Paris, Summer 2019.
Paris, Summer 2019.
“Oh, but Paris isn’t for changing planes, it’s … it’s for changing your outlook, for… for throwing open the windows and letting in… letting in la vie en rose,” Sabrina says in the 1954 Audrey Hepburn film when her love interest remarks he’s only been to Paris while changing planes. The quote stuck with me the first time I saw the movie, as a young teenager who dreamed of life with tons of perspective and little expectation. Paris wasn’t always the dream in and of itself; there were lots of places I imagined could change my outlook. But I did promise myself sometime, somewhere, I’d run off to Paris when I was young for a day or a week or however long it took to open the windows. This July, I fulfilled that promise.
I arrived in Paris on July 15, thinking I would avoid the hassle of a crowded city on their independence day. When I got off my train, on foot and completely unsure of how to get around in a large city with no direction, I was surprised to find the city almost silent on a Sunday morning at six a.m. after a celebration. My first view right out of the train station was Notre Dame, and almost no one in sight. However, unpredictable, I happened to be in the city when France was competing (and won) in the final match of the World Cup. While my plans for the first day were completely thrown out the window due to a metro too crowded to walk in and blocked off roads, I ended up sight-seeing and watching the city explode in joy. I’ve never experienced anything as I walked from one cafe to the next, seeing people genuinely so excited by every move of the match. Afterwards, there were so many flags and many loud renditions of the national anthem. Although my body was exhausted, I kept walking around and taking it in.
My second day in France took more structure, although most of my day was spent walking. I walked to the Louvre, although I didn’t attempt to make my way inside due to the crowds, and inside of the Musee l’orangerie. I ate bread, fruit and cheese for most of my meals in parks and by the Seine. I took the city by my own directions written the morning before leaving, and got lost almost every time. But I never felt quite so satisfied with my ability to see so much of a city in such a short amount of time.
People told me not to over romanticize Paris and I did not, however the city fooled me. It is a city of endless exploration and is exceedingly lovely. I could not have possibly over romanticized it even if I tried. It is just that wonderful. As I walked by the Seine, and as the city turned gold, the water becomes a vibrant mirror. The hassle of an everyday city becomes a fairytale. I finally found a place to sit and watch the water fold over itself, and people picnic, relax, and converse by its side. I randomly ended up talking to a few tourists who asked me to take their picture. “Has Paris always been your dream?” one of them asked me. It had not been, nor had I dreamed of Paris in particular but I had dreamed of that moment even if I hadn’t realized it. I had longed to be young in a city coated in gold where everything seemed to be bursting with the very core of what it means to be living. No answers were found to big questions, or bucket list items crossed off. But I felt satisfied, simply by the fact I will probably always be searching for answers in a city like Paris.
I highly recommend a good Paris trip for every young woman, not just for changing planes. Don’t go for a big spectacle, just for a few days. Just go and write and feel twenty. You need a Sabrina moment to let the windows in, and just live. You can’t over romanticize it if you try.
All of a sudden it’s October, the richest season, but I haven’t gotten used to the words around me, the words that make perfect sense. Outside my window I am greeted with red leaves, overcast skies – the first signs of a ripe season coming to a close, ready to be picked. Change is in the wind, the cold time you’re not used to (yet it thrills you in an overwhelming and beautiful way).
Only two months and a few days ago, I was still in Romania, and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to tell all the things I wanted to. I couldn’t stop seeing faces at home pass through my dreams, and wanting to share with them what all I saw and was learning. Now, what do I say, after all?
One day in Romania sticks out to me, vibrantly as if I had never left it. I was in the mountains, surrounded by the beautiful countryside. It had been a mere twist of circumstances that had led me to that place.
I was sitting alone, for the first time in a sum of time. The sun was setting, golden grass hiding me from the rest of the world. Voices echoed nearby, ones I couldn’t understand yet ones I longed to listen to forever. I pondered what had gotten me there, to that place, and I could barely find words.
“This is it,” I remember thinking, “This is the ‘wherever, whenever’ I’ve prayed so many times.'” There I was, somewhere only a sovereign God could bring me. So far, yet it felt completely right as if I had planned it my whole life.
