Project 52, Week 41, Part Two – I’ll Always Have Paris!

It’s time for Project 52, Week 41!

2005_11_07 5 Me

41 weeks (and one day) ago, on my 52nd birthday, I began Project 52. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, each week I’m taking one year of my life and blogging about it. This week, I’m covering the year I was 41 — June 14, 2005, to June 14, 2006.

Last time, I covered the start of the hardest year of my life. My husband was having an affair, but kept telling me they were friends and if I were a supportive wife I’d be happy he was spending time with his friend. More and more incidents happened when I found out he was seeing her behind my back. (After all, he couldn’t tell me or I would get upset!) So finally, at the end of October 2005, he told me he was going to file for divorce.

But — remember how a full year before, I’d learned about a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Advanced Writing Retreat in Paris happening in November 2005? I really wanted to go — and Steve said he’d pay for my trip, but we’d have to postpone the family ski trip we had been planning for that Thanksgiving. Eventually, he said we couldn’t afford it to be a family trip, so he’d go alone — and that was when he started his affair (I found out much later).

However — now it was time for the Writer’s Retreat at the Abbaye de Royaumont! And so began the best vacation of my life — smack in the middle of the worst year of my life!

The background was this: In 1999, I’d gone to an SCBWI Writer’s Retreat at the Abbaye de Royaumont. When I went, I prayed that I’d make some friends who were also writers. I wanted some people in my life who understood my drive to write children’s books. And that prayer was answered! I got started there in an email critique group with Kristin Wolden Nitz, Vicki Sansum, and Erin MacLellan. We emailed regularly, and all three of them had gotten published in the intervening years. (It was my turn — some day. Now I want to wait until after I’ve been on the Newbery committee.) We called ourselves the Sisters of Royaumont.

As it happened, all four of us were able to go to the 2005 Retreat! And Vicki arranged a place to stay so we could spend some time in Paris together before and after the retreat! So I was in Paris November 2 through 10!

Remember also that the week before was when Steve told me he wanted a divorce. And the morning after he told me that, I woke up and decided to get my Master’s in Library Science and become a librarian.

Early on the morning of the 2nd, I drove myself to the train station in Kaiserslautern. (From there, it was a straight shot to Paris. About 5 hours.) I was praying hard as I drove. Praying that it would be a good conference. Praying that the Lord would walk with me as I tried to be a librarian and a writer. Praying that my marriage would be restored.

And then I looked up — and there was a bright rainbow right in front of me, over my path.

I decided that maybe it was childish and silly — but I was going to take it as a sign that the Lord would answer those prayers.

And wow — was the conference ever good! And maybe the specific thing of my marriage being restored didn’t happen — but I feel like light is shining on my whole life at this point. In retrospect, I’ll take it as a sign that There would be joy for me! Yes!

And as soon as I got there, my friends enveloped me with love. They let me talk incessantly about Steve and all my confusion and pain. And I just felt loved.

Kristin didn’t arrive as soon as the rest of us. But here are Vicki, Erin’s friend Robin, Erin, and me having dinner that first night.

2005_11_02 1 Paris

Something I noticed right from the start: Frenchmen are far, far more likely to flirt with you if you visit Paris with girlfriends than if you come with your husband and two sons. And at that point in my life, it felt wonderful to have handsome French strangers flirt with me!

The next morning we started out with a visit to Montmartre.

2005_11_02 2 Montmartre

2005_11_02 3 Montmartre

2005_11_02 4 Montmartre

2005_11_02 5 Montmartre

Somewhere along the way, we picked up Kristin and visited Notre Dame.

2005_11_03 1 Notre Dame

Here are Vicki, Kristin, and Erin, having lunch across from Notre Dame. (That was the meal when I lost a crown. But it didn’t hurt, and I got through the week without it.)

2005_11_03 2 Sisters

Then we visited the gargoyles! I’d never been to the top of Notre Dame before and loved this.

2005_11_03 3 Gargoyle

2005_11_03 4 Gargoyles

2005_11_03 5 Gargoyle

2005_11_03 6 Gargoyles

2005_11_03 7 Gargoyles

2005_11_03 8 Gargoyles

2005_11_03 9 Paris

2005_11_03 10 Gargoyles

Here I am, filling the bell tower with my great height!

2005_11_03 11 Me

2005_11_03 12 Gargoyle

2005_11_03 13 Notre Dame

2005_11_03 14 Sisters

2005_11_03 15 Notre Dame

2005_11_03 16 Notre Dame

Across the street from Notre Dame, I had to get a picture at the street named after the famous mathematician!

2005_11_03 18 Rue Lagrange

Erin wanted a picture with the truckful of bread we found!

2005_11_03 19 Erin Bread

And that night we went for a walk, skipping together and singing songs from musicals! It was so good to feel joyous!

2005_11_03 20 Eiffel Lights

We were at the Louvre, looking at the pyramid, when we turned around and saw the Eiffel Tower. “It’s Sparkling!!!

2005_11_03 21 Eiffel sparkling

And then — the writer’s conference at Royaumont started!

