CULTURESHOCK, intense and unexpected assaulted me for the first several months of my life in Vienna, Austria. Previous blogs have highlighted some of my disparaging feelings on specific aspects of this culture shock extravaganza. I will be home to Texas all too soon. Consequently, this is the perfect time to reflect on some things I have grown to love and cherish about my new found European home. Join, read on and maybe, just maybe you will smell a smell, taste a taste, or hear a heart-thumping beat of the timeless rhythm of Vienna.
what is vienna..?
Hundred year old buildings hiding history- victories and defeats of almost forgotten laughs and tears.
Majestic wrought iron lampposts illuminating the old downtown.
Gothic cathedrals and tile roof ceilings destroyed once by bombs and rebuilt to tell a new story.
Fire engine red street trams free of air conditioning and gasoline.
Streets dedicated just to walking, and lanes just for biking.
Horses in blinders pulling freshly painted wagons of tourists.
Stoic, wintry Austrian faces that slowly blossom into spring time grins.
The German language- prematurely considered harsh and halting but now uniquely melodic and exciting.
Old men and women walking into their eighties, outfitted impeccably in subtle accents of their traditional Trachten attire.
The Wienerwald (Viennese woods) atop rolling hills surrounding the city inviting, inviting, inviting.
Little roads and still smaller cars circling and winding amid districts 1-23.
Discount airlines whisking passengers away to places like Paris and Prague for something like $65 dollars.
Grand, ancient operas in evening and old, overgrown cemeteries leading to Mozart's shared public grave.
Friendly Turkish kebap stand owners and the tingling taste of a cool, crisp Almdudler.
Loud and tasty aromas winding and ascending up and through the tiny Naschmarkt walkways on any given Saturday morning.
Emerging into open air fleamarkets for a healthy dose of bargaining and bartering.
Italian neighbors, Romanian roommates, and friends from the world over.
Sprawling country palaces and imposing city residences.
Ancient Vindobona's ruins from past Roman time and the flowing, winding Danube cutting the city in two.
Dazzling Austrian Alps and resulting clear, cold tap water pumped right into my faucet.
GrüßGott greetings and Auf Wiedersehen farewells.
Sunday store closings offering a Sabbath rest long forgotten by Americans.
This, my friends, is Vienna.
Today my adventure was to Stadtpark with blanket, bathing suit, and book in tow to join the local Saturday sunbathers. Blue sky contrasted green grass blankets specked with tiny white daisy dots. Bouncy accordian tunes coming from a street musician invited me to stay longer and longer. Soon enough though, his distant music was drowned out by another. Floating sweetly over walls of fresh green bushes wrapped up in old wrought iron gates came the nostalgic "Edelweiss" performed by a hidden choir of lovely Austrian voices. And in this moment, I was taken in by a country not my own and a people foreign to my head but familiar to my heart.
Wien, Wien, Wien. Du bist meine Liebling. Ich komme aus Texas aber mein Herz ist in Wien.
"So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors--
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God." Psalm78:7-8
God, bless this city, your city. Romance its people, your people. May your face shine on its past, its present, and its future. Only then will she become truly glorious with the glory that is only in your name. Jesus, please do not forget Vienna. Do not forget your Austria. Come after hearts so that they may be reminded of the hope found in your love.
I scrawled this on a scrap of paper in an airplane on the way home to Vienna last month...
To some he is Jesus. To others Yesu. To some 耶稣.
To one group his name is never heard, only signed as their finger touches palm in reference to his nail beaten hands. Although the name of Christ has never vibrated past their eardrums, to the deaf this name above all names is no less powerful, no less awe invoking because it is unheard.
It was my privilege to spend last night worshiping with the deaf church of Gran Canaria, Spain. Delightfully genuine hugs and embarassingly passionate smiles were lavished on us as soon as we stepped through the door. To most we would have been considered strangers, to them.. priceless family.
The night began with a song of praise to our most Beloved. I witnessed my first 'unsung' song led by the Pastor's beautiful wife who was also deaf. Never before have I seen such passion radiate from a worshiper. The whole room was heavy with an inexplicable joy so thick you could almost reach out and grab it amidst off beat claps and expressive stomping dance. Jesus was in that place last night. I could feel his ravishing pleasure smiling over his most lovely poetry.
We completed our simple dramas and painting, exchanged everlasting goodbye embraces, and floated out of the tiny building into the crisp, late night island air. Although the plan had been to encourage this little church family, I left more humbled, challenged, and excited than by anything I've yet seen in Europe.
My little, dark human heart never ceases to expand and burst with the light of worship as time and time again I see the amazing grace of Christ evidenced in the weakness of those he existed to die for. His name will be glorified for all of time in every language and culture, even in those never heard or spoken. His name cannot help but transcend every difficulty, weakness, and pain this world can ever boast to hand out.
Now, I sit in a plane flying along the coast of Africa on to my next adventure. The night is black darkness broken up by fog wisps rolling through its exhaustive expanse. As my tired eyes look out the window next to me, a brilliantly huge and glowing full moon shines down on the vast coast. Tiny pinpoints of city light valiantly throw their glow upwards seemingly unaware of just how feeble their light is compared to the shining ornament so masterfully hung in the sky above them.
