Secretly not busy

Can I tell you a secret? Okay. Here goes.

I’m not busy.

Surprising, isn’t it? You expect that when you go to dip yourself in Austrian culture for a semester that it’ll be a whirlwind from start to finish, that your lungs will seize up from all the activity, that you’ll drown in culture and experience and good food.

Well, I’ve definitely absorbed lots of culture, good food, and experiences in my first two weeks, but I’m not busy. When I first arrived, I was accosted by forms and needs and registration, but now I’m just waiting. My classes don’t begin until next Friday, so I have a whole ‘nuther week to while away.

In some ways, it’s great to have hours and hours to just wander around Graz, to get lost and buy bread and eat the bread and find my way home again. I have time to relax and settle into my living space. I’ve journaled nearly half a book already.

But I am not busy. And there’s this little voice somewhere behind my ears saying, “Shouldn’t you be? Look at all these people with lives and busyness. Look at their purpose. You have a life like that at home; you should have transplanted that. Find things to make you busy!”

But I’m realizing that busyness for busyness’ sake isn’t really what I want. I’m learning to savor all the time to think and process the things I’ve seen. I love having the freedom to go out when I want to, plenty of time to walk to each destination (thereby saving tram fare), being free to say “yes” to any social invitation because I never have anything else to do.

The busyness will come, and when it does, it will find me ready, having savored three weeks of relaxation.

Shining a light.

Today is the day that End it Movement shines a light on slavery. People all around the world put a red ‘X’ on their hands to show their solidarity with the anti-trafficking movement and tell everyone who asks (and maybe even those who don’t ask) why they’ve subjected themselves to possible blood poisoning by ink.

Well, this year I’m in Austria. (Did you know?) I would normally be on-board with something like this, obnoxiously re-posting things about it on Facebook and taking a selfie with my red ‘X’ on the day.

Normally. (But I don’t have a red marker this year… just orange, green, and pink)

It's just not the same.

It’s just not the same.

However, as I thought about how I could participate this year, I realized that even if I did put a red ‘X’ on my hand this year, I wouldn’t be able to tell the people who asked about it. I don’t even know what “human” is in German, much less “trafficking”, forced labor”, and “sex slavery”. I don’t really have a sphere of influence here, and even if I did – no guarantees that I’d even see anyone who spoke English tomorrow.

So, instead, I’ll use this platform.

Most of you already know that God has laid this on my heart. You already know that He opened my eyes and dropped a ministry into my lap, along with incredible opportunities to learn and serve. You know that it’s not about me, not about anything amazing that I’ve ever done but that God is using His church to accomplish His purposes: justice, mercy, love. I’m a part of that church.

The truth and magnitude of trafficking is stunning, staggering, maiming, even. In the last year, anti-trafficking organizations have been saying that instead of 27 million slaves, it’s more like 29.8 million. And that’s an estimate, since it’s such an underground business. There are likely many more in slavery. It’s important to tell people how enormous of an issue it is, but I think it’s even more important to share the stories of hope. And I think we need to make sure that Jesus gets His part in those stories, because Jesus is our hope.

We can talk about the people who are rescued all we want, but if we leave God – the one who truly heals people, completely and in a way that nothing else can from the psychological, physical, and emotional horrors of slavery – out of the picture, then we’ve missed the point. We’ve missed our opportunity to say that Jesus came to seek and to save, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, healing for the broken. And that there’s no other way.

No other way.

There’s no other way that injustice will end. There’s no greater power than the One who pushes into dark places with a brighter light than any we’ve ever been able to produce.

I’ve heard so many incredible stories about Jesus meeting people in the darkest imaginable places. He’s there, and I will testify that He is moving to bring darkness to light. His is the biggest red X, and He’s drawing it with His blood over all the people who need to be rescued.

He’s using us, and He’s setting people free. Hey, that’s a word I do know in German! frei

Blister recovery day.

Screenshot 2014-02-26 12.11.44

Today is blister recovery day. My many kilometers of walking in the past week and a half have finally caught up with me (in more than just the sore legs). My poor feet, who were relatively unused in Minnesota except to drive with, sprouted some very large blisters a few days ago. I decided to ignore them and keep walking since I had things to do, people to see, and forms to turn in. After this abuse, however, the blisters got to the point where they needed some care last night, and though I won’t share the gory details, my feet are taking a break today.

I’ve got band-aids on my heels and have promised myself to not walk more than a couple kilometers in shoes today. Something about shoes is just irritating to them, I guess.

So, today is the day I stay home. I keep learning German on Duolingo (amazing how much you can learn in a few minutes!), I eat a – hopefully – balanced diet that doesn’t include too much bread, and write letters. I’m also going to make a flyer to put up in the English department saying, “Need a native English speaker to proofread your papers??” It should be a hit.

