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.

Saturday June 15, 2019

Galatians 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Today we definitely took an opportunity to do good for all, thought likely not in the manner described in this letter to the Galatians.  We awoke early and headed over to meet up with the Hofmanns.  After spending a few hours Friday evening having some adult beverages both Rene and I were feeling a little tired.  We got to their house a little after 9 to have a quick breakfast and then head to Belantis, an amusement park about two hours from Schonebeck.  Unfortunately, while the weather was flawless it was also very warm.  Despite the heat though we had an amazing time.  There were several good sized coasters which gave the more adventurous of us in the group plenty about which to cheer and enough less thrilling rides for those happy to stay closer to Earth.  The kids had a great time and were amazing despite the heat and lots of walking.

After picking up some souvenirs we headed back to Schonebeck to get some dinner and let the kids have a sleepover.  I offered to drive a car full of kids which gave Sara a chance to just be an adult with Rene and Susi.  I think they all anticipated that my car would be wild and crazy.  That could not be farther from the truth.  Within about five minutes two of the girls were asleep and David and Anjali were basically silent, exhausted from the day.  We got home and whipped up a quick meal for the kids and then ordered pizza for the adults.  The kids popped in a movie and prepped for Emma and Rene to spend the night.  After the long and hot day we were all asleep early and rested well having made the most of our last Saturday abroad.

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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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Thursday June 13, 2019

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.

Wednesday June 12, 2019

Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What would I do if I did unto others?  I would spend my time and love with them.  So, that’s what we are doing.  Today we made the much anticipated trip from Hamburg to Schonebeck.  First, though, we had to pack up yet again, run our gear to the car and then spend a few short hours in Hamburg.  After getting our luggage in the car we decided to head out for breakfast and a little last minute sightseeing.  We found a nice deli near the Rathaus, had breakfast and then made our way out.

After breakfast we did a quick trip through the Rathaus and then decided that we might as well head out.  The drive was expected to be about three hours and we figured we would need some groceries anyway.  So, anticipating an arrival time of 4pm (we had told everyone we would be in by 5) we headed out.  I drove while Sara studied and the kids played on their tablets.  It was relatively uneventful except for the fact that I was enjoying my first foray into driving on the Autobahn.  For those of you unaware, German highways for the most part do not have a speed limit.  Thus you drive as fast as you feel comfortable.  For me that was 190 km/h at one point (translated to mph that is 118).  At that speed our Opel Astra felt a little loose in the handling department so I decided to back off slightly.  It was still fun to drive at that speed especially aware that I would likely never drive at that rate in the US.

Three hours or so later we arrived in Schonebeck only to learn that Birgit had already done some grocery shopping for us.  Johannes recommended we get to the apartment to see what we had before shopping, though we did stop to make sure we would have some wine and beer for the evening.  We made our way through the familiar streets of Schonebeck happy to be back in this place that had meant so much and made so many memories.  Arriving at our former home away from home we felt great relief and excitement to see our friends.

We actually went to Joannes and Birgit’s home first (instead of the Pilgerherberge) and rang the bell.  With no answer we texted Johannes to let him know we had arrived.  Moments later we could see him walking around the corner at the apartment about 100 hundred yards or so away.  The kids saw him coming and literally sprinted towards him.  I will remember the squeals of joy and the smile on his face as our kids each took turns giving gigantic hugs to this wonderful human being.  We offloaded the car and then headed to Johannes’ house for drinks and a later dinner with our old friends.

Unfortunately Johannes and Birgit had to leave but they kindly opened their home to us for dinner which included our friends Steffi, Steve, Saskia, Rene, Susi, and Emma.  To say that we were overwhelmed by the love we received would be an understatement.  In one sense we were so happy to be home with these people we had not see in almost a year and at the same time we felt like we had never left.  It was just like being home.

