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Monday, May 15, 2017

My Life is Different than Yours

So a little reflection is in order today. Doug and I share a wonderful life with many experiences that most only dream of having. We have been very lucky to have the exposure to traveling, people, and cultures that we have. And we are enjoying a season of interim ministry opportunities that we could not have planned in our wildest dreams. And we have the unique opportunity to take sabbatical rest, to dream about what's next without worrying too much about what is next. We could never have predicted a year ago that we'd be living in Paris, France doing youth ministry for goodness sakes, and soaking in all of the grace of being part of a strong, vibrant ministry that gives us back in spades whatever small contribution we are making. It is pure gift and we are grateful.
But here's the thing. When you feel envious of us, as I'm sure many of you do (I would), you have to remember what we don't have and that hardly any of us have everything in this life that we want or dream of having. So for all of you who celebrated Mother's Day yesterday with your mom, kids and grandkids, I don't have that anymore. I'm thankful for my mother-in-law's presence in our lives, but our choice to live abroad means not being present with her on Mother's Day. Mother's Day doesn't sting quite like it has in the past, in part because it wasn't Mother's Day here in France yesterday so we weren't smothered with reminders and the deification of motherhood that happens in the US. In part too because the wounds of my infertility and the loss of my mother 4 years ago are healing. In fact, I'd say this season of life that we are in right now is probably the easiest season to be without kids. Our financial life is not pressed, our worries are not great, and we don't need help from others to care for us just yet. In some ways, it's the sweet spot of not having kids. No college to pay for, no one else's future to worry about, no expenses beyond our own. Yes, that part is pretty sweet. Life is plentiful for us and the future is simple. This part of not being a parent is lovely.
But for those of you who will say that you want our life consider this. Our life comes without birthdays to celebrate, without graduations to feel proud at, without grandkids down the road. So in some ways I want your life too. Not all the time mind you, just some of the time! At one point I told a mother of 4 that we traded kids for great vacations! She replied, "Would you judge me if at times I wanted the same?!" No judgement ever, for anyone. Because here's the deal.
The life that you've been given, that you often don't choose. And you have to work at not envying another's road because there are always hidden potholes that the glitz and glamour of Facebook or Christmas photos or blogs never really show. In every life are joys that we'd never trade and hurts so deep that we can hardly articulate them. Loss is sprinkled throughout everyone's journey, be they big, like deaths or unexpected realities like a child born severely disabled, or never conceived, or miscarried. Or they could be smallish, like money trouble, and siblings who fight all the time, or in-laws who meddle, or mothers who live in the past and never really let you grow up into the adult you are. Or they could be the loss of dreams when you realize that certain realities will just never come about because of circumstances that just won't yield to your hopes. We all have losses that we have to contend with. I'm content right now without kids or grandkids and yet, when I consider the honor it was to sit by my parents' bedsides as they passed from this life to the next, I worry a bit about dying alone in a trailer in the desert with no one to come and hold my hand. (To be fair, some of our friends with kids have the same concern.) But I can't live my life impaired by that concern. I can only live the life that I have been given today and for now, I'm thankful for the sweet season we are enjoying. It's not perfect. I still hurt and long for my parents to be alive to share our joy but I'm quite OK with not being a mom at this juncture. Maybe being called back into youth ministry is the special grace that God knew I needed as one headed for the "senior season". 🤣
But I guess my point is this...don't long for another's life. Long to enjoy the life you've been given. Embrace the now. Love what is joyful and seek to contend, with grace and perspective, that which is challenging. Each advantage that we have in life has likely come about because another opportunity closed. We're a bit footloose and fancy free right now because we don't have kids. And I need to remember that when I feel lonely or lost because I don't have parents or children and can begin to feel a bit like an island in this world, untethered to people who need me. And when those of you with kids, long for simplier days, or better vacations, squeeze your kids, revel in their accomplishments, take delight that when you're my age, they might give you a grandkid or two and be thankful. Be thankful for the life you've been given instead of longing for a life that was never intended to be yours.
Live your own life with joy, intention and grace. Good words for me to remember when life feels sad or hollow or lonely, which, even in the midst of my wonderful opportunities, still happens now and again. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fantastic Vienna

