I remember wanting to leave the country because it felt like I couldn’t breathe here. Vividly recall days of sitting at my desk, 3pm chocolate runs, wearing cardigans and drinking hot water in the freezing summer aircon, dreaming of cobblestones and anonymity. Wanderlust. The travel bug. Call it what you will, but it was dramatic in the way that I was prone to at that age, and probably still am now sometimes. I felt like if I didn’t get away I might end up with grass to mow and a hills hoist and unhappiness in my stomach. It wasn’t fair, to grass or hills hoists or lives that include them, but it’s what I felt.
By the end, I wanted to leave so badly that I couldn’t think straight. My escape, when it came, was incredible. I look back now and can’t believe that was me, my life. 3 months. Europe. Alone and not alone. Bliss.
I hardly ever think about it anymore. I almost never long for secret French tunnels or a summer promenade and the first snowfall of my life in a tiny Italian village where no one knew my name.
It’s just as well. I will never have that holiday, or likely one like it again. Back then I was entirely self-involved, and part of the escaping was because my life felt so small, and it was because I lived it for me. This is by no means a comment on anyone else or any other holiday or escape plan, just mine. Mine was of a time, and a me that I am thankful to leave behind.
Now there is much more to consider. This life is so very rarely one from which I long to escape.
The other day I found some pictures though, and I remembered. In a not-as-rare-as-I’d-like moment of stress-induced crazy, I wished to be somewhere else, and diving into one of my photo’s Mary Poppins style sounded great. Suddenly I remembered what it felt like the first time I visited Tesco and saw a row of cereal I didn’t recognise and my heart leapt for joy. I remembered the feel of awkward Italian yielding me a friend, a Pompeii exploring, water-taxi splashing, extending my time in Sorrento friend. Crying when I first glimpsed the Colosseum. Buying cheese and throwing my arms around my sister in Paris, and drinking lychee-flavoured liqueur on Christmas day with a friend who brought couscous from London on the train.
I remembered what it felt like to be unknown and unencumbered, and it felt amazing. It felt like anything could happen, and also like it didn’t really matter what did because tomorrow it might change. I relished that at the time. And occasionally now I want it again, the lack of responsibility or people to answer to, text messages and expectations.
I wanted it this past week because of exams coming up after a semester that has left me thankful but tired. I do not want to hang on for another 3 weeks. But my life is not about want or escape any more.
Because it turns out that I wasn’t unknown or unencumbered 8 years ago anymore than I am today. I ran as far as I could, only to return to Australia and run into the embrace of a Newcastle family who would change my life, and ensure that I would never need to run again.
I have wanted, so many times, to write about NCS. NCS – the AFES group on my uni campus – changed my life*. There I heard about Jesus who didn’t come to save me so that I could live a life that was all about myself. He saved me FOR something – himself. (I had heard this message my whole life, but it never meant what it should until I went to uni). And the ‘what next’ is still being worked out, that’s what these years now are about. I don’t know what next, but I know why. Because of Him.
Because of Jesus my life is not my own. It is not small. It is not something that makes me write out long despondent notes to myself about how things should be different as I sip my 12th herbal tea of the day and wait for 5pm. I am not the centre of Jesus plan – to my own immense good. He is the centre. His death on the cross for sinners, of which I am one (the worst), infuses every corner of this life of mine with meaning.
Sometimes when I’m trying to memorise paradigms or cram facts into my brain for easy retrieval, it is easy to forget that. It is very easy for me to seem pretty damn important to myself. It is very easy to long to be back in an old life, buying books in an airport, stumbling upon Christmas markets, feeling as though I knew what freedom meant.
But my God was not satisfied for me to be satisfied with trinkets. These past years have been a wooing, and a breaking down of my thousand self obsessed walls, and a gentle explaining, again and again, that a life lived for him is worth it. I don’t know what it will look like. There are no guarantees of cobblestones or washing lines or anything in between of the material kind. But there is the guarantee of a future that is secure and kept, even as everything else fades away. I can cling to it on days of happy breakfasts and pedicures, and on days of desperation and wishing to be someone else.
For there is enough wonder in the good news of Jesus to keep me warm – to sustain me in his strength – on every day, cold or otherwise, from here to eternity.
*This still isn’t it. One day these feeble words will explain how much my NCS family meant and means to me. For now, this is about the best song my heart can sing:
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1: 3-6