I’ve decided to also make a list of things I want to do before I leave. This way I can have goals for the days when I have no responsibilities.

Even days at home can have purpose. Fortunately, I have a lovely window with plenty of sunshine and fresh air to keep me sane today. And if I get desperate, there’s a bank, a grocery store, and a bakery two minutes away from here. My feet should be able to take that.

Sunny 20 carbohydrates.

I turn twenty in six days. It’s probably not that big of a deal, but let me tell you – it feels like a big deal.

I’ll be able to casually include myself in the “twenty-somethings” category.  I won’t be a teenager anymore. I will have a “2” in my age for the third time in my life. I won’t have to say I’m nineteen anymore (duh and hallelujah).

I thought it called for a blog makeover. It was either that or dye my hair, and I didn’t think I could pick a color, so I picked a new WordPress template.

Welcome to my journey in Austria, now officially labelled on here. It’s like we have a little side party going on from our normal blog relationship.

Today was another beautiful, sunny day, so I decided to walk to Uni (again… this time to get the ID that I was supposed to get yesterday when the office was closed and the man said “of course” is was too late to get the card) despite my heel blisters. I wasn’t aware that you can get blisters on your heels, like the area almost on the soles of your feet, but apparently, you can.

I got a hundred strange looks from people as I walked, because apparently it’s still winter jacket weather. I was wearing a spring cardigan and maxi skirt, so I suppose I looked crazy, but the sun was shining, and it was well above freezing. I only cared a little bit that they thought I was crazy.

I’m finally an official Uni-Graz student and can get into the library – the most important thing because it’s beautiful. I’ll post a picture sometime.

Rebekka and I went to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch since she couldn’t work on her thesis anymore, and I don’t have anything to work on. Who knew you could get so full on veggies? It was a buffet line of all good things, and I didn’t realize you had to pay by weight, so I just got a little bit of everything. I’m not even sure what all I ate, but most of it was very good, including the banana chocolate rum cake. We had to sit for a little bit before we could walk anywhere.

I won’t tell you how many bread-y items I bought at the store after that. I’ve decided that at least for the first few weeks or until I’ve tried everything, counting carbs is not important. I’ll just try to balance it out with fruit and yogurt and other good things. I feel like that way I can still grab life by the loaf and not miss out on anything.

And, of course, I’ll keep walking the carbs off. I’ve decided that I want to attempt biking, as well. I want to see if I can navigate the streets with cars and trams… I may die, but at least we’ll know that it was in a valiant effort to get to class on time without paying exorbitant tram fares.

In other news, I booked a flight to Paris in April to see my longtime friend who is teaching at a university in Rennes. It’s thrilling just to type that, much more to go, I’m sure. It seems far away, but I’m sure before I know it I’ll be home again. Sometimes life just is exciting, isn’t it?

Omelets, walking, and powdered sugar.

I ate an omelet this morning.


Before today I was the girl who – when asked if she was the kind of vegetarian that ate eggs – said that I only ate them in cake.

But this morning, I cracked an egg into a bowl-shaped plate thing, added milk, then put it in a pan with butter, cheddar cheese, onion, red pepper, and tomato. Then I put it on a plate and ate it with a fork. The whole thing, without making faces or hesitating.

I’m not kidding. Who am I?

Really, though, it’s a good question. Because when you arrive in a foreign place, you feel foreign and sort of forget what makes you, you. You walk around speaking bits of a new language and trying new foods and grocery stores and restaurants and transport systems and friends and classes, and then you forget what you usually do with your life.

So then you try an omelet and find out you might actually like protein (but never red meat. don’t hold out hope, Mom and Dad) in that form.

At least you find yourself again when you walk the 20 minutes to campus without the form you needed to pick up your ID, so you have to walk the twenty minutes home again to get the form, then walk to campus again to get that darn ID.

And you find yourself again when you buy yourself a krapfen (which happen to be covered in powdered sugar) and a cappuccino on the way home (the first time). You’re so busy walking and eating and trying to make sure you don’t have powdered sugar on your face that you don’t realize that all the while your shirt is being polka-dotted with sugar. You walk multiple blocks before realizing this, then hurriedly cram the rest of the krapfen into your mouth and brush yourself off.

Boy do I feel human sometimes.

Successes and goals

More small victories to report:

– found the church I was looking for yesterday (downside: it didn’t end up being in English. upside: the people were very friendly, and one of them translated the entire service for me)

– figured out that people like to wash their clothes on Sunday mornings – BUT STILL commandeered two washers for sheets and towels. Also, the washing machines are in German, so I think it’s a victory just to pick a setting and get them going.

– successfully took out the trash. This is a bigger deal here because they separate everything (paper, biomass, plastic, bottles, metal) and have specific containers, labeled in that language they speak here that I don’t yet so that I have a slightly more difficult time figuring it out.

