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 May 31, 2019

Psalm 59:16 But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.

I was completely taken aback by the fact that we were actually able to sit back and enjoy the morning; we were not rushing around to finish packing; we were actually organized. It was the perfect ending to our time here in Romania. Everything was packed and the kids were outside enjoying their last bit of time with the Cato children. Jeff and I decided to open the bottle of wine we originally purchased for last night. It didn’t even seem to bother me that it was 9:30 in the morning, we were just enjoying the moment. Amy came up to say a final goodbye and enjoyed a small glass of wine with us. I was baffled by how relaxed I was at this moment. I mean the car was coming to pick us up in short order and I was just relaxed, in total vacation mode; it was wonderful.

We said our final goodbyes to Calah and the Catos and headed for the Sibiu Airport enroute to Sweden.

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Calah with all but Jeff
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The Cato and Hayes kids
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Sara and Amy

Goodbyes are never easy, but something tells me that this is not the last time we will see these wonderful people.

We got to the airport and realized that we made two errors. One was that I gravely miscalculated our departure time and we ended up at the tiny Sibiu airport four hours before our flight. But that afforded Jeff and I the opportunity to enjoy another bottle of wine with our lunch and we all just hung out at this tiny airport.

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I guess Jeff didn’t want to be in the picture!

The other mistake was leaving Jeff’s yoga bag at the apartment which unfortunately had his brand new Nike trail shoes in it. We thought about having someone send them to us in Germany, but decided against it (it was more work than the shoes are worth). We arrived in Copenhagen and fetched the car with no trouble, grabbed some quick food at Burger King and continued on our drive to Hanne.

The real difficulty came as we crossed this beautiful bridge between Denmark and Sweden.

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I thought Anjali was going to come out of her seat as we crossed into Sweden. This is the one place she made us promise to take her, which was an easy promise because I have a great friend there whom I wanted to see! Everyone wins : )

Our Romanian SIM cards worked great in Denmark but as soon as we got to the half-way mark and entered Sweden our phones stopped. Now mind you, it is now 10 pm, no phone stores are open, and our only directions are coming from my phone. So we took screen shots of the directions and continued on, being sure not to touch my phone or turn the car off just so we didn’t disrupt the directions. We got to Hanne’s just after midnight and knocked quietly on the door to we didn’t wake anyone up, but that also meant that Hanne couldn’t hear us. We couldn’t text her and let her know we arrived, so we just hung outside and knocked progressively louder until she heard us.

The moment you see a great friend for the first time in 7 years is indescribable. I was so happy to finally be here with her. Everyone else was asleep, so we put our kids to bed and stayed up for a glass of wine with Hanne and then headed to bed ourselves. I am so grateful that God provided us this opportunity to catch up and spend the time with her.

Thursday May 30th, 2019

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.

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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.

Wednesday May 29, 2019

Hebrews 3:4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.

I didn’t sleep well last night because for whatever reason I ended up with a little one in my twin bed with me. I wasn’t too happy with the lack of sleep and how incredibly uncomfortable it is to have her in the bed with me, but when I woke up I couldn’t be angry any longer; she was so adorable and it melted my heart.

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Lucia enjoying the comforts of “moms” bed.

Jeff has made sure that I enjoyed my last few days here in Brasov by reminding me not to start packing. I am a planner and once I knew that we were leaving on Friday, I instinctively went into planning mode. But thankfully I have Jeff to ground me, but it is very difficult for me to look around this apartment and see stuff everywhere. I very quickly get overwhelmed, but know that if I start packing things up now, I will just end up having to pull something out and repack, hence wasting time that could be spent enjoying Brasov.

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Well, I kind of got to enjoy Brasov today. I had the hospital shift this morning and Jeff brought David and Lucia with him to the support center to make some baby bundles. I met back up with everyone at the apartment, grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went into town with Jeff and Lucia on a search for crutches and a thumb drive to back up our computer and pictures. As we got into town, we quickly found the thumb drive and decided that while we waited for the shop to open to get the crutches, we would enjoy some ice cream and cocktails. Lucia was on cloud nine and seemed so happy to be spending time with just mom and dad. We were on a bit of a time crunch because the girls from FFR were meeting us at the house at 4 for some drinks and by this time it was already 2:45. So we finished up our little snack, found some under the arm crutches and headed home. Thankfully we made it back by 3:30, which gave me a few minutes to clean up before everyone arrived.

We had a great time visiting with the FFR girls and I am so grateful that we were finally able to find a time for all of us to get together. This has been a very tricky thing because we have all been busy and our schedules just didn’t seem to connect, but they did today and it was wonderful. We enjoyed good conversation, laughter, stories, etc. and then had to say our final goodbyes.

We had a short turn-around to feed the kids some dinner and get them ready (and in bed) before Jeff and I headed out for some drinks on the square with Jeff’s Ultimate Frisbee team. We had a lot of fun and again had more laughs, stories, and wonderful conversation (and of course an Irish Car Bomb since we were at an Irish Pub). For those of you that don’t know that that is, you have a glass of Guiness with a side shot of Irish Whiskey and Baileys that you drop into the Guiness and drink! They are so tasty!

