Thursday, June 25, 2009

One day left in Cheb!

I had some crazy idea that I'd like to hit 200 posts before I left the Czech Republic, but unless I post a couple times a day for the next day or so I don't think I'll manage getting there. Ah well. Probably wouldn't have much that was interesting to say if I posted so often. I still think it'd be fun to try the month of posts at some point. My friend Ann did that a few times, and it was really interesting to see what all she came up with to say. Of course, right now I have enough journal back logging to do that I really don't have time to do so many posts. Suddenly the time is just accelerating so rapidly that I don't have time to get in all those little details like writing for hours on end in my journal. Fortunately I have a 19 hour journey coming up in a couple of days. I should at least manage to get some writing done in all that time :)
Today is our last real official day of classes. I have two left this evening. I'm hoping I can convince them to go out and just have fun. My last class last night just wanted to sit here in the building and talk like normal and play scrabble. Strange how different it all has been from last year where I had classes begging me all the time to go out to a pub to talk instead of having normal class. But every year is different I guess.
Tomorrow we'll be presenting the daily students with their certificates. It's really exciting to see how much they have learned this year, but rather sad to see them all go. I've really enjoyed all my daily students this year. I worked with two different daily classes so I had about 20 students between the two and they were all a lot of fun. It's hard to imagine what the next group will be like. I'm just hoping we have a good turnout next year. Jarmila is a bit nervous as we currently have only 3 students registered for next year, but I know it is all in God's hands and He'll provide what we need.
Well, it's class time now so I'd better go check and see if I even have any students this evening. Almost done! Wahoo!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feeling a little entitled???

Hard to believe I'm down to the last three days of school. Classes are pretty much over, so now it's just time for fun and games. The daily students are in the process of making (hopefully) fabulous videos. Of course today one of the guys informed us that his portion of the video should be ready in a couple of weeks. Hmmm...not exactly the time frame we were hoping for, but he's promised we will see it one day, and it will be Excellent. I just made him promise not to make me look like Quasimodo like he did the other day. The program has one of those functions where you can change appearances and it was more than creepy. I told them today it would make my mom cry to see me looking like that, so I'm hoping that does the trip and protects me from future distortion!
This past weekend we headed out to a little conference center near the town of Pardubice for our End of the Year Retreat. I'll confess that I was FAR from excited about it. Mostly due to the timing. Laura flew back to the US yesterday morning, and the last thing I wanted to do was to have to share our goodbye time with the whole team. Especially since I haven't spent much time with a lot of them anyway. I was made even more bitter when we arrived at the Prague train station only to discover that we WestBo Girls had been forgotten. Rather than being added to the group train ticket, we were forced to buy tickets on the train at a far higher price than the group rate would have been. Needless to say, I wasn't feeling warm fuzzies about this retreat. To make matters even worse, I didn't even get to share a room with Laura, which meant we got zero alone time to talk while we were there.
But God is good. Even in my state of discontent He managed to get through my thick head and speak. There were good points here and there throughout the weekend. Take for instance, when Laura and I fell in love with 6 year old curly haired Lincoln whose missionary family had just moved to Czech three months ago after 11 years in Italy. He was the youngest of 5 boys, giving even Janet a run for her money, and was so adorable. It was so fun to have a little boy say "Thank you." One of the girls later remarked how impressed she was to hear children properly using the present perfect continuous, a concept difficult for our adult students to master. I didn't have any interaction with the other boys, but as our bus pulled out I think all our hearts broke a little as the boys ran after us waving...too sweet.
It was also good to spend time with friends that are leaving Czech. It's always hard to imagine what the team will look like next year without them. The weather was bad, which meant we spent more time indoors where they miraculously had ping pong and air hockey! Nice!
The part of the weekend that spoke most to me, however, was the devotional that Lydia gave on the last morning. She asked us all to consider what we feel entitled too. There were comments from good service to understanding, public transport coming on time to being able to spend our last weekend in the Czech Republic the way WE want to spend it, rather than being at a retreat. As we went around the room saying things we feel entitled too, many things that are actually good, it was eye opening to realize just how much of life we feel we deserve, when in truth, we don't. I can see that part of it comes from our American upbringing. We have experienced service with a smile, and just expect that the rest of the world should see the advantage of living life this way. And how many times have I railed against the oppressive feelings of entitlement I experience every time I return to the United States. But it isn't just about our "me" focused society. It's about how we take our blessings for granted. How we expect good things to come to us just because we exist. But what did we do to deserve Jesus sacrifice? What amazing wonderful things did we give to God to show that He should suffer for us? How have we changed our lives in light of His gift in order to express our thanks?
I'm really excited to be going home for a few months. My mouth waters at the thought of refillable Dr.Pepper and crunchwrap supremes. I've worked hard this year. I've given up being with family and friends. I deserve two months of quality relaxation time, right? It was just good to take a few moments to put it all in perspective. I mean, what did any of my sweet babies do to deserve starting life in an orphanage? But in God's graciousness He offers us so much in life. It might not always look the way we think it should, but there is beauty to be experienced even in the most trying of times. Even when you know your family is all together to say goodbye to your grandfather and there is nothing you can do to be present physically with them. As I walked the woods alone that weekend it was Jesus who wrapped His arms around me, it was the Spirit who whispered words of comfort in my ear, it was my Heavenly Father who spoke to me through His word. And not because I deserved it, but because, wonder of all undeserveable wonders, He loves me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

