Reflections, Random Experiences and Lessons Learned

After going to Europe for 10 weeks, we knew to expect two questions... "What was your favorite place you visited?" and "What place will you want to go to again?" Tom and I chatted before we left about what our responses would be, and the truth is, there is no easy answer. (For the record, Tom said he was just going to say "Yes!")

Each time I think about our trip and what I want to share with family and friends, my heart is filled with emotion. Gratitude at having been able to do it in the first place. Amazement at all the wonderful places we were able to experience. Grief from the history learned. Pride at taking most things in stride and growing together as a couple through the good and bad. Joy after spending 10 weeks with Tom. And then gratitude all over again...

You see, its not so much about where we went. Its about how we went. We went as students, not as tourists. We went to encounter and learn about history and other cultures. We went expecting to feel uncomfortable and to try new things. We went to discover more about ourselves and each other. We went to "get away" from our normal routine. And of course, we went to have fun and eat/drink new and yummy things.

So what was the favorite place I visited? It was anywhere I saw my husband happier than I have probably ever seen him. The least stressed, most passionate and excited version of himself. And it was most places we went. It was encountering God so radically and intimately while following the footsteps of the saints that I knew I would never be the same.

So where would we want to go back to? The place that allowed us to have a better perspective on our lives and what is important. The place that we enjoyed long meals with good conversation, sipping on delicious wine. And the place with the least amount of tourists. :-)

This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we will never have again. We have traveled for an extended period of time together and the "newness" will always be gone now if we travel again. But what we do have is a renewed appreciation for our lives - our jobs, our family, our friends, our house - and a determination to slow our pace of life down a little so we can enjoy the things that really matter.

Thanks for being on this adventure with us!!

When you are abroad for 10 weeks, I think it is only fair to assume you are going to have some pretty random experiences and learn a lot along the way. And we are no exception! Here is a collection of our favorites...

Random Experiences

  1. We either were at or dropped in on a baptism, confirmation, wedding, and a funeral. All of these were accidental, for the record...
  2. The power went out on us, twice. Once a super hot day, and once when I was down in a creepy basement cellar and had to stumble up a ladder to get a flashlight. Luckily we just remodeled and know how to identify a tripped breaker.
  3. We were only turned away from a restaurant once. We walked into a place in Russia for lunch, and they took one look at us and told us the restaurant was booked for the day (when it was obvious 3/4 of the tables were free. We walked out and cracked up laughing!
  4. I think we only saw 4 or 5 men "relieving themselves" in public. Not bad for Europe! (We are excited to return to a non-urine smelling country though...)

Lessons Learned

  1. Home is what you make it to be. There were only a couple times where we really didn't feel comfortable in the place we stayed, and a lot of that is due to a mindset, not to any material things we brought. Always having a buddy by your side makes the whole trip feel like home.
  2. Along those lines, we basically had a 10-week date. Taking time just for us. The European culture really made us slow down, especially at meal times. We are even more convicted to continue to take time away just for us (although I doubt 10 weeks will ever happen again before retirement...)
  3. When you travel, be a student, not a tourist. We were told many times that we are not "typical Americans". We care about history, family, language, and culture. We actually plan ahead more than a day. And because of this, we had some phenomenal experiences we wouldn't have otherwise.
  4. God really, truly loves us. We were just so struck by the beauty of nature and the incredible, yet simple lives of the saints we visited. And why would God want any different for us? Why would he not choose you or I to do His will and to work so intimately through your or my life?