Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lost in the City of Golden Spires

   Prague. When we finally stepped out of the airport into the fresh, cool air of Prague it was like my body was instantly hydrated. The clammy humidity of the south and those scorching temperatures were left behind and I took in a deep breath of clean, crisp air. Immediately I was caught up in the swirl of Europe, hearing many languages spoken and seeing outfits that left me quizzical. Ah, Europe. Anything goes. It's kind of a relief, really. You're just free to be you. While it's certainly evident that such freedom has led to questionable morality, it is nice, however, to know that no one is looking at you as though you're different. Everyone is different. Whether it's a melting pot, salad, or any other analogy for diversity-- Europe is just made up of different looking, different sounding people. It was refreshing.
   So off we go, the American-looking team with their cameras in tow and their southern drawls trailing, to get the rental van. By now we've been awake for some 6,000 hours so what better time to drive in a foreign country? Kathy assumes the co-pilot position with navigation tools (i.e a google map) in place. I'm quick to note that the traffic signs are different. I don't recognize the symbols. The street and interstate signs are in Czech obviously. Guess what? We speak English in Alabama (well, some derivative of it anyhow). We successfully (miraculously) exit the airport area and find ourselves headed to the hotel in downtown Prague.     
   It gets a little sketchy from there. Karl invents his own meaning for the road signs and we keep going. I'm suddenly thinking about the negative stereotypes of American drivers and I come up with the conclusion that they are unfounded....compared to European drivers. It appears that 80mph is going slowly. Cars zip and turn and zag and swerve leaving only enough space to put a penney between you and other vehicle. Karl is hanging with the big boys, though and we're making progress.
   As we get closer to downtown Prague, the landscape begins to morph into a palatte of red roofs and lush trees. Spires stick up like hands in the air telling us we're heading in the right direction. Everything is so beautifully old and unique. As the city walls close in, the roads get tighter and more uneven with centuries of well-travelled cobblestones. There are still the same amount of maniac cars, but less space!  Now it's kind of like riding on a carousel. We're going around and around, but we don't know how we got on or where we get off. Road construction, one-way roads, and just general unfamiliarity lead to a slight (3 hr) detour, but if you're going to be lost anywhere......Prague is the place. Here's what you see when lost in the city of golden spires.
Not bad. It's like we stepped back in time. I'd forgotten what it was like to look at such amazing architecture and to remember that it is all the handiwork of God! Yes, it was designed by mere man and built with human hands, but God was the master architect of the brains behind the blocks. Stunning.
My favorite thing to see was the beautiful flower boxes cascading absolutely everywhere. Everything grows in this Garden of Eden climate. Building after building had applied the red-lipstick of geranimums like a kiss to an envelope. I couldn't get enough of it.

   We got some excellent directions and were headed in the right direction when we saw the beauty mark of Prague---the Charles's Bridge and Prague Castle. It's gasp-worthy. I so wished my girls had been with me, for it looked like a scene from the fairytales we read at night. Grace had asked that I be on the look-out for unicorns when she heard that there are real castles in the Czech Republic. No unicorns, but a sight to behold none-the-less.

Does this look like Hwy 280? I think not!
  We found our hotel nestled within the nooks and cranies of Prague and settled in. It was only mid-day in Prague so we had to keep going until evening to get our bodies adjusted. We set out on foot exploring. Pinch me! Am I really in Prague and not Publix????????? Am I truly only responsible for myself at this moment in time? Now insert unrealistic notions about mission trips. I'm thinking THIS IS GREAT! :)
   What a gift. Yes, I did get to be selfish these first few days. I got my eyes more widely opened to the world that God created --and I realized that an insignificant speck I am.  I got a break from serving my family and was able to simply behold. I got uniterrupted time with friends and the chance to enjoy deep conversation. What a delight. I got to stand on the ancient cobbled streets of Prague and say, "What a mighty God we serve."

Friday, July 29, 2011

Representing the United States of America.....

