I was brimming with excitement when I finalized my bookings for my big trip to Europe last year. Having forked out a significant amount of money for both my air tickets and a new camera, I was certain my first trip to UK and France would be a complete blast.
I could barely wait to share in my friends’ experiences, having heard stories and seen Instagram pictures of those doing their overseas experience on the antipodes. I dreamed of the endless bookshops I could visit in London, admiring my literary heroes, both past and present. In particular, I couldn’t wait to see Shakespeare and Company—the “small, crumbling bookshop on Paris’s Left Bank” that UK newspaper The Independent described as possibly “the most famous bookstore in the world”. I also looked forward to Parisian chic, croissants, beautiful apartments, breath-taking architecture and mustached-men playing their accordions around the cafes and sidewalk.
I fantasized of a warm summer holiday swanning around in cute summer dresses (bye-bye, boring black winter stockings), and looking forward to showing off my arms, which I had been working on at the gym. My thoughts were filled with taking pretty photos on my new camera, filling my Instagram account with envy-worthy photos, and walking Paris’ Champs-Élysées under a starlit night.
What hadn’t been part of the itinerary was falling sick during my three-week vacation.
It could have been the hectic schedule or the change in weather (it was winter in New Zealand but summer in the northern hemisphere), but my body wasn’t playing ball. What started as a bit of a sneeze and an itchy throat soon morphed into something else entirely in Europe.
There was a point when I completely lost my voice, managing only a croak. To make matters worse, my body decided to reject every kind of food. I was throwing up after every meal and my nose would start bleeding without rhyme or reason.
On one traumatic morning in Brixton, London, my friend and I were running as fast as we could, with our backpacks, to catch an Uber ride to the train station for our flight to France. That’s when I felt a sickly drip down my nose, and my suspicion was confirmed the minute I wiped my nose with a tissue. With blood dripping down my face, I must have looked like I was running away from a fight (or for my life).
In France, I visited the pharmacy so many times you’d be forgiven for thinking I had it down as a must-see tourist destination. Then my nose started acting up again, just before we made our way to the Shakespeare and Company. I was so terrified I would start bleeding all over the nice, new books that I made sure to have a wad of tissues near me. My backpack soon morphed into a first-aid kit: I had a bottle of cough syrup, cough drops, paracetamol, and packs of tissues.
I woke up each morning with dread. Would my nose behave today? Would I be able to hold my meal in or would today see me bent over the bathroom sink while my guts tried to make their escape?
Funnily enough, my holiday-gone-wrong had me thinking about my Christian walk: how expectation didn’t always match reality.
It was at a church play that I answered the altar call at the age of 12. While I cannot recall the play in full detail, I do remember the title was Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames, and it had scenes featuring a non-believer and a believer. In each scene, there was a tragedy, and the non-believer was sent away to somewhere rather hot and fiery. I certainly didn’t want to go there, so giving my life to God seemed like a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape the fiery furnace. I figured all I had to do was accept Jesus as my Savior and He would swoop me out of hell.
As I grew up, I began to hear altar calls that went along the lines of how accepting Jesus into your life was the “best thing you can ever do”. “And from now on, your new life begins . . .” was another often repeated phrase.
For me, it conjured up a life without pain, where Jesus would sweep down from Heaven to catch us before we scrape our knees. Jesus would also save me from making silly mistakes in my exams and prepare a cool crowd of friends for me.
However, none of that happened, and at one point, I was angry at Jesus my forever friend, who I felt had ditched me during my most crucial moments. For example, I remember scoring a C on a Math test and fuming at Him. Not just that, how could He allow boys to dump me? And why did I receive email after email of rejection when I was desperately seeking employment?
You see, I had fallen into trap after being sold the idea that being with Jesus is the “best thing of my life”. But Jesus didn’t guarantee that a life with Him will be free of tribulations. The Bible tells of a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and “abstained from and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was also a rich landowner who was blessed with a big family and a large stock of animals. But Job went through some real tough situations. He lost his family and all of his animals in one day, suffered from sicknesses, and at one point, wished he was never born.
Reading Job’s story made me realize that following God doesn’t necessarily spell a smooth ride. There will be times where I will be tested or left clinging onto my faith. But Job’s story has also showed how faithful God is, and I took comfort knowing Job’s life had a happy ending, where in the end, God restored everything he had lost.
Even though my own Christian walk has been filled with ups and downs—nothing like Job’s thankfully—I can sincerely say I don’t regret answering the altar call as a 12-year-old. With God, I know He is just one call away. I have lost count of the times God has answered my prayers and I love resting in the deep, unconditional love He has for me.
I also take heart in knowing when my life ends on Earth, I’ll begin a perfect one with Him in Heaven. The Bible says Heaven will be a place where God will wipe every tear from our eyes, a perfect place where there will be no more death, or crying, or mourning or pain, for the old order of things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
This perfect place may sound like a fantasy, but unlike the fantasy I had of my holiday (where nothing went as planned), I know this promise will not disappoint. That makes all the present suffering worthwhile!