The Good Teacher

Although there’s not a lot of time in my life for leisurely writing these days, I’ve decided to make this blog a fun, stress-reliever for me, and hopefully a source of interesting entertainment/learning for you! I can’t ever come up with things off the top of my head to write about, but once in a while, God will use something in my life to reveal something about Himself to me, and I love to write about those experiences (see my last post about waterslides…). So, here’s my latest little “understanding” from our good teacher…

Those who know me (and maybe those who don’t) know that I have always been and will always be a band geek. I started playing the trumpet when I was in fifth grade and played through the whole beginning band book at home the first week I got it. I knew immediately that music was my thing. In sixth grade, I decided that I wanted to learn another instrument. I had my heart set on percussion, but alas, the district rules said I had to have two years of piano before I could play percussion (I also think my band director was trying to rescue me from the craziness that is the percussion section). So, instead of trading in my trumpet for sticks and mallets, I got a new piece of metal, this time with a reed. Saxophone became my new thing. Long story short, I loved music a lot, did pretty much everything a girl could do related to music throughout middle and high school and eventually fell in love with marching band (and later drum corps). After marching four years in my high school marching band and two years with the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps, my body decided it had had enough, so I began to teach!

Teaching marching band is now one of my favorite things. It brings me so much joy to watch students enjoy one of my favorite activities and get to help them grow as marchers, musicians, performers, and human beings. My favorite moment is when a young marcher is struggling to do something and then,  after so much hard work, something finally clicks! The look on their face when I get to say, “I’m proud of all the hard work you put in to get here. It paid off and you look great,” is priceless. I am excited when my students are excited, frustrated when they are frustrated, sad when they are sad. I rejoice when they remember what they’ve been taught and apply it to look and sound good, and I wish for more for them when they don’t quite live up to their potential. It is always a rollercoaster of emotions and energy teaching marching band, and any decent teacher can attest to that.

Recently, we had a rehearsal that was especially tumultuous, and it left me thinking a lot…The beginning of rehearsal was great! The students were obviously committed to giving their best effort: their marching looked the best I had seen it all season; they were performing every rep; the brass sounded as beautiful, resonant, and in tune as I had ever heard them before, and everyone was obviously excited to be challenged and to get better. As we moved into ensemble rehearsal (where we put all of the sections together and run larger chunks of the show), something began to change. The brass started to sound bright, quiet, and pinched. The marching technique began to break down. No one was adjusting the spacing between them and the person next to them. No matter what I said to try to get them to do things better, the rehearsal continued to go downhill. I realized later that most of the students had forgotten the fundamentals we spend the first half of rehearsal working on and were now just overthinking everything, trying to do their best to get through the reps. They were putting forth so much effort, just not in the right way. This caused them to get tense, and forget all of the training we as staff work so hard to engrain in them.

As I sat frustrated in my car, reflecting on the rehearsal, God used what I was feeling about this rehearsal to show me something about what He feels about us as His children.

I have this deep desire for my students to realize the potential they have to be absolutely incredible. As a teacher, I have seen glimpses of it and can imagine what it would be like if everyone got there, but the students can’t see it. They only see me as a teacher giving them commands of things to do better, and even though I explain why we spend so much time on certain things in basics, or why it’s so important to keep your horn up during the show, they can’t see the potential in themselves that I can. So they do the things I tell them, but when they get tired, they forget. They forget the basics and end up overthinking everything. They try to muscle their way through the drill moves and the music without applying the fundamentals, and it crashes and burns every time. I’m never mad at them for doing this; I am sad for them, because they haven’t experienced what it feels like to perform when you’re not stressed about doing everything right. When the fundamentals of marching and playing come naturally, everything falls into place and you can perform and have fun. I just want them to experience that feeling!

God is the same way, but on a much larger scale that just marching band. He has a deep desire for us, His children, to see ourselves as He sees us: to recognize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, and that even when we fail (in our minds), He still loves us. In fact, He gave us His words (the Bible) to teach us the fundamentals of what it means to live a life with Him at the center, and to give us a glimpse of what it could look like if we all lived in the way He made us to live. But, when we forget the fundamentals (the things that our relationship with God should be built on), we end up striving, taking matters into our own hands, and trying to live life without God’s help. We crash and burn, just like the end of a marching rehearsal full of overthinking and forgetting the basics. But God doesn’t get mad at us…He gets sad for us! God is sad because we aren’t experiencing true fulfillment, peace, and lack of fear or worry that comes when we stand firm and remember His fundamental truths and promises. This was such a cool reminder to me to rest in the truths of who God is and who He made me to be instead of striving to do things for Him and taking matters into my own hands. God is the ultimate teacher, and so so much more!

**Update: The band did awesome at their competition this Saturday! They are finally starting to remember the basics and it’s so much fun!

Waterslides

I have been back in the United States for 2.5 weeks after spending almost a year in the country of Slovakia. Since returning I have wanted to write something to sum up my year, but it is so hard to encompass a year into a blog post, or even just the feelings of reverse culture shock. It has been a tough transition home of missing the people and the way of life in Slovakia, and I often find myself wanting to go back more than stay here in the USA. However, there are so many things I love about my home country, and I know that God has called me here for this season to finish school and be missional in Boulder, Colorado. That being said, I still wanted to write a short post reflecting on the year, but I didn’t know where to start until the other day at the pool with my little cousins…

To set the stage, I need to explain my two cousins: Otis and Melvin are five and three respectively and full of youthful energy. Otis is an active, loud, daredevil, stereotypical five-year-old boy. He feels emotions bigger than anyone I know, and can’t help but make you smile when he is enjoying something. Melvin is the younger brother and has a head full of curls and two, adorable dimples on his cheeks. He is quiet, shy, creative, and goofy. He likes to have a good time but is much more cautious than his older brother. 

