A.

Awesome to Awful: Our First European Vacation (Part 1)

We’re back! Not just from our month long hiatus from the blog, but from our very first European vacation.

Quite honestly, I sighed a sigh of relief as we returned home last night and finally turned the car ignition off after a thirteen hour road trip home. And now we’re one of those families–you know, a family with one of those vacation stories. Everyone has one. What began with wonderful planning (what did people do before the Internet?!), check-lists (we still forgot the coffee), and perfectly packing the car (yeah… like a man), quickly turned in to a drama worthy of a book deal and a movie (still waiting to see if Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon sign on for the lead roles). Bethany expressed it well: “we need a vacation from our vacation.” So grab your popcorn and find a seat (I like about halfway up, in the middle) because here’s the tale in it’s entirety.

A Beautiful Drive and a Sick Kid

We live in northeast Czech Republic, literally on the border with Poland and not far from neighboring Slovakia (in the upper right corner of Czech). This actually puts us within driving distance of some of those most beautiful cities in the world. Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, and Berlin are all about 3-5 hours away. If you want to see the beach you gotta work a little harder for it, but you can head south to the countries of Slovenia or Croatia for warm water and hot sun (or, for you romantics, you can get to Venice, Italy in 9 hours flat from our house). We decided we wanted to head south mostly because we had been invited to attend a wedding in Slovenia and since we would already be making the 7 hour drive we thought it would be fun to vacation there. Even Rick Steves (your favorite American travel guy) says, “Slovenia is the least visited and most underrated of Europe’s alpine countries.” So last week on Friday we left at precisely 7:57am and hit the open road for an entire week away. Alright!

Playing With the Kids (7/24/15)

The drive was beautiful. We saw all of Czech Republic, all of Austria, and then well into stunning Slovenia. We had to make planned stops every 2-3 hours to feed Karis, but the kids enjoyed the regular potty breaks and playing at the McDonald’s play places (shown above). The trip was mostly uneventful until about 30 minutes before we crossed the Austria/Slovenia border. Almost out of nowhere Titus said quietly from the back seat, “I am going to throw up.” We were humming along the highway at the speed limit but I took him seriously and pulled to the emergency lane and stopped the car. Bethany jumped out on his side of the car and as she opened his door Titus lost his lunch inside of our van. Had I been a little quicker maybe could have gotten him out in time, but the damage was done.

Bethany proceeded to get him out while a steady stream of traffic was going by us (thankfully, we stopped at a turning part of the highway where traffic was going slower than the average 80mph). I then began unpacking the car on the highway to get to that one bag which had his clothes in it. The kids’ bikes, our backpacks, Pak-N-Play, and my camera bag all had to come out on the side of the road so I could open a suitcase and get Titus a change of clothes. Titus threw up four more times in the next two hours, once more in the car and on the side of the road. We ended up arriving about two hours late to the apartment we rented in Slovenia, but the lady was very kind and gracious with our situation (we rented it through airbnb.com). The place we stayed was really nice and we began running the washing machine as soon as we arrived. Titus didn’t seem to have any more issues and was feeling fine which, of course, we were thankful for. Everyone got a good night’s rest that first night and were excited about what the next day would hold.

A Wedding at a Castle

Without getting into the crazy details, friends from the States have a daughter who married a guy from Slovenia. They held two ceremonies, one in the States a few weeks ago, and one last week in Slovenia which we had the privilege of attending. The morning of the wedding (our second day of vacation) it was raining pretty hard. We had a little twenty minute drive from where we were staying to get to the the family’s house where all the festivities of the wedding would begin. On our drive we went right through a pretty wild storm. By the time we got to the house the storm had cleared and sun was shining!

