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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.