Feels.


I was waiting for the feelings to start. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been pretty matter-of-fact about leaving. Yes, sad to leave my people, but okay with going home. Excited to see my parents. Ready to be back to normal.

Now I’m not okay with going home yet. Partly because I’ve realized you can’t ever go back to normal after five months away. You’re different. Home’s different. Articles about reverse culture shock are preparing me.

I love home, but I love here, too. And I’m feeling nostalgic.

It’s like thinking you’re ready to jump off the diving board then realizing as you’re on your way to the water that you’d rather stay on the diving board for a bit and clawing and thrashing at the air, trying to fight the inevitable splash.

Does that sound dramatic? I feel dramatic.

I started taking my pictures and maps down from my wall today. I pulled my suitcase out from the closet and put souvenirs and clothes in it.

WHAT.

I said my first two “goodbye”s this afternoon. They were awful because saying goodbye is always awful, especially when you don’t know when the next “hello” could be. Also, “goodbye” is such an ugly word. It’s so final. I keep wanting to defy “goodbye” by saying “see you later!”

Whether or not I’ll actually see them later, isn’t it nicer?

Oh, sentimentality! Oh, feelings! Oh, grasping at my life here!

How strange that after 5 months of adventures and learning and meeting people I find myself at the end feeling like I must have missed something because it doesn’t feel final. It feels like this is my life, and it will go on this way because that’s what life does.

But really, when has life ever stayed constant?

I don’t even know how to express this. There are just too many feelings, some of them without names. Oh, feelings! I’ll have to get back to you about how I feel when I know how I feel.

Parts of my heart.


I’ll be home in about eight and a half days. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance behind that statement, partly because I still don’t understand how air travel works (ya get on the plane in one place and get off in another… what?) and partly because there are so many pages to be written and little tasks to complete before I can leave that I feel the time must be longer.

But it’s not.

I find myself breathing a little deeper and walking a little slower and gazing a little longer. I’m trying to soak up the “old world” feel and whatever other intangibles make Graz the place it is. I’m trying to figure out how the heck I can fit all my belongings in my suitcase again… and have it not be overweight.

I just wrote three paragraphs asking myself where “home” is, but it got rambly, so I deleted it. It seems to me that the more places you go and the more people you meet from other places, the more your heart gets spread out. I’m sure this is true to a greater extent for TCKs and people who live in more places for longer periods of time, but I’m 20. This is what I’ve got.

And you’re still a whole person, you just have to reach farther to feel parts of you. Oh, that part of my heart is in Costa Rica. That part is in India. I left that part in Budapest, even though I was only there for a weekend. I know. I fall in love quickly. That part’s in Panama. That part that’s shaped like a baguette in in France. That part’s in Upper Austria. That part’s in Salzburg. That part’s in Chicago. That huge chunk is in Minnesota. That part is in San Diego. That part is spread out on every mountain I’ve ever been on. That part’s in Graz.

I think this is good, even though there’s a sort of fragmented sense to it all, because you don’t have to look in just one place to find yourself. You can find yourself just about anywhere. You see your reflection in the people all over the place, and that helps you to connect.

That might not make any sense. As I’ve said earlier this week, I’m running out of words. I’ll have to get back to you on this later.

With that, I’d better fuel up and use my remaining store of words on my Gothic Fiction paper.

Fire-breather.


I can’t lie. Sometime the Bible scares me.

Then the earth quaked and trembled.

The foundations of the mountains shook;

They quaked because of his anger.

Smoke poured from his nostrils;

fierce flames leaped from his mouth.

Glowing coals blazed forth from him.

(Psalm 18: 7-8, NLT)

I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything more potentially terrifying.

Yet today, these words were an immense comfort to me. I’m comforted because that’s my God. That’s the God who goes to battle for me.

Sometimes I see my opponents as small. Darkness in my mind? Well it’s small. Especially compared to God. Sure, it’s bigger than me, but barely. I mean, on a really good day I could give it a black eye. Temptations? Well, I mean I do okay with those. I try not to succumb, and sometimes I do, but I’ve got a decent track record, but they can’t be that big.

Let me just lay something out here that I think we forget sometimes: Evil is not small. Darkness is not gray fog. Pride, Envy, Lust, and those other sins we’ve got on speed dial could swallow you and three hundred of your closest friends in one gulp. We are small fish in a big sea of things that want to tear us away from God and bring us down. They want to rip apart our souls and make us slaves to the darkness.