A relaxing train ride took us into Vienna where we found our way to our hotel. Blooming flowers abounded all about the city. 
That night, we feasted, and I mean feasted on the most amazing spare ribs dinner. Held in a huge beer hall, there was no shortage of food or drink on offer that night. Highlights of the week in Vienna included a wonderful visit to the Melk Abbey outside of Vienna.The ride through the countryside was beautiful and soothing. The views from the Abbey were just breathtaking, as views in Austria tend to be. It was so lovely to get outside of the city and experience the beauty of nature. The gardens were in full bloom and the Abbey itself is a beautiful place of peace and quiet.
We also took a tour of Karlskirche. Some of us braved the elevator ride followed by a quite rickety climb on scaffolding stairs. We were rewarded with up close and personal looks at the paintings on the dome of the church. 
A sunny afternoon of free time led many of us to take a hike in the forest where eventually we found ourselves in a wine garden, high above Vienna surrounded by vineyards. At times the hike was rigorous, but the conversations, views, and sunshine on our shoulders made it all worth it.
A major theme of the week was food! We ate well. These sausages were a delicious trio of tastes. Of course, we ate strudel, a few times! Beautiful St. Stephens lit up in the evening.
And while we enjoyed most everything, the heavy Austrian cuisine eventually takes its toll and I was happy for a huge salad upon our arrival back to Paris! Of course, music reigns in Vienna and I loved this piano bench! 
Our week ended with worshipping with the host congregation, this year, The English Speaking Methodist Church in Vienna, where our good buddy Matthew is the pastor. I loved this adorable photo of him holding this little baby! The size contrast was special! The last thing we enjoy together as a group is our closing banquet, this time held in an old wine cellar. The place was aptly named The 12 Apostles and it was charming but also roasting hot inside. The skits for the "talent" show were filled with good humor and we shared one last swan song with our buddies from Brussels. We spent Sunday afternoon sitting in the same beer hall where we had feasted on the ribs, writing up our little song. A good time was had by all.
These conferences remain a mainstay of our years in International ministry. And even though for the past three, we've thought each would be our last, we were delighted to attend another one along the way. Good friends, good content, good insights make for a winning combination of experiences and add deepening joy to these relationships that are definitely burrowed deep into our hearts.
There were so many things that we didn't have time to experience in Vienna. Guess we'll have to figure out a time to get back there!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Beautiful Bratislava, Slovakia

Last week we were pleased to attend the annual conference of International Pastors and spouses, this time in Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria. We had never been to Slovakia so were delighted to add a new country to our list of places visited. We had heard about the ministry there for years having had close friends who had served there so it was a special thrill to see the good work that the Lutheran church is doing there through church ministry and a school.
The town of Bratislava is charming and beautiful and cheap! All of us from more expensive European capitals were quite delighted with how far our money could go.
Cheap beer
Several pastors stuck their shoe by their adopted home city.
The tour of the old town provided a glimpse into the history. St. Michael's gate welcomes you to the charm and beauty of the old town.Beautiful buildings, castles, and sights delighted the senses.
One of the saddest bits of the tour was learning that the Communists had simply torn down the synagogue in order to build a highway. UGH. Such short-sightedness. There is now a memorial to the Jewish people killed in the holocaust...almost no survivors from Bratislava, and a mural that depicts the long-gone synagogue.
As with all European old towns, the charming squares, cafés and cobbled streets dazzled. Mozart and Listz, among others, played here as small children. The connection to Vienna and Budapest was fascinating to learn about.
Bratislava has the most delightful collection of statues.
Hans Christian Anderson. Touch his hand for creative inspiration
A joy to run into them along the way.
One of Napolean's soldiers, left behind for love

We took a ride along the Danube one afternoon and while you could appreciate the beauty the rain definitely put a damper on the view. We arrived at the Devin castle but were water-logged so didn't spend time walking around. 

