Since I had the initial shock of, “Holy crap, I’m by myself in Europe,” things have been up and down. I’ve gone from being ten minutes away from getting a plane back to the states, to wanting to jump up and down praising God for this wonderful place.
Despite the rollercoaster that was going on inside of me, La Rochelle is a beautiful city. The people are friendly, the views are fantastic, and the seafood is delicious.
I walked past this couple and they were sitting on a bench, just laughing an having a great time. Christie and I someday?
In La Rochelle, I think I probably saw more walkers and cyclists than drivers. Each road has a designated spot for bikes (they’re even included in roundabouts), and some of the roads are just for bikes. I rented one. It was fantastic.
This wonderful port town is surrounded by an ancient wall that touches the ocean. Walking on it every day gave me spectacular views of the ocean and sailboats. There are also three ancient towers that “guard” the city. I never took a visit to the inside of them, because I’ve found that castles are always so much more mysterious when viewed from afar, instead of going in. So I just took pictures and imagined them as fortress-like, royal, violent, and powerful towers. J
I had two feasts of moules, one in the beginning of my trip, and the other at the end. They were delicious and tasted like the sea. Absolutely wonderful.
For this meal, I ordered my moules covered with curry. Wow.
I’ve found—with the help of my very wise aunt—that people energize me, and that being alone makes it easier for me to become anxious and stressed, so I tried to meet as many people as I can. Sometimes I had no choice, because they would come to me anyway…
One night I was sitting watching the sunset and playing my travel guitar (not with my case out for money or anything, just playing for fun) and a man my age came up to me and said, “May I take some pictures of you?” It would have been awkward, but I realized that a person sitting on an ancient wall playing guitar at sunset has got to look quite good (especially with a face like mine), so I let him. When he was done, we ended up talking for a few hours until it was dark and cold, so we went back to the hostel that we were coincidentally both staying at. His name is Davy (not “day-vee” like we would pronounce it, but “dah-vee”), and he’s also a student. We met up the next day too, by accident, and went to get “the best ice cream in La Rochelle.” It probably was the best ice cream in La Rochelle, too. I had pistachio, which is my favorite kind. Mmm.
Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of Davy, but he helped a lot as far as making me willing to talk to people. He’s a good guy.
I’ve found that I listen for English being spoken around me, and when I hear it, I say, “Oh, you speak English too? Where are you from?” and try to start to conversation. It’s kinda weird and desperate of me to do this, but it works. Hehe.
I heard some English in a super market in La Rochelle and decided to pursue it. It came from an enthusiastic retired couple from England named Roger and Penny. They were traveling with an RV (“Just a brilliant, wonderful vehicle!” Roger said.) around France, and they were spending some time in La Rochelle. I had a nice conversation with them twice during my stay. They were both so very nice and seemed to care about me right away, which I must admit took me aback, but they were sincere about it. Wonderful people.
After having a rather anxious day, I was playing my guitar again on the wall, and a woman who looked a little older than me walked by. I said, “bonjour, madame,” and smiled. I’ve found that just a smile from someone can energize me. She smiled back, and for some reason I asked her—without asking first if she spoke English, mind you, which is not very polite of me—“What’s your name?” She smiled and said her name was Julie. We talked for a little bit and she told me that she was about to go to a bar with some friends and that I was welcome to go along, so I did. We ended up going to an Irish pub, owned by an Irish man, in La Rochelle. I met her friends, Luik and the other Julie, and we sat drinking Guinness and kind of talking (they didn’t speak much English). The pub was actually more Irish than the experience I had in Ireland, complete with an Irish band. At one point one of the band members noticed I had my guitar with me and insisted that I play along for a song or two. It was so much fun.
From left to right: the Julie I met on the wall, Luik, The Other Julie, and your truly.
Even the bartender played along.
Now here’s a part of my journey, instead of part of my trip. On my last night I experienced—what should I call it? Should I say, “miracles?” or…Oh, I got it—many “burning bushes” that totally changed my world. Here’s the story.
The other day in La Rochelle, I was having a horrible day. Everything was going wrong. I was going to go on around in island off of La Rochelle for the day on a bike. It was supposed to be great; I was going to go to the beach, fly my kite, and have a great time. Well, I ended up being very stressed about the whole thing and getting lost (and not in a good way) on the island. And I only had time to fly my kite for a few minutes (which is disappointing). It was incredibly stressful, and I didn’t like it at all, even though the scenery was amazing. (Now there’s something frustrating: being surrounded by beauty and not being able to enjoy it.)
I stayed out as on my own as long as I could, and then decided to go back to my hostel and call someone from home with Skype. (“Just a brilliant, wonderful” machine.)