When you put it that way, aren’t you glad that we’ve got a God who breathes fire? Because in Psalm 18, the fire is for the Psalmist, David. Not to devour the him, because David loves God and knows to whom he belongs. No, the fire is for all the things trying to eat at him.

His love is deep. His love is wide, and it covers us. His love is fierce. His love is strong. It is FURIOUS. His love is sweet. His love is wild, and it’s waking hearts to life.

My God breathes fire. “I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from all my enemies.” My God “opened the heavens and came down… mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew…. He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies…. At the blast of [his] breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen.”

I think I’m sticking with Him. Yep. Definitely.

Ginkgo.


Well, who knew? I do like green tea when I don’t scorch it. My tea-savvy friend, Tiina, gave me the tip that when you make green tea, cover the tea bag with cold water then pour in the hot water. That way you don’t end up with bitter, nasty green tea.

All of a sudden, I have a new friend. A new friend with lots of antioxidants.

Yes, there’s ginkgo in that tea. Good catch. That’s the tree with the funny-shaped leaves, and I’m drinking it right now. It’s going to help my circulation and focus. I could use the focus help because I’ve got some papers to write, and I’m fighting that perfectionist mentality that says you can’t start writing until you’re totally ready.

Well, guess what, perfectionist self? You have to write a bad draft before you can get to the good draft. You just have to put in the time and the words. You already did the research. I know you’re looking for ways to put off writing until you feel like it’ll be totally perfect on the first try, but you’re not getting out of the revision process.

Oh, you don’t want to revise? Then you won’t get that satisfaction that comes from having something half-decent to turn in. You keep it up, and by next week when the papers are due, you’ll just have pages and pages and pages of half coherent notes to show your professor. That’s not what you want, is it? I didn’t think so.

Yeah, it’ll be worth it to write this really horrible first draft. Anne Lamott says so, and she’s published, so we’ve got to trust her.

Just take another sip of apple green tea with ginkgo and write another paragraph. There you go, good girl.

Not a guilt trip.


Philippians 4:6

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (NLT)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (NIV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (ESV)

*Big sigh*

Does anyone else get anxious just seeing this verse?

This is one of those passages that always comes up in high stress periods. For most of my life, this has been a guilt trip because I’m so good at worrying. We’ve talked about this over and over again. You’re probably sick of talking about it. I’m sick of writing about it.

But more than that, I’m sick of worrying.

In the middle of a crisis (aka, when there’s something I need to do, when I have to go somewhere, when someone has asked me to complete a task, whenever there’s a time crunch, whenever I have to complete an assignment, whenever I have to get somewhere on time, etc, etc, etc), the hardest thing is to step back and ask God how He sees my issue.

The hardest thing to do when worry strikes is to reach out of the worry. Worry sucks us in. It says, If you think about this more and over-examine every way that it could go wrong, it might just go right. You should think about it all the time, not just when it’s here. Stay sucked in to your thoughts. It’s a nice place to be. 

Worry lies.

It says that if we think about it hard enough, we can solve it. I know this because I was doing it this morning, thinking, thinking, worrying, pondering, worrying, letting anxiety creep into my life.

In the very moments that I was intending to be spending with God, worry started eating at my joy and peace.

My Bible teacher in my last two years of high school said something I’ve never forgotten, and perhaps I’ve even mentioned it here before. He said (in some variation of these words) that wherever we find ourselves is exactly where we should call out to God, saying, “Come here. I’m here. I need you. Come into my mess.” I think he was saying it in regard to when you find dirty thoughts creeping into your mind and sullying what God has planted there.

But I think of it often when I find my mind drifting anywhere unholy.

Because worry is unholy. It’s like getting flushed down a toilet, farther away from light and clean, happy living and closer to disaster and grossness.

When worry creeps in, those are the moments we need to see it and throw our hands up to Jesus. Because that stops worry in its tracks. When we say, “GOD, I CANNOT SAVE MYSELF FROM MY OWN MIND!” He says, “Well, of course not. That’s why I inspired Philippians 4:6.”

And then we’re right back where we started. That verse isn’t a guilt-trip. It’s an invitation to holy thinking, thinking that trusts God and knows that we’re incapable of rescuing ourselves even from our own minds.

Learning to see.


In my apartment here in Austria, the kitchen/living space are in front. There’s a big window where light comes through and people like to stare as they walk by. heyyy, just sitting here eating lunch. Nice to see you, too. Oh, the joys of a first-floor apartment.

