Friday, December 30, 2011

Predictable Peas?

Another month has gone by and I'm not really sure where I am. I mean I know I'm in our flat in Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic. I just don't know where I am in my head and heart. I've been sharing about our new life here so maybe I'll carry on with that and see if I find myself.

I think we're adjusting nicely to European life. We've got the hint of a routine developing and that feels good. We haven't been able to get into the Hussite church that sits in the complex courtyard our balcony overlooks yet. To tell you the truth, the modern facade is a bit imposing. We're becoming really proficient at getting around the city on public transit. We've learned to time our departure for church just right and gone into whole new areas of the city.

One of our forays took place through Curt's efforts to get business cards made for us. He found a printer on line and placed the order. He even researched the directions on how to get there. When the day came to pick up the cards we rode a #9 tram for the first time. It took us to a different neighborhood and, by God's grace, we recognized the name of the stop. We weren't sure which way to go so Curt asked the guys who were running a make-shift Christmas tree stall. They pointed us toward a street across a parking lot.

We headed off in that direction and at the corner were considering which way to turn. Just as we were taking our first steps, a lady who'd heard Curt asking directions rushed up to help us. She was anxious to point us to the right - so kind! We thanked her profusely and made our way to a little white door by the number Curt was given. There was a sign that said 'printer' on it, but the name was different so he called the number he'd been given on his mobile. (That's European for cell phone.)

Yes, we were in the right place and the lady came to open the door for us. She led us back through a series of twists and turns to a tiny room with another lady in it. They showed us the business cards and asked if they were acceptable. We really liked they way they looked and expressed our enthusiasm. The bill was presented and Curt paid it. There were a few questions for us about why we were living in Czech and how we liked Prague. It was really a very professional and friendly interchange. A task done, yippeee!

I was thankful we had this relatively easy errand under our belt when it came time to go to collect a special 3-5 day delivery package. Now that was a real stretch. We got an envelope that Curt had to go down to the mail carrier and sign for. When packages come they buzz us in our flat. Of course when we opened it, we had no idea what it said. As God would have it Curt had an appointment with our visa agent that day. So he took it along to ask her about it. (Please do pray that God would choose to grant our visas.)

She confirmed it was a package that we needed to go and collect - at a special Posta office in another part of the city. She offered to go with us, but wouldn't be available until after the first of the year. We decided to undertake the job ourselves. The next day we headed out bright and early. We had to take another new tram number into another new area of the city. The large building didn't have any identification on it. We just saw people coming out with packages so we followed the line in reverse.

Curt's becoming pretty adept at matching words on documents to signs on doors and service windows. We went to the third floor, down the hall and into office #1. We smiled at the man at the available counter and said hello in Czech as we handed over the paper work. He took a look at it and very kindly directed us to go out the door down the hall, around to the left and into another office. We took back our papers and made our way where he pointed. In office #2 there was a line.

A lady was looking at people's paperwork and directing them to the proper windows. She pointed us to the first one. We smiled at this postal worker and handed over our papers. She took them, went through a box of filed papers and seemed to match things. Then she handed back the papers and directed us to go back to office #1. We thanked her, smiled some more, and headed back through the hallway maze. It was a little discouraging because we had been watching other people get their packages and leave.

This time the worker in office #1 was happier about seeing us. He took our papers, looked something up on his computer, and pulled out another document. When he seemed satisfied, he applied what we're learning is a requirement in lots of situations, ink imprints. I think I heard the stamp hit the papers six times before he scribbled his signature on them. As he handed our paperwork back he let us know we needed to go back to office #2. We were starting to feel hopeful as we headed back to where the packages were.

This time the lady pointed us to the second window and we were fifth in line. We used the wait to observe the steps those in front of us took, hoping we'd be ready when it was our turn. Hallelujah, the lady smiled really big when we said hello in Czech. That was a good sign. After she took our papers and went through them she let us know we had to pay a fee. She slipped us a note to let us know the amount. Curt was ready for that so he gave her the amount, 100 korund about $5. Then we got to go over to the package counter.

The lady there took our paperwork and went into the back to retrieve our package. It didn't take her long as she'd already checked out our numbers while we were waiting in line. I let her know I thought she was pretty clever. When she came out with the package I nearly jumped for joy. I took it from her with a massive smile on my face and the very best Czech thank you I could muster. She smiled back, reflecting the appreciation I was trying to communicate. Somehow "Merry Christmas" didn't seem to fit.

Now, have you figured out that these adventures are all taking place in Czech? There's a whole lot of head bobbing and general body language going on to communicate where language fails. Thankfully most Czechs have at least a smattering of English because our Czech hasn't progressed much at all. Hello, please, thank you, excuse me, the next stop is, and a few nouns are pretty much our limit so far.  On top of that there's a whole set of different systems set up for mail and commerce and so on - much to learn.

