Paris – Day 6

IMG_6896.jpgKnowing that most Parisian museums are closed on Mondays, I saved the islands and cathedrals for my last full day in Paris, wanting to make the most of my time in the city.

To finish off the trip right, Rachel and I decided to splurge on breakfast at the prestigious Cafe de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain during our last day. I ordered the Quiche Lorainne with my cafe creme, and it was definitely the best quiche I’ve ever had! The light, flaky crust was just the right texture against the creamy and flavorful egg-and-cheese filling. I was thoroughly impressed.

IMG_6654.jpgThe waiters at Cafe de Flore were resplendent in black vests and bow ties, so we sat for a while in the quaint atmosphere, sipping our lattes and looking out the glass walls at the pedestrians passing by outside. I sat and sketched while Rachel read a book; then I helped a couple from Portugal decipher the French menu when they caught my eye and smiled apologetically, looking sheepish.

Once we felt it was time to relinquish our table, Rachel and I took the Metro to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cite. Coming up on the North side of the cathedral where visitors enter was disappointing. I expected to see the rounded spire and flying buttresses, but instead we saw the two boxy towers of what I had always considered the back side of Notre-Dame. We waited in line in the rain, and once inside, I felt much better because the inside was just as beautiful as I’d imagined.

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The Rose windows were especially breathtaking, but I was frustrated to see signs everywhere instructing visitors to pay in order to light and candle and pray. I realize that Notre-Dame is now a tourist attraction that expects to take in funding, but it made me think of Matthew 21 when Jesus says, “You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves!” It also made me thankful for John 4:23 and 1 Cor. 3:16. We don’t have to worship God at any particular place; we are called to worship in Spirit and in Truth!

IMG_6802.jpgBack outside in the rain, I took Rachel around the quiet, unfrequented South side of Notre-Dame and was rewarded with a stunning, unobstructed view of rose gardens encircling the majestic flying buttresses around the nave of the cathedral. This was where I wanted to spend my time – away from the crowds and in the presence of great beauty, both natural and man made. I took in a deep breath, savoring the moment and literally stopping to smell the roses. It was magnificent and moving; a memory I will cherish.

The rain really starting coming down as we walked the length of the island to Sainte-Chapelle, and we passed a man whistling “Singing in the Rain”. The familiar tune and his carefree vocalization made my heart happy. Twenty minutes later, I stepped inside the lesser-known chapel of Ile de la Cite, and it took my breath away.

Rich colors dominated the surprisingly low ceiling, and this close, the detail work and structural patterns of the vaulting were more readily admired. A narrow spiral staircase took us to an upper floor where the king used to worship, and it was probably the coolest cathedral I have ever been in (significant, since I’ve visited St. Paul’s in Rome, St. Patrick in NYC, Westminister in London, Washington National Cathedral in DC, St. Michael’s in Brussels and more).

IMG_6861.jpgStained glass windows dominated the room, reaching nearly floor to ceiling and telling the story of the bible bottom-to-top as one moved clockwise around the room. It felt simultaneously secluded and awe-inspiring; majestic and intimate, just like the One intended to be worshiped.

Leaving the island, Rachel and I went to the highly-ranked Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore but quickly left, disappointed. All the books were brand new and in English, and patrons stood elbow-to-elbow at the shelves.

Decided to spend the rest of our evening on Ile Saint-Louis, we settled at La Chaumiere, where I ordered a Nutella crepe with my cappuccino. Rachel was generally embarrassed of me when I talked to people around us, but in this instance, it paid off for her because we were seated next to a foursome from her hometown – remarkable because it’s a basically unknown small town of just six thousand people.

IMG_6911.jpgWhen the foursome left, Rachel got out her book, and I continued my sketching and journaling. The waiter kept trying to flirt with us, and when I got up to go to the bathroom, he wrapped me unexpectedly in a hug with the other waiters looking on and laughing. I figured if he could be that bold, I could, too, so when I got to the top of the stairs from the bathroom and he grabbed me for another hug, I disentangled myself from him, asked if he could read English; then handed him my bible where I’d bookmarked John. I asked him to commit to reading it, and he said he would, but God only knows if he will. I’m praying that if he doesn’t, my bible will end up in the hands of someone who will!

Rachel and I moved on to Creperie la Sarrasin et la Froment, where I got a framboise (strawberry) crepe and socialized with the genuinely friendly owner, a refugee from Iraq. It was a slow evening, perfect for my last night in Paris. Coffee, crepes and good company? A girl can’t ask for much more.

