Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Day Still Means Something

We weren't together for it, but I guess my kids know me well enough to know I like first day of school pictures.

Without asking for it, or coordination between any of them, all three sent photos yesterday!

Caleb and Haley started their junior year at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and  Claire started her sophomore year there as well.

Tyler doesn't start classes until next week, but he and Lara spent yesterday in orientation at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, just north of Chicago. He will begin his master's degree there in Old Testament and Hebrew. 

There may be an ocean between us, but I was still thinking of and praying for our kids on their first day of school, just like I always did when they were home in Czech!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thanking the Lord for Mercy

A significant event passed last week that I meant to blog about.

While talking with Caleb I remembered that it was exactly six months ago that he had his last injection. This is cause for MUCH rejoicing!

To back up. Two years ago, on August 11, 2012, after having suffered for ten years, Caleb received a diagnosis for his stomach pain.

While we were ecstatic and utterly thankful to know why he was suffering, it wasn't a cure.

His doctor at Cleveland Clinic suggested he try something he had developed, a very specific type of epidural injection to relieve the pain. While giving relief for only a certain period of time (the first one only lasted 10 weeks), the doctor's hope was that eventually the damaged nerves which were causing the pain, would have time to regenerate while the epidural did its work of desensitizing the nerves.

It was a long shot, but we prayed, as we had for years, that this would help and eventually bring healing.

For the following 18 months, he made the six hour trip from Chicago to Cleveland for the injections every 3-4 months.

The longest he ever went between needing them was four months. But then the pain would return with a vengeance.

With his wedding approaching last year, we continued to pray for healing knowing that as soon as he married he'd be off our insurance (we're on an international policy that doesn't allow us to keep married children on the plan). This meant that he/we would be covering the $3000 out of pocket for the injections.

I remember Dave saying, "We'll do whatever we have to for him. It's not an option to stop the injections. And at least they aren't $10,000! We know the Lord will provide."

So we prayed for provision for them, but of course even more so for healing.

We knew that the timing of the injection wearing off would coincide with his and Haley's wedding. But because he can't have the injection ahead of time (only when the pain is present), he couldn't get one early.

So we prayed he'd make it through the wedding.

Then prayed he'd make it through their honeymoon.

Days and weeks went by, and before we even realized it, six months had passed since the last one. A record!

Two months ago some dear friends graciously and generously gave a gift to cover the next injection.

But so far, he hasn't needed it.


We don't know what the coming months will bring.  We don't know what tomorrow will bring!

But I don't want this six month gift to go by without acknowledging the very goodness and mercy of the Lord to have given Caleb relief for this length of time.

He is good in the midst of relief. He is good in the midst of pain. We have sought to trust Him in the midst of both.

Friday, August 22, 2014

She's Off and Photo Outtakes

Our youngest little chick has flown the coop!

After a quick photo session yesterday afternoon in hopes of a nice picture for a new prayer card, Claire and I made the two hour drive to Krakow to spend the night before her flight.

It was mostly an uneventful departure for her, except for the fact that I couldn't get the door unlocked at the private pension we stayed in. Yeah, there was a slight moment of panic at 4:45 AM, I'll admit!

I actually had to call the owner at that early hour to ask her what to do ("Go out the balcony door and don't worry about locking it," she sleepily said). It even took a while to get THAT door open. Yikes!

In the end though, we were at the airport in time and all was well as I prayed over Claire, then hugged and kissed her before sending her through the security line. She's got an 18 hour travel day before she arrives in Chicago where Caleb will pick her up and bring her to his and Haley's apartment for the night. I love that she has siblings waiting on the other end for her.

We sat on the bed at the pension last night, enjoying one last hour of time together. But ended up giggling over some of the photos we'd taken earlier. Oh, there are plenty of good ones (a new prayer card is definitely in our future!), but it's the "outtakes" that had us laughing.

Notice anything amiss here?

Nothing like a gravestone in the background to dress up your prayer card picture! HA HA HA!

And you gotta love the "just checking the light" photo!

Or the "let me get positioned right" one. I don't know why that made us laugh, but it did! The setting is so idyllic and we're...not!

Oh yes, this is an especially good one!

Lysa Hora is the only thing looking pretty in this picture!

This next photo really had me giggling!

"There's too much in my back pockets. Here, let me put some in front so it doesn't look funny from behind," says Dave!

There we go...that's the picture we were going for!

This one's not too bad...maybe a little sunny on our faces, but it does nicely capture where we live.

Except for the red and white construction tape on the left side!

Claire did capture some good shots, and I'm grateful to her for being willing to make that her last event at home before leaving!

With no kids at home in Czech now, we are officially "empty nesters". Looking forward to a new season of life with Dave!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Last Day for a While

It's hard to believe a whole month has sped by, and that today is Claire's last day at home for a while.

We'll be on our way to Krakow in just a few hours to spend the night so she can be at the airport by 5 AM for her flight back to Chicago where she'll begin her sophomore year at Moody.

But just because she's leaving today didn't stop us from running into town for a few last things! We wandered around Frýdek, took some photos, drank strong coffee and had some of the wonderful gluten free pastries at the new bakery there. Couldn't miss one last time of that together!

On the way home we drove up to Malenovice just to soak in the beauty for a few more minutes before heading home to pack.

She even got to pick a few blackberries before she returns to the city where those kinds of opportunities are few and far between.

During our family time last night with the three of us, we told Claire that we're so excited about what's ahead for her this year, and that we're proud of how she continues to grow in her faith and capacity for whatever she encounters. This year will be a much fuller one for her, but she's totally ready for that.

The little girl that used to be a worrier is long gone, and in her place stands a beautiful young woman full of faith and joy, ready for the next season of her life!

