There’s something absolutely predictable yet entirely crazy and out of the blue that happens. One moment you’re in the everyday, and a lot of it just feels so normal, and you sit and wonder: “I thought this was supposed to be EPIC.” And there are days when you are simply on the verge of tears wondering why you’re here, wondering what your life will look like when you get “home”, wondering why it all happens like it does. And then somehow the longest days and those shining moments warp into something else and suddenly you’re sitting in Vaclav Havel Airport and you’re going to get on a plane in a few hours and you’re definitely breaking the “not crying alone in public” rule. And you are so full of this sense that yes, EPIC, whatever that is, just happened.
Deciding to study abroad—I didn’t know exactly why I was doing this. Heck, I applied to the program a good week after the final registration date. I don’t know the moment it became clear, I just know that somewhere along the way in the past couple years something shifted in me, and it told me that that I was too afraid. I was too afraid of not finding that thing that drives me. I was afraid that I would find it and then fall and fail, or worse, not have the guts to run after it at all. I was afraid that I would spend the next two years clinically weighing every decision and wondering exactly what I was called to do and then never doing anything meaningful at all. I wanted desperately to be able to look at my life, my purpose and to hold it in my hands. I wanted to turn it over and run my fingers over its curves and edges, unsure of exactly what would be revealed with each passing day but confident that this thing I held was being transformed into the thing the craftsman had designed it to be.
So I signed the papers (there were a lot of them). This was it, I said. I walked confidently through the airport gate, waved goodbye to mom and dad. I was unusually calm—I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.
Fast-forward a month, and I’m sitting on the tarmac in London on a plane bound for Prague with about thirty other students I’ve just met in 5 am exhausted top-notch shape. That was the first time I felt the doubt nagging at me again, that fear that initially prompted me to fly halfway across the world for a semester. Fake it til you make it, I told myself. Let’s be honest, all of us were doing the same thing. And that’s how it was for a while—all of us trying to make it through, fighting for the chance to have that epic experience, to grow, to do whatever it was that we had set out to do.
And then, in the midst of all that fighting to stay afloat, we figured out that we were all there in that metaphorical water together. And that maybe this wasn’t about creating some perfect semester—it was about letting go of trying to make it perfect.
Last night, thirty or so of us were crammed into a tiny dorm room, shoulder to shoulder sharing tears and stories, just wanting to be in the same space for one last time. I looked around the room at these crazy people, singing along to Elton John and good ole Billy Joel, holding on to each other. The room felt different already—a few people had already boarded planes, said their tear filled goodbyes. That very morning we all gathered in our pjs in the lobby to hug them one more time when we could all say, ‘This is our home.” So many different faces, so many stories, and goodness knows we’ve all got our own unique past. Those hours showed me once again that loving people is worth the pain accompanying it. And what’s more, that people will surprise you if you let yourself get close enough to be surprised. And that if you have the guts to let go, you might even surprise yourself.
I know you’re probably wondering what I learned, how I changed. And I could answer you in more than a hundred different ways.
I learned there’s a reason Czechs drink a lot of beer: it’s good beer.
I learned how to live when there was no clear task to undertake or assignment to complete. I’ve never had too much difficulty dealing with a hiccup in a plan or a logistical fluke. That’s easy—see it, do something about it. But I had to learn to let myself live outside the confines of the routine and the prescribed path. I learned to figure out what it was that I wanted, and then did it.
I’ve learned that sometimes you have to stop thinking and just trust the path these familiar shoes lead you on.
I’ve learned life is boring without risks. And that sometimes plans are made to be broken. When the train is supposed to drop you off for a four hour layover in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, you ride that sucker ‘til you find a place to rest your head.
I learned that overalls are the perfect cure for construction worker “plumber butt” and that clothing dryers are underrated.
But mostly I learned how to live fuller, freer days—not by some big mind explosion moment. I learned it by living with these thirty something goons—I learned it from their big hugs and bigger hearts, from dance moves and not so smooth moves, from the spring in the step as we board the bus for yet another weekend trip, the not-so-dull roar of excitement and the quiet of an evening spent snuggled up together when the day seemed just too much, the mad dash up the metro steps for a victory lap and the equally mad sprint to catch that last metro, the thrill of an early morning bike ride and the ensuing exhaustion well-worth the memory, the creative cooking solutions and flooded shower mopping-up. I learned from their honest tears and questions and conversations.
Looking back now, I can see myself getting in my own way, so frustrated that I can’t hold that perfect plan in my hands, and all the while failing to realize that I’m living in it, if only I can just look up. And when you look up, suddenly you realize that in all those efforts to figure it out and do it just right you lose yourself. You lose the freedom to be human, which is to be messy, to be full of question and desire and an ache for something beyond us.
But this group, in the accumulation of all those little ordinary moments, they taught me the beauty of honest messiness and the perfect timing God has for all of it.
And if that isn’t epic, well then, I don’t care. Because it’s more than enough for me.