Authentically Aurora

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Paris – Day 5

Sunday was our planned day trip to Versailles, so Rachel and I got up early and started our morning at Kozy, a breakfast cafe she’d found on Yelp. It was unremarkable and fairly westernized, with hipster chalkboard menus hung on the walls and written entirely in English. Regardless, any morning begun with a latte and chocolate croissant is a good morning!

We finished breakfast, walked to the Metro, bought our RER C tickets and got on the train for the anticipated hour-long ride. At the Javel stop, we were surprised to spot the original Statue of Liberty out the window. Pretty cool.

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Once at Versailles, we found it to be beautiful but crowded. Our Paris Museum Passes were supposed to gain us entrance to the Palace and Gardens, but at the gate to the gardens, we were told we had to buy an additional ticket for entry since the water show would be held later that evening. I argued with the attendant that their website said water shows were only on Saturdays (it was Sunday), and anyway, that day’s show was at 8:30 PM and it was only 10:00 AM. We would be long gone by the time the water show started.

The ticket puncher wouldn’t budge, so Rachel and I went to the nearby Versailles Cafe to burn off some steam. But the line was out the door. So we went to the Versailles Laduree. They would only sell a minimum of six macaroons at a time; customers had to buy an entire box at once. Beaten down, we got in line for the Palace. Over an hour later, we made it inside, where we waited in yet another line to go through security.

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The Palace was ornate but, in my opinion, not worth waiting for. Even the Hall of Mirrors – the entire reason I wanted to visit Versailles – was so full of people that the effect of the potential majesty was lost. The grandeur of the famous glass and crystal hall was diminished by all the madding crowds.

I also made the observation that all the paintings were of wars, French nobility or Greek mythology. One of the rooms is even called the Apollo room, but there is nothing remotely biblical throughout the Versailles Palace, at least not that I could see. I found that curious, considering how prominent biblical paintings and sculptures are throughout the rest of Europe, regardless of what the current inhabitants believe.

Ready to leave Versailles the instant the tour was over, Rachel and I took the train back into town and had lunch on Rue Cler. I ordered a Cobb Salad from Cafe Central; then we both got Nutella ice cream cones, which we took to a nearby park where little French children were playing, climbing trees and splashing water on each other from the fountainhead. It was interesting watching the French children play; they were very adventurous and active (and frequently without pants…?). Although we were in the midst of Paris, they acted like rural kids would in the States.

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We continued on to the grassy area around Les Invalides, where I laid in the grass for a while before putting in earbuds and walking around the park, quietly singing worship music over the people there. I felt the void of having missed my church community that morning, and I longed for God to be praised in this place.

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It was a beautiful day – sunny and 75 – so Rachel and I walked to Place de la Concorde; then through the Carrousel Garden and Tuileries Garden. We made it back to the greenery around the Louvre, where we were joined by Thomas and sat talking for a while before heading home to our Airbnb. As before, the Metro skipped over our Passy stop (perhaps it only stops at certain stations after a certain hour of the evening?), so we again walked home from Trocadero, rewarding ourselves with much-needed hot showers after climbing the 127 steps to our shared room. And then? Sweet sleep.

Authentically Aurora

An Unexpected Song

Globe Room

Have you ever been a trendsetter who didn’t even know you were setting a trend? Or a key driving force behind a movement that was just something you were doing because it was fun? Sometimes fire catches when we are just playing with our sparklers for no other reason than they are pretty and bring us joy. In fact, I believe some of the best movements are started that way: unintentionally.

On Tuesday this week, Ashley and I played hookie from work to take a spontaneous road trip to our alma mater. Okay, it wasn’t really hookie. We logged our vacation time and told our bosses. And it was only about a 2 hour drive, so it wasn’t much of a road trip. And it’s possible we planned it about a week in advance, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely spontaneous. But still. We were adventurous!

Anyway, it was seriously the perfect day. We got to campus in the late afternoon as warm, golden rays of sunlight sifted through the trees. The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny and 75 – and it was glorious to stroll through the sprawling courtyards and relive our happy memories there.

We took a university bus across campus as though going to classes, ate at one of our favorite college sandwich joints, visited a couple of our favorite bookstores and coffee shops, and we finally tried strawberry tarts at a famous upscale restaurant that was way outside of our budgets during our college years.

