Thursday, June 10, 2010

Almdudler und die Lesezeichen (Almdudlers and Bookmarks)

Servus! (Austrian for “Hey!”)

It is an absolutely gorgeous afternoon, and I have chosen one of the most beautiful places in Graz to write this next blog update. I am currently sitting in the park of Schloss Eggenberg, a restored 18th-century country estate on the edge of Graz. From my chosen bench, I have a perfect view of the Schloss (castle, though, in this case more like a really big house) and its lush green front lawn. Though the sun is shining, I am under the cool shade of a ring of elm trees, whose leaves peacefully rustle as a gentle breeze blows through. To complete this perfect scenario, I am snacking on a bunch of impossibly red cherries, which I bought at the farmer’s market. Ah, life is good.

(I should also add that, in addition to delightfully fragrant and vibrant rose bushes, the Schloss Eggenberg gardens are also home to at least a dozen real-life, honest-to-goodness, blue-as-can-be peacocks. Very, very noisy peacocks. Have you ever seen the Pixar movie Up? They sound just like Kevin the Snipe. No joke. There! They are erupting again! Haha.)

So what am I doing here, relaxing in this little slice of paradise? Thinking, of course. And not just about anything, but about a lot of different things. This semester has been unbelievable; every day I feel the need to literally pinch myself just to make sure I’m dreaming. That it’s actually been real, that I have had all these incredible experiences, and that I have made such wonderful friends and such unforgettable memories—it just seems impossible, as if it’s too good to be true. In that sense, I would say that Graz hasn’t just been living in a dream—for me, it’s been a dream come true. I have learned so much and grown so much, and God has taught me so many, many things that I will be pondering and processing in the months and years to come.

Unfortunately, though, life on this side of heaven is finite, and even the best things must come to an end. To call this reality “difficult” would be a gross understatement. My semester in Graz has been the best thing that could have happened to me. Never have I felt so myself; never have I felt so alive. Never before has something felt so right, as if I am exactly where I need to be. So how am I supposed to do this? How can I possibly leave such an incredible place? Those questions will need answering at some point, but not yet. I still have some time. The fat lady may be lumbering toward the stage, but she hasn’t started to sing.

The real question, the most important question, the one I have asked God day after day is this: How do I make the most of what I have left? Or, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:24, how do I “finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given me”? For weeks on end, I struggled with this question, trying to find an answer. And then last week, completely out of the blue, one came to me.

I was having my daily time with the Lord (many Christians call it “quiet time.” I like to call it “quality time”, because my day is worthless without it). I had just finished writing in my prayer journal about this very topic, asking God for the ump-teenth time “How do I do this?” As I picked up my Bible, the pages had fallen open to some passage in Ezekiel. Marking those pages in Ezekiel was a sheet of paper with notes to a sermon from a year or so ago. And on the back of those sermon notes, in my own half-legible handwriting, was exactly the answer I had been looking for:

“Give it to God and He will do more with it than you ever could on your own.”


Let me pause here to demonstrate how, in my opinion, this was no accident. You see, as a recovering packrat, I have a lot of stuff jammed into my Bible: notes from friends, lists of prayer requests, actual bookmarks, and a bumper sticker. Periodically, I like to look through this miscellany, reading the notes, praying over the requests, moving the bookmarks, and thinking “Why haven’t I put this bumper sticker on my car yet?” About a week before this epiphany, I had done my routine read-through, and I had definitely NOT read that quote. It was scribbled on the back corner of one paper that had been wedged—er, folded nicely and stuck—between two other papers. Thus, when I opened my Bible to the random Ezekiel passage, the front side of the paper showed, and the side with the quote was stuck facing backwards and underneath it. In other words, in order to see it, I would have had to make an effort to see it.

So the fact that my Bible would have just happened to turn to that page and just happened to have the correct side facing up so it just happened to be the first thing I saw after I had been asking the question all together means… that it very likely couldn’t have “just happened.” No, on the contrary, it must have been God’s almighty pinky finger that caused that page to fall just-so because I needed to read it. And even if it wasn’t literally God’s baby finger (which, since He is God, must be absolutely ginormous), I do believe that God used my own words to speak to me.

Since reading that, I don’t feel confused anymore. It’s as if the fog has lifted and I can see clearly now (the rain is gone / I can see all obstacles in my way… just kidding). Now I not only know what to do, but I even know how to do it. Every day, every moment, everything I do or word I say or opportunity I have, I simply give it over to God. And then He takes care of it. Isn’t that awesome? It’s such a freeing feeling, to know that God is the one in control and that He has everything in His hands and as part of His plan. I don’t need to have my knuckles turn white from my stranglehold on the rest of my time here. No, on the contrary, I need to offer it up to God with open hands. And the best part is this: giving it to God doesn’t mean “giving it up” or “giving up on it.” Instead, it means getting it back, but better than I could have ever imagined. Why? Because He can do more with it than I could on my own.

So that, in a sense, is why I am here at Schloss Eggenberg today. I’ve given up worrying about my time and being depressed that it’s almost over, and I’m trying to live in the moment instead. And not just going through the motions, but really and truly living it and enjoying it for all it’s worth. That means biking 2.5 miles to hang out at the Schloss Eggenberg Park. It means taking the dressing up and enjoying the sunset from the top of the Scholssberg with my gal friends. It means having my own random photo shoot around Graz. It's explaining the intricacies of the awkward turtle to a friend from Sweden. It's getting and Almdudler from the spritzer stand in the middle of campus, and making traditional Czech sauerkraut soup for a real Czech friend, and winning the newbie league of the trivia contest at the Office Pub. It means laughing and smiling and loving where I am and who I am with even when I know that the curtain will soon fall. I hope and pray that I don’t leave this mentality behind in Graz, but that I carry it with me wherever life takes me. God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, but He promises to be with us as long as there is a today. And that, in and of itself, makes today worth living.

And with that my friends, it is time for me to sign off for now. My bag of cherries has been transformed into a pile of pits, and I need to get ready to go to the Opera to watch The Sound of Music tonight. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I pray that God will reveal Himself and His impossibly amazing love to you today. God bless.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Wow, Steffi, you are extravagantly blessed with so many gifts and talents! (but we all new that already ;)
    As I read this blog entry (I confess, the first post of yours I have read on your blog) I could totally empathize with what you were feeling and searching for. I love those God moments! I get goosebumps (and I know that's probably the Holy Spirit working in me).
    Thank you for sharing your experiences! Blessings on the remainder of your trip!