surprise

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For my 30th birthday, some of my family and friends totally surprised me with a party! The whole thing started at 1:30 a.m. that morning, when my family from out of town showed up in my room. I thought that was the big surprise- but there was more to come!20160826_19193820160826_19523620160826_195146(0)
My family and friends put lots of work and time into this. Wow! I suspected nothing.20160826_190154
When you have a younger brother, you get a dozen pictures on your phone like, this…20160826_195150(0)
Anna gave me 30 mustaches and a pun game. Gift giver level: expert. 20160826_201226
And now, 2 photos of my father and cousin listening to Kalyn with pretty identical expressions on their faces:  20160826_19015820160826_195531
(Cute baby Nick!) 20160826_205054
Stories around the fire pit to finish out the night. Perfect! 20160826_205056
In my more cynical moments, I think of myself as the one who sacrifices for others, the only one who makes things happen, who slaves away without appreciation, just like the little red hen in the story. The truth is, of course, I am loved by some amazing people. I give, and I receive, freely. This is a special birthday memory I will always treasure!20160826_205151

in the Netherlands

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Walking. Praying. Admiring the flowers and bicycles. 20160708_13191320160708_132935
Trying to “take more pictures and not look weird.” It was a good goal..20160708_13595120160708_13504820160719_211326
I remember being very exhausted and enjoying the quiet. Val, Han and I ate some truly amazing burgers then loitered in this spot watching the sunset. 20160719_21312420160719_213217
Morning? Or night? It was hard to be sure at some points!20160720_051005

best Italian lunch

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I’m unpacking, going through pictures and slowly processing my trip. It is hard to know how to talk about it. I’m so glad I went, it was an incredible experience, but it was overwhelming in many ways. For today I’m just going to document one of many amazing meals.

It was our day off and the four of us friends had been shopping in the open air market, walking around, laughing hysterically, and just basically enjoying ourselves. We stopped at this restaurant for lunch.

Seated outside, on a lovely day, surrounded by stone and brick buildings, chatting with my dear friends, eating the most delicious pasta -and that tomato salad!!- words fail. It was all perfect.

And then it became TOO perfect.

Three street musicians came along and did a small performance of classic Italian songs. It was all just too good and I was overwhelmed! “Are you blushing???!” asked Valerie. “Yes, and tears are seeping out of my eyes!” I replied. I just kindof sat there, shaking my head, laughing at myself, and trying to take it all in. It was one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself to make sure it was real! 20160716_132755
Kalyn, Frances, Valerie & Hanna. 20160716_132817

Streets

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I’ve put in a lot of steps, walking in the Netherlands and Italy. Places I never thought my feet would go!

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Sometimes I feel like I should pinch myself: is this real?

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I have seen much darkness, and great light. At times it is physically sickening for me to think of what my fellow humans are experiencing. Some things you can’t un-see, and I don’t want to. My prayer is, “Jesus, don’t let this pass too quickly from my mind. Just give me grace in the process.”

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“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” -John 3:19 NIV
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” -Romans 12:21 NIV

adventure

I’m spending this 4th of July thankful for my country, and preparing to leave it for a few weeks.🙂

As I get ready to go to Italy some things seem really vital to me, and others don’t. I spent way too much time searching for my teal duct tape. And too little time on other, more important things. I have had plentiful amounts of rest, though. Soaked up all the quiet times when I was out at camp last month knowing my soul would need it in July. 20160604_201448 I’m so glad two of my best friends are going with me. We toss around the phrase “adventure of a lifetime” to refer to us going on this trip, and it’s honestly true. I can’t think too much about the way God arranged for us three to be doing this together because it is too great and mysterious for me to comprehend and I get all teared up.

Speaking of tearing up- yes, my emotions and empathy are running high. Earlier this week I said goodbye to one of my favorite clients ever, she’s moving far away. After 4 years of serving her and being friends, it crushed my heart to see her go. So, there’s that, as well as the usual life things that come up, and the courage it takes to step out in faith on a trip like this. Not to mention thinking of the refugees I will meet, the stories I will hear and all that I will experience. It’s a lot, and I don’t know what to expect.20160605_200512 This doesn’t feel like something that just plunked into my life. It is something that I’ve been growing toward for years. I have this sense that it’s all on the table. All the tiny decisions made years ago are playing their part even now.

Expansive Miracle

small town

Two weeks ago I was back in my old town, where I lived between the ages of 8 and 15. I had some time to kill so I drove around my old stomping grounds. “Biking grounds” might be more accurate! I laughed really hard when I saw the hill we used to race down. Really it is barely an incline. Being on those streets amazed me, I remembered all our neighbors. The people I would dog-sit for and the houses where I would go to babysit. Where I would play with my brothers and friends. The empty lot. The park. The pool.

I thought I would always be a small town person.

20160609_141310Two days ago I was caregiving and the lady I work for needed to go into the bank. I pushed her wheelchair through the main doors. The sister of one of my very good friends was smiling and holding the door for us. She is one of the head people at this bank. We chatted and she helped my client with her banking business, all in a friendly, personal way.

I do live in a city now but I love it best when it acts like a small town.

Yesterday I met up with a lady from my church. Her daughter is spending the summer in Italy, where we have a church plant. We are sending teams of people all summer to serve refugees. This lady wanted to get a few things to her daughter, and I was the go-between. I brought them to the airport this morning when I went to send off and pray for some of my friends who left today. “I can’t believe I can hand this to you in a Hy-Vee parking lot, and it will be in my daughter’s hands in Italy in a few days,” she said.

In a few weeks, I’ll be back at the airport, this time with my passport, ready to leave for Italy myself! I don’t know what to expect. But I want to see with my own eyes. So I don’t feel like the refugee crisis is something happening far away, in other towns and cities, that doesn’t matter to me. I can’t bring it closer but I can go there. I can’t turn the whole world into a small town but I still might try.🙂