I really do not like trains and planes ☹️. But I do like the house and the people that have taken care of us in Germany. They are SO cool 😎. My favorite thing is the loft, it is SO SO cool I think I might explode into million pieces 😁!!!!! But I really do appreciate all of it, it is SO nice! Thank you so much For all of the people and the house. God, thanks again for everything!!!!!!
Walls. They provide protection, define boundaries, separate rooms, and split nations. Metaphorically they have been known to represent a period of difficulty in sports, learning, or life in general. They are also representative of emotional barriers, blockades erected to keep others out or to protect what is inside. While there are many great examples of architecturally magnificent walls (think China for example), there are many more examples of walls with far less ubiquitous appeal. An historical and modern example come to mind. The modern of course being President Trump’s campaign centerpiece, a great wall of his own to separate the United States from its southern neighbor. The historical wall fittingly given our current area of service is the Berlin Wall. A divide created to ostensibly force an ideological separation. In any case, most walls are associated with some degree of isolation and attempt to protect “what is mine” from those who want it.
A quick search of the Internet yields a surprising number of quotes related to the benefits of walls, however. Will Smith, in a metaphor for how to create success or build a career said:
“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”
The Chinese national anthem, alluding to its masterfully built territorial boundary also exalts the greatness of a wall with the lyrics: “Arise! People who don’t want to be slaves! With our very flesh and blood, let us build our new Great Wall.” I am sure Successories, the online and retail shop specializing in photos and posters designed to maximize office motivation has an entire section devoted to the pros and cons of walls.
One of my favorite wall references however is not the now famous Ronald Reagan exhortation to Mikhael Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall” but instead a cinematic allusion found in the film Facing the Giants. The film centers on a football coach who, to put it mildly, is having a run of bad luck. I won’t spoil the film other than to make reference to its use of the Biblical story of Nehemiah in which the King of Israel asks him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah is a master craftsman but surprisingly his real skills are evoked when Jerusalem’s neighbors, who had been the perpetrators of the destruction of the old walls, learn of his plans to rebuild. They gather their forces in preparation to put a halt to the rebuild operations. Nehemiah rallies not troops, but brick layers telling them to lay bricks with one hand and hold spears with the other. No doubt tough work, but in the end Nehemiah builds his stone wall all while fending off some ne’er do wells. I like the story (and the movie is a family favorite as well) because it spends less time discussing why they need the wall, how they fought to build it, or how many of the enemy died. Instead, it is a story of a man who learns of the destruction of a great wall that protected a holy city. He feels a calling to offer his services to the king to rebuild these walls, even at his own peril, and succeeds. This is a story of how building a wall is sometimes just as important as tearing one down.
Now by this point the question is likely coming to your mind, as it is mine. What is the point of this wall discussion? Glad we asked. When we struck out on our service year we planned our first stop to be in Germany. This was not by our design but rather was a good fit for our hosts. We knew only that our first service opportunity with the community would be to assist with the church’s Vacation Bible School program. More on that event another time but suffice to say it was amazing. Beyond this three days of work we honestly had no idea how we could be of service to a first world country in middle Germany. On the first Sunday after we arrived I learned somewhat second hand what the next project would be. Following our first Sunday service we had the opportunity to fellowship with the congregation. While it was difficult what with very few of them able to speak conversational English and our almost complete lack of any serviceable German I was able to determine during one conversation that I was “the guy” who was going to build the wall. Internally I chuckled a bit having just recently arrived from the US, a fresh dose of daily news about the “left” and the “right” takes on our President’s wall plans. Politics aside it goes without question that this is a divisive issue, most walls are just that after all. In any case I found it a bit amusing that an American was being asked to build a wall in Germany.
