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.

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.

Friday April 12, 2019

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us

I had another afternoon shift at the hospital today, so I was able to spend the morning with the kids doing schoolwork. Jeff was there for most of the morning, but he did take off on a long run as he prepares for the half-marathon next weekend. I had to leave the kids before he got home, but thankfully 95% of their schoolwork was done by that point. We also decided that we would go out for dinner tonight. This would be a nice opportunity for some family time before I left for 5 days.

My shift went very well. I am so happy for the opportunity to work with Romanian students both yesterday and today. FFR has gained 4 new volunteers that live in Brasov locally, which is a huge resource. It is so wonderful to see these children respond to them. They are able to talk to the children in their native language, as well as gather information from the nursing staff much easier.

There was a moment of bittersweetness today. Though the children did not scream and cry as they have the last several shifts, I noticed that one of the children no longer had a port for medication, which usually means they will be leaving the hospital soon. My heart is so happy that he is getting healthy and will no longer be in the hospital, but I will be honest, I am worried about where he will go. We are not given a lot of specific information about these children, mainly because we don’t really need to know, but I have been told how much difficulty they have had finding a placement for this little boy who potentially has an infectious illness. My worry is that he will not be going to a home, but rather to another hospital facility where he will not be able to get the love and attention he deserves. I just need to have faith that he is in God’s hands and that he will be safe and loved wherever he goes. He is a little charmer and I have seen first hand how he is able to steal the heart of anyone whom he meets. With all of this, I said my goodbye to him because I don’t know if he will be there when I get back next Friday. It was difficult to say goodbye to all of these children because if all works out, they will get healthy and will not longer need to stay in the hospital, which means they won’t be there when I get return.

After my shift I got home to some very happy children. We walked down to the square where we ate a wonderful dinner at Da Vinci, a nice Italian Restaurant that was highly recommended by every volunteer we have met. The food, wine, and service were spectacular and it was such a wonderful evening with the kids. We all enjoyed a Kurtos on our walk home. It was a beautiful night that ended with a snuggle fest in our bed while we watched Paddington. It was the perfect way to spend an evening with my family. I will miss them so much while I am gone. We have all been together non-stop, 24 hours a day/7 days a week, since we left the US at the end of July 2018. I haven’t even left and I am already missing them. So I just soaked in all that I could from tonight.

We put them to bed and I finished my last minute packing. I fell asleep at 12:30 and Jeff was kind enough to wake me up at 1:10 so I could gather everything up and meet my driver outside at 1:30 am for the 3 hour drive to Bucharest.

Lord give me strength and perseverance as I embark on this long journey back to the US.

Friday March 1, 2019

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Today was an interesting day to say the least. Similar to last Friday, today we were inundated with school field trips, which meant countless children (and adults) failing to follow the rules of keeping their hands out of the tanks, but also a bit of inappropriate and rude catcalls from some older boys. Since we were leaving this afternoon, we decided that only one of us would dig holes in the sand as to keep the dirty laundry to a minimum and I was happy to do the work. So as I am on my hands and knees digging holes the length of my arm, these boys seemed to enjoy the show and were happy to let me know. It was pretty easy at first to ignore them and just chalk it up to boys being boys, but after a while I had had enough. I think what bothered me more than anything was that the chaperones didn’t seem to think this was a problem and this was all done in front of my 11 year old daughter. I attempted to ask them to leave using exaggerated gestures but it seemed to get lost in translation (or they just didn’t care). I tried to ask Madu, the staff person, to help remove the boys from the area, but the language barrier proved to be a problem (I am confident that he just didn’t know what I was saying or asking him to do). So plan B, I had David get Jeff so he could stand in front of me to block their view. I was not about to leave my job unfinished because of these kids, but I was also getting sick of listening to them.

Nonetheless, it was also a great opportunity to rise above the disrespect and rudeness of these kids to finish the job that Christ led me to complete. I was able to talk with Anjali about how inappropriate their actions were and that it was okay to ask for help, just as I did by having Jeff come stand between me and the culprits. Anjali tried to play it off like it was no big deal, which in reality it wasn’t, but I wanted her to see that it is okay to stand up for yourself and it is important to ask for help when you need it. I needed Jeff there to shield me because I had work to finish and couldn’t abandon my responsibilities. Once I finished clearing the nests, all was well and that group of kids left and was replaced by younger and more respectful children.