We could've spent a great deal more time here but we had to get onto Vienna. Loved thinking of our friends who had served here and imaging how enjoyable it would've been for them to live here. The church where the International community meets is beautiful and displays a large painting of reformation history in Slovakia. 
Our hosts were the pastor and intern of the Bratislava International church and teachers at the school there. We had not met them before and it was delightful to welcome them to this group that has meant so much to us through the years.
Next stop was Vienna, where our good friend, Matthew, is the pastor of the Methodist church there. 
Always time for ice cream with my buddy Matthew! Tried the poppy seed/cherry. Not my favorite but good to try! Poppy seed is best used as a garnish rather than a main ingredients, but the Slovaks love it!
We were very blessed to attend the conference once again. The big joke was that this was our third "last" conference with this group.
I'm grateful. Loved being in Bratislava with these fine folks.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Train Delays...Because of Me

So, for awhile now I've had this great weekend trip to London planned. I wanted to see my running buddies, visit the American International Church in London and get some work done on my project. I booked a nice trip on the Eurostar, leaving Paris at 8.43 a.m. arriving in London at 10.00. Perfect. My good friend made plans with the running group to meet for lunch at a favorite restaurant at noon. A friend from church would meet me at the train station with an empty Oyster card so I could fill it up and get going on public transport in London. So easy. Until I screwed it up.
Perhaps I should've known that this was going to be a wild day when I fell down the stairs going out of the church. In an attempt to not let the huge door bang behind me, I was trying to ease it shut, but in the meantime, my heel caught the stair and I went down flat on my face.  Fortunately no injury and the wine in my suitcase didn't break. Oj. From there, the bus ride to the train station could not have been any easier or smooth. I arrived with plenty of time, and make my way through ticketing and passport control. There were lots of people and I knew that there was a 9.13 train in addition to my 8.43, but somehow missed that everyone for the 8.43 has already boarded so I took a seat in the louge. Eventually I looked at my watch and it says like 8.42 and I am not on the train so I know I am trouble. I decided to make a run for it to see if I can still catch my train. Everything was blocked off but a woman said, go, go, they will open the door. Well, I didn't really know where I was going so ran down a stairwell and out a security sealed door that led I walked back in and up the stairs and finally made it onto the platform, but alas the train was gone. The Eurostar agents were there and I couldn't even speak because I was so out of breath and panicked and they wondered how I had gotten to the platform, which would later become an important question. Anyway...trying to explain how stupid I was, that I had been sitting in the lounge, but missed the boarding call, that I am new to this train station and the Eurostar, and no I don't speak French, I found that they were actually very nice. They got me a seat on the 9.13 and I thought all was well until at about 9.10 an announcement came that said we've had a security breech and we are delayed. Then the customs\police got on and found me and wanted to see my luggage...they said, the blue bag and the black bag and didn't you have a white coat? Obviously, there was video. So of course, I complied and got off and they said, You have made a very BEEEEG Mistake. You opened a sealed security door and you now represent a security risk. Uh oh. Now we have to get French customs involved and we do not know what they will say and now all of the trains are delayed as traffic has stopped. I had successfully stopped all train traffic and created a security risk by opening that sealed door. Anyone not yet on the 9.13 train had to wait and some had to get off. Oops. They took me back into the terminal where the dogs sniffed my bags, they took my passport information, and continued to give me dirty looks. Actually, they were very nice even if serious. They knew I had made a mistake but still, since I breached the security door, it created a huge problem for re-securing the train station. Obviously security is a big deal right now, especially between France and England when a giant metal tube is going to shoot through an underwater tunnel! Then they took my passport and had me go to the ticket agent to get reseated once again, which I feel very lucky about. Then I couldn't find my passport!!! Turns out they still had it so then I got it back. I finally got on the train at 10.45 and and instead of pulling into London at 10.00 a.m. local time, I will land at 12.30, 2.5 hours beyond my original arrival. The lunch crew is trying to change the reservation to 12.30 and I will take a cab up to the restaurant! Thankfully the hour time change works in my favor in this direction!
The French countryside is moving along. The golden fields of rape seed are lighting up the landscape and everything is green and the trees are filling in. Train travel is pretty relaxing except when you miss your train and go through the worst door possible. The French were very patient with me and I want to give a shout out to how great they were. Some of the Eurostar agents even apologized to me for the delay. 

