Day 12 the Stillness of Dunkirk

The sun was bright; The air was clean and fresh. I could hear seagulls overhead. We were only in an ugly bus stop, but I had the feeling I was going to like Dunkirk.

I had sensed that Dunkirk, France was not a popular tourist destination. There were no tours, no trains, and not much else between Brussels and Dunkirk, so I had built my day around a public bus schedule which meant a very early start.

It also meant I spent two hours waiting for a bus that morning—5:45 to 7:45. The bus had been an hour late also which meant I arrived in Dunkirk an hour later than planned. Which also meant I would have only two hours before I needed to catch the only bus back.

I checked Siri and the 1940 museum and beach were a 34 minute walk away. Which meant that I was going to have less than an hour to do both.

It wasn’t ideal, but I did enjoy the walk. It felt so different than the craziness of Amsterdam…I wasn’t constantly dodging bicycles whizzing past me and shops selling trinkets and French fries every four feet.

My walk wound around the port and a few signs now and again paid tribute to the events of 1940 and the miracle of the mass exodus that saved 330,000 troops. But for the most part, it was just a simple quiet walk through a small port town going about it’s Friday morning business. The hills were not alive with the Sound of Music, there was no Tour de France, and no 1992 Olympic Games.

It did take all of the 34 minutes Siri said it would, so I was in a rush by the time I got to the museum. This whole trip, I’ve scarcely been to a museum and now I found one I wanted to see and there was not time. :(. It’s not huge, but I could have spent an hour except that I wanted to save enough time to climb up to the beach.

The beach was quiet too. There may have been a dozen other tourists, but that was it.

I wasn’t quite sure whether to feel glad there was no one there to break the stillness of the place or whether, perhaps, this is a bit underdone give the significance of the events that took place here. (I mean, they only had five magnets on a little stand for a gift shop and the only one commemorating WWII was an airplane. I mean, I like airplanes and all, but this is Dunkirk. Just sayin’)

I practically ran back to the bus station only to find that, once again, the bus was crazy late. Didn’t seem quite fair that I had to spend a third of my time sitting at the bus stop; but I decided just to be glad it was a beautiful day and, unlike this morning, there were benches to wait on.

There was not a direct route back to Brussels, but that was okay because I still had one last place I hoped to see in Belgium: the village of Ghent.

If you ever go to Ghent, do yourself a favor and take the tram to the center of the old city. It’s a long walk.

Of course, I walked.

My plan here was to rent a bike and just ride around the back streets instead of doing the typical churches, castle, canal, and belfry. I’ve seen so many great places to ride a bike the last few days but hadn’t ridden at all.

I’m not sure how, but I ended up doing the church, castle, canal, and belfry stairs. I’ll post the pictures although it probably looks by now like every other little town I’ve visited in the last twelve days. It’s a bit of a shame, because it does have its own little flair…but I guess I’m a little burned out on picturesque towns. I didn’t even want chocolate or ice cream. Shoot, I even paid the 3 Euro for the tram on the way back. And I didn’t even buy a magnet.

It must be time to come home.

I’ve loved my tour of Europe. In twelve days, I went to 10 countries and walked over 100 miles…just me and my black back pack…Full of magnets.

I visited Ireland (Galway, Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty); Cologne, Germany (if it counts); Italy (Venice, Cortina and the Dolomites); Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Salzburg, and Schönbrunn in Austria; Barcelona; Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, and Dinant in Belgium; Luxembourg; Amsterdam and Harlem, Netherlands; and Dunkirk, France. [I had previously visited four of these countries and at least four others in Europe (England, Scotland, Czech Republic, Switzerland). I had planned to also go to Slovakia, but we’ll have to save that for another trip].

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the scenes of Europe, but at the same time, I don’t think I could have crammed much more into two weeks. And when it was all said and done, I lived out of that back pack for 17 days. That’s long enough.

It was a trip I hope to always remember. It was a return home that I hope to forget. I may or may not blog about my return trip, but regardless, let me make it clear once and for all: I do not like JFK airport. Sitting in it for hours on end is awful. Sleeping on the floor there is pitiful. Getting help there is impossible.

So…while New York is not at all a pleasant welcome, it is sure good to be home.

Thanks for taking this trip with me and if you feel even a little bit jealous that you didn’t get to go, picture yourself on the 17th day living from a backpack sleeping on the floor of the airport. Then be glad you’re home.

Day 10 – Luxembourg and Dinant

Up until now, the group tours I have taken have had max a dozen people. Today, we were 50 people strong all on one big bus. The common tie between all of us: English.

That definitely doesn’t mean American. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how few Americans I’ve met on this trip. Far more have been Canadian, Australian, from the UK, or even India. Many times, I’ve looked at someone and thought they were from the US until they opened their mouths.

Anyway, our perky Spanish guide held a large purple sign over her head and hearded us toward the bus. There were a half dozen other tours leaving from the same time and place so it was a bit of a zoo. Thank goodness for her purple paper taped on a wood stick which she held triumphantly above the crowd.

It is a long ride to Luxembourg. But Marium taught us a lot about both Belgium and Luxembourg on the way. Belgium is a country of about 11 million (roughly the population of Georgia); Luxembourg has about 600,000 residents. Both are effectively governed by Parliament although Belgium has a king and Luxembourg has a duke.

Luxembourg, the city, is as old as the ninth century—having originally been settled by the Vikings. Luxembourg, the country, only dates to the nineteenth century. The name Luxembourg means “little fortress” and the city was apparently a very good one. When we got there, we saw some of the old city walls and it was easy to see why the location above the river was formidable.