That evening the pastor of the church, a very kind, patient, and amusing man, invited us to his home across the way from the church to join he and his immeasurably lovely wife for dinner. We gladly accepted and were surprised to meet their youngest son, home from studies on holiday, along with his girlfriend. They were gracious enough to serve as the evening’s interpreters. The evening began with standard casual conversation, introductions, questions about where we come from, why we were there, and where we planned to go next. We asked about the church, how many members, a little background about the town, and what we should see on weekend excursions. Eventually, however, I broke down. Having spent the better part of 23 years working more or less full time I was disinclined to being idle. For the last 6 days we had done nothing but eat, rest, and sightsee. I was planning a year of service, not vacation. My mind was racing to find out what good could be accomplished here in this town which would look no more out of place in the United States than my own hometown. The pastor chuckled and simply said, “next week”. This phrase has become somewhat of an inside joke for us as I have come to know it to mean that what is to come will come, be patient. My first brick – patience.
A few days passed, more sightseeing, enjoying the town, grocery shopping daily, and making an impression on the townsfolk (it’s amazing how quickly you can become recognized when you can’t speak the native language). Sara and I were given snippets here and there of what would come to pass for Vacation Bible School and I was hopeful to hear more about the wall project. But, as Pastor Joannes extolled, I was patiently awaiting “next week”. Surprisingly though, amidst the run up to the very busy and time intensive VBS preparations I was told that Pastor Johannes and I would be taking a run to the neighboring town of Felgeleben. There I would see the site of the church and get my first look at the project. We would be meeting Achim, the owner of the construction company contracted to assist in the wall project. Achim is a true gentleman, kind, no doubt wise, and completely incapable of speaking English. It should be noted that in East Germany students were taught German and as their second language, Russian. As a result, older GDR citizens such as Achim would have very little access to English teaching. Beyond that though Achim clearly knows his craftsmanship and doesn’t need to speak English for anyone. He was easily able to convey what my work would entail speaking wholly in German but using visual cues. Johannes helped with translation and after a short 30 minute meeting it was clear that I was to help re-mortar a standing wall for the church building which had been built around 1890. The wall was complete with missing bricks (allowing a peep hole through to the other side), generous coverings of old ivy roots, and even some trees that were attempting to make a go of growing in the brick. The wall was in poor shape to say the very least. But I was excited for the work and given the generosity already shown to our family there was no way I would even think of passing up the opportunity. Brick two – willingness.
About a week later I was given the green light for the go ahead on the project. We arrived at 7am and met with Achim and one of his staff, Michael. Michael thankfully knew some English, which he learned in school but had not used since then, some 30+ years prior. I suspect his retention of the English language stemmed from his penchant for 80’s music which he kindly played on the portable stereo while we worked. Michael took his orders from Achim and then explained that our first job was to clear the wall of debris such as old vine roots, rotted out mortar, and the occasional aforementioned sapling. By 11am my IWatch proudly buzzed me that I had accomplished my move goal for the day. Based on the amount of sweat and soreness my body felt I had no doubt about that. Unfortunately for my hydration and achy muscles the day was far from over. Finally clearing the bricks of that which was ailing them, we power washed and then Michael gave me what was arguably the shortest but perhaps most effective tutorial on Fugen (the German term for mortar). Unfortunately, his English vocabulary was not the strongest for this type of discussion so what I learned I deciphered from the few words I could remember from German classes and an almost terrified focus on every movement he made. I realized in very short order that the plan was for him to show me the ropes, hand me the trowel, and then for me to complete the mortaring of the wall by myself. I was immediately grateful for my father-in-law who some 15 years prior had helped me with a home project to install a gas grill in our backyard. I was also acutely aware that it had been 15 years since I had done any masonry work and that the project we worked on had taken two days or so at most. I was in over my head, literally the wall is a good 7 feet high and my masonry knowledge was rivaled only in ignorance by my international travel experience. I set out to begin the project mindful of the directions which I pieced together from Michael and I realized that while I had just a few short weeks ago been a rather successful salesperson with a strong client base, a litany of responsibilities, and been considered a go-to guy for solving many problems, was now an abject novice. Brick three – humility.
