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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a look into our journey and the path that has led us to a year of service abroad.
A couple of weeks ago we were privelaged to give a sermon at our church. This was a new endeavor for us and we now have a much greater appreciation for those that do this every week. I understand that the recording is a bit long (amount 19 minutes), but it provides the journey and winding path we have traveled during this planning process.