The main industry in Luxembourg is banking and finance and it is a wealthy country considering its size. Minimum wage is roughly ~$13,50/hr and they have more Porsches per capita than anywhere in the world.

I didn’t really feel like paying 25 Euro for lunch, so another girl and I walked around a bit and then got a wrap at a small corner cafe. I haven’t said this (or thought it) about any food I’ve had so far this trip, but there is only one word to describe it: disgusting. (Mostly mayonnaise with wisps of lettuce, tomato, and prosciutto). I noticed my friend threw hers in the trash can too as we walked as well.

The guide showed us Parliament and the Duke’s residence. There were a number of churches, squares, an outdoor farmer’s market, and all the typical retail offerings of a small, high end town. She also talked a good about the EU, which had its beginnings here and cracked me up with some of her English phrases such as her frequent references to “sky scrappers.”

Leann and I walked across the bridge to the new part of town and back…There is a pedestrian/bike bridge suspended below the car bridge which made for a nice shady place to walk and take some pictures.

By the time we were back, we pretty well felt like we’d seen Luxembourg. There were some nice parks, and overall, I got the feeling that it would be a pretty nice place to live if you’re in the banking and finance world and you really like mayonnaise.

On our return trip, we stopped in Dinant, a very picturesque Belgian village where the inventor of the saxophone is from. We then wound our way up the river; it was a very beautiful drive. The area had had a coal boom in the 60s and 70s but has since lost most of its industry and is now mostly summer homes and strawberry growers.

I felt a little yuk by the time we got back. I wasn’t sure it is was from the long ride or the mayonnaise lunch that I had tried to chase away with gummy bears.

Overall, it had been a good day, but I felt the boxes had sufficiently been checked and I likely won’t be returning to Luxembourg.

Step count: 16,000

Cumulative count: 184,000

Maybe Love is a Feeling After All

Here’s the thing. Just when you think you’ve learned something…or at least worked hard enough to graduate with a credible “B” on your transcript…you find that all you just went through was really just kindergarten.

Next will come first grade. Than second. Then third. Because God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.

I guess the good news is that as long as He is still pruning, we know that He has not given up. He is still a good father; watching and disciplining. He is still a good shepherd; pursuing and protecting. He is still a gentle potter; shaping and perfecting. He is still a wise friend; wounding and sharpening. He is still a merciful Savior; convicting and convincing. He is still a loving God; giving us free will; yet in relentless pursuit of making us more like Christ.

The last few months, I have been trying to be deliberate about being kind. I’m trying to use kinder words and more respectful tones. I’m trying to give a little more and expect a little less. I’m trying not to let my own needs be an excuse for selfishness.

But here’s the other thing. I’m learning how hollow even kind words can be when your heart is not them.

It’s interesting to me because all my life, I’ve been taught the counter-cultural characteristics of love found in I Corinthians 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy… The “agape” love described in this renown passage is that of learning to put others before ourselves. Love is the action of putting you before me.

I’ve been told time and time again that love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is an action.

That’s why I don’t believe in happily ever after…or pretty much any Disney film…or Hallmark movie…because happiness in love is not the result of luck in finding the right person. Feelings come and go…as do good looks, compatibility, magical moments, and Christmas.

Romance is temporary; but love can be forever because love is not a feeling; it an action. It is a choice.

But I’ve always been a little confused by the opening part of that passage, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become like a sounding gong or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy…and have all knowledge…and have not love…”

I guess, against the backdrop that “love is the act of putting others before ourselves,” it makes sense that we could be a famous speaker and not have love…because we could be making the bests of speeches while really trying to draw attention to ourselves.

And perhaps we could have the gift of prophecy and understand knowledge and mysteries and not have love…because we are like that. We get big heads and small hearts.

But the third one has always stumped me… “And though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.” Give my body to be burned? Really? What selfish motive could one have in that? Perhaps you would go down in history. Perhaps you would be well thought of by those left behind. But you would also be…dead. So what good would the admiring obituary do you if you are tiny flakes scattering in the wind? Why would a selfish person give their body to be burned?

Is the author trying to tell us that an ultimate act of sacrifice can be done without love?

If so, what happened to the theory that love is an action? Can it be that a choice to do a right action is not actually love absent the feelings…the motivation…the energy…that we traditionally equate with love and romance?

I’ve noticed that as hard as it is for me to be kind, that the recipient of my kindness can sniff insincerity a mile away. Often long before I will admit to it.

While I am focused on my sacrifice, the recipient is often looking through my thinly veiled kindness directly at my tiredness, my crankiness, and my shrinking hoard of patience. While I’m convinced that I am speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, they hear only gongs and symbols.

If I’m being honest, it doesn’t seem quite fair.

Because sometimes a dry, heartless affirmation is all I have to give. And if you don’t like it, you should hear what I’m really thinking. And sometimes, the silence that may seem uncaring and aloof may be the very thinking keeping me from FLIPPING MY LID. Yep. Be glad I’m not talking right now.

I feel like I should get points for trying. For holding my tongue. For saying something nice when I didn’t feel like it. A participation ribbon at least.

But Paul seems to be telling us something different. He is, in fact, pretty emphatic: if your heart isn’t it in, it isn’t love. It’s gongs and symbols.

It’s noise. But it is not music.

So I’m coming to believe that emotion is a necessary part of love after all. That love requires ingredients of vulnerability, sincerity, and energy that transform the noise of our actions into music.