I think I'm getting an idea of where I am. I'll share two more scenarios to see if I can communicate it to you. The first is Christmas Day. We believe in the richness and holding power of traditions. We've worked hard over the last 30+ years to build family traditions that will cause us to revel in the goodness of God. We've arranged our schedules for the last 14 years to make sure we spent it with our grandchildren. The circumstances of 2011 did not allow for that blessing. God intervened in a fantastic way.

Of course it didn't happen automatically. We had to plan and purpose together with our daughter and her household. With the schedule set, we gathered together around their New Hampshire Christmas tree to share the celebration over skype. What fun we had enjoying the cinnamon bun Christmas trees we've baked and eaten for decades. Their treat was made with Poppin' Fresh dough and ours with from-scratch dough. Theirs had green frosting and sprinkles. Ours had a dusting of confectionary sugar.

We had to take a long break as they went off to church and we ate our Christmas dinner. When we connected again the children were back in their pajamas. We enjoyed watching them open the gifts we'd sent. Their delight in the tokens of our love warmed our hearts. There was laughing and joking and rejoicing enough to fill two homes nearly 4000 miles apart - a day to remember. Thank you, God, for giving the knowledge for skype and setting the timing to be right now when You've placed us here.

I've finally come around to the actual topic I've been pondering. It's about the predictability of life and grocery shopping. Let me see if I can explain. I'm realizing that one of the main issues I'm confronting is the need to be 'ready for anything' so much of the time. I know that life in the USA isn't perfectly comfortable every day. I lived there the majority of my life so I get it. However, there are certain things about living in one's own culture that contribute to a certain level of comfort or core relaxation.

Yes, I know you're probably already thinking back to our Posta experience and figuring that's enough to explain it, but there's more. Billa, the grocery store where we shop, is the example that keeps coming to mind. We've been there numerous times. It's not that big and we know our way around. We understand the routine for returning empties and how to check out when we have to bag things ourselves. We've even learned that we have to keep in mind the weight and volume of our purchases so we can transport them.

We've really made our way in this one area so how does Billa contribute to the ongoing need to be alert? It hit me the other day. You know how when you've been shopping in a certain grocery store for a while and you've compared prices and quality and such on a certain product? You've decided that a certain brand and type of milk, let's say Borden's 1%, is the one that suits your needs. Week after week you pick up a gallon or two for your family. Well, what do you do if there's no Borden's on the shelf?

Okay, maybe you go an extra day or two without it and come back for more. Or perhaps it's an item you can wait longer for such as a bag of frozen peas. No problem, if you're like me you just circle it on your list and copy it onto next week's list. But what if you go again and it's not there? Maybe you'll choose a more expensive brand or one that doesn't really suit in one way or another or maybe you'll just wait until it shows up again. But what if you really need it and there isn't another brand? What happens then?

Suddenly shopping, one of the most regular routines in life, isn't all that predictable. And if this basic routine is unpredictable, what does that say about the rest of your errands and tasks and days? Now you've got an inkling of what I'm trying to articulate. The last four times we've been to Billa they didn't have the milk we like best. It took us a while to figure out which one it is, Meggle MlĂ©ko, 1,5% tuku that comes in a 1 litr [sic] carton with a little cap on the top. We've been buying it for weeks, but not lately.  :-(

Praise God we had a few cartons stock piled in our cabinet because we've lived in Europe before and we know one needs to keep stores of basics. Nevertheless it's a bit disconcerting to realize we're going to have to go back through the whole decision-making process all over again. We haven't been able to find this item at the other grocery store, Albert's. The alternatives are all in cartons, but none of them have the handy little screw top closure. It means one tiny bit of life that we thought we had settled isn't settled at all.

Look, don't think I'm complaining. That's not the point. Remember, I'm just trying to figure out where I am. There are and will be for a long while yet new twists and turns in the adjustment department. That happens whether one moves across town or across the globe. There are also fresh and rich facets in the blessing department. God is displaying the power and creativity of His all-consuming love for us in intimate ways that boggle my mind. Our precious family skype Christmas is only one example.

I guess it's the unpredictable things, those that cause me to feel unsettled and push me to keep my antennae up, that make me wonder where I am. God has certainly set me in a place where I'm forced to ponder it. I know unpredictable things happened in our cozy life in Maine. It just didn't seem so often. I've come to realize their increasing number reminds me of the unpredictability of life itself. For that reason I want to embrace this aspect of our experience. Life is unpredictable and my only real security is in Christ.

