Wednesday June 5, 2019

Matthew 18: 1-3 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Become like a child.  How?  Adults are hardened in their ways and they know everything don’t they?  Besides, children are naive, weak, impetuous, ignorant, etc.  Why would I want to be that?  Haven’t I already grown up and learned from being a child how to be an adult?  This Jesus guy sure is a bit odd.

Children see things from a very different perspective.  I remember being a child and going to Disneyland.  The entire spectacle seemed enormous, otherworldly, and awe inspiring.  As an adult going back I saw things very differently.  The rides were not so fast, the buildings were not so tall, and the inspiration so not so much there anymore. In a sense Disneyland was rather ho-hum.

But God’s creation is anything but mundane.  I think that is what Jesus is getting at when he says we must be more like children.  We need to be inspired and even slightly overwhelmed by this incredible universe in which we have been blessed to live.  Moreover, that excitement and inspiration will cause us to constantly be thankful and excited to absorb everything we can from it.  It is when we stop being awed that we begin to take it all for granted choosing cynicism over enthusiasm.

After having completed our mini-vacation in Byxelkrok we made our way back to Hanne and Christian’s home in Karlskrona.  We made a point to stop again in Kalmar this time at the Kalmar Slott, a four hundred year old castle.  There was an immersive Van Gogh exhibit being held within the castle which Sara and I were excited to see.  The kids tolerated the 40 minute program which was by my account fantastic.  We toured the castle a bit and then grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe across the street.  Then it was off to Karlskrona and just in time for a quick dinner with Hanne and Christian.

After we put our respective progeny to bed we retreated to the back deck for some wine and beer and fellowship.

This opportunity to just chat was the whole reason we were so excited to come to Sweden for this visit.  We missed our friends very much and having time to spend a few hours conversing is all the reason in the world to be here.  Christian reminded me of this Bible passage with his comments about his family’s home here.  He somewhat jokingly remarked that he didn’t understand why he was so lucky to be here, living in this beautiful home along the Baltic Sea.  I remarked that I appreciated his humility and more importantly his gratefulness.  That is one thing that I have really noticed on our travels, that the people we have met seem completely content with what they have and are grateful for it.  Unlike so many of the people we have met in the United States (and admittedly ourselves) who conversely are always looking for the next best thing, seemingly uneasy with what they have because it is never enough.  Here they are content with what the have and will take whatever they get.  I think that is what Jesus wants from us, to be grateful for what we have and to be inspired about the greatness that abounds.  There is no need to ask for more because God knows what we need already and will provide if we ask and are thankful.  Children rely completely on their parents for nourishment, safety, and well being.  I hope that I will remember my need to be like a child of God, reliant on Him for all my needs.

 

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Monday June 3, 2019

Psalm 4:8 “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”

Today was a touch bittersweet.  Hanne and Christian have to work this week.  Apparently bills come even when Americans visit.  Thus Sara and I offered to take a few days away from their house to give them and the kids the time to focus on jobs and getting through the last few days of the school year.  We were sad to leave but glad to give them the space they need.

We originally thought about making the five hour journey northeast to Stockholm but decided that truly we don’t like big cities.  Instead we decided to head almost due east to Oland.  Oland is a large island that is off the eastern coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea.  It is very long and very narrow.  We are staying at the the northernmost point.

The drive up was gorgeous and once again a reminder of our home in Wisconsin, except for the moose crossing signs.  We did notice that the area was rather quiet, almost unusually so and upon arriving at our hotel we learned that we were literally the only guests.  Apparently this area is very popular in the summer but as schools had not yet let out the high season had not yet begun.  So we settled in, did some grocery shopping, and then sat down for a quick dinner and some wine.  The kids enjoyed some beachcombing until a late afternoon storm made its way in but as it was getting to be bed time it was just as well.