Walls, it seems, even if already standing, do not always conform to the wills of those who build them. As it turns out they are somewhat temperamental. For example, walls, and the mortar which protects them, don’t particularly like hot weather and sunlight. It tends to dry out the mortar too quickly rendering it dry and flaky and less able to stand up to the abuses of mother nature. As a result, in very short order I was forced to alter what I thought was a game plan of how I could tackle this wall project efficiently and effectively. By nature I fancy myself a problem solver and figured I could have this wall redone in a matter of days. For a seasoned pro this may have well been possible. For me, not so fast my friend. Admittedly I can happily say I was able to quickly catch on to some of the tricks I saw Michael employ to work quickly but effectively but the ramp up was painstakingly slow. Thus I had to reluctantly take pride in very small victories. But my plans for completing the wall in a few days were thwarted. From meetings at school to extremely unusually warm weather, I had to rethink and re-plan. I would have been far more concerned with this outcome if not for the encouraging drop-ins from Johannes and Achim. Achim especially, despite our inability to understand the other’s language, was especially encouraging. As near as I could tell he was not scolding me for poor craftsmanship or hastening the collapse of the wall but was instead pointing out the areas I had done well and where I had missed the mark. A truly gifted manager, Achim motivated me to always improve, recognize what the good work was, and strive to achieve it again. I learned that in order to achieve this I needed to be able to adjust to weather, my own shortcomings, and to a great language divide. In other words, I needed a fourth brick – flexibility.
I was making progress. The wall was starting to look like a wall again. Not the prettiest sight due to my lack of skills but it would stand up for at least a few more years. I was getting into the groove, using the tools provided to me with more expertise and gaining a better understanding of how this was supposed to go. Sadly, I was becoming a bit arrogant. What better way to kill arrogance than with a sharp dose of reality. I was busily working away in the morning of the sixth day when I felt a sudden pain in my hand. Pain was not unusual at this point as the first five days had left my hands aching and cramped from tightly holding the mortaring tools as I attempted my best to make a perfect-ish wall. This pain was different. I removed my glove and realized that somehow a copious amount of mortar had worked its way into my glove and had now created what could only be described as the world’s most unexpected and equally unwelcome exfoliation treatment. My palm had shed what in my estimation was all of its skin though a medical expert would probably suggest a few layers. Nevertheless I had rendered my hand virtually useless and my self imposed work shift was less than half over. I stared at my hand, open wound stinging in the soft breeze, and then laughed. Just moments earlier I was certain I was becoming an expert brick layer and mortar technician and then within a blink I realized, rather painfully, how much I had to learn. I made a few adjustments, put the gloves back on, smiled and went back to work. It wasn’t the most pleasant day’s work but with each sting I was reminded to remain humble. Humility it seems can breed humor. Another brick in my wall.
I had put in about 65 hours worth of work on the wall when I came to find out what the project was about. I understood the wall was in poor condition. I understood that the church had told us they could use our help. What I had not known was that the Elders of the church were concerned about the cost of repairing this wall. As it turns out, despite the immensity and beauty of the churches in this town, there are very few Christians, or at least practicing Christians. I am not sure yet if this is a product of a generation of Soviet control or otherwise but Pastor Johannes estimated that only about 7% of the townspeople were Lutheran (the denomination of our hosts). As we all know, that number might represent those who identify but does not reflect the number who attend. As a result, the church is not in a financial position to simply reconstruct as it wants, and in some cases as it needs. So it was at this time that I learned that my work was a great help to the church as it represented a significant cost savings. Labor is expensive, but I work cheap. I was happy to learn then that my efforts were important. Not simply a nice touch to build a prettier façade on a church building but rather a needed and helpful contribution to the ongoing life of the church community. No doubt these people will still meet, still be believers, but it is affirming to know that they had a need which I could in a small way help to assuage. Moreover, I feel like my contribution now in some way “pays” for the generosity and welcome these people have extended to my family. Through their efforts and my own we have developed the final brick – appreciation.
I have thought a lot about the people of Schoenebeck as I have worked on this wall. I have thought a lot about how walls usually separate people. Good fences make good neighbors after all right? Well, perhaps good walls make good friends too. In a time in which the discussion of walls can incite vitriol and even violence, it is reassuring to my mind and heart that this wall has created understanding, peace, friendship, and opportunity for people of different backgrounds to find common understanding, if not common language.