This wedding was our first since moving to Europe and it was a ton of fun. There are so many cultural things that we enjoyed. For instance, everyone attending the wedding met at the family’s house for a mini pre-reception thing. The family provided snacks and drinks and everyone gathered in the front yard and driveway while a young man played traditional Slovenian songs on his accordion. Some people danced and others just mingled while the bride and groom walked around and greeted them. Then we heard, “OK, we’re leaving!” and they handed us bags of candy. The girl who gave us our bag said, “We are going to caravan to the wedding and while we drive, if you see kids on the side of the road, throw this candy to them!” For our kids, that was a highlight. We saw a lot of kids on the side of the road and our kids would throw the candy and they would pick it up and wave. The long caravan of cars snaked their way through the little town en route to a Slovene castle (honking the entire way) where the wedding would be held. Here’s a short video I got of the front yard before we all drove away together.

As you may have guessed, the wedding location (a literal castle!) was incredible. Apparently this particular castle is one of the few left in Slovenia that wasn’t destroyed. I don’t know all the history, but what I heard from someone was that it was used as a vacation home for royalty. Obviously, any wedding with three little kids in tow is not easy and this one was no exception. We did OK, but it was hot, a little muggy, and our kids were tired by the time we arrived, yet we still had a fun time. The kids loved the castle grounds and we even did a little exploring. We had fun visiting with our friends and of course seeing their daughter get married. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it to the reception (which was held at another location) because we really didn’t think our kids were going to make it. Slovenian receptions will traditionally last until 3 or 4 in the morning so we ended up leaving after the post-ceremony mini reception. Here’s a few photos from the wedding.

Slovenia Castle Wedding (7/25/15)

Slovenia Castle Wedding (7/25/15)

And thanks to Larry for letting us use this last photo of all us!

Slovenia Castle Wedding (7/25/15)

Lake Bled

I will admit that I’m the worst at overusing the word “awesome.” Culturally that’s true as well. As the popular song from the Lego Movie says, “Everything is awesome!” Well, if everything is awesome then really nothing is awesome…except Lake Bled, Slovenia. It is truly awesome. Lake Bled was a forty minute drive from our apartment and we went there the day after the wedding (if you’re keeping score, this is day 3). We actually saw some other Josiah Venture missionaries at the wedding and they helped us put some plans together for Lake Bled. They were kind enough to contact friends that work at the lake and we were able to do a few things there that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

We found a parking area on the north end of the lake and ate our home made lunch from the car and watched while people and cars poured in for some fun of their own. So many people from so many different countries were spending the day at the lake. After lunch we headed over to the shore, set up our stuff, and got the kids ready for some water time. The lake was not only amazingly clear, it felt warmer than the outside air. We were worried it was going to rain, but the rain never came. The kids went for a swim while Bethany, Karis, and I played on shore. The wind was a little chilly but since the kids were having so much fun we didn’t mind.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

After the kids were tired of the water we decided to walk around the lake to where the boats were launching. Our friends told us to a find a young man who would be willing to save us some serious cash and take us to the island in the middle of the lake. The walk proved to be a highlight. We thought it would be hard to get all of us around the lake but the walk is beautiful and right along the edge of the water. In the above photo you can see us walking on the path that they built right on top of the water. It was, you guessed it, awesome.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

In God’s sovereignty, just as we were approaching the boat area, the young man we were trying to find was rowing a group of people back from the island in the middle of the lake. He said it would be no problem to take us out to the island at no charge! It’s actually kind of pricey, so this was really gracious. We joined another group and headed towards the island (it was our kids’ very first boat trip). As we boarding, Avery freaked and ran away from the boat because she was scared. I got off and grabbed her while the boat waited for us to board. Finally, she settled down and started enjoying it as we were slowly oared away.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

The island has a little coffee and cake shop, ice cream shop, and even a church. You can literally walk around the entire edge of the island in four minutes. We stayed out there for an hour and Bethany fed Karis in the coffee shop. I bought ice cream for the kids and me and we just enjoyed staring out at the water. Here’s a few photos from out on the island.

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

Lake Bled, Slovenia (7/26/15)

We spent about an hour on the island before being rowed safely back to land (this time without any protest from Avery as we got on the boat). It was getting late in the day and we were hungry so we decided it was time to leave. Walking back to the car we talked about how much fun it was on the island and the lake and we were still enamored by the surroundings.  Shortly after departing our kids fell asleep in the car and we stopped off at a local burger stand for some dinner before heading back to the apartment for one more night. Our plans for the rest of our vacation included 4 days on the coast of Slovenia. All of us have been wanting to see some kind of coast or beach so that seemed like a safe bet. However, the Lord had other plans and for that part of the story you’re going to have wait for part 2!

