Wednesday June 5, 2019

Matthew 18: 1-3 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Become like a child.  How?  Adults are hardened in their ways and they know everything don’t they?  Besides, children are naive, weak, impetuous, ignorant, etc.  Why would I want to be that?  Haven’t I already grown up and learned from being a child how to be an adult?  This Jesus guy sure is a bit odd.

Children see things from a very different perspective.  I remember being a child and going to Disneyland.  The entire spectacle seemed enormous, otherworldly, and awe inspiring.  As an adult going back I saw things very differently.  The rides were not so fast, the buildings were not so tall, and the inspiration so not so much there anymore. In a sense Disneyland was rather ho-hum.

But God’s creation is anything but mundane.  I think that is what Jesus is getting at when he says we must be more like children.  We need to be inspired and even slightly overwhelmed by this incredible universe in which we have been blessed to live.  Moreover, that excitement and inspiration will cause us to constantly be thankful and excited to absorb everything we can from it.  It is when we stop being awed that we begin to take it all for granted choosing cynicism over enthusiasm.

After having completed our mini-vacation in Byxelkrok we made our way back to Hanne and Christian’s home in Karlskrona.  We made a point to stop again in Kalmar this time at the Kalmar Slott, a four hundred year old castle.  There was an immersive Van Gogh exhibit being held within the castle which Sara and I were excited to see.  The kids tolerated the 40 minute program which was by my account fantastic.  We toured the castle a bit and then grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe across the street.  Then it was off to Karlskrona and just in time for a quick dinner with Hanne and Christian.

After we put our respective progeny to bed we retreated to the back deck for some wine and beer and fellowship.

This opportunity to just chat was the whole reason we were so excited to come to Sweden for this visit.  We missed our friends very much and having time to spend a few hours conversing is all the reason in the world to be here.  Christian reminded me of this Bible passage with his comments about his family’s home here.  He somewhat jokingly remarked that he didn’t understand why he was so lucky to be here, living in this beautiful home along the Baltic Sea.  I remarked that I appreciated his humility and more importantly his gratefulness.  That is one thing that I have really noticed on our travels, that the people we have met seem completely content with what they have and are grateful for it.  Unlike so many of the people we have met in the United States (and admittedly ourselves) who conversely are always looking for the next best thing, seemingly uneasy with what they have because it is never enough.  Here they are content with what the have and will take whatever they get.  I think that is what Jesus wants from us, to be grateful for what we have and to be inspired about the greatness that abounds.  There is no need to ask for more because God knows what we need already and will provide if we ask and are thankful.  Children rely completely on their parents for nourishment, safety, and well being.  I hope that I will remember my need to be like a child of God, reliant on Him for all my needs.

 

Tuesday June 4, 2019

Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It was another beautiful and relaxing day in Byxelkrok on Öland Island. We didn’t do much today at all. The kids played on the beach, we completed a round of mini-golf, and then took the kids to Neptuni Akrar, which is a beach filled with smooth rocks and fossils. They had a blast walking around while I found a smooth spot to lay back and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.

During part of their time on the beach in front of our hotel, the kids were able to find some really neat rocks that they collected and then sorted. It was awesome to watch them work together to eliminate the rocks that would not be kept. They worked so well together and it was a wonderful sight. Every once in a while they do get along and I try my best to enjoy every moment.

I also got to play a riveting game of Tic Tac Toe with Lucia. This game board was awesome because it only had 3 pieces for each player, which meant that you had to keep moving your pieces around the board. It was a much more exciting way to play the game!

We ended up having a frozen lasagna for dinner tonight and we all agreed that it was definitely not the worst meal we ever ate! The kids all went to bed and Jeff and I sat on the porch enjoying the long days of Sweden overlooking the Baltic Sea.

During our time on the patio I opened my email to find that I didn’t get the job in Wisconsin I was hoping for. I felt that pang of disappointment and a feeling of having to start back at square one. I tried to not let this get me down and had to remind myself that it just meant that this was not the right job for me, and that God had other plans for me. I then found myself praying before bed, telling God that it is okay that I didn’t get that job because it obviously was not where He needed me, but if He could please share some of His plan to us, I would greatly appreciate it.

