Ten years ago this month, Paul and I visited Vienna and got Mozart and a whole lot more. Here’s the story:
I wanted Mozart in Vienna. For the entire week of visiting with missionaries who do refugee work on the outskirts of Vienna, I had thought of Billy Joel whose song ‘Vienna’ had captured my heart 30 years earlier when I was a Freshman in college. Slow down you crazy child… when will you realize, Vienna waits for you? I was that young overachiever for Jesus, the girl who hadn’t quite figured out about the Holy Spirit empowering me—the gal who was doing her best for Jesus on her own strength and being worn out.
But the Spirit had blown through my heart in college and I had started to understand. And Billy Joel was right—I could slow down, from time to time.
All those years ago, I had traipsed through that magical city with two college friends. We ate a sacher torte on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Sacher, we snuck into the stables to see the Lipizzaner stallions. We stood breathless in front of the works of art in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, amazed to see in real life the paintings we had studied in our art history class. We peeked into St. Stephen’s and St. Peter’s. But I had not gotten Mozart back then.
And on this day in Vienna, with my husband, celebrating (six months late) our 25th anniversary, I wanted to hear his music.
The week had been magical enough already. Something about our new job—pastoring missionaries in Europe—felt so right. Time after time in the past week as we’d listened to dear, brave missionaries share with us—their joys and victories, their defeats and fears—I had thought to myself, “Oh, Jesus, now I see why I had to go through those things—through depression and chronic pain, through the betrayal of close friends and the heartbreak of a friend who decides not to follow You and the rip-your-heart-out pain of watching my children suffer, through walking with others after tragic deaths of loved ones and learning deep dark secrets of godly people. Oh, okay. Now I understand. It was so that You could prune me and teach me, of course, so I would learn to hold on tight to You, to surrender to Your will, to believe You could keep me where You’d called me. All that and so much more, yes, but it was also for this. So these missionaries could see in our eyes and hear in our voices and feel in their hearts that somehow we got it. We got them. We understood. And we cared.”
This was what Jesus had been preparing for us for so many, many years. And we’d had the privilege of coming to Austria and meeting these missionaries, many of them for the first time, and being in awe of their lives and work.
And we kept mentioning two little words: ‘boundaries’ and ‘permission’. Like all good missionaries, we’ve had a hard time figuring out if and when we need boundaries and how to give ourselves permission to rest. We have so many good excuses—we owe it to our supporters to work hard—they are giving sacrificially—and to those to whom we minister who truly need us.
We saw that these missionaries, like ourselves, needed permission. ‘Come away with me and rest,’ Jesus says.
So I thought we should be a good example of this principle. Before we embarked on this trip, I had begged Paul to let us have this one day in Vienna, alone, to soak up His goodness. We’d need the time alone after a full week, I had reasoned. And Paul, after lengthy mental debate, had agreed.
So we’d had our day alone in Vienna. We’d climbed 337 steps up the steeple ‘Steffi’ in St. Stephen’s, we’d walked down Karntner Strasse and Graben, we’d toured the opera house.
After our opera tour, a red-caped young man with a non-German foreign accent had approached us, offering to sell us tickets to attend a concert of Mozart and Strauss that evening. I’d read about this tactic on the internet. I had almost ordered a ticket on line. Surely I could have Mozart this time. But it was very pricey and some of the comments online were not so positive. Was it worth it?
So I had waited and hoped.
I’d written down the price for the cheapest tickets, and I’d prayed, “Lord, I know it’s impossible, but if I could get the cheapest tickets for half price, could we have Mozart? That would be a good missionary price, wouldn’t it?”
One of the missionaries said that I might be able to bargain with these young salesmen.
So I’d tried to do just that with the young man. Paul is the bargainer, but he didn’t look up for it. I spoke to the young man in English and then in French—he was happy to hear we lived in Lyon. He also came down on the price some—not half price but a good bit. All part of the salesmanship plan, I knew. We were playing a game. But we didn’t have enough cash anyway to pay right then, and he didn’t take credit cards.
“I’ll be here until 6,” he told us.
We walked away, me humming that Billy Joel tune and hoping for Mozart. But I could tell Paul wasn’t enthusiastic. He was worn out from sightseeing.
So we escaped to a beautiful little park behind the Hofburg Palace and sat in the sun and relaxed. We even ordered a Sacher torte and Earl Grey tea, sitting at the Palmhausen café in the Burggarten. And, as a final blessing in the week of seeing missionaries, Terry and Donna Jeanne came for a short stroll in Vienna. We hadn’t seen them in 16 years, and I could still remember the fierce tug on my heart when Donna Jeanne and I had waved good-bye in Crete all those years ago. We’d grown close, sharing our hearts during three different IT conferences in the ‘90s, talking about our kids—she had five at the time and I had two.
Now she had seven and mine were grown and we sat in the sun and it had only been moments, not 16 years. And as I sat there with that precious couple, I said in my heart, “Lord, I don’t need Mozart. This is enough. This day with Paul and then time with dear old friends.”
But I did mention to Donna Jeanne about Mozart and the concert and our 25th anniversary. Her eyes lit up and she said that when she’d attended a Mozart concert years ago, she felt like she’d died and gone to heaven.
So Paul smiled and we walked back to the red-caped salesman. He was surprised to see me. “I didn’t think you’d come back.”
We talked about the tickets. Seeing Donna Jeanne, he asked “Are there four of you? If so, I can give you one ticket free. I’m allowed to do this once a day.”
Donna Jeanne smiled her sweet smile and said that unfortunately she and her husband couldn’t stay for the concert. But eyes twinkling, she added, “But this woman is a famous author. She’s from France. You should give her the free ticket!”
I was shocked. So was the young man. He looked at me, and I nodded that I was an author, albeit not famous. “Oh, she didn’t mention it,” he said sheepishly. Why would I ever mention that? But Donna Jeanne is like that—she mentions things.
To break the tension, I asked him where he was from, and he said Algeria. Algeria! I told him that some of my novels were about Algeria’s war for Independence from France. His eyes lit up and he said, “You get the free ticket.”
A free ticket! And he bumped us up to VIP status for the cheaper price. I was laughing, as were Donna Jeanne and the young man. I had prayed for tickets at half price, but never had I imagined that the way the Lord would answer that was by giving us one that was free!
When God shows up in such a fun way, well, I’ve learned that this is His hug to me, but that’s not all He’s up to. It’s much bigger than that. I asked the young man his name.
“Riad,” he said. Then he told me he was from Kabyle. I know about Kabyle—it’s the part of Algeria where a revival is going on for Jesus.
I promised him that I would send him one of my novels if he left me his address. He enthusiastically agreed and scribbled it for me on a piece of paper. As we thanked him for the tickets (he almost forgot to ask Paul to pay, so happy was he with the conversation), I imagined that one day perhaps Riad would be talking with Terry or Donna Jeanne or another of the missionaries about this Jesus that he would read about in my novel.
As Donna Jeanne and I left Riad, we whispered to each other, “This is so like the Lord. He gives more than we ask. He surprises us with good things. He wants us to give ourselves permission to enjoy His love to us.”
Even Paul seemed pleased.
The missionary life has so many challenges. But every once in a while, and more often than we’d expect (sometimes more often than we accept), God just blesses us with something more, something delightfully extravagant.
So I got Mozart in Vienna. And it was heavenly.
~Elizabeth Musser, March, 2011