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.

Saturday April 6, 2019

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair

We had a great opportunity to join a “house party” with our neighbors this morning. The house in which we are staying is actually four different apartments. Our neighbors downstairs are a wonderful family with four children with whom our kids have made a quick friendship.  They seemingly have not stopped playing outside since we first arrived. We are in the middle apartment and on the top floor are two one-bedroom apartments for two long-term FFR volunteers, Katie and Calah. So our brunch this morning was truly a “house party”, everyone in the house came together for fellowship and food. What a wonderful start to our day.

Afterwards we walked with the kids to Coresi Mall for some new shoes for David and Lucia. Jeff made the comment during our 40 minute walk that he was really wanting to enjoy the beautiful day by grilling outside and he was hoping to find a small grill at the mall. It was a successful afternoon of shopping; new shoes for David and Lucia and a new grill for dad! Our last stop for the day was to the grocery store for some charcoal and our meat for dinner.

It was such a beautiful day, and not just the amazing weather! Though I am still plowing through this internal struggle for control, I am finding that I am consciously reminding myself to let go. It hasn’t happened yet, but I am hopeful that the constant reminder from scripture, from Jeff, and through prayer I will get there. As Jeff and I were talking (after putting the kids to bed), I read today’s scripture and just had to laugh out loud. Paul is reminding us that by following God we do not eliminate afflictions or trials, but rather that we will not be destroyed by them. This was comical given the fact that Jeff had just made the brilliant point that I am a list maker who desires to be able to check off completed tasks and that most of my frustration/anxiety/fear/uncertainty (call it what you will) is caused by the fact that God hasn’t given me my new “list” yet. This too made me laugh because it could not be more true. I realized that in my head this journey was a 12-month journey and I have checked off August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and March already, but am getting antsy for the new list because all that is left on my first list is April, May, and June! But of course my husband politely and gently reminded me that God did not give us the timeframe of 12 months, we did and for now God still needs us to finish our tasks of April, May, and June before we can move on to the next. I love my husband so much and I am still amazed that there are many times that he knows me better than I do. This was very obvious to him and I am sure he has even said this to me before now, but this time it actually made sense. I love these conversations I get to have with him because he is always challenging me to see things from a different perspective. His faith in God is so amazing and I love that we are on this journey together. I can remember sitting back in our house in Madison, Wisconsin having a similar conversation with him, but that time our roles were reversed! God has brought us together to strengthen each other during the times we are weak and I am amazed how much we are able to balance each other; when one is struggling the other is standing firm in their faith. “Faith and doubt aren’t opposites: they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.” (Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God). So I guess Jeff and I are just dancing our hearts out throughout this journey and I hope and pray that it continues for the rest of our lives.

Friday March 29, 2019

Philippians 1:6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Today’s scripture is a terrific reminder of how God isn’t finished with us yet. He will always finish His work in us and it is yet another way He is affirming to me that I need to be patient. The recent themes of patience, God’s timing, and His plan has been redundant over the last few weeks, but I am pretty confident that is because I have needed the reminders and the affirmation that He does have a plan for me and my family. I do like this idea that He is not done working in me yet, probably because it is so simple. With all of the possibilities that we tossed up in the air recently He has a plan for every piece of it and when He does reveal it, it will be awesome and wonderful and full of blessings.

I stayed back with the kids today to teach while Jeff headed to the hospital for some baby time. Our kids have had a marked change in their efforts with school recently and I have a feeling being around so many other kids that are homeschooled gave them a new perspective and a new energy to finish out this school year strong. They have had their moments, don’t get me wrong, but overall they are doing great and are all set to finish their grade level (well, Lucia actually will be finishing 1st grade since she has already completed Kindergarten) by the end of May, if not sooner. I am so thankful for the homeschooling families around us here because their impact on our kids has been so powerful and positive.

Jeff came home after the morning shift and had lunch with us and then we both headed back up to the hospital to feed the newborns. This was the first time we have worked together and it was so much fun. I love spending time with him, especially when it is just the two of us because I am always laughing and having a great time. We made it home to find all three children buried in their screens, but they were quickly shooed outside to play which led to the screams and laughter of many children until everyone returned home for dinner.

