March 2, 2023

Portuguese Lemonade

Alliance international workers recount an experience of how being present impacted a friend.

by Dan and Lisa Lawrence, international workers serving in France

You have probably heard the expression “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s the sentiment that, when life dishes out a difficult situation, try to make the best of it. 

Well, as believers, we understand that it is often God who eventually uses these difficult situations for His glory. Sometimes we just don’t see the good until further down the road, if ever. In hindsight, we even see that “the difficult times” are often part of God’s plan and purpose.

Over the past couple years, we have had a few “lemons” here in France. During our first four years of ministry in Paris, God provided an incredible apartment for us. It was in an ideal location and perfect for the type of ministry that God had called us to. Through this place, God opened many doors for us to know non-Christians and helped us to grow some deep roots into the community. It became home to us in many ways.  

However, when it came time for us to return to the States for a year-long home assignment, it seemed unlikely that we would be able to keep the apartment. We tried absolutely everything to keep the place, but long story short, it just didn’t work out. After some grieving, tears, and even and some complaining, we came to peace with this reality—trusting that God wasn’t allowing us to return to this place for some reason that we didn’t yet understand.  

So, when we returned to Paris last summer, we had to find a new home, and God provided a great apartment just an eight minute walk from the old place. God is opening so many doors here in this new building already. Divine appointments are happening with many people who live here. It’s easy to see God’s hand in this new place . . . but what about the old apartment that we prayed so hard to keep?

In Paris, the buildings and the culture around them are very old. Most buildings have a person that takes care of the building and some of the affairs for the people who live there. They are called “guardians.” In our previous building, it was a lady from Portugal, her name is Maria.* She would collect the mail, clean the common areas, take out the recycling, and even schedule repairs when needed. She is an incredibly nice and kind woman who we tried very hard to build a relationship with during the four years we lived there. However, while living there, an invisible cultural barrier existed between us. Despite all our efforts, we were “tenants” and she was “the help”—roles that are rooted deep in history and culture that were hard to overcome. That’s unfortunately the way it was . . . as long as we lived there.  

This past summer, after moving into our new place, we stopped back in to see how Maria was doing. After updating each other on life, we exchanged phone numbers with her (which would have never happened before). A few weeks later, we got a text from her saying that we received some mail to our old address; so we met up, only to discover it was some overdue parking tickets (more lemons). During that time, Lisa suggested that her and Maria might get together for coffee sometime—her face lit up at the idea.

Recently, Maria invited Lisa over to her small apartment (in our old building) for coffee. During that time, she heard Maria’s life story. She shared how she and her family moved from Portugal to Paris and had been the guardians of the building for the past 20 years. During that time span, she could only recall three families that had shown her true kindness, and we were among them. She expressed how she missed our family and how the building was different since we moved. Just as Lisa was preparing to leave, Maria’s husband came home early from work. He began to tell stories of their Portuguese culture and proceeded to pull out Portuguese food and drinks for Lisa to try. The three of them talked and laughed for nearly four hours. None of this would have even been fathomable while we still lived there. Now? We have plans for them to come to our new place soon.

None of this would have happened if we got what we wanted. Is it possible that the entire reason we didn’t stay in that apartment building was so we could reach someone in that very apartment building? Is it possible that while we were listing to God all the reasons why it “made sense” to stay, God had a great reason for us to leave? Her name is Maria.

Sometimes in the “lemon” moments, it’s not always easy to see things “according to His purpose.” But all we can do is trust God and testify of His goodness because in hindsight, the lemonade is sweet. 

*Name changed

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” —Romans 8:28