Saturday, July 3, 2010

Das Ende... und ein Anfang (The End... and a Beginning)

It’s here.

The moment I have been dreading literally since I got off the plane in Vienna on February 1st has arrived. It’s time for me to leave Graz.

How did this happen? Where does all the time go? How could five months of my life fly by so quickly? I don’t understand it, and I can’t even begin to make sense of it. One minute I was traipsing through snow on the way to my first German intensive course and feeling utterly confused by the milk section at the supermarket. And then the next minute—poof!—I am saying goodbye to all my friends, packing my suitcases, and writing my final blog entry. On Monday morning, I take the 9:26 train to Vienna, and Graz will cease to be my home. Likely forever. Unbelievable. But true nonetheless.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this blog entry, about what I would like to say. Most of the time, I sit down and something simply comes to me; my blogs tend to spontaneously write themselves. This time, though, I’ve taken the time to ponder it, to mull over it, to really figure out what exactly I want to say. I apologize in advance for not being quite as upbeat and peppy as I usually am; it’s hard to be cheery when you feel like your heart is being broken into a million little pieces. I’ll do my best to be positive, but to act happy would be a lie, so I hope you don’t mind my honesty. If you do, feel free to stop reading now. If you don’t, please read on.

This week has been without a doubt one of the most difficult weeks of my entire life. I’ve been through hard times before, but this kind of pain has been unlike any I have ever experienced. It’s like breaking up with someone, moving away from your hometown, having all your friends move away, and having a root canal all in one. (For the record, I’ve never had a root canal, but from what I understand, they are pretty darn painful.) It’s like one of those bad dreams when you KNOW something terrible is going to happen and even though you try your best, you are powerless to stop it. (Have you ever had one of those dreams? Or am I the only one? Maybe I should see a psychiatrist. Haha) Anyway, to sum it up if you aren’t catching my drift, it really really really really REALLY stinks. Like rotten eggs, dirty diapers, body odor, and skunk spray all rolled into a ball and covered with pickles and mustard. And that’s pretty stinkin’ stinky. :/

One especially stinky thing is good-byes. Who in the world decided to call them “good-byes”? There is nothing “good” about them. No, they should be called “bad-byes” or “terrible-byes” or “awful-like-stubbing-both-your-big-toes-at-the-same-time-byes” (Yes, I have done that before. And, yes, in case you are wondering, it is horribly painful). But seriously. Goodbyes are anything but good. Trust me; this week, I have had to say a lot of them. Not fun. At all. :(

Speaking of these so-called “good-byes,” they usually result in me crying. Even though I am an extremely sensitive person, I really don’t like crying. Yes, I realize that the vast majority of normal people in the world prefer not to cry. It isn’t fun; if you’re a girl, it messes up your mascara; and if you cry hard enough, you’ll wake up with a “crying hangover” the next day, which includes puffy, red eyes, a dull and annoying headache, and a frustrating tiredness that doesn’t go away until lunchtime. I also despise crying for all these reasons, but I hate it for yet another: I look like the Grinch when I cry. No, really! I am not even kidding! Have you ever seen the movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? You know how he smiles creepily with the sides of his mouth curling up really high? Picture that with blonde hair and white skin instead of green skin and you are picturing me crying. Trust me; it ain’t a pretty sight.

Or another crummy facet of leaving: packing. I HATE packing; I totally abhor it. In other words, I would rather do almost ANYTHING besides pack. Such other more enjoyable activities (relatively speaking, of course) would include: being stung by a bumble bee on the nose, running down a gravel street barefoot, listening to nails scraping a chalkboard for five minutes straight, or eating a nice big “proper” portion of haggis. (If you know what haggis is, then you should realize that this is fairly disgusting meal choice. If you don’t know what haggis is and you have a week stomach, then I recommend that you continue not knowing what haggis is. Ignorance is bliss.) Anyway, packing stinks. How in the world am I supposed to fit five months worth of souvenirs, shoes, kuerbiskernoel, and summer dresses (Don’t ask me how many I bought here. H&M is dangerous) into two suitcases that not only weigh less than fifty pounds but also are arranged in such a way that nothing breaks? Mission impossible. (Cue music clip here). I hate packing. :/

Okay, I’ve been silly for long enough. It’s getting late here, and I should move onto the main course of this blog post. In America, we call that the “meat and potatoes.” But I’m in Austria still, so I’ll call it the “Schnitzel.” So here’s the Schnitzel…

As I already mentioned at least once, this week has been unbelievably difficult. I don’t want to leave this place and these people, and I hate that I have to. But in the midst of this pain, I’ve been reminded of God’s faithfulness, and I’ve been learning some final lessons along the way. Here they are:

1)Tears are good.: Yes, letting out one’s emotions is a healthy activity, and it’s far better than keeping things bottled up inside. However, tears are also good in a different way. Grieving and tears are a response to the loss of something we care about. If we didn’t cry, it would mean that we didn’t miss whatever we lost. And if we didn’t miss whatever we lost, it would mean that we didn’t enjoy it. That would actually be tragic. Thus, tears are a good sign; they show that we really and truly were happy.