In 1990, following the fall of the Berlin wall, two artists, one French and the other German-Iranian, painted a 7 meter mural on a portion of the wall still standing. It was attributed to an African saying.
“Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world.”
We may not all speak the same language but when we strive to understand each other with patience and love we stand a far better chance of reaching our goal of understanding.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
We had been in Germany for about a week when the pastor we’ve been working with brought his Granddaughter (who happens to be the same age as Lucia) over to play. What I watched was absolutely amazing. She and Lucia could not communicate verbally, as neither spoke the others language, though they both tried. I watched them work through this barrier and figure out how to communicate in another way. . . playing catch and laughing. First Lucia ran and got the ball and proceeded to ask her new friend if she wanted to play “catch”, which was clearly not understood. But that did not deter either little girl. They both made various hand motions while they spoke in a different language, neither understanding the other, and then it happened. . . Lucia, very gently, bounced the ball to her new friend. I could see her eyes light up when she caught the ball and both girls screamed with joy and jumped up and down together. They were both so happy because they figured out how to communicate without the use of words. These two girls continued playing ball with each other for about 20 minutes, laughing, giggling, running, throwing, catching, and having a blast just playing.
As I look back on our first 11 days in Germany, a place where I have no understanding or knowledge of their language, I realize how lost I really am. I continue to try to learn German and I have noticed some improvement—I am actually starting to understand some things, though I can’t respond to it (I am told that comes later). I spent this past weekend helping out with the Kinderbibleatage, which meant that I had 60 children asking me questions in German to which I stared blankly at them with an inability to answer them. Despite my best efforts we all realized that I could not communicate in the normal verbal ways, so we had to find other ways, which meant a really funny version of charades. Some kids thought this was awesome, trying to either speak English or trying to teach me German (once we figured out what I was trying to say!) and a few kids started to get frustrated or just didn’t want to try (which was fine), but thankfully there were several teens and adults that could speak English and provide some translation.
Two situations stuck out to me over this weekend:
–I had one little boy (about 9) who continued, for about 20 minutes trying to teach me the word for red. Now my background is Spanish and the sounds that are made in German are quite different. Words that roll the r’s in the back of their throat instead of the front like Spanish (which was I was NOT successful at doing). He kept trying to teach me new words with this sound and then would laugh every time I rolled my r because it was wrong. But we had a lot of fun together and he was my helper for about an hour–it was wonderful!
–And then a young girl who asked me “sprechen sie Deutsch”? (Do you speak German?) To which I responded “Nein” (No), only to have her come back and say “nein ist Deutsch” (Nein is German). She was right. I could speak German, not much, but I couldn’t say Nein!
What I have learned is that there is a much more universal language that we all can speak, one that is non-verbal and that involves taking the time to be in the moment and have fun even when we don’t understand each other and most importantly laugh with each other (not at each other). The world is full of different languages, different beliefs, different religions, etc. and if we can approach these situations with the goal of understanding then we can accomplish much more. I have not yet felt laughed at, but I am sure that moment is coming soon, and when I does I fully intend to laugh with them (even at my expense because I’m pretty sure what lever I end up saying will be pretty funny!).
I have found that I am less frustrated and stressed because I am able to have fun while trying to learn this new language and I have been grateful that the wonderful people here have been welcoming and very patient with my few words of German that I do know.
I had commented to Jeff that I wanted to wear a name tag that read on one side “Ich lerne Deutsch” (I am learning German) and on the other side “Danke, dast du geduld mit mir hast” (Thank you for being patient with me). Jeff got a kick out of this, and said that people would laugh at me. Maybe they would, but at least we would all know where we stood, smack in the middle of the intersection of I don’t speak your language and You don’t speak mine.
I want to learn German and I have been trying really hard, but learning a new language takes a lot of time and I only have 2 months. . . So I must get back to work.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “ Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
After quite a buidup the day arrived. But it did not come without fanfare, or rather without handwringing, tension, fights, and panic. Despite the best laid plans, good intentions, and a lot of help from friends, our lead up in those final days in Madison was anything but calm and reassuring. From a panicked run to drop off an unexpected overabundance of household goods to the loss of some electronics and a VERY later than expected departure from our home, one woud not think that we were even remotely ready to leave it all and head out.