Jeff and I enjoyed a nice walk back to the apartment and I became acutely aware of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us over the last 10 months. He has placed so many wonderful people in our lives, people that we would have never met without this journey, people that have changed our lives. God is absolutely the builder of all things, and He has built the foundation for these wonderful friendships that will forever remain in my heart, even when we are thousands of miles away!

As I look forward to our next stop in Sweden, I am reminded again of God’s hand in our lives. 17 years ago I left Arizona to participate in an Exchange Program with ASU and headed to Vancouver, BC Canada for six months. Once I arrived in my dorm, I met Hanne and Melissa (she is now living outside of Vancouver with her husband and kids). Hanne was our adopted roommate (she didn’t technically live with us, but may as well had). Hanne (and Melissa) were in our wedding, and though we rarely see each other (this is the 4th time in 17 years), I hold so much love for this person. She will always be a part of my life and I know that God brought us together 17 years ago, just as He is going to bring us together again on Friday in Sweden. I am beyond excited and I think the anticipation of seeing her is helping with the sadness of our year coming to an end.

Tuesday May 28th, 2019

Proverbs 24:3-4  By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

We had a very nice day, and a busy one to boot.  Anjali’s foot was not looking any better since we saw the doctor last week so we decided to see about getting an x-ray done to rule out a break.  Fortunately one of the therapists at the hospital was willing to help us out so Sara and Anjali awoke early and made the long walk to the hospital.  I stayed back with David and Luci to get them somewhat ready for the day as well as myself since I was scheduled to work the morning baby shift. It is a great relief to know that I can leave my 10 and 6 year old at home to fend for themselves.  I knew they would likely be glued to the screen while Sara and I were gone but at least they would be safe.  As I headed out the door I got the text from Sara that Anjali was unbroken and that they would be staying at the support center to do some sorting until Anjali left for Budila for the after school program and Sara left for a massage.

The shift was fairly normal.  We had four volunteers working so we quickly knocked out the diaper run and then moved on to snuggling.  “Unfortunately” we only had three babies on each floor so we had to set up a baby snuggling rotation.  With the volunteer saturation and limited baby resources I volunteered to end my shift a little early as my standing around and not holding a baby was pretty much useless.  I ran into Anjali as she was heading off to Budila, helped move a few boxes, and then made my way home to check on the younger kids.  As expected they had set up shop in our room with a makeshift bed on the floor and their faces pressed to the computer screen watching cartoons.  I let them finish the episode and then kicked them off so they could interact with the real world again.  They did a great job transitioning to lunch and outside play which can be a real feat sometimes.  Sara and I later met up for grocery shopping for our dinner plans with our downstairs neighbors and then it was time to host the meal.

We have really enjoyed our neighbors and both Sara and I wished we could have spent more time with them.  With busy schedules on both sides that always made it tough but we enjoyed the few times we all got together and today was no exception.  The kids played outside after a good meal and the adults got to visit over some wine.  All in all a very relaxing and pleasant evening which was capped off by some very loud and energetic overnight thunderstorms.

 

Saturday May 25, 2019

1 Peter 1:8-9 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We woke this morning with a sense of peace with the decision to leave Braşov on Friday. As it has been in the past, as soon as we made this decision (or finally decide to follow God’s path), everything falls into place. Even though it is not ideal, we now have a plan and I feel a sense of relief. We booked our flights to Copenhagen and made the necessary arrangements to make it to Karlskrona, Sweden to visit a college friend of mine. I am beyond excited to see her and spend some time with her. And even though our change of plans will reduce our time together, I am grateful they were able to work with us on this change, and I will be happy with whatever time we do get! From Sweden we will head to Germany to visit our friends in Schonebeck and then back to the States (AZ first and then WI). In all we should be back in the US around the 20th of June.

It is hard to think that we will be home a month early, and to be honest it makes me a bit sad. I think this is what made this decision so difficult; we felt that we had to finish this year because that is what we set out to do. But every door we encountered was closed and I think we finally realized that God was just telling us that our time was done. I don’t know why yet, but I am sure He will reveal His plan to us in due time.

As I read this scripture I do feel an “indescribably and glorious joy”, in part because even though it is difficult at times, both Jeff and I have always tried to be open to where God is leading us. And though it may take us a while to understand and see it, He continually reaffirms our faith by being patient with us and then opening the doors to the path He wants us to walk. My faith and relationship with God has grown so much over this year. All of the times I felt stressed or overwhelmed, He was always the foundation for why we were doing this, and with God at the center, everything we did had purpose and filled us with this indescribable and glorious joy to which Peter is referring. I am so thankful that God provided us with the courage and the fortitude to complete this journey, even if it wasn’t the full year we set out to do, both Jeff and I feel that we have honored God in everything and pray that this is not the end, but only the beginning of many journeys yet to come.

On a totally different note, tonight we had dinner with Katie and Calah (our rescheduled dinner from Thursday). Jeff and I worked together to make one of our favorite meals from India, Chicken Korma with chipatis and chutney. This dinner was definitely our best effort thus far, it turned out so amazing. On top of that, we got to spend the evening with Katie who was leaving Romania on Tuesday and with Calah as we leave on Friday. We felt very blessed to have worked alongside Katie for the last 3 months and Calah for the last 2 months. They have both been so kind and welcoming to our family and we are going to miss them both, though hopefully our paths will cross again sometime in the future.