Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, + One Boat: A European Travel Blog

GERMANY, BULGARIA, ATHENS, AND CRETE

North Rhine-Westphalia :  This two-week adventure started out in the beautiful villages of a small part of Germany in the region of the North Rhine-Westphalia. This is a special place to me because our family lived there for 4 years, and also because we made lifelong friends there who we now love to visit. Absolutely you can and should visit the grand cities of Germany. Berlin was one of our favorites. Köln, Dusseldorf, Munich, Dresden (still haven’t been to Dresden) and many others. But like any country, it is not surprising to know that some of the best visiting can be had in the small towns and villages. They tell you a different story of the people, their history and what they stand for. Isn’t it the same in the USA? I think everyone should be able to visit and enjoy the likes of NYC and Chicago for instance, at least once! But my husband and I both agree that bringing our international friends to the rolling hills of the Texas hill country, or the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, or through the small quaint towns of the lower South like Hattiesburg, or one of my personal Southwest favorites, Oklahoma City, OK, these embody so well the diverse demographics and geography of this country. All of these places would undoubtedly give them an insider’s look at our great home and the Americans who inhabit it. A far different landscape than what is offered by the largest cities in America. So that brings me back to where we started. Yes, what I fondly refer to as the GK area of Germany. GK is a region on the borders of Belgium and Holland, so named for the bigger, but not so big town of Geilenkirchen where a NATO base is tucked away in the countryside surrounded by numerous small villages. The villages are all connected by miles and miles of intersecting farm roads useful for walking your dogs, running, biking, or just frolicking, while dodging the occasional farm tractor. On this particular trip, it was my intention to wear down my jet lag for a couple of days while simultaneously visiting my dear friends in the sleepy villages of GK before heading off to the uncharted territory of Bulgaria. (Uncharted is simply a euphemism for no stamp in my passport). I was pleasantly rewarded with beautiful sunshine and highs in the 60’s-not usual weather for February in Germany. On a practical note, you might be thinking “But Judy where would we stay? Where are the Holiday Inns? The BNB’s in these little villages?” No worries. German Guest Houses (die Gästehäuser) are peppered virtually all over the country. Many of them have breakfast options. All of thehave extreme ambience and friendly hosts! 

 I flew into Amsterdam, practically charged through customs, and with no checked bag, proceeded directly to the train ticket queue and bought myself a train ticket direct to Sittard, NL. Sittard is literally a part of GK but on the Holland side. Don’t worry they all speak English. Nederlanders (German speak for Netherlanders) have been watching American television for literally their whole lives, not to mention, they start English at quite an early age in grade school. Super friendly people. Frankfurt Airport is also just a short 2.5-hour drive to GK. Dusseldorf even closer. You’ll most likely want a car for tootling around the villages. As an added plus, they drive on the right side of the road in both Holland and Germany! You might be interested in knowing that GK is an excellent springboard to all points Belgium, Luxembourg, beautiful Alsace, even Paris. (Yes, that is Paris, France) I will let the pictures I have attached here do the rest of the work of this blog in explaining why it is I love this place so much. But remember, you don’t have to go to GK to find this! Pick a “small town” part of Germany you have always wanted to visit and go! You will find the same farm roads, the same ambience, and the same friendly people. Auf Wiedersehen for now. 

North Rhine-Westphalia

BULGARIA: Once I was in GK, I picked up a traveling partner, a good friend of mine who shares my wanderlust for travel. It was also Rebecca’s first time to Bulgaria so that made the journey even sweeter. We turned a rental car into its proper place at the Frankfurt Airport, and from there caught a flight on a regional airline, (this time Aegean Air-$34 plus about $20 for my checked bag) to Sofia. It was just over a 2-hour flight into the small super manageable airport of Sofia, Bulgaria. We were met by friends. Wouldn’t you know it? Expat friends who now live here. Such are the opportunities one exploits when one has friends living in, not only other areas of the world, but even other areas of the USA! We offer the same hospitality in return. So, I don’t have any hotel info to give you with regard to Sofia, since we lodged with our friends, but I will tell you that one of my favorite booking sites for Europe is Booking.com. You can apply an abundance of filters. I simply have them listed in order of their reviews, starting with the highest to the lowest. I find a price that works for me matched with nothing less than a score of 7 (out of 10 possible review points). It’s a great hotel booking site and the AP is super good. And about the food here, delicious and so cheap. You will not be disappointed by the quality or the price!

