Today is a holiday here in Germany. It’s “The Day of German Unity.” As with most holidays here everything shuts down. Some of the local bakeries were open until 12 as well as gas stations and most restaurants. But other than that..closed. It’s actually something that I really appreciate here because it forces us to rest. It was a beautiful day today with lots of sun and temps in the low 60’s which meant we needed to get outdoors. So we adventured out to a nearby town and grabbed a bite to eat at our favorite Kebap place. (Side note- a Kepab is a delicious sandwich which landed here from Turkey. It’s kind of like German fast food.)
I’d spotted a flea market earlier in the morning and we’ve heard lots about them so we decided to stop and browse around for a little bit. There was quite a variety of stuff but nothing really grabbed our attention. I did pick up a vase and negotiated the price down to 2 Euro and 50 cents but I don’t have a picture of that…sorry.
After that, we came home and relaxed for most of the afternoon and with a cool fall day we decided to roast some marshmallows in our homemade fire pit. The previous renters left lots of bricks in our yard and Ian built a pit earlier in the summer. The kids really enjoyed marshmallows for dessert before heading off to bed.
At the end of August we were invited to go and visit with our team members in Austria. We’d tried to go back in June but it didn’t work out with the timing of our move. I had mixed emotions about heading to Vienna honestly. Not because of our teammates there but mostly because of the ginormous tug that it’s had on us for like the past 10 years. On the one hand I was looking forward to connecting with our team, seeing old friends and remembering what it was like to live there. On the other hand I wondered if the feelings of rejection and wondering why we are not there would reappear. I wasn’t sure that I had the energy to deal with those emotions in light of trying to live in Germany and fully be present here for however long we are to remain. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to go there and walk the streets of what “should be” our current home.
I did have lots of emotions while there and some of them reappeared just as I had thought. But what I did not plan on was a sense of coming home. Upon our arrival, we were so graciously welcomed by our team leaders. So much so that we ended up staying there for 4 nights when we had originally planned on only 3. We were loved on as a family and we were so well taken care of. For four days we got to speak English with other people, laugh as others shared similar stories of their first months of learning German and learning a new culture. We shared meals with friends old and new. We listened to stories of ministry work going on that broke our hearts. We listened to stories from friends whose lives have changed dramatically from when we knew them before. And we remembered. We remembered that being a part of God’s story and His plan often takes us on roads that we don’t expect to travel on.
But His story is the one that I’ve been invited into and I can rest assured that He will continue to go before us. He knows exactly what we need when we need it. Heading to Vienna could have been a very stressful time both physically and emotionally but instead it was a great extended weekend for all of us. It was a time to talk about the bittersweet reality of being there while fully acknowledging the sovereignty of God. Even though it was just a four day rest, as I look back now over this past month, I am so thankful for those days away.
With a title like that, I hope you feel a little bit or relief as to why there hasn’t been much activity here. After translating our school lists and figuring out where one buys said Matschose (pants for playing in the mud) the kids are successfully back in school. Man has it been a tough couple of weeks. We are once again dealing with transitions here and if you’ve followed along, you’ll know that those are really hard on our crew. This transition has been the hardest one that we’ve experienced I must say in quite some time. Like on our knees as much as we can be hard. Sometimes things are just hard and the only comfort is knowing that God is right there with me in it. I just wish I could push a magic button and have everyone speaking German, loving their schools and loving each other and spreading the love to the world. In reality however, almost the opposite is true and it’s exhausting. But… I have a few minutes to post a couple of pictures so I thought I’d share those with those of you who follow us by blog. If you have kids and school is back in session, I hope that your transitions have gone smoothly.
We spent the large majority of last week in Vienna visiting our colleagues there and getting to know them. This week we are taking advantage of our language teacher’s vacation and are discovering our town a little bit more.
It’s been over 10 days since the last post, so I thought I’d put some pictures up from Ian and Ellison’s time at camp. I took these the morning that I came to pick them up and they were good and tired but had learned lots more German and really made some good connections with new friends.
