Hope in the Cisterns

A few weeks prior to Christmas I attended a women’s breakfast. Gathered there were many of my favorite women from around the city; I dusted off my German which sometimes hides in my Stay-At-Home-Mom closet, and we talked and laughed all the while feasting upon a breakfast fit for queens. It was lovely and refreshing and did my soul and stomach real good. But it also left me intrigued.

We concluded our breakfast with a time of sharing, “God in 2015” being the subject matter. Immediately I thought, “Aw, man… 2015 was not one of my favorites for sure. I mean yes God was there, but… ”

Ah, “but”.

While I scrambled to think of something that would make 2015 look all sparkly and shiny, my friends began to speak, and to my surprise, those who spoke up about their year in review shared in my overall negative view of 2015. Thus, my intrigue. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat down with so many women only to discover we thought the same thing about the same topic. That’s mostly unheard of, in my womanly experience at least. Yet there we were, one by one basically saying, “I’m ready for 2016 so I can say that 2015 is over.”

Huh.

How is it that despite our individual personalities, backgrounds, situations and phases of life, we concluded as a group that 2015 was not one for the record books? Is it because we know the same people or attend the same church denomination, or live in the same city or hold the same religious belief? Could be. After all, there was a lot of loss in 2015, and most of us – if not all of us – personally knew those to whom we had to say goodbye. But I don’t think that’s the whole picture here.

The reason I don’t think that’s the whole picture is because of what my friends further concluded after having said they were glad to see 2015 disappear around the corner never to return. I’ll use King David to explain their sentiments:

 Psalm 13; A psalm of David.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

This Psalm is so good that I want it written in every blank space in my house and tattooed on both of my palms. This is, in a nutshell, what was said at the women’s breakfast. We each experienced moments or phases or daily struggles throughout 2015 where we wearily looked toward Heaven and said or perhaps even screamed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING. Can’t you see I’m drowning here? Can’t you see Satan is trampling me day in and day out? I’m losing. L-O-S-I-N-G. So where are you? Why aren’t you helping me?”

We could have stopped there in our prayers just as David could have stopped at verse 4. But something in us made us say “But” just as David goes on to do in verse 5, and that’s where I think we see the whole picture. Yes, we know the same people and run in the same circles and go to the same churches, but we also share the same “unfailing love”, the same “rescue”, the same reason to “sing to the Lord”.

Perhaps 2015 for me, for my friends, and quite possibly for you, will be like the year Joseph’s brothers threw him into a cistern, an incident to forever change his life. He could have easily dubbed that year “The Worst Year of My Life”, but based on what we read about him and his attitude and his relationship with God, he didn’t, at least not for the rest of his life. At some point he was able to look back at what I’ll call “The Cistern Year B.C.” as a key year in his lifetime; a year he didn’t understand, a year filled with agony and fear and hurt and loss, but nonetheless a year on which Joseph looked back and while talking with God thought, “Ooohh. I see what you did there.”

-I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.-Gen. 45-4-5

Hope in the cisterns. That’s the common theme my friends and I shared in that morning. “Cistern Years” happen because life happens. But they also happen so that we may pass on our hope to those in line looking for it. “Cistern Years” happen so we can tell our neighbor, “Yeah, last year was ugly. But it didn’t defeat me, and here’s why.”

If 2015 was a Cistern Year, don’t push it out of your memory. Talk about it. Live it out. Show others it is in fact possible to find hope in the cisterns.

Our Return to Rothenburg

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The months leading up to November’s retreat week of 2013 were filled with excitement from our teammates and friends. Rothenburg was coming; it was coming and just around the corner. “After you guys experience the Rothenburg retreat, you’ll start counting down the days for the next one”, Tamika told me. “You’ll love it and won’t want to leave.”

Truer words about this place couldn’t have been spoken. When we experienced for the first time the solid goodness of the Rothenburg retreat, we couldn’t wait to go back. We understood everyone’s excitement and eagerness to arrive and return. We told all of our new friends we’d see them again in 2014. But – you know – God’s plans.

When we said “See you in 2014!”, we actually meant 2015. As you know we were a bit preoccupied last fall what with having a baby and being an ocean away from Rothenburg. And had we been able to be in Rothenburg with our infant son, I doubt we would’ve been “with it” due to sleep deprivation. God knew what He was doing when He kept us “home” that year. But last week we finally returned to Rothenburg and it was just as magical, relaxing, inspirational, and impactful as we remembered.

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The retreat couldn’t go wrong with an All-Star cast made up of speakers Mary Nelson (New Zealand), Dr. Dottie Schulz (U.S.), Tony Coffey (Ireland), Patrick Boyns (England), Vittorio Vitalone (Italy), and the ever-spectacular Keith Lancaster as worship leader. The retreat’s theme was “Yes, I Am Still Here!”, a theme so pertinent to the difficulties, frustrations, and even tragedies many of us at the retreat were met with this year. Patrick Boyns and Tony Coffey led us deep into the Word, specifically focusing on the story of Joseph. Oh how I hope someone recorded those lessons for you to hear because they were phenomenal and I will never read about Joseph the same way again. What a man of great faith who certainly had to wonder over and over again if God was in fact still with him.

How to Refuse Temptation:

  1. Be decisive
  2. Be ruthless against sin
  3. Be loyal
  4. Be well-informed
  5. Take precautions
  6. Know God is with you

The breakout sessions were top notch. The first day, Will went to one which focused on the refugees. The setting was more of an open forum than a single person-led discussion. A variety of individuals who serve in churches all over Europe shared what their team and/or church was doing to better aide those coming into their countries. While this discussion went on upstairs, I was downstairs attending Dottie Schulz’s session on behavior and relationships. Friends, I could listen to this woman talk for hours upon hours. Not only is she knowledgeable on all kinds of psychological topics, she knows how these topics – our mental and physical state – coincide with our spiritual state. For example, DID YOU KNOW that when you forgive someone or confess sin that not only do these actions improve your memory (what!!!!), the hormone oxytocin – a good feelings hormone – is released into your body which leaves you feeling giddy for days? Did you know that?? I certainly didn’t, but now this lesson is written in huge-mongous letters in my work journal, and I’m still in awe of this fact.

“Figure out who God is to figure out who you are.”

I want to be Dottie when I grow up.

Will and I were fortunate enough to have my parents with us from Atlanta. Their presence greatly freed us up to attend most worship and breakout sessions without our busy-body toddler. He stayed with Omi and Opi for the good majority of the retreat which I believe suited everyone just fine. His Omi and Opi took him on walks through Rothenburg’s medieval city and played with him in the hotel until he got sleepy. We were so glad to have them with us and think this should perhaps turn into a yearly tradition 🙂

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So here we are again, counting down the days until our feet are back on Rothenburg’s cobblestoned streets. To our supporters, thank you for enabling us to attend this magnificent, soul-filling retreat. Because of you, we are ready to take on the New Year. And join us in Rothenburg sometime. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Blessings of Kids Camp

Processed with VSCOcam with a9 presetI spent last week off the grid, on a mountain, surrounded only by 34 mostly-Austrian kids, a handful of adults and fresh Alpine air. It was our biggest and – from what I’ve heard the others say – most successful Kids Camp (Kinderlager) ever.

Processed with VSCOcam with g2 presetThis was my second time to go, but first without Holly, who stayed behind with Elliott this year. I missed them a lot, but still had a lot of fun and was greatly blessed by my time at Schwarzwaldeckhaus, the 50-something-year-old house owned by the Churches of Christ in Austria and used for everything from camps to retreats during its long and storied history. Anyone who has ever come up here has a story to tell about this house, and I think 34 more stories were added this year.

My specific task this year was working on the Sport/Spiel/Spaß Zeit (Sport, Games and Fun time) with Bart and Bobby. We played everything from capture the flag to water balloon volleyball, but my favorite day was when Bobby used his skills and equipment from his day job as a tree cutter for Vienna to make a ropes course complete with zip line and climbing section. I also helped out with the older kids’ Bible class, specifically interpreting Martin’s lessons into English for a few kids who attended from Slovakia and Czech Republic, so had little to no German. I think this was a first for so many non-German speakers to come, which can be scary for a kid, but they fit right in and are already excited for next year.

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetThe rest of my time was spent leading my specific group through kitchen duties, prayer time and other service areas, doing a devotional in German and simply hanging out with, spending time with and encouraging the kids. A lot of them come from troubled backgrounds, and you could see they enjoyed a week of simple fun and peaceful interaction with other kids and adults, both.

In the US, especially in church circles, we’re used to summer camps. If you grew up going to one, you know how impactful it can be. Now imagine how this experience is for someone who doesn’t have a peaceful home, or doesn’t hear about Jesus on a daily basis, or who has simply never been to the mountains. This week was a chance for them to see God’s creation, experience God’s love and learn about his plan. It left everyone (especially the adults) exhausted, but it’s no wonder that everybody keeps coming back every year for more and that we keep adding kids by the year.

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetIn fact, the numbers of kids in the group who are actually teenagers are large enough that we plan on providing these older kids with their own camp next year, Youth Camp (Jugendlager). The details about this extra week is all TBD, but we are already very excited for it and we already have had many teens tell us they can’t wait to come.

With the Haskews on furlough and many others in our church also traveling, it’s now pretty quiet around Vienna for the summer. Please pray for us as we hold down the fort and keep things going throughout this quiet season. Also pray that our fall plans will come to fruition with great energy and excitement.Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

Our Summer Months

IMG_5845Our Vienna summer has gotten off to a great start. Mendy’s long-awaited arrival finally came in mid-May, and soon after that, Dale and Vicki Hawley joined us for a few days. If you don’t know Dale and Vicki, find a way to make it happen. This amazing couple is well-known among missionaries because of their years of experience in counseling and missionary care. They’ve been with the Vienna team from the beginning, and now that we and the Haskews are finally in a place of stability, we thought it a necessity to have a thorough visit with the Hawleys in order to evaluate ourselves as a newly formed team.

Our time with them was an enormous blessing and the four of us learned so much about ourselves as a team and as individuals. We discussed each other’s gifts, work habits, perceptions, and stresses. We looked at the past and talked about how to build on it and move forward in the future. As a team and as friends I’d say we were close to begin with, but this particular time with the Hawleys brought us so much closer. A lesson I took away from this team building experience is how crucial it is to have a healthy team. It’s like in 1 Corinthians when Paul addresses the parts of the body in Christ and says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” The same is true for the health and well-being of a team – if an issue arises or a conflict created, the team as a whole is affected, thus as a whole, we all have to work together to first locate the ailment, treat it, and tend to it for healing so that we can then experience part 2 of Paul’s point, “If one part is honored, then every part rejoices with it.” Jake may be an ear, Amanda a hand, Will a kneecap and I an eyelash, but we’re all part of the same body of Christ and the same team in Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31 below)

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In recent weeks we’ve hosted several visitors but not yet “tested” the space in our living room for hosting big groups. That changed when 12 girls from the OC Study Abroad group came over for treats and coffee. We sat in a big circle and talked about their cultural observations and comparisons, and talked about every day life here in Vienna from my perspective as a mom. To end our time together, the girls sang a couple of worship songs which sounded so beautiful and did my heart good. I always love a chance to sit in on an OC devotional, but this time the devotional was brought to me. Thank you, girls!

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About two weeks ago we were joined by Lynn and Joy McMillon, as well as Will’s dad, Chip. How good it is to see familiar faces in our neck of the woods. Lynn and Joy’s presence was a great encouragement to us all. We had several fruitful conversations over dinners, breakfasts and coffees. They were even able to worship with our house church on a beautiful (but toasty) Sunday morning. Though their time with us was much too short, it was good to hug them and introduce them to our Vienna family.

During our visit with the McMillons, Chip and Mendy hopped over to Istanbul for a few days to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They came back to Vienna and had little time to recover and repack before the entire Kooi gang left for a family vacation in the Austrian Alps. The views and Austrian towns were lovely despite the rainy and cold weather. But honestly I think it could’ve snowed 10 feet and Chip and Mendy wouldn’t have cared as long as Elliott was there. He had an excellent time with his grandparents and was especially sad to see Mendy leave for the States yesterday. Chip is still here and will be until July so Elliott’s still getting lots of grandparent love, and I still have someone who will willingly change Elliott’s grossest diapers. (Yes!)

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As for the summer months ahead, we’ve got a lot planned. We have a church picnic next Sunday immediately followed by a youth group outing to a miniature golf course. This year is the Haskew’s furlough year, so they’ll take off right as Kinderlager (kids camp) kicks off. Will is going but Elliott and I are going to stay here. There will be 32 kids attending camp – which is completely awesome – it’s just a bit much for a little guy who doesn’t have a place to crawl and stand up without a kid or two or ten accidentally bumping into him in Schwarzwaldeckahus. But we won’t be idle. For the whole month of July, we’ll be hosting a former OC Study Abroad student while she works on her German immersion course. The 3 of us will stick together while Will is away and work on any last necessities for preparing our house for house church in the fall. Also during this time, our neighborhood is hosting its annual community BBQ. My hope is to meet many new neighbors and in doing so, begin many new lasting friendships.

In August, Will will be attending a conference in Switzerland called History Makers. This is a brand new (to us), recently heard of opportunity that was sent our way by a friend who helps in the organization and execution of History Makers. The goal of this conference is to focus on the capabilities and spiritual gifts of upcoming workers in missions and ministry and help those individuals utilize their capabilities and gifts to the benefit of God’s Kingdom. You can learn more about this conference here.

That’s what’s going on and that’s what our summer holds. Thanks as always for your prayers and encouragement. We love hearing from you.

Unity and Diversity in the Body

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (NIV)

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Starting Fresh

You guys know I love to write, especially about our work and life in Vienna, so I hope you don’t think I’ve forgotten about you or about this particular form of communication. The Vienna Team has been busy, Will and I have been busy, Elliott has been extremely busy which keeps me extremely busy… It’s been a whirlwind of action over here. A hefty amount of that action has consisted of us, the Kooi family, trying to find our footing and rebuild the foundation that we felt had been so shaken when we returned last December. But an equally large amount of that action has consisted of new beginnings, deepened friendships, big dreams, and a fresh view of the future.

A very new beginning for Will and me has been our move from our old apartment in the 2nd district to our new row house in the 22nd district. We absolutely love our neighborhood and neighbors. I don’t think we could have asked for a better landlord, and his wife has taken me under her wing to do yoga with me and Elliott on Wednesday mornings! We’ve been working on the layout of our living room as our goal is to have our house “house-church-ready” by the fall. We’re thrilled to join the house-church rotation and can’t wait to open our home for worship. There’s still some tasks here and there we need to finish before the big day takes place, but we’re nearly there.

We had a wonderful, blessed time with the Jones family – our MRCC >> Vienna country coordinators. It was so good to hug on them and talk about everything under the sun. (At least the girls and I talked a bunch, can’t speak for the guys.) They were able to experience another Gemeinschaftsonntag (Fellowship Sunday) and meet a few new people in our church. Their visit was much too short but we treasured all the time they were able to spend with us.

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In April our family and the Haskew family took a short trip to Budapest. It was there that we really nailed down our new team identity and spent many sessions in discussion and prayer over the work in Vienna. We talked about each other’s spiritual gifts, analyzed current programs, dreamed up new ones, and set goals for the future. When we weren’t working together, we were enjoying each other’s company by the pool or while playing a board game or drinking a coffee. This retreat was huge for us both as a team and as individuals. The retreat seemed to breathe life back into us and we felt the Lord’s presence throughout its entirety. I think we all returned to Vienna with a renewed sense of purpose and a goofy grin on our faces as we thought back to that time when our train hit the emergency breaks while Will was in the bathroom. If for some reason we hadn’t bonded over our work sessions or board games, I’m sure we would’ve bonded over Will’s bathroom story. Hilarious.

