I know a lot of you are quite puzzled, wondering, “Are you back in Houston (permanently)? What happened to Paris?! She was only there for two months!” So rather than repeat the reasons why a million times, I’ll attempt to delineate them here. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I want to share my (on-going) testimony that I pray and hope will generate introspection and reflection, but also encourage fellow believers.
I suppose I’ll start from the beginning. I just turned 24 when I set off on a three-month European / West Coast adventure (July-Sept 2011) right after my two-year teaching commitment with Teach For America (Hawai’i). I had this ‘absurd’ idea on my trip to live in Paris again solely to learn the language. (I didn’t when I studied abroad here in 2008, which is a shame.) I knew I had to do it soon, while I had no debt, boyfriend, or children. (You can’t just uproot your life with a mortgage, college fund, and retirement plan). So I forewent grad school (already accepted in LA), saved money, and researched ways to get to Paris.
Looking back, the whole ordeal seems a bit silly and definitely selfish. Definitively speaking, I did not consult God with my decision. Right now, I’m still processing the lesson to be learned – perhaps, God showed me the extent of my own human shortsightedness and fallibility. By not consulting Him from the beginning, I wound up in an interesting situation.
- “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
However, am I glad God brought me to and through Paris? Absolutely. Between the time of finalizing my arrival date to the time leading up to my departure (approx. 5-6 weeks before February 15), God was preparing my heart for what He wanted to teach me while abroad.
God absolutely used this experience for His own good. Living and working in Paris for two months, while it may have seemed like a dream vacation for some, was really a period of spiritual testing and growth for me.
- “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
As an aside, lets backtrack to Teach For America: I will admit I did not learn much, if anything, in Hawai’i. At that point in my life, God stripped me of everything — success in my profession, friends to hang out with etc. etc., but instead of leaning on Him, I just whined, complained, and cried. In the second year, I sought satisfaction in other things like material possessions, self-improvement, exercise, hanging out with friends – basically everything else but God, which, in retrospect, was stupid, yet extremely ‘natural’.
However, in these past four months, God has completely saved and restored me. I’ve had an encounter with God in which He has completely and supernaturally regenerated me. God found me exactly where I was in the culmination of my brokenness, and showed me the reality of my sin and worthlessness of treasuring worldly constructions above Him and, in return, promised me something infinitely better. Instead of a Hawai’i repeat, He gripped my heart to be receptive to His great work within me.
The job in Paris was very challenging, not in the traditional sense of deadlines, paperwork, bureaucracy etc. (found in most organizations in business, education etc.), but still very challenging nonetheless. I worked a lot – six days a week! I didn’t really know the language that well. In the first few weeks, I had no money. I didn’t really have any friends for support either (just like in the first year of Hawai’i). What could’ve become a lonely and unmanageable situation, was the most humbling and joyous experience I’ve ever encountered.
- “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
I believe that God continues to put us or keep us in situations that will refine or grow in us what He seeks to see in us. What two years in Hawai’i didn’t do, two months in Paris did. My response to God was that of complete surrender and obedience to His will. I had to rely on Him for everything because I had to, and I was glad to do so! People ask me all the time if I enjoyed touring Paris, but honestly, I spent the majority of my free time immersing myself in Scripture, prayer, and reading Christian books (Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Discerning the Voice of God). Everything I did and thought revolved around a single source of sustenance: God.
Ultimately, I let go of what I wanted: to learn French in a French-speaking country. I only consulted my parents, my former discipleship group leader, and another friend when deciding whether to stay or go. I prayed earnestly for maybe a week (time-sensitive deadline), but when I finally made my decision, I was completely at peace. I prayed also for the mother’s heart, and when I told her, she took it way better than I expected. (Praise God!)
Because of the whole Paris experience, I don’t even feel like the same person anymore. My entire life is now completely reoriented around God’s purpose and will for my life, and I pray expectantly for Him to direct my future.
I’ll end with this funny scenario I’ve created in my head:
So lets say I start dating some Asian dude, and I meet his (immigrant) parents for the first time over dinner –
Them: “So, Christine, what do you do?”
Me: “Well, I tutor / mentor high school students. I also volunteer in the non-profit world. And I go on missions trips.”
Them: “Oh. That’s interesting. So you don’t have a (real) career? Like you didn’t want to be a doctor? Or a lawyer? Or engineer? Or accountant?” (Underlying meaning: “Why didn’t you pursue a more well-esteemed career that’s also financially stable?”)
Me: “I guess I’d describe my career as helping people.”
Them: “Oh. So what will you be doing in five years?”
Me: “I don’t know, honestly. Whatever God wants me to do.”
Them: ::mutter something in Mandarin which is obviously unintelligible to me because I don’t speak the language!::
– Awkward silence –
What’s hilarious, is that this scenario would go down exactly like this. I realize my path has been very untraditional, or perhaps to some even directionless or listless. My friends tease me saying, “Well, Christine, you have a diverse and unique skill set.” Uh… thanks? lol However, I know that God has divinely allowed everything in my past to mold and refine me, to make me learn and grow, and ultimately bring me closer to Him. He wants me to love Him with all my heart and depend on Him for everything.
I’ve realized that I am not defined by my profession or career, or money in the bank, nor am I seeking the world’s approval. My audience is God, and I want to wake up every day and live purposely in His will.