A few days ago, we went to the outdoor pool near my parents’ house. There is a children’s area with a water playground and a yellow waterslide. Otis wanted to go on the big, adult waterslides across the pool but was a few inches too short, so he settled for the kids’ yellow one. He decided immediately that he LOVED it and wanted to go down over and over. He also wanted to share this experience with everyone around and begged his little brother, Melvin to go down the slide. 

“Melvin, you HAVE to go! It’s so fun! You won’t get hurt and it will be so much fun,” Otis pleaded with his timid little brother. 

Melvin refused, but Otis persisted, visibly sad and upset that his brother didn’t want to try the waterslide. Otis knew how fun the waterslide was and just wanted his brother to have as much fun as he did. He knew that the waterslide wouldn’t hurt Melvin and that if he just took that first scoot of faith, he would have the time of his life. All Melvin saw was a dark, scary tube full of water.

Finally, after an hour or so, Melvin got the courage up to try the waterslide. He hesitated at the top, looking at his brother for reassurance. Otis encouraged him and Melvin went down the slide. Otis was standing at the end of the slide waiting the whole time to see how much fun his brother would have. Melvin’s face as he got to the end was priceless: giggling and smiling wide with both dimples showing, he radiated joy. Otis helped him off at the bottom equally as happy (or maybe more so) that his brother had finally gotten to experience the amazing, yellow waterslide. Immediately, they both ran back up the stairs and went again and again, laughing and squealing with joy the whole time. 

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This was such a cute reminder to me of what God did this past year. He got my attention and called me to do something that I thought was terrifying, like the big, scary tube of water for Melvin: taking a year off of school to move overseas and do ministry. It was a huge leap of faith and it took me a lot of courage and prayer to finally take the leap. God kept encouraging me, saying, “Don’t worry! I’ll be right there the whole time,” with all the enthusiasm of five-year-old Otis, because from His view, this journey was going to be the most amazing, yellow waterslide of my life, and He wanted me to experience the joy of trusting Him and seeing what He could do in and through me. So, when I finally went down that waterslide and trusted God with a year of my life, I got to experience the freedom and joy that comes from trusting God with everything. It was still scary at many times, as a waterslide is the first time you go down, but in the end I came out better than when I went in, and I am so thankful that God called me down that waterslide!

After Melvin had gone down the slide a few more times, he bounced up to his mom and begged her to try. “It’s so fun, mom! You have to do it! I thought it would be scary, but it’s not!” 

Melvin set an example for me and what God is calling me to do during this next season in Boulder. I’ve got down this crazy, year-long waterslide, and now I want to invite others to try the waterslide: to jump in to whatever God is calling them to.

Maybe it’s not taking a year off of school and moving overseas, but it could be anything! Is God calling you to trust him with your time? To stop worrying so much and trust Him to provide? Is He calling you to start a business? To share your faith with your family or friends? Maybe you don’t consider yourself a Christian, but maybe God is calling you to look into what it might be like to have a relationship with Him, to try out a church, pray, or ask a question to a Christian friend. Whatever it is, I challenge you to take that step of faith, try the waterslide and enjoy the ride! I am so thankful I did, and I will try whatever waterslide He puts in front of my next.

 

 

 

The Comfort Zone

“Success lies outside of your comfort zone.” 

One of my band directors in high school (shoutout to Daniel Kirk) used this phrase as a motto for our band to teach us the value of hard work, but I had no idea how it would come to effect and define my life one day. While in Jamaica for my first mission trip the summer before my junior year of high school, I realized that this “motto” was really applicable to life outside of band, and that “success” could be defined in different ways.

One day during the week, we took a break from the manual labor of building houses and were sent to the “infirmary,” which was basically a hospital for people who had been cast away from society by their families due to a disability, deformity, or mental illness. Our job there was just to be with the residents, entertain them, and show them the love of Jesus in whatever ways we could.

When we arrived, I was horrified with the conditions. We had been warned that it was not for the faint of heart, but I was not prepared for what I saw. A large number of people occupied the open-air hallways and corridors, most lying on beds, but a few walking around or sitting on the concrete floor or dirt. Some wore clothes, but some did not. The air reeked of old urine and feces and other smells I don’t want to recall. There were soiled clothes and sheets, old trays full of food garbage, and medical supplies lying around. The residents were living in terrible conditions, with minimal (and not loving) care, and received nothing more than a few meals a day and a shower once per week (if they were lucky). They were not treated as human beings, and it made me physically ill to witness. As I walked around, taking it all in, I could hardly bare it. I felt guilt, anger, sadness, disgust, and just about every negative emotion I could at the moment. Eventually I bit my lip and got to “work.” After a full day of being emotionally exhausted entertaining and loving on the residents, we got back on the bus to return to the compound in which we were staying. I cried the whole way home.

