Twenty years ago, I spent the summer before my senior year of college working with missionaries in Austria, after which I traveled to Heidelberg, Germany, where I studied for a semester at the university. God asked something of me during that time that has had a long-lasting impact on my life. It’s His question–and the results of my answer–that I wrote about in my entry to the Guideposts contest. I now share it with you. While it’s longer than my usual posts, I hope my story will encourage and maybe even challenge you in your own relationship with God.
Twenty-year-old me. I LOVED those jeans!
All the countries and towns/cities I visited between June 9th and Dec 29th, 1998.
Too Much To Ask
I cross my arms, my fingers digging into my biceps. “You’re joking, right, Lord?”
A valley unfolds down the slope before me, most of it in Austria, but a piece of it belongs to Germany. The grassy carpet rolls over the gentle hills, dotted with a house here, a barn there, a road winding along the edge of the mountains in the distance.
Since childhood, I’ve longed to take my place here in Europe. For the past three years of college, I’ve worked with that goal in mind; anticipated that sense of “home” in stepping upon foreign soil. And now God’s threatening to take it away?
My stomach twists and the ache grows in my heart.
I blame the missionary couple I’m staying with for the summer. Or maybe I blame their son, Josh. Maybe all three. They just had to tell me about Josh’s decision to pursue God instead of girls during his freshman year of college. Noble, right? More noble than I could have been as a frosh. I mean, I’m a good girl, but guys pose a definite distraction. Can you fault me? Trailing behind my dream of living in Europe is that of being a wife and stay-home mom—two roles that require a husband.
I’m hoping to find that husband in Europe. Preferably Germany, where I’ll be headed in a couple weeks’ time to study in Heidelberg.
“Yet You want me to date You instead?” I glare into the bright blue sky overhead. “For how long?”
My jaw drops and tears bite my eyes. “That will take me all the way through February! I’ll have returned to the States by then.” I kick a clump of grass at my feet then turn from the view that had given me solace these last few weeks. “No way, God. You’re asking too much of me.”
Three days later, I’m still arguing with Him.
I’d like to pretend I hadn’t heard his voice, but you know what happens when you ignore God—you get swallowed by a whale.
What are you afraid of?
His gentle prodding comes as I push the mop across the dining room floorboards of the Schwaigmühle, a retreat house in northern Austria for family and church groups. Late morning sunlight slants through the windows, and I bat at the dust motes in the air with a scowl.
“I’m afraid this is going to kill any chances I have for finding my future husband.”
Don’t you trust Me?
The words ping my heart. Of course, I trust Him. But this is my love life we’re talking about. Sure, His mere breath put the universe in motion…and He orchestrated to perfection the fulfillment of history’s most prophesied events surrounding His Son…and He stands victorious already…and—
Okay, so He wouldn’t find a love life that hard to manage. Worse-case scenario, if I cross paths with my future husband during the months I’m dating God, He’ll arrange a meet-cute when I’m available again. Right?
“Fine, God.” Dirty water swirls in the bucket as I rewet the mop. “I still say You’re asking a lot, but I’m less PO’d now than I was before. Let’s do this.”
The next time I’m in Salzburg for my day off, I head to the little flea market, browse through the jewelry kiosks, and come away with a tiny purchase hugging my ring finger. The wedding band look-alike will remind me I’m “taken” for the next six months—and if it allows me a casual way to share my faith with others, so much the better.
Shortly thereafter, I leave Austria for Germany to meet up with the other American students in the Junior Year Abroad program. Some of them are seniors in college, like me. Plenty of cute guys abound, but a new peace resides in my chest rather than anxiety, and I enjoy getting to know them on a level that doesn’t include potential for romance. This is a type of freedom all its own. A God-given contentment.
I’m issued my living quarters and a smile spreads across my face. Rather than moving into a dorm room on the University campus, I’m given my own space in a large house along the Neckar River. My eyes widen when I behold the French doors in my room. Operational? You bet. And it leads to my own private balcony. Not only does it overlook the river right across the street, but I’ve got the perfect view of Schloss Heidelberg (the castle!) atop the hill on the opposite bank.
Best. Room. Ever.
One of the other American students, a lively girl named Vera, stays in a room above me in the renovated attic. We become fast friends and together end up exploring Germany’s culture and many of the surrounding towns.
Days stretch into weeks stretch into months. I hang out with God in the mornings, memorizing scripture and praying with more focus, and on Friday and Saturday nights, I spend time with either Vera and friends, or on a “date” with God. I journal. I listen. I bask in a calm and relief I’d never known in my previous boy-crazy state. My “wedding” ring draws questions, which lead to skeptical looks from some, but interest and further conversations from others. Snow starts falling by mid-October, almost two months earlier than my hometown in New England, and given I love the white stuff, I count it as another blessing.
I head to the local movie theater a few times, once to catch a German-made film and twice to watch movies from the US. In the darkened theater to view The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford, I sit with mouth agape at the large-ness of the Montana landscape. That one state is easily the size of some smaller European countries.
The United States is huge. And beautiful. And I’m a citizen. My chest swells with…American pride? Weird.
At the same time, something else nudges its way beside my dream to live in Europe.
It’s small. Fragile. And stubborn.
A desire to see the American West for myself.
I nearly snort out loud.
Me? Visit Colorado? Wyoming? Utah? Me, the girl who’s spent as much time aching for Europe as she has spurning talk of cowboys and Stetsons and John Deere tractors?
Yeah, that’s asking too much, God.
