My German experience

My German experience

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Our first stop was Germany. The school was a fun memory because my teacher, Frau Weiss, and the kids were really nice. Frau Weiss spoke English and that really helped me a lot because I did not speak German. One of my friends was Joel but I had other friends in Germany too. They helped me as long as we stayed. Everyday after school in Germany we came home from school and started to jump on the trampoline for along time.

Pastor Johannes was the pastor at St. Jakobi Kirche and he spoke English. So that was good because we could talk to him. He could speak German too so we could get help from him so we did not look like fools! One night pastor Johannes brought out his bow and arrow for us kids to shoot and for Mom and Dad to shoot. I thought it was fun because I had never shot a bow and arrow before and I almost hit a bullseye. The church at which we were staying had two bell towers on the top and they were really high. When we went to the top it was really scary but you could see everything in Schönebeck.

On the weekends we went to different cities to sightsee. We got there by DB which is the Deutsche Bahn train. The trains were a lot more clean than the trains in Chicago and they were a lot more quiet. One weekend we went to Potsdam to see Ren, my friend from Madison. Potsdam was like Paris without the Eiffel tower. On another weekend we went to Wartburg castle. It was like a medieval fair on a mountain with shops, potions, swords, and shields.

Become Like the Children

When you allow humility to take over, you find peace in “becoming like a child” and may find yourself closer to Christ.

We have been in Schönebeck for over a month now (I forgot to post this–this blog was from Sept 11, 2018) and reflecting back on our first stop of this year journey, the Matthew 18:1-5 continues to be a constant reminder for reflection and inspiration. 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 on among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5). This verse has brought me a lot of encouragement over this last month, as I have had to rely on the help of so many different people (children, adults, strangers, family, friends, etc.), just like a child. Since the beginning of our time here in Germany, I have felt many times just like a child and I must share with you that it is a very humbling experience; I have felt lost, confused, isolated, alone, and completely helpless at times. When I have felt most like a child during this time, I try to remember this passage in which Jesus tells us that it is important to become “like a child”. Maybe this is not entirely what he meant, but I think there is truth to the idea that when you put yourself in a situation where you are having to rely on others, you are opening yourself up to being vulnerable and must learn to accept the help and love of another.

Now for someone like me, this is not an easy thing to do. I know that I am not the smartest person in the world, but I do feel like I am competent and well educated. I have my Masters in Social Work and while it has been a while since I have worked in the field (for those that don’t know, I was blessed to be able to stay home with our children for the last 11 years), I do have a level of competence that helps me to feel like I can help those with basic needs. I have been volunteering in an elementary school here in Schönebeck, specifically a 1 Klasse (this is the first class children attend in elementary school). The students are learning their colors and shapes, their alphabet and numbers (and how to write them), and starting to put letters together to make a word (for those in the US, this class is comparable to our Kindergarten classes). So given my education and background I felt that I could be of help when I was asked to help out a special needs student, basically to help keep him on track and help him with the assignments as he needed it.

The first several weeks was quite trying and extremely humbling. As I sat in class with these children, I realized that I was not there just to help, but to also learn right alongside them. I was learning my numbers, letters (and the sounds they make in German), my colors and shapes, etc. I was a 1 Klasse student and helping a student with whom I couldn’t speak to because of the language barrier. The simplest of tasks became quite difficult (ie.“write your number one from the top down not the bottom up”—I don’t know how to say this in German, so I have to try to show it through action).

Now the language barrier is challenging enough with adults who are patient and willing to help and learn alongside of you, but a language barrier with a child who already has difficulty learning and paying attention….sigh. I was starting to wonder how helpful I actually was until the teacher I am working with asked me to stay and continue to help (of course knowing that we had plans to change locations at the end of September). Now this job is nothing like the high stress job I had before and there are many times I still feel pretty useless, but I know that I am helping both the teacher and the student. And it may be a small way in which I am helping, but this journey is about just that, helping people where and how they needed it. Right now, this teacher and this student needed me to help in this way, and even though I may not always feel effective and competent, I know that I am giving them something that is making their life just a bit better for this moment, and that is wonderful.

The really amazing thing about this time in Germany and in the school is that not only am giving to others, but I am getting so much from them. I have been given an opportunity to learn how to laugh at myself and how to accept the help of others. I have learned that sometimes conversations and meanings just get lost in translation and when it happens, laughter seems to bring everyone back together. The people here in Schönebeck have shown our family so much love, patience, and acceptance that I can’t help but hope and pray that we all learn to show the same to others who don’t speak our language.

An International Language

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.

Psalm 19:1-6

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.

Auf Wiedersehen!

God’s Grace Continues to Light the Path

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.

The “What” Versus the “Why”

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.

God’s Gifts and Calls (post from 2/1/18)

We are all unique pieces of God and we fit perfectly together to make up the masterpiece of God himself.

No two people are the same. We all have been gifted with different talents, attributes, passions, and paths to follow. I have recently started reading In God’s Hands by Desmond Tutu and right away he addresses this very topic and I love his insight. He explains that is not just our unique gifts that make us so special but that we are all meant to complement one another. My weakness is your strength and visa versa. This is what really connects us together and it makes me wonder if this is another one of God’s grand ideas…we are all imperfect beings, but together with each of us using our own given talents or “God’s gifts”, we could actually become perfect beings (I know, very utopian). Maybe, humanity as a collective whole can be perfect amongst our individual imperfections; Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM). This feeds into why He made us all so diverse, alone we are sinful and flawed though made in His image, but as a whole we all make up God. We all are individual pieces or reflections of God as a whole and this is why we are so unique; we alone can’t make up all of what God is. We are like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, each one of us is a little piece of God, but when we are all connected together, we make up the beautiful masterpiece that is God himself.