I’ll celebrate by eating something with carbohydrates later, when the sun comes out. I hope I do enough walking here that my bread-eating habits aren’t too destructive.

My goals for the next week and a half, before I start classes are to:

– learn the German flashcards I made

– read at least one whole book

– try a new food (bread counts)

– get lost at least once and find my way without using my maps app on my phone

– make my dorm room more organized and cheerful

Cheers to the start of a new week!

Update: 1 hour after I posted this, I finally asked Fabian to help me open my jar of applesauce. In possible completion of the metaphor, the tried something I hadn’t (prying it open with a fork first) and succeeded.

Joy does come in the morning.

Nights where you sit alone in your flat because all your flatmates are home with their families are hard. But mornings where there’s leftover French toast and Julius Meinl coffee to brew and the book of Ruth to read are great. And the sun shines through the curtains, and you wonder why last night was so hard.

Though the sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes in the morning.

His mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!

It’s good to be a morning person. God says so.

The sun shone today, so I went to Spar, bought a notepad, some pens, real tape (since I could only find double-sided last time and my pictures are coming off the walls), and colored pencils. Then I walked down Munzengrabenstraße (whatever happened to short street names?) to Stadtpark, where a bench in full sunlight called my name.

Oh, side note: on the way to the park, I tried to stop in at a bank to exchange money. Sounds simple enough, right? Walk into a bank, ask if they speak English, trade them for the euros. No, first I stopped at a bank that was closed for lunch, then I stopped at an insurance company, thinking it was a bank.

I need to learn some German, pronto.

Back to the bench that yelled, “Ashley, Ashley, come sit here. Take a load off.” So, I sat, took off my jacket (baring my forearms outside for the first time in months), and wrote a draft of a poem.

The rest of the day included finally exchanging the euros when the first bank reopened and grocery shopping with my friend, who came back from visiting her family. I probably shouldn’t have, but I also ate almost half a loaf of some amazing bread. I don’t even have an excuse other than how good it tasted, but if I use that excuse they’ll have to roll me home (get it? roll? bread jokes?)

I’ve discovered the secret to having purpose while I have no schedule and no responsibilities is to save the few things I have to do or want to accomplish and scatter them over the many days that I have without classes. Purpose helps with the joy factor.

Today was a little incoherent, but that’s okay. Welcome to the end of jet lag and 10:30pm in Austria.

Healing and French toast

Some things just stay with you when you change countries. French toast is one of those things for me. So are depression and anxiety.

the orangest egg yolk I've ever seen

the orangest egg yolk I’ve ever seen

goodness in process

goodness in process

golden perfection

golden perfection

During the 7 days I’ve been here, I’ve made French toast three times. Not only does it bring back heartwarming memories of cooking an entire loaf of the stuff every Sunday night with my friends in Chicago, but it’s cheap and tasty. You can put just about anything on it. I’ve been using peanut butter this week because that’s protein, my friends, and because it’s a sweet and salty taste of America.

I tried to put applesauce on it today, but I couldn’t get the jar open for the life of me. Tried all the tactics I could think of, but nothing worked. Applesauce went back on the shelf unopened, and the peanut butter came back out to play.

I’ve been trying for a long time to get my jar of normalcy open again, the jar that always wants to get out of bed in the morning and doesn’t have a hard time breathing or going out of the house or talking to people. I’ve been trying to crank it open for a while now. Actually, this month marks about year since the struggle began. Some days I think I’ve got it almost open – I can practically smell the contents – but it’s not open or perhaps knows how to re-seal itself.

You know how hard it is to open jars sometimes. Sometimes you feel arthritic just because you can’t open the darn jar. Or you feel that maybe you haven’t been doing enough to work out your arm muscles. Something must be wrong with you because you can’t open this jar. But it’s really not your fault.

So you put it back and open an easier jar until you can muster up the strength or tenacity or whatever its going to take to get that jar open. Obviously, you don’t know what it takes, otherwise you’d be chowing on applesauce with your French toast.

So I’m here, in Austria, eating my French toast and healing because healing is a process that begs to be lived. It asks for you to learn and to walk one day at a time. I think, in spite of all my trepidation and fear about being across the globe while I still don’t feel right yet, I think I’m supposed to be here, healing.

I got lost on purpose yesterday, because walking is healing. No reason why. It just is. And each day I have to depend solely on God because I know few other people here and none so well as Him.

There is a time to hurt.

And there is a time to heal.

Things you should bring to Austria

We all know how much anxiety I had over packing, how long it took me, and how messy it was. Yes, it was a long, drawn-out process. I have most of what I need, and the other things I’ve been able to either buy here or live without. It’s okay to be a vagabond in some ways.