A closer study of I Corinthians 13 would support this. Love bears. Believes. Hopes. Endures. It is more than action. It is something that looks a lot like what we commonly call “emotion.”

I’m coming to believe that emotion is a necessary part of love. It is the energy that brings patience and kindness to life. It is the harmony that ties the melody of our actions to the rhythm of God’s truth.

Did I mention it’s difficult?

It might start easy and get hard. Or start hard and get easy. Or ping pong back and forth between easy and hard. But it’s subject to change; therefore, it’s difficult.

It just is. I’m convinced that the only thing harder than taming the tongue is cultivating healthy emotions. Long after we have learned to behave and use kind words we have to still force our selves to blaze trails in the mind and go where we didn’t think it humanly possible. Our emotions are the final frontier.

Here’s my conclusion:

I should still say “I love you” when I don’t feel a thing. But I should let it bother me that I don’t feel a thing. I should still use kind words when kind words are all I have to give. But I should be asking God to breathe energy into my words. I should still be gentle even when I can’t be excited, but I should ask God to set a fire in my soul.

Because love bears. Believes. Hopes. Endures. Love includes emotion; it is vulnerable, sincere, and exudes energy.

It is not just the noise of our actions; It is the beauty of our emotions that makes the music.

On Being Kind

It was the kind of tired when the very thought of lifting your arm and your head up far enough and long enough to send a text message seems like an impossible task.

The kind of tired that makes you pretty sure there are two hippopotamus’ sleeping in your bedroom. One is lying on your left leg and the other on your right. You’re pretty sure that absent a crane Dragging them off, you will never be able to move again.

The kind of tired that makes you think that if you you could lift your head, and if you could move your legs, you would crawl to the window, stick your head out, and declare to the madly spinning world…STOP.

Just STOP. That is all.

That was me. That was my December.

So as the new year approached, I had nothing to give. I made no plans, set no goals, made no resolutions. I scarcely noticed that the 8 at the end of the date was turning to 9 except for a feeble attempt to recharge my Scripture memory and catch my breath.

I’ve taken January a day at a time. My main goal: to get through it.

So recently, I started wondering if I could sort of start 2019 over. And asking myself…if I could, what would I do differently? Would I try to lose weight? Save money? Eat better? Work less? Read more? Pray more?

What priorities do I have that need to be reordered? What are my biggest messes that need to turn hard corners and come to Jesus?

Thinking through the last four months, I realized that more than any other challenge I face, I struggle to apply the simple admonishment: “Love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13).

Love is kind.

I have had a lot of opportunities to apply that verse lately. And I have failed in many of them.

Love is kind.

Kindness, I’ve learned, takes extra energy. It requires humility. It demands quick forgiveness. It means extreme self control. It is a successor of patience. It feeds off creativity. And it is often exercised while clinging to the lifesaver of prayer.

Love is kind.

Kindness is not what you say, it’s how you say it. It is not what you do, it’s why you do it. It rises above the way that it is treated and gives to those whose who take and take and take.

Love is kind.

It’s sympathetic. It’s quiet when words won’t help. It’s vulnerable when tears are unavoidable. It’s slow to judge. It is wisdom exercised with gentleness. It keeps its calm in the middle of the storm.

It’s hard.

In fact, it takes practice. I know because I’ve failed a lot. I’ve tried, and I’ve still failed a lot.

But as I tried to take inventory of my life and make sense of some tough days, I sensed this recurring theme: God is teaching me to be gentle and kind.

In a world gone mad, where women want to prove themselves tough and “equal” to be men, I need to be kind.

In the craziness of the business world and the imminence of deadlines that are not being met, I need to be kind.

In the brokenness of people around me and the constant wave after wave of needs that seem so overwhelming, I need to be kind.

With my type A personality that doesn’t understand why some people are highly unmotivated and pathetically disorganized, I need to be kind.

Even in the face of disrespect, unprovoked anger, or the foggy frustration of exhaustion, I need to be kind.

I share this for two reasons:

One, many of you know me well enough to help me work on kindness. I give you permission to make me read this every day in 2019.

Two, maybe you could also use some kindness. I hope you will join me in the challenge: finding practical, creative ways of being kind. If you need to, read this every day in 2019. Or write your own reminder and send it to me.

Thinking through the first month of 2019 has helped me shape perspective about what it important. Perhaps I will set some measurable goals; perhaps I won’t. This year, I’m setting my sights on pleasing Someone who doesn’t care about check boxes and scales and bank accounts. I may never have the satisfaction of accomplishment on this one; Just the slowly growing humility the fuels a critical element of the strongest force in the world. That’s all I need.

Love is kind.

Celebration of a Life Well Lived (Close to Home – Part IV)

I received word Wednesday that my Grandfather had joined my grandmother in heaven.  I cried on and off through the course of the evening…sad because I miss him already.  Happy, because I knew he was ready to meet the Savior He had served for so long.

I saw him last just a few days before.  He lay in bed in the dim light of my aunt’s living-room-turned-hospice-care.  He was weak, his speech was slurring, and he confessed that he could not remember my name.  Even so, I could tell he loved me and was grateful I came though neither of us seemed to have many words.

I gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek and spent a few minutes plucking out hymns on the piano by his bed.

At 101, I think we would all agree, he lived a full life.  If you’ve read my other blogs, you have some idea of the incredible man my grandfather was, serving in World War II, then as a missionary in Japan, then as jack-of-all-trades in his rather long “retirement.”  He was fun, hard-working, and all-together inspiring.

