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.

Calah with all but Jeff
The Cato and Hayes kids
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.

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.

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.

Tuesday May 14, 2019

Exodus 17:12 But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.

I honestly could not think of how to relate this scripture reading to the crazy day that occurred, but as I read the scripture before this passage, I understood immediately. So here it is:

Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:9-13)

Let me start with the day today. I woke up to an email this morning from the apartment complex we were hoping to rent upon our return to Madison apologizing for missing the fact that there were 5 of us (which was clearly listed on the application), but they could not rent to us because we exceeded their occupancy rate. So now we are back to square one. We really wanted to get the kids back into the same school, but honestly after this morning, I am not very confident with this plan. There are very few 3 bedroom apartments in the area and the ones that are there are really expensive, well above our budget. So I reached out to our neighborhood to see if anyone knew of a house for rent starting August 1. I put my phone down and didn’t look at it again for a while.

Jeff headed to the hospital while I stayed with the kids and had them complete an assessment to gauge where they were with their common core standards. We all were pleased to see that all 3 children were testing well above their grade level and all had improved from the beginning of this journey. It was definitely a win for everyone, because the homeschooling aspect of this year has been exhausting for all of us! The kids have all agreed to do a small amount of math practice each day, as well as reading (which is never a problem because they all get lost in books easily!). A definite win in my book–official school for the Hayes kids is done!!

Jeff got home from the hospital and I would love to say that we had a pretty mellow afternoon, which everyone did but me. My day was full of ups and then downs and then ups again. It was an exhausting rollercoaster. I completed my yoga practice and while trying to catch my breath again I snuck a peek at my phone and found that I had several comments on my post about an apartment, one that was a listing on Craigslist that would be just what we wanted–a 3 bedroom in our price range and in the same school boundaries! I was thrilled. I messaged him back and after a bit of back and forth, disappointment again….they needed a renter now and can’t wait until an Aug 1 lease. Sigh……Back to the drawing board again.

I am finding it so hard to not get overly excited at each and every opportunity to pin down our future, but I am regularly finding that by doing this I am also experiencing regular disappointment, which is only making the anxiety and uncertainty worse. Thankfully I have Jeff to help keep my arms up and to regularly remind me that God has a plan for us and that this is all part of it. We may not be able to see it now, but He is fighting for us and He is preparing a way, we just have to be patient and trust in Him. I am so grateful for his reminders (and I am needing them much more often recently), but without fail, Jeff is there to prop me up on a rock and hold up my arms. I am not in this journey alone. I have a wonderful husband to help me find my faith in God and show me how to trust in His ways. Just like this scripture, we all need people around us to support us and sometimes hold us up when we are weak, but that is part of being a child of God; we are all in this together and need each other every day as we live out our faith in God.

Tuesday May 7, 2019

Joel 2:23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.

As I read this scripture, all I can think about is our hope and promise for the future that God will provide.

Today Jeff and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. It often seems surreal that we are spending our anniversary in Brasov, Romania after traveling the last 10 months volunteering and serving God’s children around the world. Jeff took the morning shift at the hospital while I stayed back with the kids and to finish my yoga. My anniversary gift to Jeff was to go and see the new Avengers:End Game movie at the theater with the kids. We decided that if the kids were going to enjoy the movie and understand what was happening, they would need to watch the previous Avengers movie, so they did that this morning while I did my yoga practice. We met Jeff at the hospital and headed to the mall for lunch and a movie.

The movie was wonderful and I think the kids enjoyed it, as did Jeff. We got the kids home and had plans of getting them settled with dinner and then the two of us heading out to dinner alone. However, we decided to go to dinner tomorrow night because things were going to be so rushed and we had to get started so late into the evening. Boy was this a good idea.