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Today’s passage is a reminder of the peace that God has and will bring us.  These last few days have been very relaxing already.  I am at once totally at peace with what we have done and simultaneously grateful for the opportunity to do it.  While I had been sad that the journey was over I am also so thankful that I got to go on it.  God’s gifts are unimaginably generous and His grace brings with it great peace.  I have caught myself today taking several deep and full breaths just absorbing everything I have been given.  I am utterly relaxed and I think God is preparing me for the next journey to come.  I don’t feel ready quite yet, perhaps because I am enjoying this time right now, but I know that when His call comes I will be more than ready to answer.

Sunday June 2, 2019

Ephesians 5:20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not sure how to express the level of relaxation I feel, on top of the absolute joy of being with a friend whom I haven’t seen in so long. I can’t believe I am finally at her home in Sweden after all the years of trying to get here. We really did not do anything at all, just sat on the porch and caught up on the last decade of life while our children played together in the yard. The kids were laughing and having fun all day long, even going for a swim in the Baltic Sea, which I told them I would not be doing, but that was early in the day.

I later learned that Christian had plans for all of us to head down to the sauna, take a swim in the sea, and then back into the sauna. I have to be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled by this idea because I had felt my children’s bodies after coming out of the water and to say they were freezing is an understatement. But, not to be outdone by a child, I conceded and it was incredible. The adrenaline rush of getting hot in the sauna and then jumping in the freezing cold sea was exhilarating.  So much so that I repeated the process 3 times! By the time we walked back to the house and settled for dinner I was more relaxed than I ever have been.

Jeff and I have decided to take the kids on a short trip to Oland Island, just off the mainland of Sweden, for 2 nights since everyone still had school and work Monday-Wednesday. This worked out great for everyone (though I will miss this time with Hanne) because it will afford them the opportunity to be on a normal routine for the school/work week and then back to vacation mode on Wednesday afternoon (they are off on Thursday and Friday). So with the help of Hanne and Christian we booked our hotel.

I am loving this time with Hanne and Christian. We have so much fun just hanging out and talking about anything and everything. I love that we can sit down after almost a decade apart and pick up right where we left off, like time just stood still between us.

I know that our time together in college at the University of British Columbia was all part of God’s plan and this is one of those moments that I will be forever grateful for this connection and friendship. Hanne was there for me during a time of major transformation and supported me as I slowly became the person I am today. It is quite possible that she had no idea how much she influenced me because she held qualities that I wanted but didn’t have. She was one of the role models for me, showing me who I could be. God put me where I needed to be, when I needed to be there. He placed her in my life because I needed her and now as I am sitting on her porch, overlooking the Baltic Sea and listening to our children laugh and play, and I am forever grateful for her impact on my life.

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Saturday June 1, 2019

Jeremiah 29:12 “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”

This excerpt comes from a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiled peoples of Israel.  It is a letter of hope and promise.  It is fitting then that this is the scripture for today.  Today is our first day of our vacation. A time for us to visit our friends in Sweden and then to cap off our trip with a last stop in Germany to see our friends whom we first met to start our travels.

Sweden is, in a word, amazing.  We would scarcely realize we were not in Wisconsin again with all of the trees and rolling hills, farms and peacefulness all around.  Save for the fact that our friends live in a house which is on a small island in the Baltic Sea, we feel entirely at home.   After a long day of travels we were fortunate that the kids all slept in until 8ish.  We were also fortunate that both Hanne and Christian were both up for doing exactly nothing for the day.  We did make a short trip in to Karlskrona for some ice cream and mini-golf for the kids but it was otherwise a day of utter relaxation.  This was just what mom and dad had ordered.  While we weren’t exiled by any means we certainly felt the strains of our service over the last ten months and knowing that we were done and now just relaxing felt very rewarding. God had heard our prayers for peace and had more than answered.

It was even more reassuring as we had so long wanted to visit Hanne and her family in Sweden.  We had made plans ten years or so ago to come here but those plans sadly fell through.  Now, many years later here we were.  Enjoying a cool breeze off the ocean and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in over a decade.

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Jeff during a run around the island.

More happily our children all played together perfectly.  Having never met prior it was like they had grown up together their whole lives.  They played putt putt, tag, and everything else they could imagine all day long.  I absolutely love the exuberance and openness our kids have for meeting new people.  It is infectious and inspiring.  Meanwhile, moms and dads got to sit back and enjoy some beverages, a late afternoon lunch and a truly chill day.

