Europe was great until we showed up.

Lake Como _ Us _ Patrick and ClaireSix months ago, Patrick and I decided to plan a trip to Europe. We got excited. We saved money diligently. We searched Airbnb for the perfect place to stay in Paris and the most central location in Rome. Weeks in advance, Patrick woke up at three in the morning to buy tickets to a Tottenham Hotspurs Futbol match and he booked a wine tour in Tuscany, too. We researched restaurants and sights, museums and transit. We sent out pleas for recommendations and read Rick Steve’s latest travel guide as if it were the Bible.

Because we’d decided to go on a trip. And we’d decided to make it great.

But expectations are joy-killers. So we tempered our excitement and realized there would be bumps and disappointments and frustrations along the way. We looked forward to the disasters—because we knew that great stories aren’t made from perfect moments strung together like pearls on a string. But what we didn’t expect was that what would go wrong wasn’t Europe. It was us.

Let me explain. 

IMG_4674Like any naive couple of humans, Patrick and I hoped that this trip would be magical, rejuvenating and life-giving. And don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of moments of awe and wonder both at God’s creation and each other. There were romantic dinners and bottles of wine and sunsets. There were history lessons and moments of quiet reflection and a break from the pressures of life and work at home. And we are, and always will be thankful for the time and the ability to see the world.

But Patrick and I are the same in Europe as we are in Nashville. And so when we had our first disagreement in Europe on our very first night in Europe, it shocked us. Wasn’t this supposed to be a dizzyingly romantic trip with fun and crazy stories and joy and hilarity? Wasn’t this EUROPE? 

It was. And Europe was great until we showed up. 

Amsterdam by morningAs it turns out, I still have a short temper, a bad sense of direction and impatience when it comes to making decisions whether I’m standing in front of the AT&T building in downtown Nashville or the Eiffel Tower. I wasn’t going to magically become more patient, loving and generous just because we we’d traversed the Atlantic Ocean. And if that seems like a simple realization—it wasn’t. It was painful.

As it turns out, you don’t need to plan a trip to find adventure. And  you don’t need a trip to be rejuvenated. Because if you can’t find joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control at home—you won’t find it anywhere else. Because you are you wherever you go. 

It’s so easy to take a picture and smile. It’s even easier to hide behind your camera, angry and frustrated, and snap a photo of a sunset to share on the internet. “So blessed to be in Europe!” you could write for a caption. “#CinqueTerre,” you could add, just to rub it in. But photos on the internet don’t do justice to the truth that is revealed through travel.

IMG_5411

I messed up our trip to Europe. Maybe not all of it. But enough to notice. And enough to need forgiveness.

Travel isn’t an escape. It’s a mirror. And what it exposes isn’t always pretty. It exposes the places within us that need changing. And it exposes our inability to change ourselves. But it also points to beauty so beyond our comprehension that you can realize that you are small AND you are loved.

Across the continent and the countries we chose to see, there were beautiful landscapes, breathtaking architectural feats, and history so deep and wide that I couldn’t swallow it all in one bite or two or three thousand.

It was all too much to take in. 

And that is what the love of God is like.

It’s like Europe.

You show up, screw it up, and it still blesses you beyond your wildest dreams. 

Patrick and Big Ben

IMG_4895

Luxembourg Gardens

Photos:

  1. Lake Como, Italy, Day 13
  2. Amsterdam, Netherlands, Day 5
  3. Sunset at Manarola, Italy, Day 17
  4. Patrick and Big Ben, Day 1
  5. Chamonix, France Day 12
  6. Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, Day 7

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Comments

  1. This. So good. I learned a very similar lesson on a mission trip in the bush of Africa one summer. Thinking I’d have ALL the time in the world to pursue God more deeply. I wouldn’t be encumbered by exams to study for and a long list of social obligations… Surely I’d grow so much closer to him while serving, and don’t forget time is slow in Africa, right?? Wrong. I was the same old me. At the end of the summer, when I was home and tearfully reflecting on what had gone wrong that summer, I clearly felt God saying to me “If you don’t seek me here (in America), you won’t seek me there (in Africa).” Ugh. Lesson learned. Well, sort of. Not that I’ve fully arrived on the other side of that one, but I know a little better now.

  2. Claire, I love this. Please imagine a fellow Nashvillian laughing and nodding with a hand raised in solidarity. My husband and I took a trip to Europe as well that sounds so similar. It was supposed to be a belated HONEYMOON and I spent the first six days waiting for him to get on board the romantic honeymoon train before realizing that we were, in fact, on an ANNIVERSARY TRIP–which is wonderful in its own right, but definitely NOT a honeymoon. On day six, after a gorgeous day in the vineyards of Tuscany, we had an argument on the way to dinner and we ate the ENTIRE meal in complete silence with an asian couple nervously glancing over at us from their table approximately five and a half inches to our left. I get a good laugh when I think back on it now, but when he left me in the hotel crying and fuming for an hour following dinner, it was far less funny. Oh sweet Europe.

    I don’t even remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I have since read through (on several occasions CRIED though) at least half of this site like a crazy person. Really enjoying your writing and glad you’re still doing it.

    -Lindsey

    P.S. I’ve always written for enjoyment and creative outlet but wondered about the world of freelance writing. Any chance you would have time to grab coffee sometime?

  3. Teniah says:

    I only just came across your blog today. I just wanted to say that I truly admire and appreciate the “realness” that you bring. It takes a confident person to be vulnerable, and share themselves in such a real way. I love that! I am always going on about how I wish people would get back to being “real”, and stop putting on such a show (particularly on the internet). We all face struggles, and we all have ups and downs – as you said, we are still who we are, regardless of the setting. These experiences are all part of what it is to be human. Voicing that is when it becomes “okay” to be human, and to acknowledge that God chooses to love us anyway!! Cheers. It was a great read.

  4. Sometimes the vast number of decisions when adventuring gets overwhelming and can lead to arguments, worry, and stress. If you travel again I recommend using a scheduled tour, I like Contiki tours. Then you just sit back, relax, and let the experts handle the dirty work of planning the eating, sleeping, and transportation and you just focus on the adventure.

    Sometimes its nice to have the adventure brought to you instead of trying to plan it all out on your own. This way everyday of the trip is a surprise

    • That is very true… the number of decisions was definitely overwhelming. And while I think doing something like Contiki probably would have saved us some headache… I still would have been me on a Contiki tour. Maybe just slightly less frazzled!

  5. love this! reminds me of the dr. phil saying…”what’s the constant throughout all of this…YOU!” 🙂 thanks claire.

  6. Doesn’t the saying, “Anticipation is 80% of the pleasure,” apply to your trip?
    It’s great that you could articulate this negative experience. The great majority would never have this epiphany, much less admit it.
    Good for you and welcome back to terra firma.

    • sweet beverly 🙂 I don’t know if I would call it a WHOLLY negative experience… just bittersweet. It is amazing though, how many people have come out of the woodwork to say their trip, or honeymoon, or motherhood or career feels this way. You could put just about any word in the place of “europe” and it would still be true!

  7. The best post you’ve written in my opinion. Very humbling and thought provoking to say the least. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great post…thanks for sharing. You could substitute the word “children” for Europe, and this would totally be my current life. 😳

  9. We always bring ourselves to the party, don’t we? Great blog post, Claire.
    That’s why we struggle so in this life….God, and Christ…are getting us ready for the “party” in heaven-and at times…it’s pretty ugly!

  10. good stuff Gibson.

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