Exactly 365 days ago I walked out my apartment door in Malešnica, got in a taxi and headed to the bus station in Zagreb to catch a bus to Vienna. I had some doctors appointments the next couple days before heading to Czech for a month.
When I said goodbye to Ema I distinctly remember her saying “goodbye forever!” somewhat sarcastically, but in hindsight that goodbye holds more weight to it than I care to feel. Goodbyes are hard…unknown goodbyes are thievery. Ema and I had only lived together for a few months and God opened doors in unexpected and providential ways to make that happen. So the “give and take away, blessed be the name” was confusing.
I remember waiting to board the bus to Vienna on that February afternoon, feeling the weariness of my tired heart and the expectation of what awaited me the next month. I’d been asked to spend a month in Czech, scouting out a new position, to consider moving there and joining a new team. I boarded the bus and settled into my seat. The foreign chatter and companions on the journey had become a familiar soundtrack to my travels. I took bus trips often, whether for solo trips, doctor appointments, or work. God always met me on those journeys; His nearness and companionship bringing peace to my often weary soul.
I distinctly remember that bus trip to Vienna. I remember looking out the window, reflecting on how familiar these hills and valleys had become. I remember the night I got there. I found a taco place that served surprisingly decent Mexican food (that’s hard to come by in Europe). I remember it raining when I left the restaurant, being without an umbrella and relishing in the Vienna lights.
The next morning I went to see my doctor, going back and forth to various labs, getting x-rays, poked and prodded. It’s a humbling experience to do these things alone and in a language you can barely communicate in. After filling about 30 vials of blood (yeah, I was pretty loopy…not sure I’d recommend a solo train trip after that), I headed to the train station to catch a train to Ústí nad Labem in Czech.
The Robertson family was a welcome sight for my sore and tired eyes. Truth be told, they were (and are) some of God’s greatest gifts to me. We’ve walked through some treacherous waters together; we’ve laughed, cried, grieved, and rejoiced together. Ben and Sarah were heading to a marriage conference and I was sticking around to watch Phoebe and Jadon for the next several days. Though I was completely exhausted by the end of the week with the kiddos (big respect for parents and single parents out there), they were some treasured and sweet days. I now completely understand phantom crying, sleepless nights, getting real comfortable with sick kiddos in the middle of the night, and the full gambit. But goodness, the refining beauty, joy, sorrow, and love that parents have for their children is indescribable. And I pray I get to experience that gift someday.
After Ben and Sarah returned from the conference, we had a few days together before I boarded a train to Frydlant, expecting to spend four weeks there.
You know the rest of the story. Those four weeks turned into four months. The pandemic quickly reached Czech and borders promptly closed. I never returned to Croatia. The “see you in a month!” remarks to friends and coworkers turned into unknown goodbyes. My belongings have since been shipped via ocean back to America.
I don’t know when I’ll get to go back to Croatia and see the places and people I love. The tension and breath I hold for that expectation is great. If I could speak with the Alison who boarded that bus to Vienna 365 days ago I’d have a lot to say to her. Truthfully, the Alison 365 days from now would probably have similar remarks.
God sees, knows, and walks with you. Do not be afraid.
Yes, in this life I’ve been assured I’ll have troubles, tribulations, grief, sorrow, anger, pain, betrayal, loss, sickness… and yet, I’ve also been promised that He will be with me. His ways are perfect. I may not understand. Yet, I know, He walks with me and guides me.
One year later, I’m five weeks away from moving to Colorado to start my MA in Counseling…a long, long time dream and process. I begin this journey with the assurance that He walks with me and guides me, feeling the expectation of a season lined with His favor. I’m confident that the suffering and sorrow I’ve walked through has brought depth to my capacity for others, bringing redemption and healing.