I’m realizing that some of the things I brought are invaluable, and some things – had I known to bring them – would have been fabulous to have here. So, I’ve compiled a list.

1. Peanut butter – thank goodness someone told me before I left that Europeans aren’t crazy about the sticky, nutty substance. I packed a jar in my suitcase, so I have been just fine with my Skippy. You know how in America we have at least 5 different brands of peanut butter at the grocery store, and a few different varieties between them? Well, at my Spar down the street (and the other one I went to), there was one brand. You could pick chunky or creamy, but there was one brand, in small jars.

Nutella, on the other hand, has multiple sizes of jar, off-brands, and knock-offs.

2. Your self-deprecative sense of humor, for use when you have to communicate in English with people who speak German.

Real life example:

*Enters cafe*

“Grüss Gott. Something in German we can’t understand?”

Every single time, I’m sure I flush. “Uh, sorry, I speak English.” Make that face that you would normally reserve for when your parent or small child is doing something slightly embarrassing, but you want to make sure you’re spared the judgment of the other person. It’s the I’m-on-your-side-sorry-about-them look. I use it to apologize for my non-German-speaking side.

*Proceed to ask a stupid question about something that’s right in front of me. Make the face again.*

“Danke Schön. Tschüss!”

Ahh, a word I know. “Tschüss!”

Sometimes, if you can laugh at yourself, it makes things a lot easier. Then, as soon as you leave the cafe, apologize to yourself for acting like the part of you that doesn’t speak German is embarrassing. You do other things well.

3. Liquid vanilla extract. It’s unheard of. I’ve already asked at least three Austrians if it exists here. Twice, I got a confused, “Liquid vanilla?” and once I got a, “Oh, we don’t have that here.” Welp, that settles it. I’m going to ask my parents to bring some with them when they come. And another jar of PB.

4. Good walking shoes. I know people typically plan to bring good walking shoes with them when they travel to Europe, but really… bring the shoes with the most support and comfort you can find. I’m so thankful to have Superfeet insoles in my little sneakers, so I had little trouble walking a few miles around the city today. I walked to school, and I purposefully got lost after orientation so I could see another part of the city. If I didn’t have good shoes? None of this would be possible.

5. Your Bible. I mean, that’s such a gimme. Really, why would you go to a foreign country for 4.5 months without the holy Word of God? For one, it’s usually pretty heavy. For another thing, it’s not really light reading.

For all the reasons you might not bring it, definitely do. I brought my smaller copy so that I would be able to carry it through all the airports in my backpack. There’s just something about being in a completely different place and reading the same words and truths that changes how you see it. I’m here, and I feel different. And everyone else is different than I’m used to them being, but this is still how I’m supposed to live, this is still how God sees me. This is still true and relevant. 

I need to be reminded every day that God is for me and with me and that He’s called me higher. It’s so easy to forget that when I almost feel like I’m on vacation from my regular life. So few things are as they were last week that I could so easily leave my God behind as well. So easily. Without much effort at all. But the efforts to invite God into the newness and unknown make me feel more alive and more like myself.

Or maybe just more like who God wants me to be. I wonder if that’s why we feel such peace in obedience – because we’re one step further into our Godly identity? That’s where I want to be. That’s who I want to be. Funny how it sometimes takes a journey to think of these things.

Being buoyed.

I’m trying to get my pictures to upload onto my computer from my phone, but if I can’t, I’ll just give you words.

Today’s words are about enjoying the little things and taking one thing at a time.

Little things like deciding that lunch was going to be a cappuccino and a krapfen (imagine that there’s a picture right there of an incredibly soft little donut with powdered sugar on top. Also imagine apple filling) then adding a pretzel. I can tell you that my carbohydrate intake is through the roof today.

Also, little things like making French toast without burning it to the pan or forgetting one of the ingredients this morning. Little things like successfully finding the international relations office after about fifteen minutes of walking the same path, thinking I remembered where it was. Little things like realizing that I will have enough money to buy food for the rest of the semester.

Little things like successfully finding the bank and opening an account.

Little things like having an extra passport photo with you when you need one (when has that EVER happened?!?). God knew I’d need it.

So then when you realize that course registration might be a bit more frustrating that you initially supposed just because there are going to be so many variables and so many emails back home involved in the process, you decide that your many small victories from the day can buoy you through this tidal wave of responsibility.

The little victories make standing in line for something you need to get at 7:00pm (when your body feels like it should be sleeping… even though that doesn’t make sense with the time difference) not as bad. It’s another check off the list, another knot tied.

The little victories make it exciting to Skype home, even though you wish the people there were here. There’s always something to tell, even if it’s just that the food was great today.

This little buoy is being called out into the deep to sleep. No pictures for today, I guess, but next time!