Saturday, December 18, 2010

Where to Begin as it Ends?

I guess I also could have entitled this post "There and Back Again a Tale by Elizabeth Hall" but my adventure doesn't quite match up to all that parody would imply.

I'm sitting in my room in Switzerland awake earlier than I would like to be looking around at all my stuff. Some of my stuff is already packed in a box ready to be shipped while the rest of my stuff waits to be packed to fly home-for good. Right now I'm thinking about those magnets with all the different moods/emotions on them, which comes with a magnet frame so you can highlight your mood at any given time. I'm guessing these magnets are used to tell everyone else what your mood is, in case they can't decipher it for themselves. Well, just so you know, my emotional magnet is being drawn toward "confused".

When you come to the end of a season it is natural to evaluate what has gone before. This blog, therefore, will be a cummulative evaluation and debriefing of my time here in Switzerland. As I work through my emotions and try to figure out my intentions for coming here in the first place I hope that I can find some purpose in my time here. If I am not able to see it myself from my biased perspective, please feel free to point it out to me in the wisdom of God.

So let's start from the beginning. Maybe we should start from before the beginning. It is poetically appropriate that I applied for this job while I was recovering for mono and this job is ending with the return of that same mono. Mono, my perfect bookends. Oh the irony!

As I look back on the application process I realize that I entered into this job with far to much confidence and not enough self-evaluation. To be honest, I did realize that I would be fairly isolated in the village I would be working in, but at the time I welcomed the idea of isolation. When I first came to live in Mörigen the isolation was a friend and teacher, but later it turned on me and became a monster that threatened to consume me.

The isolation taught me to be dependent on my Maker for my joy, and it was a glorious time of spiritual growth and sanctification. God taught me how rampant pride was in my life, and how it had gone unchecked and even worshipped by myself for far to long. I am so thankful that God does not leave me to my sin, but loves me enough to refine me, and answer my prayers to become more like His Son.

The truth is: I don't think that isolation turned on me; I think I turned my back on isolation. Another sin I struggle with is not being satisfied with the eternal. I want something now that I can cling too; something tangible. So when things got harder, I stopped running to the only thing I know can truly satisfy, and ran instead to a sympathetic ear and like-minded people. I think this was the turning point. I started relying on people's opinion again instead of seeking the face of the one who knows all and comforts all. Thank God for his mercy!

After this I found temporal joy, but not eternal joy, and that was my undoing.

During my time here I have been reading, "Let the Nations Be Glad!" by John Piper. I also went through the book of Mark and am now going through Acts. The theme that has been highlighted for me in all these readings has been that of suffering. I felt like I was suffering. I was going through hardship, but I kept asking myself, "for what purpose?" I was not suffering for the Gospel or for the sake of the Name, but I realize now that I was suffering for the purpose of discipline.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

So, why am I coming home? Mostly I think it is because I begged God to come home, and because when I got sick I told God that if it was Mono that I would take that as a sign that he was sending me home. At first, I thought I was coming home because it was the easy thing to do. Now, however, I realize that while coming home will be easier in some respects, this season of trial and intensive sanctification is not yet over. I was convicted about how I handle my finances after listening to the podcast of the Village's most recent Culture and Theology, "Consumerism and Materialism". This sin struggle in particular will be the one highlighted as I return home broke and jobless, as my mother so poignantly pointed out the day I realized I was coming home for good. To be clear she pointed out my struggle with finances, not that I was broke and jobless, though that was mentioned also :) I normally would have railed against her criticism, but I am trying to learn to receive correction with humility, as I'm sure we all are.