T.

That Was The First

One year ago today, on a rainy night in Prague, our plane touched down in what would be our initial move to the Czech Republic. It was from our hotel room just across the street from the airport that I wrote these words and posted them to this blog.

This is the first. This is the first of what I hope to be an ongoing journal of what transitioning life to a new country and culture looks like. Lord willing, it will be daily. My hope is that for a year I can maintain some thought, long or short, from our days in Czech Republic. I hope it will be a testament to the Lord’s grace in our lives, what He is doing, how He is working, and just how our lives are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

family_2014-LAX-v2

Reading them again today has brought tears to my eyes. I don’t really even remember writing them, but I do remember meaning them. Somehow I wanted to capture, mostly for our own family, the memories of what it was like for us to move across the globe. I wanted to share the joys, fears, funny stories, and all the “firsts” that only a journal could document, but I wanted it to be often and I wanted some kind of accountability. Writing every day and posting to this blog seemed to be the answer. It would force me to sit down on a daily basis and ask “What happened today?” It would challenge me to take regular photos and even constantly ask Bethany, “Hey, do you have any photos or stories from today?” More than that, I knew it would serve as a memory bank of all that God would do in our lives.

The truth is, God has done so much this past year. This little blog has tried to be a testimony of what He has done. I know and believe that God has used this first year in our lives in ways that I don’t yet understand, but I’m so thankful for the many different experiences we’ve had as we try to figure out life in a foreign land. Just being a foreigner is a stretching experience all by itself. From day one we have fumbled our way through the once simple tasks of grocery shopping or ordering food at a restaurant. We have struggled (yes, even this morning!) to know what’s going on at Titus’ school and how best to communicate with his teacher. We have battled sickness and wondered often if it’s just mold in our home or the new air we’re breathing. We have made countless language mistakes and have regularly wondered if we’ll ever master Czech enough to share our faith. But those struggles are part of the way God is working. They can not be seen by themselves, but have to be viewed in the context of God’s sovereign hand and sovereign plan. Romans 8:28 is appropriate here, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

kitchen

As I look back on the year, I can’t just think about the struggles. We had so many joys this year too! Most recently we have had the joy of seeing our third child born here. The process of working with a Czech doctor and a Czech hospital was amazing. To watch little Karis grow in the womb is an amazing joy. We have also watched God answer many prayers, including Titus’ transition to preschool. Not only did Titus start school for the first time in his life here in Czech, but he has also had the challenge of doing it in a second language. God has been so faithful in that entire process. We have had the joy of meeting and knowing some amazing people, both Czechs and missionaries. Just this week I was reminded of how I thought of the Czech people when we first arrived but so much of that has changed this year. We have worked alongside some incredible missionaries and made many new friends. Their hearts for the lost of this region are a constant joy and I’m regularly spurred towards greater love of Jesus, and greater compassion towards unbelievers, because of their love for the lost. They have helped us transition here, invited us in to their lives, and have been a phone call away when we’ve been confused or just needed help. Lastly, we have also had the joy of many visitors to our new home here. From the early weeks here until very recently, many friends and family have come to visit us and stay with us. Those were some of the sweetest times for us as we didn’t feel alone but had a familiar face here, someone who we could talk and share our lives with, and someone who we felt like really knew us. These are just a few of the many joys we’ve had.

family-of-five

Looking back is only half the battle. We must also look forward to what is ahead for our family. As for this blog, we will be taking a “blog vacation” (if there is such a thing). It’s been incredibly fun to write every day, but it’s time to refocus and take back some much needed time. The blog will return, but it will not be every day. As for our family, we’re continuing to push ahead into language, culture, and ministry here in Czech. We know the Lord will give us the strength and courage to plow ahead with all that He has for us in the next year. We covet your prayers in this process!

Thank you for joining us in this journey. In all of this I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” This is not about us. It’s about Him. To Christ be all the glory.