Admittedly I was probably the one thinking that the most. As expected the days leading up to our move from Madison to our temporary stay in Fond Du Lac flew by. Each minute seemed but a second, each hour shorter than the last. As time grew precious, patience began to vanish. Sara and I kept our best foot forward trying our best to remind ourselves that all would be okay. There was no reason to stress, we had plenty of time, the kids needed to enjoy their final days at our home. Alas our Type A’s would not succomb to reason and the emotions of the oncoming embarkment combined with the desire to meet unattainable and ultimately unnecessary timelines took over. Instead of thoroughly enjoying those last days we crammed cleaning, last minute venison jerky making, and final packing into every last moment. When a box was too small or an item overlooked one or both of us would immediately curse with frustration while the other tried to calm the situation.
Saturday morning rolled along and after another late night the alarm at 6am was seemingly the last straw. We grumpily arose realizing that the temper tantrums thrown by our two elder children the night before (on their last night in the house, oh my gosh how could they, we said at the time) would no doubt rekindle like an ember in a forest fire. Sure enough within 10 minutes or so of our waking up we were greeted by the cocophany of children hollering at one another over some mundane transgression, I think someone’s arm hit the other person’s elbow or the like. I could tell immediately this was not going to go as planned. Now, I should note that the day before Noah himself would have feared the deluge that befell Madison and surrounding areas. Moreover, the forecast called for additional rain starting particualry in the late afternoon. Moving in the back of our open bed pick-up truck all of our backpacks laden with our meager posessions for the next year along with a rather nice leather chair to be stored was becoming a treacherours proposition.
The plan therefore called for waking up early, packing up the small collage of remaining items, a quick clean up of the last few rooms which hadn’t been cleaned in the week before, a stop for breakfast with friends, and then off we would go. Up by 6, out by 1. Well, as I should have remembered acutely from the beginng of this process, if you want to make God laugh, make a plan. The Lord must have been in tears over this one. The tantrum at 6:30 was just the start of what would amount to a roughly 15 minute interval of arguments and tears over which Sara and I had to redirect to help get our adolescent helpers back on track. The plan to pack up our last remaining items turned into a full on call out of reinforcements as we realized rather quickly that someone (me) had either underestimated what the piles of boxes and backpacks would actually look like in the back of the truck or had overestimated the size of said truck. Either way there was no way we were getting everyting to fit. A quick call to our friends who are generously (the thesaurus has no stronger a term to describe their gratiousness) storing the bulk of our wares and our original plan shifted into a trip to make a drop off. That which we could no longer fit, or felt comfortable in doing, was taken to Goodwill for another in a series of donations. That which would not fit and not worth donating now made its way to an unplanned garbage dump drop. By this point the only thing we had successfully accomplished on time was eating breakfast. By 1pm we were still making deliveries, no where near completing our final packing as well as cleaning the house. I was beyond fustrated and now, loooking at the forecast yet again, in almost terror that we would have to rely on our old green tarp to save the day.
We finally hit the road at 4:30 with yet one last stop to make to drop off some papers. As I gazed upwards the ominous clouds left me with very little reassurance that we would make it dry. My new plan was to make the drop then hit a gas station to pick up some bungee cords so we could tie down the tarp. We left the driveway and drifted down the road, a few droplets hit the windshield but so far so good. We arrived a few minutes later, parked under a large and fortunately impenetrabe elm, and were greeted with a sheet of rain. We passed over our documents and then asked our friend if she might have some bungees to SOS, save our stuff! We lucked out with some extra bungees and we amateurishly applied them to our tarp, providing a protective if not entirely waterproof shield. Disaster averted, a few more goodbyes, and we were off yet again.