This is all my emotional energy level will let me devulge at this moment, but there are still many layers that need to be peeled back and examined as I come home. I look forward to many long conversations with you all and covet your prayers in this season. I love you all so much and I'm excited to be home, but I also look forward to the final home that awaits all those who believe, whose Builder and Maker is God.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Weekend (November 13th & 14th)

It rained all week last week and cleaned the air which made for a beautiful Saturday. Every color was vibrant. The blue sky was contrasted perfectly with the now lifeless brown trees and the still green grass. It was a perfect day for taking a six hour walking tour of Avenches, a once Roman city dating back to the first century B.C. I'm not sure many people get as giddy as I do exploring ancient remains. Maybe I get so giddy because I imagine Roman culture as a very fun culture. They had Baths and Theatres and beautiful temples. What I need to remember is  that sometimes those Theatres were used for depraved games which led to violent deaths and their beautiful temples were filled with worshippers of false gods. My favorite part of the day however was climbing onto the remains of a Roman wall that once surrounded the city to provide protection. The view from the wall was incredible. The city of Avenches sits on a hill and as I sat and surveyed I couldn't help but think of the verse about a city on a hill,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden, instead, it must shine.

Avenches was a beautiful and ancient city, but I long for a new city; a lasting city. A city that will shine not because of any natural light, but with an everlasting light. Whose Maker and Builder is God.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

Sunday was also a great day, tainted only by the fact that I cannot speak German. I was surrounded all day by people, but most of the time I still felt alone, because I could not be included in the conversation. After church I went with a group from the church on a picnic by the lake and then we took a walk among the vineyards on the hills surrounding the lake. That evening I rode with some of the same people to Zurich to attend a "charasmatic" Catholic service. The cathedral the service was held in was very modern, but made to look old. The architectural style was gothic, but it was very plain and simply decorated. There were only two small pieces of iconic art and a stone altar with symbolic carvings. Again, I could not understand the service, but it was not typically catholic. There were long moments of the most silent silence I have ever heard and the silence encouraged meditation and reflection. There  was singing where only our voices were lifted up and the Word was read and exposited. It was very beautiful in its simplicity.

After the service we ate at McDonald's (boo!). I had a Snack Wrap, Delux Potatoes, and an Ovomaltine McFlurry (sooooo good!) and I asked for a cup of water to drink. When I sat down at the table with everyone else one of the girls pointed to my cup and asked me what it was. I told her it was water and she could not have been more confused! "Water? In a cup?" "Yes." "Did you have to pay for that?" "No." Another confused look. Apparently Swiss people do not drink "plain" water.

Suffice it to say they also thought it was weird that I dipped my fries in my McFlurry, but I have decided to be unashamedly American!! :) Atleast at McDonald's....

We also stopped at  a candy shop on the way back to the van and acted like little kid's oohing and aahing at all the different candy. One girl bought a bag with several different kinds and shared with all of us. It was perfect!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Best Night Yet

I'm so excited to blog about the best night I have had since I came to Switzerland, and it's as simple as this: Elisabeth and I played card games including UNO!! The kid's helped me cook dinner, and then we made boats out of chestnut shells. When I put them to bed I got to pray over them. I am starting to find joy in the beauty of this place, because I am falling in love with the people. Thank you God for your mercies! May you be glorified in all I do!!

P.S. I now know more German words than I can count on one hand....PROGRESS!!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

How I'm Doing

I've been keeping y'all updated about what I've been doing, so now I'm going to update you on how I'm doing.

In a word; I'm homesick.

People keep telling me how jealous they are of me. I'm in Europe! The most romantic continent in the world with arguably the richest history, and I wish I were back in Texas. This is a new feeling for me. I have been all over the world and spent four months in Peru and I have never been homesick. Even when things got hard in Peru I never wished to be somewhere else. The last time I can remember being homesick was at age nine when I went to church camp for the first time. That was some years ago.

When I was younger I gloried in being a wanderer and a traveler. Each new place I went I drank in the culture and imagined living in the place forever. Most of the countries I traveled to were developing countries which afforded less comforts than I could find in the U.S. yet there I put down roots quickly and easily. Here I feel homeless and foundationless. The beauty I see feels empty. I've realized that the value of a place is not measured by it's beauty but by the people it contains. A place becomes so much more beautiful and valuable if someone you love inhabits it.