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Sara and Hanne enjoying the beautiful sunshine!

 

 

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.

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Calah with all but Jeff
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The Cato and Hayes kids
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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.

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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.

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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.

Thursday May 30th, 2019

Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Every place we have served we have seen a rainbow.  If you believe in signs then you no doubt will recognize this one as the sign God gave to Noah following the end of the great flood.  I always thought rainbows were beautiful but since taking on this journey and being blessed with them at every stop I have appreciated their significance that much more.  It also isn’t so much that we have seen rainbows as much as when.  They have typically come toward the end of our service time and while this may simply be coincidence I have long thrown such notions out the window.  So it was that today, the last day of our service in Romania, we had a late afternoon storm which gave us a brief, not terribly vivid, but evident rainbow.

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The day started out like just about every other we have had here.  I did my last shift at the hospital while Sara did some sorting and baby bundles in the support center.  We left the kids at home to enjoy their last day of playing with the Catos.  My shift was rather uneventful, passing out diapers, snuggling with babies, the usual.  I was particularly grateful though that Ann told me to pick whichever babies I wanted since today was my last day.  It isn’t like you have favorites but it was still a nice gesture on her part.

As it turns out my babies were particularly sleepy apparently because both cuddled up and promptly slept when I had them.  I felt really calm and peaceful about that.  This whole time I have been working I have wanted those babies to know they are loved and cared for even when they have been alone and away from their parents.  I felt like they felt comfortable in my arms and that is why they slept.  We didn’t play but I knew they felt my love for them which is why they were okay to simply let go and get a power nap.

I said my goodbyes to the staff and to Ann and Joyce and then picked up Sara.  We made a quick stop by the store for a few items to get us through our last evening and then headed home to pack up.  I ambitiously thought we could get this knocked out in two hours or fewer.  I was incorrect.  On the positive side it was only four or five hours and we only had to panic slightly when we realized that we underestimated the number of bags we would need.  But in the end we took a deep breath, recognized the challenge and overcame.  We got the house more or less straightened away, made especially difficult after realizing the girls had managed to spill an entire tupperware of chutney on the kitchen floor and then used all of our paper towels to clean it up.  We gave the house a good once over and then enjoyed a quick birthday celebration for Martin, our neighbors’ one year old.  Sara and I had a final meal of Dodo’s pizza and then we headed off to enjoy a relaxing night of sleep, prepping for the next day’s travels.

All in all despite a few hiccups the day was very peaceful, calm, and reassuring.  We knew that God had placed the path before us and we needed only follow it.  We had made the most of our opportunities and we felt made a contribution to the mission of FFR.  The rainbow I think was God’s way of reminding us that His covenant remains and is true.  I hope that it was also His way of showing us that the path we have taken is consistent with His plan.  I look forward to the next rainbow, wherever it may be.

Wednesday May 29, 2019

Hebrews 3:4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.

I didn’t sleep well last night because for whatever reason I ended up with a little one in my twin bed with me. I wasn’t too happy with the lack of sleep and how incredibly uncomfortable it is to have her in the bed with me, but when I woke up I couldn’t be angry any longer; she was so adorable and it melted my heart.

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Lucia enjoying the comforts of “moms” bed.

Jeff has made sure that I enjoyed my last few days here in Brasov by reminding me not to start packing. I am a planner and once I knew that we were leaving on Friday, I instinctively went into planning mode. But thankfully I have Jeff to ground me, but it is very difficult for me to look around this apartment and see stuff everywhere. I very quickly get overwhelmed, but know that if I start packing things up now, I will just end up having to pull something out and repack, hence wasting time that could be spent enjoying Brasov.