 Bulgaria is a fascinating country in that they were oppressed and ruled by many factions since ancient times. But in 1396, the Ottoman Empire completed its conquest of Bulgaria. And for the next five centuriesit was known as the era of the “Turkish yoke”. (BBC.com) After hundreds of years of oppression by the Turks, Bulgaria mostly gained their independence by way of the Treaty of San Stefano – signed by Russia and Turkey at the end of their war of 1877-78. But then with only about 36 years under their belt managing a very fragile and ever developing independent state, WWI started, and the Bulgarians were allied with the Germans. From one frying pan to another they did go. The same was their fate for WWII, and in 1944 the Soviet army invaded German-occupied Bulgaria adding Bulgaria to the long list of Soviet Eastern Bloc countries where communism could oppress and consume its inhabitants. Finally, in 1991 a new constitution proclaimed Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and provided a broad range of freedoms. A president was elected for the first time ever in 1992. Oftentimes, I have been in Eastern Bloc countries and felt like the people there were a little stiff, rough around the edges, and not overly friendly. Well, that’s a natural fall out of both oppression and living under post war communism for years. But surprisingly (or not so) Bulgarians were the opposite of this. They were by and large, very friendly and super open to tourists treading the streets of their cities and forests. I knew not one single word of Bulgarian, but they did their very best with the English words and phrases they knew. The Bulgarians still use the Cyrillic alphabet. BUT as an added bonus for touring here, all placards and signs are in English alongside the Bulgarian language, including the Metro system. That is a huge benefit. The ability to navigate a city’s metro system in your own language can never be understated. Take it from me. In fact, I find the NYC subway system much more confusing. (I mean seriously what’s wrong with just using normal destination points for your anchors? I mean what’s with all the uptown, downtown stuff??) All my NYC friends and family members are laughing about right now. 

 In Sofia, we did a tour with Association 365 tours, https://365association.org/These are free city tours and I highly recommend them. Nikki was our guide in Sofia. His English was near perfect and his demeanor light and friendly along with a great sense of humor and large heart for his city. I love these kinds of tours especially when I am in a new place. It offers a great overview of the history and culture of the country with specific information about the city you are touring. Likewise, we did a day trip to Plovdiv and also did a 365 tour there, this time with Elijah who, like Nikki in Sofia, was a native of Plovdiv. The “old town” Centres of Plovdiv and Sofia are not going to look like the “old towns” of most western European cities. Indeed, that is a distinct difference between the Eastern and Western Bloc countries of Europe. It’s as if the personal histories of the Eastern Bloc countries were sort of frozen in time as they were oppressed by dictators. Their creativity and freedom so inhibited and squashed for so long, they are still catching up to the ambience and the quaintness of what you get accustomed to seeing in western Europe. Sofia, in the downtown area, and even stretching beyond that boundary, still have the buildings and the architecture from the Stalin era. Those geometric shapes and sharp corners seem cold and ominous compared to the more personal and intimate experience you find when you wander into the side streets of Sofia and Plovdiv. There you will find the Centre, or old town, not nearly as pristine as their western neighbors, but yet a culture (their culture) that has slowly reemerged and is even yet emerging, from the rubble of hundreds of years of violent and oppressive rule both in ancient times and during the cold war of post WWII. I found this to be a personally invigorating reset button for my own appreciation of the freedoms I take for granted. Freedoms to be creative. Freedoms to love and serve others.  And freedom to just live without the yoke of oppression in a place where I am FREE to move about, worship, work, serve, speak, and drive. Well, you get the picture. 

Sofia

Plovdiv

 One interesting story about Sofia and Bulgaria in general, then I’ll move on. According to Nikki, of all the countries from which Jews were deported to concentration camps during WWII, it just so happens that Bulgaria is not on that list. Nikki explained that in perfect Bulgarian fashion, it was one of their most annoying habits, a hallmark character trait of Bulgarians everywhere, which saved the lives of Bulgarian Jews. They simply procrastinated. They did not hand over any Jews to the Nazis for deportation, claiming, “Oh we still need them for this or that factory or for this or that task.” Somehow or another, when that wrathful war was finally over and done, not one single Jew had been deported to the concentration camps from Bulgaria. Really, that is amazing. Meanwhile, however, this was not the case for Jews living in Bulgarian-occupied territories such as Greece and Macedonia. About 11,000 Jews from these occupied territories ended up in death camps. Ostensibly, they were too far out of the reach of those efforts being made insideBulgaria. But history would certainly indicate that Bulgarians did all they could to aggravate the Nazis in their evil effort. And I think thatdeserves notice. 

