Why did I go to France in the first place if I was so fearful? And I am about one of the most fearful people you can meet. I have been terrified of everything outside of my small life, haunted by the “what ifs,” accosted by worry and the fear of dying or of grief, ever since I can remember.
But I had these grains of courage that propelled me towards France because the alternative was worse: it was the fear of not being good enough as I was—of remaining the same. I was compelled to do something extraordinary in order to be worth something, and to seek every opportunity to remake the old model that I knew to be deeply flawed.
And I did recreate myself in France. When I sat outdoors on a stone bench eating a baguette with butter and cheese, and shared a bottle of wine with friends over lunch, I became a bohemian. When I spoke in class with, what I considered to be, a good accent and with great fluency, I was an intellectual. When I met friends after school for wine or beer at an outdoor café (cheered by the no-age-restrictions in France), I was a sophisticate. And when I took the train to Besançon and Montpellier by myself for an overnight stay, I was an adventurer.
I was full of hope and the promise of becoming something extraordinary as I walked the streets of Avignon. But it was in those hours alone, especially in the dark, that I always came back to loneliness and fear; I always came back to myself.
It wasn’t the country that attracted me—at first. I even stopped taking French in tenth grade since I wasn’t particularly gifted at it. Nevertheless, I took French up again in college as a predecessor to studying abroad, and I think I might have been prompted to do so because of the dream I had when I was seventeen.
I was walking through a forest, hand in hand with someone. The trees made everything seem dark and shady, but I wasn’t afraid, just curious. We walked for a bit before entering an open sunny space where we spotted a low, stone wall in front of us. We sat down on the wall together, enjoying the day and the warmth of the sun.
We were having an easy, intimate conversation, and he said something, which made me laugh and turn to look at him. At that moment, I remember being surprised about two things: for one, I had grown up and become the confident woman I longed to be, so that I was almost unrecognizable to myself. For another, the man I was talking to was French, and he was my husband. I was surprised to be so at ease with a man—any man, much less someone who was from another country.
So I found myself going to Avignon, feeling quite small, but determined to inject the necessary elements of change—a cosmic Botox for a new and improved soul. There, I discovered that I actually did have a knack for languages, discovered that I actually was smart, and got my first rush from traveling.
Oh, and I sunbathed topless on the beach in Cannes.
But all along, deep down inside, I think I was searching for that French husband of my dreams. And I’m guessing that is why I went to France.
At seventeen, Jennie Goutet has a dream that she will one day marry a French man and sets off to Avignon in search of him. Though her dream eludes her, she lives boldly—teaching in Asia, studying in Paris, working and traveling for an advertising firm in New York.
When God calls her, she answers reluctantly, and must first come to grips with depression, crippling loss, and addiction before being restored. Serendipity takes her by the hand as she marries her French husband, works with him in a humanitarian effort in East Africa, before settling down in France and building a family.
Told with honesty and strength, A Lady in France is a brave, heart- stopping story of love, grief, faith, depression, sunshine piercing the gray clouds—and hope that stays in your heart long after it’s finished.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG-13
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