Then there’s a hallway behind that, from which the bathrooms and our bedrooms branch off. There’s a light switch in this hallway, but most of the time, we leave that off. No one hangs out in the hallway much. And when the door to the kitchen is open, you have enough light.

I’ve made the mistake a few times now of going to be the bathroom without turning on my light or the hall light. I always expect my night vision to be better than it is, and it’s only like ten feet from my room to the bathroom. Even though I’ve made this walk so many times in the daylight, in the darkness, I walk with arms in front of my face and slowly take monster-sized steps to the door, reaching out to feel the wall to avoid injury.

This is as close as I’ve come to being blind, other than being blind-folded for a school project before. But then I had someone telling me what to do, how much higher to lift my hand, how many steps to take.

On these tenuous walks to the bathroom, I was alone. I’m sure if I wasn’t alone, it would have been humorous for anyone with night vision goggles to watch, though.

Today, I was reading in John 9, where Jesus makes mud with his spit (on the Sabbath) and smears it on the eyes of the blind man, then tells him to go to the pool and wash it off. When the man washes the mud off, he can see. It’s a miracle.

And of course, the Pharisees are mad and say, “But it’s the Sabbath. This is our day of rest when you’re not supposed to heal people. Formerly Blind Man, you must have been healed by a sinner. He can’t be good. Give God the glory for this.”

But I love the blind man’s response. It bounced around in my soul a bit before I could keep reading:

(verse 25)”‘I don’t know whether he is a sinner,’ the man replied. ‘But I know this: I was blind, but now I can see!'”

He didn’t know what Jesus looked like. Heck, he probably didn’t know that Jesus used his holy spittle to make the mud. I’m still not sure how he got to the pool. He didn’t know that Jesus was God’s son.

But he testified to what he did know. I WAS blind, but NOW I can see.

I was blind, but now I can see. It doesn’t mean that all his issues are solved now. Actually, perhaps he can see them more clearly. Now he can see his lack of hygiene or that there are a lot of people he doesn’t know. He can see how people look at him, whether kindly or not. What an existential crisis he must have had. I was blind, but now I can see.

I bet his identity was partly wrapped up in being blind. I have a small crisis every winter when my hair gets brown, so I can’t even imagine having to go from being blind to seeing. Not that it changes his value, but it changes what he can do and where he can go and how he’ll feel about things.

Isn’t that what we experience when we meet Jesus? When He spits in the dirt, into something common, and rubs it on our eyes and tells us to go wash it off, we have initial amazement and joy at being able to see. But then we see sin in our lives, blood on our hands, the way we don’t measure up.  It’s not the joy of salvation there. That’s the sorrow at depravity.

But Jesus isn’t done after this exposure. Then he takes our hands and says, “do you want to know how I see you? Do you want to see other people the way I see them?”

We learn to see after we are able to see. Just like we learn to walk after we learn to toddle. We learn to articulate after we learn to speak. We learn to write after we learn to scribble.

And we’re probably still learning this, still getting rid of our blind spots and blurred areas, improving our distance and close up vision, learning to focus.

This is all I know to explain how my life has been changed: “I know this. I was blind. And I’m learning to see.”

Running out.


Around finals time of year, I start running out of words. It’s like between my classes and studying and reading and writing and note-taking and question-asking, I use up my quota for the day and just stare at the empty blog post form like, what is this for? what do I put in here?

It’s not even the really crunchy crunch time yet. I’m trying to abide by the tortoise motto, “Slow and steady wins the race” so that I won’t have to take a nap in the middle.

In other news, I’ve got pairs of everything left. 2 more of each day of the week. 2 more of each class. 2 more papers. 2 more weekends. 2 more weeks. I’m just a great big jumble of everything when it comes to how to feel about that. Part of my yearns for my family and the comfort of my room with its green walls and purple curtains and the bed that is mine and has never been anyone else’s. I miss my church community so much, too. That’s been one of the biggest gaps in my time here.

Then I have to remember, home isn’t perfect either. There’s a lot of responsibility and bills and work.

But it’s home.

But it’s not Graz. And I love Graz. And my friends I’ve met here won’t be there.

But my family will. And my high school friends. And work and church friends. And there’ll be good ol’ Minnesota.

But there won’t be 400-1000 year old buildings or cobblestone streets or German-speakers everywhere.

Right, there will be English! Oh, that blessed language.

But there won’t be bakeries everywhere. And cars won’t be required by law to stop once you enter the crosswalk. Heck, I won’t even be using the crosswalks.