We loved his annual visits growing up because they were always punctuated with lots of ice cream. But since they didn’t live nearby, I actually got to know him more as an adult than I did as a kid–making long drives to Jacksonville on the weekends.

We biked, talked, swam, danced, and played lots of dominoes as they plowed their way through their 80s and 90s.

Over the years, his hand gradually grew heavier on my shoulder as he walked.  Then eventually, walking had to be traded for a golf cart, a then a tricycle, then a motor chair, and finally, a bed.  Aging was difficult for a man who had always been so strong and independent.  Sometimes, he let it be known that he was done with this life and ready for the next.

My mother and four aunts have been amazing and over the last year have traded off spending weeks at a time caring for him instead of dropping him off at a nursing home to spend his final days smelling like moth balls and staring at a television set.  [They have set a high bar for my generation. :)]

After receiving the news of his passing, all of them gathered at my aunts’ house and I joined them for a few hours.  We missed seeing him in the next room, but though it was quiet, it was not an altogether somber atmosphere.  Most of what needed to be said had already been said. It had been a long goodbye.

In many ways (and acknowledging that the death of no two saints will be the same), I felt this is what it should look like–no regrets, no greed, no fighting, no despair. Just a life remembered.

Today was back at work; business as usual. This evening, I busied myself with cleaning my kitchen and scrubbing the bathrooms.  It was just another day.

But as I was cleaning, I came across a plastic box that Grandma had sent home with me after one of my frequent visits to Jacksonville. I thought it contained mostly legal papers she wanted me to go through so I had never really opened it.

That was the beginning of hours on my bedroom floor pouring through letters, articles, and even a few comic strips, photos, and newspaper clippings.

The clock was turned back seventy years.

My Grandfather has always been a good correspondent and a creative writer.  I have saved many letters he wrote me over the years.

But now, I found fascinating his letters written to his mother from war in 1946 and to my grandmother (his girlfriend) in 1947. Some handwritten in his masculine cursive on stationary supplied by the Red Cross; some typewritten on thin sheets of tissue-like paper.  Some still had envelopes stamped “U.S. Army Postal Service.”

He loved his mother. He loved my grandmother. But most of all, he loved Jesus.

Nearly every thing he wrote was woven with Scripture, his work, the gospel, and the lives of others around him. Even his love letters are beautiful expressions of a resilient faith.

In one letter he wrote of rescuing three Japanese injured in a motor crash. In another, of traveling 30 miles–by train and foot–to see comfort a desperate mother trying to care for her dying son. He wrote about purity. He wrote about burnout and the struggles faced by an Army chaplain and other chaplains who had effectively given up.

He kept a few clippings of articles he wrote–published here and there–and even kept a few of the prayer letters from the mission field (and even after their retirement). He wrote after he moved to Florida that he expected that he would fade away.

I remember seeing him the summer of 2001 and him commenting how he probably didn’t have many years left to live. He felt like the greatest failure of his life was that he had not led enough people to Christ.

I think he was wrong in both accounts–he had rich years left; and he has no reason to regret his life. He reached other teens as a high schooler; he didn’t give up as a chaplain; he pressed on as a missionary; and he didn’t fade away in retirement. He followed hard until the end.

And I’m so glad he wrote about it.

I hope to take his letters with me as we celebrate his life together on Sunday. But I also want to publish some of the highlights of his writings here…mostly for family but also for anyone interested in reading snippets of a live well lived.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.

Living for Jesus (Close to Home – Part III)

The bright sounds of trumpet floated through the air calling children toward the station wagon parked in the middle of the village. Young children, and sometimes their parents, would gather around to hear Bible stories taught using exciting flannelgraph figures.

The ministry was thriving. Each of the three churches they started matured into and took on a life of their own. One in particular, Hamadera Bible Church, still exists to this day.

The Oestreichs added another daughter to their family, Jeannette—whom George named after his mother. Then another, Kathryn, whom George named after his aunt.

During their first furlough, when the family learned they would be adding a fourth child to the family, George promised his sister, Jeannette that she could name it if it turned out to be a girl. Unfortunately, he was traveling on deputation when Frances gave birth. She attempted to call her sister-in-law when their fourth daughter was born, but could only reach her mother-in-law. Mrs. Oestreich said she knew that Jeannette had planned to name the baby girl Marcia, so Marcia it was.

Unfortunately, she was mistaken; Jeannette wasn’t planning to name the baby Marcia. But it was too late.

The fifth child was a boy, George Washington Oestreich, named after his dad. And the sixth was named Lois, but her siblings called her “Penny.”

Not many women have six children and don’t get to name any of them. But, perhaps it goes without saying…Frances was a special kind of wife and mom.

The kids grew up going to a combination of Japanese public school, home school, American boarding school, commuting to American schools in Japan, and attending school in the US during occasional furloughs. This meant that they had pretty much lived their lives being considered “Gaijin” (which means “foreigner” or “outside person.”). Life was always changing.

One afternoon, Frances watched out the window as two boys followed young Jeannette down the street taunting her by yelling “Donguri me,” “Don gurime” all the way home; but once she reached the safety of her gate, she whirled around and yelled “Kitsune me!” (which meant “fox eyes” or “slanty eyes”) and then darted inside.

But perhaps it was for the best that they would never fully “fit in.” Home was not a town in Pennsylvania or in Japan…which meant that home was never a long, long boat ride away.   Home was where a close family became closer still.