That night we had some time alone to process our experience at the infirmary and then came together to share. During my time I prayed for the people living there and confessed my initial unwillingness to “care for the least of these.” For some reason, as I was praying this and asking God for forgiveness for my selfishness and disgust that had led me to inaction, He kept bringing to my mind, “Success lies outside of your comfort zone,”  something I had heard a thousand times from Mr. Kirk. I pushed it aside, but it kept coming back. Eventually we got back together and the leader asked people to share their experiences with the group. He also asked if anyone was interested in going to the infirmary for a second day; they could take a couple people back the next day to do the same thing. I immediately shut down that notion, but in my head came, “Success lies outside of your comfort zone.” When it came to me to share, I realized that God was asking me to get out of my comfort zone and go back to the infirmary for the second day. I wept and shared with the group that I would rather do anything but go back to the infirmary, but for some reason, I knew that God was calling me to go back the next day.

The next morning as I boarded the green and yellow bus, I dreaded what was to come. After the long ride through the pothole-laden mountain roads of Jamaica, we reached the infirmary once again. As I got off the bus, I prayed, “God, I don’t understand why you have me here. Help me. I can’t do this.” Just then, a woman with no teeth smiling ear-to-ear skipped up to me and gave me a huge hug. She smelled of urine, but she was so excited that I couldn’t resist hugging her back. She grabbed me tightly by the hand and immediately led me to a large woman sitting on a bench outside one of the wards. She was obviously blind and was not able to communicate verbally with me either. I don’t know if she could understand me at all. The woman who had led me there took my hand and placed it on top of the blind woman’s hand. As she felt the contact of my hand on hers, she immediately got the biggest grin on her face and began to bounce my hand up and down, giggling enthusiastically. This continued for about an hour. I cried as I realized that I had maybe given this woman love and joy for the first time in a very long time, just from a little bit of physical contact and company. Eventually, the woman got tired and let go of my hand.

I walked to go eat my packed lunch and met up with my friend who had come too. After lunch, we walked around a bit, saying “hello” to everyone we came across. We read Bible stories to a few people and sang songs as well. One man told us his story of losing his legs at an accident at a banana plantation. His family had not been able to pay for him anymore so they sent him to the infirmary. He was laying outside against a wall, unable to get to his bed, he obviously had some kind of infection or sores on his amputated legs. The nurses wouldn’t help him, he said. We asked if we could pray for him and he enthusiastically agreed.

After a while I moved on to a new building and sat down by a man who looked as if he did not have much life left in him. I grabbed my Bible and turned to Psalm 23. The man grabbed my hand as I started to read. His eyes got wide and tears started to run down his cheeks. There was another man in the bed next to us who started yelling, “Hallelujah! Praise God! Hallelujah!” The man holding my hand did not let go and thanked me by squeezing my hand even harder for a few minutes as tears of joy ran down his face.

As it came time to leave, I could hardly believe what had happened. God used me as his hands to hold and his mouth to speak words of truth, hope, and love directly from Him to His poor, outcast children. God had called me out of my comfort zone in order to rely on Him and bring glory to His name by loving these men and women. He had blessed others through me deciding to taking a step of faith, and He had also blessed me and grown me in so many ways that day too. So the “success” found outside of my comfort zone wasn’t what the world would define as success, but I grew closer to the Lord and brought others closer to Him, and that is God’s purpose for us here on this Earth. How much more successful could I be than to fulfill God’s purpose for me on Earth?

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I honestly had forgotten about this story until today as I was reflecting on my time here in Slovakia. Looking back on the decision to take a year off of school to move here and do ministry I was thinking about this concept of “Success (lying) outside of your comfort zone.” Everything about this year was outside of my comfort zone…coming into it I had no ministry experience, struggled with conversation, was still in school, etc. But God called me to take this leap of faith into the unknown, and I am SOO glad I took it. It has been the hardest and most rewarding year of my life thus far. He has done some incredible (and terribly challenging) things to grow me closer to Him and to bring others closer to Him through me. He continues every day to ask me to step out of my comfort zone to initiate conversations, share my faith, and even get out of bed in the morning sometimes. God gives me the strength and the words to do what He asks of me every time without fail, and the more I trust in Him, the more He gives me to trust Him with. It is a beautiful and glorious thing to experience: to be completely reliant on a God that you can trust completely because He is the maker of the universe.

God has promised to help us when we are putting our trust in Him.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

So, if there is something outside of your comfort zone that God might be calling you to, go for it. Trust in Him to provide, and take the leap. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will be worth it. That space outside of what we think is easy, comfortable, or attainable is where God works the most in and through us. He makes us “successful” not in the eyes of the world, but in what counts for eternity. I want to change the quote and say that it’s not success but,

“Eternity lies outside of your comfort zone.”

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Hammocks…

Yesterday was Labor Day in Slovakia, so I and everyone else in Bratislava had the day off. As my roommates headed out on a walk to Austria (yes, it is that close), I decided to take it easy on my legs and walk to the park across the Danube river (Sad Janka Kral’a) for some quality hammock time. I have been struggling a lot with muscle pain the past few years and especially since I moved here, but it’s still hard for me to have to say “no” to things I know that I physically can’t do anymore that I would have loved to do previously.  Because of that and a lot of other related stuff, I was feeling pretty down-in-the-dumps, but I was determined to have a great day in the sun in my hammock, so I put it out of my mind.

Somebody’s Watching…

The sun was shining and it was a beautiful 23 degrees Celsius (73 Fahrenheit) as I coaxed my tight, achy legs to make the trek across the bridge. When I arrived, I found a good half-sun, half-shady spot to tie up my hammock and got to work. The people around me got a good laugh as I tried to loop the straps around two trees I couldn’t quite fit my arms around. “Tree-hugger” takes on a whole new meaning when you are trying to put up a hammock by yourself…Eventually, I got my hammock up, took off my shoes, grabbed my book and my little bag of fruity pebbles I packed as a snack (thanks launch team from the states!), and settled in for an hour and a half of swaying underneath the trees.