17 years!

Hard to believe it's been 17 years since the Bulls took it to the Blazers in the final game of the 1992 series. And once again, it falls on a Sunday. Somehow that makes it all even more powerful. So much more memorable. 17 years of being able to breathe the air of this world. 17 years to walk upright, to bend freely, to live this life. I've been so blessed.
Every year I'm amazed that all that has come and gone. It's amazing how a few seconds can totally change, or totally end life. I was so certain in those flailing moments that my life had run out. Far too early. 13. I was only 13. Same now as Haley and Tyler. So much still ahead, and yet I saw it closing in a moment. But it didn't end. Though I hope it did change. I hope I was able to grasp from those moments an imagine of the divine. I hope I was really able to find some appreciation for life that I'd been lacking up to that moment.
I'm still so far from perfect. I have still so much to learn. So very much to learn. But God, in His infinite grace and wisdom chose to spare my life that day. So now what can I do but celebrate life. What can I do but thank Him and do all I can to praise Him, to serve Him, to give Him my life.
The future spreads before me, vast and unknowable. My breathing presence on this planet could be long or short. Time here has ended for my Grandpa after 89 years. That seems both long and short as well. It all flies by in a moment. All I can do is make the most of the days given to me. They are all recorded in His book. I only hope that as the story of my life unfolds it is a story that is pleasing to Him, a story that really reflects His love in my life.
We are all small and fragile beings in this world. We were made to love, to praise. I hope that on this 17th anniversary I will continue to celebrate life, to accept the wonder of being granted more time to grow, to change, and to share God's love with others.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Memoriam: A Eulogy for Harvey Westby

