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.

Sunday June 16, 2019

Psalm 73:23-28 Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.

We were stirred this morning by the beautiful bells of St. Jakobi Kirche bright and early. I will miss these bells. I am not sure why, but they give me comfort and peace, though I do wish they were a bit later than 6:30 am! We enjoyed a nice breakfast and then made the long 30 second walk down the stairs to church. It was nice to be in this church again, but I am also excited to get back to our church in Madison, where I understand what is going on during the service. Jeff helped Johannes after the service today and then I took all the kids to Susi and Renee. They were gracious enough to have our children over for dinner tonight so Jeff and I could attend a concert at the church without being interrupted by misbehaving kids!

Jeff and I have talked a lot about going back to the States. I will be honest, I have been hoping and wishing and praying for God to lead me down a different path, but He has not yet; as of now, all paths lead to Madison. So that is where we will go. I will say that it is comforting knowing that we now have a place to live when we return, but there is still so much up in the air. Not to mention that pain in my heart knowing that tomorrow we are leaving these wonderful people and this beautiful place that has brought us so much joy. We have one more day to enjoy them and I know that this time goodbye is going to much more difficult.

As I look around at our belongings, I have such a wide range of emotions. I am so relieved that this is all we have because I know I can pack it up in a couple of hours. And yet, I know that by packing everything up we are going to have to say, yet another goodbye. I am not sure who said this to me, but it is very fitting as we close out this year, we have had a year of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’. God has put people in our lives that have made a lasting impact on us and I am so grateful for the ‘hellos’ to these beautiful people and then the heartbreak of the ‘goodbyes’ is always too soon, but the ‘goodbyes’ always lead to another ‘hello’. It is an amazing cycle that is wonderful and difficult at the same time. Tomorrow we say ‘goodbye’ to Schonebeck’ and then hello to our family in Arizona. For tonight, this will be all. I will do my best to put my faith in God and his way. I will work hard to trust in His path, even if it is not what I would choose.

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.

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:

poem

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.