I had plans.
I was going to get a job in London and never leave the UK again. (Except for visits to family and occasional adventures, obviously, because I love to travel. And I love adventures.)
And then my student visa expired without any job offers on the horizon, which meant that I had to leave the country. But I wasn’t ready to return to the US because that felt like giving up my dream of living in the UK.
So I made new plans. These plans involved six weeks of travelling across Europe, and essentially staying on this side of the Atlantic for as long as I thought I could reasonably afford it. They were exciting plans, adventurous plans, and when the time came to actually leave the UK, I got on a bus and headed to Paris to visit a friend for a few days as the start of my six week adventure. So far, so good.
And then things got interesting.
You see, it only took 36 hours in Paris for me to realise a few things about myself and my life. They say that sometimes you have to step out of a situation in order to get a clearer perspective on it. In my case, it turned out that all I needed to do was step across to Paris for a few days.
I wandered around the city. I spoke French (sort of). I met French friends of my friend, met a new friend from my old life in California, and talked about expat life with fellow Americans.
And the more we talked, the more I didn’t want to travel for six weeks.
The more we talked, the more I knew that my home is in London.
And the more we talked, the more I realised that what I really wanted to do was apply for jobs in London, even if that meant I had to return to the US for a time. And even if that meant I would miss out on seeing some of the beautiful locations I had planned to visit, or hanging out with the people I had planned to see on my six week adventure. Because, to paraphrase Billy Crystal, when you realise what you want to do with the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
But I had made plans. Sure, I hadn’t actually booked most of my tickets, but I had talked to people, and I had made plans. I couldn’t just give all that up after only four days in Paris! What would people think of me?!
So I flew to Sicily, off the southern tip of Italy. And spent several hours almost completely unable to hear because of the combination of plugged sinuses from a cold and the changes in air pressure on my flights. And spent several hours worried that one – or perhaps both – of my eardrums would rupture. (Don’t worry – they didn’t.)
I had made plans, but the ear thing, mixed with my own increasing uneasiness with the idea of continuing with those plans, forced me to make some changes. I rearranged my schedule so that I would not have to fly again for several weeks, and I booked a flight back to the US for an earlier date than originally planned because I realised that job searching was probably not going to happen while I was gallivanting around Europe – and ultimately, what I really wanted to do was focus on officially moving to London.
So I spent a few days in Sicily with a friend, and they were beautiful days involving Mediterranean sunshine, sea air, and all three seasons of Miranda (plus the final Christmas special). And I decided to visit Florence next, mostly to break up an extremely long period of travel due to my refusal to fly again (and because my uncle had recommended it).
At the end of my time in Sicily, I said goodbye to my friend and embarked on a twelve hour day of train travel. On my arrival in Florence, I checked into my hostel and tried to make some plans for my continuing journey . . . but I couldn’t bring myself to actually book any of the available options for further travel. I couldn’t stop thinking about how all I really wanted to do was apply for jobs in London. And I couldn’t escape the feeling that pushing forward with my trip was just wrong. But I had made plans, and I was determined to follow through with those plans.
And the next day, my body physically refused to go any further.
I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. I sat on a stool in a tiny cafe in Florence for more than an hour, picking at a sandwich that I couldn’t actually eat and staring out the window at the tourists passing by. And I faced the idea of throwing in the travel towel and going back to England on a tourist visa until my flight to the US. Of admitting that maybe I had gotten it wrong, and that maybe all God wanted from me was a willingness to leave the UK. That perhaps He had been trying to tell me in various ways that the six weeks of travelling was not a good idea, but that I had been too stubborn to listen until He was forced to physically stop me in order to get my attention.
And when I made my way back to the hostel and booked the first next-day flight to London, I started to feel a bit better – even though I was still a bit nervous about the ear thing.
And the next day, when the British immigration officer stamped that tourist visa into my passport and I walked out into the bright London sunshine, I could have cried with relief.
I had plans. But the whole time that I was trying to live out those plans, words that were prayed over me on the night that I left the UK kept ringing in my head – words that spoke to me of following God’s plans for me, and of being open to wherever He might want to lead me. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reconcile those words with my own plans . . . until the moment I admitted defeat and decided to go home (even if I can only call it home for another week or two).
And that is why I write this from my room on the outskirts of London and not from whatever country I was supposed to be in today. I am officially back in the UK (although I have to say that I’m not “back” in the sense of picking up life where I left off – because I do have to leave again soon, and because my focus for these next few weeks is on applying for jobs in London and temporary ones in Minnesota, where I’ll be headed until further notice – but I am back in the sense of coming home for a short time).
I’m glad that I saw Paris and Sicily. I’m glad to have spent time with those friends. I’m even glad to know that I can navigate Italian transportation on my own without speaking the language. But I am also glad that I was eventually willing to give up my own plans in favour of the seemingly less glamorous option which God is currently offering. It may not be as temporarily exciting as traveling across Europe, but the long-term view is thrilling.
And that is why – surprise! – I’m in England today.