Here is Ian leading the kids in German in sports games!
Some of the fearless leaders with another camper.
What is camp without a camp flag?
Sleeping quarters. Ian slept in the navy blue tent on the right and Ellison’s tent was dismantled by the time I arrived. She stayed with another girl and her mother.
Jude turned 5 today. To me 5 feels like such a big number and 5 years is a significant time span. A lot has changed in our family over these past five years and today we got to celebrate one of the best changes of all, our son Jude. Yesterday, we were trying to figure out what to do exactly and we narrowed it down to a few things. We decided that we’d wait till this morning to see what the weather was like. It turned out that it was raining which meant all plans were off and we were staying at home. Jude loves being at home, it’s where he is most fully in his element and it ended up being a really good plan.
After nap time, the sun came out and we decided to head out to KFC for dinner. Although it’s different from KFC at home, they have the BEST kids play area and the food is really good.
While everyone back in America is starting a new school year and posting pictures all over Facebook, we are just at the beginning of our summer vacation. Ellison ended school on the last day of July and we were all kinds of pumped to pick her up from school. We had the cameras ready hoping to get a big smile and this is what we got…
It turns out that her last day of school ended with her not being able to find one of her house shoes. All kids are required to wear house shoes inside of school and she was really excited to bring hers home at the end of the year to have in the house for the summer. For some reason, she could only find one shoe. She and her teacher looked all over the classroom but with no luck. It stinks because it was a really rotten ending for her.
The difficult thing about writing this blog is that I am tempted to only write when things are sunny and cheery. The major problem with that is that we are tempted to tell only one side of the story. The truth is, a life in a different culture away from nearly everything familiar comes with challenges, many challenges. Sometimes even a lost house shoe can bring a girl to tears for hours (yes hours), even when there are lunch guests downstairs. Sometimes just the image of something familiar from home like a box of Corn Flakes can bring on a big funk fest and sometimes missing the Olympics because you don’t have tv service because it’s just too much to figure out with not understanding the language…well it just stinks.
Thankfully not everyday has been like this and God has been incredibly gracious to our family and we are thankful for all that He has done to integrate our lives into his story in Augsburg, Germany-who would have thought. I guess there’s really no real reason to write this post except to tell you that some days are better than others and sometimes when we’re silent here it’s because we are in the throws of doing life and figuring things out and those are the times that we need you at home most to pray, pray and pray some more.
Thanks for reading and following us on this journey!
So, there is a lot to juggle around here. Ellison just got out of school last week for summer break but in just over a month we’ll have 2 kids in separate schools 5 days per week getting out at different times each day. We’ll have 2 adults trying to learn German full time with a private instructor and independent study time each day. In addition to our instruction time and study time we are required to have built in speaking time with partners as well. It is also recommended that Ellison has a partner. We are looking into easy activities that our kids can do to help enhance their German and culture learning as well. On top of it all there are other commitments with our interning church to factor in. When you throw in keeping the house clean, keeping everyone fed, and ministry work it makes for 2 tired people at the end of the day which doesn’t make for a healthy family at all.
One of the toughest things we’re having to figure out is who does what, when, where, and how. Learning to say no to good things is a very close second for us and that is a whole ‘nother post in itself. By nature of our lives we have to take things one day at a time. Each day just does not look the same for us which is really really hard for me. I know that it’s impossible at this stage of the game to have it that way. Now that all of the boxes are out of site, it felt like the right time to bring some order.
This weekend while Ian was away, I was happy to have spent lots of time organizing our lives on paper and making plans (Hallelujah Chorus is still ringing in my head). For over a week I’ve been on Pinterest swooning over the wealth of creativity in organization plans and charts. I tried to scale back and go with simple to jumpstart our efforts. Thanks to my time online, I created a cleaning schedule, downloaded some chore charts for the kids, and started an organization board for the family that really was the springboard for a lot of this. Take a look at it if you can. Doesn’t it just say order :-)?? I found some old wood in the back of our place so it felt like a sign to try and create one…right. I also took a look at our ministry organization system (yikes) and I revamped some of our personal organization stuff as well.
Ahem…Now I’m fully aware that my laid back, down to earth husband will return tomorrow and let me give him the grand tour of our orderly lives and then he will help me scale back just a bit. But for now, I feel so much better with some order in place and I’m praying that it will help our family succeed in our goals for this season.
There was a certain excitement in Ellison’s eyes and voice as Jude, Asher and I picked her up from school. She was talking almost non-stop the entire drive home and touching on everything she had done that day. This is not totally normal for her and I think it is because she is finally finishing up her first grade year. Ellison started first grade in Atlanta toward the beginning of August in 2011 and is finishing her first grade year on the last day of July of 2012 in Augsburg, Germany. So I guess she has great reason to be excited- She has been in the first grade for quite a long time. Almost an entire calendar year.
I asked her if she was a little disappointed to say goodbye to the friends she had made in class but she responded with an abrupt ‘No.’ I was a little taken aback but with hardly a breadth she kept on talking. Ellison mentioned that only a few kids would not be in her class next year. I was reminded that here in the public school system they stay with the same teacher and mainly the same students for their first four years of school. There really is no reason to say goodbye for the summer as they will see the same classmates and teacher only 6 weeks later. And for our first grader who has a warped since of time this is basically a long long weekend.
I wondered about this difference and the long term effects it has on people here and on me as an American. This idea of staying with the same class for four years connected me to previous conversations with other Germans that I’ve been having about church here. I started intertwining with these other thoughts. So much so that I had to remember to pay attention because I was still driving on the Autobahn (All I have to say about that is that you better be 100% sure that you want to get in the far left lane)! Anyways, along with these thoughts I started immediately comparing with my own memories of the ‘last day of school’ feelings and the ‘first day of school’ feelings I had when I was a ‘Junge’ in Atlanta. As an American educated kid I dealt with the saying goodbye to friends at every end of the year along with saying hello to new friends every new year. I felt that we were constantly in situations where we were making new friends and saying goodbye to ones we would more then likely not interact with again. Even with our seasonal sport schedule, you are constantly meeting new kids and saying goodbye. Our culture is much more transient and people are always moving around. It’s just normal.
This idea of staying with the same class for four years connected me to previous conversations with other Germans that I’ve been having about church here. On many occasion the natives here in Germany have said that Americans are more open and trusting and inviting which makes it a little easier to invite people to church or carry on conversations about God. I have always wondered if that is really true and if this is true, why? It made me wonder if a small part of this openness comes from the saying goodbyes and saying hellos that we learn every school year. On the contrary I also wondered if the 4 year commitment to a class and teacher helps to foster this idea of a closed knit group of trusted friends something that we have observed after just 3 months here. I wonder if this contributes to the culture of being very skeptical of outsiders or not wanting to venture out too far away from the base or the norm?
Cultural learning and language learning are two very different things. In learning a language, with it’s excitement and difficulty, we are bound to make mistakes. These mistakes typically don’t harm any of the relationships we have made to this point because everyone totally understands that we DO NOT speak German(yet). On the other hand, learning something less blatant like a new culture can have serious ramifications if not done well. Making an unknown cultural mistake can seriously detriment a relationship or even worse ruin influence. Not only are we making a mistake that we do not even realize but the recipients of this mistake do not necessarily understand that this is a cultural difference. All they see it as is ‘wrong’.
Cultural learning is vital when it comes to truly connecting with a person – something that we so earnestly want to do with people who we are meeting here. It’s why every experience leads us down a trail of thoughts and comparisons into our own experiences growing up. So, moments like today where I get a slight glimpse into how a culture grows up and I am able to easily compare it to the differences I experienced when I grew up are key factors in our success here.
I hope they are building in a sensitivity to other people’s points of view and that they will help to give grace when I can’t always connect the dots and understand why an idea I have simply will not work in this culture.
How grateful I am to have kids who have offered us more opportunities to take a look into another culture in which I otherwise would never have imagined. And lets face it, most of us are the way we are because of how we grew up. As an adult why else would I ever think of the elementary school years if it not for my kids!
Pretty soon after we arrived, a couple of people in the church asked if they could present any needs we had to the church at large to help us set up house here in Germany. Although they were not on our list, some of the first things that people offered were bikes for our kids! We didn’t have room to ship their bikes from America and a few nights before we left we passed ours on to some good friends at home so it was such a nice surprise to get bikes so soon after we arrived.
Two of the bikes came from our good friends in Friedberg, the first town that we lived in. The bike that they gave us for Asher is called a “laufrad.” It’s a really neat concept and I think I’ve seen some in the US as well. Basically a child uses their legs, not pedals to move the bike. After a while on this bike, they should be able to transition to a normal bike without the need for training wheels because they will have already learned to balance and steer.
Asher has been practicing on his bike around the garden a little but he’s been more walking on his legs than using his legs to move the bike. Over the past several weeks the concept seems to have clicked for him. He figured out that he can go faster if he rests all of his weight on the bike and moves it forward with his legs. So, last week, I decided to let him try it out on the sidewalks while Jude and I walked behind.
Um….basically he took off! Jude and I were laughing out loud at how fast he was going on his bike and there were times when I had to bust into a full sprint yelling “Asher stop, stop” to catch him (that was quite a site). He is quite a little ham and loved putting on a show for us and making us laugh.
Next month Jude turns 5 and he will take the big leap into Kindergarten here in Germany. There is a Kindergarten less than a 5 minute walk from our house and last week I spent an hour translating, calling people for help and finally filling out the application and then walked it over. We’d just met a neighbor the night before whose son is also in this Kindergarten so we were really excited to get him enrolled. Proudly, I showed up and turned in my papers. Slight problem however… they had no more places for the fall.
In late May we got the application for him and we assumed that we should turn it in when we were actually in our current house. Unfortunately, we should have turned it in as soon as possible. So, we’ve been in search of another Kindergarten. Ok, if you are a native speaker who knows the language and the culture this is no problem. I, however, am not and I knew that it would take a lot of work to get him in another one. The day that we found out about it, I was so frustrated. If only I had known I would have had it done sooner. It led me down a rabbit trail of being frustrated and worrying. Ian reminded me that my worrying about it would not change the problem :-). Worrying would do nothing.
The next day, I met a friend and explained the situation to her. She helped me call around and very quickly she found 2 other Kindergartens also pretty close to our home. At the time we called, they were all booked for September but we had some hope that one of them would make a place for him. We were told that most likely we wouldn’t find out until September though. The lines were still not really clear for us. We didn’t know if we should keep looking or if the 3 schools would talk and figure out who they’d let in. How does it all work? It didn’t seem like there was a clear answer.
To say we were bummed is a big understatement. Not knowing language and culture really hurts progress sometimes and this was yet another example. Even in this, I tried to remember that even things that seem to be avoidable mistakes are not accidental happenings. We believe now more than ever in God’s providential plan in every aspect of our lives, even in a Kindergarten for our son. I’m learning more and more that my incapacity to handle things like these increases my daily dependance on God and deepens my trust in Him.
Last Thursday, I met with a friend at a local bakery to sort out some of the confusion around the Kindergarten process and also to practice speaking German. While we were meeting her phone rang. It was Ian with a message for me that someone had called about a Kindergarten place for Jude but that we had to call within the hour to speak to someone. Thankfully my friend was with me and was able to speak in my stead. It turned out that they had created a place for him at one of the schools and all we needed to do was to come in with proper documentation to get him enrolled.
Tomorrow morning we head over to Jude’s new school to take a tour and turn everything in. Amazingly enough, Jude is actually excited to go and we thank so many of you who have been praying for a good transition for him specifically. Now that he actually has a secured spot, it’s time for me to begin the next transition of seeing my big boy off to school 5 mornings per week. I’m taking deep breaths and trying not to worry.