I know things will come together, but it is so difficult for me to just sit back and enjoy this part of the ride. We have nothing planned beyond driving back to Hanne and Christian’s tomorrow and then heading to Germany sometime early next week. We have no flights back to the states (we found great flights yesterday and by the time we went to book them this morning the prices had doubled!), no jobs, no house/apartment, etc. Jeff keeps reminding me to stay in the moment and not be overcome with trying to plan everything out, but I am really struggling with this. I have faith that it will work out; it always has. But I feel like I have no direction. I know what I want to do as far as my career goes, but I don’t know how to get there because I am not a great candidate due to the fact that I have been out of the workforce for the last 12 years. This is not easy, and while I never thought it would be, I guess I didn’t really how challenging it would be.

Monday June 3, 2019

Psalm 4:8 “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”

Today was a touch bittersweet.  Hanne and Christian have to work this week.  Apparently bills come even when Americans visit.  Thus Sara and I offered to take a few days away from their house to give them and the kids the time to focus on jobs and getting through the last few days of the school year.  We were sad to leave but glad to give them the space they need.

We originally thought about making the five hour journey northeast to Stockholm but decided that truly we don’t like big cities.  Instead we decided to head almost due east to Oland.  Oland is a large island that is off the eastern coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea.  It is very long and very narrow.  We are staying at the the northernmost point.

The drive up was gorgeous and once again a reminder of our home in Wisconsin, except for the moose crossing signs.  We did notice that the area was rather quiet, almost unusually so and upon arriving at our hotel we learned that we were literally the only guests.  Apparently this area is very popular in the summer but as schools had not yet let out the high season had not yet begun.  So we settled in, did some grocery shopping, and then sat down for a quick dinner and some wine.  The kids enjoyed some beachcombing until a late afternoon storm made its way in but as it was getting to be bed time it was just as well.

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Today’s passage is a reminder of the peace that God has and will bring us.  These last few days have been very relaxing already.  I am at once totally at peace with what we have done and simultaneously grateful for the opportunity to do it.  While I had been sad that the journey was over I am also so thankful that I got to go on it.  God’s gifts are unimaginably generous and His grace brings with it great peace.  I have caught myself today taking several deep and full breaths just absorbing everything I have been given.  I am utterly relaxed and I think God is preparing me for the next journey to come.  I don’t feel ready quite yet, perhaps because I am enjoying this time right now, but I know that when His call comes I will be more than ready to answer.

Sunday June 2, 2019

Ephesians 5:20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not sure how to express the level of relaxation I feel, on top of the absolute joy of being with a friend whom I haven’t seen in so long. I can’t believe I am finally at her home in Sweden after all the years of trying to get here. We really did not do anything at all, just sat on the porch and caught up on the last decade of life while our children played together in the yard. The kids were laughing and having fun all day long, even going for a swim in the Baltic Sea, which I told them I would not be doing, but that was early in the day.

I later learned that Christian had plans for all of us to head down to the sauna, take a swim in the sea, and then back into the sauna. I have to be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled by this idea because I had felt my children’s bodies after coming out of the water and to say they were freezing is an understatement. But, not to be outdone by a child, I conceded and it was incredible. The adrenaline rush of getting hot in the sauna and then jumping in the freezing cold sea was exhilarating.  So much so that I repeated the process 3 times! By the time we walked back to the house and settled for dinner I was more relaxed than I ever have been.

Jeff and I have decided to take the kids on a short trip to Oland Island, just off the mainland of Sweden, for 2 nights since everyone still had school and work Monday-Wednesday. This worked out great for everyone (though I will miss this time with Hanne) because it will afford them the opportunity to be on a normal routine for the school/work week and then back to vacation mode on Wednesday afternoon (they are off on Thursday and Friday). So with the help of Hanne and Christian we booked our hotel.