R.

Rainbowed

I’ve been a little emotional today. As a guy, you rarely say things like that, but I think I have a pretty good reason. Mainly, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year here. I even started working on tomorrow’s one year anniversary post just because I had some things on my mind.

Avery Riding (6/23/15)

I took a walk with the kids tonight (photo above) and as we were walking I was just thinking about all God has done this past year and how it has shaped our family. This whole process has been challenging, but it’s also brought us closer together as a family. The Lord has used it to humble us and cause us to look to Him for our strength. I’m sure many missionaries would say the same about their first year. It’s not easy to fumble through the language barrier. It’s not easy to feel like an outsider (foreigner). And it’s really not easy to know that it’s going to be a while before you’ll be able to really communicate your heart. But the Lord always gives grace.

I was also thinking about how much of an encouragement people have been to us. Whether it’s been personal notes, phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, comments on the blog, Instagram comments, or Twitter replies, we have had countless people encourage us in so many different ways. It’s hard to put into words just what that has meant to us. Even now my eyes well up just a bit as I think about the amazing people God has brought in to our lives to not only be part of sending us here, but of holding us up in prayer from thousands of miles away. My family is so thankful for you and continue to ask you to pray for us!

Rainbowed (6/23/15)

I left the house around 8 o’clock tonight to run to the store for Bethany. We decided to divide and conquer so I went to the store and she gave the kids a bath. As I walked out to our car I looked up in to the sky at one of the most incredible rainbows I’ve seen. The photo above doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. It was so bright against a stormy sky and one end of the rainbow settled behind the big church next to our apartment. Immediately my heart was thinking about the promises of God. In fact, I thought specifically about Philippians 1:6 where Paul writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That’s a great promise. I was also genuinely reminded of the Psalm I had read earlier today that another missionary friend emailed me. Psalm 93:1 says, “The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.” Don’t you just think of God’s majesty when you see a rainbow? I know I did tonight. It was truly majestic to behold.

Rainbowed (6/23/15)

I took the photo above just before walking in to the grocery store and as I turned to walk inside I saw a man leaving. I think he was taking a bite of bread as he walked out the doors and then he just stopped and stared at the sky. I watched his reaction to the wonder and amazement of a beautiful rainbow making it’s way across his entire view and then I thought, “I wonder what he thinks of that rainbow?…I wonder if he knows what it means….I wonder if He knows the God who made it?”

My heart is full tonight. I have a mix of emotions that I just can’t quite describe. The Lord has definitely reminded me tonight of His goodness and that has come through His creation and His Word. He’s also reminded me of the great care He has for His children. I’m thankful to be a child of the King. I guess sometimes it just takes a rainbow to remind me of all of that.

O.

Our First Trip to the U.S. Embassy in Prague

And just like that, we’re back on a train headed for home. As I write, Avery is a sleep, Titus is watching a show on the iPad and Bethany is rocking baby Karis to hopefully get her to fall asleep. We’ve had an eventful day and we’re all a little tired, but I’m so thankful for how the Lord worked today.

The day started early as we had a 9:00am appointment at the U.S. embassy in Prague. Our friends Zach and Kara were so kind to come meet us at our apartment early this morning to watch Titus and Avery while we took Karis and all of our paperwork the embassy. The embassy was actually a lot closer to us than I thought and literally took us 1 minute to walk there as it was just across the street. Honestly, I think it took us longer to get out of our building than to walk to the embassy once we were on the street.

U.S. Embassy in Prague (6/22/15)

No surprise, but there was security to go through at the embassy, but it wasn’t as heavy as I thought it would be. It took us a little work to get everything through (stroller, baby seat, etc.) but once we were in things went smoothly, albeit slowly. We were seen right away, but the processing of the documents is what I think took the longest. Their Web site claims it should take “45 minutes” but we were there over two hours. The man processing our paperwork was really nice and asked a lot of questions about what we do here so we shared about being missionaries. He also had us raise our right hands and affirm that everything we submitted was true (I only mention this because we hadn’t done something like that in a long time). Of course, we affirmed all of it and when the dust had settled on the morning all the paperwork was signed, completed, and now we wait. We’re hopeful to get all the documents back in the next 10 days and we’ll head back to Prague to pick everything up at that time.