God created all of humanity and I believe He made us so different so we could supplement the individual flaws of others, and others for us. This uniqueness is also transferred to the calls He relays to us, no call is ever the same and no path laid before a person is ever the same. God needs missionaries, volunteers, He needs teachers, fire fighters, soldiers, lawyers, doctors, janitors, and everyone in between. He needs all of us doing what we do best for Him in order for His plans to work; everyone’s individual path is important to the whole. No calling is more important, better, or less than another, especially if it came from God. The path that God has led me and my family down is no more important than yours. Our paths are different, just as we are different. I believe that He wants us to embrace our differences and our unique paths so we can serve His world collectively, as a TEAM. We can’t make a difference alone, we need each other. We need our uniqueness to serve each other, our world, and most importantly, God. Let us all use our individual gifts and talents from God to follow our unique path, and let us do this together as a TEAM to complete the puzzle and make our world a better place; the place God envisioned for us.

Following God’s Calls (Post from 01/14/18)

It’s not always an easy path to follow, but He will always be there for you, sometimes to carry you through.

As we get closer to our departure date (it’s only 7 months away!) I am reminded of how crazy this idea may seems to others. Imagine someone asking you to give up your job and career, leave your house and belongings behind, deplete your savings, pull your children out of school for a year, and go to remote parts of the world to serve those who need help; give yourself selflessly to others and sacrifice all you have to make it happen. This seems absolutely insane and irresponsible, but what if these requests came from God? What if God Himself has directed you and your family to do these things in His name. Do you say “no” to God? God has given all of us free choice and it is up to us to decide whether to follow the calls and the signs. But just as we have the choice to follow His path, we can also choose not to; to ignore or overlook them or just straight up say “no”. Though He wants us to follow and obey His call, we have a choice and the decision is ours. We chose to follow.

God’s voice is not always loud and clear, sometimes it comes in soft whispers that can be easily overlooked or blocked out. For me, God’s call to me began as a soft whisper which came to me while scouring Facebook for new updates on family and friends. I read a post and something inside of me said to share it with Jeff; so I did. I believe this was my first call from God, just a gentle nudge. God continued to open doors to this idea and to be honest, also closing them too. From the beginning, Jeff and I decided to approach our plans with an open mind and an open heart so we could hear God’s call. We decided that He would not lead us astray, but that we had to be diligent and attentive to his voice. This meant that there was a possibility that this was not our path and we had to be able to accept that and move on wherever He was leading us. It has been amazing to watch His work in all of this. When something wasn’t right for us, the door was closed (sometimes even slammed) and it was during these times that we started to question whether this was the right path for our family. But it seemed that as soon as either of us voiced this concern or feeling, another door was immediately opened, not only to new opportunities/partnerships, but also to ways to make this happen. He has continued to work through people around us to encourage and to keep moving forward by placing a desire within them to support us through this venture. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”—Matthew 7:7

Jeff wrote a blog a few months back titled Scouting for God basically having an open mind and heart to seeing God’s signs around us, not for the sake of the signs themselves, but for the path which they lead us and the reward at the end. I think that having an open heart and an open mind will also allow us to not only be open to these signs from God, but also to hear the soft whispers and the loud screams from Him. It is very easy to ignore these “calls” from God. They can easily get lost in the busy, crazy, loud life we live (kids screaming and fighting, constant noise of music or TV, or the constant drum of the vast internet). I believe these “signs” and “calls” from God are intertwined, they are not the same, but they work together as a way for Him to show us the path He would like us to take and follow. These calls from God are the gently tug at your heart urging you to do something or the push you feel in a certain direction. They are those feelings you can‘ t explain or those ideas that pop into your head from out of nowhere. It could be anything from reading a Facebook post and feeling the urge to share it with a certain person or the desire to share your story with a total stranger. The point is, you never know where these things will lead. For me, they continue to lead to something amazing. Sharing a post with Jeff led to this calling; sharing my story with a stranger led to a generous gift to help.

I came across a quote that speaks volumes to this idea of faith and following God’s call, especially during difficult times: “When God pushes you to the edge of difficulty trust Him fully because two things can happen; Either He’ll catch you when you fall or He will teach you how to fly.” God can do anything He wants, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26); I truly believe this. This calling has not been an easy path to follow, quite the opposite. One of the most amazing things for me has been how both Jeff and I have had regular lapses in faith and yet when one is weak the other is strong. At several different moments one of us became weak in our faith and wholly questioned this calling and this path we were following, but when one of us had this moment of weakness, the other had an overpowering moment of strength. For me this is God’s call for us; when we are weak in faith He puts people around us that are strong to help keep us on our path. God will continue to guide us down this path and will continue to show us the way, both through signs and His words to us. “Twant me, ‘twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.” —Harriet Tubman.

It is not an easy task to have an open heart, an open mind, and open ears and eyes to God’s call and the signs He lays before us. It takes great effort and is something that we have to be mindful of each moment of every day. We will fail often and our faith will be strong one day and weak the next. I will leave you with this, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) I have nothing to fear with God on my side, he will either catch me when I fall or teach me to fly; either way, He will be with me. I will do my best to keep my faith strong and all of me open to His word and His calling. I am His servant and I know He will never abandon me.