Five years ago this month, my family and I were preparing to move to Paris, France for a six-month expatriate assignment for my husband's job. My oldest was three years old. My youngest was seven months. And my husband and I were pretending to be grown up enough to know how to live in a foreign country with very little knowledge of the language of the land. We had A BLAST. It was a life-changing, monumental turning point for me as a woman and for our family. So I thought it would be fun to re-visit some of the memories from my private blog-journal that I (sort of) kept while we were there. Here's one of the entries...
This is the Blue Slide Park (we named each park according to a distinguishing characteristic). It's the park we frequented most often, as it was only about a five-minute walk from our flat.
Today, we went to the Blue Slide Park. We played in the sandpit because that's our new routine when we go there. Especially since we've actually been remembering the sand toys. Anyway, I parked my three-year-old in a shady spot in the sand and went to sit on a bench in the sun, with my infant safely shaded in her stroller next to me. Shortly after we arrived, a little boy and his mom did too. Having followed the same protocol as I and placing her son in a shady spot in the sandbox, the mom came over to join me on the bench. I love when people sit close enough to see my baby because in Paris, anytime someone is near her in the stroller, they automatically start talking to her, which gives me a great chance to try to talk with them and practice my French. Too bad she's a baby and doesn't yet speak. She could probably teach me some French.
So once the mom took the bait, I asked her my famous opening question, "Quel age a -t-il?" How old is he? Twenty-one months. She followed suit and asked me about my two daughters. We introduced ourselves. Her name is Anna. Excited to have any semblance of an adult conversation, I told her about my baby's double ear infection (which was just diagnosed yesterday after a very challenging French telephone conversation with a doctor's office here in Paris followed by a home visit by the doctor -- so nice). Come to find out, Jacob her son was on his second round of antibiotics for the same thing. We sat quietly for a little while, watching our two children play in the sand while I tried to think of another thing to say in French. I so desperately want to learn the language. And I so desperately miss my friends at home. So I asked her if she had any other children.
That's when she told me. Jacob was a twin. His brother died at birth (or soon after) because she was only six and a half months along when they were born. Jacob was only about 3kgs when he was born and was in the hospital for a very long time. (And, although I'm not really sure how 3kgs translates into pounds and ounces, I know it's very small. Too small.) She didn't cry, but I could tell it was hard to talk about. Um, obviously. Especially when I wasn't very proficient at understanding the words and had to ask several clarifying questions throughout the conversation. Oh how sorry I was that all I could say was "tres triste" (very sad). Oh how I wanted to say so much more. To delve in and share Jesus' compassion and love with her somehow. But, in my desperate search for more meaningful words, all I could say were two very small ones. Very. sad.
Later this evening, I was coming home from the grocery store and was approached by a man who asked me for some money. He appeared to be homeless. All I could do was give him a Euro and say "you're welcome" in French when he thanked me. And, again, I was frustrated by the inability to just say the right thing. Or to tell him about Jesus' love somehow. Or even to just say "God bless you." But. I. don't. know. how.
That's when it hit me. All I can do is pray. Literally. that. is. all. I. can. do. For Anna. And for Julia, who I met in the park back in April. And for the 22-year-old mom from Montenegro who's family had sufferd from her war-torn country and so was forced to live in Paris. And for the beggar lady who sits outside the Post Office and always tells me something about her child, or children, who died or were hurt or something. I can't understand her words. But I can talk to God about her. He's the only One Who really understands and knows what she needs anyway. And I can do it not so I can be a "good Christian". But because I believe God has purposefully put these people in my path so that I can ask Him to help. And I believe He purposefully put me in a place where I can do nothing and say nothing so that I can trust that praying is enough. That praying is what He has called me to do. The only action I can take.
And I will take that fact home with me. Praying is not just a last resort when there's nothing else I can do to help. It is the only power I have to get anything of any importance done. It is the only action I can take that has any real power to help. Whether I understand words or not. Whether I know what to say or have an idea how to help or not.
And so I will take the challenge. And I hope someday I will actually know what to say. And say it. And I hope someday when I think I know what to say, I will know how not to say it, if it needs not be said. Because He is the only One Who can truly help. Sometimes with my words. Sometimes with my hands. But always with my prayers.