I travel with the local Campus für Christus—Campus Crusades—for a weekend retreat, where we join other groups from nearby towns and universities. I’m the only American, which makes me intriguing for that reason alone, and I catch the eye of an über cute German guy. Boy-crazy me would have responded to his flirtations with some of my own, but I’m already taken…and he seems to be, as well, if the wary vibes I receive from the girl at his side are any indication. Instead of focusing on him, God-dating me focuses on befriending the girl and in an unspoken way, easing any anxieties she might have that I’m after her man. My heart is light. Happy. Complete.
Christmas break comes all too soon—and with it the realization that Germany/Europe might not factor into my future as much as I’d always believed. That silly American pride keeps growing, as well as that idea of maaaaybe taking a trip out West after I graduate. Don’t know what that will look like, but the fact I’m even considering crossing the Mississippi River is cause for celebration…or alarm.
Still wearing my ring and seeing no prospective German husband on the horizon (I never did get that sense of “home”), I return to the States in time for the New Year then head into my last semester of college. Funny—the guys at college don’t hold the same fascination for me as they once did.
February 28th arrives, marking the end to my six months. Such a small span of time, really, yet dating God has strengthened me with new insight and confidence where my future love life is concerned. I decide I’m done chasing boys. It’s beyond time they chased me, instead.
Too much to ask? Nah.
On March 1st, I slip off my ring. Tarnish and corrosion have begun to set in along the cheap metal (hello, penny-pinching college student here), but I tuck the ring among my costlier pieces of jewelry for safe-keeping and sentimental value.
Several days later, I return home to spend spring break with my parents. On Sunday, I greet friends at church I haven’t seen in ten months, lingering in the foyer to catch up on their news and share my own. As the first chords of the worship team signal a start to the service, I step into the sanctuary and glance around for my folks.
Instead, I see him.
Alone in the front row, eyes closed and face lifted as he sings, stands one of the pastor’s sons. A few years older than me, he and I barely ran in the same circles in the high school youth group. I don’t even remember his name. And is that…? My gaze zeroes in on his hands.
He’s holding a black Stetson.
Six months ago, I would have wrinkled my nose in disgust.
But God’s done strange things in me over the last few months, and there’s an even stranger tug on my heart. I wonder—
No! Ugh. I can’t make it one week after I stop dating God before my boy-crazies kick in!
My gaze wanders back to the pastor’s son.
It’s Your call, Lord. I slide along the row of chairs to join my parents as my prayer slides upward to Heaven. I’m not doing the chasing. Help me be content and wait for Your timing. I want Your best for me, not what I think is the best. Help me be patient.
The familiar hymn we’re singing drifts about me in a hug, and with renewed determination, I shift my focus from the pastor’s son to the backlit wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary.
Alice Walker once wrote, “Time moves slowly but passes quickly.” In a few blinks of an eye, twenty years separate me from those months I dated God. Half my life. Yet, the older I get, the more I appreciate the silver lining in having chosen Him over guys:
Regret-free memories of an amazing time in my life, memories that sweeten with the passing years.
As opposed to the cringe-worthy, boy-focused flashbacks from my high school and college days, remembrances of my time in Germany only ever generate a smile. Never does the face of an ex-boyfriend or an unrequited crush get in the way to smudge the mental images. My recollections remain warm, airy, positive. And as I have yet to return to Germany, the ability to cherish that unique period in my life means more to me now as an adult than it did when I lived it.
That pastor’s son I noticed from a distance? Poor guy had to jump through hurdles when chasing me, but we got married in May of 2000, a year after I graduated college. Two years later, we ended up making that trip to the American West—and by “trip,” I mean “move.” First to Colorado for several months, then Nebraska for several years, then Montana…where, as I drove over the state border in a car laden with moving boxes and two sleeping toddlers, that long-anticipated word pulsed in my heart: Home.
I was coming “home” to a part of the country that used to make me cringe.
Ten years later, we’re still here.
Who would’ve guessed?
Not me. Never me.
But God knew.
He knew, and He beckoned me, and I’m grateful I listened. I still have a soft spot for Austria, Germany, and the German language, but I don’t regret where life—God—has taken me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can reflect on the last two decades and testify that He is faithful “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Eph 3:20) All it requires is a little surrender on our part.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
On a hill overlooking Grossgmain, Austria. That is not a fake view. The grass really looks that amazing.
In case you can’t read my writing, the pic on the left, taken from the Alte Brücke, is the view of the house in which I stayed. The pic on the right is a closeup of said house.
Greetings from my balcony!
Although this is a postcard, it’s pretty much spot-on as to the view I had from my balcony. I walked across that bridge, the Alte Brücke, every day to attend classes.
It’s difficult to convey the depth of emotion I had to struggle through during this time in my life, as I’d spent many a childhood and teenage night crying into my pillow, my heart physically aching, despairing I would never make it to Europe. And then to have that dream realized…only to discover the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean…. Sigh. Lots of feels.
Despite knowing I’m where God wants me, despite the contentment I feel here in Montana, there are still times when I tear up, thinking of what never was, a BA in German that was never used. But then I wonder if God has some plans yet to come in that area. Time will tell.
Has God ever asked you to surrender a dream over to Him? Maybe He then gave it back to You, merely wanting to make sure you were willing to put Him first. Or maybe He took it and gave you something even better in return. Or perhaps you’re going through such a situation now, and you have no clue how it’s going to turn out. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it in the comments. 🙂