As I started back into my book I hadn’t read in a while, I started to get the feeling that there was someone behind me, someone watching me. I sat still for a few seconds and then got the courage to peak my head up from behind the hammock. What I saw, I was not prepared for…

A small child, probably around a year or a little older stood there, face inches from mine, grinning with a very curious look. He stared into my eyes and gave me a big, half-toothed smile. I burst out laughing, as this toddler stood dangerously close to my face. His mom came running up behind him with an apologetic smile and gently tried to get him to retreat. I continued to laugh as the child stared me down with his cute little grin, staring into my very soul. His face remained inches from mine and he was not intimidated by the fact that I was a total stranger. Every time I laughed, he followed suit until all three of us (including the mom) were hysterically laughing at each other.

Eventually, the mom picked up her baby and walked back to the path, waving and saying “Prepačte!” (Sorry, or forgive me). I chuckled and could not stop smiling…Anyone who knows me knows that I love little kids, so the odd encounter was certainly welcomed.

After a rough couple of weeks, I was so in need of something joyful and funny to lighten my spirits, and it was so clear to me that God gave me that little gift of laughter to remind me that He loves me specifically and knows exactly what it is I need. Little did I know that He had even more in store for me…

What is it about hammocks??

After reflecting on my little laugh, I laid back in the hammock and started on my book once again. A few minutes later, I felt the same feeling of someone behind my back watching me. Lowering the fabric of the hammock to peak out, I was surprised again by what I saw!

Four little kids with wide eyes of surprise were staring back at me a little further back than where the baby had been standing. They erupted in giggles when I peeked over the hammock to see them and ran to hide behind the tree to my right, all the while squealing with laughter. The littlest boy poked his head out from behind the tree and quickly ducked back when he saw me looking at him. I heard giggles from behind the hiding tree again. I put the hammock over my head and waited a while until it was quiet, then I popped out from beneath the fabric and the kids went wild with laughter, running around the tree.

This game went on for about 10 minutes and ended up with with a talent show of sorts put on for me by the four little ones. The oldest girl, probably six, pretended to be a mime in front of me and took a bow. I clapped, and she ran to the side, letting her little sister take the “stage.” Of course, she copied the older one and tried the mime routine as well. I clapped enthusiastically for her performance and few silly dances from the two little boys. The field was full of dandelions, so of course we needed to blow the fuzzies at other and throw them in each others’ hair for the fun to be complete…

After brushing the white fluff out of my hair, I checked the time and realized I needed to get going soon. I said to the kids, “Potrebujem ist'” (I need to go). They looked sad, so I let them try my hammock for a few minutes while I packed up. All four jumped in and cocooned themselves, once in a while sticking a leg or an arm out and erupting into a fit of giggles.

The littlest boy got out of the hammock and started talking to me in Slovak. I said, “Prepač, nerozumiem. Nehovorim po Slovensky, hovorim po Anglitcky.” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I don’t speak Slovak, I speak English.) He was very confused and kept blabbering on. I was able to understand a little bit, but not enough to answer whatever question he was asking me. Eventually, all of the children were trying to talk to me in Slovak and I repeated what I had told the little boy. I had never considered that children probably don’t recognize that there are more languages than their own and wasn’t sure how to explain that in a language in which I am only a beginner. The oldest girl finally understood and said, “Oh, Anglicky!” She then showed me how she could count to ten in English. Her little siblings followed suit. “Good job, dobre!” I exclaimed and gave them a thumbs-up. I waved goodbye and yelled, “Čiaote! Goodbye!” to the kids and there mom who was having a picnic a ways off in the field.

Grinning ear to ear, I began to thank God for His lovely gift to me at just the right time. Lately, I have been praying that I would be able to more clearly see and appreciate God’s work in and through people and in all of creation. It has been amazing and fun to experience things in a new way and see how God uses ordinary things to delight in me as His daughter. Every time I see a cute animal I thank God for creating something that brings so much joy. Every time I hear a good piece of music or movie I think, “thank you, God for making us creative and giving us music to express ourselves!” We were made to appreciate our creator and His creation, so it brings inexpressible joy to recognize the things He has made and what He does to uniquely delight in each one of us. My morning in the hammock was such a great reminder of how God uniquely delights in me using things He made me to love: laughter, children, cute animals, music, etc. I encourage you to ask God to help you to see him in new ways and appreciate His creation this week!

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The Dunaj (Danube) River from Sad Janka Kral’a

 

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

-Matthew 7:11

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

-James 1:17

Kamaraty (friends)

One thing I have come to learn while living abroad and traveling often is that the people you travel with and the people you meet while traveling are what make a trip worth it.

For the past two weeks, I have gotten to explore Europe and play tour-guide to my parents. Here are some fun stories about our adventures and the people who made the trips worth it.

He is Risen!

I picked my parents up from the Vienna airport on Saturday, March 31st and brought them back to my home in Bratislava. The next morning was Easter, so we went to my little church to celebrate. We then had an Easter potluck at my apartment with my teammates who were in town and a few of our expat friends. Everyone brought delicious food and we had a blast talking and laughing together. Michael brought his guitar and we worshipped our awesome God in my living room with the windows open to let in the beautiful, spring breeze and sunlight.

