Last week I went to London and Paris.
Before you get carried away with dreamy visions of romance and strolling violinists, let me explain. Last week I went to Europe with my daughter Taylor and thirty other students and chaperones from her school. All very great people. An itinerary that would make you drool. But, alas, it was January.
I travel all the time, mostly around this country, but several times a year internationally. And it is no exaggeration for me to tell you that those eight days in Europe were, hands down, the most difficult travel of my entire life.
Sure, we started well, giddy at the airport, packed for cold weather, and armed with umbrellas, French dictionaries, and a good dose of “can do” spirit. We dreamed of hot tea and scones, Trafalgar Square, the Palace of Versailles, and chocolate crepes. Merveilleux!
But did I tell you that it was January? Did I mention the hostel outside London with the cross-dressing party in the lobby? Make that the freezing-cold hostel, two subway rides from the city. It was the craziest kind of trip, where the subways were randomly closed and we just walked and walked…in the cold and rain…everywhere. Most days we were away from our rooms for fourteen hours. Everyone was completely exhausted and trying desperately to hang on to an adventurer spirit. But the truth of it was, most every day was hard.
But all the days together could not compare to last Tuesday.
Last Tuesday we departed our hotel around eight in the morning. The first two subway rides were frustrated by the same trouble we had every day. Each trip, one of our kids would be stuck on the other side of a turnstile with a ticket that wouldn’t let him through. There were several again that morning. But finally, we were there. The Louvre Museum. And that day we had come to see the Mona Lisa! Our group huddled outside the Louvre in umbrella-breaking wind, waiting for the tour guide to return with our tickets. We couldn’t wait to be inside, wandering around in the warmth, staring at the great works that awaited. At last our tour guide returned. Closed. I am not kidding, the Louvre was closed. But only on Tuesdays in December and January.
Our dreams were squashed. But it was just a couple of subway rides over to the Champs-Élysée – a beautiful outdoor boulevard lined with upscale shopping. At the end of this amazing place is the Arch of Triumph, a must-see, even in bitter weather. So I rustled up my pack of kids, we pulled our hoods tight, and using umbrellas to shield us from the incoming rain, we forged into the wind and made a path towards the arch. The rain was blinding by the time we reached this famous landmark. I yelled to my kids, “Caannn yoouuu seeee it?”
Through chattering teeth, they replied, “Yesss.”
“Taaake a picturrre,” I said. Click. Click. We turned our backs to the wind. Umbrellas down. We ducked into the nearest bistro for hot chocolate until it was time for the next assignment from our tour guide.
Next stop, the Eiffel Tower. By the time we got there it was raining, spitting snow, and the wind was blowing at what was later reported to be hurricane force. At the bottom of the tower, there were only a few other tourists and us. Finally being there was nothing like you dream it will be. No strolling musicians. No hot crepes. No souvenir stand to buy berets. Nothing. The Parisians were all inside like sane people should be.
I know you may think I am exaggerating, but we have the video to prove it. The kids looked like reporters from the Weather Channel, standing in front of the fog-soaked tower, holding onto anything for dear life, while the unrelenting winds threatened to lift them off their feet. Now this is the craziest part: in that kind of weather, the Eiffel Tower was still open. Not the very top, hallelujah, but high enough – two elevator stops up.
I thought, There is no way we are going up in this thing. It can’t be safe to be any higher in these winds. Surely we should just go find somewhere warm and dry. But high school hearts prevailed and you guessed it, we loaded up all those kids for an elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower. Taylor turned away from the window and buried her head in my coat. “Mom, this is more like the tower of terror,” she said with a laugh.
At the second stop, we were all blown out through the open doors, laughing and half-crying over the awful weather and our plight. There we were, standing around the edge of the Eiffel Tower looking out into the fog, scared of the swaying signs, frozen by the wind and snowy rain, wondering what in the world we had done. It was awful and exhilarating at the same time. Thank goodness for the tiny gift shop way up there in the sky. We all piled in and bought little Eiffel Tower key chains, ran to the outside concession stand for more hot chocolate, and just plain huddled together until it was time to leave.
The trip down the elevator and the walk back to the subway were the rotten chocolate on the frozen crepe. More scary wind and freezing rain. By the time we got on the train, everyone was soaked to the bone through their coats and shoes. Drenched, crazy, exhausted Americans. As we rode along underneath Paris, the adults looked at one another and began to ask, “Why in the world did we just do that?” Good grief, it was kind of dumb, and yet, we had plowed along, taking those kids up in the Eiffel Tower.
Eventually, we decided why we had persevered. One of the teachers said it first. For most of the thirty-two on our trip, this would be the only time they would ever see Paris, and today was the only day in a lifetime they would ever visit the Eiffel Tower. And in just a moment, we didn’t feel dumb anymore. We felt like conquerors. Soaked and weary and victorious. Today, if you asked those kids what their favorite memory of our trip was, every one of them would tell you, “The night we almost died on the Eiffel Tower.”
That night, back in my warm Parisian bed, I basked in the understanding that the whole wet, tiring day was worth it. It was once in a lifetime for most of us. One opportunity to see the Eiffel Tower and one trip to pack in as many memories as we could. One dream come true. Then I realized the same is true in our relationship with God. We have one lifetime. One short amount of time to do all that He has intended for us to do. One heart to surrender. One passionate mission. One offering of all that I am.
Maybe you hear yourself say to God, “Do You know that I’m afraid to dream big? Do you know that I’m scared of swaying Eiffel Towers? And walking through storms? And commitment to things that are bigger than me?” The truth is, on my own, I might have gone to Paris and stayed in my room that stormy day, missing everything. I probably would have settled for a warm bath and snuggled up with a book. And there, very safe and dry in my hotel room, I would have missed the once-in-a-lifetime adventure and the victory of a dream fulfilled.
Here is the thing I never want to forget. With this one lifetime, I am called to follow Jesus. No hesitation. No holding back. I am called to follow Him with everything my personality and mind can give to Him. To be a passionate woman who runs hard after God.
I am called to dream big. And so are you.
Watch Angela Thomas this Monday on LIFE Today. Excerpted from Do You Know Who I Am? by Angela Thomas. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.