Thursday, June 30, 2016

Beloved Teammates

Walking into this pretty town square in Poland today brought a mixture of emotion.

Dave and I were there to see Greg and Heidi who have served on our Josiah Venture team for twenty years.

Time with them is always delightful as they are long-time dear friends, a truly amazing couple who have poured out their lives for the sake of the Gospel in Poland for two decades.

But today's lunch was closure to the wonderful chapters of our lives that have spanned twenty years (and even more with Greg as we served together in Germany with him in the 1980's).

Greg and Heidi have been one of the foundational couples of Josiah Venture, providing strength and stability to the team all these years. Not only that, they raised two exceptional daughters who love the Lord and joined them in ministry as teenagers. Oh how we're going to miss them all.

They are transitioning to life and ministry in the Seattle area where they'll be working with Verge Ministries, as well as investing in a Soma church plant in Federal Way, WA.

Their oldest daughter is heading to BIOLA to begin college, and their youngest daughter will head into American high school as a junior. Both girls have done all their schooling in Polish schools, so this will be a transition for both of them, as it will be for the whole family as they leave their beloved Poland for God's calling elsewhere.

I can't even begin to describe the hole they'll leave in Poland and in JV.

Yes, of course the Lord is in this move and yes, of course there will be others who will fill in behind them. But, no one will ever take their place. Oh how we'll miss them.

Just as they have done everything with excellence in Poland, we know they'll do the same in the places they're headed to: Seattle for three of them, California for one. I'm excited to see what God has prepared for them in those new locations, and for the ways He is going to use them to further His Kingdom there.

In those places, there are people who don't yet know Greg, Heidi, Kelsey and Jillian. What an extraordinary treat and blessing they are in for as they encounter a family who deeply loves the Lord, each other, and those around them!

Carlson family: We love you, we will miss you deeply, and we send you off with prayers of trust and expectation for all the good God has prepared for you in the States.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Good, Good Friend

This morning, bright and early, I said goodbye to my friend, Michelle, at the Split Airport. She's headed to her home in Oregon, and I'm headed back to Czech.

Oh the memories we've made this week as we've shared precious girlfriend time together on my beloved island of Hvar.

Six years since our last extended time together, we made the most of every opportunity, every day.

Sometimes that meant long, lingering conversations over meals, while other times it meant sightseeing in all the nooks and crannies of this place I love so much. How fun it was to share Hvar with her!

But no matter where we went or what we did, we talked of our walks with the Lord, of our hearts for Him, and our desires to be His hands and feet wherever we are.

When I met Michelle thirty six summers ago in Vancouver, Washington, I never imagined that we'd be best friends all these years later. But the Lord has woven our hearts and lives together time and time again, even though we've lived on different continents most of those years.

I am a richer person for having her in my life, even from a distance, and so thankful for the ways she has challenged, blessed, cared for and touched my life all these years.

She's a good, good friend who shares a good, good Father with me! :)

Love you much Michelle!!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Exquisite Lavender Fields

How exquisite are God's lavender fields!!!!

Across the island of Hvar, we searched out as many lavender fields as we could find, quite literally soaking in the glorious scent of this amazing creation.

Although we took picture after picture, you just can't capture the beauty of the fields in a photo - especially on a phone. But it was not for lack of trying! Honestly, I didn't want to leave any field that we discovered, each one more beautiful than the next.

And do you know what else was in the fields? Thousands of butterflies! They're a bit camera shy (literally flew up out of the fields as soon as we entered), but at least I captured a few.

This one was kind enough to stay in place for a second while I snapped a photo.

We only picked a tiny little piece of lavender to remember this experience of a lifetime.

But I will admit to standing in the middle of a few fields smelling it to my heart's content.

This day was one of my most cherished ones on the island. I am infinitely thankful to the Lord for creating such beauty, and for allowing me to experience it with my own eyes.

Truly, I'll never forget it!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Dream Come True

If someone asked you what your dreams are, what would you say?

One of mine has been to see the lavender fields in bloom on our beloved island of Hvar in the month of June. Today I saw my first field! Granted it was alongside the road (we'll see more tomorrow) but I can say that my heart was happy and I couldn't resist getting out of the car to take that picture!

A second dream is to be here for the annual Lavender Festival.

Held in Velo Grablje, a tiny village on the island, Michelle and I made our way there this afternoon.

Yes, we were kind of giddy about being here to check it out!

Lavender and rosemary essential oil production began in this little town in 1892. At one time 10% of all lavender oil in the world was produced here. But blight and fire devastated the fields over the years, and it's only been in the last 8-10 years that it's been revived.

Eight years ago they started a two-day lavender festival to celebrate the revival of this precious fruit of the land. In a town that had only five residents (it has 15 today, we were told), that's quite a feat!

With fifteen (give or take a few!) booths, and about 60 people, including the vendors, it was THE sweetest little festival I've ever been to! We stopped at almost every booth and had a most enjoyable and informative conversation with each vendor.

And yes, bought a few special items too, from new friends like Ivana who makes her own essential oils.

And what's not to be missed at the lavender festival?? Why, lavender infused gelato, of course! :)

The village is one of those "little bit of a magic" places on earth. With a view out to the Pakleni islands, its quaint stone buildings make a truly lovely setting for a festival and photos!

There are only so many parking places along the road in the village, so we'd meandered our way down a dirt road to find a spot before heading up to the festival.

As we walked back to the car we noticed a darling restaurant just a bit further down the road, and decided that was our dinner spot.