I have written previously about the fact that in almost, if not all, places we have been God has given us a rainbow.  He did not fail again.  On a day when the weather forecast had originally called for no rain we received a downpour just before dinner.  Moreover, God gifted us yet another rainbow, reminding us again of His love and that He was with us on these travels.  I also think it was a reminder that we were in the place we were meant to be.  We enjoyed the company of our friends for the evening with a great meal (shout out to Steve and his excellent grilling skills).  After we retreated back to our old and familiar apartment and rested easy knowing we were in a place of great love.

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Sunday June 9, 2019

Psalm 34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

We got up this morning and headed off to explore Malmo, Sweden…okay not really explore, but rather go to the mall where the kids could play some laser tag after lunch. We didn’t really get to see Malmo at all, but we had such fun (and lacked for nothing) spending time together. The kids have all played so well together and it is wonderful see friendships forming. After lunch and laser tag, we headed for a coffee shop for Fika (Swedish tea time). Again, we just visited and laughed for an hour and then realized that we all needed to leave.

I am not a fan of goodbyes, especially this one. I have missed Hanne and our friendship, but I do take comfort in knowing that we will find our way back together again. I am so grateful for every moment that we got to spend together. It was an emotional goodbye, but Anjali was so thoughtful and took 2 pictures of Hanne and I with her Polaroid camera (one for me and one for Hanne). I was so moved by her kindness to use her film so we each had an actually photo of our time together, not just a digital one. I will cherish this picture forever, not just because it is of Hanne and I, but also because my eldest daughter was so generous and aware of my difficulty in saying goodbye to my friend. Her heart is so big and this picture will always remind me of that.

After are hard goodbyes, we got our cars and drove opposite ways, Hanne back to Karlskrona and us to Kolding, Denmark for a night. We got into Kolding just before dinner, but quickly realized that the town was basically dead. No stores were open and only a few restaurants were serving food. Fortunately I found a grocery store that was open and was able to pick up some food and wine for dinner. Saying our children were tired would be an understatement. The fighting and arguing was almost unbearable for Jeff and I, so we quickly put them to bed. Jeff and I spent the evening talking.

A couple views of Kolding, Denmark from our apartment.

We learned that there is so much to do in Kolding and I do wish we were here longer. You can use free paddle boats for the river, there is the castle, and many neat areas to explore in this small little town. But we were leaving tomorrow, so our hope was to make the most of our time and hit the highlights in the morning before driving to Hamburg, Germany.

Saturday June 8, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

We got up this morning, finished packing, and had a quick breakfast before saying goodbye to Christian and Mattis. Hanne and Jonatan took us to Osterlen where her brother has a summer house.

The drive was beautiful. Green fields and farms surrounded us, as we drove south. We met her brother and his partner for a short lunch and learned about a Swedish tradition done before drinking. Before enjoying your wine and schnapps, everyone sings and looks everyone at the table in the eye, taking a drink and repeating the process again. It was so fun, even though we couldn’t sing along because we didn’t know any of the Swedish song!

The kids found their way to the swimming pool located inside the house, while us adults just relaxed. We decided on a place to eat some dinner in town and headed out to the marina after 15 minutes away. This was such a neat little harbor town to explore. We took a beautiful walk up the hillside to find the Swedish version of Stonehenge, called Ales Stenar. The kids had a lot of fun climbing around on these giant boulders and we were able to get some real fun pictures.

Lucia and Jonatan taking a quick ice cream break
I love this shot of the kids all peeking out from the rocks! Thanks Hanne for this shot.

Once we got home we put the kids to bed and enjoyed a bit of fun conversation over wine. I am so grateful for these moments with Hanne. She is such a wonderful friend and I cherish these moments because I know that it will likely be a long time before we get to do this again. But I know that God will bring us together again, it is just a matter of when. I just love how much our lives have changed since we first met back in 2001, yet our friendship hasn’t changed at all. We can still talk and laugh just as we did when we were unmarried and without children (though our conversations now are a bit different). I am sad that we are going to have to say goodbye tomorrow, but I know that our day will be filled with laughter and love.