It was planned to be a working retreat, so we each had private rooms. The first few pictures were taken in the morning out my window of the lovely grounds.

2005_11_04 1 Abbaye

2005_11_04 2 Royaumont

2005_11_04 3 Royaumont

Later I went for a walk myself.

2005_11_04 4 Royaumont

2005_11_04 5 Royaumont

There’s Kristin, writing away!

2005_11_04 6 Kristin

2005_11_04 7 Royaumont

2005_11_04 8 Royaumont

2005_11_04 9 Royaumont

2005_11_04 10 Royaumont

2005_11_04 11 Royaumont

2005_11_04 12 Royaumont

In the middle of the conference, my quiet time notebook had me looking at these verses from Psalm 112:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous woman….
She will have no fear of bad news;
her heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Her heart is secure, she will have no fear;
in the end she will look in triumph on her enemies.

That sums up what I got from that trip and that conference. I took as my icon for the trip the Arc de Triomphe. I was encouraged that I would triumph!

2005_11_04 13 Royaumont

2005_11_04 14 Royaumont

2005_11_04 15 Royaumont

This was my room:

2005_11_04 16 My Room

And I went for a walk at night, too.

2005_11_04 17 Night

Another sunrise from my window.

2005_11_06 1 Sunrise

2005_11_06 2 Royaumont

And the conference itself was inspiring. I was thinking about and excited about being a librarian and a writer. I was excited about the future — whether or not my marriage was ever restored. I was surrounded by wonderful book people. I even got a work session with an editor and she agreed to look at my manuscript of my second novel!

Here are Erin and Kristin taking a walk while I was inside working this time.

2005_11_06 3 Kristin and Erin

2005_11_06 4 Royaumont

Here’s a Group Shot of all the writers at the conference. Can you find me?

2005_11_06 5 Group shot

This one features Erin and Kristin.

2005_11_06 6 Group shot

And here we are — the Sisters of Royaumont!

2005_11_06 7 Sisters

Our last morning at Royaumont!

2005_11_07 1 Royaumont

I love this candid, because it shows just how much fun all us writers were having!

2005_11_07 2 Candid fun

Here is Erin with author Franny Billingsley, who was attending the conference, too.

2005_11_07 3 Erin and Franny

And here we are again!

2005_11_07 4 Sisters

Almost time to go. Here are Erin and Kristin.

2005_11_07 6 Erin and Kristin

That night, we visited Erin’s friend and Kristin got novel background material from her Finnish husband.

2005_11_07 7 Writing advice

Robin and their parrot:

2005_11_07 8 Robin

I think Kristin had to leave the next day, but we roamed Paris.

2005_11_08 1 Seine

2005_11_08 2 Paris

2005_11_08 3 Paris

2005_11_08 4 Pastries

At the park by Victor Hugo’s house.

2005_11_08 5 Park

2005_11_08 6 Vicki and Erin

2005_11_08 7 Erin cafe

I mentioned last time that the Spring before — after I found out my husband was seeing another woman — I got depressed and lost more than 20% of my weight and was down to my high school weight of 105 pounds. Basically, I was skeletal. So — my friends decided to fatten me up! And there is no better place to be fattened up than Paris! Let me just say that aspect of the trip was fantastique!

2005_11_08 8 Me cafe

2005_11_08 9 Us park

We went to the Musée d’Orsay.

2005_11_09 1 d'Orsay

2005_11_09 2 d'Orsay

I think it was Vicki’s tip to eat lunch in the tea room, which was pretty much the most elegant place in the world.

2005_11_09 4 tea room

2005_11_09 5 tea room

2005_11_09 6 tea room

2005_11_09 7 Paris

Our last night in Paris, we visited the Eiffel Tower.

2005_11_09 8 Eiffel Tower

2005_11_09 9 Eiffel Tower

2005_11_09 11 Erin and Vicki

2005_11_09 12 Eiffel Tower

2005_11_09 13 Eiffel Tower

2005_11_09 14 Eiffel

2005_11_09 15 View

L’Arc de Triomphe:

2005_11_09 16 l'Arc de Triomphe

2005_11_09 17 View

2005_11_09 18 View

The Eiffel Tower sparkled while we were standing underneath it!

2005_11_09 19 Giant sparkles

2005_11_09 20 Tower

So, what was God doing in my life November 2-10, 2005?

Mostly, He was filling me with hope for the future, whether or not my marriage was restored.

I was excited about becoming a librarian. I was energized about my writing. I’d been encouraged by people who loved me. I’d gotten to talk out all my frustration and pain and fear. I’d been fattened up! I heard fantastic speakers and attended wonderful workshops about writing. I’d been surrounded by book people. I’d seen beautiful Paris and realized that whatever happened, God would help me Triumph!

Maybe Steve’s motives weren’t the best in giving me that trip to Paris. But without question, God used it for good.

That trip was such an amazing blessing! In the middle of an incredibly hard year — God gave me an interlude that energized and inspired and uplifted me!

Leave a Reply