A new confidence

It was hard leaving my friends. It was also hard to leave the house and Madison. And the neighborhood.

It was hard because all my favorite memories are in Madison so are my best friends are in Madison and I miss them.

I saw God at work when we were leaving Davin and Kai’s house in Wisconsin. He came down and gave me some confidence to handle the trip and all of the places that we visit. When we left I was sad about leaving somewhere so special to me, but He made me feel a little better. I was still sad when we got on our plane, but I felt even more convenient than before we left.

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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.

Casting Off (post from 8/13/2017)

I think it was Rally Day at our church when I first remember hearing the story of Jesus telling his disciples that in order to truly follow him they would have to basically eschew everything they had ever known, cared for, sought after, or held dear. I recall our pastor remarking at the time at how scary that must have sounded. During a time when family meant survival Jesus was calling his disciples to abandon their family and friends. He told them to give away their possessions because no one who owned anything would follow because they would otherwise assess the values of their possessions lost and weigh them against the “value” of pursuing a life of faith. Frankly I couldn’t really blame them. How could Jesus ask them to give away so much? But, as our pastor continued, I realized the truth, though I remember reminding myself to come back to it a later date, essentially postponing the inevitable I guess.

The truth of course is simple, though not terribly easy to accept. What we “own” here is of little real value. They say that what you own eventually ends up owning you. Well, that I think was very true in my life. I sought riches, not of the biblical but of the commercial sense. I set goals for myself focused on material success. Taking a helicopter to work, owning houses in multiple seasonal locations, boats, cars, a sizable bank account. Funny thing is that when I set these goals I actually started to achieve them. Miraculously or not when I set my mind to it I was able to accomplish some great things. Great through the lens of my worldy self. I was still well short of my big targets of course but I had a large house, a boat, pool table, a bank account that could sustain me for several months, and the future looked bright.

But something in my goals was missing. I can’t put my finger on it but I think it was close to around the time my first child was nearing her due date. Sara and I talked more and more as the date was coming that we were missing religion and that we felt we should really reconsider our faiths and how we wanted to raise our daughter. We started looking at all sorts of religions: Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, you name it we considered it. And then it happened, God came into my life for the first time that I, in hindsight, can remember. I didn’t realize it at first but now I know why I found an audio cd. Yes I was searching for books on religion so to be sure it was not total coincidence, but this particular book, this particular day, everything was right. The book was WhereGod was Born by Bruce Fieler. I started listening and quickly found myself completely hooked. Bruce Fieler was telling my story, except it wasn’t mine, it was of course his. But the circumstances were striking. He questioned his faith, like me. He had not really turned away from God as much as not really pursued a relationship with God, just like me. And just like me, he was looking to find his faith or at least to find out if something was missing in his life. And of course it was. God was there all along, waiting patiently. Like the prodigal son coming home, Bruce Fieler found his faith again, and I was starting to as well. Sara and I talked at length and I remember distinctly sitting in our kitchen one evening, explaining to her that I felt like this book had been a calling to me. I felt like a great hole in my life was being filled and that God was calling me home.

Fast forward and now I am back at it, I guess. I feel like God called me home and brought me in. God comforted me and reminded me how wonderful life with God is. God let me become comfortable in his grace to see how I would respond. But I also think this was a time of preparation. God needed me to have some time with my faith, to strengthen it and to realize that it was a part of me that I needed. If God had asked me to cast off my material wealth and to forego those goals I had set so long ago and pursued with such vigor I might have turned away from God. My faith was still in its infancy. I needed time, practice, and belief that the faith I was pursuing was strong enough. So this September day, when our pastor told me to cast everything I knew aside, I got it. I knew what God was saying, though at the time I wasn’t ready to admit it. But like a catchy tune that sticks in your brain that you can’t seem to forget this thought kept coming back. It kept creeping in when I most wanted it gone. It made me question myself, my goals, my image of self worth. And then it reared it’s head with an authoritative thump when Sara brought to my attention the thought of traveling the country and serving.

Casting off is no easy thing, but once you hear God ask you to do it, it’s awfully hard not to, right? There is nothing that I could possibly own anymore that could compare to the feeling that I get when I feel the call of God to act out his will in this world. It is a sensation of love that is utterly overwhelming, sustaining, and empowering. I have never bought anything that could create the same sensation nor wanted anything more. And at the same time I have never felt so anxious about it. My brain is telling me this is a terrible idea. It’s unsafe, it is too risky, I am being absentminded of my long term benefit. But then my heart steps in and reminds my head that God hears all, sees all, and knows all. If I just put my faith in God that which is meant for me will occur. I cannot be sure it will resemble anything I ever imagined in store for me. Frankly I kind of hope it isn’t. Who needs to take a helicopter to get to work anyway? I am not suggesting that because I haven’t hit those goals that I am giving up and looking for an excuse in God. Rather, I am owning up to the fact that those were never good goals at the start. They would never sustain me in the long run and ultimately would have left me in constant want for more. I have never felt so full as when I turned myself to God. I now believe I never will.

Today, our pastor told us the story of Jesus walking on water. At least, that’s how I always remembered it. “See, kids, Jesus must have been divine because he could walk on water”. This time I heard it from Peter’s perspective. Jesus, appearing almost as a ghost wades through the stormy seas, a beacon of hope and serenity for a group of terrified fishermen who were drifting farther and farther from shore. Farther from home, farther from peace, farther from what they needed. Jesus approaches and tells them to not be afraid, all will be fine. Peter calls out to Jesus and asks, and in my interpretation maybe even begs him, if it is you lord call me out of the boat. Well of course Jesus does just that and in that very instant Peter leaves the boat. The part that gets overlooked often is that initially Peter is walking on water too! He is not divine but his faith has carried him over the danger of the deep and tumultuous seas. And then he feels the wind and turbulence and he begins to doubt and immediately starts to sink. But rather than drown and give up he calls out to Jesus, again begging, for his hand to save him. Jesus lifts Peter to safety and with, again in my interpretation a bit of a joking admonishment says to him, “ye of little faith….”

Lord, I am Peter. I am calling to you and asking you to call me from the boat. Take me from safety and that which I am told is comfort and security. Lead me into the stormy seas where only your peace, your serenity, and your grace can be found. I know my faith will be tested and I know I will doubt at some point along the path, but I have enough faith to know too that if I take that plunge you will be there to reach out your hand to lift me up again. I put my life and my love in your hands, Lord, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.

My Reaction to the News (Post from 8/17/17)

Here are my thoughts and reactions to the new of serving people around the world for 1 year…(typed by Sara, my mom)

At first I was scared because we would have to leave our house and wouldn’t have a home when we came back to Madison. Now I am excited because of all the experiences we would have and then the reassurance that I could Skype with my class, my friends, and my family. I am especially excited about our trip to Germany. I am excited to go to Vacation Bible School there and also school. The ending trip to Sweden I am counting down the days till then!

Lucia’s Reaction to the News (post from 8/17/17)

Last weekend we told the kids about our plans for a year of service around the world. They were very excited and all in on this adventure, though not without some reservations and concerns. Here is Lucia’s reaction (typed and written by Sara, but directly from the mouth of 4 year old Lucia!):

I think this is really cool because we get to see and help new people. I am scared about trying new food. I will be sad because I won’t be able to see my gradparens, family, and friends for 1 year. I am excited to do this trip with my family. I am excited to play with other kids at the orphanage. I am looking forward to staying with a family in Thailand and seeing their house. I am excited about seeing new places, meeting new people, and different churches.