I’m standing in the heart of the city, trains whirring past. Dogs barking. A hundred languages mingle in the chilled, pre-spring air. I’m in the middle of a vibrant, metropolitan city but my heart is a million miles away. It roams far green fields, sits on rock walls and watches the fog roll in from the ocean. It’s in a pub with lilting music, pungent air and a steaming cup of tea cozied elbow to elbow with friends. I’m standing in Vienna, but my heart longs for Ireland – for home.
I was standing on a hill, wind whipping my hair, sheep bleating in defiance of the rain that incessantly pelted their coats. I was in the middle of one of the most beautiful countries known to man, but my heart was a million miles away. It was lying poolside gazing up at a forever-blue sky, roasting in the summer heat. It was in the desert with cacti stretched tall in the orange-red-violet glow of a Sonoran sunset. It was in the living room with kin, drinking the memories in deep. I was standing on a hill in Ireland, but my heart was longing for Arizona – for home.
I was sitting on a beach, staring at a coast I never dreamed I would see. Incredible food filled my belly, and friends who had gone years unseen sat on either side. I was sitting on the Portuguese coast, but my heart was a million miles away. It was in my top-floor flat overlooking a city that never sleeps. It was wandering the streets filled with Mozart and Beethoven where the Sacher Torte is fresh and the coffee flows. It was in my own bed with the window that looks to the east and wakes up with the sun. I was sitting on a beach in Portugal, but my heart was longing for Vienna – for home.
I’m sitting in a pew, surrounded by people with hands lifted, hearts swollen – perhaps broken – with music swirling and words of praise and honor lifting high. I’m sitting among people I love worshipping the God I love, but my heart is a million miles away. It’s bowed low on golden streets, too awed to lift it’s gaze to His face. It’s strolling, weightless and carefree for the first time, hand in hand with the most beautiful Man it’s ever seen. It’s finally at rest, finally full, perfectly whole without an ounce of doubt or pain, not wondering if it’s good enough. I’m sitting in a sanctuary in a beautiful church, but my heart longs for Heaven – for home.
Do you ever feel homesick? Out of place? Like something just isn’t quite right? The longer I live this nomadic expat life, the more I realize that I truly do not have a home here on this earth. Home is so many different places, with so many different people. And it’s pangs run deep and come with a vengeance at the most unexpected – and often most inopportune – times. And the less at home I feel wherever I am now, the more keenly aware I am that I have a permanent Home ready and waiting for me. And it spurs me on to want more – to not settle for just getting by – on this spinning rock we call The World. It makes me want to love more deeply, laugh more heartily, work more diligently, and care more freely, because in the blink of an eye this home will for me be no more, and I will be finally face to face with the One for whom I loved, laughed, worked and cared. I will finally…be home.
So, when you feel the pangs of sadness, and you feel alone. When home just doesn’t seem to feel like home anymore, when you just can’t seem to find your place here, find your place in Him. He loves without demand, and will provide this forever Home to anyone who asks – anyone who dares to love Him in return. And you know what? It’s amazing how knowing where Home truly is, gives purpose and drive and reason to the season spent in the foreign land.
Someone once said that Paris is a woman, London is a man, and New York City is a transvestite.
Granted, I haven’t been to New York outside the airport, but after my visits to Paris and London, I must say I find that statement to be shockingly true.
It always amazes – and delights – me how each major European city has a distinct and unique personality.
Paris is the haute cotoure model that intimidates everyone; strong and beautiful inside and out, but with a hidden daintiness that surprises even the model herself at times.
London is the slightly stuffy businessman. He’s all propriety and decorum with a hint of conceit. During business hours, anyway. There’s a wild/unkempt streak running through him that he tries hard to conceal, but it is there nonetheless.
Athens is the vibrant, eclectic woman that lives across the street. The one with the amazing energy, infectious laugh and zeal for life everyone else secretly wishes they possessed.
Dublin is the angst-ridden teenager trying desperately to find his place in the world, not sure if he loathes or loves himself. His convictions and culture run deep and strong, but at times he longs to be anyone but himself.
