dressed for the occasion

It’s Christmastime! And many of you have received a Christmas postcard from me with this picture. I imagine you’ve been wondering when you are really going to get the story behind the picture here at tandemliving.blogspot.com. Now is the time!

Mallory took this picture of me in October on a really warm day in Vienna. It was hilarious to watch people’s responses when I put on my coat, scarf and hat to pose for a picture when it was in the upper 60s. And there are so many wow-factor spots in Vienna to get your picture taken for Christmas: Hapsburg residence, St. Stephens, etc. But I wasn’t into having a wow-factor picture. I wanted something simple and artistic. So, while this picture looks like it could’ve been taken in a many number of European cities it really was taken in Vienna during our walk toward the museum quarter.

Nowadays we get caught up in the consumerism wow-factor of Christmas. We think we must outdo what we bought someone the previous year for Christmas. We build up the excitement of what will be under the tree and miss out on the pure simplicity and different kind of wow-factor. The Word became flesh. Wow! God took on flesh and lived here.

I know I’m just as guilty for focusing on my list of Christmas presents still needing to be bought rather than the anticipation and celebration of relationship with my God, who created me. He even went to the extent of restoring my relationship with Him. Even though my selfishness separated me from God, Christ came into the world ultimately to die. He came to forever pay the debt I owe because I constantly miss the mark and find myself in selfishness once again. What freedom to know that I am God’s friend. That this baby in a manger came to show me LOVE. True love. That’s worth celebrating!

I’ve been blessed by the many ways you have shown me love these past few weeks! I’ve received so many treats in the mail. My parents sent me this huge box of Mexican food: cans of refried beans, tortillas, salsa, seasonings etc. There are many items we can’t get in the grocery store here to make a nice Mexican meals. We’ve already had fajitas and enchiladas. And there is still some food left.

I also have received fun snacks like Doritos and many many bags of M&Ms and dark chocolates. You all really do know my weaknesses. From the Kasza family I got this package of fun things from Target, one of them being foot scrub. They didn’t even know how much I’ve been wanting some foot scrub. I love how God provides like that. Tra’Cee made me a quote book for Christmas that is absolutely amazing. I cried the first time I read it.

Finally, a special visitor came to Austria. He’s sitting in the front of the picture above. His name is Larry the Platypus and many of you met him this summer whether I was taking pictures of him on my New Zealand adventure, in Seattle, Louisville, Indiana, Nashville or even in Colorado. Larry’s fame is growing and he is now on another adventure here in Austria. Right now I’ve given him some time to rest until I take him into experience a Vienna Christmas, and then on to Bosnia and Serbia for a two-month outreach.

practicing humility
Last weekend I attended a Teen Prayer Congress, which is a conference where teens all over Austria gathered to get fired up and pray for their country. Courtney, Mallory and I were in charge of stage management, curriculum for the small group times and actually being small group leaders. There were over 1200 teens in attendance, which was amazing!

When the girls and I agreed to be small group leaders we were really excited about interacting with students again. We hoped something could be coordinated so we would have a group who could speak English. But as the conference started we discovered things weren’t organized in that way. On that first night, Friday night, we were going to have communion together with the students. Small group leaders were told to grab a box and in it was bread, juice and candles. We were to set up our box on the floor like a table putting the necessary ingredients on top. Then students would come and join our group, maximum 10 students per box-table. The catch for us was that it would all be in German. Aaaah!

Mallory, Courtney and I sat at dinner sooo nervous. We felt completely useless. How could we lead a small group with students who most times were nervous at speaking our language? I was stripped of the confidence I had as a small group leader because I really couldn’t lead in my language. I would have to have someone translate for me. We started to put into place what we would need to make this happen. We knew a few students who could join our groups and be our translators. We were completely manipulating the situation, instead of allowing God to show up as He would. Mallory reminded both Courtney and I of the Hagar and Ishmael story in the Bible. Abram and Sarai didn’t wait on God and manipulated the situation trying to make the things God had promised happen.

I didn’t know what would happen that night, but I knew I’d be excited when it was over and I could share the stories of how God did show up. I made a small sign that said “Practice Your English” and took it with me into the large meeting room. I grabbed my box and set up my communion table. As students poured in to find a spot among the hundred small group leaders available, I held up my little pink sign. It was quite humbling to draw attention to my weakness.

Students quickly passed by. Some leaders snickered. Eventually I had girls sit down at my table. A 12-year-old girl Anna said she’d gladly practice English whenever she had the opportunity. I was so blessed by this girl. She tried everything she knew to make a connection with me. She asked me if I had ever been to Wisonsin. She said she knew this state had really delicious cheese. I smiled! She’s right.

