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.

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.

Danielasbaptism

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.

Updates On Baby And Permit

A question I didn’t include in last week’s FAQ post but has been asked probably more times than the others is:

How’s baby Elliott?

I didn’t add it to last week’s list because, though I assumed he was doing well, I wanted to hear those words from a doctor before writing about him. Now I have that answer, and it is – Elliott’s doing great! After over 2 months of waiting for an appointment, I was finally able to see someone this morning over at the new Mercy Clinic (which is very snazzy-looking). This appointment was mainly for me to get my glucose test taken care of – a totally gross, sugary experience – but it was also a chance for Will and me to meet our potential new doctor in the case that we are here to stay to have Elliott. I was admittedly nervous about meeting this doctor in the first place, simply because I didn’t have any time to get recommendations or do much research on doctors in Oklahoma City. Plus, this was my first baby-related appointment in the U.S. and I wasn’t sure what to expect other than I probably wouldn’t get an ultrasound – something that is done at every single appointment in Austria. But I knew God had led us to this clinic and this doctor as soon as we met the staff. We connected right away with the nurse whose daughter has done mission work in Wales and is looking to do more in the Philippines. Then, upon showing the doctor my all-German records, she said she had seen these kinds of records before and recognized and understood most everything as she sees many Austrians who work for Tinker. We’re a perfect match.

The overall experience was wonderful and filled Will and me with great peace. We explained our work permit situation to the doctor who said that if we do have to stay, she’d get us fixed up without any problems. We’ll be able to ease right in as if we were with her practice the whole time. As for me, my blood pressure, which hasn’t been taken since May, is totally fine. My glucose test has been sent off to the lab and we should hear back about that next week. And as for Elliott, he’s been measured and given a thumbs-up. He gave me a pretty good jab in the ribs a few minutes ago, so, he’s letting me know that he’s doing well, and also mad that he had to taste the glucose drink. Blech.

With the doctor’s confirmation that July 30th is the absolute last day I can fly, we did go ahead and schedule our next appointment for 2 weeks from now, ultrasound included. As we were getting that taken care of, the nurse told us the next available slot would be July 30th. Ha, of course. But we figured, if there’s anything that could lift our spirits after not being able to fly back on Austria that day, it’s seeing our baby boy on the ultrasound screen.

We unfortunately don’t have any real updates on the work permit at this time. We did hear from our lawyer a couple of days ago for the first time since May, and he gave us a very small update saying that “they” (those who are processing our permit) need more… [fill in the blank]. We’re not sure what they need other than “more” of something, but now we’re specifically praying that whatever is needed is easy to get and is the last piece of the puzzle. We’ve got 13 days to get this thing.

Thoughts On The Close Of A Chapter

Has it really been 2 years? 

577261_405631219477120_1070214144_nThat question is all I can ask myself as I sit here on my parent’s porch after finally making it to Atlanta. Knowing we were in Vienna two years is a strange thing to comprehend. So much has happened yet it feels as though we’ve only just gotten started. I think back to when we first landed in Vienna on May 17th, 2012. We were excited and completely nervous as we walked through the airport not at all prepared for our special greeting outside the doors. We were greeted by the bright, smiling faces of who we now call our family. Our church family, our Vienna family. They held up a colorful poster with “Willkommen in Wien” (Welcome to Vienna) written in big, bold letters, surrounded by signatures and loving comments from everyone in the congregation. That poster still hangs in our bedroom so we never forget how we were welcomed, and who we came for.

That summer, the summer of 2012, was a mixed bag of emotions. We were thrilled to finally be underway in our mission, but we had no idea how God planned to use us. We were uncertain of a lot of things like where we would live, what our specific ministries would look like, how we’d fall into place with the church, whether or not we’d make any friends, how (or if) we’d learn this crazy German language. We had so many questions, but all were answered in God’s perfect, faithful timing. He provided us with a home, he provided us with work according to our gifts, he opened the church to us and introduced us to so many wonderful friends around the city. And he even gave us the ability to speak German. He provided us with courage and with confidence to move forward in our mission and become part of the city of Vienna.

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Through our HIM Worker experience, we’ve been able to be part of so many good works the Lord has put into motion – a church coming together and supporting one another in a time of transition; the rebuilding and thriving of English Kids Club; the lives and hearts of Oklahoma Christian University and Lipscomb University students transforming before our very eyes; the beginning of a youth group; the naming of a church; new friendships, new Bible studies, new citizens of Heaven. We’ve done some transforming ourselves as we’ve learned and continue to learn how to work with one another, how to live abroad, how to have joy in trials of all kinds, how to make friends in another land, and now most recently, how to celebrate new life in two worlds at once.IMG_3995

On Thursday, May 15th, our chapter as HIM Workers came to a close, but our desire to work for the Lord does not. We are reminded in Ephesians 2:10 that God already has work waiting for us, and it is with that hope that we boarded our plane and headed for home.