I am loving this time with Hanne and Christian. We have so much fun just hanging out and talking about anything and everything. I love that we can sit down after almost a decade apart and pick up right where we left off, like time just stood still between us.

I know that our time together in college at the University of British Columbia was all part of God’s plan and this is one of those moments that I will be forever grateful for this connection and friendship. Hanne was there for me during a time of major transformation and supported me as I slowly became the person I am today. It is quite possible that she had no idea how much she influenced me because she held qualities that I wanted but didn’t have. She was one of the role models for me, showing me who I could be. God put me where I needed to be, when I needed to be there. He placed her in my life because I needed her and now as I am sitting on her porch, overlooking the Baltic Sea and listening to our children laugh and play, and I am forever grateful for her impact on my life.

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Saturday June 1, 2019

Jeremiah 29:12 “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”

This excerpt comes from a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiled peoples of Israel.  It is a letter of hope and promise.  It is fitting then that this is the scripture for today.  Today is our first day of our vacation. A time for us to visit our friends in Sweden and then to cap off our trip with a last stop in Germany to see our friends whom we first met to start our travels.

Sweden is, in a word, amazing.  We would scarcely realize we were not in Wisconsin again with all of the trees and rolling hills, farms and peacefulness all around.  Save for the fact that our friends live in a house which is on a small island in the Baltic Sea, we feel entirely at home.   After a long day of travels we were fortunate that the kids all slept in until 8ish.  We were also fortunate that both Hanne and Christian were both up for doing exactly nothing for the day.  We did make a short trip in to Karlskrona for some ice cream and mini-golf for the kids but it was otherwise a day of utter relaxation.  This was just what mom and dad had ordered.  While we weren’t exiled by any means we certainly felt the strains of our service over the last ten months and knowing that we were done and now just relaxing felt very rewarding. God had heard our prayers for peace and had more than answered.

It was even more reassuring as we had so long wanted to visit Hanne and her family in Sweden.  We had made plans ten years or so ago to come here but those plans sadly fell through.  Now, many years later here we were.  Enjoying a cool breeze off the ocean and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in over a decade.

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Jeff during a run around the island.

More happily our children all played together perfectly.  Having never met prior it was like they had grown up together their whole lives.  They played putt putt, tag, and everything else they could imagine all day long.  I absolutely love the exuberance and openness our kids have for meeting new people.  It is infectious and inspiring.  Meanwhile, moms and dads got to sit back and enjoy some beverages, a late afternoon lunch and a truly chill day.

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Sara and Hanne enjoying the beautiful sunshine!

 

 

Friday May 31, 2019

Psalm 59:16 But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.

I was completely taken aback by the fact that we were actually able to sit back and enjoy the morning; we were not rushing around to finish packing; we were actually organized. It was the perfect ending to our time here in Romania. Everything was packed and the kids were outside enjoying their last bit of time with the Cato children. Jeff and I decided to open the bottle of wine we originally purchased for last night. It didn’t even seem to bother me that it was 9:30 in the morning, we were just enjoying the moment. Amy came up to say a final goodbye and enjoyed a small glass of wine with us. I was baffled by how relaxed I was at this moment. I mean the car was coming to pick us up in short order and I was just relaxed, in total vacation mode; it was wonderful.

We said our final goodbyes to Calah and the Catos and headed for the Sibiu Airport enroute to Sweden.

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Calah with all but Jeff
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The Cato and Hayes kids
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Sara and Amy

Goodbyes are never easy, but something tells me that this is not the last time we will see these wonderful people.

We got to the airport and realized that we made two errors. One was that I gravely miscalculated our departure time and we ended up at the tiny Sibiu airport four hours before our flight. But that afforded Jeff and I the opportunity to enjoy another bottle of wine with our lunch and we all just hung out at this tiny airport.

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I guess Jeff didn’t want to be in the picture!

