July 20, 2014

Road Trip--Poland

[Arg! I'm falling farther and farther behind!! Now I have even MORE to blog about, but I haven't even finished our spring road trip update!]

We reluctantly said goodbye to the Czech Republic after our too-short stay and made our way to Krakow, Poland, where we had an apartment in the city for 3 nights. Our first night consisted of figuring out how to get ourselves parked by the apartment building and ordering pizza from their hotel restaurant to devour in our rooms.

As our apartment was really a collection of bedrooms--no kitchen or furniture other than beds--we decided to eat at their restaurant for breakfast the next morning. It was a bit more pricey than we would have liked, but we weren't in any position to argue...when you're hungry, you're hungry! Our agenda for this day: the famous ancient salt mines in Wieliczka. The tour was long (nearly 3 hours) but very interesting. Particularly astonishing is the huge underground chapel carved out of the salt! The mine never used slave laborers (to clear up a common misconception!) and brought in considerable wealth to the area. We scarfed down an amazing lunch at a tavern right outside the exit of our tour...we were so glad to sit down and enjoy our food after such a long time down in the mines!

Tobin, Kenna, and Lucan rest on the carved salt floor while listening to our tour guide tell us about the cathedral.

The reliefs really were quite amazing!

Resting after our tour finished

Mmmmm! Lunch was YUMMY! (OK, yes, some of the kids chose familiar pizza, but Lucan loved his Polish pancakes, and Charis, Ted, and I thoroughly enjoyed whatever ethnic dishes we got--I have since forgotten the name of what I ordered. Sigh.)
After resting in the apartment during the afternoon, we decided to head out to explore the Old Towne square. It was a beautiful evening, and the square was lovely. Sadly, [some of] the children clamored for familiar food, so we stopped at Burger King to soothe young palates. Charis and I enjoyed a yummy [and quite late] dinner at our hotel restaurant, sharing a Greek salad and potato pancakes.





Day 2 in Poland had us investigating some WWII history. In the morning we went to Schindler's Factory, which may have been a bit "boring" to the younger kids, anyway, but Charis, Tobin, and Arden were definitely old enough to get quite a bit out of the tour. We watched a film at the beginning that was maybe a half hour long and gave a great overview of who Oskar Schindler was and the role he played in helping so many Jews have a decent working environment and protection during a very precarious time. Walking through the museum was a poignant and thoughtful experience. As we approached the end, however, my heart began hammering when a museum official indicated that I needed to follow her. She spoke no English, but it was clear I was to go with her, so, pushing Seanin in the stroller and calling out for Charis to tell Ted that I had to go, we scrambled to keep up with the woman who led Charis and me to an elevator. As it turns out, she was "kindly" helping us to avoid the stairs that the others ended up taking to get to the end of the exhibit...I wish she would have been able to tell us that, because I felt rather gypped at not being able to finish the end of the tour! Ah, well.


Schindler's desk and office area
In the afternoon, Ted and I settled the kids in the apartment, where the younger boys napped and the older kids watched DVDs on the laptop so that Ted and I could slip away and drive to Auschwitz (taking Seanin with us to make things a bit easier). It took us about an hour just to get TO the infamous concentration camp, so we felt rather pressed for time...even though we normally wouldn't hesitate to depend on Charis for babysitting services, being in a foreign country is an altogether different situation! She had one of our cell phones so we could text each other the whole time, but still...it was unsettling in more ways than one...

Our DIY tour involved purchasing a guide book before joining the throngs of people heading into the camp area for the post 3pm self-guided tour opportunity. (From 10am - 3pm you can only go in with tour guides.) It was sobering to actually walk in such a place. Appropriately, it rained during part of the time we were there. One can only imagine how dreadful life was in those times, particularly during harsh weather. I can't even put into words how I feel about the capability humans have to inflict unspeakable cruelty on others...