What was there for me, in that valley, was perfect. It was promised. It was His will. I felt every vibrant confirmation of that looking out to the sky. It was very, very good.
A lot’s changed since then, and I haven’t quite grasped it all. I’ve watched life unfold in front of my eyes. I’ve rejoiced with people I love, and sorrowfully watched people abandon truth. News articles have spread tragedies to disasters, one after the other. I’ve personally fought the daily faith-testing trials of my own from car troubles to living four hours from my family for the first time. I’ve felt completely, and recklessly alone and I’ve felt the most full: looking out to the city lights and the mountain tops in abundance.
All of it: it never quite goes the way you think, or plan, assume, or dream. I’ve been learning that’s okay for a while now. Yet sometimes it’s easy to rest in the nod of a head. Answering questions with “yeah, life’s good” because you feel ashamed to say otherwise when you have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme of things. But inside, you miss too many things and even good things can feel crowded and confusing.
But God always brings you back, and reminds you what’s it all about.
Last weekend, I went back to the mountains, back to a stretch of land I’m particularly fond of and I’ve gone back to many times throughout my life. The moment I looked out the window of the car, and smelled the air, I was brought back to that hillside at golden hour two months previous.
Those glorious moments I was reminded of, tucked in the mountains of Brasov, where nothing seemed untouchable. Those are the moments when your heart cries: “This is it. This is what you prayed for those years. Don’t you see it?”
Those aren’t every day. But God is good every day. And every day he answers those “wherever, whenever” prayers. Some days, he calls us to the mountain tops. Some days, he calls us to the long and lonely drive home. He is ever present there, ever completing his will.
While in the mountains this past weekend, I sat on the bridge where God first broke my heart, and I first wept over my sin. I sat in the room where I first encountered grace and found myself singing some of the same songs I first sang that night and meant them.
Long ago, in that wooden room, I prayed for the first time that God do as he will with this life of mine: not sure what I was saying but knowing it was true. Whatever he requires, whatever he chooses to give or take away, I pray it still. Wherever, whenever: the mountains, or the in-between.
When Jonah believed he was running from God, God was not afraid to follow him through the rough waters of the ocean in order His will may be complete. He will not let his children forsake the places he wants us to go, even if they’re the ones we want to go the very least.
That’s where I’ve been and where I’ll be: somewhere, drinking a cup of coffee while trying to write something, resting in the knowledge that the grace that has led me safe thus far, through the mountains and back again, will lead me safely home. Resting in contentment, resting in grace. Resting while looking at the sky above, wondering what will be revealed to me next in that imperceivable expanse above us all.
It’s a quiet evening, a stack of books by my side, a mug balancing on top of them. It’s on still days, such as this, my thoughts have time to settle. What is there to say? What observations, what moments should form poetry, form memoirs? What do I want to cherish my whole life long?
These are the things I want to remember:
I. A question, and an answer. The question I’ve received the most is, “Were you scared to come alone?” (or “Wow, you’re so brave to do so!”). At first, I kind of just smiled and made some comments about how it was a little scary but I’ve been fine since.
But no, in all truth it wasn’t scary. Leaving was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, and gladly would do again. I don’t remember a time in my life where traveling wasn’t my happy place from each new skyline, airplane, hotel rooms, or tiny cafe. Packing your life into suitcase, and knowing you’re going to be a new person is profoundly thrilling. Especially this time, the longest I’ve traveled; I’ve loved every airport, every free weak cup of airplane coffee, every new sight, every time I’ve gotten lost and had to find my way, every new taste of a new food I’d never seen before. Newness like that has always been my very fuel for living. Bravery, for me, is never needed in leaving.
So, my answer? I’ll say this. There is little bravery is gladly going, in the adventure, in the grand scheme of it all, but there is much needed in the staying, in the settling of one’s feet, in the creation of the familiar paths you’ve walked before. There is much bravery in a lifetime of not just going wherever He may call, but staying there and standing firm. Yes, it is scary on the days that lack, the days I feel unworthy, the days I doubt providence, the days where I am full of false believed strength, yet those are the days that I am being made brave – so I shall glad continue to keep on leaving, and keep on staying.