I definitely did not appreciate the behavior of these boys, but I will say that because of Christ they are not condemned, rather, they have just been misguided, but as with all sin they will also be forgiven, by me and more importantly by Christ. They are still my brothers in Christ and just like any good family, we all get pissed at each from time to time and make mistakes. I am definitely not perfect in my life and definitely have my fair share of sin, but Christ made it possible for me to be forgiven and I know they will be too. I am so grateful and thankful for the sacrifices that God has made on my behalf, as well as the rest of my family. I am grateful that this journey has shown me that my family is more than just my husband, kids, parents, etc. but rather my family is everyone I meet; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are all saved through Him.

After lunch we said our goodbyes to all creatures, turtles and humans, and headed for Colombo.

 

Once we got to the hotel, the kids got settled watching movies while Jeff and I headed to grab some wine and a few snacks. After the kids went to bed, Jeff and I enjoyed a nice meal “out” (aka: downstairs in the lobby), but it was so nice to have a bit of a date night.

Wednesday February 27, 2019

Proverbs 19:8 To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to prosper.

Today was a day of goodbyes. We said goodbye to the loggerhead turtle at the sanctuary who had gotten sick and passed this morning. When we arrived yesterday she was definitely not well and thus a vet was called, but unfortunately they were all on strike. Dudley had found a vet that was willing to come check in on the turtle today, it was too late.

We also we had to say goodbye to Dudley, the project coordinator, who was leaving the country for work and since we decided to head back to Colombo on Friday and spend the weekend there before our crazy early flight on Monday (1:50 am), today would be the last time we were going to see him. He is such a welcoming and kind man and we are very grateful for the love and kindness he showed to us. Thank you Dudley for all you did for our family and for the opportunity to serve alongside your program, helping to give these turtles a fighting chance.

The kids with Dudley.

I have been thinking about ways to connect with my grandmother back in Arizona who is ill. I really wanted to talk with her, but her lung capacity was making that impossible. So we ended up making videos messages for her and I sent them to my dad to show to her. I am hoping that while I can’t be there with her, these video messages will be a way for her to connect directly with us even from afar. As much as I want to visit with her over the phone, I also don’t want to jeopardize her health and well-being, and this was the best solution I could come up with given the circumstances. It allowed me to speak directly to her and for her to see me and the rest of the family. I hope that these messages will bring her a bit of happiness and give her a way to feel closer to us even though we are far away. I want her to know how much we love her and how much we miss her.

Otherwise there really wasn’t much today. The kids did a really good job at the sanctuary. They all helped with burying eggs and clearing out the old nests. We all worked together as a team and it was wonderful. This afternoon we allowed the kids to play around in the pool instead of sitting at the sanctuary because there was nothing to do there. The kids played in the pool and had a great time while Jeff hung out with the turtles. And since we are heading to Colombo on Friday afternoon, we have some packing and organizing to do. Thankfully, packing up our stuff has gotten to be a bit routine and it really doesn’t take longer than a couple hours to pack everything up to move us to the next stop! I’ve got this down to a science. : )

 

Thursday February 14, 2019

Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

Happy Valentines Day (for those who celebrate–I am not one of them)! Today we spent the day getting organized and packed up to leave. The kids did a bit of school work and then helped me pack up. We ended up going to the beach one last time this afternoon, but only for about an hour. I am so glad we purchased that boogie board, it has given us many hours of fun at the beach. Today, while David was using it he caught a really big wave (the waves today were HUGE) and took the boogie board to his face. Thankfully it was nothing too serious, just a sore nose and a fat lip. He did a great job just shrugging it off, but it did end his desire to use the board any longer.

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After packing everything up we had dinner and a couple games of Mastermind before we sent the kids of to bed. Tomorrow will be a very long day and we start really early. We have a 6:50 am flight, which means that we have to be at the airport by 3:50 at the latest and leaving the house by 3:00 so we have time to return our rental car and still get checked in for our flight. I debated not going to bed at all because by the time I was ready to go to bed it was already midnight. Part of me wanted to just stay up, but I also knew that we had a long day ahead of us and any sleep would be better than none.