“Ha ha ha”, I can only imagine was the sound bellowing from the heavens. We entered the freeway and within one exit I could see that this tarp was not making the 70 mile drive to Fond Du Lac. I immediately envisioned the tarp either snapping the bungees or the grommets simply giving way and sending a giant green vehicular blindfold drifting down the highway. While God was laughing, my insurance company most assuredly would not. We quickly evacuated the highway, took refuge in a gas station, and hoped to find a more permanent and safe solution. The store was completely devoid of hope in the form of bungees and rope. The kids nervously watched as I returned from the store, no goods in hand. They understood what this meant, damp clothing at best, a total loss at worst. We had a quick family meeting and the decision was made to give it over to God. The tarp would come off and be stowed away and we would pray for no rain.
Now those of you who have read our previous posts know that this trip was practically sponsored by “Signs ‘R Us’. At every step we have felt called, compelled, or flat out shown the way. Fast forward on our drive north and as we pull into our friend’s driveway, at 6:30 instead of 3, we were told that it had literally dumped rain all day up until just a short time, like twenty minutes or so, prior to our arrival. In other words, had we followed our plan I would be typing this in my skivies or in the raw (my apologies for the visual) waiting for our clothes to dry and lamenting the loss of yet another household effect, not to mention our tablets, laptop, etc. Some might see this as coincidence and I promise you that several years ago I would have too. But when it’s “coincidence” on a reoccurring basis it sure is hard to ignore.
After a rather uneventful but enjoyable stay with our friends, Monday morning rolled around and we were ready to get going. But prior to hopping on the train to get to the airport we had one more family meeting. This time we talked about challenge. The last few days had reminded us that our plan was not going to go off without a hitch or two. There would be many situations out of our hands and control. So this time we discussed taking a lesson from the Lord. When the plan does not go accordingly, when someone steps on our foot, when we lose a waterbottle in the airport (happened on day 2 upon our arrival in Germany), we won’t get angry, we are going to LAUGH.
As I finished typing and was going through a once over for typos Sara scorfunlly shut her tablet in dismay realizing that she may have just overpaid, by a fair amount, for our planned train ride tomorrow. I simply smiled and reminded her to laugh (and to have a sip of wine).
When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, open your heart, mind, and soul to hear and see God’s way. He will speak to you, you just have to be willing to hear it.
As our departure date is fast approaching (33 days from today) I continue to become acutely aware of how real this all is and I have noticed the fear and anxiety start to surface as the reality of our path approaches. Last night was no different; I could feel the fear and anxiety rising up inside me, the barrage of questions swirling in my head, and the complete uncertainty of the path we have decided to walk. What were we thinking…quitting our jobs, leaving our home behind, taking our three children out of school to serve complete strangers around the world for one full year, and to top it off utilizing our savings to make it all happen because “we heard” and “we felt” called. I;m pretty confident that these feelings surfaced because all the things we have put off until the very end are happening (because we are at the very end)–selling our van and downsizing to one car, wrapping up jobs, and saying goodbye to friends and family. We returned home from a wonderful week long trip to see and say goodbye to family in Michigan and then on to spend a long weekend with wonderful friends and, again, say goodbye. We all unpacked the car and the kids went to bed. I took the short drive up to the store for some milk for breakfast and to get Jeff and I some dinner when these feelings and thoughts surfaced again with full force. As I pulled out of the drive-through parking lot and turned the corner to head home a song I had never heard came on the radio called All In by Matthew West. The lyrics of this song made me laugh out loud in my car…
“So, I step to the edge and I take a deep breath; We’re all dying to live but we’re all scared to death. And this is the part where my head tells my heart; You should turn back around but there’s no turning back now.”
“I’m going all in; Headfirst into the deep end. I hear You calling; And this time the fear won’t win. I’m going, I’m going all in.”
I have never been a believer of “signs”, but I have come to be a huge believer in the Holy Spirit and God lighting the path for me and providing me with assurance that this is His plan for me and for my family. The funniest part for me was that the very next song that came up was Thrive by Casting Crowns. This song has been like a theme song for Jeff and I through this process of planning and preparations, the words singing out to our hearts in a way we could not imagine.
“Just to know You and to make You known; We lift Your name on High. Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide. We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive.”