During the summers, the Oestreichs would try to spend a few weeks with the chattering monkeys at Lake Biwa, a beautiful place near Kyoto. One summer, a friend gave them a boat that had only one small problem—a hole in the bottom. George did his best to fix it and it worked—unless, of course, you count the time that it sprung a leak in the middle of the lake carrying a load of extremely proper church ladies.

00242_s_15amfm4v2z0242_r.jpgFrances and her friends were none too pleased with the impromptu baptisms, but Frances shouldn’t have been too surprised. From the day at the altar, life with George had never ceased to be an adventure. Whether he was raising pigeons or dreaming up ways to make ice cream in a land with little refined sugar or dairy, George was always up to something.

Years flew by and one by one the kids left for college in the US. Their oldest child, Christine, and her husband came back to Japan as missionaries. Also, George, Jr, or “Gwo,” as he was called, returned to Japan for the summer of 1979 and spent time working alongside his parents. He was strongly considering returning to Japan as a missionary himself upon graduation from college. His best friend, Shuji, had been saved at a branch church “Midori Machi” Bible Church and was also considering full time ministry.

At the close of the summer, Gwo returned to Bob Jones and George and Frances began school themselves—teaching English and living for Jesus. They looked forward to being together again their kids the following summer during a well-deserved furlough.

Just weeks before their terms came to a close, the couple received devastating news. Gwo had been in a terrible car accident and died at the scene.

It was a blow to the whole family, but especially to his parents, who were not able to make it back in time for the service and burial.

Like most parents, they never expected to retrace the final steps of one of their children; especially their only son. He had been effectively forced off the road by a speeding driver. George even found the hood ornament from his son’s car in the tree that took his life.

They recognized the sovereignty of God through the pain, but it still seemed that his “homegoing” was premature. It was so easy to focus on the way that he had been robbed of life. He was never able to graduate from college, get married, make the ministry his own, or have a son to pass on the family name. It didn’t seem quite fair.

But George was no longer a “Gaijin.” He wasn’t just close to home; he was home.

Perhaps it was then George and Frances decided that their work in Japan was concluded. It was time to make their home in the US, closer to their daughters.

00310_s_15amfm4v2z0310Over their thirty three years of ministry, the Oestreichs had seen Japan transition from a war-torn nation into an industrious and modern society. It went from broken and bleeding to self-sufficient and proud. Despite the Emperors’ having admitted to the county that he was not, in fact, “god,” Shintoism remained firmly rooted in the society. And while many of the young people begin to reject the traditions and chains of this dead religion, they often turned to Buddhism or to nothing at all. While the need was still great, the door that had been wide open to the gospel was gently closing.

Still, they weren’t quite ready for “retirement” if that meant sitting around a house all day. For that matter, they had never owned a house. They rented a trailer and took jobs managing the trailer park— George in maintence and Frances in bookkeeping. The thrifty ways continued and so did ministry.

And their years in Japan continued to bear fruit. Although they were few, the Christians were faithful. George’s friend Shuji attended seminary at Grace Community and returned back to Japan to serve as senior pastor.

And, of course, they continued to use every opportunity to win souls to Christ. George listened to kids quote Bible verses in Awana clubs, he led Bible studies for inmates in a nearby prison, and he and Frances both wrote cards and letters to an ever-increasing number of grandchildren…who were spread all over the world.

One week a year he would go visit grandchildren in California, and during the summers they would make the trip back to Lake Shehawken. George would ride his bike, swim, and take peaceful rides in the canoe his father had bought him when he was twelve. Lake Shehawken was a peaceful, unchanging haven in a crazy, fast paced world. In the evening, soft strains of trumpet would drift across the lake. “Trust and Obey,” “Living for Jesus,” and other hymns and choruses were never far from George Oestreich…whether coming by trumpet, booming baritone, or a happy whistle.

When George was 80, the Oestreichs moved again; this time to Penny Retirement Community near Jacksonville, FL. This was officially “retirement” although the only thing that stopped was the paycheck. It was okay; they had always been prudent with their money. They were used to having a little income…and living on a little less.

They stayed active; George rode his bike, swam, gardened, played tennis and trumpet, did landscape work, and taught Sunday School and Bible Studies. As the 80s rolled into 90s, he complained that the folks in his Bible study were getting old and didn’t focus very well. But he stuck with it, noting some of the residents in the memory ward could often sing hymns from memory even when they seemed to have no other recall.

Grandma faithfully cooked and cleaned and managed the finances in addition to her own volunteering activities—sewing, arranging flowers, serving meals, and more. She kept up with the names and birthdays of the five daughters, sons-in-law, nineteen grands, grands-in-law, and non-stop great-grands (28 I think…at last count).

If their family had one complaint, it was that George and Frances were too far away. They took turns trying to convince the Oestreichs to move closer to family. But they seemed content to live their simple, slowing life in Florida where they prayed together every morning and played Dominoes every night.

They held out until the end of 2016. He was 99. She was nearly 98.

——————————————————————————————

And here is where I step into the story. Because I was there to help them with their final move.

It was not difficult because Grandma had reduced their lives to two rooms and, even then, did not seem attached to the few things they had left. They did not want to do long goodbyes. They did not want to do goodbyes at all.

I felt bad for them…although we wanted them closer and believed this move was for the best, I hated the thought of them leaving their friends. Of them having to start over at life. Of having to adjust to a million little changes from where the toothbrush would be kept to what meals would be like. Change can be difficult no matter what the age; I couldn’t really put myself in their shoes and understand what it would be like for two dear saints in their late 90s.

But when I asked Grandma if she was sad to leave, she said, “Wherever you go, you’ll have friends…if you’re friendly.” After years of being a “Gaijin,” she was no stranger to making friends. Again.

But I knew underneath her resolve, there was a realization that it would be hard to make friends this time. She was nearly blind, on oxygen, and she had outlived all of the folks who could identify closely with her life experiences.

As we pulled out of Penny Farms, I turned around to see my grandparents in the seats behind me embracing this new adventure the same way they had done all of the others…holding hands.

I smiled. She would not be lonely. Grandma’s most important friends were coming with her.

(Stay tuned for the fourth and final part – “Celebration of a Life Well Lived” coming soon.)holding hands

Fear Not, Little Flock

It was a beautiful evening and I was out for a walk—partly so I could enjoy the nice weather, but mostly so I could make my Fitbit proud of me.

It’s the little things in life…Namely, the apps, that make me feel like a smashing success or a dismal failure. While we are talking about apps, I thought you all were probably dying to know how my Scripture memory resolution was faring. (We are the better part of halfway through the year—believe it or not!)

And if you read my New Year’s post, you know I tried to make Scripture memory a priority and started two aid and accountability systems—Fighter Verses via the App, and Beth Moore’s SSMT Group.

Fighter Verses has been a good thing. It assigns a verse each week and has audio and even musical queues to help you learn the verses. It also has little review quizzes to help you to keep from flushing out previously memorized verses. So when I’m sitting on an airplane, I can easily be mistaken for the Millennial mindlessly playing Candy Crush, when, in fact, I’m madly reviewing my year-to-date Scripture.

If you’re interested in my mid-year review of Fighter Verses: Some of the Scripture songs are better than others and a few are downright annoying—especially when they do a looong musical intro, then rush through the hard parts, and then repeat, repeat, repeat the easy parts. But after having tried a few, I know how hard it is to put a verse to music word for word, so I’ve got to give them some respect.

I will mention though, that while at the beginning of the year my biggest struggle was trying to re-memorize previously memorized verses in a different version, Fighter Verses has made me step up my game. In fact, I stopped trying to keep up completely when they started cheating—putting 2, 3, or even 4 verses together for one week. That’s just too much for my little brain. Especially when they put all of Psalm 103 in one song. It was 22 verses in one four minute song. The passage was broken over seven weeks, but in order to learn it, I must have listened to it 150,000 over those seven weeks. I felt like a toddler with a new book.

[And I still messed up the passage when I tried to quote it to my three-year-old niece. She quoted about 20 verses to me in a row, so I tried to match her and I got tangled up somewhere and kept repeating and repeating like an old record player. I’d fire Fighter Verses except that I only paid them $2.99.]

Anyway, I decided to settle for sticking with one passage for two weeks (skipping one) when they pull a trick like that. The handy app lets you mark which passages you memorized so only they show up in your review bank. Works pretty well.  (I love defending an app from my own accusations.)

Thanks to Fighter Verses, I’m up to 40 verses this year, and I frequently listen to Scripture songs in the car, while straightening my hair, cooking dinner, or going on walks. It’s worth $2.99.

Anyway, so back to the lovely evening when I was out for a walk.

I was actually not working on my verses that evening. Nor was I having a pleasant time despite the agreeable weather and quiet atmosphere.

I was thinking about everything that I want and don’t have. I was meditating on my unmet desires and my fears. One thought led to the next and the next until—without even calling it to mind—my lips began to sing, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…”

It was my memory passage for the week. And it just popped out. Singing it through took my mind to another passage, “If God spared not his own Son, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  Romans 8:32

My attitude completely changed standing on a foot bridge in the sunshine and watching the limbs above me sway in the breeze. Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

My earthly father would want me to have good things…how much more does my father in heaven? And while my earthly father would work hard to give me the best he could, my heavenly father owns and rules the kingdom. His resources are limitless. And He gave His Son. What will He withhold if He didn’t stop at that?

The passage goes on to impart eternal perspective… “Sell your possessions and give to the needy. [Because there are so many with so much less!] Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old. With the treasure in the heavens that does not fade, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:32-34

Fear not; put your heart in a place where it is eternally safe.

I don’t know how my evening would have gone had I not been in this Scripture Memory challenge, but I will volunteer that this was not the only time that a passage I’ve worked on has given me an insight or an attitude adjustment. Psalm 103 is full of nuggets of truth that remind us that God is a loving, forgiving heavenly father who fills our lives with good things. Many, many times it has been a lifeline for me. Maybe not 150,000 times. But still.

Before I close, I’ll also offer a quick review of the Beth Moore “SSMT” as well. Basically, this plan is biannual and it challenges you to choose 24 verses and tackle one each first and fifteenth of the month. You write the verses on a 3×5 card spiral and also share them as a comment to a blog each time along with hundreds (maybe thousands) of other women. She gives you two excused absences on the comments over the course of the year and invites you to a big party if you finish and can quote all 24.

I’m not planning on the party, but I did think it would be a good way to make sure I actually got the verses into my head well enough to make them stick. So I committed to SSMT too.

My honest experience: I’ve lost the spiral once already and started over…only to find the original one again. Did my best to get back on track. I’ve gotten behind posting verses a time or two (and used one of my excused absences) but I blame that partially on the fact that they have a somewhat confusing system on where and how you are supposed to post the verses. Even now, nine times in, I have to hunt around to try to find the right blog post or Facebook post to comment on. I’m not the best or the brightest, but I’m also not a complete dunce, so I feel like there is a little room for improvement there. Just sayin.