I feel rejuvenated despite the loss of my grandmother, which at first seems very odd, but as I reflect on this scripture I think it is because I know He is not done yet. This is definitely a difficult curve in our path, but there is a comfort in knowing that this is all part of His plan. I also think I am comforted in knowing that His plan for my grandmother was to bring her home to be with Him. Her time here with us was done and He finished His work within her, so she went home. God only fulfilled His promise to her. This a very comforting scripture when I am able to apply it to my life, but it is even more so when I put it in the context of my grandmother’s life. God will never leave us and He will always care for us, until His work in us is done and we go home to be with Him.

Friday February 8, 2019

Daniel 2:23 To you, O God of my ancestors, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and power, and have now revealed to me what we asked of you, for you have revealed to us what the king ordered.”

We got up this morning and did a very small bit of school with the kids and then headed out to Fremantle about 35-40 minutes away. I was very much looking forward to seeing this old port town. We did some shopping and enjoyed walking up and down the beach and touristy shops. I found a new pair of sandals that I was desperately needing and we all found some fun souvenirs from Perth. We enjoyed a nice lunch right in the bay with a beautiful ocean view and then finished our day with a tour of the shipwreck museum and some ice cream. We headed home for some showers and dinner. It really was a wonderful afternoon with only a few arguments and tantrums. I thoroughly enjoyed the day today and loved the town of Fremantle, though I am still grateful that we are staying outside of the city in our quiet little town of Ocean Reef.

Driving home the kids were so wound up, yelling and playing loudly in the car, and after about 20 minutes I couldn’t take it any more and asked them to quiet down, but as soon as I did I could feel an immediate shift in the atmosphere. You could actually taste the tension in the car and I instantly regretted saying anything at all. They really were not doing anything bad, just being loud and obnoxious kids (basically they were being irritating). Had I just kept my irritation to myself, the mood of the car would have stayed the playful and happy atmosphere. I kicked myself for my lack of patience and vowed to try harder to allow my kids to just be kids.

My poor choice in the car was quickly forgotten when we arrived at the beach with the boogie board and this time we brought the phones for pictures!

Sunday January 27, 2019

James 1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

We arrived in Singapore early this morning and as soon as we walked outside the first thing out of Anjali’s mouth was “holy cow it is clean here! Even the streets are clean!” It was a nice change to drive in a car without hearing the blaring horns and without seeing tons of motorbikes and cars (granted, it was 7:00 am on a Sunday). This moment of our year marks the halfway point. We have been volunteering for the last 6 months and while we didn’t plan for this long of a vacation, here we are. Just as a recap, our hope was to stay in India until we had to be in Sri Lanka on Feb 17, but we could not get our Visa for more than 60 days. So here we are, ready to enjoy a long vacation. I keep reminding myself that this whole journey is God’s plan, not mine and as much as I would rather be serving and working, this may be what our family needs; a bit of reconnection and focus before we begin the back-end of this year.

Before leaving Germany, when we realized that we were not going to be able to stay in India until Feb 15, we gave the kids a project–plan our vacation. They unanimously decided on Australia (actually New Zealand initially, but we couldn’t make that happen), so we are headed to Perth. But as we were looking at airline tickets we quickly realized that the flights were long, the layovers long, and just all-around not conducive to traveling with kids. So we decided to make use of the layovers and break up the travel to Australia into sections. Singapore is our first stop, with main focus being Universal Studios on Sentosa Island. We are only here for 2 nights; long enough to get some rest before and after Universal Studios and to see a bit of Singapore. While we got rest, we did not get to see much of Singapore since we pretty much stayed on Sentosa Island.

Today we made a grievous error, we broke the number one rule when traveling overnight–do NOT take a nap that first day. You should stay awake and go to bed as close to a reasonable hour as possible in order to help your body adjust. But I guess we were all so tired and needed some rest. After our rest we ventured into Sentosa for some beachside lunch. After eating, the kids played in the surf while Jeff and I enjoyed a drink beachside! It was superb.