II. The words of a particular hymn. How many times I’ve sung or listened to “Come Thou Fount” and now on this trip, it’s been my anchor. Often I’ve walked, or fallen asleep at night with the words echoing within my head. I think it will be intertwined with this trip in my memories for a very long time.
Recently I was introduced to an old verse of the song, lost to recent versions I’m particularly fond of:
// Hallelujah! I have found it,
The full cleansing I had craved,
And to all the world I’ll sound it:
They too may be wholly saved.
I am sealed by Thy sweet Spirit,
Prone no longer now to roam;
And Thy voice, I’ll humbly hear it,
For Thy presence is my home //
III. Scraps of good days: wandering beneath the city lights at dusk starting the long walk home as music starts to play, the smell of smoke and the feeling of my feet walking against the cobblestone street, the thrill of just the right amount of wind blowing through my hair, a bouquet of camomile tucked away in my bag, tickets and folded up letters, familiar faces and new ones I’ve already felt as if I’ve known my whole life long, conversations with people from another place entirely yet who share so much of my heart. These things are the things I choose to treasure, to collect, to carry with me as gold.
IV. The bliss of realizing teaching is surely the job with the most joy is one I don’t want to lose, or grow old in thirty years when I am exhausted of classrooms and English papers.
Being apart of the English school here has truly opened my eyes to how much I love lessons, how much I love meeting new faces and knowing what goes on in learning minds. Students open up, the fumble with English, they ask questions, and they keep too silent.
I’ve laughed to tears at students’ jokes, and teared up at their sweet words. I’ve planned out workshops and changed things at the last second. I’ve learned to go with the flow, to always look for the best idea for the moment. I have so much to learn, but certainly I am learning more than every student I’m supposed to teach!
V. A knowledge of providence I have longed for my whole life long. If the Lord has revealed to me anything on this trip, it’s a deeper knowledge of such provision and foreknowledge. When the Lord first put this summer on my heart last year while in Romania, I could barely imagine the faithfulness I’ve seen.
When I was in middle school, I marveled often at when in Genesis, the Lord promised Abraham an inheritance greater than the stars. Last fall, I was humbled by how God gave Abraham his promise then called him up a mountain to sacrifice that gift at an altar (yet provided, still). This summer, my eyes have been opened to another page of that story, personally: that promise to Abraham, for an inheritance, for provision for every calling is also mine.
As Paul wrote in Romans 4, “But the words ‘it was counted to him [Abraham]’ were not written for his sake alone, but for outs also. It will be counted to us who believe in him” (23), and earlier, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed” (16).
Yes, as I sit in the country that has been a part of my whole life, with every need accounted for, and faith that every unspoken need will come to completion: I do believe his promises are guaranteed, for the next six weeks and for the rest of this life (and if I can only remember one thing, let it be that!).
“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord has led you” // Deuteronomy 8
Manhattan has always been sort of a mecca for me, a place I go not only with the intent of visiting but with the hope it’ll capture me up.
The last time I was in the city, it was a profoundly healing time. It was the end of my senior year of High School, the year I more or less discovered a whole lot of who I wanted to be through much redemption of two years fighting myself and doubting the very thoughts that uphold my life. Being in the city and learning to navigate the streets, I found peace in one of the busiest places in the world.
Now, more than a year later, I was anxious to visit to see what else I could find, what new revelations would resonate. Like many trips, the trip striped back the surpassed layer of life that I often forget to peel away, burdening me with the bitter cup of this world. Yet it was such a time to be alive: to see my nine year old brother (the same age I was when I first visited) have his eyes excitedly lit with the lights of the city, to spend time with my family – whom I love with such a deep, overwhelming love that no time cannot make up for – before some time apart, to hear the wisdom of my Father who knows the city and life in a way I long to, and to walk the streets with my older brother discussing all things from the fine art that lines the walls of the MET to hip-hop.
Here is New York, captured by my camera in the way I choose to see it: bold, brave, tender, and wild: