European Vacation: A Guest Post by Nathan

Nathan, age 13
Nathan, age 13

Meet Nathan, my thirteen year old son. He’s my very own California Beach Boy, as he was born while his father was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, California. Of course, the blond hair, big blue eyes and a stunning double dimple on his right cheek on add to the image.

Nathan has a lot of bragging rights, but his favorite thing to remind me of these days is that he is finally taller than me. Of course, this is not my favorite thing about my son, as there are far more things to love than just his height.

Nathan is extremely generous. Once he used all of his birthday money to buy chickens and soccer balls as gifts through World Vision for children living in poverty in third world countries.  Nathan is a deep thinker. He loves to engage in conversation and debate discuss intellectual topics, especially those on Biblical issues.

Today I am proud to share Nathan’s non-fiction essay on his extended trip to Europe last summer. His is the third guest post from one of my children, but there are still two more yet to go as all of my children will have the chance to guest post for me in April.

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European Vacation

As your average American teen, there are many things I just assume I’ll never have the opportunity to do. I’m not rich enough or famous enough to have the world at my fingertips. Expensive vacations and trips to exotic places were just dreams for my future, not my current reality.

However, last summer, when my dad was stationed in Germany with his Army unit, I had the chance of a lifetime to go and spend six weeks with him. It was my Great European Vacation, and I came home from that trip with much more than a few great photos.

We arrived at my dad’s house late at night, weary from traveling for well-over 24 hours. I had been looking forward to seeing Germany for months, but now all I could think about was sleep. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I really got to see my surroundings, both the house and the town.

My father’s house was interesting, having two main floors and an attic-type room that we used mostly for reading. My room had a great view of a restaurant called The Holstein Hut, which was situated at the top of a very high hill on the outskirts of the village. This restaurant was interesting for many reasons. First, it was only opened business randomly. You never knew for sure if it would be opened or not. The best way to tell was to look for the flag that was raised to indicate that The Holstein Hut was serving food on that particular day. Secondly, you could only get there by hiking, which is why I guess they mostly opened if the weather were suitable for hikers. But the best part about the The Holstein Hut was that it had a particularly great view of the area. Some of my favorite memories of my time in Germany is going out for an afternoon hike to get a sausage at The Holstein Hut and take in some of the beautiful German scenery.

My dad had opted to live in a German village instead of on the American base where he worked. The name of this village was Munchweiler an der Alsenz, which means “Munchweiler by the river Alsenz.” You needed the entire name because there were three villages with the name Munchweiler in the area. I suppose I thought that the river Alsenz would be something really special and worth seeing. However, we passed by the Alsenz on one of our many walks around the village, and I was surprised to see it was just this tiny stream! Hardly anything worth naming a village after, if you asked my opinion.

Munchweiler an der Alsenz was relatively small and compact, as were all the German villages in the area. Everything was packed close together, and yet it didn’t feel crowded at all. “Did you have a nice-sized backyard?” my mother once asked me. I regretted to tell her that we didn’t. No one had backyards. Yet the area surrounding the village was sort of like a big common backyard that everyone enjoyed. And what a common backyard it was! The entire area was covered in hills, with paths and small roads leading in all directions. There were plenty of trees dotting the most beautiful fields I have ever seen.

Everyone walked. No matter where you were going, you walked. You could walk just a couple of miles and pass through three or four villages on your journey. I loved walking because you could really soak in all the beauty. But if you were going far, then you could travel by car on the Audubon (where there really is no speed limit) or by train (which were used in a way that is similar to how Americans might use buses).

Hiking in the Black Forest where it was light enough for a photo.
Hiking in the Black Forest where it was light enough for a photo.

Once we took a weekend trip to the Black Forest in southern Germany. Right away I could see where it got its name. The trees were so thick that everything looked black, even in the middle of the day. The main thing to do in the Black Forest was hike. We hiked up to the peak and then back down, all the way in semi-darkness.

Kegel Bowling ... entertaining Germans since the Middle Ages.
Kegel Bowling … entertaining Germans since the Middle Ages.

 

However, it was also during this visit that I first learned about Kegel Bowling. The small bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had a bowling alley in the basement. It was just one lane with nine pins that were arranged in a diamond. This different style of bowling was invented in the 1300’s. Perhaps the strangest part was that there was no pin-setter in this bowling alley. Rather all the pins were attached to strings that were pulled up and lowered again to reset the pins once they had all been knocked down.

