The events of this past week really got me thinking about this concept. Those of you who know me should know my friend Carly. She's "my person" in a very Meredith and Christina kind of way, (props to my fellow Grey's Anatomy fans who know what I mean by that), and the person I've experienced all of life's biggest moments with over the past 11 years. I mean this in the most platonic way, but I think our friendship is like a crash course in marriage prep. Learning to love and support someone and have their back no matter what, loving their family and sharing joy in their successes, studying and growing spiritually together and pushing each other to become more than we can see we're capable of. Not to mention sharing a room, bathroom, and basically a bed (yes we push our beds together into what we call "mega-bed" even though there would be plenty of room to leave some space in between).
So little miss Carly, the sneaky devil, has been planning and preparing to serve a mission for the LDS church since last Spring. I had a slight hunch she was thinking about it, but still surprised when she finally told me her plans this February. Helping her keep a secret was not an easy task, and plenty of people tried to get it out of me when they started to suspect. But this past Wednesday (Carly's 23 birthday I might add) the cat finally pounced out the bag when she received her mission call to the Czech/Slovak Mission. I was an emotional wreck as she read her call, half due to excitement and relief, but also because the Czech Republic is a place Carly and I shared a journey together last summer that we will never forget.
How Carly and I ended up in Europe last year was one of those experiences that solidifies my non-belief in coincidences. I remember writing goals in January 2012, and first on the list was "Travel! Boston in the summer and maybe one other trip." Oh how the Lord excellerates our goals and turns them into more than we can imagine when we simply take the time to write them down. Carly and I discussed in the Spring how amazing it would be to go to Europe that summer, but we both really knew it was a fairytale we'd talk about but never actually do. "The Eiffel Tower! Mona Lisa! The Swiss Alps! Let's go!" We longed for it, but figured our dreams were too big for our bank accounts. But when I met Sven in my Sales class that spring semester at Utah State, a gate was opened that gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to make our dream a reality.
Sven is originally from the Czech Republic, grew up mainly in Germany and Italy playing tennis. He ended up coming to Utah State of all places for a tennis scholarship, and our paths crossed after class one day. We became instant friends, and when I told him we had always wanted to visit Europe, he offered to be our tour guide for a few days that summer and even let us stay with his family. The next week Carly and I drained our bank accounts and purchased flights to Basel, Switzerland (by far one of the most spontaneous, exhilarating, big-girl things we'd ever done).
Three months later we were headed for a new world, armed with nothing but suitcases filled with all our cutest clothes (trust me, not the smartest idea. We learned the hard way that it should be all about comfort not fashion, and that by dressing to the nines all you're doing is making yourself a target), (stolen) red Delta Airlines blankets, and each other.
We spent the first week of our trip in what they call the "three countries corner", where Switzerland, Germany, and France all meet. The experiences of that first week will take up a full blog post for another day; the food, the people, the wonder of it all. (Here is a little spoiler: it includes a 156 mph ride in a Porsche down the autoban and being robbed twice in Paris). But for now, I'll skip ahead to our favorite stop.
Prague, or Praha as the Czech people say, is one of the oldest, most well-preserved cities in all of Europe. We were stoked to have Sven (a true native) as our guide. We'd been listening to he and his family speak in Czech all week long (the language sounds more like yelling actually, we continuously asked why everyone was so mad at each other only to be told they were simply talking about the weather). But our excitement quickly shifted to panic our first morning in Prague when out of the blue Sven decided he was done. Done being stuck with two giggly American girls, done being our tour guide, and done being polite. Don't get me wrong, Sven did more for us in those two weeks than we could ever repay him for, and I don't blame him for losing patience by the end. But when he announced that morning that he needed a day to himself and took off, Carly and I were completely unprepared.
We spent most of the morning collecting maps from the lobby of the hotel, circling the landmarks we wanted to visit that day, and estimating the distance we'd have to walk by measuring with our fingernails using the map legend and scale. After some quick Google translating and lots of scribbles on our map, we were off.
Words can't fully describe how we felt that day. It was like we stepped over the threshold of self-doubt and into our big-girl pants, diving into womanhood and experiencing something we never thought possible. We navigated a city, a language, and a culture we had never before encountered, and were buzzing with a sense of empowerment and confidence that convinced us we could do anything.
Prague quickly became "our city". It's where we first ate Schnitzel (fried meat) in a cozy tavern seated on old wooden chairs, Syr Smazeny (fried cheese) from a street vendor, dinner on a boat overlooking the water and Prague Castle at sunset where we splurged and bought Sprite, and searched a dozen bakeries before finding the traditional Czech sweet roll Kolache. Where we enjoyed crepes in Old Town Square and listened to enchanting stories of the Prague Astronomical Clock. Where we stumbled upon and photo bombed an Asian wedding celebration and a Jewish community in the heart of the city. Where we found a puppet shop and played like Emily and Jef on The Bachelorette. Where we rubbed the gold dog statue for good fortune on the Charles Bridge and followed the man with the red umbrella on a free walking tour up the narrow cobblestone streets to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. Where we visited the John Lennon Wall and the Love Lock Bridge, soaking in the spectrum of colors, inspired to be brave and creative and pursue our dreams. Where we followed some shirtless sailor boys to the waterfront and paid them for a boat tour, partly because we wanted to go but mainly because we wanted to flirt. Where we made the climb to the "mini Eiffel Tower" and paid the hefty fee to the top, but the view of red roofs and majestic castles made it all worth it. Where we strolled down steep cobblestone streets and unknowingly smacked right into the backyard of the United States embassy and passed the LDS mission home. Where we searched Zara and H&M for the perfect outfit, but blew all our money at Nike International instead. Where we gained a deeper love for our country as we watched the Summer Olympics in our hotel room, realizing we were actually in the same time zone as London and watching more European countries compete than our own. And although I didn't know it at the time, the city where Carly thought to herself "What if I got called here on my mission?"
Now, almost a year later, the memories are as vibrant in my mind as they were the day we flew away from "our city", our Praha. How full my heart is knowing Carly will be going back to share the true and everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ with the people we grew to love, and that we'll still be connected somehow.
This year has taught me that when we take a small step forward, set a goal, and align our lives with the Lord's teachings, He will extend our hopes and dreams far beyond what we could ever do on our own. So why do we fear the future or think we can't accomplish the things we really want? I think it's because we need to practice faith and hope, and stop putting our trust in ourselves. We should trust in the One who knows all. He is always 20 steps ahead, laying out our future with a full, mountaintop perspective that we can't see from our individual valleys. The key is to dream big, even unrealistically, then go work our tails off. He will make up the rest.
In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci,
"People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things."
From Praha, with love.