Anjali has been losing the battle with her allergies lately and for whatever reason, she got very angry and upset when we asked her to eat her dinner. Unfortunately, she has not quite learned the beauty of good communication. Well, she got angry, Jeff got angry, and before I knew what was happening World War III occurred inside our small little apartment. Things escalated and everyone was upset; the whole night went down the drain.

Jeff went for a walk to calm down, no doubt completely frustrated by Anjali’s attitude and snarky mouth, Anjali was upset because she was not feeling like she was being listened to and wanted to make her own decisions, and I was going back and forth completely lost and understanding both sides. Anjali has quite a mouth on her and very often puts herself first and tells the rest of us to take a hike because she can care less what we think or feel, and Jeff (just as I am) is sick of it–she doesn’t get to treat others (especially her parents) this way with no consequence.

This is such a hard situation. But as I sat up unable to sleep tonight, I realized that Anjali is still very much a child who is only starting to look like a young adult. She is still learning how to handle the complex emotions coursing through her and she needs us to guide her, even if she says she doesn’t (she is regularly telling us that she doesn’t need our help). I can remember being her age and that feeling of just being lost. You so desperately want to grow up, but there are so many times that you act like a silly little child and when you do, it frustrates the hell out of you! She is totally caught in the middle of the pendulum between a child and teenager, and it sucks for all of us. But I keep thinking that there has to be a way for all of us to embrace these emotions, own them, name them, and learn to respect and handle them. I don’t know how yet, other than being the calm voice of reason when she flies off the handle.

Anjali sat up with me for a bit and we had a nice talk about how she needs to work on communicating better with Jeff and I about what she is needing and feeling, and I will work on staying calm and being a better example to her of how to handle emotions. Jeff may have been the one who lost his temper this time, but I have had my fair share of moments where I was the one who went berserk. Parenting during this time is quite challenging, but I know with God’s help and grace we will all make it through it successfully and without killing each other!

Here are a few pictures of our free noon date on Saturday!

Wednesday March 27, 2019

“The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

John, chapter 1.  The Gospel’s version of Genesis perhaps.  “In the beginning…”  Beginnings mean hope, optimism, freedom, courage, and opportunity.  This year has been about beginnings every day.  With each new day we have a new opportunity to make an impact, to show God’s love reflected in not just our words but in our actions.  Today was certainly no different.

I had the morning shift at the hospital with Katie and Calah.  We are very fortunate that Calah has come back as we had 9 babies on just one floor alone.  We were also fortunate that the nursing students are on rotation this month as we had another 5 babies on another floor with whom they were able to spend time.

All in all it worked out okay as we rotated nicely through but it reminded me that every day we face uncertainty about what we will find, be it in the hospital or anywhere else.  This uncertainty though is a true blessing because it means that every day we have an opportunity to employ the grace and truth given to us by Jesus.  I came across a post on Facebook about the great Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.  The short video relates that Bear always had a poem in his jacket pocket that he read every day.  One of those poems reads as follows:


Following my shift Sara and I met up in the Support Center where she and the kids were busily making baby bundles.  We wrapped up this week’s requirement and then I walked the kids home.  Sara ended up taking on the newborn feeding shift and then came home late that afternoon.  While we prepped dinner the concept of beginnings took root as we discussed future plans, jobs, locations, family.  What I found most exciting and energizing was that despite all the uncertainty of what tomorrow might look like, we both faced it without fear or apprehension.  I was also so amazed and inspired by my children.  When we talked with them about some of our thoughts they rose to the occasion and recognized that they could make sacrifices too for others and that those sacrifices would be worth every second of hardship for the love that they would reflect.  We all understood that we were well equipped by God’s law, grace, and mercy.

We realized that while the opportunity was great, there would be a cost.  But the price we pay is negligible next to the price paid by Jesus for us.  There is no monetary cost nor inconvenience that I can imagine that could compare.  I am so thankful that the Lord called to Sara and me and asked us to take up this mission.  I am not sure what the results will be but I am certain that I am more prepared than ever in my life to make the most of each and every day and to do it with the grace and truth that Jesus gave to us all.

