Monday June 17, 2019

James 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

Jeff and I tried to enjoy our last day here. Jeff did some more work on the church for Johannes, while I packed everything up and ready for the long days of travel lying ahead of us. We had one surprise today. Our friend from Westminster Presbyterian Church arrived today in Schonebeck. Chris was the one responsible for setting up our time here with St. Jakobi and I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it was that we were able to spend some time with him here. We ordered a pizza for lunch and enjoyed talking about this past year for all of us. Chris is such a wonderful friend and we are so grateful for his help with arranging our time here in Schonebeck. This is was perfect place to start this year and finish it. Final packing was done by this afternoon and then Emma joined us after she finished school. It was wonderful to have her over and the kids loved playing with her (and Chris, who braved the trampoline). I love hearing the kids laugh and scream in delight outside.

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Chris braving the trampoline
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A nice family picture with Chris

We had an easy dinner and then everyone came over to say watch a slideshow that Jeff put togther of this past year and to say our final goodbyes. We were able to get some wonderful pictures in front of the church with everyone and I will cherish these pictures forever. The evening was filled with tears of sadness as we knew that it would be a while before we saw each other again. I was taken aback by Anjali’s response to saying goodbye. She was absolutely devastated. Tears were free flowing down everyone’s faces because once the girls started (Anjali, Saskia, and Emma) us adults couldn’t help but join them. I had no idea how difficult this would be for the kids and unfortunately I was completely unprepared. But in the end, we said our final goodbyes and put the kids to bed and Jeff went in to take a nap. We had a long two days of travel to get us back to Arizona and it was all starting at midnight tonight!

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Susi, Sara, and Lucia
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Steffi, Saski, Susi, Emma, Anjali, Lucia, Sara, and Birgit

My heart aches when I look at these pictures because I am brought right back to the raw emotion and heartache felt when we had to say goodbye.

 

The progression of these group pictures just makes me smile. We had so much fun and they really capture the wonderful friendshps made in just a short 2 months!

 

As I write this blog almost a month later, I am going to condense our travels back to the States, our time in Arizona, and our move back to Wisconsin. So bear with me on the lengthiness of this post.

Our plan was to leave Schonebeck at midnight tonight and drive to Copenhagen, Denmark where we were scheduled for a flight to London and then to LA, California. Thankfully we left right on time and pulled away from St. Jakobi with heavy hearts and teary eyes. We made it to the airport on time and the flight to London was fairly uneventful, with only an hour or so of sobbing at the Copenhagen airport because someone wanted waffles and we could not produce them out of thin air. We barely made our connecting flight out of London to LA, but in the end, all was well and we safely made it back to the USA on Wednesday July 19 at 5 pm (only 24 hours after we left Schonebeck). LAX is like its own city, but we managed to navigate all 5 of us, sleepily through passport control and customs quickly thanks to Anjali’s need for crutches! We got our rental car and then headed to see my aunt and uncle who live just outside of LA. They were so kind to welcome us home with some hamburgers and hot dogs (though Lucia never made it, she fell asleep on the hour drive and never woke up). After a short visit, we continued on our way to Arizona by car and arrived at my parents house at 4 am, 34 hours later. The kids did great on this long journey. They walked inside to say their hellos to grandma and grandpa and then went straight to bed!

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This is what 30+ hours of travel actually looks like…two kids passed out on mom’s leg in the backseat of the car!
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We made it back to the USA
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A quick dinner visit with Aunt Beckie and Uncle Trevor!

Everyone slept-in and when we woke up, we quickly realized that we had also bypassed jet lag. I am not sure if it was because we travelled for so long or that we all just got a good night’s sleep, but no one was off schedule and we all just jumped right in to catching up with family. It was so great to see everyone and to spend time visiting and playing in the pool. The kids were in the pool daily for hours and the rest of the time Jeff and I were struggling to find them things to do in the stifling heat of Arizona (bowling made the list of activities and Jeff even wore his saroong from Sri Lanka, or mirt (aka man skirt)). We shuffled the kids around to Gramma and Papa Hayes and to my brother and sister-in-law for sleepovers, which the kids loved, probably because of the alone time with grandparents and cousins/aunts/uncles. We had visits from lots of family and friends, sorted out some of the necessary things now that we were back (new cell service, paying some bills, dealing with issues that came up during our time away). Needless to say, Jeff and I were very busy, not to mention job applications and resume revisions to help the job searches.