It was obvious to both of us that God wasn't bringing us to Prague only to serve others. We were aware that we were being transplanted to promote our own growth as well. I'm seeing glimpses of the perfection of the Father's plan through the events I've shared with you here. I don't know what's ahead, but I do know I can trust the Savior to go with me. I'm not sure I can handle it, but I do know the Comforter will sustain me.       I do know where I am, safe in God's sovereign hands for His eternal purposes.

May the Lord bless you and keep you as you as you move into 2012. May it be a year where you too will recognize that you are right where you need to be to grow in faith and trust in the God's love for you. Amen

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:24-28

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Barely Beginning

My days are filled with joy at the richness of the life God is giving us. The city of Prague is cosmopolitan. There's no doubt about that. It's got a lively pace with waves of tourists all over the downtown area, even in December. Yet the Lord has tucked us away in a slower neighborhood at the end of the green metro line. If you've got a map handy, we're right near Dejvicka, the terminus on the north side toward the airport.

The place the Lord has given us to live can only be described as a gift. It is up on the fifth floor of a lovely building and has sky lights galore. There's a clean, well-maintained, and nice size elevator that whisks us to our lofty perch. When we're ensconced inside we take off our shoes and put on our slippers (that's European for welcome) then make our way upstairs. That's where our living space opens out through wide glass doors. The balcony runs across in front of our bedroom and we've already enjoyed a late night dinner out there by candle light.

I want to be sure to mention that there is a guest suite on the first floor where we enter. It's got a nice size bedroom with two skylights, a bath room, and a toilet room (that's European for proper facilities). There's also a nice size guest room on the second floor that has sky lights that shares our master bath. We have two single beds already and as the Lord provides the furniture we'll excitedly welcome the people He sends to us. We can hardly wait.

As for us, we recently replaced the picnic table with a nice dining room set. The six chairs are all sturdy and the table has a leaf for when our guests arrive. We've got two comfy chairs and a low table for the living area so far, a desk for Curt's little, no window office space, a sideboard, and a book case with a fold out desk top for me. It's a slow process this decorating thing, but the Lord is gracious and we know His timing is perfect.

It's been a treat to find our way around public transit; trams, buses, metro. We're even learning to time our departure from the flat (that's European for 'apartment') so that we arrive at the stop without too much time to wait. It sure does beat having a car/cars; parking, gas, etc. We applied for Open Cards which give discounts for transit tickets so the cost is relatively low, especially for pensioners (that's European for 'old folks'). So the pass in my pocket let's me ride anywhere in the city. If I get stopped by an inspector, I just need to hand him/her my card to be swiped in a hand-held machine to prove I've paid for the privilege.

There's a grocery store only one tram stop away that's a good size and has pretty much what we need. Billa (that's European for something like Stop 'n Shop or Kroger) is the chain we've chosen because we like what they carry and the prices are reasonable. Okay . . . and it's also pretty easy to shop there with hardly any Czech language. (little confession there)

God has led us to a church we think we'll settle in and He's opening doors for relationships. We find ourselves drawn almost inexorably to the internationals around us. A Swedish family welcomed us into their home with warm hospitality. A British lady took us to the used furniture barn outside the city. A Bulgarian-married-to-a-Czech mother of three will be coming by this week for tea. We continue in our joy of witnessing the unity and diversity of the Godhead in the brothers and sisters we meet.

There's so much good stuff going on with this whole, exciting move that it was a bit of a surprise to find myself struggling a bit. It's hard to explain what was going on, but I felt a little off-balance somehow. It took me a couple of days to recognize that I was more than just physically tired. Then it took some time to identify the source of the unsettled-ness - for that's just what it was.

Okay, so I'm slow, but it finally dawned on me that moving is listed as one of life's major stressors. I stopped to consider how a change from rural Maine to a European capitol city might appear on that scale, even for someone who loves Europe and is pretty familiar with it. I decided it was probably at the top of the stressor scale. My first step following that conclusion was to give myself permission to be a little 'off my game' during what was actually an adjustment period. Phew, that was a relief!

Then I started to consider some of the changes in my life - delightful, welcome, wonderful changes. I'm grateful for our flat and the ease and speed at which we've been able to acquire it. The practical aspects take a bit of getting used to though. The rent must be paid monthly by bank transfer. The electric and gas bills must be paid quarterly the same way or, as we've chosen, by going to the proper window at our neighborhood Posta. The 'meters' are read only once a year when the accounts are balanced and we receive an additional bill or a credit. There are no checks in Czech.

All of those financial inner workings has required, so far, three trips to the bank we chose. It has a wonderful expat department and all we have to do is email to schedule an appointment with our personal representative. Vladimir is personable as well as professional, but the paperwork we've already generated is more than one fills in for a mortgage. It's really quite intriguing.

