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.

Friday June 14, 2019

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lordand 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.

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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.

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Saturday March 2, 2019

“…May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” Genesis 31:49

The context of this reading is an accord between Jacob and Laban, the former feeling a bit scorned by the latter’s less than fair treatment of him.  After Laban is rebuked by God the night before, he agrees to see things a little more in line with Jacob and they agree essentially to become friends.  Laban adds, though, that God will be watching them both so basically they both better not screw up.  The context of this reading isn’t exactly in alignment with our day today, but the whole watching while we are apart sort of is, in a stretchy kind of way.

Our original plan, nay our fourteenth plan on which we finally settled, for our last weekend in Sri Lanka was to head back to Colombo and see the big city.  We would go to a museum, see some temples, and maybe even hit the mall.  That did not happen.  We awoke with great ambition and proceeded to have breakfast.  Our meal gave us opportunity to catch up on the reading of our daily devotionals and then to discuss a plan that Sara and I had hatched while cleaning turtle tanks.  We thought that maybe we could take videos of our service projects to capture not only the service itself but also the ups and downs that go with being away from home, in another country, with three young children….etc.  But, as we have promised our family from day one, we needed to get input from the kids and to make sure that they would be okay with this experiment.

So the conversation went something like this.

Dad:  So guys, I was thinking and mom and I talked a little bit and we even contacted Uncle John (Marshall, whom we knew from his book and then the Farm and who knows people in television..) to get his feedback.

Kids:  (Staring blankly as dad yammers on and interrupts their consumption of sugar covered waffles)

Dad: So we thought that maybe we could video a family doing what we are doing and then maybe do like a podcast/youTube thing, or maybe that even turns into a reality television show.

Kids:  (drool now emanates from their mouths as the sweet aromas of donut, waffles, and juice overwhelm their limbic systems)

Dad: But we would need a test family to kind of be the first ones to try this so we were wondering if you guys….

Anjali: No!

Mom:  Well hold on Anjali, before you say no.  Why would you be opposed?

Anjali: (tears welling) No, I just don’t want to okay?

And so an hour long discussion ensues, occasionally halted for mastication of breakfast confections, about how we should logically think through decisions before rashly answering.  Anjali is not dissuaded from her position that she is utterly and adamantly opposed so we, as a family, agree to hold off on this grand notion from mom and dad.  No hard feelings and Anjali kind of sees the point we wanted to make about how you should think before you answer because fear or lack of understanding of all the facts can lead you to make a poor decision.

Childhood lesson learned or at least discussed, we headed out to sightsee.  We left the confines of the hotel and were immediately greeted by what could best be described as the moist, fiery breath of Satan himself.  It was as though Colombo had been set on fire and simultaneously was spraying us with a hose.  The heat and humidity, robbing us instantly of our breath, worked as a veritable mire intent on preventing our every step.  We slowly meandered in the direction of the mall, our first stop on the tour de Colombo,  all the while fending off offers of rides from eager Tuk Tuk drivers.  What would normally be a five minute walk was slowly dragging out to an interminable trek, each minute making us hotter and wetter.  The impending heat related snippiness was growing closer and closer but the crisis was averted as we finally arrived at the great salvation of air conditioning.

After twenty minutes or so of respite and realizing that we really needed to buy nothing we begrudgingly left the mall and made our way to one of the temples across the street.  We learned that we would need to pay for entry so we took a quick glimpse from afar and moved on.  We had seen a lot of temples in Thailand so wat’s (pun intended) one more?  We strode across a walking bridge to a small island park, did a once around, and then walked back over.  Engaging in a quick family meeting we decided that our sightseeing was now over and that our time was much better spent sitting poolside and relaxing.

Now, this is where the whole watching while we are away from each other comes back in.  On our way up to the hotel Sara got a text message from a stranger.  She had seen our post on Facebook about saying goodbye to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project and was interested in our story.  After seeing our family’s journey, she reached out to learn more about COG.  Sara and she traded messages and agreed to re-engage after we had gotten settled in Romania and after she had returned from travels to visit her daughter.  After donning our relaxation clothes and grabbing the next available elevator we encountered a man on his way down.  We exchanged pleasantries and learned that he was originally from New York, now living in Colombo.  No big deal there.  What was very interesting though was that he had started his own company.  What kind?  Television and film production services.  Sara and I said nothing, just shared a humored glance, but just as we were about to leave the elevator he offered us his business card and bid us farewell.

These two encounters prompted an immediate conversation with the kids about how maybe God did have a plan for this after all.  We expressed to Anjali, and to David and Luci for that matter, how we saw this as a sign or at the very least a nudge.  We had given up on our plans that morning and simply turned the idea over to God, basically saying that if this project was meant to be then it would find another way to manifest itself.  We needed our family to be in a good place first and foremost to fulfill our primary obligation of this service trip, the video idea was secondary and maybe wasn’t even that good of an idea.  I am not sure what caused the change of heart but Anjali was suddenly on board with the idea of our family making a podcast.  We figured it would be a great way if nothing else for us to share with our friends and family more than just words about what we were doing.  And if enough people cared and shared then maybe it could inspire others to do the same and join in the fun of service.