I honestly do not know why it is harder for me to be here than any other place I have been. I have wondered if it is spiritual attack, but I think mostly it is the grace and mercy of God and his discipline. He has been beating the pride out of me since I got here and it is so much easier for Him to get my attention here than at home. If I felt wounded at home I could run to somewhere or someone to find comfort and justification for my feelings of being injured. Here noone and nothing is comforting. I have only Him to turn to, so while it has been difficult for me to be here it has also been so sweet to be so close and intimate with my Lord.

So, I miss you guys, and I miss Texas yet at the same time the best part about Switzerland is not the Alps, the chocolate or the cheese, but its distance from you. A forced solitude that has brought me pain temporally, yet eternal joy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Marina Lee and Me Exploring Geneva.

So I never finished my Geneva story. Lucky for you since I didn't write this the next day it will be shorter because I won't remember all the details. But here is the best part of the story: the Korean-Canadian and I became fast friends.

The hostel I stayed at offered a complimentary breakfast. So duh! I was on that like white on rice! I woke up around 8:30am and packed all my things because check out was at 10am. I went down, got my breakfast and sat by myself to eat it. At the table in front of mine sat a group of three traveling buddies. As I watched them talk and eat together I thought of how nice it would be to have a traveling buddy. Then I thought, "no, because then I would have to worry about what they wanted to do and see. I like being on my own schedule." I quickly repented of this thought, and then prayed and asked God to send me a travel buddy so I could work on being less selfish. It was then that Marina Lee asked if she could sit and have breakfast with me. Struck with awe at how fast God works sometimes I said, "yes!"

Marina and I started talking. She had just spent the summer semester studying perfuming in France. She figured since she was over on this side of the pond she would explore a little before she went home. She got her undergrad degree in Chemistry and the summer semester spent in France was for the purpose of making sure perfume was really what she wanted to do next. She discovered that she liked it and has since applied for the program. She is my age and is very Asian. She immigrated from Korea to Canada when she was 16. She lives in Toronto and she loves classical music and taking pictures. I don't know Marina's entire life story, but how much information about another person does it take to form a bond? Relationships aren't measured in accumulated data about the other person. Sometimes people just fit together like a glove fits a hand. That Monday in Geneva Marina Lee was my soul-glove. As we were finishing our breakfast I asked Marina what she planned to do that day, and her plans were the same as mine: explore the city of Geneva...alone. I suggested therefore, that we keep the plan, but chunk the alone part, and we did!

We walked ALL OVER Geneva and we took A MILLION pictures, and we talked. The whole day Marina kept on saying how glad she was that she met me and that she would never forget this day and all the memories we made together. The feeling was mutual.

The first thing we did was go and see Jet d'Eau. Jet d'Eau was originally a semi-naturally occuring fountain that shot out of Lac Leman used as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network. The people of Geneva, however, more than the practical value appreciated the aesthetic value of the fountain and it was made a permanent feature of Geneva. It shoots 459 feet in the air. Super cool!

My favorite site of the day was the Cathedrale de St. Pierre. The architecture was beautiful and the view from its towers was spectacular. We spent around three hours in the place walking on the stone floors and climbing its spiral staircases.In Medieval World, one of my Humanities classes at Criswell, we learned about church architecture. The proffesor of the class told us something about architecture that has stuck with me. He said, "architecture is not three dimensional, it is four dimensional, and the fourth dimension is time." Parts of the cathedral were from the 1500's and I think the newest parts of the cathedral were from the 1800's. It was amazing to walk around this cathedral and think about how it had been adapted over time, and how additions were made as the need arose or as the building was passed from generation to generation who thought they could improve it. I marveled at how many years this place had seen! At how many people had come along and thought they could improve what I'm sure was an already inspiring building. It reminds me of I Corinthians 3:10-15 :

"According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire."

We explored the rest of Old Town Geneva and around lunch time we stumbled upon a park. We were getting hungry and we saw these two guys eating paninis and Marina went up and asked them where they got them. One of the guys said it was to complicated to tell us (RUDE!), but the other guys gave us directions: first left and second right, yeah that's REAL complicated. The place he gave us directions to was this tiny italian sandwhich shop run by one woman that was packed the whole time we were there. It was a perfect little local place to get lunch.