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Not too long after our retreat, our interns, Lindsey and Daven arrived to work alongside us for 6 weeks. Lindsey and Daven are former study abroad students so Vienna is a home away from home. The girls jumped right in and helped Will, Jake and Amanda finish out the remaining English Kids Club sessions. The girls even planned the End of the Year Party for us which was a hit. Since EKC is now on its summer pause, the girls have been spending a lot of their time focusing on the church. I think my favorite activity they’ve put together is the teen girls slumber party. Will and Elliott were kind enough to camp out upstairs for an evening so our house could handle teen girl talk (*thumbs up*) and teen girl music (*thumbs down*). Three of our girls from church came and the 6 of us had a blast. We ate pizza, baked cupcakes, watched a movie, decorated pillow cases, and then of course, ended our evening with pillow talk. Lindsey, Daven and I turned in around midnight, but I heard a rumor that the other girls, well, took their time going to sleep. The next morning we all piled around my kitchen table for pancakes and we sent the girls home with new pretty pillows and tired eyes. It was a fantastic time. Sadly, the 6 weeks are nearly over and Lindsey and Daven head back to the States this Saturday. They’ll be missed!

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Can you tell there was a sleepover at my house?

Can you tell there was a sleepover at my house?

Elliott is 8 months old which is crazy talk. He’s so stinkin’ big – he’s wearing clothes for 1 year olds. He crawls everywhere, pulls up on everything, and eats anything and everything within his reach which is surprisingly long. He’s got two bottom teeth on their way and seems to be handling it pretty well. Still not a lot of hair, but I guess I should expect that given both of his grandpas are lacking in that department. The kid’s a ham for the camera and for people. Currently, he loves having Oma Mendy here and can’t wait for Opa Chip to join her. We love our Elliott.

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As for us? We’re good. We’re so good. Sure, the new year rang in more difficulties than triumphs, but we learned from those days and months and we’ve grown stronger because of it. You know that well-known passage in James about having joy in the midst of trials? I think I get that now, at least better than before. I know another trial will come and I’ll raise my eyebrow at this passage in James and learn this same lesson all over again. But for now I can look back at the craziness of December, the uncertainty of January, the heaviness of February… I can look back and be filled with the joy of the Spirit.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

In Loving Memory of Daniela

For Daniela: Our brave, strong, loving, faith-filled friend

Will and I met Daniela our first day in Vienna at the airport. She was part of the welcoming committee who surprised us with a giant, colorful “Willkommen in Wien!” poster. She was quiet but smiley. I remember thinking she had a gentle spirit with a surprisingly firm handshake.

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That same day, Will and I arrived at our temporary apartment to find a basket of goodies from the Vienna Team and a homemade chocolate cake from Daniela. It wasn’t until the following day that we actually tasted the cake, and it is no exaggeration to say it was one of the best tasting cakes I’d ever eaten in my life.

Shortly after our arrival, Daniela volunteered to drive Will and me to house church which was taking place a little outside the city. The three of us couldn’t communicate at the time, but we certainly tried. She would ask a question in German, and Will and I would list a mixture of German we knew and English words she may have known in an attempt to give the correct answer. Ultimately we’d just end up laughing then go silent until one of us was brave enough to start up the conversation again.

Daniela also volunteered to help us move into our first apartment. She was a carpenter, an awesome one at that, and was able to borrow a large van from work that was normally used to haul around her equipment. She picked us up from IKEA and our dance with words began again, this time with a little more success, but with the same amount of hilarity included. My jaw dropped when she picked up a huge box and walked it up a flight of stairs and into our apartment like it was nothing. The woman was a beast. In fact I’m certain she was stronger than any of the men in our church. She could lift anything heavy and build anything needed. She even helped with the kitchen in our office and directed Josh and Jake as to how to mount the display case on the side of our building. When we did get around to mounting that display case, she was in the middle of chemo, but had she been able, she would’ve mounted the thing herself. She was that good.

