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 Mléko, 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