Tuesday March 5, 2019

Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but those who hate to be rebuked are stupid.

We all woke up rested today, though I expect we will need a couple days to fully recover from the long day of traveling from Sri Lanka to Romania. The city of Brasov makes a wonderful first impression. Folks have been very kind to us and I absolutely love that you can almost feel the long history within the walls. We decided to explore what will be our new home for the next two months, so we took a short walk down to the city center where we found a pedestrian street (what could be two lanes of cars) filled with cafes, restaurants, and more shops than you can imagine. It is a beautiful sight to see this old city with the Carpathian Mountains in the background and as we walked around today I found myself looking forward to the hiking trails to come as we explore the mountains shadowing this city.

On our walk to Strada Republicii
The steps outside our apartment

Today I heard some great news from home, my grandmother seems to be making some improvements in her health. For the first time in weeks she was up and walking around the rehabilitation center and actually walked more today than she has combined over the last few months. This is good news and I am so happy that her health seems to be improving. Our God is a great God.

We enjoyed a nice pre-lunch snack of strudels, a pretzel, and a muffin, which we all devoured before we stopped in to an optometrist where I was able to order some new prescription sunglasses (I set mine down at the turtle sanctuary to retrieve something out of one of the tanks and they were stolen or they fell off my head in the ocean–I really can’t be sure!). After getting an eye exam for Anjali to be sure her prescription was accurate we had lunch in a Serbian inspired tavern. This also sparked our first attempt at a recording for the new YouTube series. There is nothing to show for it yet, but it at least gave us a starting point and some seriously silly kids who didn’t know what to do or how to act.

Once we got home our kids wanted to go straight to their tablets, but we were able to divert them outside to play with the kids that live below us. All we could hear from inside the apartment was the screams and laughter coming from 6 children happily playing together for the first time. The kids finally came in around 6, we ate dinner, showered the kids, and shooed them off to bed. It was a wonderful first day in Brasov.

Monday March 4, 2019

Psalm 68:35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Jeff prepares to head out for the airport. Yes, he is wearing a man skirt. And it is awesome.

Power and strength, we needed that in spades today.  As has been the case with nearly every time we have moved on to our next destination our travel arrangements have been, well let’s say “budget”.  When you travel with five people costs are already high but flying adds a whole new level of expense.  As a result we have been doing our due diligence in finding the most economical route at every opportunity.  The trip from Sri Lanka to Romania was no different.

The journey commenced at 2:40 this morning, an hour after scheduled departure which for an average adult would mean more time sipping cordials at the bar, but for us meant doing everything within our power to keep our three children from losing their collective minds.  At any given moment each one was within a nanosecond of utter meltdown which, in an international terminal, is not ideal.  Sara and I exuded patience at a level heretofore unseen on this journey as we expertly, and with a strong dose of God’s grace, managed to keep all three kids awake and sort of happy to get on the airplane.

Our Herculean efforts were rewarded with an upgrade to first class!  Hah, right.  No, we sidled into our economy seating which just happened to be one row in front of the exit row.  Oh happy day, we have no reclining seats!  “Lord grant me the strength to survive this flight.”  Sara and I split up.  She took the middle seat and allowed Luci and David to law down on her lap. I took Anjali who started off on me and then somehow migrated to the poor gentleman in the window.  As he was asleep he didn’t seem to mind or notice that he had a head pressed against his arm.  Sara and I took turns dozing and abruptly awakening as our bodies would suddenly lurch forward what with sitting at a 90 degree angle.  You know the feeling, you start to fall asleep and as your muscles finally concede to rest your body lurches forward uncontrollably whereby instinct kicks in and you rouse yourself just in time in a violent spasm.  You pretend like you meant to jerk your whole body awake and look around to see who saw only to find your spouse staring back at you with the look of utter sadness at her own understanding of your struggle.  To sum up, the kids slept, we did not.

