Our flight from France landed in Charlotte, North Carolina as the fireworks exploded across the sky for the Fourth of July. We felt it was God’s welcome to the four of us.
Bienvenue aux Etats-Unis les Khayat! My family and I were excited to begin our American life. It was 2013 and my husband had founded a company in the U.S. with two partners. For years, I had dreamed about moving here.
I was 46, but it felt like starting over because nobody knew me. It was a good feeling—exciting—but also sad. I had left my mom, my sister, my friends in France. And communicating was not easy. My English was very basic.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
I always thought of myself as an extrovert. But here, it was as if I became an introvert. Here, everything is in English. I can’t understand everything. I don’t have the same culture. I can’t understand the jokes, because American humor is very different from French. So, I became quieter in public. I fought—and still fight—the thoughts that maybe I am not smart enough to learn a foreign language at my age. In France, everything was easy to understand, easy for me to express myself. God, this is harder than I thought it would be.
Slowly, my English improved, while my children learned the language quickly. Step by step, God led the way to help us find our new home, and our new church, Seacoast. My husband and I were in awe with how many people go to church services and are open with their faith. We met Christian people everywhere, at the school front office where we registered our children, our landlord was a Christian, our real estate agent was a Christian. This was something we loved. In France, Christian believers are few.
The first time I went to a Sisterhood One Night event at the Mount Pleasant Campus, I went by myself. Nobody was waiting for me. Seeing so many women, who seemed to know each other, made me feel lonely inside. But I think you are very friendly here, and it’s easy to make new friends. What takes time is to deepen relationships. In France, because there are few Christians, we are very close.
Missing that fellowship, I went on the Sisterhood hike, took the Battles to Breakthroughs class, and joined the translation team to translate Seacoast’s weekend messages into French. I found a community of brothers and sisters from France, Brazil, Hungary, and Venezuela. God united us! I loved that when we worshipped God together, each of us prayed in our native tongue, but to the same God.
My family and I created new roots and friendships. I thought, That’s it. We’ll live here forever! We love it. It feels like home!
But near our fifth year living in the U.S., a visa problem happened. To fix it, we would have to return to France. And worse, my husband was about to leave for a trip to China for his work. For four months! He would not be allowed to return to the States afterward. God what is going on?
My husband left for China for work, while I stayed in Charleston, desperate for God’s guidance. How much longer should I stay? When will I see my husband again? We had been married for 27 years and had spent little time apart.
I listened for God’s voice, reading Psalm 46:10 over and over. “Be still and know that I am God.” I stayed still. I prayed. And God’s answer finally came. “Finish what has to be done and go!” I would leave in three months.
My 14-year-old daughter, Eve, did not want to go. She had made friends and was involved in school, and my 21-year-old son, Tim, was on a separate, student visa. He made the choice to stay in South Carolina for college. When Eve and I got on the airplane for France, I had no idea when I would see him again. What was happening to my family? We were separated across three different continents.
I felt uprooted, pulled from the place that was becoming our home.
BACK IN FRANCE
Renewing our visas was to take three months. My husband joined us after his work in China, and we found a tiny, temporary place to stay near my mom and sister in the Alps. We gave the bedroom to Eve because teenagers spend more time in their rooms. We shoved our bed in the closet. It took up the full width. To get in at night, I would stand at the foot and dive onto it. There was no privacy. One night when my husband and I were talking, Eve said through the wall, “I can hear everything you say.” I looked at my husband. It will only be another month, yes?
Months passed. No visa paperwork. Then, COVID hit. The U.S. Embassy closed. Our lives were on hold.
We lived in that tiny apartment, waiting for the world to reopen. I missed my son. I felt stuck—not completely belonging in France or in the U.S. But living again in the Alps, I rejoiced more in the beauty around me because of the years I spent away. Every Thursday, I left early to hike with friends, when it was still dark, my backpack ready.
During my hikes, I worshipped God. I could contemplate and admire God’s creation, the beautiful lakes, the mountains that still have snow in summer. There is a sacred peacefulness to being far away from the hustle of the city. And hiking
from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. gave me an opportunity to share with people what God was doing in my life, in this time of waiting. In France, you have to be VERY intentional to build strong friendships with coworkers, neighbors, and family members just to have the opportunity to share your testimony.
PULLING UP ROOTS . . . AGAIN
When the embassy reopened in the summer of 2021, we were notified that we would soon receive our green cards. Yet, I was less excited this time to move to the U.S. We had taken root in France again. Eve was happy and did not want to leave. She had grown in her faith and had been baptized at our small church. But Lord, if this is where you are leading, we will go!
After years apart, I was reunited with my son. I saw how strong he had grown. And I saw how God cared for us in so many ways. I am now a French teacher for a school; I have reconnected with old friends, and the Sisterhood hike team. My husband and I attend Re|engage because those years in France shook our marriage, and we needed a supportive group to help us heal and grow together.
Recently my daughter, Eve, told me that God has worked everything out for her good. Since we moved back, her relationship with the Lord has deepened! God is faithful. He has a purpose. He plants us where he wants us to grow, even when we are unsure what will happen next.
I would like to stay in the U.S., but it does not really matter where I live. I know now that my roots are not where I live. My roots are in God.