Thursday July 25, 2019

Jeremiah 29:11  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

When I didn’t know what to write about I did what has always helped, I turned to scripture (and Google). This scripture showed up at the top of the list from my Google search “scripture on finding God’s will” and it could not be more helpful. My biggest struggle right now is knowing and understanding where God wants me to be. What is His plan or path for me? Reading this scripture gives me more comfort than I can express in words. I know that He will guide me and show me the way, I just have to be patient. But the fact that this scripture was at the top of my search list, I internalized it as God’s words to me. He is directly telling me that “I have plans for you”, “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope”. It is the affirmation of all that I believe and know to be true; God will always provide for me and for you, and I just needed to hear it. 

While these words do give me immense comfort, it still doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t have a job, I don’t have a direction or purpose right now (or I just don’t know what that is). As I have reflected on my last post, I realize that a big struggle for me is that we went from serving others for a year, and loving every moment of it, to doing nothing. I know there are plenty of opportunities to serve here in Madison and the surrounding areas, but I am hesitant to commit to projects because I do not know what my schedule will be in the future and the last thing I want to do is to commit to a project and then have to back out because of a new work schedule. As I write this though, maybe that is my problem. I have all these contingency plans rather than just doing what brings me joy, which is volunteering.  

Writing can be so enlightening. I feel like I have a direction. Just in writing the previous paragraph I realized my true problem. I need to volunteer and I need to do it now. I am craving that feeling of helping others and am lost without it. I know this won’t resolve the issues I have with the culture shock of being back in the US, but it will definitely help with my lack of purpose (I hope). My new task over the next week is to find an opportunity to serve in Madison. I don’t need to wait until I have a job before committing to a project and if I need to adjust my volunteer commitments because of my job, I can do that too. I don’t know why I felt that volunteering had to come after finding a job, but I did and thankfully in writing I have seen that is just not true!

I am feeling a bit of renewed energy. I actually got so excited that I paused writing this blog to search for volunteer opportunities here in Madison and I requested more information on a couple opportunities. I am already feeling a new spark that has been missing. 

On to another topic, I have been working hard on revising my resume and have been sending it out with countless applications for positions here in Madison. Up to this point I have not had much response as far as interviews/follow-up, but after talking with a good friend, I was assured that this is not uncommon. I know I have the skills and dedication to make a difference in our community through my work, but I just haven’t figured out how to get my resume noticed. Things have changed quite a bit since the last time I was actively searching for a job, but I am committed to getting back to work and I know that the right job is out there, somewhere. I guess I need to have faith in God’s promise to me, “I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

Friday July 19, 2019

Isaiah 41:13 For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

We have now officially moved in and boxes to be unpacked are minimal. I am actually feeling settled into our new apartment. We are in a beautiful area, backing right up to a conservation park with biking and running trails galore; we are in a great school district for our kids to attend excelling schools; and the apartment itself is brand new and surprisingly spacious. With all of these blessings for which I am truly gratueful, I am still feeling completely lost, even a bit sad and down, and because I recognize the overflowing of blessings I can’t help but then feel frustrated that I am struggling so much to find the joy in all of this.

I knew coming back to the US and back to reality of life here was going to be challenging, I just never expected this. I didn’t expect to feel lost, like I am spinning in a circle just trying to find the path that God wants me to travel. I just don’t feel like God has called me here, but then I don’t feel that He has called me to be anywhere else. It’s like I can’t figure out my purpose for being here and it is making this transition very difficult for me.

This past year has been absolutely amazing. I have learned so much and I gave everything I had and truly felt that I had so much more to give, but yet it ended. I guess I just didn’t want this experience to end, but now that it has (at least as it pertains to being abroad) I need to figure out a way to make my life here in Madison that purposeful. Jeff has been wonderful in talking me through this process and listening to me cry, weep, etc. as I try to explain what I am feeling.

One thing is that I am finding these two weeks here to be mundane. I know, what is mundane about moving into a new home? But it’s the mundaneness of unpacking boxes, going to the grocery store, to swim team practice and lessons, buying the things we need for the new place, etc. that is getting to me. I feel like I have lost that fire, that spark that gave me so much joy when we were in Germay, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Romania. I just can’t seem to find that spark here and I don’t know how to ignite it. I feel like I am getting sucked back into the life of a consumer, back into living a life of privilege when so many go without, back into a life without the “why”. For the last year we moved every 2 months, lived out of a backpack, and left everything comfortable and everyone we loved behind to follow God’s call. So where is His call now? Why can’t I find it? Why can’t I hear it or see it or feel it? I know He is there, but I don’t have the “why” we are here.