Over the past week I've spent a lot of time thinking about my grandfather who passed away on Wednesday, June 3rd. It seems I'm meant to be far away when these things happen. The only thing was, unlike when I said goodbye to my grandma for the last time before heading to Hong Kong, I knew it was goodbye. But when I left Oregon in August, I didn't have the feeling that the end would be so near.
There are so many thoughts and stories that have come to my mind over the past week. I think of trips to the beach, counting cars until Grandma and Grandpa would arrive with their strong breakfast coffee and amazing crunchy flat sugar cookies, hours of playing with poodles, and wondering how they can bark so shrilly. Going to visit Grandpa always meant going out to his favorite restaurant of the moment, be that Sherry's, Ruby Tuesdays, or Izzys. It meant black licorice in the candy bowls that I would avoid and Mom would happily eat. It meant warm hugs and those funny Grandpa kisses, always wet and trumpet shaped, such a unique experience.
As a child I always thought the coolest thing ever was the fact that Diane's Foods was named after my mom. I used to tell new people I met that they were eating tortillas, or taco shells, or chips named after my mom. More than once I was scoffed at by people who would say, "It's named after my mom too because her name is Diane." To which I would proudly reply, "Um, I'm pretty sure your Grandpa didn't start the company. So I'm gonna say it's named after my mom Diane, and not yours!" It was a bit of a tragedy to me when the name fully changed over to Mission, but I still have an old taco shell box, and a key chain that bear the original title.
Grandpa collected so many things. I remember when he got really excited about these crystal and gold figurines. Every time we would come and visit there would be a new one to look at, some small sparkling animal to admire.
He also had a great love of cars. I can recall so many great cars that we got to ride in when we would come to visit. And his generosity was such that our family received the benefit of new cars as well. I'll never forget the day my parents came home late and Julie and I had been waiting and waiting, hoping they'd bring home a pizza because we weren't in the mood to cook anything. When they finally arrived we were disappointed that they didn't have one, but, despite the late hour, they said we could go out to Corvallis and get one anyway. As we headed out to the car I froze. Our White Taurus had mysteriously morphed into a White Mystique. That was the way Grandpa was. Always making sure that we were well cared for, providing new machines whenever they were needed.
Grandpa and I had interesting little arguments as well. Visiting him in his later years meant entering a house where Fox news was blazing 24/7. While his rather crotchety poodle Mitzi couldn't abide the sound of music, she seemed not to mind the sound of the news. I would always wonder over how he could watch news so much, and we'd disagree about whether it was better to spend your time watching shows, which he said were boring and all the same, or the news, which I said was endlessly repetitive.
While we didn't have much in common, I loved him all the same. I'll never forget the day I was trying to pack for my fourth trip to Hong Kong. At the time I didn't know this would be the last 6 month stretch I would be in that amazing city. I was trying to go through old papers and things under my bed, continually cleaning out the past, when my mom came in and said Grandpa was on the phone wanting to know how much money I had left on my school loans. I didn't have the figure at the moment, but I looked for it right away, and gave her the information. In order to support my mission work at the orphanage he wrote a check and the debt that would would still be over my head otherwise was wiped clean. That's just the giving sort of man he was.
I'm so sorry that I wasn't able to really say goodbye to him. I wish so much I could be with my family now, to share the memories and to say a final farewell. It's been a difficult week, but God has held me in His arms and I've been able to really see just how happy Grandpa is now. He's free from pain, breathing freely as he hasn't in years. He has been reunited with Grandma and so many others who have gone ahead. Most of all, he is able to stand face to face with Jesus, washed fully clean by His love. I can just imagine him there, whistling with the angels as I remember him whistling in church, sometimes smooth and clear, sometimes a warbling tune. I will miss him a lot, but I know I will see him again in Heaven, and that for him, this is a time to rejoice and not to mourn.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

One Wild Weekend...

So the Internet remains dysfunctional, so I'm sending this from school once again. The weather has been so cranky the past few days, so, naturally, when I decided to walk up to the school this afternoon it started raining like crazy. Fortunately I have a good case for my computer, but it was still really frustrating. But now I'm here, so I want to make the most of my time.
Over the past week Laura's family has been visiting. It's been fun to get to meet them and to see Laura interacting with them. It's always so fascinating to me to see people with their families when I have known them only as individual entities. This week she had the added job of being both a daughter and a new fiance. All very interesting.
This has been a really difficult week for me. My Grandpa passed away on Wednesday, and I've been trying to process all everything that goes with that, dealing with being far away from family in a difficult time, and understanding how to say goodbye without being present. I'll be doing a write up about him in the near future, but I'm not quite ready to do that. Anyhow, it was nice to have a little diversion to keep me from being too overcome with emotion. So on Friday, since I had the day off, I went with Laura and her crew to Nurnberg.
I've been to Nurnberg a few times in the past for Christmas markets. They have one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, so it's super cool. It was fun to be there on a day when it wasn't quite so frigid and we were able to enjoy more of the old town. In the end the day was actually quite warm, so that was really nice. I didn't take a whole lot of photos, Laura's mom was on top of that enough for all of us, but I did get a few in. This first one is of Laura and Dan, the soon to be husband, and her brother Jonathan. We had to take a bus the first stretch of the trip due to track repairs. The next one is of really old building on the water.

We made our way up to the castle. It was really cool and I'd never been up there before. There was this super cool tower that we climbed up and I got a nice view out the cloudy window.

Laura's family is definitely not used to so much walking, but they were good sports, and in the end, all the stairs we hiked up were enough to make even my experienced thighs burn :)
We continued around the castle grounds and took in the lovely views. I also took the opportunity to pose a bit, cause I'm cool like that. Ha!

Laura's Dad is a history professor, so he had all sorts of information for us all day. It was cool to be with someone who just knew about the architecture and things like that. Who needs a tour guide :) We went into a little museum of ancient weapons at the castle and her dad and brother were like kids in a candy store. It was really great to see how excited they got about it all.
When we finished at the castle we had plenty of time for a leisurely stroll back through the old town, looking at souvenir shops, and enjoying the general beauty of the day. We made it safely back to the train station in time for a tasty little dinner of Doner Kebabs and Dr. Pepper. Excellent!