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with my siblings in front of the Eiffel Tower

Another weekend, my father took us to Paris, France. It was a quick trip, so we rushed to get in all the highlights. We went to the Louvre Art Museum, where I saw the Mona Lisa up close and personal. It was so much smaller than I imagined it would be. I also saw the Venus de Milo, which is a famous statue with no arms, and a sculpture of The Great Sphinx. We walked all over Paris. I stood underneath the Eiffel Tower, but I couldn’t ride to the top because the elevator was broken. We climbed every last exhausting stair to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. But my favorite part of Paris was all the cafés. Everywhere you looked there was another street-side restaurant, with delicious sandwiches made on baguettes, pasta dishes covered in rich sauces, and crème’ brulee, an amazing dessert that I had often heard of but never tried. I even ate French fries in France, which to me were exactly like American French fries only they were bigger. I suppose the saying that “everything is bigger in America” isn’t always true.

Eating ... my favorite thing about traveling to Europe
Eating … my favorite thing about traveling to Europe

Actually, my favorite part of the entire trip was the food. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed trying all the new cuisines. Leberknodle, bratwurst brochen, leberkase, jagerschnitzel. I loved it all. My taste buds were in heaven!

Leberknodle and bratwurst brochen would be instant hits here in Cajun country. The leberknodle is like a giant boudin meatball, only not quite as spicy. Bratwurst brochen is essentially a sausage poboy. Both are seriously tasty.

Leberkase literally means “meat cheese.” Basically, it is meat (sort of like bologna) that is packed tightly in a pan, just like a meatloaf. There is actually no cheese in this dish, but many people say it has the texture of cheese. That’s how it got the name. Honestly, I don’t care what the Germans call it. I just call it delicious!

Of all the foods I tried, jagerschnitzel was probably my favorite dish. Schnitzel is simply a pounded fried pork steak, which by itself would be totally awesome. Yet, typically when you order schnitzel at a restaurant, it comes with either cheese (kase) or mushrooms (jager, which is pronounced “yay’-gur”). So jagerschnitzel is a fried pork steak covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. Yummy stuff!

Six weeks is a long time to spend in another country. When I returned to my home in Lafayette, my mother hugged me tight and said it looked as if I had grown at least a foot while I had been gone! Of course, I hadn’t, but I had grown up in many ways I never imagined I would. As a result of my extended travels, I am now aware of how culture and history binds people of all nations together, how life in other countries is extremely similar and yet vastly different from life in the U.S., and that if all I ever do is play video games and eat fast food, then I am going to miss out on so much this world has to offer!

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane … Soon and Very Soon

“It’s 10 am, Mom.  You know what that means … it’s officially just a week left! Dad said he would pick us up at 10 am next Friday, and then we are off  on our trip! Do you think I should start packing today?”

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Three of my children are preparing to leave. In just 168 hours (according to Nathan’s latest update), they will walk out the door, suitcases in hand, to board a jet plane headed for Germany where they will spend the first half of the summer visiting their dad.

Eager. Enthusiastic. Wired with excitement. These words describe the mood of my three first-time world travelers.

Each day now is spent with an attitude of preparation and expectation for this highly anticipated trip. My kids are impatient for their father’s return, even though he will be taking them to a place they have never seen. None of them doubt their dad will do as he said, and come for them.  Moreover, they are eager for his return, filled with anticipation for the journey ahead, and trust implicitly everything will be just as their father has told them it will be.

And as sad as I am to see them go away for six long weeks, I can’t blame them. If I were in their shoes, I would also be excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! I just wish I had plane tickets to join them. I wish I could pack my bags and experience the excitement of going to a new country for the very first time.

Unfortunately, I’m not invited. All I can do is prepare myself to say goodbye, and pray they bring me back some German chocolate as a souvenir.

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As a Christian, I too am preparing for a trip. I also have a Father who has promised to return for me, to take me to a place I’ve never seen.

In John chapter 14, Jesus said these words:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  

~John 14:1-3

As I watch my children excitedly prepare for their earthly father’s anticipated arrival, I wonder if the way I live my life here on this earth reflects that one day (possibly soon) my Heavenly Father will come for me, and take me to a new place,  a home which I have never seen.

The difference is my children know the exact time their trip will begin. So they are able to count down the days, hours and even minutes. They have also seen pictures of Germany. The list of sites they hope to see grows longer each day, as they peruse the internet and scour travel guides from the library. The Ann Frank House, Neuschwanstein Castle, a hike in the Alps, a visit to Europa Park (a large amusement park in Germany) … so many interesting places to go and new things to experience! And even though they haven’t yet embarked on their travels, this trip feels as real as a trip to the grocery store.

Yet, the reality of heaven quite often feels to me like a dream or a made-up fantasy. Perhaps if I had a specific date or a few  photos to view, the journey would seem more of a certainty.  But I don’t have a date to circle on the calendar.  And other than the Bible, there are no travel books to tell me more about heaven’s glory. I can’t look at pictures or talk to someone who has visited there.