Daniela was just plain good with her hands. While she could certainly build and lift, she could also bake and create. That chocolate cake she made for Will and me was a staple dessert in our church. Any Fellowship Sunday with that cake present was a good Fellowship Sunday. Another fan favorite was her unbelievable Tiramisu. Her fruit-filled desserts made their appearances in the summer, and it’s because of her that I’m now open to the idea of eating fruity desserts, whereas before I was strictly anti-fruity desserts. Her baking was magical. Sometimes she would bake something for our Kreativer Frauenabends, another opportunity to see her wow and amaze others with her talented hands. She could carve the most spectacular pumpkins at Halloween or put together the prettiest cards at Christmas. I loved the masterpieces she came up with, and while myself and others complimented these masterpieces a thousand times over, she always simply smiled, said thank you, and that was it. Daniela was one of the most gifted women I’ve ever met, as well as the most humble.

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Some of my favorite memories of her have to do with language. She always helped Will and me with our German, and because of her kind and gentle persona, we weren’t afraid to make mistakes in front of her. For example, I will never forget the difference between the verbs “verpassen” and “vermissen”. Both mean “to miss”, but the first verb means to miss as in “I missed the bus” and the second verb means to miss as in “I miss you”. She taught me that on a Sunday in the kitchen of our office, and ever since then when I use one of those verbs, I think of her. On the English side of things, we had the pleasure of helping her add to her English vocabulary during our English For Adults class. It was in these classes that Will and I really got to know her. We learned so much about her – her favorite food, her favorite vacation spot, what she was like as a kid, who she looked up to… She told us stories about her two boys as well as a story involving her grandmother and a skateboard. Sometimes we taught her English using an actual lesson book while other times we read the Bible together. We so thoroughly enjoyed that time with her and will forever cherish those memories.

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And then there’s Daniela’s mountain-moving faith. Even now, as my own faith is tempted to waiver because of losing her, I look to her as an example of someone whose faith stood firm through and through. She was baptized a few months after Will and I arrived in Vienna, and from that moment on, it was clear for whom she was living. She radiated faith, trust and love. She shared her love for the Lord with so many of her friends and family. Above all things she was a servant for the Lord, as well as a caring mother and loyal friend. Daniela was a pillar in a our church. She also loved our time of worship. She frequently had song requests, and often wanted to sing her favorite song “Ins Wasser Fällt Ein Stein”. She drew upon this song and others for peace and strength throughout her battles with cancer. Although she dealt with much pain in her last days with us, it was evident the Lord was with her as Will, Kim, Tamika, Edda, Amanda, Jake and I sang to her by her bedside.

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The day we sang to her was the day before she died. It was a difficult time for all of us, but God, because he is so good, provided Will and me with our own special, beautiful memory that we’ll always remember.

When Will and I first walked into her bedroom, she immediately wanted to see Elliott. They had only seen each other a couple of times before her lengthy stay in the hospital. Will and I sat in the chairs right next to her bed and I put Elliott in my lap to face her. I took his tiny hand and placed it on hers, thinking I’d need to do this a few times so she could feel his companionship. But he left his hand on hers without my help. He patted her hand and played with her fingers. He gurgled and cooed and gave her some really big smiles. On this day, Daniela couldn’t say much, and when she did speak it was difficult to understand. But when she spoke to Elliott, her speech was clear. “Hallo, Schatz. Hallo. Du bist so süß. Hi. Hallo. Hallo, Schatz.” Elliott fell asleep while we sang to her but woke back up to say goodbye. We sat him down next to her again and they looked at each other for a long time. He babbled some more and soaked her fingers in slobber as he nibbled on each one. She didn’t mind. She smiled.

That was our last moment with sweet Daniela. And though I know Elliott won’t remember her or the time we spent with her, I’m looking forward to the day Elliott’s old enough to understand how wonderful she was, how much she impacted his mom and dad, how important she was to our church, and how in a time that seemed shrouded in darkness, he was a light.

We miss you, Daniela. We love you. And we can’t to see you again.

The Koois Are Back In Town

IMG_4892Well friends, we made it! We didn’t expect 7 months to go by before we were back in our apartment, but hey, we’re here at last and for that we are extremely thankful.