Vienna Easter Celebrations

Easter is a huge time of celebration around here. Schools take off for 1 or 2 weeks, Easter markets open all over the city, Easter decorations hang in the windows of shops and people’s homes, families hit the road for vacation or to spend the holiday with loved ones. It’s a big deal. Naturally our programs take a pause for 2 weeks since everyone’s on break which feels a little strange, but we use this time of quiet to refocus and reenergize for the last weeks of programs that are just around the corner. As far as our own celebrations and reflections go, we gathered together with church members once on Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – and again on Easter.

Thursday’s “Nachtwache” (or Nightwatch, traditionally known as the Easter Vigil), was held at Chuck’s apartment. This night is a representation of the Last Supper in which we attempt to do as Jesus and His disciples did at and after the Last Supper. Throughout the night, we read scripture in accordance with what we were doing. We began our night in prayer at exactly 7:48pm, the time of sundown. We then shared a meal together, talked and story-swapped, then moved to the living room for a time of worship. We first took turns sharing what the Lord’s Supper means to us. We then prayed over the bread and fruit of the vine and took the Lord’s Supper. We also took turns sharing encouraging events that had taken place during the week and praised God for giving us those moments. We spent time in song, scripture, and prayer. When midnight arrived, we read Jesus’ arrest and again spent time in prayer before we left for home.

On Friday, Will and I visited our first Easter market out at Palace Schönbrunn. The market had a similar vibe to the beloved Christmas markets but was nowhere near as good. We walked around the various stands but mainly enjoyed the sunny atmosphere by sitting in egg chairs and drinking coffee.

Then came Easter! Sunday was absolutely fabulous and celebratory with the sweet spirits of 9 Lipscomb students and some of their parents and family members joining us in worship. Several from this group read scripture or lead us in prayer. Our church sang all of our favorite songs plus a few new ones. We think the Lipscomb group really enjoyed the challenge of singing in and listening to others read scripture or pray in German. After our time of worship came to an end, we opened the kitchen for lunch: ham, deviled eggs, scalloped potatoes, rustic garlic potatoes, veggies & ranch. The students were thrilled to finally have a home-cooked meal and were especially thrilled when Amanda broke out her Strawberry Rhubarb and Coconut Cream pies. If there were any disagreements during yesterday’s celebration, it would have been over the pies.

We hope you all had a wonderful Easter spent among friends and family. Keep our interns, Daven and Vivian, in your prayers this week as the girls arrive next Wednesday and will be here for 6 weeks.

Finding Peace in the Alps

Saturday's sunrise, 6:45am

Saturday’s sunrise, 6:45am

I contend there is no air fresher than the air in the Alps. It’s full of health and healing, relaxation and peace, wonderfulness and goodness… It has it all! If I didn’t get so car sick driving up and down mountains, I’d like to live in the Alps someday. But I don’t think Will wants to deal with that, so we’ll stick to where we are for now.

Last Friday we drove up to Schwarzwaldeckhaus with our fabulous 20 Somethings bible study group. Once a year, the family who takes care of this particular house holds what’s called an “Arbeitslager”, or Work Camp, in order to prepare the house for winter. We’ve talked a little about Schwarzwaldeckhaus on this blog before, but in case you’re joining us for the first time, Schwarzwaldeckhaus (Black Forest Corner House… literally translated) is a large cabin house at the top of a mountain in the Alps. People from the churches in Austria often go there for retreats and camps as we did this past July. Because the cabin is so large and old, there’s a lot to be cared for. Therefore, an Arbeitslager is necessary before winter hits. So there you have it. We arrived around 7:30pm Friday night and enjoyed a quiet night by the stove fire in the living room. We had an Andacht (devotional) time together then split up into little groups – some went to bed, some gazed at the stars, some played cards, and some just relaxed. I’d love to spend all of my Friday nights that way!

Will posing for a picture while I yell at him to be careful.

Will posing for a picture while I yell at him to be careful.

On Saturday we woke up somewhat early to have breakfast together then we went to work. It was surprisingly fun! Beáta and I paired up to organize a couple of large closets while the others paired up various tasks. Will spent his time outside with some of the other guys using rocks and logs to divert a stream. They definitely had the hardest job, but they all came back to the house with smiles on their faces. It’s such a joy to enjoy work. We had a great time working together. After we finished up, we played endless hours of 4-Square which was undoubtedly awesome. The Lord blessed us with amazing weather, thus we never froze while we spent time outside. We were able to catch a beautiful sunset sometime before 5pm (which still blows my mind!) then had dinner together before we had a second devotional, this time around a camp fire. The stars were particularly gorgeous Saturday night and we spent a long while looking up at the sparkling Milky Way.

We had church together Sunday morning before we went our separate ways. The weekend, though too short, was wonderful and peaceful, and rejuvenated us to get back to work this week. Will and I have BOTH been sick with the most ridiculous colds for the last two and half weeks, but this weekend was exactly what we needed: fresh air and good friends. We’re so thankful the Lord provided us with this opportunity and put these incredible people in our lives.

20 Somethings!

20 Somethings!