A few hours into our gathering, we realized that all of our friends in attendance we had met while standing in line at the foreign police (or through other people at the foreign police). I didn’t write much about it, but we had a lot of issues at the foreign police while trying to apply for our residence permits. The system in Slovakia is very corrupt and disorganized, so all foreigners have a long, sometimes fruitless struggle to apply for temporary (or long-term) residence in this little country. It often involved camping overnight outside the police building just to get a number to be seen the next day. It was a very hard season for our team, but we are now able to look back and see how God brought so much fruit from it! It was so cool to see such a clear example of how God used that struggle for good.

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Our German-Slovak Friend

After some travel to learn about our heritage in Czechia, my parents returned to Slovakia and we took a road trip to the Tatras (mountain range in Northern Slovakia). We arrived in the small village of Zuberec in the late-afternoon and found the penzion (hotel/lodge) we had booked for the night. We tried the front door, but no one seemed to be there. Walking around the property, we ran into an older lady in the barn across from the parking lot. She waved and hurried toward us speaking quickly in Slovak. I communicated to her that I only spoke a little bit of Slovak and that we needed to check-in. She was very confused and kept asking what we wanted to do in Zuberec. Eventually we resorted to google translate, but even that failed us when what she typed a sentence that translated to something to the effect of, “the bride will be here in an hour and she will know what to do.” Confused, I typed, “We need to check-in to our room,” and she finally understood, giving us the key to our room. We unpacked and went outside to walk around the little town.

As we walked back to the hotel before dinner, we took a shortcut through the barn and ran into the lady we had talked to before. She was with a man (her husband). He pointed to his chest and said, “Stefan.” We shook his hand and he spoke to us quickly in Slovak. (neither Stefan nor his wife spoke a word of English). I managed to understand a little and introduced myself and my parents to him. He asked why we had come to Zuberec and seemed shocked that an American family would end up there. I explained that I lived in Bratislava and my parents were visiting. I chose to take them here because I had visited my first week and loved its simplicity and beauty; although I don’t think I communicated all of that in my beginner, broken Slovak… Stefan grabbed my face and kissed both of my cheeks. At that point, his daughter and son-in-law who spoke English showed up. He explained through translation that he was a teacher and had to go to a teachers’ celebration that evening, but would love to invite us to come have a traditional, homemade Slovak drink with him and his family the next day. We kindly declined because we were leaving at 9:00 the next morning. He gave me one more kiss on the cheek and walked away, waving and yelling, “Ahoj, ahoj!” (An informal hello/goodbye in Slovak)

The next morning, we were packing up and trying to figure out how to pay/check-out when there was a knock on our door. It was Stefan! He was carrying a bottle of purpleish liquid and some kind of pastry. Stefan explained to me in Slovak that he had brought us his homemade čučoriedka (blueberry) drink and the best strudel in Zuberec. He quickly found three shot glasses and poured a large shot for my mom and I and a small sip for my dad (I told Stefan that he was driving in a few minutes). The drink was VERY strong, but delicious! My mom and I sipped it, feeling it warm our insides and faces. All the while, Stefan wanted to know about us and told us about himself. I tried my best with my broken Slovak to understand and communicate with him. It became harder the more of the blueberry drink I sipped…We learned that Stefan was German but had been living in Slovakia for most of his life. From what I could gather from his Slovak and the occasional German word, he worked in helicopter mountain rescue for a while in Germany and Slovakia and then as a sports announcer in Zuberec for dog sledding. He now works at the local school as a German teacher.

My mom and I both finished the drink Stefan had poured us. Showing our approval and thanks with smiles and thumbs up, I tried to communicate that we didn’t need any more, it was 9:00 in the morning for goodness’ sake…Stefan either didn’t understand or chose to  ignore us as he poured a second shot. I gave my mom a look and she shrugged, “We can’t be rude.” Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t drink that much…in fact, before that morning I had never had more than one drink at a time. I don’t enjoy the effects of alcohol and want to always be myself, not effected by any substance. However, sweet old Stefan had broken me with his smile and constant kisses on the cheek.

After we finished the second shot, my mom and I were feeling a bit giggly, and I was having a hard time recalling the Slovak I had learned to continue a conversation with Stefan. We said goodbye and Stefan gave each of us a few kisses while yelling, “I love you, I love you, ahoj!” He asked for the word for “ahoj” in English and we told him. “Goodbye, goodbye,” he yelled and waved to us as he went down the stairs.

We drove to our next destination in the Vysoké Tatry (High Tatras) and when we arrived, my dad realized that he had accidentally left the key to the room back in Zuberec in his pocket. After a quick lunch at a local shopping mall, we got back in the car for a three-hour round-trip journey to give the key back to Stefan. None of us minded though, because we got to see Stefan again.

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Us with Stefan and his grandson at our penzion in Zuberec

La Ciotat

After a chill day in Bratislava, we took off to visit my mom’s friend, Kristi, and her husband, Jean-Marc in France. Our journey was very long after running through the Lyon airport to catch a flight on a tiny propellor plane that ended up being delayed a few hours when the tow bar broke on the tarmac. Eventually, we landed in Marseilles and drove our rental car to La Ciotat where we met the Kristi and Jean-Marc to let us into our air bnb.

The next morning, we slept in and awoke to sunlight. The weather forecast had called for 100% chance of rain the entirety of our visit, but we had been praying for some sun so we could enjoy the scenery and the beach! We met up with Kristi and Jean-Marc and toured their beautiful, work-in-progress (they are completely remodeling it) villa just a block from the beach. I got to pet and love-on their adorable golden retriever, Smokey, whose tongue permanently hangs from his mouth due to an unfortunate puppy-hood accident. After our tour, Jean-Marc drove us through part of the breathtaking Calanques National Park that reminded me of the Pacific Coast highway in California but even more beautiful. We took pictures atop the highest cliff in Europe and then drove down into the cute fishing village of Cassis. There we had a delicious seafood lunch with wine recommended by Jean-Marc (a professional wine-distributor). When we returned to La Ciotat, my mom and I laid on the beach to soak up some vitamin-D (in sweatshirts) and watched the kite surfers. Later that night, Kristi and Jean-Marc came to our air bnb on the beach and cooked us a delicious meal of duck with pear and blueberry sauce and roasted potatoes. I had never had duck except for at a Chinese restaurant, and it is now one of my favorites! Thanks Jean Marc!

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Our duck feast featuring Kristi and Jean Marc

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Me, my dad, Kristi, and Jean-Marc by the beach in Cassis

The rest of our trip was cold and very rainy, but we enjoyed our company! On the last day, my mom found out that her old friend, Olivier, who she had spent a year on AFS (student exchange program) to Jamaica lived just a few minutes from where we were staying. She hadn’t seen him in 30 years, so she jumped at the chance to visit him. We ended up spending hours chatting and hanging out with his family (and adorable, snuggly cat). The rain came down in sheets outside, but we were content by the fireplace with good company, music, and conversation. We ordered pizza from a nearby food truck, and I thoroughly enjoyed my cheeseless, veggie pizza while petting Sushi the cat and helping Olivier’s youngest daughter with her English. It is so cool how old relationships can instantly be rekindled over food and conversation even halfway across the world!

 

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My mom and Olivier, reunited after 30 years in France

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People are awesome, but animals are pretty cool too…

As I flew home to Bratislava and sprinted again through the Lyon airport, I found myself thinking about how thankful I am for all the people God has put in my path this year and I can’t wait to see how we will show up in each others’ lives in the future.

Thanks to my expat friends, Stefan and family, Kristi and Jean-Marc, and Olivier and family for being such wonderful people and making my parents’ vacation memorable!

When in Greece, Cyprus, Spain, and Morocco…

If you follow me on Facebook, you will see why I haven’t written in a while. My team and I had a few conferences to attend, so we traveled all over creation pretty much the entire month of January. Now that I’m back in Bratislava and starting normal life again, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on my travels and share some stories and things I learned during our long adventure. Buckle up…this is going to be a long one.

Greece: The Land of Ancient Ruins, Sunshine, and Food to Die For

The first leg of our trip brought us to Athens, Greece, where we explored for a few days before heading to Cyprus for the Eastern European Staff Conference. (The flights were actually cheaper to take a stop in Athens!) I now consider Greece one of my favorite places in the world, and I highly recommend that everyone go there if you ever have the chance!

Some of my favorite things from Greece:

-The Acropolis: The largest hill above Athens that is home to the Parthenon and dozens of other ancient Greek ruins.

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-A for Athens: A rooftop bar that offers a breathtaking view of the entire city of Athens at night. Highly recommended!

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-Aegina Island: A quick hour-ish ferry ride from the Piraeus port in Athens gets you to this beautiful island. There are some ruins, a monastery, and many cute little fishing villages with beautiful ocean/mountain view and delicious seafood.

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The fishing village of Perdika

-Mars Hill: The hill where Paul gave his Acts 17 message to the Areopagus. It is incredible to stand where he stood and look at the literal temples built to false gods. The weight and beauty of it takes your breath away. We actually came back a second time…

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-Food: All Greek food is amazing. Go family-style and try a bunch of different dishes. My favorite was eggplants in pasta sauce with goat cheese!

-Sunshine! Nothing much to say there…I would highly recommend visiting Greece in the off-season. Nothing is crowded, things are less expensive, and the weather is still great as long as you dress for it!

Cyprus: The Closest You Can Get to Turkey

Our conference in Cyprus was very restful and very needed. I learned a lot about how to truly rest in the Lord instead of trying to fill myself with things that ultimately won’t fill me. It was also amazing to see about 1,300 staff from all over eastern Europe and Russia! About 30 years ago the ministry over here was pretty much non-existent…

When we arrived in the airport, half of our team was almost not let through because our hotel was on the north side of the island, “The Turkish Republic of Cyprus.” Since Americans are no longer allowed in Turkey, they were not going to let any more Americans through…thankfully, God was on our side, and we all made it safely to our hotel! I thoroughly enjoyed the beach the whole week, even though it was pretty cold and rainy for our stay. Walking on the beach is one of my favorite things in the whole world…

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One day we got to visit the ancient ruins of Salamis (also mentioned in the Bible). It was cool to stand in another place where Paul had stood on his first missionary journey; the very beginning of the Christian church. We had a pretty crazy experience there that I’m not going to write about, but I would love to tell you the story if you want to hear it!

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Barcelona: A Quick Trip

In order to save money, we spent a day in Barcelona before heading down to Málaga/Torremolinos for our second conference. We were pretty exhausted even when we arrived because our shuttle from the hotel in Cyprus left at 12:30am. Barcelona is a beautiful city, but I suggest getting a full night sleep before you explore it all day…

My favorite part of our quick jaunt to Barcelona was getting to meet my mom’s friend, Kiki. Kiki lived in Jamaica when my mom was a foreign exchange student there her junior year of high school. Kiki married a Spaniard and now lives in Barcelona. She invited us over for some delicious homemade paella (the staple Spanish dish) and we talked for hours!

