However, as much as I love to talk about it all, in true ecclesiastical form, I found that it was meaningless without the Creator and Sustainer Himself. The Tuscan hills rolled aimlessly, if not rolling to match the thunder of God. The Aegean Sea's clarity was fogged if it did not reflect the truth of Jesus. The Greek tablets were ancient scribbles, if that was not the language in which the resurrection of Christ was proclaimed. The art and architecture was colorless and broken if it was not created to fulfill being made in the image of the Creator. The Sea of Galilee just a disappointing lake if it was not calmed by the power of Christ. The streets of Jerusalem were just overcrowded, if it were not those crowds that glorified and crucified my Lord.
Meaningless if I went three months with a bad attitude toward many of my fellow travelers without being convicted by the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus. Meaningless if I let every piece of art, every beautiful landscape, every encounter with children of God pass me by without reflection on the Sovereign Father. Meaningless if I stood on mountains and ignored the Holy Spirit calling out to my soul.
I flew from Atlanta on January 25th expecting to be filled with every step in places I had always dreamed of going. To my dismay, I flew into Atlanta on April 25th knowing I was not completed. I am not complete because I have a more clear plan for the future. I am not complete because I have seen my favorite artists' work in person. I am not complete because of the stamps in my passport.
I am thankful for these things, with more gratitude than I can express. I think about it everyday, and I hope I do for the rest of my life. My parents, so lovingly, wrote me letters, one for each week of my trip. My father would always pen, "Remember the good, forget the bad. It's never going to be like this again." (I'm strategizing a tattoo for that one, maybe) He's right, and I am thankful that he is.
But there's a more joyous conclusion to all of this than just thanksgiving and incompleteness: I am complete in Christ. All the things I enjoy, these very words that I stitch together, are meaningless without Christ. I, too, am meaningless without Him. Paul writes this promise of Jesus in Colossians 2:9-10:
I didn't read as much as I would have liked while studying abroad, but I did fall in love with C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. One of my favorite quotes, there are many, is from a lover of the Lord, dancing in Heaven's meadows, she says,
"I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak."
Readers, this is our anthem. All is meaningless without the fullness of Christ. All is meaningless without His Love. All is meaningless without the Strength of the empty tomb.
(Sorry, Mom & Dad for the student loans it took to learn this lesson.)