Anyway, so bottom line is, because of FitBit, I’m trying to walk more; and because of my Scripture memory resolution, I’m trying to work on Scripture when I walk…or anytime. And while they will probably announce in a few years that FitBits cause cancer (along with Goji berries and Chia seeds) I am confident that the time invested in Scripture memory has no harmful side effects and is good for so many things including dispelling the daunting fears of this little member of this little flock.

 

Episodes of Sunshine

 

In my last blog, I promised a 2017 list coming soon.  Turns out, today is as soon as I could.

So here’s the list.  Things I’m thankful for.  Not exhaustive and not in any particular order..

1. Costco is carrying Lindt dark chocolate.  Thank you.  Why did that take so long?

2. My large…VERY large…collection of original artwork.  After years of being an Awana leader, Sunday School teacher, first grade aide, babysitter, and aunt (now of 18!), let’s not forget missions trips…I now have a home museum in a box.

I would put my collection up against that of anyone’s.  At least in quantity.  I haven’t kept it all.  I just couldn’t wihout renting a self storage unit.  But just the same, I have a bunch of treasured creations from little people everyone.  And I love it!

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3. While I’m talking about my art work, and, because I found so many while sifting through artwork, I’m thankful for all the notes friends have written me over the years.  If you ever wrote me a meaningful note, I probably still have it.    You may not even remember it, but I probably read it last week and cried.  Because, sometimes, that’s what I do when I’m happy.

4. My garage.  And the ability to get in my car in the rain with all the junk I’m forever toting around getting soaked in the Sunday morning downpour.

5. Sundays… NFL… Patriots.

6. Hope.

I’m convinced hope is the most painful of all virtues.  Because it doesn’t let me give up when I want to give up.  Won’t let me quit when I want to quit.  Makes me hang on when I want to let go.

Hope is so stubbornly stubborn.  Like a kudzu vine it keeps coming back.  Like a pitbull… once it clenches its teeth, it’s just done.  Decision made.

Despite all of the frustrating miscarriages of hope here on earth; I’m thankful for the highest calling of hope: to anchor us to heaven.  Hope will attach our soul to the life to come in unforgettable, unquenchable, unyielding confidence that makes all of life’s disappointments not matter.  I’m thankful for hope.

7.  Flowers.  Especially roses.  But also tulips.  And daisies.  I can’t seem to grow any of the above, but I think they are beautiful just the same..

8   Kara Tippetts and the legacy she is still passing on a few years after her transition to heaven.  She knew a think or two about faith and hope.  I started to blog about her a while back, but I lost my work in a computer glitch and I concluded it just wasn’t meant to be.  I probably couldn’t do it justice.

But I’ve read all of her books and I just thought: wow.

9.  Stuart…all my family actually.  But Stuart is the newest member.  I got to hold him on Christmas when he was just a few hours old.  He is a keeper.

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While we’re at it, here’s Riley…giving me a private ukulele concert.

 

I’d better stop here before I get started…remember…I have 18 and they are all the best!

10. Weather and the variety of seasons…and the fact that even some of the grayest of days have moments of grace and episodes of sunshine.

Thank you, Lord.

Last Day of School

I remember my high school graduation. The song my senior class sang. The note I tried to hit and didn’t quite make. The hat I threw that almost knocked me unconscious on the way back down. The speech I gave…last because I’m a “W.” Which also meant I was at the front of my recessional. Unfortunately, no one followed me off the stage and I ended up marching down a very long aisle by myself. I tried to smile enough to make it look like I did the right thing and it was the rest of the class marching down the wrong aisle on the other side of the auditorium.

I knew that night that school wasn’t really over for me. I was already studying so I could earn another paper certificate that said I knew something. Four more years to go. But I was ready for the next challenge because if I had learned nothing else over the prior twelve years, it was what hard work looked like.

Because I was born lazy. Really lazy.

I didn’t like chores. I didn’t like school. I didn’t like to work. Or anything that looked, smelled, or sounded like work.

I didn’t like to exercise. I didn’t like to do math. I didn’t like to clean my room or even make my bed.

So God gave me two very critical character building influences in my life that really boil down into one: Homeschool. And my mother.

And that’s what this story is really about.

My mother was a stay at home mom as long as we were home. But she worked. Yes, goodness knows, she worked.All 1982

My mom raised kids, taught us school, ran an Awana club, ran a homeschool group, cooked, cleaned, paid bills, and taught us and a lot of other girls so many other things…sewing, painting, decorating, driving, and so much more.

I must have made her a little bit crazy because I was not a fan of work. I didn’t like to sweat. I didn’t see any point in doing the same type of math problems day after day, page after page. I didn’t really think I needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago or even 500 years ago. I didn’t see any point in running around an empty track. And I hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

If I got a lecture about racing through assignments, cutting corners, and being sloppy, I got 1,000. How I hated that lecture.

And I was only one of five kids.

So…here’s the thing: Day after day, my mom trained me and my siblings. She taught us to study, to do chores, to practice music, to memorize Scripture. She taught us to work. Yes, goodness knows, she taught us to work.

After years of persistence by my mother, I made it to graduation. But she had two more kids to go. Five more years of homeschool.

Two more kids who didn’t like doing the same math problems day after day, page after page. Who didn’t really think they needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago and who hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

When my brother—the youngest—graduated, Mom had been a mother for 26 years and had been homeschooling about 23. She deserved a break.

So here’s the other thing: After all that, my mom went to work.