I am a big fan of checklists. Make a list of things to do and then when completed, check them off! When we were gone, I still had those checklists, but there was a purpose behind everyone on them. Here, I am just spinning, waiting for the “why”, the purpse, to become more evident, but in the meantime, I am lost. Is this the right path? Or this one? Maybe this one? There are so many to choose from and I can’t discern which is the one He wants me to be on right now. I know that I can do anything He asks of me; I have already proven that to myself over this past year. I believe and have unwavering faith that I can accomplish anything with God’s help. But I don’t know what it is that I am supposed to accomplish here. My checklists have become meaningless. They are just tasks to be marked off each day, with no real joy in completing them. Sure, I get them done (and they need to be done), but why I am doing all of this? I feel like I could be doing so much more. I have more fight in me and yet I am sitting on my balcony surrounded by privilege, idling.

This sounds awful, I know. Complaining about the privilege like it’s a curse. But I loved the life without the privileges and I thrived in those environments because I knew everything we were doing was for Him. He always took care of us and provided us with what we needed; we never went without. It was not easy and there were many challenges along the way, but it was always for Him. I guess I am just missing His direction, His calling, His guidance. I feel like I have so much for to give, but I am just idling. I don’t want to be idle and even worse, I don’t know how to be idle. I am busying myself with to-do lists and checklists to hide from the fact that I don’t have a purpose, or at least I haven’t figured it out just yet. But how do you go from spending an incredible year serving and putting others first to then immediately transitioning yourself to the comfortable and familiar? I am missing the unfamiliar, the challenges, and the uncertainty we faced and I don’t feel them here.

I am also struggling with the immense oer abundance in our country, the excess and the waste. I walk into a store and am immediately overwhelmed and in a sour mood. As we were moving our belongings from storage to the new apartment I was disgusted with the quantity of boxes we had to move and how most of this stuff I didn’t even miss. I know that we need to have pots an dpans, plates and bowls, cups cutlery, etc., but what about the rest of this stuff? I do understand that over this past year we had all of these necessary items available to us in the places where they were needed and that we now need them here to function, but beyond those items, why do we need all of this? All of our excess is leaving me feeling sick. As I was unpacking our clothes I found myself beyond overwhelmed. I actually wanted to cry one morning becuase there were too many choices of things to wear; I couldn’t handle the quantity of choices so 2 giant garbage bags of clothes were filed and dontated. Additionally, as I went through the 3 tubs of stuffed animals that my kids “can’t live without” I was instantly in a bad mood, getting short and snippy with them because there were just “too many”. As it relates to the “stufies” I quickly realized that these things brought my children comfort in this time of uncertainty, but it still didn’t squelch this knot and pit in my stomach over the sheer abundance. (In the end they kept everything except only a few they could “live without”.) Because they brought the kids comfort, I could not tell them to get rid of them and I also realized that this was my burden to bear, my problem to overcome, not theirs. But I don’t know how. So I say again, I AM LOST.

I don’t have the answers for any of this. Hopefully in sharing and writing I will find comfort and maybe even get a gilimpse of God’s plan for me now. Last night, after another tearful conversation, Jeff asked me to reflect on this scripture, Isaiah 41:13, For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” I know that God is with me. I have never doubted this. My problem is that I can’t hear Him to know where He wants me. I want (and even need) to be where He needs me and since I haven’t heard anything else, here I am. I am back in the Madison area and idling, waiting for Him to speak to me and tell me where to go and what to do next. I want to do His work, but for the first time in years, I don’t know what that is. So I am right back where I started, doing the same things I did before this trip and yet I am not that person anymore, but I don’t know how to incorporate this new person into the old activities of living out God’s word here. I continue to pray, hoping for some discernment. I know it will come, but on His time. I am just lost in the waiting. I found another scripture that is also relevant and so I wll close with this, hoping that it brings that faith I am needing right now…”The Lord will fight for you, and you only have to keep still.” (Exodus 14:14). So here I am standing still, lost and waiting for God to call me and tell me where to go next.

Saturday June 15, 2019

Galatians 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Today we definitely took an opportunity to do good for all, thought likely not in the manner described in this letter to the Galatians.  We awoke early and headed over to meet up with the Hofmanns.  After spending a few hours Friday evening having some adult beverages both Rene and I were feeling a little tired.  We got to their house a little after 9 to have a quick breakfast and then head to Belantis, an amusement park about two hours from Schonebeck.  Unfortunately, while the weather was flawless it was also very warm.  Despite the heat though we had an amazing time.  There were several good sized coasters which gave the more adventurous of us in the group plenty about which to cheer and enough less thrilling rides for those happy to stay closer to Earth.  The kids had a great time and were amazing despite the heat and lots of walking.

