“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:!0
To my knowledge, all of the mountains that rise above my small French city are topped with crosses. I remember the first time I reached one of these summits, one of these crosses. I had been in France for two months, and I was feeling very culture shocked. I looked out over the valley that lay below. The people that I loved so deeply. The city that I hated so much. Everything looked different from the mountain. I couldn’t see culture. I didn’t hear my terrible French accent. I just saw my city, a place that desperately needs Jesus. If I would have had my way, I would have stayed on the peak for the rest of my life. In the shelter of the cross, it felt safe. My cheeks rosy from the cold, and my toes snuggled warmly in my hiking boots. I love being on the mountain top. But, I couldn’t stay there forever. Eventually the sun started to set and I had to head back down. Back into the valley.
That is where I live, in the valley. The French call Grenoble a cuvette, which in French, means toilet bowl. I live in a toilet bowl. In the past year, I have felt swirled and stuck in the cuvette. I have had moments where I hated the city, and I have had moments where it is my favorite place on earth. But through it all, I have been able to escape to the Mountain, at the foot of the cross. I have been shown grace when I do not deserve it, and I have been given love by complete strangers.
Moving to France has by far been the hardest thing I have ever done. But it has also been the best. I have laughed and worshiped and cried and mourned. (I have also probably doubled Kleenex’s international sales). If I have learned anything from this year, it has been that don’t know as much as I thought. I thought I knew how to bake really good cookies. But then I moved to France, the land with no brown sugar. I thought I knew how to go to the post office. But then I moved to France and realized I had no idea there were so many options for postage. I thought I knew how to celebrate. But then I moved to France, and learned to celebrate even the smallest victory. I thought I knew how to go to the Mountain. But then I moved to France, and the Mountain was all I had.
I have learned it is okay to cry, it is okay to not know the answers, because as hard as moving to a different country is, there will be successes. One day I knew how to go to the post office, and I had a dance party in the parking lot because to me, IT WAS A VICTORY. Living abroad has taught me that the best thing to do when we live in the valley is to make sure you always look to the Mountain. To the One who is not shaken. The One who understands all culture. The One who is greater than all culture.
My advice for those moments in the toilet bowl? Lean in. Keep fighting. Your feelings and emotions are valid, and culture shock is a real thing. There is power in a shared experience. There is power in stories and when you share your story for the person across the table from you to say, “I get it, this country is confusing to me too”. There is power in shared understanding.
In the midst of it all; the “why in the world did I move here”, feelings of missing out when all of your friends are together without you, constantly subtracting hours to figure out when someone who you can talk to will wake up, through the loneliness and the confusion, it is worth it. The moments when God confirms that this is where you are meant to be. In the sweet moments on the Mountain. Those moments on the Mountain make this life in the valley worth it all.