She started teaching kindergarten, but she didn’t stay with the half day of letters and sounds long. She was turned into a high school science teacher. Physical Science. Biology. Physics. Microbiology. Life Science. Chemistry. Biochemistry. It varied from year to year, curriculum to curriculum. Just when she got something down, it would change.

Over the next twelve years, my mom worked as hard as the US President. She studied. She taught. She wrote tests. She designed PowerPoints. She helped kids prepare science projects and hosted science fairs. She drove back and forth to school on her days off to turn eggs in incubators. She took pictures of birds and flowers that she could use for future presentations. She built robots. She cleaned up roadkill so she could use animal skeletons for future classes. Yep, true story.

Now things were different. She wasn’t the principal. She wasn’t the parent. But some things were the same: she was generally dealing with lazy students who didn’t give a rip about the pictures of flowers and birds.

So, it was a good thing that she is a hard worker. It was years of long days, short nights, and super short summers. Years of commitment. Years of pouring her energy into lazy kids who didn’t want to learn science…and a few who did.

She got paid. But let’s just say, she didn’t do it for the paycheck. That would have been insanity. Okay, it was insanity.

But that’s my mom. Did I mention she is a hard worker? Insanely hard.

And after years of teaching and training, she has made an impact. If on no one else, on me. I no longer think it’s futile to do pages of math problems or study history of the world or practice music. I no longer race through projects and cut corners. Some of that comes from time and maturity, but most of that maturity came from godly influences. Like my mom.

This week marks my mom’s last “last day” of school. She is retiring from her job as a full time teacher. I couldn’t be more excited for her. Or more proud. She has invested so much more than science in so many lives. They may not all appreciate it now, but they have all learned something.

And I know this: if they passed one of her classes, they worked hard. It was far more than robots, hatching eggs, and handling animal skeletons. It was hard work.

Pages of problem solving.

No racing through projects; no cutting corners.

And today, I’m as proud of my mom on her last day as she possibly could have been of me on mine.

Thanks, Mom. Job well done. Now, enjoy a long, long summer!

Day 2: It’s Really Complicated

Tuesday morning came a little too soon after 24 long hours of travel. But I was pleased to find at breakfast that Israeli food was not as bad as I feared. They even had chocolate bread. I’m pretty sure that was Jesus’ favorite breakfast food too.

Our guide showed up around 9:00 and we headed to our first stop in Cesarea–the port town on the Mediterranean–first built by Herod, but conquered and rebuilt many times in the centuries following.

We quickly caught on that one of the hardest things about touring Israel is trying to keep your chronology straight. Biblical history covers thousands of years, but then we’ve also had thousands of years since…can make for some mental gymnastics trying to keep your centuries in order.  There is just no logical way to do the tour chronologically, so I’ll just try to take it as it comes. But I just have to say, it’s complicated.

I can also understand better why there is so much conflict over land. It has belonged to everyone at some point. In Cesarea, for example, The same turf was occupied by Canannites, then Israelites, then Romans, then Israelites, then Muslims, then crusaders (Catholics)…then…I lost track. Each built a city on top of the last which is why they have to dig so far to get to the Biblical sites.

Our guide is not a Christian, but he specializes in Christian history and tours so he knows a lot about the Bible. A lot. And clearly, he is accustomed to knowing more about it than the average Christian tourist. Kinda shameful.

While we were in Cesarea, he read to us the story of Peter and Cornelius — where God instructed Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  It took on new meaning looking across the port town, theatres, shops, and all the culture that came with the gods of that era.

After Cesarea, we headed to Meggido.  This is a city on a hill that was originally built by Canannites. It was later taken by Joshua and the Israelites. During the days of the kings, it was developed–probably by Solomon.  There are only ruins no higher than your knees, but it includes the remnants of stables, temples, and the fascinating city gates–the hub of the city.  Over the years, it’s estimated the town has been rebuilt more than thirty times.

The most remarkable part of the city was the water supply. The town at the top of the mountain was fed by the spring at the bottom. For security reasons, the citizens couldn’t let the water supply be outside the city walls, so their means of diverting and accessing the water supply was absolutely astounding.  Somehow, they hand dug 187 steps down into the lime stone and got the spring to run into the town. It was quite a feat and made me appreciate what the chore of getting the water would have been like for the average girl. The local Planet Fitness.

This place is not just known for its past–it overlooks the plains of Armeggedon–where we believe the final battles in world history will take place. I don’t plan to be there, but if you think you might be, stay in shape. 187 steps is a long way to carry up your water.

As we passed Mt Carmel, Gilad had us read the story of Elijah–and another one I’ll probably meIMG_0021ntion later. Pretty cool to put places with stories. And pretty strange to learn so much about the Bible from a man who doesn’t really believe it. It comes alive a lot more here and you realize how rich the Bible is as a history book even to those who don’t see it as anything else.

Our final stop of the day was in Akko–another city with a long and sordid past but mostly revolving around the Middle Ages and crusaders. The fortress built by the Hospitalar Knights is incredible as are the tunnels under the city. Put perhaps the best part was walking through a town dating so far back, yet still growing and active (though Arab, not Jewish). It was full of cats, markets, and plenty of dirt and junk; but also screaming of history and surrounded by breath taking views of the Mediterranean.  Words don’t quite do it justice. It was quite a place.

Tired feet took us back to the van. The seven hour time difference was getting the best of me and everyone else (except Stephen). It was fitting that the Jewish days end at dusk because I could tell mine was fading with the sun too.

All in all, it was a great day, and I’m looking forward to learning more about this complicated place with so many stories to tell.