Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
We took great delight today as we were treated to another day of peace, quiet, and some amazing play amongst our children. Because we are on vacation Sara and I have let the kids more or less decide how to spend their days. They have spent countless hours already on the trampoline, playing battleship, and recently they discovered the pool and ping pong tables in Fellowship Hall. While Sara and I were working on resumes and blogs Anjali and Luci were busily preparing a show. Anjali wrote out several songs (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Down to the River to Pray, etc) which Luci would sing to us. The girls put on an excellent display amd we were amazed once again at the talent our kids can show.
Because Johannes was out of town for a meeting we decided to have dinner at home and then meet up with the Hofmanns and Birgit for an evening swim. Birgit found a different water hole from our trip last year which was more remote and peaceful. We were surrounded by a large wheat field which made for some pleasant scenery and an especially wonderful sunset. The kids (and adults) had an amazing evening just being in the moment and enjoying a nice cool swim.
Deuteronomy 6:5-7 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
Our first full day back in Schonebeck was relatively peaceful. In many ways it was just like every other day we spent the previous summer. We awoke, ate a light breakfast, and then headed out for errands. We decided today that we should make our way to Magdeburg to find some summer clothes for Luci and Anjali who were down to minimal options to say the least. We also thought we might make our way to the Dom de Magdeburg, the church in the city center, to see if we could get a better picture in the sunlight (our first photo occurred during a deluge).
While shopping went well we encountered some challenges during lunch. This was brought about in large part because of me. David has been excelling in Tae Kwon Do but Sara and I both believe that it is important for kids to branch out into other areas which would include team activities. Anjali had brought up her desire to get back to swim team and David remarked that he no longer wanted to be on the team. I casually remarked that he was fine to not be on swim team but that at some time he would need to join a team sport. What ensued could best be described as torture. He became frustrated and angry at the idea and threatened that he wouldn’t do anything at all which caused me to get fired up and threaten to force him. Needless to say this did not make for the best lunch and the walk to the church and subsequent photo were not ideal.
We got through it all with some open and honest communication and in the end, as it often does, time heals all. We made our way back to the train station and headed back to Schonebeck. The kids have always enjoyed riding the trains and this time was no different. We arrived in one piece and then decided to go get some gelato in the main square. The kids had made friends with the women who ran the shop and the ladies were very surprised and happy to see us back again. One of them literally did a double take on seeing us.
Later this evening we met up with friends for a nice meal and some conversation. These were never in short supply in Germany and we were thankful as always for it. Sara and I remarked to one another on the drive home how much we appreciated this year of giving and receiving. We truly owe God the greatest debt of gratitude.
Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
Over this past year people have told us how “brave” Jeff and I was for taking 3 children around the world to volunteer. Most of the time, we have truly enjoyed the experience, even in the struggles with behavior. By the end of the day today, Jeff made the comment that he now understands that very statement. Our children began fighting upon waking up and didn’t stop the rest of the day. We did make it out of the house to see a few sights, including the Speicherstadt (historic red brick warehouse buildings along the Elbe River) and Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (a modern concert hall atop a historic red brick warehouse). We enjoyed a nice lunch overlooking the Elbe River and had hopes of a nice day exploring this old and historic city.
But that didn’t last. Anjali didn’t complain about her foot at all in the morning, but as soon as she heard that we were going to walk for about 15-20 minutes to the next sight, she lost it; her foot was just hurting too bad to do that. Then David wanted to go home, but that made Anjali angry because he was “copying her”. Everything went downhill from there. We decided that we would take the kids home and give them a break (we were even going to give them their screens to play) while Jeff and I explored the city together. But those plans fell through too because the kids could not stop arguing and fighting. It was at this moment that Jeff and I decided to split up. One would go sightseeing and the other would stay home with the kids. Jeff needed a break from the kids, so I opted to stay with them, but the kids then decided they now wanted to explore! I can’t even begin to share with you the level of frustration from both Jeff and I, even Anjali’s foot was now feeling better. I wanted to scream, but since Jeff needed a break, he opted to now stay home and I would take the kids out exploring once again. This is why people tell us that we are “brave” to travel like this with kids!!
So the kids and I took off to see St. Nicholai church and then Rathaus (or city hall). We even took the elevator up to the top of the church and then down in the crypt museum where we learned all about the history of Hamburg and this church. It was incredible and really powerful.