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Well, I kind of got to enjoy Brasov today. I had the hospital shift this morning and Jeff brought David and Lucia with him to the support center to make some baby bundles. I met back up with everyone at the apartment, grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went into town with Jeff and Lucia on a search for crutches and a thumb drive to back up our computer and pictures. As we got into town, we quickly found the thumb drive and decided that while we waited for the shop to open to get the crutches, we would enjoy some ice cream and cocktails. Lucia was on cloud nine and seemed so happy to be spending time with just mom and dad. We were on a bit of a time crunch because the girls from FFR were meeting us at the house at 4 for some drinks and by this time it was already 2:45. So we finished up our little snack, found some under the arm crutches and headed home. Thankfully we made it back by 3:30, which gave me a few minutes to clean up before everyone arrived.

We had a great time visiting with the FFR girls and I am so grateful that we were finally able to find a time for all of us to get together. This has been a very tricky thing because we have all been busy and our schedules just didn’t seem to connect, but they did today and it was wonderful. We enjoyed good conversation, laughter, stories, etc. and then had to say our final goodbyes.

We had a short turn-around to feed the kids some dinner and get them ready (and in bed) before Jeff and I headed out for some drinks on the square with Jeff’s Ultimate Frisbee team. We had a lot of fun and again had more laughs, stories, and wonderful conversation (and of course an Irish Car Bomb since we were at an Irish Pub). For those of you that don’t know that that is, you have a glass of Guiness with a side shot of Irish Whiskey and Baileys that you drop into the Guiness and drink! They are so tasty!

Jeff and I enjoyed a nice walk back to the apartment and I became acutely aware of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us over the last 10 months. He has placed so many wonderful people in our lives, people that we would have never met without this journey, people that have changed our lives. God is absolutely the builder of all things, and He has built the foundation for these wonderful friendships that will forever remain in my heart, even when we are thousands of miles away!

As I look forward to our next stop in Sweden, I am reminded again of God’s hand in our lives. 17 years ago I left Arizona to participate in an Exchange Program with ASU and headed to Vancouver, BC Canada for six months. Once I arrived in my dorm, I met Hanne and Melissa (she is now living outside of Vancouver with her husband and kids). Hanne was our adopted roommate (she didn’t technically live with us, but may as well had). Hanne (and Melissa) were in our wedding, and though we rarely see each other (this is the 4th time in 17 years), I hold so much love for this person. She will always be a part of my life and I know that God brought us together 17 years ago, just as He is going to bring us together again on Friday in Sweden. I am beyond excited and I think the anticipation of seeing her is helping with the sadness of our year coming to an end.

Tuesday May 28th, 2019

Proverbs 24:3-4  By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

We had a very nice day, and a busy one to boot.  Anjali’s foot was not looking any better since we saw the doctor last week so we decided to see about getting an x-ray done to rule out a break.  Fortunately one of the therapists at the hospital was willing to help us out so Sara and Anjali awoke early and made the long walk to the hospital.  I stayed back with David and Luci to get them somewhat ready for the day as well as myself since I was scheduled to work the morning baby shift. It is a great relief to know that I can leave my 10 and 6 year old at home to fend for themselves.  I knew they would likely be glued to the screen while Sara and I were gone but at least they would be safe.  As I headed out the door I got the text from Sara that Anjali was unbroken and that they would be staying at the support center to do some sorting until Anjali left for Budila for the after school program and Sara left for a massage.

The shift was fairly normal.  We had four volunteers working so we quickly knocked out the diaper run and then moved on to snuggling.  “Unfortunately” we only had three babies on each floor so we had to set up a baby snuggling rotation.  With the volunteer saturation and limited baby resources I volunteered to end my shift a little early as my standing around and not holding a baby was pretty much useless.  I ran into Anjali as she was heading off to Budila, helped move a few boxes, and then made my way home to check on the younger kids.  As expected they had set up shop in our room with a makeshift bed on the floor and their faces pressed to the computer screen watching cartoons.  I let them finish the episode and then kicked them off so they could interact with the real world again.  They did a great job transitioning to lunch and outside play which can be a real feat sometimes.  Sara and I later met up for grocery shopping for our dinner plans with our downstairs neighbors and then it was time to host the meal.

We have really enjoyed our neighbors and both Sara and I wished we could have spent more time with them.  With busy schedules on both sides that always made it tough but we enjoyed the few times we all got together and today was no exception.  The kids played outside after a good meal and the adults got to visit over some wine.  All in all a very relaxing and pleasant evening which was capped off by some very loud and energetic overnight thunderstorms.

