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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Thursday June 13, 2019

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Our first full day back in Schonebeck was relatively peaceful.  In many ways it was just like every other day we spent the previous summer.  We awoke, ate a light breakfast, and then headed out for errands.  We decided today that we should make our way to Magdeburg to find some summer clothes for Luci and Anjali who were down to minimal options to say the least.  We also thought we might make our way to the Dom de Magdeburg, the church in the city center, to see if we could get a better picture in the sunlight (our first photo occurred during a deluge).

While shopping went well we encountered some challenges during lunch.  This was brought about in large part because of me.  David has been excelling in Tae Kwon Do but Sara and I both believe that it is important for kids to branch out into other areas which would include team activities.  Anjali had brought up her desire to get back to swim team and David remarked that he no longer wanted to be on the team.  I casually remarked that he was fine to not be on swim team but that at some time he would need to join a team sport.  What ensued could best be described as torture.  He became frustrated and angry at the idea and threatened that he wouldn’t do anything at all which caused me to get fired up and threaten to force him.  Needless to say this did not make for the best lunch and the walk to the church and subsequent photo were not ideal.

We got through it all with some open and honest communication and in the end, as it often does, time heals all.  We made our way back to the train station and headed back to Schonebeck.  The kids have always enjoyed riding the trains and this time was no different.  We arrived in one piece and then decided to go get some gelato in the main square.  The kids had made friends with the women who ran the shop and the ladies were very surprised and happy to see us back again. One of them literally did a double take on seeing us.

Later this evening we met up with friends for a nice meal and some conversation.  These were never in short supply in Germany and we were thankful as always for it.  Sara and I remarked to one another on the drive home how much we appreciated this year of giving and receiving.  We truly owe God the greatest debt of gratitude.

Wednesday June 12, 2019

Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What would I do if I did unto others?  I would spend my time and love with them.  So, that’s what we are doing.  Today we made the much anticipated trip from Hamburg to Schonebeck.  First, though, we had to pack up yet again, run our gear to the car and then spend a few short hours in Hamburg.  After getting our luggage in the car we decided to head out for breakfast and a little last minute sightseeing.  We found a nice deli near the Rathaus, had breakfast and then made our way out.

After breakfast we did a quick trip through the Rathaus and then decided that we might as well head out.  The drive was expected to be about three hours and we figured we would need some groceries anyway.  So, anticipating an arrival time of 4pm (we had told everyone we would be in by 5) we headed out.  I drove while Sara studied and the kids played on their tablets.  It was relatively uneventful except for the fact that I was enjoying my first foray into driving on the Autobahn.  For those of you unaware, German highways for the most part do not have a speed limit.  Thus you drive as fast as you feel comfortable.  For me that was 190 km/h at one point (translated to mph that is 118).  At that speed our Opel Astra felt a little loose in the handling department so I decided to back off slightly.  It was still fun to drive at that speed especially aware that I would likely never drive at that rate in the US.

Three hours or so later we arrived in Schonebeck only to learn that Birgit had already done some grocery shopping for us.  Johannes recommended we get to the apartment to see what we had before shopping, though we did stop to make sure we would have some wine and beer for the evening.  We made our way through the familiar streets of Schonebeck happy to be back in this place that had meant so much and made so many memories.  Arriving at our former home away from home we felt great relief and excitement to see our friends.

We actually went to Joannes and Birgit’s home first (instead of the Pilgerherberge) and rang the bell.  With no answer we texted Johannes to let him know we had arrived.  Moments later we could see him walking around the corner at the apartment about 100 hundred yards or so away.  The kids saw him coming and literally sprinted towards him.  I will remember the squeals of joy and the smile on his face as our kids each took turns giving gigantic hugs to this wonderful human being.  We offloaded the car and then headed to Johannes’ house for drinks and a later dinner with our old friends.

Unfortunately Johannes and Birgit had to leave but they kindly opened their home to us for dinner which included our friends Steffi, Steve, Saskia, Rene, Susi, and Emma.  To say that we were overwhelmed by the love we received would be an understatement.  In one sense we were so happy to be home with these people we had not see in almost a year and at the same time we felt like we had never left.  It was just like being home.

I have written previously about the fact that in almost, if not all, places we have been God has given us a rainbow.  He did not fail again.  On a day when the weather forecast had originally called for no rain we received a downpour just before dinner.  Moreover, God gifted us yet another rainbow, reminding us again of His love and that He was with us on these travels.  I also think it was a reminder that we were in the place we were meant to be.  We enjoyed the company of our friends for the evening with a great meal (shout out to Steve and his excellent grilling skills).  After we retreated back to our old and familiar apartment and rested easy knowing we were in a place of great love.

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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.

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.

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.