After picking up some souvenirs we headed back to Schonebeck to get some dinner and let the kids have a sleepover.  I offered to drive a car full of kids which gave Sara a chance to just be an adult with Rene and Susi.  I think they all anticipated that my car would be wild and crazy.  That could not be farther from the truth.  Within about five minutes two of the girls were asleep and David and Anjali were basically silent, exhausted from the day.  We got home and whipped up a quick meal for the kids and then ordered pizza for the adults.  The kids popped in a movie and prepped for Emma and Rene to spend the night.  After the long and hot day we were all asleep early and rested well having made the most of our last Saturday abroad.

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Tuesday June 11, 2019

Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

Over this past year people have told us how “brave” Jeff and I was for taking 3 children around the world to volunteer. Most of the time, we have truly enjoyed the experience, even in the struggles with behavior. By the end of the day today, Jeff made the comment that he now understands that very statement. Our children began fighting upon waking up and didn’t stop the rest of the day. We did make it out of the house to see a few sights, including the Speicherstadt (historic red brick warehouse buildings along the Elbe River) and Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (a modern concert hall atop a historic red brick warehouse). We enjoyed a nice lunch overlooking the Elbe River and had hopes of a nice day exploring this old and historic city.

Speicherstadt (Hamburg, Germany) Elbphilharmonie (Hamburg, Germany)

But that didn’t last. Anjali didn’t complain about her foot at all in the morning, but as soon as she heard that we were going to walk for about 15-20 minutes to the next sight, she lost it; her foot was just hurting too bad to do that. Then David wanted to go home, but that made Anjali angry because he was “copying her”. Everything went downhill from there. We decided that we would take the kids home and give them a break (we were even going to give them their screens to play) while Jeff and I explored the city together. But those plans fell through too because the kids could not stop arguing and fighting. It was at this moment that Jeff and I decided to split up. One would go sightseeing and the other would stay home with the kids. Jeff needed a break from the kids, so I opted to stay with them, but the kids then decided they now wanted to explore! I can’t even begin to share with you the level of frustration from both Jeff and I, even Anjali’s foot was now feeling better. I wanted to scream, but since Jeff needed a break, he opted to now stay home and I would take the kids out exploring once again. This is why people tell us that we are “brave” to travel like this with kids!!

So the kids and I took off to see St. Nicholai church and then Rathaus (or city hall). We even took the elevator up to the top of the church and then down in the crypt museum where we learned all about the history of Hamburg and this church. It was incredible and really powerful.

View from the top of the tower at St. Nicholai Memorial Church with St. Michael’s Church in the Happy kids for the moment. An aerial view of the Rathaus from the top of St. Nicholai Rathaus fountain in the courtyard (Anjali didn’t want to be in the photo) David thought this was a cool door and frame. David and Lucia inside the Rathaus (Anjali standing beside me taking the picture) Looking away from the Rathaus in the city center. A group shot (with Anjali) in front of the Rathaus. One silly family.

After an hour or so of exploring the kids were again done, but this time were kind enough to just say so and not completely blow a gasket, so we headed home. Jeff was feeling a bit rested and we both decided that we wanted to go explore more, but this time without the children. They seemed to have calmed down and no one was fighting. So we did a very responsible parenting thing, we gave them their screens, knowing that it would buy us a couple hours of entertainment, and bolted from the apartment.

Jeff and I walked to the Saint Pauli Elbtunnel. This tunnel was built in 4 years to support the mass of harbor workers and took you across the Elbe River. We walked this tunnel both ways and while it was pretty cool to walk under the river, I think we were just enjoying the company of each other without the distractions of children. From here we walked along the Elbe over to St. Nicholai Memorial Church and the Rathaus. It was a very relaxing afternoon, in spite of the stressful and frustrating morning.

One of the many Harbor Bridges near the tunnel. A selfie overlooking the harbor. St. Nicholai Memorial Church

Rathaus

We went home to check on the kids, thankful they were not fighting like cats and dogs. Though shortly after coming home and the turning the screens off, they were at it again. Dinner out was never going to happen, nor were Jeff and I going to leave to watch the soccer game. So we made a decision to make a quick and easy dinner for the children (grilled cheese sandwiches, some fruit and veggies, and Pringles) and we would order to take-away. While I made dinner for the kids, Jeff worked hard to find the US Women’s Soccer match against Thailand. We finally got the kids to sleep and I ran out to grab some food for us and then we sat down to watch the very lopsided match. I think we were both extremely tired and out of patience given the day. We ended up calling it a night, slightly frustrated with each other (though I don’t think either of us knows why).

As I reflect on this stressful day I realize that God absolutely provided to us. While we didn’t get to see all that we (I mean Jeff and I) wanted, I look back at these pictures and realize that we did see Hamburg. God definitely was with us today (or we may have left our children in Hamburg : )) and He poured His love over us, allowing all of us to recover enough to see parts of Hamburg. We were challenged and had a lot of fights and struggles, but in the end, His love gave us the opportunity to enjoy Hamburg and I am grateful for the short glimpses of happiness we had today.

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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