I am not sure how the video will go.  This might just be another instance of thinking we have the answers and trying to pork barrel our way on God’s plan.  But with the nudge we got on Facebook and in the elevator we are going to give it a go.  If it is meant to be then with God’s help it will be.  If it isn’t, well then we just spent a hundred bucks on a selfie-stick (I cringe as I write that) and a memory expansion drive for the phone.  But we will have some fun videos, and probably a few that are less fun, for everyone to get a better idea of what our lives are like.  I cannot promise Emmy award winning television-though if we get one it will be to God’s honor not ours.  But the tears, of laughter or sadness, are real and heartfelt and we have enjoyed every one of them.

 

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. : )

 

Saturday February 16, 2019

Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.

This scripture reading is perfect for today! I swear these readings are random and are in no way planned. Jeff had selected these scripture verses last Mother’s Day and we still had none of our travel plans arranged at that time. I love God’s sense of humor. It is like He is giving us permission to relax in the sun by the pool today–and that is exactly what we did.

We woke up just in time for breakfast (it ended at 11 am!) and it was a fantastic buffet. The kids (and Jeff and I) were exhausted so we just stayed at the hotel for some down time. We swam, exercised, and just settled in. We were staying two nights and the kids were content to just hang and skip sightseeing. The service at the hotel was incredible, people were extremely friendly and attentive. We very much enjoyed our stay.

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The fruit bats here are gigantic!

Jeff and I basically hung by the pool with the kids for the day while they swam and it was very relaxing. I think it is so funny that, for the kids, if they have a pool they are happy. They really don’t share the same desire to explore like Jeff and I and that has been a bit of an adjustment. But I think we are starting to figure out what the kids want/need as far as sightseeing and exploring goes. Our time in Colombo will not include any sightseeing this go ’round, but that is okay. I think we are all really excited to see the turtles. We will be picked up from the hotel at 3 pm on Sunday.

Monday February 11, 2019

Psalm 22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast

It was an early day today. We had to be at the ferry in Fremantle for a 7:30 am departure, so everyone was up an moving by 5:45 so we could leave by 6:45. The kids did great and I suspect it was because this was something they really wanted to do. The hour ferry ride was very peaceful as we had a beautiful view of Fremantle harbor and the Indian Ocean.

I could feel the excitement building within the kids as we approached a Rottnest Island and as we got off the ferry I thought Anjali was going to explode. She was ready to just take off running, but first we had to get our bikes and snorkeling gear. Once we got the bikes Lucia was finding it difficult to remember how to get started. It took a few minutes of Jeff’s patient teaching before she took off. We decided that we would enjoy a bike ride first, so we headed towards was looked like a good ride on our map. However, about 10 minutes into it, Lucia really started to struggle and a frustrated Jeff decided that he would take her back to the settlement and the beach and wait for us. I was upset by this at first, but as we continued on our ride, I quickly realized that this was not for her–she would have never made it! As it was, David was really struggling towards the end. This was a long and hilly ride, I even had to get off my bike to walk it up some of the hills. But we did finish and meet up with Jeff and Lucia for an early lunch.

 

We met up at the settlement, which is like the main street of the islands with shops, restaurants, and a store. And since we came her to see quokkas we were blessed with seeing many of these cute marsupials while we were here. The kids were in heaven following these little guys around trying to get a photo with them or just of them.

We finally managed to pull the kids away and get them back on their bikes to head for lunch. We ended up getting more of a brunch because it was still too early for lunch, but the food was amazing and we all enjoyed the food, but the kids were especially thrilled that there were several quokkas who made our lunch even more special. Plus we got to FaceTime Grandma Wood, which was really fun.

After lunch we headed to the beach for some snorkeling, we were told this was some of the best snorkeling we will find in Perth and it did not disappoint. We saw so many fish of varying sizes and colors. The kids didn’t last long, but when they were finished the played on the beach. I was happy to let them play while we snorkeled because we were basically on a reef and the water only came up to their knees until they started o where we were. It was perfect. They were safe and we all got to do what we wanted.

After snorkeling and some playing on the beach, we hopped back on our bikes and headed for the settlement. We were going to grab some more food and hopefully some wine for me and Jeff. We found a nice little restaurant that had Seagull Cannons (aka: water bottles to spray them when they got too close) and the kids thought this was great (I found it very effective). Jeff and I enjoyed a bottle of wine while the kids took more pictures of the quokkas and finally ate some pizza. I think we sat here for almost 2 hours, just hanging out with the quokkas. We were all content to just hang out with the quokkas, drink some wine, and eat some pizza.

Today was a beautiful day. This was Anjali’s only activity she requested during our stay in Perth and she seemed very happy with today’s experience. She has been in such a good mood leading up to today and all day today. I think she really felt fulfilled with the activities today. She just had a permanent grin plastered on her face the whole ferry ride home.

Saturday February 2, 2019

Isaiah 66:13 As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Today we all went our separate ways, boys and girls. Jeff and David went on a fishing adventure. While I wasn’t there, he shared his photos with me. They had a really good time and David was very excited to catch so many fish!

While the boys played out at sea, us girls took to the spa for the morning. Anjali had a facial and a manicure, while Lucia opted for a massage and a pedicure. I enjoyed watching the girls get pampered, just as I did yesterday, and couldn’t resist a pedicure for myself! Then to sit poolside while we waited for our boys to return from fishing.

We all had a great day. We tried to top it off with a dinner at a pizza place just across the street from the resort, but David and Lucia were just too tired, so Jeff took them back for room service while Anjali and I enjoyed a girls night with good conversation. It was so nice to sit and talk with Anjali like a big kid, discussing adult topics that I would not otherwise be able to with David and Lucia. I think Anjali really enjoyed this extra attention too.