And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter … My hope is your story will be about changing, … about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting, the climax, and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? … I want to repeat one word for you: Leave … And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be there when you get back. It is you who will have changed. – Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
This quote. Man, this quote … it gets me every time. I have chills just rereading it. We read this quote the very first week we arrived, during our initial orientation. Before getting to know one another, before starting uni, before meeting our host families, before life in Australia just began. I knew then that time was going to be both friend and foe; four months seemed like forever, and it also seemed like no time at all.
We read this quote again when we were in the Outback and again during our debrief session three Fridays ago, and it struck me to my core. It is the epitome of my time spent abroad, and I know all the other Americans feel this way too, because I’m pretty sure we’ve all posted this quote somewhere at some point.
I think that the uniqueness of my study abroad program compared to so many others (and the part that I most cherish) is the extreme emphasis placed on community. When we began our journey, we were encouraged to emulate the life of a pilgrim, rather than the life of a tourist (flashback to my first blog post!). Instead of becoming mindless consumers obsessed with collecting a myriad of exciting experiences, our program directors’ hope for us was that we would learn to think of others before ourselves and to live in harmony with the people of our social circle in our little corner of Brisbane, perhaps even contributing to influence their lives for the better in some small way. My program directors told us to dig deep when we started our program; they told us to become linked into the community and try as well as we could to really become a part of life in Brisbane. I wanted to commit to connecting with people that would become lifelong friends, and looking back, I think I’ve done that.
There is a beauty and a deep sadness that comes with this, though. All of a sudden I have friends scattered across the country and the globe, and I don’t know how to deal with it. My heart wants to be in two different places at the same time, and that is such a hard thing to come to terms with. I have found in the past two weeks of being home that weird things trigger an emptiness in my heart that only my home in Australia can fill. I mean, just last week I looked at a lollipop that Katie gave me and started crying. I’m a weirdo, I know.
However, this past semester I have felt so richly blessed in love, and I thank God for it every day. I met people who spoke into my life in such powerful ways and who allowed me to enjoy days of laughter and pure bliss. Not only that, but so many lovely people stopped by our house to say their goodbyes to me in the days leading up to my departure, some of them only having known me briefly but still caring enough to want to wish me well. And not only did I feel embraced by the people in Brisbane, but also by those that I left behind in the States. I received so many kind messages from friends and family waiting to welcome me home, which helped to ease this hard transition for me in my return. God is too good to me.
Throughout the past few years, and especially in light of Australia, my goals in life have evolved. I’ve found that my main objective is twofold: first, I want to embrace as many people as I can with my whole heart, so that they too can feel the love that I have the great fortune of receiving; second, I want to appreciate every minute — every second — that I am given. After all, I’ve found that time flies by too fast for my liking. I just want to be grateful for every moment simply because each one is so fleeting. Australia taught me that.
So there you have more sappy reflections from yours truly. Still trying to sort through the heaps of emotions that I have been encountering since my return.
And a final quote from our dear friend Donald:
I don’t think we can really understand how time passes. We can’t study it like a river or tame it with a clock. Our devices only mark its coming and going. I dropped an anchor three months back, but time didn’t slow. Some things have to end, you know. You feel like life is always leading up to something, but it isn’t. I mean life is just life. It’s all happening right now, and we aren’t going to be any more complete a month from now than we are now. I only say this because I am trying to appreciate everything tonight. I will be leaving soon, and I want to feel this, really understand that it is happening because God breathed some spark into some mud that became us, and He did it for a reason, and I want to feel that reason, not some false explanation. – Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts