I was 29 years old. We had been in France for about a year and a half. Our two children were tiny—four and two. Days and weeks went by when it was difficult to get out of the house because one of us was ill or the weather was gruesome. Keeping small children occupied day after day seemed a superhuman task. I did not drive, and public transport in the suburbs of Paris was minimal. We did not have a phone. My husband worked eleven hours a day, five days a week.
My compensation for being “grounded” was a chance to meet the neighbors, “genuine” French people like the old man who stood on the street corner with a baguette under his arm and a black beret on his head. He greeted us as I trundled an ageing pram over the rough pavement. A woman living across the street gave me my first French-cookery lesson—ratatouille. Our immediate neighbor had been in the Resistance in World War II. One afternoon, seeking company, I made a surprise visit…and I was the one to be surprised. Over coffee with her compatriots, she seemed still to be plotting something. My visit was not welcome.
Back to those long, lonely shut-in days—on those days I did not always do very well. I took out my increasing frustration on my children. Finding my work of tidying up rapidly undone by two tiny pairs of hands, I spanked them soundly, regretted my outburst of temper, cried, said sorry, felt like the world’s worst Christian, and hugged them.
What’s the point of cleaning up when five minutes later it’s all back in a mess? I thought. Work was little fun anyway. I did not need much encouragement to abandon the effort to keep some semblance of order. I was frequently ill with throat infections and almost always tired—tired from being ill but also from the seemingly inescapable boredom of my existence. Moving abroad had seemed so exciting…until it became reality.
Rebelling against reality plunged me into self-pity—if only I were somewhere else doing something different. But I had no idea what! I lived in a dream world that, because I neglected the demands of reality, became a nightmare. I felt so overwhelmed by the difficulty of coping with two lively, strong-minded preschoolers that I became depressed. As I lay curled up in a fetal position on my bed, I seriously considered exiting the situation by jumping out of the bedroom window. I am pleased I did not. A severe jolt and injury were certain but, for a successful attempt to end it all, the drop to the ground was much too short. Facing up to the practicalities of everyday life as an invalid would have been even harder.
Looking back, now that the nest is empty, I laugh at how shortsighted I was, but at the time, those days and hours did seem endless. I felt as though I had been locked into a time warp, and that forever-and-a-day I would be trying to entertain kids. There were several reasons for my nihilistic state—tiredness, culture shock, low self-esteem, frequent moves, and trying to be something I was not, living up to the imagined expectations of others.
From time to time I would break out of depression by being creative. One grey November day, the kind of day I dreaded because it meant being shut in, I took the kids into the garden. We sheltered under the old shed and, being careful not to set the shed ablaze, we cooked sausages for teatime. Another grey day we made a crocodile from egg cartons and old tights. The kids loved these activities that kept them happy for hours. I loved them for the same reason. I had stumbled across a solution, but I did not realize it at the time.
Looking back now, I realize I should have spent much more time (and energy) doing creative things with the kids. I still do not know when I would have gotten essential tasks done, but I do know that these activities helped lift me from my blues. Suggestions from friends back home, shared time with other mums of small children, and creative family-life resources were invaluable. Mums need all the help they can get when their children are small, and I am thankful for the people who helped me.
Creativity, a God-given instinct, is one of the keys to happiness in any situation. In being creative, we mirror God. Whatever form that creativity takes, it is work requiring infinitely more care than does destruction, and it is infinitely more satisfying because of the end result.
Around that time, the Lord pinpointed an unhealthy relationship in my life and told me to give it up. Soon after, a young woman arrived unexpectedly, needing to learn French to become a cross-cultural worker. In return for food and lodging, she helped me around the house, radiating light and joy.
Obedience to the Lord brought me blessing.
Question to consider: How has obedience to the Lord brought you blessing?
About the author
Elizabeth James is a musician, cancer survivor, and writer who has lived in France for over thirty years, with a recent five-year hiatus in the United States. Her passion is to know Jesus Christ and to share His story and His glory with the world. She and her husband, Michael, a bi-vocational tentmaker, are British. They have four children and six grandchildren. Elizabeth has recently completed her first novel, "The Food Of Love", about a Christian musician. Her stories have been published in Areopagus, UK.View all articles by: Elizabeth James
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