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Conference #2: Torremolinos

After arriving in Málaga, we caught a short train to our hotel in Torremolinos where we had our second conference of the month. This conference was for all the “STINTers” in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It was a great conference overall and I learned a lot, including how to really bear each other’s burdens when a team member is struggling. We had some tough things going on as a team, but God really brought us closer to each other and to Himself through it.

Despite hardships, we got to enjoy the beauty of Spain: the beach and Ronda on our excursion day! I would highly recommend going to Ronda if you ever find yourself in Spain. It is a very old city in the mountains west of Málaga. There is a giant bridge that looks like it is out of Lord of the Rings, and the oldest bull-fighting ring in the world. I was recently informed that the new animated children’s movie, “Ferdinand” takes place in Ronda!

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Morocco: New Eyes

After our conference in Spain ended, a few of us took a short trip down to Morocco (because when am I going to get to go to Africa again?). It was an experience I will never forget. Morocco is unlike any place I have ever been, and I learned so much just from a few days there.

One of the biggest things I took away from my trip to Morocco was the feeling. I have never really been part of a “minority” (except maybe as a woman in jazz or drum corps), but as far as my outward appearance, it wasn’t something I had experienced. That combined with being a woman in a country that women have little to no rights and are not treated well at all made me realize how thankful I am that I don’t have to deal with the ogling stares, the feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb, and of attracting (sometimes very negative) gazes from men and women on every corner. The experience and feeling was very new to me and it really made me think about how people who experience that every day (whether in Morocco, somewhere else, or even the United States) feel. It gave me a new appreciation and love for people who have that as a reality every day.

I think traveling and really immersing yourself in another culture is the best way to develop empathy and to really start to see people as God sees them. It gives you a new set of lenses to see the world through, and it shows you how broken our world is and how much we all need the hope of Jesus.

That being said, I LOVED Morocco…here are some travel tips and suggestions:

Places to Go-

We spent most of our time in Tangier with a day trip to Casablanca. Everyone I have talked to suggests going to Marrakech and Fes over Casablanca, but it wasn’t feasible for us on this trip.

Restaurant Rif Kebdani de Tanger: Possibly my favorite restaurant EVER. The food is amazing, the service is incredible, and the atmosphere is really cool too! We went the first night and came back the last night of our stay. The waiter gave us free appetizers and tea both times, took selfies with us, and sent us home with a grocery bag full of Moroccan bread and fruit for our trip home on the last night. Try the Tangine, Couscous, Pastella, and pretty much anything on the menu. Don’t forget the mint tea at the end. Moroccan tea is TO DIE FOR.

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Our picture with the waiter and his sister who worked in the kitchen. They were awesome…

Hercules Grotto: A sea cave near Tangier. I don’t know all the history behind it, but the legend of Hercules mentions it at some point…There is a beautiful view of the sea and the coast on the back side as well.

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Medina: The old, walled city of Tangier is very unique. There are markets and shops lining the whole way. Make sure to keep your bags close and watch for pickpockets/scammers. I’ll talk more about that in the next section.

Casablanca Mosque: If you make it out to Casablanca (which is cool, but not necessarily worth the trip), make sure to go see the enormous mosque on the sea. It is beautiful and so huge that it’s actually hard to comprehend. If you are a man, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the interior, which I’ve heard is unreal as well.

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Safety/Things to Know-

Most people don’t speak much English. French and Arabic are the most common languages, but a lot of people in Tangier speak Spanish because it is so close to Spain.

Women: Don’t travel without a man and always be within arms reach. Women are not respected in Morocco, and especially if you don’t look Moroccan or don’t cover your head, you will be heckled a lot.

Walking near the Medina: Don’t engage in conversation. People will follow you and try to get you to go to specific places. Some may just want to sell you something, but some try to lure tourists into small alleys and mug them. Just be smart. If someone is following you and won’t leave you alone, you can publicly shame them and they will go away. We also discovered that speaking in a language other than English if they approach you will deter them…If you want to buy something from the markets, barter!

Driving: I would not suggest renting a car unless you are a very aggressive driver. The traffic rules are non-existent…Thankfully John, our driver, was great and we escaped with no scratches, dents, and all limbs intact.

Be Aware: Always be aware of your surroundings. Hold your bag/purse tight, don’t put things in your back pockets, and watch for people following you. Always err on the side of caution. Some people may be really nice, but unfortunately there is no way to know…I’m very thankful for my four travel companions who were very aware and protective. We had a great trip because of it!

That’s about it for Morocco and our long adventure. I hope you enjoyed this post! Comment or message me if you have any questions or want to hear more.

 

 

Vianoce in Slovakia

After thinking we were going to have to spend an unknown amount of time in Croatia to be outside the Schengen region for even longer because our residency permits were not done when we returned, we received word one-by-one that our cards were finished. After many different miracles, we all received our visas just in time to stay here for Christmas! I literally received word that my card was ready on the last possible day for me to stay in Slovakia legally…Praise the Lord!

*If you want more details of how the whole visa process worked, let me know.

Vianocne Trhy (Christmas Markets)

Christmas time here in Slovakia is magical. The Christmas markets are a two-minute stroll from our front door and feature Christmas trees, lights, traditional Slovak Christmas food and desserts, hot drinks, ice-skating rinks, crafts and artisan goods from around Slovakia, and concerts almost nightly on the stage within earshot of our windows. The only thing that would have made it better was some snow…

Here are few of my favorite traditional Slovak foods and drinks I got to try at the Christmas markets:

Medovina (honey wine)-Super sweet wine served hot, perfect to warm up your hands and insides while browsing the market

Panvička (at least I thought that’s what it was called, but when I looked it up it just means “pan”)-Potatoes, sausage, pork, onions, sauerkraut, and delicious spices cooked in a big pan and served in a bowl. This was my favorite meal at the market!

