London Calling

Author: Kristen Lunceford  |  | @kristenlunceford

I’m old enough to remember airplane gate goodbyes. The last one I said was to my parents at LAX on August 24, 2001. I was running away; they were watching me try. No one knew September was coming, so there we stood, boarding calls blaring, nervous but stomaching it. My mom paid for everything I wore, carried, and hoped for that day; my dad—barely on speaking terms with either of us—paced quietly, trying to find the words.

I was headed to JFK Airport, then onto London, for a semester abroad. I didn’t have a cell phone, computer, or any real experience reading a map. It was a different time, and I was a different girl. Or so I hoped to be.

The adventure before me: Fly to the other side of the world where no one knew I was an overthinking, overachieving perfectionist with an approval addiction, and become someone else—preferably someone less uptight (but who still got straight ‘As’ because I wasn’t an animal).

5,500 miles and no GPS later, I arrived here, on Queen’s Gate Road in Kensington, England.


The entrance in the bottom right led up to what would be my home for 112 days that fateful fall. Hyde Park and Kensington Palace held court at the end of the street; so did The Royal Albert Hall. Around the corner was one of Princess Diana’s favorite restaurants, Damario.  Nestled adjacent to that was neighborhood pub called Builders Arms. I remember it because it had a TV; the one I rushed to when I heard someone say, “Two planes just hit the World Trade Center.”

Skin-shedding shenanigans aside, I was officially there to study Shakespeare, history, and organizational communication at an American university in the neighborhood. Unofficially? I was in for something far more romantic: learning the unforced rhythms of grace.

I journaled every day—through jet lag, homesickness, and 9/11; on park benches and palace lawns; in trains, “Internet cafes,” and questionable hostels—discovering as I lived and wrote that Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 was the actual call on my time abroad.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

{Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)}

After years of striving, struggling, and even succeeding from a place of “I’m not enough,” Jesus set my feet on cobblestone and bid me come. Not for approval. Not for one more gold star. Not for another round of trying to prove my significance to the world or to him, but instead to learn the unforced rhythms of grace; to cast off the sin that so easily entangled, and to watch it go.

As I leaned into the romance and adventure of living abroad, and as my nightly walks through Kensington afforded me time and space to process my past, I began to understand that life was not given to me to make perfect. It was given to me to live.

Freely. Lightly. With Jesus.

Not because I was good, but because I was His.

And because I was His, I didn’t have to become anyone else. I was enough.

I could still be me, only a whole lot less afraid.

* * *

London was my first big adventure, but far from my last. I would go on to board airplanes to all kinds of places, for all kinds of reasons, each time equipped with two vital pieces of travel gear:

  1. Help to head out.

  2. The guts to go.  

Whether waiting at the airport to study abroad in London, lead a corporate conference two time zones away from my toddlers, stow away to Mexico with my husband, adopt a baby from Ethiopia, plant a church in Las Vegas, or meet my dad at his deathbed in San Diego, I had help from others to get there. After that, stepping onto all those planes simply took guts—the steely kind.    

Which brings me to you, Dear Reader. These planes aren’t metaphorical, and this is not a drill.  Where is Jesus calling you to move or serve or vacation or set up camp for a season? Could it be that it’s finally time—or time once again—to make your way onto an actual plane and have an adventure? Is there someone who can help you—buy the ticket, cover the shifts, apply to the program, find the hotel, watch the kids, feed the cat—so you can head out? Ask.

And when courage hides, listen overhead and within for your friend Jesus. His boarding call is the one blaring louder and truer than your excuses and fears. Be nervous if you must, but line up next. I promise your stomach can handle it. Jesus won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting upon you. Keep company with him and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Not because you’re good, but because you’re His.

Off you go.

Whitney Parnell1 Comment