It may sound absurd, but at the very moment I could feel the fear and anxiety completely disappear and was instead replaced with peace and comfort. I was so overwhelmed at how peaceful my heart felt when just minutes before I was so heavy with fear. And all of this because of the songs that came on the radio. Now some may say that was just fate or coincidence. You can call it whatever you want. I will call it God’s way to comfort me in my time of fear, telling me that it’s okay to be afraid and then giving me the strength and solace needed to continue on our path.
God’s path for us is not always lit with neon signs flashing above our heads showing us the way, so we have to have our ear, eyes, and hearts open and we have to be willing to allow His way and His light to shine through us. He may ask a lot of us and it may be very difficult and maybe even painful at times, but He is not sending us on this path to harm us but to help us shine His light in this dark world, to help us fulfill His son’s commandment:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your souls, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40.
We are embarking on a journey that is going to be difficult and we are going to face many struggles along the way, but we love our God and we have chosen to follow His path for us to serve our neighbors around the world despite these challenges. We will continue to pray for God to shine His light though us and to help us love Him with all our hears, souls, and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Let your “why” be the motivation to change the world with the “what”.
Many people have asked about the connection between our faith and the mission to which we have been called. I think the best way is to decipher between the “what” we are doing and the “why” we are doing it; this distinction is crucial.
What we are doing (volunteer and service work) has nothing to do with our religion or even religion at all. Our goal is to serve others as they need it, to help where we can, to try to make their lives a little better, and to show them they are loved beyond their family, their hometown, etc by someone on the other side of the world. We want people to feel the love that we feel from our Lord.
With that being said, we are not seeking to change anyone’s religion, beliefs, traditions, or culture. All we want to do is show them we love them for the person they are today. We want our global brothers and sisters to feel and experience the love we have for them.
Now the “why” we are doing it is deeply rooted in our Christian faith. We believe that we have been called to show Christ’s love for ALL of His children, not for the purpose or sake of changing them, but just to love them. We believe that Christ has called us to this path because people around the world need to feel they are loved by people of different nations, cultures, and religions because God loves ALL His children, and our family can do this; show love to ALL people.
Casting Off Globally, the non-profit that Jeff and I started, has the hope and mission to help families find the opportunities to serve and volunteer together. Casting Off Globally (COG) is the bridge to the “what” but does not impact the “why”. Every family will have a different “why” for their desire to volunteer/serve others and COG wants to embrace that. We want to engage all families in volunteer service and welcome their “why” as a part of their specific story, not ours. Every “why” will be different, as it should be. Our differences are what makes this such a great opportunity for families across the spectrum to serve together and COG can be the key to opening their door to the “what”. We all have different reasons for wanting to serve and COG strives to embrace all of them to help families find their path to volunteer and service so they can make a difference in this world.
Our family’s “why” shaped the formation of COG, which is why we operate it with a Christian foundation, but that foundation cannot and will not get in the way of the “why” or the “what”. The primary goal of COG is to engage families in service and volunteer work together so we can make this world a little better, and whatever the “why” may be, we will work together as a global family to care for all our brothers and sisters.
Sifting through our belongings to find and realize what truly brings us joy and happiness, and purging the stuff that doesn’t, isn’t an easy task.
As we prepare for our year of service, we must box and store all of our belongings. Our lease ends at the end of July, right when we leave for Germany, so everything must be boxed, stored, and out of the house before our departure. This has been a huge task, and to be honest, at first it was extremely daunting. Jeff and I have been married for almost 13 years and despite purging a ton when we moved to Wisconsin almost 7 years ago, I am overwhelmed how much “stuff” we have accumulated over the years.
In January 2018 I started packing, organizing, and PURGING. I have gone through our house, room by room, cabinet by cabinet, drawer by drawer to identify what was needed and not needed, not just for our upcoming mission of serving other for a year, but also for our return. We can’t get rid of everything because we still need to furnish an apartment/house when we return. So this task is not just getting rid of everything that we aren’t taking, but rather sifting though our belongings and identifying what to keep, sell, or throw away. We also have to be aware of the amount of stuff we decide to keep. A wonderful friend has offered to store all our belongings in her basement, and while there is plenty of room, we must still be respectful of their space and store only what is necessary.