The next place we visited was a park near the University of Geneva. In this park is a wall called Reformation Wall. It is thus called because it has bigger than life statues of some of the reformers carved into it. Also carved into the wall were paragraphs pertaining to the Reformation, including the Lord's Prayer. We also visited the Palais de Nations or the U.N. building, which was a real let down. When we got there they were not admitting tourist anymore, and the buildings architecture was boring.

After that, we took a bus back to were the Jet d'Eau was because we wanted to see it lit up at night. We took a boat across the lake some distance from Jet d'Eau in the hopes that by the time we walked back to Jet d'Eau the sun would have set and the lights would have come on. Instead, Jet d'Eau went off after the sun set and we found out that it only lights up at night on the weekends.

As we tried to find our way back to the hostel where we had stored our stuff I realized that we were farther away from the bus stop we needed to be at than I had originally thought. Suffice it to say; I missed my train. Luckily there was one an hour later, but then I was worried about making my connection in Biel because the train was supposed to be delayed 11 minutes, which is unheard of in Switzerland. I didn't need to worry though, the Swiss came through, the train actually left on time!

On the train ride home a Swiss girl talked my ear off! This is also unheard of for the Swiss. They are usually very reserved, especially with strangers. During our conversation however, she let slip that she had recently spent time in Spain. I believe this is where she learned how to converse with strangers. Come to find out she works in Biel and said that we should get a drink together some time. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm hoping that she will become a friend and that God will give me the chance to share His light with her. A great end to a super weekend!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Sunday in Geneva

Just so you know, this is no indication of how the rest of my trip went, but I fell down the stairs getting off the train in Geneva. One minute my feet were under me, and the next they were not. I fell right on my butt and had to be helped up by a guy who was waiting to get on the train. I actually wasn't that embarrassed. I more wished that there had been someone there to laugh with me about what happened. My butt still hurts by the way.

I made it to the hostel fine. It was my first time staying in a hostel and I didn't quite know what to expect, but the facilities were really nice! I checked in and stored my stuff at the reception desk because my bed wouldn't be ready till later.

I started my exploration by making sure I knew how to get to the Batiment des Forces Mortrices ( where I would be going that night to hear a piano concert. I then went in search for the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. I got off at the bus stop, but didn't see any buildings that looked like a museum. I was at Plaine de Plainpalais and what I did see was a flea market!! Everyone knows how much I love a good flea market. So I wondered through half of the market before I decided to return to my search for the museum. I found it, but it didn't open for another 15 minutes so I wondered through the other half of the flea market, which was actually more like  farmer's market. There was produce vendors, but also food vendors. I had found where I would have lunch!! I went back to the museum and walked through all the open exhibits. They didn't have much because they were in the middle of hanging new exhibits. I got lunch from one of the vendors at the flea market and ate on a bench in Plaine de Plainpalais.

I went back to the hostel got my bed assignment. At that point I was in a room with three sets of bunk beds and there were only two other girls in the room. I took a nap and then got ready for the concert. The concert consisted of 10 pianists, with 20 hands on 4 pianos; 7 composers and 11 pieces of music. It was wonderful. As I sat there listening to these great musicians play these amazing arrangements I realized how untrained my ear is. It is so much harder for me to catch and appreciate every note and how it adds to the piece to create...what? What exactly does this music create? Music creates music. Am I supposed to let the music paint a picture in my head or is that my ridiculous need for something tangible. Am I supposed to leave the music in it's purest form and appreciate each sound for exactly what it is? Is it okay if the music doesn't evoke emotion in me? Is it still good music if it does not? These are the thoughts I had sitting there in the darkness as the music wafted over me. Aristotle believed that music and poetry were the purest art forms (no pun intended). This is because every other art form is imitative of something tangible. "But in poetry and music there are imitations of manners; and this is evident, for different harmonies differ from each other so much by nature, that those who hear them are differently affected, and are not in the same disposition of mind when one is performed as when another is; the one, for instance, occasions grief and contracts the soul...others soften the mind, and as it were dissolve the heart: others fix it in a firm and settled state...while [others] fill the soul with enthusiasm." (Aristotle, Politics-book VIII, ch. v)