After an emotionally exhausting day, we decided that pizza in the apartment would be a great option. Ted did take the older kids out for ice cream since they had gamely stayed cooped up for the afternoon, but we were ready to turn in fairly early since the next day was a travel day.

Thinking that it would be a fairly easy jaunt to get to Hungary, our next destination, the next morning we opted to pack everything up and leave it in the apartment, ready to pack into the Suburban upon our return, then head to Old Town square one more time since we felt we didn't get enough time to enjoy the downtown area...plus we wanted to shop a bit!

We found some delightful hand-carved games and treasures at this stand.

Ted with all 7 of the kids!

Beautiful green belt in the city

I love traveling with my family!!
What a great way to end our time in Poland! Three days probably wasn't nearly enough, but we are so grateful for the opportunity to spend even that amount of time here...with our big family, we didn't think we'd even be able to make it this far from southern Italy. God is good!


June 25, 2014

Road Trip--Czech Republic

We thought we were staying in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic as a launching point for exploring Prague, a city that everyone here raves about. But when we drove around the outskirts of this fairy-tale like city, we fell in love immediately! It looks like something out of a storybook! We got settled into our hotel rooms and then went walking downtown in search of dinner. It was about a 20-minute walk from our hotel to the city center and so picturesque. The restaurant we ended up choosing served us some of the best food we had on our whole trip.

We all agreed to skip Prague altogether. I'm sure it would have been fantastic to see, but we were only staying in country for two nights, and it would have been a 2+ hour drive one way. Given our time constraints, we chose to explore Cesky Krumlov, and we are all so glad that we did. From wandering through a mirror labyrinth to seeing bears in the moat of the castle (a tradition that dates back to the 1200s), from climbing the highest tower in the city to throwing rocks in the river, we took in as much of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this beautiful city.












June 20, 2014

Road Trip--Germany!!

I am so, so, so, SO far behind in blogging! Before I let myself blog about the adventures we're having with our Colorado family who are in Italy now, I want to at least briefly give an overview of our big road trip from April and May so that when I scrapbook the year 2014 (probably a couple of decades hence), I will have a clue what all these pictures are about! I'll break the posts down into our main locations. Thus, I give to you our adventures in GERMANY.

Saturday, April 19
Today was the longest day of driving we had planned: from Napoli, Italia, to Edelweiss Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The kids did a great job, but we were so very glad to arrive and find our deluxe loft suite ready for us. We were also extremely hungry and devoured the pizzas from the hotel restaurant before crashing.

Sunday, April 20 (Easter)
While it would have been amazing to attend the sunrise service for Easter, it wasn't possible with our late night and tired/draggy kids. Still, we did what we could to focus on the meaning of the day. I had packed the Resurrection eggs from Family Life, and the kids enjoyed hiding those and remembering the parts of the story. The kids also went to the hotel lawn for a giant egg hunt. By the time Ted got down there with our kiddos, most of the eggs were gone. Zaden batted his big, sad eyes at one of the hotel clerks and managed to procure plenty of extra eggs though!

Once Seanin was up from his nap, we had our ducks in a row and piled in the Suburban for our first adventure: getting to the top of Germany's highest peak, Zugspitze. We waited in line for close to an hour to ride the cable car up the mountain, but time went faster once I began chatting with a deaf couple whom I had seen signing in line behind us. They weren't from America, but they knew ASL well enough, and we had a lovely conversation. I'm so thankful I got brave enough to sign them a few questions! They were so sweet, and I was thrilled to find that I remembered so much sign language from our time in Las Vegas, when I learned quite a bit from my friend Sarah and her family and got to practice at least once a month when I met with a dear group of older deaf ladies to teach stamping classes.

Anyway, we got to the top of the mountain and enjoyed wandering around seeing the views for quite some time before getting in line to take a smaller cable car down to the train that would take us the rest of the way down the mountain. This part of the journey was very slow, and we were more than ready to get back to the hotel and rest.