The kids, especially Lucia, got completely soaked playing in the surf. Thankfully it was warm

outside so she was able to dry quickly. They had so much fun playing together and just being kids.

It was a beautiful sight!

Here are some pretty pictures exploring Sentosa Island.

After some exploring we let the kids do some swimming at the hotel before heading out for some dinner and wrapping up our first day here.

It was a great day, though Jeff and I learned that everything on Sentosa Island closes at 9:00 pm. It’s like the whole island shuts down-no bars, no restaurants, and no people. It was almost eerie to be walking around the island with no one else around you.

Sentosa Island is beautiful and clean with tons of shopping opportunities. This place reminds me a lot of Vegas, but the difference is that Vegas doesn’t sleep and Sentosa has a 9:00 bedtime! This place is perfect for the family, just be ready to spend some money-everything is expensive!

Thursday January 17, 2019

Matthew 5:43-46 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

I made some progress today and completed two of the 3 cabinets I have been working on over the last couple of days. It is so nice to see the work paying off in some kind of organization, plus kids have been coming to me for these supplies (Katie is still on vacation) and I can actually find what they need quickly.

Our plan to leave on Jan 26 and fly from Pantnagar to Delhi was disrupted when we learned today that our flight was cancelled and we needed to hire a car to drive us to Delhi. After a quick discussion with Uncle Rick, we decided to leave on Friday instead of Saturday. Saturday, Jan 26 is actually Republic Day here, which is a major holiday and probably the reason our flight was cancelled. If we leave on Saturday we may find it difficult to get to Delhi in time for our 9:45 pm flight, so we quickly booked a hotel for Friday night near the airport and hired a car to leave right after breakfast on Friday morning January 25. I am so sad to leave here, even just a day sooner than we planned. This place has brought me so much joy and I have loved being part of this beautiful family that it is going to make it very difficult to leave.

Jeff did a great job contacting Air India to coordinate and get the refund processing for our cancelled flights.

We also spent some time this evening dealing with the insurance company regarding our immunizations. After a call to UW Hospitals to find out that the insurance company has still denied the claims, I spent another 2 hours on the phone tonight to only find out that I had to call back tomorrow to get this resolved. They have still denied 4 out of the 6 claims for the kids’ travel shots, all for the same reasons, they were considering the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine investigatory. This is so frustrating. I spoke with a supervisor back on December 28 who looked at all the claims and confirmed with the medical review team that all 6 claims would be covered at 100% and payment out to the provider in 2 weeks. Of course when I called BCBS I found out that the supervisor had made notes stating just this, but because this had to be resolved and fixed by a supervisor and all of the supervisors were in a meeting, I had to call back again tomorrow. I was informed that David and Anjali’s first claim was paid out and the check should be to the provider shortly, but there was a problem with the processing of Lucia’s claim. This was something the rep could fix, so that claim will also be paid out in full. But we are still waiting on the 3 claims from June 5, 2018 for all 3 kids. I will be so happy when this is all completed and paid out in full.

Monday January 14, 2019

Colossians 4:5-6 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Happy Birthday, Dad! This is one of the difficult things about doing this journey away from family and missing events like this, but we were able to do a FaceTime with my dad and wish him a happy birthday from India.

We ended up having a fair amount of pancake mix leftover from our breakfast feast yesterday so we were able to help the girls make a pancake snack for all of the school kids. This meant that I spent another 2 hours making pancakes over the fire. And while this task was smokey, it was a lot of fun to hang out and laugh with all of the big girls. We had a lot of fun and I am really going to miss this time with them. These girls work so hard cooking all the food their brothers and sisters, as well for us volunteers. Jeff and I have really enjoyed helping them in the mornings, learning how to cook the porridge and Chai tea, as well as helping wash the dishes after the meals. This time with them also included laughter and silliness while getting the work done, because let’s face it, work is so much better when you are having fun!

Our kids did a pretty good job with school work today. It is so hit and miss with them, and while 2 may be doing well there is usually one who doesn’t want to do the work. It is really frustrating, but this is just how it goes.