The other mistake was leaving Jeff’s yoga bag at the apartment which unfortunately had his brand new Nike trail shoes in it. We thought about having someone send them to us in Germany, but decided against it (it was more work than the shoes are worth). We arrived in Copenhagen and fetched the car with no trouble, grabbed some quick food at Burger King and continued on our drive to Hanne.

The real difficulty came as we crossed this beautiful bridge between Denmark and Sweden.

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I thought Anjali was going to come out of her seat as we crossed into Sweden. This is the one place she made us promise to take her, which was an easy promise because I have a great friend there whom I wanted to see! Everyone wins : )

Our Romanian SIM cards worked great in Denmark but as soon as we got to the half-way mark and entered Sweden our phones stopped. Now mind you, it is now 10 pm, no phone stores are open, and our only directions are coming from my phone. So we took screen shots of the directions and continued on, being sure not to touch my phone or turn the car off just so we didn’t disrupt the directions. We got to Hanne’s just after midnight and knocked quietly on the door to we didn’t wake anyone up, but that also meant that Hanne couldn’t hear us. We couldn’t text her and let her know we arrived, so we just hung outside and knocked progressively louder until she heard us.

The moment you see a great friend for the first time in 7 years is indescribable. I was so happy to finally be here with her. Everyone else was asleep, so we put our kids to bed and stayed up for a glass of wine with Hanne and then headed to bed ourselves. I am so grateful that God provided us this opportunity to catch up and spend the time with her.

Thursday May 30th, 2019

Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Every place we have served we have seen a rainbow.  If you believe in signs then you no doubt will recognize this one as the sign God gave to Noah following the end of the great flood.  I always thought rainbows were beautiful but since taking on this journey and being blessed with them at every stop I have appreciated their significance that much more.  It also isn’t so much that we have seen rainbows as much as when.  They have typically come toward the end of our service time and while this may simply be coincidence I have long thrown such notions out the window.  So it was that today, the last day of our service in Romania, we had a late afternoon storm which gave us a brief, not terribly vivid, but evident rainbow.

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The day started out like just about every other we have had here.  I did my last shift at the hospital while Sara did some sorting and baby bundles in the support center.  We left the kids at home to enjoy their last day of playing with the Catos.  My shift was rather uneventful, passing out diapers, snuggling with babies, the usual.  I was particularly grateful though that Ann told me to pick whichever babies I wanted since today was my last day.  It isn’t like you have favorites but it was still a nice gesture on her part.

As it turns out my babies were particularly sleepy apparently because both cuddled up and promptly slept when I had them.  I felt really calm and peaceful about that.  This whole time I have been working I have wanted those babies to know they are loved and cared for even when they have been alone and away from their parents.  I felt like they felt comfortable in my arms and that is why they slept.  We didn’t play but I knew they felt my love for them which is why they were okay to simply let go and get a power nap.

I said my goodbyes to the staff and to Ann and Joyce and then picked up Sara.  We made a quick stop by the store for a few items to get us through our last evening and then headed home to pack up.  I ambitiously thought we could get this knocked out in two hours or fewer.  I was incorrect.  On the positive side it was only four or five hours and we only had to panic slightly when we realized that we underestimated the number of bags we would need.  But in the end we took a deep breath, recognized the challenge and overcame.  We got the house more or less straightened away, made especially difficult after realizing the girls had managed to spill an entire tupperware of chutney on the kitchen floor and then used all of our paper towels to clean it up.  We gave the house a good once over and then enjoyed a quick birthday celebration for Martin, our neighbors’ one year old.  Sara and I had a final meal of Dodo’s pizza and then we headed off to enjoy a relaxing night of sleep, prepping for the next day’s travels.

All in all despite a few hiccups the day was very peaceful, calm, and reassuring.  We knew that God had placed the path before us and we needed only follow it.  We had made the most of our opportunities and we felt made a contribution to the mission of FFR.  The rainbow I think was God’s way of reminding us that His covenant remains and is true.  I hope that it was also His way of showing us that the path we have taken is consistent with His plan.  I look forward to the next rainbow, wherever it may be.