View from the top of the tower at St. Nicholai Memorial Church with St. Michael’s Church in the Happy kids for the moment. An aerial view of the Rathaus from the top of St. Nicholai Rathaus fountain in the courtyard (Anjali didn’t want to be in the photo) David thought this was a cool door and frame. David and Lucia inside the Rathaus (Anjali standing beside me taking the picture) Looking away from the Rathaus in the city center. A group shot (with Anjali) in front of the Rathaus. One silly family.
After an hour or so of exploring the kids were again done, but this time were kind enough to just say so and not completely blow a gasket, so we headed home. Jeff was feeling a bit rested and we both decided that we wanted to go explore more, but this time without the children. They seemed to have calmed down and no one was fighting. So we did a very responsible parenting thing, we gave them their screens, knowing that it would buy us a couple hours of entertainment, and bolted from the apartment.
Jeff and I walked to the Saint Pauli Elbtunnel. This tunnel was built in 4 years to support the mass of harbor workers and took you across the Elbe River. We walked this tunnel both ways and while it was pretty cool to walk under the river, I think we were just enjoying the company of each other without the distractions of children. From here we walked along the Elbe over to St. Nicholai Memorial Church and the Rathaus. It was a very relaxing afternoon, in spite of the stressful and frustrating morning.
One of the many Harbor Bridges near the tunnel. A selfie overlooking the harbor. St. Nicholai Memorial Church
We went home to check on the kids, thankful they were not fighting like cats and dogs. Though shortly after coming home and the turning the screens off, they were at it again. Dinner out was never going to happen, nor were Jeff and I going to leave to watch the soccer game. So we made a decision to make a quick and easy dinner for the children (grilled cheese sandwiches, some fruit and veggies, and Pringles) and we would order to take-away. While I made dinner for the kids, Jeff worked hard to find the US Women’s Soccer match against Thailand. We finally got the kids to sleep and I ran out to grab some food for us and then we sat down to watch the very lopsided match. I think we were both extremely tired and out of patience given the day. We ended up calling it a night, slightly frustrated with each other (though I don’t think either of us knows why).
As I reflect on this stressful day I realize that God absolutely provided to us. While we didn’t get to see all that we (I mean Jeff and I) wanted, I look back at these pictures and realize that we did see Hamburg. God definitely was with us today (or we may have left our children in Hamburg : )) and He poured His love over us, allowing all of us to recover enough to see parts of Hamburg. We were challenged and had a lot of fights and struggles, but in the end, His love gave us the opportunity to enjoy Hamburg and I am grateful for the short glimpses of happiness we had today.
Isaiah 32:18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
Our family was not abiding in a peaceful habitation this morning. Our whole morning was fighting, arguing, and yelling. I don’t think there was a single moment of peace in our little apartment this morning. On top of all the fighting and yelling, Anjali was complaining that her ankle was hurting again and that she was not able to walk around. This is quite frustrating because she was totally fine to walk around Malmo yesterday and play laser tag, but now that there is something that Jeff and I want to do, she is magically injured again. I guess I have lost a bit of empathy for her situation, mainly because it seems that she is hurt when it gives her a way out of doing something that doesn’t interest her, but she is totally fine when it is something she deems fun. I want to take the silly crutches and throw them into the Elbe River so she can’t keep using them as a crutch (pun intended)!
I think I had finally had enough of the yelling and screaming, fighting and arguing, complaining, etc. that I told everyone to get in the car and we were driving to Hamburg without seeing any of the sights here in Kolding. I was so angry. We came here to see a few of the highlights of the city, but rather we got to pay a lot of money to sleep in a beautiful apartment and see Kolding by looking out our window. It felt like such a waste, but I eventually calmed down enough to realize that my children were exhausted and that they were just not up for sightseeing. But if you get the chance to explore Kolding, I am sure that you will have a great time. It seems to be a great town with a ton of outdoor activities to do and some really beautiful sights to see.
Our last few trips Jeff has been driving and I have been sitting in the passenger seat helping with navigation when needed, but studying. I have found it to be very difficult to study in the car and today was no different. After about 20-30 minutes of reading in the car, my eyes begin to get heavy and I have a hard time staying awake. I am not even tired, I guess it is just the motion of the car putting me to sleep. But I have powered through and have made significant progress in my studies. My goal is still to take my licensing exam when we get back to Arizona at the end of June.