We arrived in Dubai, chipper as Robins in spring.  Or we slogged off the airplane looking like we had just gone on an all night bender and pub crawled our way from Sri Lanka to the UAE.  Either way we made our way out and then navigated the Dubai airport which by all measures is the size of a medium sized city.  The bus ride from our terminal to the connections was twenty minutes, with no stops.  We did manage to get some views of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which was kind of cool but otherwise standing on a lurching bus was not exactly what I was looking forward to at that point.  Arriving at our terminal we made the seven mile walk, or so, to our gate whereupon we sat and had some well deserved breakfast.  Fortunately our layover was short so Sara and I mustered the energy to entertain the kids and keep from drooling on ourselves as we flagged from exhaustion.  On to the next flight, we had another five hours to Bucharest and lo and behold, no upgrade to first class.  But we were not near an exit row so mercifully our seats would recline.  Of course in the economy section that means you go from a 90 degree angle to roughly 87.  As I got Anjali and Luci ready to take some extra naps I was treated to the lovely thudding as the kind gentleman behind me decided that my seat was apparently his own personal drum set.  I was too exhausted to care and I managed to doze intermittently.

Fast forward and we land in Bucharest.  We fly through immigration, bag check, and customs and meet our driver within minutes.  By far this was the fastest we have gone from flight to exit at any airport, except maybe Berlin, but not by much.  After a slight meltdown from Luci we were on our way to Brasov, a short two hour drive.  As we progressed out of the city and into the surrounding countryside and mountains we could not help but notice the similarity between this country and our home in Madison.  Though the mountains are noticeably taller, the trees, the homes, the feel was very Midwest.

We arrived at our new apartment and felt the overwhelming sense of peace as we reached our destination.  I think that the reading for the day is so appropriate as we started this new service opportunity as it reflects that God has given us strength to start over each and every time.  At each stop we did not know what we would encounter.  How would we live?  Would we have enough room?  Would we be able to communicate?  But we always faithfully put our trust in God and each and every time we have been rewarded tenfold.  I already love this place, and maybe that is the lack of sleep speaking, but more likely it is the grace of God.  Everywhere is His sanctuary and so everywhere we are we get to be in His awesome place.  We are so blessed to inherit this gift and I am so thankful for the strength he gives us to live it.

Thursday February 28, 2019

Romans 12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord

Be strong, serve.  It seems a rather redundant reading considering the fact that we are on this trip with that sole purpose in mind.  But I find myself thinking about this notion as we wrap up our last day of turtle tank cleaning.  This has been by no means my favorite task since we set out in July last year.  I have not been particularly fond of getting covered in green algal goo, turtle excrement, and leftover frozen fish bits.  But as we conclude our service time here in Sri Lanka I am also acutely aware of how fun I truly have had.  I will carry with me the memory of a sea turtle who in only a few days has recognized me and my family and will surface in order that she might get her daily dose of shell scratches.  I will always remember the feeling of turtle hatchlings wrapping their tiny flippers around my fingers as I picked them up out of their temporary home to set them free on an sandy beach as they headed out into the world.  I will never forget my hope that each and every one would defy nature and grow old and come back again to make new nests.  As I scrub away at the algal growth and try to avert my senses from the overpowering waft of turtle, sea, and fish, I am reminded of that zeal.

It is hard to serve to be sure but it is harder I think to sit by and do nothing.  When you see a need and do nothing I think you realize that you have missed an opportunity and your heart aches to get that chance back.  Deep down I wonder if that is why so many people are disheartened, depressed, or feel so much less worth than they deserve.  The solution is not a life changing hiatus from work and a year abroad, though that has done me a world of good.  It is simply recognizing that the opportunity to serve is always there and that working in the service of God is the most fulfilling task you can do.  The worries of tomorrow are for tomorrow; for today, put your faith, your love, and your work in the hands of the Lord.