In the fall of 2011, Donnette and I visited the team in France, to give us some idea as to where we’d be working and what we’d be doing. It was an amazing trip; we got to see first hand the sort of work the missionaries there do, we got to meet pastors and other church members who were really enthusiastic about the possibility of our coming to work there…it was a great trip. We’d prayed before we left that God would take away the rose-colored glasses and really let us see what we’d be getting into. *1*
And God does answer prayer, because we hadn’t been in France more than two hours before I had my first minor panic attack. We’d been traveling all day, gotten into Marseille late, and went straight back to our team leader’s apartment to get some sleep. I wanted to shower, and this is where the reality of what we were considering first hit me. The bathroom in the apartment was tiny, really tiny. I had to shove myself into a corner by the sink just to get the door closed. And then the actual shower, it was tiny too, all of me didn’t fit into it at the same time. *2* I started panicking and thinking, “South Carolina has plenty of large bathrooms, why are we so hot to move again?” I wasn’t even done sharing my concerns with Donnette before she put me at ease, the first major hurdle of our French trip laid to rest.
I only had one other major anxiety attack while we were there, and it happened after we left Marseille to travel around Provence for a couple of days. After spending the day in the Cote du Rhone, we decided to spend the night in Avignon, before heading to Cassis the next day. We got into Avignon late, or at least late by French standards, *3* because by the time we checked into our hotel and started to walk around, everything was closing down, and the center of the city seemed practically deserted. If you’ve never been to Avignon, or don’t know anything about it, then let me take a second to set the scene. Avignon has to noticeable features, at least to an American unfamiliar with European architecture. First, it has a huge wall around it, with only a few access points to the outside. Secondly, it has a gigantic Catholic cathedral, right smack in the middle of it. By gigantic, I don’t mean in comparison to the situation with the bathroom, it would be a huge church in Houston. Google Avignon, and almost every picture has at least some part of the church in it, it really is that big. *4*
That’s where we were, an empty city with a big wall and an even bigger cathedral. I was already a little uncomfortable, walking around the city, and then we came across this…
Do you see that thing, coming out of the door? What is that? The website I took this image from listed this picture as “beautiful wooden door,” but it should have said, “door with creepy baby head jutting out of it that should adorn no church, anywhere, ever.”
And the Protestant’s said the Catholic church was unapproachable.
By the time we ate dinner, I was doing deep breathing exercises to calm down. I’m not claustrophobic, *5* but I felt like the walls were closing in all around me, pushing me to go through that door of which there would be no exit. I’m still not sure quite what it was, oppressive is the best word I can come up with to describe how I felt there.
It is highly unlikely that we’ll ever actually work in Avignon, though it’s best to never say never. Avignon may be off the table, but Pete was quick to remind me that lots of French cities have walls around them, that’s sort of their thing, and if I wanted to come to France, I’d better be prepared for that, and I like to think that, under more permanent circumstances, I’d find a way to make it work.
No way I’d live anywhere near that door though.
Donnette’s only real “freak-out” moment came in the most benign of places, *6* the grocery store. At the time, Avonlea only ate a handful of things, *7* all of which were readily available there. I don’t know why this shook her up, to me it would have been the other way around. “No grits for your daughter, but here, we do have a lovely grasshopper,” THAT would have given me anxiety. I think, for her, going to the grocery store made everything seem very real, very possible, and the implications of that simply got to her.
Either that, or she saw me running around the meat case like I was a kid at Toys R Us, and mistook anxiety for embarrassment.
At the end of the day, there are far more demanding places to be called to work than France. We are friends with a couple who took their children to the south Pacific, a move which has meant dealing with cold showers and rats the size of poodles on a regular basis. I often tell people that if they want to support us, it’s best they don’t Google where we’re headed. The pictures online don’t illicit much sympathy. *8* Even still, moving to France brings with it it’s own set of worries, some we know, many more we haven’t even thought to consider yet. Which is okay, because there’s never a promise it will be easy, only that what God demands, he also gives, and gives abundantly. The best part of being in France was the tangible way we felt people back here in the states praying for us; I don’t think I’ve ever felt that sort of presence, before or since.
Which is why, as always, we thank you so much for your prayers. We can’t ask for anything more.
*1* It was a job, and in the last year of seminary, any job can seem like the best thing ever if you let it. We just wanted to be careful, and to make a decision based on prayer and consideration, not in-the-moment enthusiasm.
*2* I don’t want to seem ungrateful to Pete and Ruth for letting us stay in their apartment, or to imply that they don’t have a nice apartment, because we were very grateful and they have a very nice apartment. It’s just the reality of living in France, bathrooms are small. I’m slimmer now than I was then, and that might help some, but I still don’t think that the term “expansive” will ever describe our living situation over there.
*3* In France, shops start to shut down around 4pm and almost everything is closed by 7.
*4* Which makes sense, as Avignon is where the Popes would stay when they visited France, and was the home of the French “Pope” during one of the many schisms.
*5* Spelled that right on my first try!
*6* I say benign, even though the French grocery stores were, to me, a little piece of heaven on earth. They sell Foie Gras, in the grocery store!
*7* She wasn’t really a picky eater, she just wasn’t an eater at all. She ate a bowl of instant grits in the morning, and…that was it. Maybe some applesauce every third day. She’s gotten better, but she’s nothing like her brother, who would eat jellied octopus if you put it near his mouth.
*8* Unless they come across that door. That creepy, creepy door.