Monday, April 21
Today's excursion took us to Salzburg, Austria, which we attempted to explore on our own for the morning and early afternoon. We managed to find a few of the locations where scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed (the official tour was too expensive for our whole crew). Then we drove a short ways out of the city to a wonderful place--Hellbrunn--where we took a fun tour of the trick gardens around a palace and got nice and wet in the process! There was a beautiful playground and garden area (where the Sound of Music gazebo is set up!) right there, so we relaxed and let the kids play awhile before starting back. Aside from the fact that massive amounts of traffic doubled our time getting back to the hotel...it was a great day.





Tuesday, April 22
We took it easy today. I took the older kids swimming while Ted kept the little boys for naps in the hotel room. We had a tour with Jake from "All Things Garmisch" scheduled for 4-6pm, so we let that be our main event for the day. Jake was awesome. He told us all kinds of great stories about the town of Partenkirchen, where we did our walking tour. We learned a lot about local culture as well as some general tidbits about German life that we didn't know about. The tour included a stop at a playground, where the kids played while Ted and I hiked up to see an abbey. We saw some unique buildings in the town, heard stories about the beautiful paintings on some of the buildings, sat in a theater where a challenge from The Amazing Race was filmed, and ended the tour at a restaurant where we had an absolutely fantastic German meal. YUM! The kids loved Jake and learned a lot (I think the candy incentives were helpful there...), and to this day they still light up when we mention Jake the tour guide. Well worth our time and the cost!






Wednesday, April 23
This was a full day! We slept in as much as possible, then headed out for lunch and the afternoon. We ate at a "magic restaurant" in Oberammergau, where the proprietor came out and did various magic tricks at the tables, up nice and close so the kids could see. They loved that, and the food was great, too! Then on to the alpine slide, which was H-U-G-E, way bigger than we expected. The younger kids were too little to go at all, so Ted went with Kenna, Charis and Tobin shared a car, and Arden went by himself. I stayed at the bottom of the mountain with the little boys, who were troopers in waiting for at least half an hour before we could go anywhere: it started to rain, and I didn't have the keys to get back into our car! So we huddled under a roof overhang until we finally saw the rest of the family cruising to the end of the track.

Next up was Linderhof Palace, the summer home of King Ludwig II. Since we had seen Neuschwanstein Castle last summer, it was great for the kids to have a reference point. We all especially enjoyed the room of mirrors, but the whole tour was nice--not too long so that our littles didn't get distressed! Walking around the garden and courtyard area was cool, too. Very beautiful and peaceful. On our drive back to the hotel, we took a different route so we could see Lake Plansee (in Austria), and the kids had a blast throwing rocks into the water. It's the little things.





Thursday, April 24
We reserved this morning for a leisurely stroll through the town near the resort to do a bit of shopping and playing. Charis was in heaven when she found a yarn store, and the boys were thrilled to go back to the playground we had discovered on Jake's tour. We had a fast-food type of lunch, but the food was good (schnitzel is just good wherever you get it, I think!). In the afternoon, after we got little boys settled for a nap, the older kids watched a movie while Ted and I slipped out for a date hiking the Partnach Gorge, which is located close to the ski jumping stadium where the Olympic competition was held some years ago (can't remember which games). The walk through the gorge was beautiful! And definitely something we would not have wanted to take all the kids to! We enjoyed our time together and capped it off with a coffee on our way back...but we agreed that it didn't come close to Italian espresso. I think we're getting spoiled.






Friday morning, April 25
Our last bit of sightseeing in Germany took us to Ettal, a little town close to Garmisch where there is a monastery that apparently is famous for the cheese it makes and the beer it brews. We spent some time gawking at the beautiful cathedral before grabbing some bottles of beer to bring home (Ted wanted to have some to share when his brother came to visit) and then settling in for the traveling portion of our day--through Munich and on to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic!