Some music, however, is supposed to evoke a certain scene or theme. Like Handel's "Messiah", or Vivaldi's "Seasons". I also had a music teacher tell me one time that a famous composer (I can't remember who right now) was trying to figure out how to imitate the fires of hell and he did it by having the violins turn their bows upside down and use wood to string instead of string to string. I've found that I like pieces that are in Minor chords. I like pieces that are dark and powerful! I think alot of Russian composers tend to write dark and powerful pieces. My favorite piece that was played at the concert was Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee".

After the concert I was starving and I had noticed an English Pub situated across the street from the bus stop where I got off to go to my hostel. I was particularly excited about this pub because the sign outside read, "NFL Sunday"! So after the concert I went to the pub and ordered a pie and a Guinness and watched part of the Kansas City vs. Colts game. It was a disappointing game because all the points I saw were gained from feild goals, but still, it was AMERICAN FOOTBALL and I hadn't seen a game yet this season!

It was a great end to the day. I had been up all day so I was ready for bed. When I got back to the hostel I discovered another addition to the room. A Korean-Canadian girl was in the bunk above me and she was the first one to talk to me. More about her to come...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Exploring Biel

Saturday was my first real day off. It was a perfect day! I rode the train into Biel and the first thing I did was sit in a cafe across the street from the train station called Cafe Spectacullo and drink a Latte Machiatto while reading "Let the Nations Be Glad" by John Piper. I then went to three different museums. The first was called Centre PasquArt, which is a museum of Modern Art. It was interesting. Some parts I loved, other parts made the depravity of man so tangible that I wanted to vomit. Such is the world of Modern Art. Good art reveals truth. The best art reveals eternal truths. Modern Art many times reveals truths about our culture today that are actually falsehoods. It's what makes Modern Art so weighty. As you observe the different pieces you begin to mourn for those who believe lies. I call it Modern Art, but in truth it is Postmodern Art. I feel the sense of hopelessness jump out of the art and I am filled with despair as well as I realize that the worldview of the artist is without foundation. I imagine that it would be the same sensation as falling down a black hole.

The other two museums I went to were the Neuhaus Museum and Swabb Museum. The Neuhaus Museum was rather boring save the exhibit on the history of cinematography. The Swabb Museum was an archaeological museum with pieces from a dig in the area. There was a lot of Roman pieces including a lamp with a χρ (chi rho) the first to letters of Christ in greek. It is one of the earliest Christian symbols. This was really cool to see. It shows that Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire even as far as where Switzerland is located today.

I had lunch at Pizzeria Momo. I walked in and no one was in the place but Momo himself. He realized I only spoke English so he sat me down at the same table he was sitting at and showed me the menu. There were all types of pizza but I chose one called Pizza Momo, because I like Momo, so I was sure to like his pizza as well. It was the first time that I had real Italian pizza and it was GREAT!! It had olives, onions, eggplant, spinach and cheese of course. I ate half the pizza and carried around the other half the rest of the day. I ate the other half for dinner sitting on a bench in a beautiful promenade. Momo also gave me a fig to go and a free coffee before my pizza. I liked Momo.

The rest of the day I spent exploring the "Old Town" of Biel. It is beautiful. There will be pictures on Facebook. I went into a cathedral in Old Town. I don't know how old it was, but it looked like they had begun to restore old frescos that had been painted over.

That evening I went to a Saturday evening service at Jahu (the church the Walter's and I attend). I thought the Village was a young church. Jahu is filled with youth and young adults and there is a huge emphasis on this age group. An unhealthy emphasis. I met some American girls who are staying and studying at a YWAM base nearby. I keep praying for a really good friend here. Everytime I meet someone here it seems so superficial, but I know that relationships take time to develop. 

All in all it was a pretty dang good Saturday!!