The entire day was magical (and we hope to make it a quarterly tradition!), but my favorite part of the day was completely unexpected. There is a building in the center of campus – the Memorial Center – that serves as something of a student union or center for student activities. Within the Memorial Center is a room called the Globe Room, where the mahogany walls are lined with bookshelves, and the hardwood floors are covered in rich rugs of emerald, burgundy and midnight blue. Historical flags hang from the ceiling, and two gemstone globes serve as centerpieces surrounded by rich leather couches where students sit studying.

Everything about the Globe Room makes me feel like I am home; I have found my personal heaven on earth. Each time I enter, I breathe deeply, taking in the scents of leather and old books before giving a happy sigh. The Globe Room also houses a grand piano in one corner of the room, and during my days at university, various students would occasionally walk in, play a few soothing classical pieces (think “Moonlight Sonata” or “Clair de Lune”); then step out again, leaving the rest of us to our books and studies.

On Tuesday when Ashley and I walked into the Globe Room, a young man sat at the piano playing a soothing melody. He was clearly talented – the kind of person who can play piano without sheet music; the kind of person who can play brilliantly by ear.

Ashley and I sat down in two plush chairs, and I closed my eyes to better take in the sounds and smells of my favorite room on campus. I smiled to myself as I recognized the tune the pianist transitioned into. Then I was surprised to hear his low voice quietly singing along. I found myself harmonizing to his melody line under my breath. I hadn’t realized I knew the words to the song, but I did.

The pianist looked up, hearing my harmony drifting over to him, and he started to sing louder. So I smiled, apologized to Ashley (who occasionally is made to feel uncomfortable by my boldness), and walked over to the piano, where the man continued playing. We crescendoed together until we were each singing our parts at full volume. I’d never heard anyone sing along to the grand piano in the Globe Room before, but it was exhilarating, and I smiled to myself as I looked around at the old, familiar surroundings.

The music faded out, and the pianist (Daniel, I learned later) transitioned smoothly into yet another song. As he played the opening chords, I was astonished to recognize it as a Christian worship song: “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. I let him sing the first few lines solo; then I softly came in with gentle harmony for the last few lines of the first verse.

As Daniel and I grew into the chorus, a young man walking past the Globe Room paused in the hallway and leaned in, listening. Near the end of the first chorus, another person stood from one of the couches and walked over to the piano, singing the words along with us. And then we were joined by another. And another.

My heart felt full, looking around at my brothers and sisters in Christ – people I’d never met before; people I didn’t even know. But even without knowing each other’s names, we started a movement in the Globe Room. Daniel unintentionally started a worship service in the heart of a public, state university.

The whole experience was beautiful and awe-inspiring, and I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was almost over. It was otherworldly worshiping together with complete strangers, sharing a spiritual bond as we united in Christ, praising our King without regard for doctrinal or denominational differences. My prayer is that we were not the only ones who sensed it; the supernatural force – the Holy Spirit – that permeated the Globe Room that afternoon. God truly is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, and this experience is one I will not soon forget.

Authentically Aurora

Cultivating Contentment

Contented HeartSometimes we have to pause our Pursuit of Happiness and take the time to just Be Happy.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just let a situation be what it is instead of what we want it to be.

Sometimes we have to do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

So this week, I am thankful for my church. It has taken me years to find a church where I experience God’s presence every single Sunday, but finally – finally! – I have a church home again. It’s far from perfect (you know, churches being comprised of sinners and all that), but the worship is powerful, the people are authentic, and the sermons are both convicting and encouraging.

Our worship band is full of talented musicians who choose songs with lyrics straight out of Scripture, and every week as I sing along, I close my eyes and experience God’s love and peace in ways I rarely do throughout the rest of my week.

Our people are servant-hearted, with a significant portion of the congregation volunteering as greeters, nursery workers, prayer partners and more. There is even a group of young adults that stand at a booth outside in the heat to make iced coffee for people as they arrive in the morning.

Significant portions of our tithes and offerings are poured back out into the community. This is a church that believes it is more blessed to give than to receive, whether the resource in question is money or time.

This week after church, I went out to lunch with a group of new friends, and our conversation was full of life and light. My heart felt full. My heart felt happy.

God is moving in this church. And I am so thankful to be a part of not only this church, but also the greater purpose: His Kingdom work in this city. “God, who am I, that You have brought me this far?” (2 Sam. 7:18)

Authentically Aurora