    I've never really been part of a team. I didn't play sports as a youngster (and the world is grateful). I've always worked well with others, but being part of a team is different. A level of trust and intimacy exists. Being part of a team calls for sacrifice as you seek to achieve the team goal, and not your own personal agenda.  The team members are key.
 There's no doubt that the Lord put our team together beautifully. I've known all but one on our team for quite some time,. However, a 13 day mission experience allows you to know people differently. Essentially, we were together almost 24 hours per day. Heck, it allowed me to know myself differently!!
Each team member served me in wonderfully different ways and I got to appreciate so many things about these individuals. It was as if God held up a magnifying glass to their character and allowed me to see them more clearly. Here are my impressions:
Karl: Short on words. Long on grins. He led the team with a quiet confidence and I'm so grateful for his leadership and faithful prayer. It's a lot of responsibility to book flights, reserve hotels, reserve a rental car, DRIVE that rental car in a foreign country, account for meals, and all the details that come with managing a seven person team. There's no need to write about our three hour "detour" in Prague because you're gonna hear about it, but even in the most tense of times, Karl was as calm as ever. That's why he's team leader. The fact that my hair was falling out at the root due to stress is the reason why I'm NOT team leader. He's quietly funny and sports a vest with great panache....every single day. You know Mary Poppin's famous carpet bag? Well, Karl too can pull a lamp out of a small zippered vest pocket. Amazing! He was chivalrous in carrying my bags for me (Brenda too) so that my back would endure the trip. In short, much of the trip's smoothness can be attributed to him. He's simply delightful.
Brenda: I learned that Brenda's pure sweetness transfers across the Atlantic Ocean as easily as the Boeing 747 did. She is beautiful in the morning. No lie! She sympathesized with me while I sniffled in the back of the car on the way to the airport and just let me be. She's a mom. She understands. She focuses 100% on you while you're speaking as if you're the most important person in the world at that moment. It's like having your own personal cheerleader. She makes me feel better about how much I have to go to the bathroom because she'll always go with me. She's a rather adventurous eater. Pheasant wouldn't have been my first choice at a restaurant. She handled all those little foreign-language speaking cherubs at camp with the same enthusiasm and love that she uses with our own covenant children. Not everyone can work with children in that way. I so admire her.
Kathy: Having Kathy on this trip made me feel so much better because she too was leaving behind her two children. ( I can't tell you how much I admire Kevin and Rebecca Giadrosich for taking Mina and Sam so that Kathy could serve on this trip. It just goes to show that the body can support missions in many different ways. ) This girl can read a map like James Spann can report the weather. Considering I can barely turn on my Garmin--I was in awe. She is very very bright. Not just book smart, but very resourceful. logical, and practical. I bet she was a girl scout. She has the straightest, whitest teeth of anyone I know...and I'm envious. She packed one little bag for the entire trip. I was envious of that too! She is organized and planned lessons for camp that I wish I had heard. I bet she's a wonderfully imaginative and creative teacher for her young students at home. If you're afraid of flying and you find yourself sitting next to Kathy Webster. Ring your in-flight service button and have your seat changed. Enough said. Lastly, she must be a saint. She managed to room with me for many days and let me hog the mirror.
Geny-Kate: Sweet, vibrant Geny-Kate. She's sort of the symbol of what I once was (as she kept reminding me!) She can read a street-sign while the rest of us are squinting to see a building! She's very perceptive--notices little details that just go completely unnoticed by me. She spent the equivalent of a Czech's annual salary on Kofola. Her energy never runs out and she can function beautifully on very little sleep (again, a reminder of who I am not!) She's a very considerate and thoughtful person. She doesn't snore. She has beautiful hair immediately after washing it and that's just wrong. She's a child magnet. They run to her and love her. However, she'll probably never have children after hearing some of the things I shared when I forgot she was around. Hopefully therapy can undo that. What I love most about GK is her passion for Christ which she wears blazen across her face! The girl loves the Lord and wants to serve Him. I know she's going to do great things for the kingdom and I can't wait to watch and see what the Lord does through her. Thank you for rooming with me, GK. Even though I'll never be as cool as you, I can dream.
Ruth: One of the smartest women I know. She thinks before she speaks and crafts her words beautifully. She doesn't throw language away. She wears dignity and poise like Audrey Hepburn wore that famous black dress. I love the way she carries herself. For such a slight-built woman, I have no idea how she houses such an enormous heart. She loves deeply and she loves well. She's genuine. Her love for the Czech people is so tangible. It's such a beautiful picture of how Christ's love in us creates the ability for us to love others. She's a rock solid friend. She carries dental floss around in her purse and when spinach took up residence in my teeth, I was grateful for her forethought. When she plays the piano it's like a sermon without words. Sharing this trip with her was an enormous gift.
Patti: Another ridiculously smart woman; a good thinker. Everything about Patti is soft like you could just nestle up beside her and rest. She has a beautifully musical voice that I so enjoy listening to. I bet she was wonderful at reading bed-time stories to her children. She has an aire of confidence about her that is in no way arrogant. She looks beautiful in turquoise. Had it not been for her i-phone, my family would never have heard from me. Her level of committment to the Czechs is so admirable. She's been coming on this trip for seven years now and the people love her. I can see why. She's easy to love.
Sandy: I met Sandy for the first time in the Atlanta airport as we hooked up for the main leg of the journey. I believe this is Sandy's fifth year to come on this trip. She comes on her own--driven by a love for the Czech people, but mostly a love for the Lord. She's one of "those" people. Good at absolutely everything she tries. Not just good, but excells at everything she tries. NOT FAIR! She's a history professor so we got bonus information that you're just not going to find in a brochure about Prague. She's very adventurous--doesn't seem intimidated to jump into another country/culture. She travels a great deal. She used to be a professional chef. I feel I can use that to my advantage some time in the future. She plays classical piano in a way that will make you cry...did make me cry. She's fun to watch while playing games. Sandy, what animal were you? I hope to get to know her better. I hope to be with her next year on the same trip.