But Vienna…Vienna is somewhat of an enigma. Some might call her a melting pot of cultures, languages and ideas, but I see her with starker dividing lines than that.
Vienna is like the Johnny Depp of cities. Vienna is the city that is cool beyond reckoning – without even trying or meaning to be, and I’m not sure she cares. She can be both stunningly beautiful and breathtakingly disturbing.
She is full of art, music, and culture; vibrant and alive, brimming with life, love and creativity. Sometimes you feel as if your very breath might be stolen away by the sheer weight and magnitude of the beauty displayed in the most mundane of places and around unlikely corners.
Other times, she scares the crap out of you with her dark secrets and mysterious ideas that are more terrifying than intriguing.
Vienna is a city loved and revered by young and old alike. The elder folk loving the tradition, the stability, the classical nature of architecture and music that runs deep in her life’s history. The young come for her vibrant night life, new ideas in art, science, language and more.
But when I love Vienna the most – when I most relate to her and feel I most belong – is in the morning. Early. This city never stops, it is always teeming with people. Streetcars. Subways. Taxis. Buses. All the time. Day and night.
The morning commute is somewhat of an anomaly that resonates deep within my own heart. The trams are full, subway cars packed to the brim. Sidewalks and stations full of people, of shuffling feet. And yet, all is near silent. Words are only spoken when absolutely necessary, and eye after eye is bleary and groggy.
In one way, Vienna is quite the morning city. Schools and businesses open early, and people are on the move before the sun many days. And yet…she is also like the jazz-playing-actor who spent too many hours the night before wailing a tune or spinning a tale for friends over a drink. She functions in the morning because she must – but she’s not happy about it.
I love the morning in Vienna. It feels like a collective protest against rising early and getting things done. We’ll do it, but we don’t have to like it, the city declares in silent unity. This, too, is how I feel about mornings.
By midmorning, and certainly by the lunch hour, the delicious coffee has been had and the city is truly awake and interacting with one another. Conversations in a hundred different languages heard on every street all the live long day.
Yes, Vienna to me in many ways is a very strange city; one that I will likely not ever fully understand. We have had our ups and downs, not always having started off on the right foot. But Vienna and I? We’ll always have the mornings.
I see her sitting there everyday. Rain, shine, snow, wind, she’s there.
Her skin is dark, weathered, worn. Wisps of black-grey hair peek out from underneath her near thread-bare scarf, her long skirts gathered around her legs as she sits criss cross on the sidewalk under the tree. That big tree that leafs large in the summer, rains gold in the fall and stands tall and threatening in the winter. Some days she has no shoes; today she does.
She sits and rocks gently back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, one hand clutched to her chest. Eyes distant and empty and I wonder if she wishes she was anywhere but here? What is this city to her? Home? Hell?
When someone extends enough mercy to make some semblance of eye-contact with her, she begins her plea…I’ve never been able to discern what language she speaks. Is it German? Gypsy? Romanian? I really can’t tell.
With one leathery hand she reaches out to anyone who will look; with the other she gestures to her mouth. Her eyes telling a story most of us don’t even want to imagine.
Often times I make sure I carry something extra in my purse – an apple, a granola bar, something – so I can hand it to her. I don’t like to give money. You never know what they will do with it.
Day after day I walk past her…multiple times a day I see her face, hear her garbled speech. And sometimes… I just get angry.
I wonder is she homeless? Where does she go at night? She’s never there at night. Is she embroiled in some kind of panhandling scheme? And will her handlers beat her if she doesn’t gather enough today?
Maybe she’s just unable to get a job. Or maybe she’s just too lazy to work, I think to myself on my worst days; and I hate who I am in those moments.
One day I walked past her and smiled gently, but shook my head no. Not today, I try to say with my eyes.
Later I came by again, bringing lunch home for my husband and myself. It’s our little ritual once a week on a day all the kids are in school: we treat ourselves to a tasty lunch.