Our morning at the embassy may have been really dull had it not been for the fact that we spent our waiting time hanging out with another really sweet missionary family. In God’s sovereign plan, a family (who serve near Prague) was there that we got to spend a ton of time with and get to know. We knew they were going to be there, and the circumstances surrounding how we knew and the incredible fact that we had the same appointment time on the same day are too much for this post, but it was a joy to see them and talk with them. They have three little girls and have been here for six years. We had planned to have lunch with them, which we did at a delicious pizza place, and then we ended up heading to park to let the kids play. There is a lot I could say about our time together, but it was really sweet and I’m thankful to have spent time with this family and were encouraged by their hearts for Czech and the ministry here.

Train Panoramic (6/22/15)

We’re halfway home now with another two hours of travel left. Avery is awake and we’re enjoying a little snack. I feel a little sentimental as we approach our one year mark in just two days. Most likely I’ll be taking a break from the daily blog, but not from blogging altogether. For those who have joined us on this journey, thank you for reading and following along. I’ll write more on Wednesday about it, but it’s been a joy to share our lives with you in this way. See you tomorrow!

F.

Father’s Day in Prague

Happy Father’s Day!

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

In another incredible adventure we have made our way today back to Prague. I never thought we would end up here as much as we have, especially in the past few weeks, but it’s been really fun and crazy all at the same time. Just like we did a few weeks ago, we made our here today via the train station right by our house. We walked there this morning, caught an 8am train and got into Prague about 20 minutes after noon. Below are a few photos from the train ride, including the one above. In the photos below we walked to the “kids car” and played for a bit. These aren’t are actual seats (those were in a different car), but the kids made a little friend while we were in the there.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

When we got in to Prague we made our way down to the Metro (subway) and accidentally got on the wrong side of the tracks, took the elevator back up and over, and finally got to where we needed to be. We packed really light this trip since we’ll only be here one night so it wasn’t too bad getting around with all five of us. The Metro took us to a transfer station where we caught another Metro headed towards a lunch place that we made reservations at. There is a burger joint in Prague that supposedly has the one of the top five burgers in Europe and a friend had recommended it. Since burgers are my favorite thing on the planet and they are not super common here, we had to go for it. I’m STOKED we did because it was amazing and my Father’s Day belly left full and happy! Here’s a photos of the kids and Bethany as we walked.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

What I never understood as just a tourist, but now understand so much better, is if you’re going to stay in big European cities…rent an apartment. Tonight we are staying in a literal castle view apartment that is about a stones throw from the U.S. Embassy (which is why we’re here this weekend) and it’s costing us less than you’re cheap Motel 6 in the States. Not only that, but this is a large 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen! Check out this view from one of our windows.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Here’s a few more shots from around the building.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Here’s a view of the American flag that we can see flying above the embassy from the other side of our apartment (small flag in the upper left).

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Tonight we (unbelievably) had dinner on a boat on the river, in Prague, with a view of the Charles Bridge and the castle. I’m not kidding you. I never in my life thought I would ever get to say or write that, but it’s another recommended, affordable restaurant that was walking distance from our apartment. The only issue we had was that the kids kept asking why the boat wasn’t moving! Here’s a few photos from the place and then a shot of it from the bridge.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

The restaurant is in the middle boat (dead center) next to the wall (in the photo below)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Our appointment for Karis’ U.S. citizenship, passport, and social security card is tomorrow at 9:00am so we’ll be up early to get packed up and make sure we get to our appointment early. I’ve tried to check and re-check every document that is required and we’re really hoping the process will go smoothly. I no reason to doubt that it will, but I’m always weary of government things like this, even ones that only involve the U.S.! Pray for us as we go tomorrow that things would be in order and go smoothly so we can get Karis’ documents and then take the next step towards getting her a visa.

Well, that’s not a bad way to spend a Father’s Day and not a bad way to end this post. Good night!