Of course the flat also generates day-to-day adjustments. I'm blessed to have a washing machine on the same floor as our living space. It does wash only about a third to a half of what the basic American washer would hold, but that just means I need to watch the hamper more closely. Well, there's no dryer so I guess that's another adjustment. I need to keep in mind that things have to dry on the drying rack so I can't be sure to have dry sheets in time to remake the bed the same night - without extra attention to place them near a radiator, that is. Hey, I'm delighted to have sheets so that's an easy 'exchange', right?

We're very pleased to have a table to eat at, desk space to work at, and two chairs to sit in and relax. The energy and effort to finish the furnishing process doesn't need to take up too much of my life. Well, except that we can't really invite people over when there's no place to sit. We can't really welcome guests until they've got a place to sleep. Yes, but that can only happen as God intervenes so I have to put down the topic more often than not.

The public transit is more than a convenient way to get around. We're learning 'transit Czech' as we practice the words we hear announcing each stop along the way. We're also getting to know the culture as we observe the passengers as well as the people and shops and activities outside the windows. I am especially pleased that there's a fairly level walk that's about a mile to the main tram/bus/metro hub nearby. It gives me/us some exercise each time we venture out. It's just that it's not so much fun on the days when my leg is acting up; more adjustment.

I am really glad our Billa is so close. We'll be going there today. We'll take our shopping cart with two wheels and a handle on the tram with us. We've got a pretty good system going. After we make our selections Curt shepherds them onto the counter and pays while I stand at the end and madly pack the items into our shopping cart. If I don't finish in time we have to throw the stuff into the regular grocery cart and move to the small stainless steel counters provided to finish the job. Then we have to haul what we purchased onto the tram and back home. Now you know why Europeans tend to shop more often than once a week - and so do we.

Yes, there are adjustments galore going on. The Lord's graciousness to show me the reason for the unbalanced feeling and its understandable nature has been a huge blessing. It's caused me to reinforce my commitment to begin each day with quiet time in the Word before His throne of mercy. My heart pours forth anew with thankfulness for the peace and power the Father provides without demanding some undefined, amorphous repayment. I am honored to offer Him all the love and faith, confidence and joy I can muster by the Spirit's comfort and counsel.

Oh, I didn't tell you about the Hussite church that's right down in our courtyard. It's a very old building but its facade is brand new and modern. It actually looks out on the little park with fountains and bronze horse statues at the end of the block. When we were weaving our lights into the balcony railing the other day we heard the organ playing Christmas hymns. I guess I'll have to save that for another time. I need to get ready to go to Billa.

May God also meet you right where you are - in the world or in your heart. He is the One who sustains.

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall.   Psalm 55:22

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lofts and Decks

A loft is a room or space directly under the roof of a house or other building, which may be used for accommodations or storage. That's the definition provided by the software dictionary on my computer. It seems an appropriate word to use in the title of this new blog.

You see, my former blog was titled Views from the Deck and was written from the house God gave us on a lakefront in Maine. My Honey and I enjoyed the deck there from early spring into late fall. It was as if we received a gift of an extra living space for eight months each year. The views we took in from that lovely deck were always inspiring, bringing lots to contemplate . . . sort of like catching glimpses of the hand of God. Surely you know what I mean.

There are the sunny, halcyon days when the surface of Loon Pond is like a mirror; reflecting the sky and the landscape as a testimony to the beauty and perfection of God. Stormy weather sweeps across the lake like a conquering army; expressing the power and purpose of God.  The sunsets may be the most overwhelming; exploding with the majesty and glory of God's creation at the close of a day. Yes, there's always much to ponder from the Loon Pond deck.

However, in the fall of 2011 (just barely a month ago) that beautiful, perfect, powerful, purposeful, majestic and glorious God called us to leave our American deck and move to Europe. We arrived in Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic, barely a week ago. Our days are unfolding and we're making our way according to His plan. We're applying for visas and doing our best to establish a home that will reflect and honor the God we love and serve.

One of the ways Jehovah-jireh has blessed us is with a space of our own. It is indeed directly under the roof of a building and it will be accommodations for us as well as others He may bring to our door. Yes, it's a loft. When we move in we'll be on the fifth floor and have a lovely view of the courtyard. A very special aspect of this provision is that our windows will face west. Our loving Father has moved us thousands of miles and chosen to continue to provide us with spectacular sunsets - ongoing reminders of His amazing and awesome grace. Hallelujah!

There's no doubt that our days will be filled with adventures rich in challenges and accomplishments. I'll chronicle the mundane as well as the momentous events that unfold in my life and the world around me. I'll do my best to run the race marked out for me with perseverance and keep my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12:1-3