But I’ll have Audrey again.

And gas bills. and no tram.

Do you see the dilemma? Going home is great… and horrible… and wonderful… and tragic… and heartwarming…. and heartbreaking.

I don’t know when I’ll be back here or when I’ll see these people again.

The best cure for this is to just live fully here for my last 14 days, to be all in Graz and all with the people here.

Birds and study breaks


I have something to confess to you.

I love Angry Birds.

I suppose I have two confessions.

I’m also pretty good at it.

These are things I’m rather ashamed of saying, especially since I’m typically so scornful of these type of time-wasters. I have to be honest, though. I like Angry Birds. I really like it. And it helps me focus.

I can read to get sleepy at night, but Angry Birds gets my heart going faster. I find myself getting really frustrated when there’s just one, tiny green pig left. I obsessively strategize about where I’m going to send my birds. I’m well-acquainted with these kamikaze aviators.

I even catch myself saying things like, “DIE, you stupid little pigs!” out loud. On occasion.

Don’t worry, though, dear readers. I’m not neglecting my studies or my friends. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I’ll say, “No, I’m sorry, I can go out with you. I have to get to the next level.”

I’ll delete the app before I get that far gone. I promise you.

This is probably because we didn’t have video games when I was a child. I’m making up for lost time.

But only on study breaks.

Speaking of study breaks, it’s another national, religious holiday today in Austria. As usual, no one is exactly sure what the holiday celebrates, but all the shops are closed (the reason I did my grocery shopping yesterday) and classes are cancelled. So, I’m taking today to work on my seminar papers.

Even in the States, every professor has different expectations for papers. But when the professor has a different native language and country and background than you and also runs his class very differently than any other class you’ve ever been in, it makes that even more difficult. Not that he wouldn’t accept any well-written, analytic paper, but I get the feeling that he has pretty specific expectations. So, two papers for this professor are my main concern over the next 14-16 days.

So, on to some serious studies. And Angry Birds on study breaks. No shame.

The packing begins.


It started today.

The Space-Bagging.

IMG_20140618_130425

IMG_20140618_131159That bag contains three sweaters, a pair of leggings, and three long-sleeved shirts. And it’s going to go in my suitcase soon.

I’m already at the point where I start packing. I might be good at packing light, but it takes me a while to pack. I think it’s the over-preparing, anxious, compulsively detailed part of my personality.

Plus I have to make sure early on that there’s enough room for souvenirs, because there’s a big bag of European things in my closet, just waiting to go to the States and meet their new owners. And any room not occupied by my belongings or those souvenirs will be filled up with Austrian coffee.

In other news, I have a referral to go get an x-ray from the doctor who still exists. And I’m giving my last presentation today. After this, it’s just editing a portfolio of 5 short stories, writing two 10-12 page literature papers, and taking an exam on intelligence.

Oh, yeah, and all those goodbyes.

But I’m not going to think about those just yet.

Onward!

 

Expectations.


In 19 days, I will be waving goodbye to Austria from my airplane at this moment, already an hour in flight away from here. As I drank my coffee and ate my müsli this morning (this is the bag of müsli I bought in my first two weeks, not realizing how many raisins were in it  – I only like raisins in small amounts – but I can’t waste it, so I’m slowly making my way through the bag before I leave), I thought back to what I expected to feel like at this point in my time abroad.

I imagined that being abroad would make me more adult, that I would feel like a seasoned guru of all things international, that I would be able to throw around foreign phrases in my speech in languages other than German, and I’m pretty sure in my imagination I had a different face, too. Funny how you expect yourself to become someone else.

In actuality, I feel like, though I’ve learned much and experienced loads and had my horizons broadened in many ways, I know less than I thought I knew when I got here. Perhaps that’s what happens when you broaden the field of what it’s possible to know. You realize you only have a claim on a very small plot of land.

I feel less like an adult, too. In Chicago and Minnesota, the places where I have responsibility for other people as well as myself and have structure in my life, I feel more like an adult than halfway around the world. Now that’s a game changer. I expected to come back ready to move out of my parents’ house and prepared to graduate college. But really, I realize how nice it is to have people who are partially responsible for your well-being and that I need the time before I graduate to figure out where God wants me to be.

I think the only thing that measures up with what I expected is that God would do amazing things while I am here. He has. He’s given me friends that I will have for the rest of my life, experiences I didn’t know to dream about, and so many reasons to trust Him. Isn’t that just like God? To be the only dependable thing in my life?