June 13, 2014

Sowing Seeds

Our PWOC summer session has this theme:
Be Rooted in Christ: Sowing Seeds

Based on this, the Lord guided me to giving the following devotional at our summer kickoff a few weeks ago.

*****************

Sowing seeds. The images that crop up in our minds (no pun intended!) undoubtedly are scenes of new life. Grass. Vegetables. Flowers. Trees. A seed is the beginning of life, is it not?

Ironically, though, Jesus changed the visual when he talked of seeds in John chapter 12. Verses 23-25 read as follows:
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

The disciples had been hearing Jesus say strange things like this for quite some time leading up to his death. But not only was Jesus talking crazy talk about His own death…He was also calling out to the crowd to deny themselves and take up crosses, with a willingness to lay down their own lives.

It was a crazy invitation, an absurd expectation.

And yet…here we are. Nearly two thousand Easter Sundays have passed since Jesus became that kernel of wheat, falling to the ground and dying. Of course, we know that He did not remain in the ground. Just over a month ago we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior—Jesus lives! Hallelujah!

And yesterday—yesterday we did not celebrate, but we remembered. We remembered the ultimate sacrifice that so many Americans have given, those who have laid down their lives in service of their country and fellow man, dying so that others may live.

Death. Life.

The death of a seed produces life.

The death of a soldier preserves life.

The death of our Savior provides life—life eternal, life abundant. But the funny thing is, that abundant life only comes when we die to ourselves; that is, when we die to the sinful nature we are all born with; when we die to the pride and selfishness inherent in our hearts.

Pride and selfishness go hand in hand. Pride tells me I deserve the best; selfishness encourages me to go out and grab it. Pride tells me I deserve an easy life; selfishness shows me how to make it happen. Pride tells me I know better than God; selfishness causes me to take matters into my own hands. If I don’t repent and lay down my pride, selfishness will take over my life—and life will be all about ME: MY plans. MY desires. MY stuff. God knows our human frailties: the cycle of selfishness destroys us. It makes us miserable. This is why we have to put it to death.

Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer life, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

John 10:10 says the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came so that we might have LIFE—abundant life.

God doesn’t demand that we enter a relationship with Him and serve Him in order to fulfill His own self interests. He invites us to lay ourselves down on the altar as living sacrifices so that we can truly find a joy-encompassing, freedom-abounding, wildly satisfying life.

And when we find that life…when the seed of God’s Word has taken root in our hearts…then suddenly WE become active agents in bringing life into the world around us. WE begin sowing seeds. And by God’s grace, some of those seeds will take root in the hearts of the people around us, and the cycle continues, bringing a harvest of righteousness and glory to Christ.

ISAIAH 61:11
For as the soil makes the sprout come up 
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness 
and praise spring up before all nations.

June 07, 2014

Breakfast Prayers

I have so much to catch up on here! But for now...

Listening to my little boys pray at the breakfast table.
Zaden: Thank you for my truck and for my spoon and for my napkin and for my cereal and for my milk. AY-men!

Lucan: Dear Jesus, thank you for this wonderfully day and for my food, and thank you for all the people that God made and thank you for the night that we could sleep in. I love you. In Jesus’s name, Amen!

March 29, 2014

Walking Forward

Last Saturday morning I woke up in Ravello, Italy, along with about 90 other women attending the spring PWOC retreat. Our theme was Walking Forward in Simplicity. This was my view at breakfast:


An hour later, we sat in the conference room, reeling from the shock of an announcement none of us could have possibly been prepared for: Chaplain John Keith had died during the night from complications in an unexpected surgery.

Chaplain Keith.
Chaps.
John.
Husband.
Father.
Pastor.
Teacher.
Friend.
Encourager.
Worshiper.
Discipler.
Leader.
Joke-teller.

Passionate--so passionate about Jesus, about people. Passionate about worshiping our God. About teaching people God's truth. About reaching out to those who need Christ's love and compassion.