Lokše (flat potato pancake/tortilla with different types of filling)-Very similar to what I grew up making, Norwegian “lefse.” I tried the nut filling…delicious!

Vanilka Vina (vanilla wine)-Served hot, great to warm up while walking around in the cold!

Klobasa (sausage)-served with bread and mustard, highly recommend!

Zemiakovy Placky (potato pancakes)-fried hashbrown-type potatoes in a big pancake…my roommates got one every time we got food at the market. Also highly recommended

I’m allergic to dairy so I didn’t get to try too much, but there are endless amounts of foods to try!

Slovak Christmas Traditions

After talking with many Slovak students and other people we know around town, I have learned about a few of the most common Christmas traditions here in Slovakia.

Christmas Eve-Everyone celebrates Christmas on the 24th here, Christmas day is just for relaxing and being with family. Also, there is another holiday called St. Stephens day on the 26th.

Carp-Many Slovak families have carp for Christmas Eve dinner. They get the carp from a grocery store or market and store it in a bathtub until the day of and then prepare it for dinner.

Peanuts-There are many superstitious traditions that a lot of people still practice here even though most people don’t believe them anymore. One is to throw peanuts in the corners of the room for good fortune.

Apple-Another tradition involves cutting an apple down the middle to see if there is a star. The star symbolizes good fortune for the upcoming year.

Honey and Garlic-Traditionally, the head of the family with make a mixture of garlic and honey and then put it on the children’s head in the shape of the cross as a blessing. Some students said that the honey symbolizes sweetness or beauty, and the garlic symbolizes health.

There are many others, but these were some of the most common we learned about.

Christmas with the Team

I miss my family, especially during Christmastime, but being with this team made our Christmas celebration very fun despite missing family back home. After days of preparation, we hosted Christmas Eve at our apartment. Amy and Larissa made chili and chicken noodle soup, and Alyssa made butternut squash soup for dinner. A Nebraska tradition is to eat cinnamon rolls with your chili, so Larissa also made homemade cinnamon rolls. We hung out for while and did our white elephant gift exchange. We had Chad and John on google hangout so they could be included even though they had to be back in the states. I ended up with the same present I bought (some cool Slovakia socks), and everyone seemed pretty happy with their presents. One of the highlights was a set of two nerf guns. We’ve had a lot of fun with those so far…After gifts, we had Happy Birthday, Jesus cake and played Christmas bingo. Jeremy showed off his hidden talent of bingo calling, and I was the last to get a bingo (as always…). We then played Jackbox games for a few hours until people started to head out around midnight. A few of us stuck around and Michael gave a little devotional while we lit the advent wreath and sang “Silent Night” until it was Christmas morning at midnight.

The next morning, we slept in and the guys came to cook us breakfast. Headed by Josh, they cooked up some delicious breakfast burritos while wearing our aprons we had been given by Larissa’s mom (Josh wore the his manly one we got him for Christmas…). We had a fun time being goofy around the table and then proceeded to hang out all day in our pajamas. In true American fashion, we made WAY too much food, so we ate cookies and leftovers all day (we’re still not even close to finishing everything). At about 21:00 (9pm), we decided we were hungry for some real food, so Josh made Schnitzel. It was delicious!

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Guys cooking breakfast

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Josh with his schniztel

Oasis in the Woods

On the 26th, our pastor, Patrick and his wife, Ivetka invited us over to go on a hike and have dinner at their house. They live about 35 minutes outside of the center by tram in a forest in an adorable wooden house. Every time I go out there I feel like I have completely left the city and am in a little mountain village. We got their two adorable huskies on leashes and took the shortcut to the forest up a very steep, muddy hill. Ivetka told us to be careful because there are often wild boars in this area. I had one of the dogs, and he took off running up the steep incline. After a spring up the hill being pulled by a large dog, I finally got a second to catch my breath and shake out my legs before Jack ran ahead again, dragging me behind.

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Jon and Lucky

It felt so good to be out in nature again after being in the city for so long. Anyone who knows me knows that I love being outside away from people, and living in the city makes that difficult sometimes. I see God’s beauty in many things, but the most apparent and breathtaking for me is nature. The rolling hills, dense trees, moss covered logs and trunks, cold fingers and nose, visible breath, cloudy sunset, and eerie mist during our hike reminded me of how big, powerful, majestic, gentle, quiet, and personal our God is. It reminds me of just how small I am and how even though I am nothing and God is everything, He cares for us individually and sent His son to die for us so that we can have a personal relationship with Him. Let that sink in for a second…

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Trevor, Larissa, Me, and Amy on our hike

After our 10km walk, we returned back to the house and Ivetka prepared dinner. We had some delicious homemade cider and leftover Christmas cookies while sitting by the fireplace and talking. After eating a delicious meal of breaded chicken and pork steaks (very similar to Josh’s schnitzel from the night before), potatoes, and Slovak potato salad, we played a fun card game. Thankfully I’m not terribly competitive when it comes to card games, because I was terrible and ended up losing almost every single round. After a full round, we headed out for the tram ride home.

Overall, I would say that we had a successful and fun Christmas full of love, laughter, and thankful hearts. I will never forget my Christmas in Slovakia!