I heard her mumblings before I saw her, and something stirred in my soul.
But I kept walking.
I didn’t even look at her.
After I got home, I let myself admit what I was trying to ignore down on the street: I should have given her my meal.
Even later, I needed to go to the grocery store and I told myself that if she was still there, I would buy her some food.
She was still there. This time, she didn’t look at me. She was reclining comfortably on one elbow and smoking a cigarette.
A righteous wrath burned within me. Are you kidding me?? I knew it. I knew it was all a scam. I’m sure she has enough food at home and this is just something she does for the money. How dare she!
However, while in the store I couldn’t shake that stirring from before, so I bought a bag of whole-wheat mini-baguettes.
As I neared her place, I found myself wishing I knew what to say to her. But I didn’t. We don’t speak the same language. So I just smiled sheepishly, and handed her the bread. Not knowing if she truly needed it; not knowing if she really was wanting money instead; just not knowing.
She took it and bowed her head. And then she looked at the bread as if it were gold. She looked at it the same way I looked at my first baby the moment she was born. She sighed a sigh of relief and neither one of us needed words.
I struggle sometimes balancing the mantel of being a “responsible Christian” and not perpetuating an already broken system, and having compassion and extending grace I’m sure I would hope someone would extend to me were our places exchanged.
I still have my suspicions about the legitimacy of her plight, but the truth is I have no way of knowing. And so I smile, and any time I can, I give.
And now I know her name and I can’t help but wonder…what if God is using me to call her by name?
I tried to have a conversation with her yesterday, but we speak nothing close to the same language. However, the smile on her face when she sees me coming tells me that Love rarely needs words and Grace is a universal dialect. So I will continue to operate upon the advice given to me by a friend: when in doubt, give grace.
And I will walk even more humbly with my God because what He is showing me about Himself through this woman on the corner.
Having grown up a desert rat in central and southern Arizona, skiing was always somewhat of a foreign concept to me. It was something either rich people did, or college kids on winter break. Certainly not an option for a girl like me: not an athletic bone in her body who lived hours away from any possibility of snow.
Then we moved to Austria.
During the week long semester break in February, just about everyone in Austria who has kids does one thing: go skiing.
My husband, who grew up with a ski-instructor for a father, also naturally grew up skiing. He’s told me fondly many times how he remembers skiing between his dad’s feet when he was only three or four years old. Our nomadic lifestyle, coupled with the fact that most of our adult life had been spent in either Ireland or Texas – two places not well known for great ski conditions – made it so it had been years since Seth had been able to ski, even though it’s one of his favorite pass-times.
Guys, I was slightly terrified. Excited, but terrified.
I mean, what if I was awful at it? What if I hated it? What if I embarrassed myself, not even able to make it down the kiddie slope? What if I broke my whole body??
1. I’m physically stronger than I thought. My instructor (yes, I took lessons rather than my husband teaching me. We were told it would be best for our marriage…I believe “they” were right. Anyway.) started me out not with going up the mountain on any kind of lift, but side stepping our way up. “To help me get a feel for the skis and my body on them.” Ha. Also, once I did use a lift, it wasn’t the kind with a seat. It was just a rope that I had to grab onto for dear life as it tugged me up the hill, but also had to let go of soon enough that my hand didn’t get sucked into the vortex of death. You guys, I spent the day tugging, pulling, squatting, lifting, bending and all manner of other “-ings” and I’m not too humble to say I rocked it! I had much more stamina and physical ability than I would have imagined (Thank you Shuan T and Insanity!). At the end of the day, my muscles were totally shot and that’s when I learned the next lesson about myself.
2. I’m mentally stronger than I thought. There were several times when I just wanted to give up. Like the time I ventured higher on the run and bit it big time and slid halfway down the slope on my back. I briefly asked my husband to just bury me there and go on; and tell the kids I love them. But I got up anyway, and my mind gave my body the strength to continue on – without breaking every bone!