 

We did have a wonderful day the Saturday before we left. We rented a boat at Lake Pleasant and spent the morning tubing, wake-boarding, and swimming in the lake. We even replicated a picture we had of Anjali and David from 10 years ago, but this time with Lucia in it!

 

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I was blessed to get the opportunity to visit my best friend in Fort Collins, CO for a milestone birthday (don’t worry Kate, I won’t share your age : )). This turned into a wonderful blessing for me to have some peace and quiet to work on my resume, study for my exam, and update my online profiles to help with my job search. Kate was super busy with work, so we basically worked all day and then hung out in the evening; it was perfect for both of us who were feeling overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of us. The plan for me was to catch a flight back to Arizona on the 4th of July in time for fireworks with the family; however, Colorado weather had different plans and I got stuck in the airport for several hours, not making it back to AZ until 1 am. So I missed out on the 4th of July celebrations, which included an Anjali original cake!

 

After a short sleep, we did some final packing and then we were off to Madison. We had arranged for Anjali to have a sleepover with her best friend for 3 nights right away; I think she was surprised. We also managed to schedule a play date for David and his best friend and they had a blast playing in the pool of our hotel. I think they were all happy to be back and with their friends (unfortunately Lucia’s friends were not able to meet up with us, but she didn’t even seem to mind).

 

Monday morning began the move into the new apartment and I quickly realized what a pain it is to move. We had gotten rid of so much stuff before leaving on this year, but as we were moving boxes after boxes of stuff I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of our belongings. More on this later.

On Thursday I took my licensing exam and was so relieved to have passed. As I was driving home from Milwaukee after the exam, I was reminded of the wonderfully supportive friends that we have here in Madison. My good friend Elizabeth, not only stored our belongings for this past year, but she also loaned us her car for 3 days to help up speed up the moving process. Then when we returned her car, our wonderful friend Sandy offered her car to me so I didn’t have to take the bus to Milwaukee for the test. We are surrounded by amazing people who have always shown us love and support and for this I am forever grateful.

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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Friday June 14, 2019

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

We took great delight today as we were treated to another day of peace, quiet, and some amazing play amongst our children.  Because we are on vacation Sara and I have let the kids more or less decide how to spend their days.  They have spent countless hours already on the trampoline, playing battleship, and recently they discovered the pool and ping pong tables in Fellowship Hall.  While Sara and I were working on resumes and blogs Anjali and Luci were busily preparing a show.  Anjali wrote out several songs (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Down to the River to Pray, etc) which Luci would sing to us.  The girls put on an excellent display amd we were amazed once again at the talent our kids can show.

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Because Johannes was out of town for a meeting we decided to have dinner at home and then meet up with the Hofmanns and Birgit for an evening swim.  Birgit found a different water hole from our trip last year which was more remote and peaceful.  We were surrounded by a large wheat field which made for some pleasant scenery and an especially wonderful sunset.  The kids (and adults) had an amazing evening just being in the moment and enjoying a nice cool swim.

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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.

Saturday June 8, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

We got up this morning, finished packing, and had a quick breakfast before saying goodbye to Christian and Mattis. Hanne and Jonatan took us to Osterlen where her brother has a summer house.

The drive was beautiful. Green fields and farms surrounded us, as we drove south. We met her brother and his partner for a short lunch and learned about a Swedish tradition done before drinking. Before enjoying your wine and schnapps, everyone sings and looks everyone at the table in the eye, taking a drink and repeating the process again. It was so fun, even though we couldn’t sing along because we didn’t know any of the Swedish song!

