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.

Chris braving the trampoline
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!

Susi, Sara, and Lucia
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!

This is what 30+ hours of travel actually looks like…two kids passed out on mom’s leg in the backseat of the car!
We made it back to the USA
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!



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 May 31, 2019

Psalm 59:16 But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.

I was completely taken aback by the fact that we were actually able to sit back and enjoy the morning; we were not rushing around to finish packing; we were actually organized. It was the perfect ending to our time here in Romania. Everything was packed and the kids were outside enjoying their last bit of time with the Cato children. Jeff and I decided to open the bottle of wine we originally purchased for last night. It didn’t even seem to bother me that it was 9:30 in the morning, we were just enjoying the moment. Amy came up to say a final goodbye and enjoyed a small glass of wine with us. I was baffled by how relaxed I was at this moment. I mean the car was coming to pick us up in short order and I was just relaxed, in total vacation mode; it was wonderful.

We said our final goodbyes to Calah and the Catos and headed for the Sibiu Airport enroute to Sweden.

Calah with all but Jeff
The Cato and Hayes kids
Sara and Amy

Goodbyes are never easy, but something tells me that this is not the last time we will see these wonderful people.

We got to the airport and realized that we made two errors. One was that I gravely miscalculated our departure time and we ended up at the tiny Sibiu airport four hours before our flight. But that afforded Jeff and I the opportunity to enjoy another bottle of wine with our lunch and we all just hung out at this tiny airport.

I guess Jeff didn’t want to be in the picture!

The other mistake was leaving Jeff’s yoga bag at the apartment which unfortunately had his brand new Nike trail shoes in it. We thought about having someone send them to us in Germany, but decided against it (it was more work than the shoes are worth). We arrived in Copenhagen and fetched the car with no trouble, grabbed some quick food at Burger King and continued on our drive to Hanne.

The real difficulty came as we crossed this beautiful bridge between Denmark and Sweden.

I thought Anjali was going to come out of her seat as we crossed into Sweden. This is the one place she made us promise to take her, which was an easy promise because I have a great friend there whom I wanted to see! Everyone wins : )

Our Romanian SIM cards worked great in Denmark but as soon as we got to the half-way mark and entered Sweden our phones stopped. Now mind you, it is now 10 pm, no phone stores are open, and our only directions are coming from my phone. So we took screen shots of the directions and continued on, being sure not to touch my phone or turn the car off just so we didn’t disrupt the directions. We got to Hanne’s just after midnight and knocked quietly on the door to we didn’t wake anyone up, but that also meant that Hanne couldn’t hear us. We couldn’t text her and let her know we arrived, so we just hung outside and knocked progressively louder until she heard us.

The moment you see a great friend for the first time in 7 years is indescribable. I was so happy to finally be here with her. Everyone else was asleep, so we put our kids to bed and stayed up for a glass of wine with Hanne and then headed to bed ourselves. I am so grateful that God provided us this opportunity to catch up and spend the time with her.

Monday March 4, 2019

Psalm 68:35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Jeff prepares to head out for the airport. Yes, he is wearing a man skirt. And it is awesome.

Power and strength, we needed that in spades today.  As has been the case with nearly every time we have moved on to our next destination our travel arrangements have been, well let’s say “budget”.  When you travel with five people costs are already high but flying adds a whole new level of expense.  As a result we have been doing our due diligence in finding the most economical route at every opportunity.  The trip from Sri Lanka to Romania was no different.

The journey commenced at 2:40 this morning, an hour after scheduled departure which for an average adult would mean more time sipping cordials at the bar, but for us meant doing everything within our power to keep our three children from losing their collective minds.  At any given moment each one was within a nanosecond of utter meltdown which, in an international terminal, is not ideal.  Sara and I exuded patience at a level heretofore unseen on this journey as we expertly, and with a strong dose of God’s grace, managed to keep all three kids awake and sort of happy to get on the airplane.

Our Herculean efforts were rewarded with an upgrade to first class!  Hah, right.  No, we sidled into our economy seating which just happened to be one row in front of the exit row.  Oh happy day, we have no reclining seats!  “Lord grant me the strength to survive this flight.”  Sara and I split up.  She took the middle seat and allowed Luci and David to law down on her lap. I took Anjali who started off on me and then somehow migrated to the poor gentleman in the window.  As he was asleep he didn’t seem to mind or notice that he had a head pressed against his arm.  Sara and I took turns dozing and abruptly awakening as our bodies would suddenly lurch forward what with sitting at a 90 degree angle.  You know the feeling, you start to fall asleep and as your muscles finally concede to rest your body lurches forward uncontrollably whereby instinct kicks in and you rouse yourself just in time in a violent spasm.  You pretend like you meant to jerk your whole body awake and look around to see who saw only to find your spouse staring back at you with the look of utter sadness at her own understanding of your struggle.  To sum up, the kids slept, we did not.

We arrived in Dubai, chipper as Robins in spring.  Or we slogged off the airplane looking like we had just gone on an all night bender and pub crawled our way from Sri Lanka to the UAE.  Either way we made our way out and then navigated the Dubai airport which by all measures is the size of a medium sized city.  The bus ride from our terminal to the connections was twenty minutes, with no stops.  We did manage to get some views of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which was kind of cool but otherwise standing on a lurching bus was not exactly what I was looking forward to at that point.  Arriving at our terminal we made the seven mile walk, or so, to our gate whereupon we sat and had some well deserved breakfast.  Fortunately our layover was short so Sara and I mustered the energy to entertain the kids and keep from drooling on ourselves as we flagged from exhaustion.  On to the next flight, we had another five hours to Bucharest and lo and behold, no upgrade to first class.  But we were not near an exit row so mercifully our seats would recline.  Of course in the economy section that means you go from a 90 degree angle to roughly 87.  As I got Anjali and Luci ready to take some extra naps I was treated to the lovely thudding as the kind gentleman behind me decided that my seat was apparently his own personal drum set.  I was too exhausted to care and I managed to doze intermittently.

Fast forward and we land in Bucharest.  We fly through immigration, bag check, and customs and meet our driver within minutes.  By far this was the fastest we have gone from flight to exit at any airport, except maybe Berlin, but not by much.  After a slight meltdown from Luci we were on our way to Brasov, a short two hour drive.  As we progressed out of the city and into the surrounding countryside and mountains we could not help but notice the similarity between this country and our home in Madison.  Though the mountains are noticeably taller, the trees, the homes, the feel was very Midwest.

We arrived at our new apartment and felt the overwhelming sense of peace as we reached our destination.  I think that the reading for the day is so appropriate as we started this new service opportunity as it reflects that God has given us strength to start over each and every time.  At each stop we did not know what we would encounter.  How would we live?  Would we have enough room?  Would we be able to communicate?  But we always faithfully put our trust in God and each and every time we have been rewarded tenfold.  I already love this place, and maybe that is the lack of sleep speaking, but more likely it is the grace of God.  Everywhere is His sanctuary and so everywhere we are we get to be in His awesome place.  We are so blessed to inherit this gift and I am so thankful for the strength he gives us to live it.