Friday June 7, 2019

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Friday, the last day of our stay in Karlskrona.  Once again we awoke with no significant plans for the day other than to have Mexican food and margaritas.  For Sara and I though this is somewhat of a major plan.  Margaritas to us do not come in cans or mixers, they come from real limes which we juice and then mix with a simple syrup, tequila, and cointreau (or triple sec if our budget is tight).  We had a nice breakfast and hung around the house until Hanne and Sara decided it might be fun to head to the local beach just up the way from their house.  I was not particularly keen on the beach idea and opted instead to handle grocery shopping duties.  This was a major step for me as it meant having to drive the manual transmission car into town, park, then drive home.  Given the fact that I had now had about 10 days of practice there was some trepidation at this idea but I wanted the challenge and encouraged everyone to go and I would handle the “monumental” task ahead.

Turns out it wasn’t so hard to shop but I had fun and as it turned out so did everyone else.  We reconvened at the house and proceeded to get dinner ready which required roasting chiles, juicing lemons, and browning meat for tacos. Dinner was a success and all seemed to enjoy the food. For us adults, the margaritas were a welcome treat for the rest of the night. We enjoyed watching Sweden take on a fierce opponent in a soccer match.  Visited with Hanne and Christian and then retreated to bed for the evening.

While the day was very low key it was once again a pleasant respite.  We have enjoyed just being, not doing, in Sweden, content on spending time with our friends rather than racing around to find the next activity.  We certainly have felt reconciliation with our friends and I know for Sara especially this has been a tremendous gift.  I believe that is what it means to be saved by Jesus’ life, that by living as best we can in His image we will truly live.  Our focus for these last few days of our trip has been to really live in the moment, grateful for the time that we have to visit and rest our bodies and minds.  We know that there will be lots of work ahead for us and most certainly challenges aplenty but we can rest easy knowing that we are in God’s hands and that our worries can wait for another day.  For now we will rest easy and prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for the road ahead.

These two pictures were taken just after midnight from Hanne and Christian’s dock. As you can see the sun is just finally setting, but will only rest for a few hours before shining bright again on a new day.

Thursday June 6, 2019

2 Corinthians 13:11-12 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

“Boat drink, boys in the band ordered boat drinks, visitors scored on the home rink, everything seems to be wrong…”

Or incredibly right.  What a wonderful and peaceful day.  We awoke with no plans whatsoever.  Thursday is Sweden Day, and as our lovely hosts admitted they had no idea what that is.  As it turns out Sweden Day is a day to celebrate more or less the fact that Sweden has never been conquered.  As a result they don’t bother with an independence day like in the US, they don’t need one.  But everyone likes a day off I guess, so hence, Sweden Day.

As everything is basically closed for Sweden Day we simply hung around the house.  Hanne and Christian kindly pulled out their kayaks and stand up paddle boards which all the kids immediately gravitated towards.  I went for a run through the local park, and Sara did some yoga.  We were also treated to an Air Force helicopter flying the Swedish flag over the house.

After lunch we decided to take the boat into Karlskrona and go get ice cream.  Our kids were excited beyond the pale to get to ride in a boat again and so we hopped aboard and took to the high seas, or at least the calm and serene bays.  We docked in the city and then traversed our way through the Sweden Day celebrations occurring around us.   Most notably was a biker group that drove through downtown and then parked in front of the main city square.  The kids all got ice cream and then decided to go to a cemetery, or more aptly stated a graveyard, nearby at one of the churches.  There they played zombie tag and had fun.

 

Lucia showing how happy she is to be on the boat.

Following our short foray into town we hopped back aboard the boat and while Hanne, Sara, Jonathan, and I played cards, the other kids took turns driving the boat.  Despite our captains’ youth we made it home safely and proceeded to enjoy a quiet evening with dinner, wine, and good conversation.

I know that not everyone shares our same faith but I am feel so blessed that everyone on this journey has shared our same love for each other.  Paul no doubt was speaking of the God of Christ in his letter but in this closing he simply says “agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  The God of love and peace was most certainly with us today and we are grateful.