Dear Graz, I remember what my first reaction was when my train from München rolled into the Hauptbahnhof. You were not what I was expecting. Somehow I thought I would find a quaint little Alpine village, not the bustling cityscape with which you greeted me. I wasn't disappointed -- just surprised. I remember wandering your streets with my aunt, wondering what kind of place I was in. I recall the initial days of uncertainty, trying to figure out how in the world I would find my way around this second-largest city in der Österreich.

At first you seemed unwelcoming. But oh, how you took me in, took us in, with open, outstretched arms. We were weary travelers who had entered a strange city, only to find ourselves, much to our surprise and delight, at home.

Thank you for your incredible natural beauty. You seem to inherently know my love for the sky. The eyes of my soul are constantly fixed on the heavens, both the physical sky and the eternity beyond it. Your skies have not disappointed me. Thank you for the horizon that shows me mountains, which you know I don't have where I'm from. Thank you for the vastness and grandeur of the Alps -- they put my problems in perspective. Thank you for the great and incredible, enchanting, indescribable beauty of your sunrises and sunsets. I cannot and will never get over the beauty of a shaft of sunlight through the trees, seen while running by the river Mur on a cool morning. I will never forget what the city looks like from the Schloßberg as the sun sets over it. One time someone paid me the great (and probably untrue) compliment that I was enchanting. Graz, you are enchanting. The city at night is ablaze with twinkling lights, like a sea of multicolored stars. Your skies alone fill me with joy to tears. Not only is the beauty simply unfathomable, but it reminds me of the grace of my unfathomable God and Savior, Who is worthy of all glory. The tree-lined streets and the forests surrounding the city are so sweet to me: they remind me of my daddy, who loves all growing things. Forests hold an air of mystery and adventure in my dreamer's heart, and when I am in them, they make me feel as though I am both a fleeting wanderer in a strange place and a princess in her home.

Thank you for the life that you have shown to us. You are a city of rich culture and a vibrant pulse. Thank you for your Opernhaus, which inspires me every time I pass it. Allow me a pedestrian moment to thank you for all the great food here. Thank you for a people that dance in the streets until midnight, never wearying of life, daring to be uninhibited in a way that I wish I was. Thank you for the times I have danced and rejoiced with them. I praise God for teaching me to let go, even a little bit at a time, because it means that my life is full of faith and trust in Him. Thank you, Graz (and AIMS) for allowing me to be a little different than I would normally be at home. Graz, you have shown me a little bit of the me I want to be: so trusting in Christ that I will dare to take a risk.

Thank you for all the lessons learned. Thank you equally for all the frustrations and all the times I leaped in the air for joy. Thank you for all the people who have invested in me and challenged me, while simultaneously showing me who they know me to be. Sometimes in life, you come across someone who shows you a you that you haven't met yet. At home in Lubbock, I have dear friends who have introduced me to the Sara I don't know, but who they see. All the lessons here, within your city limits and beyond, have helped me to get to know her better: both her soul and her voice.

On that note, Graz, thank you for showing me that the person I feel myself to be in my heart -- this girl I know that Christ created -- this is the person that people see. Thank you for showing me that what I feel in my heart is written in my face and worn on my sleeve. I know that wearing one's emotions on one's sleeve is sometimes not the best idea, but for me, it is a joy to know that the me I feel myself to be is also who I show others that I am.

Thank you for your language. It's not my native language, but I know that hundreds of years ago, other Baumgardners spoke Deutsch (and some still do). I feel that German is the language I was born into. I was born a proud Amerikanerin, and of course I like speaking English, but it pleases me to know that Deutsch, the language of my family many years past, has come down to me too. Also, it doesn't hurt that there are many shops here in Graz called "Baumgartner." It makes me smile every time. Thank you for the encouragement of being understood a little when I speak it.

Thank you for your people. Thank you for all the sweet Grazers who have welcomed us. Thank you for the sweet older women who have graced me with their kindness. Thank you for the people who attend our concerts. Thank you for everyone who has stopped me and spoken to me and asked me about myself. It makes me feel at home here, and well-loved. These encounters tend to come at dark times: they are reminders from God of His ever-faithfulness to me.

In fact, this entire city, and all of AIMS, is a constant reminder of God's faithfulness to me. Not all have faith, but the Lord is faithful, writes Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians. I have not always had faith while I've been here. In fact, there have been some incredibly dark days. But God has always been faithful to me. I cannot tell you how many times I have hated the youth of my voice. But I praise God for the sweetness of my friends here, which He has used to turn that perspective around. Thank You, Jesus, for giving me a joy for where I will be tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next. Thank You, Jesus, for teaching me die Geduld -- patience, patience, always patience. Thank You for all the people who see the me I can't see, and who empower me with all the love in the world. They tell me, "Sara, this is who you are." And by the grace of God, I see someone in myself I've never seen before -- but I like her. She's not perfect, but she's free.

Thank you, Graz, for all the tears and all the laughter and all the joy and all the anger and all the hilarity and all the somber occasions. Thank you for the family I have found here. Thank you for all the occasions to get dressed up and speak German and sing. Thank You, God, forever and ever, for singing. Thank You, Jesus, for my voice. This week I've had one main thought. My voice, such as it is, is all I have to give -- but oh, how I want to give it. I want to give my voice and my heart to people. It's all I have, but I will give it.

There is one week left in AIMS, and though I have been missing my home, I am loath to leave the beauty that is you, Graz. I will love the last week and all the times I have with these people that mean so much to me. I will rest and sing and give of all that I have within me. I will revel in the faithfulness of Christ to me. And when I get on that plane, I won't be saying goodbye. I'll be back.

Here's to the last week.

With all joy,