The kids found their way to the swimming pool located inside the house, while us adults just relaxed. We decided on a place to eat some dinner in town and headed out to the marina after 15 minutes away. This was such a neat little harbor town to explore. We took a beautiful walk up the hillside to find the Swedish version of Stonehenge, called Ales Stenar. The kids had a lot of fun climbing around on these giant boulders and we were able to get some real fun pictures.

Lucia and Jonatan taking a quick ice cream break
I love this shot of the kids all peeking out from the rocks! Thanks Hanne for this shot.

Once we got home we put the kids to bed and enjoyed a bit of fun conversation over wine. I am so grateful for these moments with Hanne. She is such a wonderful friend and I cherish these moments because I know that it will likely be a long time before we get to do this again. But I know that God will bring us together again, it is just a matter of when. I just love how much our lives have changed since we first met back in 2001, yet our friendship hasn’t changed at all. We can still talk and laugh just as we did when we were unmarried and without children (though our conversations now are a bit different). I am sad that we are going to have to say goodbye tomorrow, but I know that our day will be filled with laughter and love.

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.

 

Thursday May 9, 2019

Psalm 48:14 “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.”

“When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Today, Lucia, my littlest child, reminded me of the truth, to be a child to truly appreciate the kingdom of God.  Earlier this week Sara and I watched a film called Courageous.  It was written and directed by a group that has done several Christian themed films, all of which are tremendous.  In this particular movie the emphasis is on fatherhood and how to be a father that would be pleasing to God.  Ever since watching this film I have tried very hard  to recognize times that I can be a better father starting first and foremost with saying yes to my kids when they want to do something with me.  Today, it was Luci’s turn.

Luci has been on repeat lately asking to help with dinner preparations.  At six years old she is not terribly helpful in too many ways but what she lacks in skills, size, usefulness, knowledge, and safety she makes up for, and in spades, with enthusiasm.  And so it was that when I remarked to the kids that I had to go grocery shopping for dinner that Luci was all on board about going.  First she grabbed her pink backpack which she had seen mom use on more than one occasion because of its ability to handle a sizable amount of goods.  Then she proceeded to stuff it full with her water bottle, blanket, stuffed animal, and pez dispenser.  I reminded her gently that we would need some of that space for groceries so she reluctantly put the blanket and “neigh neigh” back.  She announced to all who would listen that she and I were heading out and off we went.

If you have ever gone anywhere with a 6 year old you will know what befell me over the next fifteen minutes.  She was a tornado of movement and a nonstop blur of speech.  The topics ranged beyond my recollection and certainly my ability to keep pace.  But in it all she was simply thrilled.  On such a mediocre journey as grocery shopping you would have thought that she was on her way to the moon.  Skipping, laughing, jumping, and smiling the whole way.  Luci reminded me to take the joy in every moment we have, no matter how “mundane” it may seem.  As we neared the halfway point it dawned on me how much I could learn from her exuberance and so we discussed plans for Mother’s Day dinner.  She was simply thrilled that she was included in the plans and, although her culinary knowledge is lacking, her suggestions were nevertheless enjoyable to hear.

As I reflect now on this time I realize that I must seem a bit like Luci to me as I am to God.  Sadly there are too many times that instead of skipping and laughing I am hanging my head in despair or grief.  But in all times I imagine I am like Luci offering suggestions for ingredients for Indian food (marshmallows and ice cream as it turns out are not traditional sub-jee items).  Here I was thinking I know the answers, the ingredients for a good life, when in reality God knows them far better than I.  I foolishly say my peace but in the end God guides me and we have a fantastic meal together and all the while I am happier.  I just feel blessed to be going on the journey with Him, just like Luci just loved saying she was part of the adventure.

I am happy to be included on the walk, happy that He listens to my crazy ideas about how ice cream will really finish the sauce nicely, and happy that He lets me enjoy the meal when He is finished.  It is hard to humbly admit that my 6 year-old gets it better than I do, but I am sure glad she was there to remind me today.