I suppose I have a good story in my pocket but believe me, it's not a lot of fun being taken off the train by customs agents and police, walked through a crowd who are delayed because of you and wonder what the next steps would be. Thankfully not many who were delayed know that I was perp who created the stir. We're all just mostly relaxing watching the world go by.
I'm excited about my weekend in London. It's just getting started a little later than I expected and with a bit more sweat equity than I needed first thing in the morning! And it just goest to show that no matter how seasoned you think you are as a traveler, there's always another thing you can do wrong. Just glad it doesn't have deeper consequences than being a bit delayed. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter at the American Church in Paris

The holiest of weeks in the Christian year is behind us. We've journeyed to the cross, entered the anguish of Christ's suffering and celebrated his resurrection. Easter is over but our new life in Christ lives on.
Easter at ACP was one that we will remember for the rest of our days. Services each night of holy week prepared us well for a weekend of meaningful worship culminating with an Easter day celebration that brought great joy and meaning to the day. It all started at 7.00am on the quai across the street from the church with a sunrise service.  
 It was a chilly but beautiful morning and it was a delight to watch people gather as we sang, heard the Easter sermon of St. John of Chrysostom read, and participated in the baptism of 3 people. What a way to begin the Easter celebrations! 
 We were all ready for some warming up and a beautiful breakfast awaited us in one of the fellowship rooms. The community life group really outdid themselves in getting things ready for this beautiful Easter breakfast.      Soon it was time to begin the 9.00 service.  The prelude featured three soloists singing pieces from Handel's Messiah. I was on the platform at the time so was lucky enough to be up close and personal when the soloist and trumpter played The Trumpets will Sound. It was so powerful and moving. I had no trouble being excited to stand and welcome people to worship with the words "Christ is Risen". The entire service got better and better with each element. The opening hymn was a blend of Jesus Christ is Risen Today and Thine is the Glory, a beautiful arrangement that the talented musical director put together. There were handbells and brass, choral music and a kids choir, all of it bringing praise and glory to our resurrected Lord.  These are the days when you are so happy that you get to do the service again! A mere 30 minutes separated the end of the first service and the start of the second. It was equally as joyous the second time around! There was a bit more time between the end of the 11.00 service and the start of the 1.30 contemporary service. What fun to see the transition in style with yet another full sanctuary.   Finally at about 3.00pm the worship services had ended and there was time for a cup of coffee with church members and friends. What a day! So memorable and so meaningful. 
That evening we were invited to join the senior pastor, his wife and two kids along with another couple for a fantastic Easter dinner. The meal was just perfect and beautiful in every possible way. The company was lovely as we relaxed and reflected on life and friendship. It is a true gift for us to spend this abiding time with Kim and Scott, long time friends through International minstry. It was great to connect with the 2 kids they have at home right now as well since we don't get to see a great deal of them due to the demands of their school schedules. They indulged our desire to hear them play guitar and sing towards the end of the evening. So much fun!

 For some time now I have made pavlova for an Easter dessert and it was great fun to put it together this year and serve it up. It turned out really well and we managed to eat most of it!  There was no shortage of good food and drink on Easter. Friends who were with us Saturday night brought us the most elegant, adorable box of delicious Easter chocolates. It is almost too pretty to eat. (Note how I said 'almost'). The box itself was really cool with the top shelf sliding out to reveal an ever more delicious second layer of yumminess.  Easter Monday was a day of rest for us as I'm sure it was for most pastors. It was a public holiday here in France so it was quiet in the church and in our  neighborhood. The joy of the day lingers for sure. And the beautiful Easter lily that we purchased in memory of my parents and Doug's father now adorns our home.   The fragrance and beauty of the plant remind us of the joyous promise of the resurrection, that death does not have the final victory. We miss our loved ones during these high holy days, but we remain thankful for the joy of this church, the ministry that unfolds in this place, the creative energy that leads people in worship and draws them ever closer to the joy of life in Christ, our resurrected Lord. Thanks be to God for his marvelous gifts.