As I started to create piles of “keep”, “donate”, “sell”, and “garbage”, I realized how many things we had that we didn’t need or even use. It was wonderful to drop off 2 bags of towels to the homeless shelter (I was amazed, we had acquired roughly 40 some different towels or various sizes–who needs that many!) Our small pile of items for the garage sale behind my couch downstairs has very quickly grown into boxes and boxes of “stuff”. As I look behind my couch, I am astounded how much “excess” we actually have despite my efforts over the years to get rid of things we don’t use or need. In doing all of this, I have realized the majority of our belongings we chose to keep were pictures, photo albums, books, heirlooms, and items that spark a certain memory. These items bring us joy, happiness, peace, etc., I have also recognized that all those items behind my couch don’t, they just provide me with clutter and frustration (because of course it was more to clean, put away, etc). Once I realized this, it was easier to go through it all and decide whether to keep it or get rid of it. I asked myself, does it bring our family joy, happiness, peace, comfort? Yes–keep. No–gone. Simple, right?
Well, not always. The things that were the hardest for me to get rid of were the expensive items. I think it was hard to purge these items because I felt that I was wasting money. They were expensive so we should keep them. The problem was we didn’t use them and they were just taking up space and collecting dust. Another thing that was difficult were the things we might use in the future. I have to be honest, I don’t like the idea of buying an item twice because I got rid of it only to find that I needed it later. However, what I am seeing is that as I have packed and purged items around our house, it is becoming more clear what we really need to live happily. The 12 beautiful wine glasses, while they were very pretty, really served no use to us; we don’t entertain that many people–ever! The juice extracter that I just had to have 13 years ago, has not been used in 10. The home decor that we kept after moving from Arizona has only made our new home seem smaller and more cluttered. I had to move past the thought that was focused on money, it may have been expensive and maybe it was useful to us then, but it’s not any more and if I can’t use, maybe someone else can.
I am really looking forward to the ways this next year is going to change our family’s view on what we need to be happy and to live a fulfilling life. We will be spending the next year with only the items we can carry and I know we are going to pack up those backpacks with as much as possible. I am also expecting to realize that many items we thought we needed were just superfluous and that we actually left out things we really needed. I know that we will come back to Wisconsin a changed family, with a new perspective on what we need and as we begin to unpack all the boxes and boxes we thought we would still need, we will find many things that we don’t. But those are things that we can’t understand or know now; we need the experience to shape us and teach us a new way of life, whatever that looks like.
I don’t believe that a minimalist lifestyle means that you live with nothing, but rather that you have learned what is truly important and needed. In our modern culture, we are bombarded with gadgets and things that are supposed to make our lives easier and I have been sucked in many times, but to what cost? Does that gadget to core and slice an apple all at once really make our lives that much easier? I know for me, this gadget has actually been more time consuming and has brought me more pain than I could’ve imagined. The silly thing never works right and I always end up having to use a knife to cut the remaining core off the apple slices, so not only do I have to wash the apple corer I also now have a knife–I have just created an extra dish to wash! Not to mention the three times I have either sliced my fingers or hand. I know, silly example, but hopefully you get the point. All these things are labeled and marketed to us under the pretense of making our lives easier, actually may be doing quite the opposite. It gives us the notion that if we only had that “thing/item” our lives would be better or easier, so we work harder and longer to earn the money to acquire it…but what’s the reality? We sacrificed time with the family and end up with a kitchen or house full of utensils, gadgets, and toys (yes, toys too) that never get used. I have fallen victim to this mentality many times, and I am pretty sure that I have not had my last encounter either. (The toys are a whole different blog, but let’s just say that I am really looking forward to my children experiencing this very minimalist lifestyle, even if its just for this one year. My hope is that they will come to see that they don’t need all of the stuff to make them happy and have fun!)
I am not saying that consumerism is a bad thing. We live in a post-enlightenment era and we are blessed with many things that really make our lives easier and that I don’t want to be without (aka: a dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, electricity, etc). I am just learning that what I thought was previously necessary or helpful may not always be the case and I am looking forward to this next year and how much I am going to learn about myself, my family, and what is truly necessary for us to have a happy and fulfilling life.