It's been a week since we lost our dear friend and pastor. I feel in many ways like I've lost a family member. Even though we only knew him a year and a half, there is just something about the bond we have as believers in Jesus. When we minister together in His name, when we pray and worship together, it's family. I grieve for our own family's loss, and I grieve because my heart hurts for Regina, who lost the love of her life, and for Josh and Jonathan, who lost their dad, their mentor. I grieve for what seems like unfinished work here in our community, even as I realize God is sovereign and makes no mistakes.

Yet we "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). For we have Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). God's Word tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6), so we know that John is in heaven right now. And I have no doubt that he heard those words that disciples of Jesus yearn to hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Not because John Keith earned his way to heaven, but because he, in God's grace, accepted Jesus's death on the cross as atonement for his own sin, then walked in newness of life, a walk by faith, a walk that invited others along on the journey.

We are grateful for the time we did get to have with John, grateful for the vision he had for this community and for the way he invited all of us to play our own special parts in extending God's grace to others. And while the pain is very real and present, what grace there is in finding the strength to truly give thanks in ALL circumstances, to say the Lord gives and the Lord takes...blessed be the name of the Lord.

Reevaluating what is important in light of eternity, then walking forward in simplicity, focusing on Jesus our Savior--this is a gift given to us, wrapped in the distressing disguise of the death of a saint. May we be faithful to carry on with the calling we have received.

March 01, 2014

Blessing

Nearly two weeks ago, this happened:


Yes. Those are two Pampered Chef stoneware loaf pans, totally broken on my kitchen floor. The cooling rack apparently shifted just enough after I put the second loaf pan on it, enough to send the whole thing cascading onto the floor just after I had turned to put my hot pads away. (Insert a few moments of longing for the days when I actually had counter space in my kitchen...)

Two broken loaf pans. Two ruined loaves of pumpkin bread, intended for sharing with the ladies at PWOC the next day. I won't lie: I shed some tears. But while part of me grieved, some part of my brain started singing a song from one of our children's CDs: "When I set my affections on heavenly things, I find myself soaring on eagles' wings 'cause I'm living above the world, yes, I'm living above the world."

I found myself remember the things we're reading about in my PWOC class, which is studying The Hole in Our Gospel. How blessed I am that I have two MORE loaf pans--not PC stoneware, to be sure, but still. I CAN still make bread. (How thankful I felt that I hadn't donated those extra two pans--I was tempted once I got my new ones!) How blessed I am that I have MORE ingredients in my pantry, so that I still had options for sharing food with the women at our Bible study. My family doesn't suffer any lack. And I am physically capable of cooking and caring for others in my life. So. Many. Blessings.

I did share the picture of the broken pans on Facebook, with a note that the incident made me sad. I knew my mom friends would cringe at seeing those broken loaf pans! I wasn't asking for sympathy or pity, just sharing a piece of my day. (I certainly hope it didn't come across as whiny or selfish!) Many friends groaned in sympathy with me. One, writing from Guam, said maybe my secret sister would see the picture and buy me a new pan. (PWOC has a secret sister program going on.)

Well!

Tuesday the table with secret sister gifts and cards had an envelope with my name on it, which someone handed to me right before class. It wasn't until after PWOC was over that I even had a chance to open it up, and this is what I found:


If it's hard to read in the picture, here is the text:

Dear Beverly,

In the prophetic words of Erena Henderson, "AWWW MAN!! Perhaps your secret sister will see this and buy you a new one?" Done, and done. :) Be expecting 2 new Pampered Chef loaf pans in the near future. I'm thankful for you, that like your pans, you are willing to be broken. The Lord performs miracles with ordinary things like loaves, fish, and loaf pans. To a woman who sharpens me like iron:

Love in Christ our Savior,
your secret sister

Wow. WOW! Just wow. I feel totally, completely undeserving of this! But I count it as a gift of grace from a loving, extravagant God. I can't wait to learn who my secret sister is to properly thank her! In the meantime, she has inspired me to look for ways to bless others in my life!