As most of you probably know, we arrived last Monday afternoon. The week that has passed since then has been nothing short of crazy, and at times, very difficult. The plane ride from Dallas to London was unfortunately terrible due to Elliott’s absolute refusal to go to sleep. He cried and cried and cried until the last hour and a half of the trip – of course. Luckily no one complained, but I did see a passenger put in earplugs every time Elliott let out a yell. Elliott was a dream on the plane ride from London to Vienna, though. Must’ve been that “we’re almost home” feeling. But Will and I are done with plane rides for at least 10 years. Maybe 20.

6 of our 7 bags made it home with us. Number 7 is still out there somewhere, filled with who knows what because we can’t remember what all we packed in that specific trunk. We’re hoping it returns sometime soon.

The only time either of us smiled.

The only time either of us smiled on the plane.

Culture shock, or reverse culture shock, or even perhaps reverse-reverse culture shock set in almost immediately, and that’s been the most difficult part of our time here so far. I think we both assumed we’d be able to do exactly what we did the last time we returned to Vienna after a lengthy stay in the U.S. – happily hit the ground running. But this time we mostly just hit the ground and have had a hard time getting back up. 7 months is a long time to be away from where you call home, especially if it’s in your host country. On top of that, we had been waiting for our big return to Vienna for so long that once we arrived, it didn’t feel like reality. It felt bizarre and weird and uncomfortable, and to have those feelings upon walking into our home was upsetting. Our apartment felt familiar and foreign at the same time. And Elliott was there – a strange addition to the place that has always belonged to only Will and me. Add a huge dose of jet lag, lack of sun, and Will’s, at the time, worsening cold to the mix and we had ourselves the perfect recipe for a culture shock meltdown.

What happens after an 8 hour, sleepless flight.

What happens after an 8 hour, sleepless flight.

We’re okay, though. We initiated help from the Haskews when we realized we needed help getting adjusted, and they’re the reason we’re doing so much better today. We’ve slept, Will is nearly completely recovered, and every day it feels more normal to be back here. Even our apartment is beginning to feel normal with Elliott and his million items about the place. The poor guy is still jet lagged so nights have been quite an ordeal, but he’s enjoying himself and loves walks in the stroller. The three of us are trying to take it slow and get reacquainted with the city we love so much.

We went to church for the first time Sunday which did our hearts good. It was wonderful to see our church family again and hug everyone’s necks. The singing was particularly beautiful and relaxing to hear. Elliott was welcomed right away and even had a collection of special prayers prayed over him by various people. It’s good to be back.

Poor fella conked out in the Vienna airport while we waited for our luggage.

Poor fella conked out in the Vienna airport while we waited for our luggage.

Now, as for Tobias. During our stay in the U.S., Tobias stayed with a family we know from church. Some of you may have even seen his pictures with them pop up on Facebook from time to time. They fell in love with Tobias right away (naturally), and have provided him with the utmost care, and it is because of this that we have decided to let this special family keep Tobias. They call him “King Toby” as he apparently eats like one and runs the household. His best friend is their precious 12 year old daughter who sleeps with him every night, refers to him as “sweetheart” and “the best kitty ever”, and teams up with him for snuggles during homework. He’s got an amazing, relaxed environment with them which is something we can’t currently provide and wouldn’t be able to do until we’re finally settled which could be months from now since we’re looking to move. He’s perfectly happy where he is and he makes our friends and their daughter happy, and that makes us happy. We’ll babysit Tobias when they need us to and we still get to see him on the Sundays we have house church at their place. We saw him yesterday and he looks great! He didn’t meet Elliott because Elliott was meeting everyone else, but hopefully they’ll see each other next Sunday.

We’re taking it easy this week and plan to stay at home for most of it. Our place is a suitcase disaster… I don’t even know where half of Elliott’s clothes are. Or mine for that matter. So we’ll mostly be unpacking and doing “normal” things, like grocery shopping, catching up on emails, drinking coffee, those sort of things. I’m picking up my permit on Friday so that’s my big event of the week. Will will begin work next Monday.

Thank you all for your prayers as we make this transition and start this new and exciting journey.