Things were all going really smoothly. My mind was well occupied most of the time, and I enjoyed the chance to play tour guide a bit. My German skills were the best of the group (really not saying much) and I had the most travel experience, so I was happy to play the part of travel mother. I'm pretty used to it. And I didn't have much to be responsible. The main thing was getting us safely back on the right half of the train to Marktredwitz because the train that leaves Nurnberg splits. I've done this trip at least 6 times or so, because on other trips to Germany I've often passed through Nurnberg, and I felt that I should be able to manage it yet again.
As we walked up to the train I looked carefully at the signs and what was written and was pretty certain that I had us on the right half of the train. In truth, I felt comfortable enough with my choice that I didn't bother to speak to the conductor when he passed by looking at our tickets. I thought about it briefly, but it had all looked so right. Even though there was a sign in the train that said a different town, I figured it was okay, because everything else had indicated to me that this was where we were supposed to be.
We arrived in Pegnitz, I looked at the board that told what time the two trains would depart, and suddenly felt a twinge of anxiety. Laura went out for some air and I asked her to check if we were in the right half, but she had no way of knowing, and I still felt like this half was it. I felt that way right up to the moment when I glanced out the window and saw the half we were supposed to be on slipping out of the station.
Panic seized me and I rushed from the train to the conductor. Mustering what little German I had at my command I asked if we were on the train to Marktredwitz and he just shook his head. He told me, all in German, that there had been many warnings, many signs. Then I told him straight up in English that I don't REALLY speak German. I explained, again in shaky German, that we had to get to Cheb. He didn't laugh at me, but he might as well have, because the situation was just that bleak. There was really no way we'd make it by train...the last train to Cheb was heading out a couple minutes after the train we were supposed to be on arrived in Marktredwitz, and the next train going in that direction would not come for another two hours.
I felt like such an idiot! Talk about an amazingly humbling experience! Here I had all these people in my care, and rather than making absolutely certain that we were doing the right thing, I let them all down and stranded us in the middle of nowhere Germany. With our rather pathetic mixed language the conductor convinced me that the best plan was to take this train the rest of the way because that station was better to wait at. Then we'd be there for another couple of hours until we could take a train part way to Marktredwitz and then make a transfer from there. I took in his words and looked at the little schedule, and just had to hope for the best.
I relayed the news to the rest of the group. They were naturally disappointed, and a bit stressed by the situation, but were also all very kind. I'll confess I did cry a bit. I couldn't believe I'd let my pride get so out of control as to get us into this mess. Definitely a moment to take pause and reflect on my own imperfection!
Anyhow, we made it to Beyreuth where they at least had a McDonalds. I insisted on buying everyone ice cream. it was the least I could do. We sat there and I could feel myself getting into a Hungarian fogadunk! Laura, however, saved the day. She pulled out the animal game we made up on our trip back from Sumava, and we began nominating people to make ridiculous animal sounds. Soon everyone was laughing, and while I still felt pretty awful, at least we were able to make some lemonade from those lemons.
We successfully managed to get all the rest of the train transfers taken care of correctly, and arrived in Marktredwitz around 11:30, a good two hours after the last train to Cheb. The next one would not be until 7:10 in the morning. Not exactly helpful. The train station was locked up tight, and we had to decide whether to take a taxi or try to find a hotel room for the night. In the end the taxi seemed the best idea. It took a little doing to find one for 6 people, but in the end it was all sorted out and we arrived back in Cheb around 12:30. What a day!
Yesterday the family headed back to Prague, and they flew out to the US this morning. I had most of the day to myself. It was good for trying to process life and the things that have been happening lately. A lot of tears, but also a lot of really good time spent with God. These times of sorrow really help to remind me that He really is the only One who is always beside me. The only One I can really rely on.
In the evening I went to a murder party. That was good fun. It was hosted by Jonathan and Roshani, and there were 12 of us there. Unfortunately, the native speakers were too short to go around, and in these parties it can be quite a struggle if your English is weak, but I still think everyone managed to have a good time. We dressed up in costume, and had some pretty entertaining characters. I was a German soldier. The man who was murdered was actually my fiance of all things! I was supposed to be a very angry sort of person, and I got to pull out my long unused German accent. I must confess it often slipped into a French accent. Don't know why that one is easier, but Jonathan and I both had trouble keeping it German. It was all good fun, so here are a few pictures of the mayhem.