3. My husband and I make a pretty darn good team. This one I knew – it was cemented home in the deepest corner of my heart just how great a team we make after the birth of our first child. However, I was reminded of it again this trip. After the massive face-plant described above, Seth was encouraging me to try again from the higher spot on the run. I was – ahem – less than willing. He offered to go with me, and I reluctantly agreed. As I started down the slope, speed caught up with me quickly and I started to panic. That’s when I heard his voice behind me, “You got it. Pizza slice the skis. There you go, good. Now turn, gently. Keep turning, keep turning. Great! Now straighten out. Yes! You got this!” and so on. Man, guys, just hearing his voice – so calm, so confident – gave me the mental boost to get myself under control and do what I had been taught to do. Cross over into real life? Uh, yeah. In short, my husband rocks and he’s my hero.
4. I’m more of an athlete than I thought. I have used many words to describe myself over the years. Athlete or athletic has never, ever been one of them. However, as I was skiing down that hill, it hit me: I am actually quite athletic – as long as it doesn’t involve a ball, puck, or any other such device. I’m great at sports that require self-awareness, balance, and good body control. A friend bestowed the word “sporty” upon me when she saw a photo of me on the slopes on Instagram. At first I balked, but now, I take that adjective and own it proudly!
5. I’m still not an adrenaline junkie or extreme sport enthusiast – and that’s ok! I have spent most of my life (and particularly my childhood) wishing I was something other than what I was. I wished I was more sporty, or better at math. I wished I longed for adventure and excitement; that I would love the “thrill” of the free-fall feeling on a roller coaster. The truth is, I just. Don’t. I’m finally, at the age of 36, starting to feel at home in my own skin, and appreciate who and how God made me to be. I don’t want to waste any more time mourning the things that I’m not – and that Susie Smith next door seems to be. No. While I never want to grow complacent in life, and I never want to be unwilling to push myself and try new things, I want to spend my energies and time developing and honing the skills and gifts God placed in me from the beginning. Skills, gifts and talents He gave me on purpose. For a reason. To wish those away for some other trait or talent I see in someone else is not only insulting to my Creator, it is denying and wasting who I am.
So, there you have it. Some deep personal/spiritual lessons I learned about myself last week while undertaking a new and scary endeavor that I ended up loving.
When was the last time you tried something new and/or scary? Did you learn anything about yourself? Share in the comments!
I stand at the sink, sleeves rolled, heart heavy.
I dunk the plate into the bowl of as-hot-as-I-can-stand-it soapy water because the pipes have been backed up since Wednesday and the plumber doesn’t come until Monday but I need to do something.
The suds swirl and cover the dish and I scrub and I pray.
The liar whispers, “What if He doesn’t?”
“And even if He doesn’t,” I say.
If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up. Daniel 3:17-18 (emphasis mine)
It has sure felt like a fiery-furnace kind of year. I think back to this same time last year, how we prayed for God to get us back to Ireland.
And everyone asked us, “But what if He doesn’t?”
“And even if he doesn’t, He is worthy,” we replied.
The pot of cool water for “rinsing” feels refreshing as it soothes the scalding heat of the cleansing water. Like the balm of the reassurance that His ways are not mine; His ways are oh so much higher.
Dunk. Sud. Scrub. Pray.
I think of my friends with the scary diagnosis. We pray, we believe, we expect miraculous tests.
In the quiet places the accuser whispers, “He won’t.”
And we all ask, “What if He doesn’t?”
And she whispers, with trembling voice, “Even if He doesn’t, I am His.”
Dunk. Sud. Scrub. Pray.
I think of my family. The ones I love. I pray for healing. Please, God.
My own heart whispers, “But what if He doesn’t?”
Yes, even if He doesn’t, He is good. He is holy. He is kind. He is Love.
The suds are fading and the water grows cool. The dishwasher serves as a drying rack and I wipe my hands. They are rough and chapped from the heat. Like my heart.
So I pray.
And I remind myself with Truth and I thank God for His goodness…
Even if He doesn’t.