I'll miss my girl! But I'm full of confidence in who she is and excited about what's ahead for her.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Happy Birthday Mike!

Happy Birthday to Mike, my favorite brother in the whole world!

But what I really should say is:

"Happy Birthday to the best uncle in the whole world!"

As I looked through pictures today, hoping to find some good ones of him and I, all I found were "uncle" pictures!

Which tells you something about my brother.

 He was always there to welcome me home when I'd bring a new nephew or niece to visit.

Anyone recognize which airport, with the iconic carpet, this was taken in?

Many times it was a goodbye, as he lovingly rushed over from work in his coat and tie to give a hug and kiss to send us off.

But always giving of himself while we were there, engaging with my kids in one way or another, whether it be holding someone on his lap, or pouring another cup of juice. He was the uncle who did it all!

I remember the time that he accompanied me back to Czech when Dave had to return early, and I would've been alone with the three kids.

Help out his sister, spend a few days at English camp, and head back to Prague to fly home? No problem!

Always there...

Always cheerful, no matter how early in the morning our departure was!

 Full of hugs...

Full of fun...

Full of entertainment!

He taught the boys to juggle that year we were home!

My kids adore their Uncle Mike...or UM, as he is affectionately called now!

Thank you Mike for loving our kids sooooo well through the years. For joining in on their fun and giving so lavishly of yourself.

You are an uncle, and a brother, who goes beyond the call of duty: giving, loving, sacrificing, bringing laughter and smiles wherever you are, and helping all around you have a good time.

I'm proud to have such an amazing brother, and celebrate you with much love and affection today!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Curiosity

Claire and I dropped our little doggy off at the vet this morning for a procedure that was going to take an hour.

Rather than wait there, we scurried off into town to the new gluten free bakery we recently discovered for one last time (and treat!) together before she leaves on Friday.

As always, we were talking a mile a minute (who came up with that phrase anyway??!!) when I noticed the little girl at the table next to us.

What do YOU do when you're sitting next to someone who's not speaking your language??

This little girl unashamedly stared at us the entire time we were there!

I guess it's normal that we'd be a curiosity to her. She might make the correct assumption that we are mother and daughter, just like her and her mom, but probably can't connect the dots as to why we'd be speaking another language at her cafe, in her town.

Sometimes there's just no getting around the fact that we just ARE a curiosity here. Still. After twenty years.

That's hard on me at times, and I wish I could just blend in (or speak Czech perfectly so no one knows I'm American) and be unnoticed.

But for now, while Claire is still here, I'll speak English and be a curiosity. It's worth it, especially at our favorite cafe!

On days like this it helps to remind myself where I really come from:

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." Ephesians 2:19

Monday, August 18, 2014

Birthday: Day Two

Dave and Claire loved on me tonight with another celebration a day after my birthday!

My all time favorite restaurant in the area now has gluten free pizza, and it's GOOD!! Cooked in a wood burning oven, you'd honestly never guess it didn't have wheat as the base of the crust. What a special treat to find there tonight.

And so special to still have Claire with us to celebrate. She's here until Friday. Soaking in every last bit of time with her before she returns to school in Chicago.

After a little shopping that resulted in a birthday gift from Dave at Marks and Spencer, Claire gave me her gift.

In the parking garage!

Yes, Kaylee came along too though had to wait in the car during dinner and shopping!

While she meant to bring it into the restaurant but accidentally left it in the car, it was probably even more memorable to get it down there. I'm glad it worked out that way!

She knows that the gift of words is precious to me, so wrote me a very special letter.

For my 53rd birthday (which is an odd year to turn, don't you think??), I have really special memories from yesterday and today.

Feeling so loved, filled up, cared for, and joyfully remembered.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Birthday Paintings in Slovakia

I've celebrated my birthday in a lot of different places through the years, but today was my first birthday in Slovakia!

There to celebrate our friend Maruška's wedding yesterday, we were kindly invited to the second day of celebration with family and friends.

After spending the night in Bardejov at the home of JV teammates, we made our way back to Kuková.

I honestly felt like I was driving through one beautiful oil painting after another.

If anyone was ever so inclined (Tyler?? Oil painting for your mama??), I'd love to have any one of these "paintings" in our home! It was simply spectacular as we drove 45 minutes between the two places.

Eventually we found our way to this serene setting for Daniel and Maruška's second wedding day celebration.

Gathering at Maruška's family cabin for more amazing food, conversation and fun, people soaked in the day's beauty.

Taking a hike up the hill to the look-out tower in the background, I captured these four "in-flight"!

Maruška told us we didn't want to miss the view from the tower. And she was SO right!!

This would make a lovely oil painting as well!

The Shepperson girls, also JV kids like Claire, were at the celebration too with their parents. They've grown up in Slovakia since they were just one and three years old. They're now 14 and 16! So sweet to capture these three JVK together.

The girls stayed up at the tower as I made my way back down to the cabin, but I just happened to turn around and see this from a distance. Glad I had my camera ready!

The atmosphere of the morning and afternoon just couldn't have been sweeter. So relaxed, happy and loving, people gladly joined in this joyous second day of Daniel and Maruška's wedding celebration.

With old and new friends alike, it was as if time stood still for the morning and afternoon while we relaxed and enjoyed time together.

New friend, Mary, who came from South Carolina for the wedding!

Just as I headed to say good-bye to Maruška, she was lovingly gathering up one of her wedding bouquets to bless me on my birthday! We grabbed a photo with some of her dear girls who were bridesmaids and helped with all the wedding preparations.

The drive back across Slovakia was another series of "paintings", merely taken from the window of the car, but spectacular nonetheless!

I felt as if it was God's birthday gift to me to have such a feast for my eyes. Gorgeous!

August 17, 2014 will forever be a sweet birthday memory, spent with people I love, in a very beautiful place!