped and refined me in my character, my love for others and my understanding of Him for my good and His glory through every single storm and wave I’ve felt come crashing down on my shores.
Thank God for friendship and precious time spent with loved ones! Thank God for Iris’ safe arrival and please pray that as we spend the next four weeks together, we might love and serve each other well, and that God might continue to use us as instruments of grace in each other’s lives as He shapes and grows us both to better live gospel-centred lives.
As always, please feel free to get in touch and share about how I can be praying for you too! Sending you all my love, dear friends. I “always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when [I] pray for you, since [I] heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:3)! x