2)It’s not “goodbye”; it’s “auf Wiedersehen”:
One of the hardest parts of bidding adieu to all the amazing friends I have made in Graz is realizing that I may never see them again. Unlike high school, there are no 10-year reunions to look forward to. At the same time, though, I have to remember that I have no idea what the future may hold. God brought these wonderful people into my life once; who’s to say He couldn’t bring them back into it again? So in the meantime, I am trying to act in faith, treating these not as goodbyes, but rather “auf Wiedersehen” which translates into “until we meet again” or “see you later.” This isn’t the end of these friendships; it’s only the beginning. Plus, now I can go anywhere in Europe—and even to Mexico and South Korea AND Australia—and have friends to visit and stay with. ;)

And the most important lesson of all:

3)God was, is, and always will be faithful and good. ALWAYS.

This final lesson is one that God has been teaching me for a long time now, beginning waaaaaaaay before I came to Graz. But during my time in Graz, He has reminded me of this truth and has revealed it to me in countless different ways. One overall theme sticks out to me, though; and it started my first week in Graz.

On my first Sunday here, I ventured by foot 1.75 miles (uphill partway) in the snow in traction-less Ugg boots to church. Unsurprisingly, I managed to get lost on the way and ended up arriving half an hour after the service started. This meant that I was just in time for the sermon, but I had missed the majority of the worship music at the beginning. At the end of every service, though, they play one final worship song. On this particular Sunday, it was a German version of one of my favorites. It’s called “Blessed Be Your Name.” The entire song is awesome (If you have time, I recommend looking it up on youtube or simply finding the lyrics online), but the bridge is what stands out most to me:

“You give and take away; You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name.’”

As I already mentioned, though, I got to hear the German version that Sunday. The same part of that song in German is this: “Egal was Du mir gibst. Egal was Du mir nimmst. Du bist und bleibst mein Gott. Und Dir gehoert mein Lob.”

One of the coolest things for me about learning and living in a country with another language has been getting to see how certain words and ideas are expressed differently. In many cases, I have discovered that I actually prefer the German phrase to the English (For instance, the word “schlag” or “whipped cream” is one of my favorites because it so accurately captures the essence of the dairy product you put on your apfelstruedel. It’s not cream; it’s schlag). I’ve also really enjoyed reading my Bible in German because it gives me a new perspective on the meaning; different languages express concepts differently.

That being said, the German version of this song really stuck out to me. I’m assuming you are not a German expert, so let me translate it for you:

“It doesn’t matter what you give. It doesn’t matter what you take. You are and will remain my God. And my praise belongs to You.”

Anyway, my first weekend in Graz I heard this song, and it’s kind of been in the back of my mind all semester long. Then last week, when I was feeling especially sad and had one of my many breakdown/crying moments, this song popped back into my head. Suddenly in the midst of a flood of my tears, I heard myself singing those words. And immediately I understood.

God gives us blessings and lets us enjoy them, sometimes for a long time, sometimes only for a short while. But then the time comes, and the “good thing”—whatever it is—comes to an end. It hurts to lose it; we hate the pain it inevitably brings. It’s so easy to become depressed or to get angry with God, saying, “Why did you do this to me?” But He gives us the blessing to begin with. And He is allowed to take it away. It doesn’t always make sense to us; in fact, most times it doesn’t at all. Still, that’s just the way it is: He gives, and He takes. The question is this: What will our hearts choose to say? "Lord, blessed be Your name”?

God gave me the best experience of my life so far—better than anything I had ever dreamed possible. I am so thankful for the blessing that Graz has been and for all the ways He has changed me and refined me and grown me during my time here. I am so grateful for all the incredible friends I have made and for the memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, though, the time has come, and He has taken it away. Though it hurts, and though my heart feels like it is breaking, I’ll still choose to say, “Blessed be Your name.” And now as I move back home to the States, I know that God’s faithfulness goes with me. Though He takes away, He gives again. And so, I am excited to see what adventures lie around the bend. Or, in one my very favorite German phrases “um die Ecke” (“around the corner”). For though I know not what the future holds, I know Who holds the future.

To everyone who has read my blog, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel so honored that you would find it worthy of your time. To all my friends at home, I’ll be seeing you soon. To all my wonderful friends in Graz, I love you all more than you can ever realize, and I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am for you and how blessed I feel to have been your friend. We’d better stay friends, okay? Okay! :) And to anyone wondering, though this is the end of my Graz blog, I will continue writing and will keep sharing it with you.

Thanks again for everything. Remember today how loved you are, both by me and by the One who has been making the impossible possible for more than 2000 years. God bless.


  1. Bravo, Steffi! Thank you for sharing your blogging and bringing your posts back to God! Truly inspirational! :) Have a safe trip home! See you in church!

  2. Great post! I wish you have a nice and safe trip to the States!

    Dmitry from Graz.

  3. yay yay yay yay yay.
    you just made me cry. but i am sooooo pumped to see you again.
    love you