I even had an adult sit down at my table and offer to translate the entire service to me. She did an excellent job and bridged the communication gap even more. Toward the end of the service we were to bless each other by praying for each other. Three Austrian girls prayed for me in their best English. They prayed that I would thoroughly enjoy my time in their country and with the students here. Their heartfelt prayer touched me.

We all worshiped God together in both German and English. I celebrated as God had come through. He had shown up and provided everything I needed. Why do I ever doubt?

looking back
Today I read in Matthew 5 on the beatitudes (5:1-12). I know I’ve talked about them before when I was at that leadership conference. But I noticed this morning that I had a date next to a note in this section of my Bible. The date: 12-25-05. The note: “Jesus began his sermon with words that seem to contradict each other. But God’s way of living usually contradicts the world’s. If you want to live for God you must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. You must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving up your own rights in order to serve others, you will one day receive everything God has in store for you.”

This was the section of scripture I read on Christmas day of last year. I remember Christmas eve night up late with my parents and talking about what was next. I talked about coming to Austria and leaving the security of my job and Colorado. I cried a lot and I know they wondered if what could tear my heart to pieces so much really was God leading me. But He was! I know He led me here! And it’s neat to look back at just one year ago and see His hand moving me.

Thank you for all the ways you’ve spoken truth into my life and helped me to see more clearly God’s working hand in my life! I’m blessed to have you in the journey.

a tall glass full of cold, refreshing water
This describes this past week. I’m more ready for outreach than I have been. I’m excited about who I am and how God has equipped me in a specific way to reach people. There have been two areas I’ve been called on this week. One is the need to speak more truth into people’s lives. Many times I fear what people will think and that they might be offended with what I have to say. But I’m also reminded that even when I do speak truth it’s in such a gentleness that I usually don’t offend, and it surprises me that I don’t. I laughed when it was described to me because the speaker who talked with me about it said exactly what goes on in my head when I debate whether to speak or hold back.

The other area is my need to step out. During a prayer time our speaker for this week said he sensed that I have had times during my DTS experience when I thought to myself, I could do this or that better. And I thought it was pride and suppresssed it. He then went on to say that those are ways you have gifts to offer that everyone can benefit from, and you need to use them. He was right, I had thought that. I just wasn’t sure where those boundary lines were and when I need to step out and hold back. But now is the time to step out in a BIG way. This week the girls and I have taken over. I’m leading Bible study on Tuesday morning. I’m nervous, but thrilled at the same time. I love getting to do what I love to do: teach in a small group or a large group, shepherding people, challenging people. I know this is going to come more to life on outreach. I can’t wait to share those stories with you.

I appreciate your prayers in both of these areas!

a bit of fun
Here are some ways we’ve had fun the past three weeks:

Mallory created a spa day for Courtney and I. We had facial masks, pedicures, cucumbers for our eyelids, fun snacks and a ton of laughter. I had to let go of my to-do list that day and have fun. There were moments when it was hard for me to take a deep breath and enjoy. But when I did I became quite relaxed!

On Friday night we went over to Anagret’s apartment to cook dinner and watch movies. The menu included salad, this cheese/dough casserole that reminded us of macaroni and cheese and chocolate fondue! Movies: Little Women and The Phantom of the Opera. Yep, chick flicks!

Here’s Anagret cooking in her tiny kitchen. It’s really a one person kitchen, but we still made it work so we could help her.

I like this picture of Courtney for no particular reason. So I thought I’d share it!

Eating fondue! Yum!! This reminded me of my New Year’s Eve fondue party with the Old Ranch girls a few years ago. Those were good times.

Cleaning up: at an angle. Courtney and Mallory were having fun with my camera. *smile*

Another moment of fun has been when the girls and I have ventured into Vienna to the Christmas markets. We’ve walked through four or five of them. My favorite one isn’t pictured here, but located in the art district. We went late yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t get good pictures. These are some pictures from the Freyung Christmas Market.

It’s common to see people standing around tables drinking punsch (punch). It is usually fruity, but contains alcohol. Then there is also kinderpunsch which is non-alcoholic and for the kids.

Well, I know this is a long one! Thanks for taking the time to read it.
How can you pray?
* Parents are traveling here on December 21/22
* Preparation for outreach: creative, relevant, see how we can each use our gifts to complement one another
* Team unity: This is an area God’s been working in and it’s exciting to see how He’s strengthening our relationships with each other
* I have no idea what after March looks like. I imagine God will reveal clearly the next step as time gets closer. Pray that I’ll let go of the worries and be exactly where He wants me to be. But at the same time that I won’t stop seeking Him with the questions and be watchful for the answers.
* Communication factor on outreach. I’m not sure how often I’ll have internet access while we’re in Bosnia and Serbia. I’ll try to keep you updated as best I can.

Thanks for your prayers and support! Have a Merry Christmas!

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