For these few moments time stands still, and it is only me, the night sky, and our God. As I get lost in the silvery moon brilliance I am reminded of the expansive love of the Creator for his tiny creation. He has placed reminders all around us and it is through these love letters I am inspired to join with all creation and express (whether heard or not) my adoration of the One who first adored me.
snow. snow. snow. snow. icicles. frost. snow. snow. frost. snow. icicles. snow.
I am watching snow furiously dance outside the frosted windows of an ancient guesthouse in the foothills of the Austrian alps. It's been snowing for six days now with drifts piled high as my chin. This week has been both grueling and exhilarating. Plainly realistic and yet strangely dreamlike.
Four times a year, we the VCC staff, travel up to our church's guesthouse to cook for, clean, and serve a 150 European pastors while they participate in week-long classes advancing them toward Bible degrees. This week was one of them.
Never-ending-dishes-three-times-a-day and blister-flaming-meat-chopping, paired nicely with seven girls on mattresses shoved in an old seminar room for a week should spell a recipe for nasty memories and cranky exhaustion. However, as the week dragged on I began to notice less and less my blisters and sleepy eyes and notice more and more how much beauty and possibility surrounded me on every side. It is interesting how when you remove your focus from yourself, if even for a moment, perspectives instantly change and widen. It's as if winter windows shut against the bitter cold are suddenly opened to feel brand new colors and cool, shadowy grass in the most unexpected of places.
Last night, after finishing responsibilities, I ventured next door and quietly stole a place in the back of the pastors' meeting hall. They happened to be right at the end of their evening service, finishing up with song. A balding, middle age pastor from Azerbaijan with smiling eyes who reminded me of my dad stood at the front with guitar in hand leading songs in English and Russian. At one point he dropped his pick, at another forgot some words, but oh how in those moments surrounded by people of different cultures, languages, and backgrounds my soul came alive!
It is nothing short of exhilarating to be a part of something intrinsically much bigger than myself. What comfort to know my faith is skillfully woven into the fabric of every culture of this Earth, seamlessly bringing us together against all odds as one. Jesus was in the room that night. As we sang a simple, wordless tune to finish off the evening, my heart beat fast and tears jumped into my eyes because for an instant I saw the Church, the Bride of Christ as God sees her. Imperfectly perfect, awe-inspiringly unified, delightful in every way. I saw a reflection of God’s glory on a snow covered mountain in an old guesthouse in Austria surrounded by people the world tells me I shouldn’t naturally connect with and love. This is a Christ love. In no one else to be found the world over.
Ukraine. Poland. Norway.
Sweden. Portugal. Azerbaijan.
Austria. Russia. Germany.
The night closed with old wooden sleds piled high with new found friends from around the world flying down hills of powdery snow under a blanket of singing stars and dancing snow flakes.
Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven,
praise him from the mountaintops…
Fire and hail, snow and ice,
hurricanes obeying his orders;
Mountains and all hills…
Earth's kings and all races,
leaders and important people,
Robust men and women in their prime,
and yes, graybeards and little children.
Let them praise the name of God--
it's the only Name worth praising.
His radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky;
he's built a monument—his very own people!
Praise from all who love God!
Israel's children, intimate friends of God.
A few minutes ago I came upon this verse paraphrased in the Message:
"Living then, as every one of you does in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him."
I know I am guilty of misinterpreting myself as one who brings goodness to God. This isn't one of those offenses brought to our attention. It isn't a loud offense. But its silent and deadly poison is potent enough to starch our hearts piece by piece until our existence is crispy and flaking in the paralysis of pride. This offense isn't popular to talk about or think about. It is looked over, swept aside, and pushed down under. At least I know it has been in my own heart. But, yet again, the culprit is pride. Pride that suggests in an ever so elegant almost imperceptible voice that I am in some way worthy of God's love and even acceptance because of some merit of my own. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. His sacrifice is instantly cheapened. After all, it must be something admirable or wise or smart in me that pushed me toward accepting Christ and his forgiveness. Something that others who haven't accepted him don't have or at least don't have yet. Or even the lurking wisp of a thought that they are only able to accept Christ out of his immense grace while I have somehow done him and myself a favor by accepting his love.
It's almost been three months in Austria now. I'm not sure words can adequately express how uncomfortable it is to begin to see yourself as you truly are. But what an exhilarating adventure! I am finding that it is truly the honor of my life and the joy of my renewed heart to learn to rely on the grace God gives to those he is humbling. Am I humble? No, a thousand no's. At least not yet. But, in confidence I say that he will finish his work. In this I take delight.
"He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."
Here's the thing. He sees me (us in Christ) as righteous. Not when he's through with my heart, but right now. In, through, and because of Jesus I am seen as pure by the One who defines purity.
He delights in me with gladness. Because he first delighted in me, I am learning to delight myself in him. He rejoices over me with joyful songs.
"The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together."
welcome Audrey DeFord is an artist, illustrator, wife, momma, believer. But not in that order. She currently resides in Texas with her husband Sam, baby girl Flora, French bully Shortstack, & 12