We laughed, talked, ate, took photos and laughed some more, enjoying our evening together in the village of Velo Grablje.

This dear gal, Marija, was our waitress and server for the evening and could not have been any sweeter. How much both Michelle and I are enjoying the dearness of the Croatian people this week. It has been kindness upon kindness that we've experienced from them.

We'll drive up into the actual lavender fields tomorrow to finish the fulfillment of my dream to be here at this time.

Oh how kind GOD is to give me this good gift!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Girlfriend Time

Forgive me if I'm a bit quiet on my blog this week. Here's why.

My sweet friend Michelle, best friend of 36 years, is with me in Croatia for a little vacation.

It's been six years since she's been here to Europe to see me, so we are soaking in girlfriend time for the next week.

So thankful for the gift of girlfriends!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Father's Day 2016

I'm at the Chicago airport, waiting at my gate for a flight back across the Atlantic. But before I go, I wanted to post some pictures and thoughts on yesterday, Father's Day, which we had the joy of spending here.

What joy to be with Tyler on his first Father's Day, and for Dave to now have the joy of sharing this holiday with his son!

Judah was his happy self in the morning, showing off his smiles and newly learned skills (like pulling himself up on his dad's hands) when we stopped by before heading to church with them.

Since travel these days is usually just Dave and I, the backseat is not my usual spot. But with this little guy back there, it was the perfect place to be!

We enjoyed lunch together after church, at a great BBQ place in Highland Park, where Tyler and Lara have lived these past two years.

We headed down to Lake Michigan for a nice walk, though Judah was not too impressed by it! :)

These are the kinds of photos that we'll probably giggle over as he grows up!

I will admit, it was awfully hot and humid down there, and he was much happier once his clothes come off and we took a walk outside while his mom and dad made dinner!

I'm so thankful that we had those hours together with these dear ones. Every time is just so sweet!

I'm writing fast now...they're calling me to my gate! So I'll sign off with one last photo, which was Judah's goodbye to Papa!

Oh and one last photo...Judah's first "selfie" on Nonnie's phone!

Thank you Tyler, Lara and Judah for such a special day together! Love you all much!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Melt my Heart

Living away from family has always had its heartache. But never more than now.

Getting to see our grandson, Judah, along with his mom and dad, brought the sweetest of delights today!

I'm back in the Chicago area for just two days right now, and so thankful that Tyler and Lara are still here so we could have some family connection time.

Seriously, getting this little fellow up from his nap this afternoon was pure joy!

Tyler and Lara are beginning their road to serving with Josiah Venture in the Czech Republic. So somewhere in the near future, they'll be living in the same country as us!

But for now, they're moving to Tennessee as they begin the process of application and support raising.

Tyler will spend the next two months working on this thesis for his Master's Degree, and plans to graduate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in December of this year. After that, they'll begin support raising in earnest and are praying the Lord would allow them to be in Czech by fall 2017.

The Lord's movement in their hearts towards missions in Czech melts my heart! And their sweet Judah melts my heart too!

I'm thankful for the touch points along the way that we get to have with all three of them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Never Underestimate Them

**This is a special blog post, the subject of which had me in tears, happy ones, earlier this week**

Nearly thirty years ago a seventh grade girl had an assignment at her Christian school in Portland, Oregon.

She was to create a missionary book that explained what a missionary is and what they do, then create a biography page for several missionaries and record prayers for them over a period of time.

Recognize those two young people?

Yes, unbeknownst to us, Dave and I were one of the biographies that seventh grade girl created. Her parents had been the teachers of my church's college-age Sunday School class years earlier, the same ones who prayed Dave and I together. During those years Karen was elementary aged and I only knew her as the daughter of her parents.

But, seven years after Karen wrote this missionary book, she came to live with us during our first summer in the Czech Republic, when I was pregnant with Claire, and then again a year and a half later.

An unshakeable and deep bond of friendship formed between us that summer, one that has continued to this day.

By that time even she had forgotten about this school assignment. But her mom (as moms do!) had tucked it away and discovered it recently as she and her husband prepare for a move from Canada back to the US.

Barbara, her mom, brought it to Gull Lake and shared it with us a few days ago. I burst into tears reading these prayers.

Who could ever have imagined the power of those prayers, prayed by a seventh grade girl for a young missionary couple?? Or that our lives would be so intertwined nearly thirty years after she'd prayed them.

I'm still coming to grips with the awesomeness of God, who inspired Karen to not only prepare that book, but to pray and record those prayers! And now, nearly thirty years later, after reading them, to look back at our lives and see the power of God that was at work to answer them in our lives and ministry.

It's stunning isn't it?

Not only were we the recipients of her prayers, but two other significant people were as well. Recognize these two?

Dan Hash and Greg Carlson - fellow missionaries for the past 30 years! We first served together in Germany with OCSC, and then together these past 23 years with Josiah Venture. There are pages of prayer for them too.

I'd say those were some pretty powerful and effective prayers that Karen prayed!

Today, Karen is a wife and mom, living in Ontario, Canada, serving alongside her husband, Richard, who is the CEO of Creation Ministries International. And her oldest is now the age that she was when she wrote that missionary book!

Through the years I've received many inquiries for prayer requests from children, mostly through AWANA who has kids do this as part of their education in that ministry. I always answer them, but I feel like I've underestimated the power of those prayers they are praying for us.

Thanks to Barbara, who found the book, and to Karen who wrote it, I have a new, fresh perspective on the power of a child's prayers. I'll answer any further inquiries with much more fervor and boldness when asked for prayer requests!

You never know how God might want to answer those prayers.