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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.