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.

Sunday June 9, 2019

Psalm 34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

We got up this morning and headed off to explore Malmo, Sweden…okay not really explore, but rather go to the mall where the kids could play some laser tag after lunch. We didn’t really get to see Malmo at all, but we had such fun (and lacked for nothing) spending time together. The kids have all played so well together and it is wonderful see friendships forming. After lunch and laser tag, we headed for a coffee shop for Fika (Swedish tea time). Again, we just visited and laughed for an hour and then realized that we all needed to leave.

I am not a fan of goodbyes, especially this one. I have missed Hanne and our friendship, but I do take comfort in knowing that we will find our way back together again. I am so grateful for every moment that we got to spend together. It was an emotional goodbye, but Anjali was so thoughtful and took 2 pictures of Hanne and I with her Polaroid camera (one for me and one for Hanne). I was so moved by her kindness to use her film so we each had an actually photo of our time together, not just a digital one. I will cherish this picture forever, not just because it is of Hanne and I, but also because my eldest daughter was so generous and aware of my difficulty in saying goodbye to my friend. Her heart is so big and this picture will always remind me of that.

After are hard goodbyes, we got our cars and drove opposite ways, Hanne back to Karlskrona and us to Kolding, Denmark for a night. We got into Kolding just before dinner, but quickly realized that the town was basically dead. No stores were open and only a few restaurants were serving food. Fortunately I found a grocery store that was open and was able to pick up some food and wine for dinner. Saying our children were tired would be an understatement. The fighting and arguing was almost unbearable for Jeff and I, so we quickly put them to bed. Jeff and I spent the evening talking.

A couple views of Kolding, Denmark from our apartment.

We learned that there is so much to do in Kolding and I do wish we were here longer. You can use free paddle boats for the river, there is the castle, and many neat areas to explore in this small little town. But we were leaving tomorrow, so our hope was to make the most of our time and hit the highlights in the morning before driving to Hamburg, Germany.

Friday June 7, 2019

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Friday, the last day of our stay in Karlskrona.  Once again we awoke with no significant plans for the day other than to have Mexican food and margaritas.  For Sara and I though this is somewhat of a major plan.  Margaritas to us do not come in cans or mixers, they come from real limes which we juice and then mix with a simple syrup, tequila, and cointreau (or triple sec if our budget is tight).  We had a nice breakfast and hung around the house until Hanne and Sara decided it might be fun to head to the local beach just up the way from their house.  I was not particularly keen on the beach idea and opted instead to handle grocery shopping duties.  This was a major step for me as it meant having to drive the manual transmission car into town, park, then drive home.  Given the fact that I had now had about 10 days of practice there was some trepidation at this idea but I wanted the challenge and encouraged everyone to go and I would handle the “monumental” task ahead.

Turns out it wasn’t so hard to shop but I had fun and as it turned out so did everyone else.  We reconvened at the house and proceeded to get dinner ready which required roasting chiles, juicing lemons, and browning meat for tacos. Dinner was a success and all seemed to enjoy the food. For us adults, the margaritas were a welcome treat for the rest of the night. We enjoyed watching Sweden take on a fierce opponent in a soccer match.  Visited with Hanne and Christian and then retreated to bed for the evening.

While the day was very low key it was once again a pleasant respite.  We have enjoyed just being, not doing, in Sweden, content on spending time with our friends rather than racing around to find the next activity.  We certainly have felt reconciliation with our friends and I know for Sara especially this has been a tremendous gift.  I believe that is what it means to be saved by Jesus’ life, that by living as best we can in His image we will truly live.  Our focus for these last few days of our trip has been to really live in the moment, grateful for the time that we have to visit and rest our bodies and minds.  We know that there will be lots of work ahead for us and most certainly challenges aplenty but we can rest easy knowing that we are in God’s hands and that our worries can wait for another day.  For now we will rest easy and prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for the road ahead.

These two pictures were taken just after midnight from Hanne and Christian’s dock. As you can see the sun is just finally setting, but will only rest for a few hours before shining bright again on a new day.

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.

 

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!