 

Monday May 27, 2019

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

It is hard to believe that we will be saying goodbye to Brasov, Romania on Friday. We have loved our time here and today was no different. After our morning shift, Jeff and I headed into town for an afternoon date, bouncing from cafe to cafe enjoying snacks, delicious cocktails, and some beautiful weather. With Anjali on crutches it is just too much for her to walk into town, plus none of the kids actually wanted to go anyway!

The scripture for today is absolutely perfect, as it describes the love between Jeff and I, as well as our relationship with God. Jeff and I have tried very hard to make sure that every decision or action we do was with God at the center. This is not always easy, because sometimes God’s plan doesn’t follow along with what we want (for example, we wanted to stay in Brasov another month, but that was definitely not in God’s plan). I know that we have not been perfect and I am 100% confident that we have made errors this year in hearing God’s path for us, but I do know that by putting Him at the center of all that we are doing, we do eventually get where He wants us to go and it is usually in that moment that we realize He was directing us there all along, we just didn’t see it. But just as He always is, God has been patient with us, He has loved us, and He has never left our side, even when we didn’t listen. God provides us with the perfect example of love. He is patient, caring, and kind with us, He doesn’t get angry with us when we don’t listen the first time (or the second or third time), but rather He keeps trying to help us to understand.

I guess this is my lesson in parenting for today (for me). I do not always give my children this kind of love. I get frustrated and impatient when they don’t get it right the first time. I have the perfect example right in front of me and I still can’t get it right, why am I so baffled when my kids don’t get it on the first, second, or third try? Being away from my children this afternoon really helped to put things in perspective, plus it was a very relaxing afternoon with no kids. Either way, I know that I need to work on being an example of this kind of love to my children, as well as to those I meet every day. God asks all of us to be stewards of love towards others, and since He gives this to us, I think it is only right that we “pay it forward”.

Thursday May 23, 2019

2 Samuel 7:29 now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

Today was quite interesting. I had the hospital shift today and Jeff brought the kids to the support center to work on “baby bundles”. My time at the hospital was quite normal, but even in the normality of what we are doing here, it is still so incredibly powerful. These children are starving for attention and I am so glad we are here to provide it to them.

I think that is why both Jeff and I continue to knock and push on doors to stay here. Unfortunately, none of these doors will open for us. We have tried reaching out for help from various people, but just get varying answers and no solutions. But we are not giving up, as all of us want to finish out our year, here in Romania. Alternatively, we have been given information on different projects in the UK, the Netherlands, and Ireland, but thus far we have heard nothing from them and have no confirmation of opportunity. So we wait…

This has got to be one of the major lessons God wants me to learn, patience. I say this because He is continually testing my ability to be patient and wait for His time, and today is no different. Unfortunately I have not been able to study much today because as soon as I finished my shift I met with Jeff and the kids at the support center and we decided that tit would be best if we take Anjali to see a doctor for her ankle.

I was beyond grateful (and surprised) that when I called the social worker that works alongside FFR, I was told to bring Anjali to her office. I was just asking for some help to navigate the ER and the paperwork, but one of the doctors came right into the office and looked at her ankle and diagnosed her with a sprain.

After leaving the hospital we stopped by the support center to borrow some crutches and then to the pharmacy for a brace. Anjali says that using the crutches helps her ankle no hurt, now the crutches are making her arms and her hands hurt. I don’t think she is too happy about all of this and I feel bad for her because during the next couple of weeks she will find it very difficult to get around and play with her friends.

We were supposed to do dinner with Katie and Calah tonight, as a send off for Katie’s departure on Tuesday, but the trip to the hospital cut into our plans and we had to reschedule. We did a quick and easy dinner for everyone and Jeff and I discussed and evaluated are various options. We have to be out of Romania by next Friday and while we are still trying to figure out a way to stay, we also need to be prepared that we won’t be able to and need to have a plan B.

So long story short, our visa here end in one week and we have no idea where God is leading us.