I spent the past four months living in a former Carthusian monastery in Austria. I was studying abroad, traveling through the European countryside on the weekends, sipping cappuccinos, waltzing through centuries-old cathedrals, and climbing every mountaintop.
“You’re living the dream!” family and friends back home would say to me.
Upon reflection, perhaps there was some truth to their words. Life seemed to fall right out of a fairytale — or so it appeared from my words and photographs.
It was a good and true and beautiful semester — one I had long desired for. It was the awakening of a persistent wanderlust in my soul — one that will continue to seek wit and whimsy in this ancient, glorious world.
But I think we get lost in the fantasy of “pack up and go,” of running away from the boring, habitual nature of our lives. We have made an idol out of escaping, a god out of leaving. We have made escapism the chief goal and highest king. We have so detached ourselves from the fruit and blessings of our own days that abandonment of what we have been given, of whom we have been given, is the hope, the wish, the dream.
What the photographs of my semester can’t show you are the long days and the sleepless nights. The missed trains and the food poisoning. The sweat trickling down my back as I walked through cities in stifling heat. The losing of patience and the asking for forgiveness.
The photographs also can’t depict the breathless awe, the genuine joy, and the tangible presence of God around every bend.
The photos can’t portray the way I ran into my own humanity — in ways I did not anticipate or ask for. They can only give you a shadow of a glimpse of what I experienced, and who I am now because of it.
Who we are, I quickly discovered, does not disappear the moment we are placed in extraordinary circumstances. On the contrary, who we are is only further revealed.
When we say we will leave it all behind and be free, we take with us the one thing we can never leave behind — ourselves.
We cannot fully live out what we think it means to be free because we, in and of ourselves, are desperate for something more. We’re always lacking and continuously seeking — on a hunt threaded with our own human nature and laced with the hope of something more.
The thing we seek then is not being free of inhibitions; we seek the One who frees us from inhibition. The One who unravels and undoes all that we are. The One who sees the tiniest elements of our brokenness and in this intimacy delights in us — not in spite of, not anyway, but simply because this is who He is. This is what He does — love.
We can spend our lives grasping for more, attempting to bolt from the crossroads of ordinary and mundane, or we can rest in His grasp, relinquishing ourselves to the peace of the present.
We can pursue life to the fullest, or we can live in Him who gives us the fullest life. And perhaps a life of abundance looks less like losing ourselves through escape and more like finding Him right where we are.
The semester abroad was the sweetest gift and the greatest honor. But I’ll be the first to say that it was not the fulfillment of my heart’s greatest desires and deepest longings. There is only one answer to this expectant hope that resides in my heart — God.
What I wish for you, dear friend, is that you have your breath taken away when you step into St. Peter’s Basilica, to have your heart skip a beat when you see the Cliffs of Moher, and for your laughter to ring out golden as you dance in the streets of Assisi. But what I wish for you more than anything else is that you never lose sight of what will really fulfill you — of Who will really fulfill you.
The truth is we don’t need to pack up and go to be completely satisfied (as if we ever could) because God is here and He is pressing in to stay.
Audrey, thank you for this wonderful reminder, that wherever we may find ourselves, God is right there, and His presence is enough. While it is great to travel and get away, learning to be content with Christ and where He has us at that moment is a great blessing and an adventure in itself!
This was perfectly timed. I needed this reminder as I started to feel trapped, frustrated, stuck and honestly falling into a dark place, negatively impacting myself and those around me. Thank you for sharing these words.
What a beautiful message and reminder that there is so much we may be missing if we’re always looking to escape. This really touched me as someone who is always planning the next adventure, the beauty that will be revealed in the sitting and waiting.
That was so beautiful and true! God is right there inside us where ever we go or stay… we only have to ask him to come in !
Wow! My words of the year are “presence” and empower. Your words here made my heart skip a beat with excitement at how God will bring both in my life this year right where I am! Thank you for your wise words!
Ruth Mills says
Monday will be our 35th wedding anniversary and I will admit I’ve had the internal struggle with “it’s our 35th how can we not do some big trip” versus “wow a day to be just us and stay in our PJs all day if we want to!” After reading your post I am much more content and thrilled to stay-ca-tion our celebration. It’s not where we celebrate but that we get to celebrate with each other. God has spoiled me with a precious Godly man. We’ll celebrate God’s blessings even if we clean out my dad-in-love’s apartment! Thank you for this wonderful encouragement! You made my day!
That was exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you.
Karen Purkey says
Thank you for this beautiful message.
We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Switzerland and Italy.
Our daughter, her husband and our 2 younger grandchildren live in Basel. We had such a great time with the children.
Upon our return, my husband came down with Covid. He is much better now.,
I have been dealing with various health challenges since returning.
God has been with us through the exciting trip as well as this time of illness. His grace and love ❤️ are there every day if we can just open His gifts.
Louise Galego says
Thank you for your beautifully articulated and timeless message. Your vulnerability has resonated with me and reminding us all of the eternal truth that where we are in this very moment is also where God is with us. This is a wonderful opportunity to remember that we can stop feeling inadequate which leads to our constant striving for something other than what is. The true gifts of peace and love will only be found in our relationship with the Beloved.
Maria Therese says
This post is so moving and beautiful. I’m so grateful for the reminder to live fully in the present moment. It is easy to think that the grand is what will make us happy, and so hard to realize that happiness is available to us wherever and whenever we live intentionally. Thank you for sharing the great gift of your words!
This is amazingly true! I love how well you have written and described your experience abroad. We can be in awe of God’s (and man’s) beautiful creation around the globe-what a gift! But, He fills our lives with wonder wherever we are in Him alone. Thank you for this truthful reminder.
Present: With winter’s cold claustrophobia, escape has been on my mind.
Solution: Pick up the Bible, and take an even better vacation!
Bravo! Beautifully articulated and full of wisdom!
Tricia Hinely says
How did you figure that out at such a tender age?
Excellent observations and well said.
Thank you for articulating what I needed. I sort of think I’m not the only one.
This is a very deep, mature, and wise beyond your years concept, Audrey. It’s also something I have not been able to accomplish in my 50-something years of life…I pray that I can learn to be content with his will for my life and not strive for what my heart fools my mind into thinking will bring me joy. I pray that I can look to HIM for fulfilling my deepest desires. Your words are inspiring and thought provoking.
Beth Williams says
It is good to travel the world & see some of the wonders God has made. Looking out over the Grand Canyon can put you in awe of Him. Society tells us that more is better. We need a vacation from life even if we can’t afford it. Most vacations are just an escape from the ordinary mundane routines of our lives. When we get home it is back to the everyday life. What we really need is to learn contentment with where we are now. Learn to rest in His grasp relinquishing ourselves to His continual peace.
Marianne C says
I love this. I’m going to read this to my family tonight ☺️
This was delightful and obviously thought provoking. Thank you for sharing a piece of you with us.
I’m glad to be a part of the RAR community because that’s how I found you and now your podcast. Keep writing, I want to hear more.
Thank you, Audrey, for your well written thoughts. They are encouraging, inspiring, and I needed to read them! They will stay with me a long time.
Becky Keife says
Audrey, this is simply beautiful! We’re honored to host your words on (in)courage.
Tucking this into my heart:
“We can pursue life to the fullest, or we can live in Him who gives us the fullest life. And perhaps a life of abundance looks less like losing ourselves through escape and more like finding Him right where we are.”
Such a beautiful and powerful post! Thank you for sharing this! 🙂