We arrived in Hamburg, Germany after a fairly uneventful drive. We didn’t do much today as far as sightseeing, but we did manage to stop into an Italian restaurant near our apartment for dinner. Our apartment is in the best possible location, we are right in the middle of everything that we would want to see in Hamburg and I am so excited that we are here for two nights and will actually have time to explore.
After dinner we put the kids to bed and waited until they were mostly asleep before we headed out to find a bar that was showing the Women’s World Cup, which was surprisingly difficult given the fact that almost all the bars/restaurants were closed due to the observance of Pentecost, it is called Weiss Montag. But we did find one and made our way there. As we were walking to the bar, we had to walk past St. Nicholai Church. I had no idea about the history of Hamburg before tonight and it fed my desire to learn more. What I did learn tonight was that St. Nicholai Church was one of the few standing structures remaining after the city of Hamburg was destroyed by a fire that resulted from bombings in WWII. Now I must clarify, the church itself is not fully intact, actually only the spire/tower remains. The knave and sanctuary of the church was completely destroyed by bombs and the subsequent firestorm. As I stood in the remains of what was the sanctuary of this church, I was overcome by a multitude of emotions. I desperately want to come back to the church to learn more and to see this spectacular sight during the day. I am so grateful that the church was never rebuilt and that the history, as terrible as it was, is still intact as a reminder to all of us.
We finally made it to the bar, ordered our beers and settled in to watch the game, only to get several phone calls from the kids about the little one not calming down and going to bed. (she was almost asleep when we left, or so she let us think) After the 3rd or 4th phone call, we decided that we needed to be home and of course when we got home 10 minutes later, they were all awake and we missed watching the second soccer game because our TV was broken in the apartment. UGGHHHHH. I am holding out hope that tomorrow will be better, though I am not that confident since all of the kids didn’t go to sleep until almost 10:30 pm!
Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
It was another beautiful and relaxing day in Byxelkrok on Öland Island. We didn’t do much today at all. The kids played on the beach, we completed a round of mini-golf, and then took the kids to Neptuni Akrar, which is a beach filled with smooth rocks and fossils. They had a blast walking around while I found a smooth spot to lay back and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.
During part of their time on the beach in front of our hotel, the kids were able to find some really neat rocks that they collected and then sorted. It was awesome to watch them work together to eliminate the rocks that would not be kept. They worked so well together and it was a wonderful sight. Every once in a while they do get along and I try my best to enjoy every moment.
I also got to play a riveting game of Tic Tac Toe with Lucia. This game board was awesome because it only had 3 pieces for each player, which meant that you had to keep moving your pieces around the board. It was a much more exciting way to play the game!
We ended up having a frozen lasagna for dinner tonight and we all agreed that it was definitely not the worst meal we ever ate! The kids all went to bed and Jeff and I sat on the porch enjoying the long days of Sweden overlooking the Baltic Sea.
During our time on the patio I opened my email to find that I didn’t get the job in Wisconsin I was hoping for. I felt that pang of disappointment and a feeling of having to start back at square one. I tried to not let this get me down and had to remind myself that it just meant that this was not the right job for me, and that God had other plans for me. I then found myself praying before bed, telling God that it is okay that I didn’t get that job because it obviously was not where He needed me, but if He could please share some of His plan to us, I would greatly appreciate it.
I know things will come together, but it is so difficult for me to just sit back and enjoy this part of the ride. We have nothing planned beyond driving back to Hanne and Christian’s tomorrow and then heading to Germany sometime early next week. We have no flights back to the states (we found great flights yesterday and by the time we went to book them this morning the prices had doubled!), no jobs, no house/apartment, etc. Jeff keeps reminding me to stay in the moment and not be overcome with trying to plan everything out, but I am really struggling with this. I have faith that it will work out; it always has. But I feel like I have no direction. I know what I want to do as far as my career goes, but I don’t know how to get there because I am not a great candidate due to the fact that I have been out of the workforce for the last 12 years. This is not easy, and while I never thought it would be, I guess I didn’t really how challenging it would be.
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 meand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.