Thank you, team, for showing yourselves to me as you really are. I was so blessed by being with you all. You all are like family now.


So long control....for now.

   It wasn't easy walking out the door that morning. My head told me to turn around and run back inside and embrace my children. To stay home and let someone else go. My heart, however, gave action to my feet and I managed to walk out into the sunlight. I knew I was supposed to go and the wondrous thing about having prayed and prayed about a decision--is that you are able to obey with the assurance that God has prepared the way. And oh, how He prepared the way.
   The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was still present at the airport. It was the feeling of having my fingers forcefully pried open--my grip broken. I've always felt calm and secure when in control (well, when seemingly in control). How humorous that I believe I am controlling my childrens' safety. How egotistical that I believe no one else can run my house or do all I do as efficiently. Anxiety started to swell inside of me and I shouted the "what-ifs" away. Keep walking.
   In Atlanta I began to panic about the miles between myself and my family. "Just tell me we're going to South-Dakota," I humorously chided to Geny-Kate, as if proximity can shield oneself from disaster. Get on the plane! As we took off on the 9 hour flight to Prague, I closed my eyes and began to pray. I acknowledged that I know no control in any area of my life. I repeated Isaiah 26:3, a verse my mother taught me as a little girl and one that has brought me such comfort through many fearful times--
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Why is it that I have such a difficult time keeping my mind on Him and trusting in His sovereignty? He holds my children's lives. His hand is cupped beneath the belly of the plane as we fly. Nothing happens without His saying so.
    I felt the anxiety melt away and the warmth that comes from trusting a friend overtake me. I sat back and, as I had many times prior to this trip, asked the Lord to protect this team, protect my family, and to use this experience to teach me many wonderful things about Himself. I thought the journey of learning would begin when we reached camp, but it really began the minute I stepped outside of my front door and headed on this faith journey. You see, my world is small and I have created it that way. I drove each and every nail into the comfort zone erected to keep me from trusting. I've built it so high that I can no longer remember what it feels like to peek out and meet people unlike myself. I've built it so thick that it insulates me from feeling dependent on the Lord and vulnerable with Him. I wanted this missions experience as much for myself as for the Czech people. We're really not that different, the Czechs and I--we both think we don't need a Savior. Lord, help our unbelief!