I talked to my good, good friend Tami first thing in the morning. This was actually before my horrible day, but it was so wonderful I’m putting it in as one of the miracles I encountered that day. I woke her up in the middle of her night, which was my late morning. She’s one of those friends who says, “Call any time…really.” So I can trust that she’ll be there for me. We talked for awhile, and at the end, she prayed for me. I don’t know if she knew it, but God spoke through her in her prayer. Through her words, God reiterated that He is my protector and my guide, and that He’s with me every step I take. And then she prayed that He’d guide me and said slowly, “One step at a time.” From that moment on I knew that God was with me. First burning bush.
But I lost that trust that He was with me when I went on that frustrating trip. I was too distracted and angry to allow him back in. So, back to my Skype time.
First, I talked to Christie. She had an hour or so before she had to work, so she could talk. I told her what a rotten day I had and began to cry. This is one of the reasons I love Christie so much and am so thankful to have her as a girlfriend: we are so open with our feelings and always feel safe to share them when we’re together. She’s so incredibly comforting. I had it in my head, though, that I needed to talk to my aunt Sara. Feeling quite tired of everything, I told her that I needed to call Sara because she’s always good at giving pep-talks. Christie got a really disappointed look on her face and started tearing up, saying, “I just wish I could be the one who makes you feel better. You’re in Europe and you need help, and I can’t give it to you.” Now of course, I can’t just leave my girlfriend crying, so I decided to stay and talk. And I felt that God would help me talking to Christie, too. Thank God I did, because we had a really good talk that actually helped me a lot. After a long conversation, she explained that I have bad days sometimes in the States; why would I expect every day to be fantastic in Europe? Especially for two months! So, I need to accept the bad days and move on. She told me that I can do this and I should expect some bad days, especially in the scary beginning, and celebrate the good days as well. She’s quite brilliant. Second burning bush.
I called my aunt Sara after I talked to Christie, to get a pep talk from her too. She’s one who always says, “You can do this. You know you can do this. I know you can do this. And it’s going to be so much fun!” so I knew that she could help too. Well, I talked to her and she told me that she thinks that I should try to get connected with a church and offer my services there. Like, maybe I could play at one of their worship services, or even work in a soup kitchen. She says it’ll help me learn more about culture, and it will make me feel good. That deeply motivated me to get connected. She’s a wonderful person, and always willing to help me get my rear in gear. Third burning bush.
Between there I checked my facebook, and apparently the word got out that I’m having a rough time, and I had over 20 wallposts, facebook messages, and emails from Bethel Choir members, telling me that they’re praying for me and that they love me. It was so wonderful. Fourth burning bush.
After that, I talked to my mom, who has been such and incredible rock for me during my trip. She stopped what she was doing at work and stepped outside to talk to me. We talked for a while, and all she said was positive things. God spoke through her again when she said, “You know what, Brian? You have so many wonderful strengths, and this anxiety disorder is just one weakness. You can get through it.” We cried together, and prayed together, and after our prayer I told her about how excited I am to receive all the wonderful hugs from people when I come back in August. I mean, I’m kind of going through a “hugging fast” right now, which is really difficult for a hugger like me. And man, I miss hugs so dearly. To that, mom said, “Brian, I’m hugging you right now. I love you. Can you feel my arms around you? I’m hugging you. I’m hugging you.” And she kept repeating that and telling me that she loves me, and soon I could feel it. I could feel my mom’s beautiful, familiar arms around me and holding me tight. She said that she will never stop hugging me. We cried together again, and thanked God for what He has done. Fifth burning bush.
I wrote everything that had inspired me on my hand so I could remember them. The list is:
-So many strengths; one weakness.
-Bad days happen. Keep living.
-Feel Mom's hug.
-Strength will rise. (A Chris Tomlin song I sang to keep myself motivated.)
-I am loved!!
-God is with me.
-One step at a time.
Mom later talked to me about sending hugs, which is in effect the same thing (to me) as sending love, and love is so powerful. She said to me, “You know what, Brian? I’m hugging you right now, Dad’s hugging you, Tami is hugging you, all your family is hugging you, the people from the choir are hugging you; you have so many people hugging you and praying for you and loving you right now.” And she described all the hugs as a whirlwind of love with me in the middle and Holy Spirit flowing through me the whole time. Can you picture that image? It is so amazing, and it continues to be the image from which I pull my strength. So all of your prayers and love are all being turned into hugs for me. I love you all, and I return the hugs.
I went out to the city for that last night, and laughed to myself and to God about the lousy part of my day. If I hadn’t gone through that rough part, these things wouldn’t have been so wonderful. I praised Him and realized that I’m pressed, but not crushed. I’m perplexed, but not in despair. I’m struck down, but not destroyed. I’m persecuted, but I’m not abandoned. And God is working in me.
I kept laughing, thinking, “What is with You, God? You work in the weirdest ways. But praise You for that.”
And at one point in my conversation with Him, I said, “You’ve got my back, right, God?”
And I felt the response, “And your front, and your sides…”