But I do know heaven is just as real as any place on earth, more wonderful and perfect than I can begin to imagine, and my Jesus will come to take me there Himself. I don’t need expensive tickets, just faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are all I need to be invited to travel there.

I’m eager to go check out heaven … just as soon as Jesus comes to take me home!

kingdom-of-heaven-jesus

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What about you? Do you believe heaven is real? Are you ready to travel when the Savior returns? 

If not, I hope you will ask me how you can get your “free ticket” today.

G is for …

eletterG

G is for Germany.

In a little less than two months, three of my children are headed there. Joel, Nathan and Julia are going over to visit their father, who has been stationed in Germany since last September. They will be spending approximately six weeks of the summer with him … from Memorial Day all the way through Independence Day.

Can I just be honest and admit I miss them already? I do. I think about it so many times each day, already dreading the very moment they will step onto the plane and fly away from me.

Encouragers in my life try to remind me of the fantastic opportunity being handed to my children. “They will learn so much in Europe! Think of all the amazing things they will see and do. What a blessing for them!”

I usually nod my head in agreement because I understand, so completely. And yet … honestly … I just wish they didn’t have to go. I’d rather them stay home with me.

Even so, I’ve been helping them prepare for the trip. I bought a book for learning German phrases. Ever so slowly,  we are working our way through the lessons, with me learning along next to my children. My dear friend Esther is German. She moved to the States 20 years ago or so, after she married an American soldier.  One day soon, Esther is coming over to give all of us some cultural lessons about German life. “Perhaps,” she said, “I will even prepare a German food.”   I’m looking forward to that. I might even try out a German phrase or two on her, just to see if I am anywhere near the correct pronunciation. Mostly though, I’ve just been surprised to discover that, despite my desire to keep my kids home, I feel incredibly grateful to be involved in this part of the trip, even if it is just the preparation before leaving.

Lately I’ve wondered if my emotional reaction to my children’s upcoming trip to Germany might be something of a delayed grief. Seven years ago, another trip to Germany was in the works. It was my trip, one which I planned to take to visit their father on his 2 weeks of R&R during a deployment to Iraq.  I read all the German travel books I could find, wrote long lists of places I hoped to see and visit, spent hours scouring the internet for places to stay, tucked away every penny I could spare to cover the costs of our European vacation.

Unfortunately, the expectation of that trip never came to pass. Instead, the unexpected happened. My marriage fell apart. He walked out on fourteen years. I have never really understood why.

Grief is an odd experience, so different for each person to process. Yet, counselors tell us every person in mourning goes through through the same stages before they reach a place of acceptance: denial, isolation, bargaining, depression, and even anger.

I am not an angry sort of person. Truthfully, I’m an emotional stuffer. It takes me a long, long time to get good and angry. Unfortunately, when I do, it takes me a long time to get over that anger.

I can clearly remember the day not too long after my ex-husband left when I woke up mad, more offended than I’d ever felt in my life. Strangely, at least initially, my impassioned outrage was focused mostly on the loss of my trip to Germany. My entire life I had wanted to travel overseas, particularly to Europe. Years of dreaming. Months of planning. Now, after plans had been made, it wasn’t going to happen. I had gotten that passport for nothing. It was a bitter pill, stuck in my throat. Nothing I seemed to do could make it go down.

Over the course of the past seven years, I’ve worked through most of the indignation resulting from my divorce. Well … at least everything except the trip to Germany. Until recently, it didn’t come up all that often. Perhaps from time to time, as I opened the firesafe box looking for a birth certificate or some other important piece of paperwork, I would notice my passport tucked away safely inside, never used. Irritation would surface, but soon enough it would subside again.  For the most part, this was a non-issue, or at least that’s what I thought.

But now, with my children’s trip to Germany clearly marked on the calendar, I realize I’m still dealing with one last emotional wound,  dating back seven years. The memory of that unused passport still haunts me.  As I help my children get ready to travel to a place I’ve never been but longed to see, I have felt God wanting to resolve the ache of that loss.  A loss I’d rather not think about or face.

Seven years ago, in the midst of the deepest sorrow of my life, I discovered the truth in the words of the psalmist:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.   ~Psalm 34:18

God was certainly near to me in those days. Over time, in His care, my ashes became something beautiful. And that gives me hope.  Though I may still ache a bit over the loss of my own trip to Germany, I am choosing to see it as a gain for my kids, who certainly would not have this opportunity if I not lost mine. I expect my heart will be sad while my children are away. Even so, I can trust God will be near to me in those moments, and continue to bring good out of the losses in my life.

Learning the truth of that promise has definitely been worth the cost of an unused passport.