 My favorite day in Bulgaria was had in the mountains just under 2 hours from the city of Sofia. It was mostly highway driving to the Rila Monastery which sits at the foot of the beautiful Rila mountains. After touring the monastery on our own, we found the untrodden, off the beaten path to the Ossuary (literally means a place for the bones of the dead). This short walk took us blissfully away from the crowds at the monastery right next to the babbling brook and beautiful waterfalls of a beautiful creek along side the Ossuary. The Church of the Ossuary was built specifically for cemetery rituals. It was completely deserted when we visited it. Golden silence so that all you could hear were the birds and the rushing waterfalls of the creek. If you visit the Rila monastery, don’t miss the Ossuary. The path entrance is located directly behind the monastery and to the right of the restaurant and shops.  After the Ossuary, we got back into our car and took the road farther still about 4 or 5 km on past the monastery, to a trail head for Saint Ivan Rilski’s cave. Parking was very easy. Rilski was the first Bulgarian Hermit. He was born in approximately 876 AD. His cave is about a 20-minute hike that is pretty rocky so make sure you have good hiking shoes. When you get to the top, you will see a small chapel. Right behind it you will find a small dark cave in the rocks – the place where the saint spent some years fasting and where originally, his remnants were buried. Enter the cave and climb the wooden stairs leading to the higher exit through a tiny rock chimney. Thankfully I had my iPhone flashlight. If you keep climbing a little further up after the cave, you will see the prayer rock where people can write down a prayer and stick it in crevices of the rock.

Bulgarian Mountains: Saint Rilskie’s Cave

ATHENS:  Another new stamp in my passport. And apparently there are multiple flights direct between Athens and various commercial airline hubs in the states. That’s helpful for traveling between the two. Even if you book extra connections in order to get lower price tickets, your preferred US commercial airline may indeed fly right into Athens. On another note, even if they don’t, they are generally allied with European partners. Like for instance, my preferred airline (UAL) is a part of the Star Alliance that includes both Lufthansa and Aegean Airlines. Delta and American all have their own alliance partners. I am just saying this because, it is yet another feature of major air travel that makes your seemingly crazy travel itinerary even more doable.  

Back to ATHENS!  The history, and as well, the bible history in Athens is incredible. The Roman and Greek history is off the chart. And I have news for all of you, Roman and Greek history is OUR American history as well. In some form or another, we have roots in Ancient Roman and Greek culture. Whether that be ethnic heritage, theology, faith, superstition, or our career fields. These two forces of human spirit and ingenuity forged a path for art, architecture, bridge building, plumbing, civil engineering (every type of engineering you can imagine), politics, law, not to mention relationships (whether good or bad). They certainly have offered us a timeless framework of leadership: how to or how not to lead others. Athens has a bigger, more modern city for sure, but it is ensconced by ancient history, rich with stories and voices of the past. Stories that bridge the ancient with the modern in an extraordinary and telling way. The Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Temples of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Mars Hill-The Aeropogus. Athens is simply jaw dropping beauty and the hiking is wonderful, so put on your hiking shoes! The newer Acropolis museum is a delightful accompaniment to the Ancient Acropolis itself. And soon (I must go back) they are opening up an entire new exhibit on the lower floor, actual excavated ancient city structures that you can meander through and among. You can see the beginnings of it now under a glass walking path as you are entering the museum. The Athenians are pretty welcoming people too. And in case you’re wondering, yeap I booked my hotel on booking.com here and had a simply marvelous hotel right in the Centre of old Athens called Phidias Hotel. The breakfast was seriously off the chart, one of the best ever I have enjoyed eating. It was included in my hotel price. Delicious. Now, I was there in comfortable February weather. I don’t think this hotel comes with air conditioning (most European hotels don’t unfortunately), and I can only imagine how warm it might be in the summer. So, if that is a consideration for you…… 

Ancient Acropolis

Around Athens

            I try not to spend too much time in my travel blogs giving you the historical details of each site. I want to. I want you to get caught up in the excitement and the passion of the rich and fascinating history of these places just like I am. But, part of my goal is to get you to explore further on your own. There is an enormous amount of wonderful factual information on the web about all of these places. I just want to give you a glimpse into my own journey, maybe offer up my personal travel hacks and favorite places, entice you with the pictures, and then send you OUT to research and plan on your own, drawing on a plethora of wonderful resources available to do just that. But I want to add a personal note here about my faith journey on this trip. I was so emotionally moved while standing at nearly the very spot on the Areopagus where Paul the Apostle spoke the exact words you find in the last section of Acts 17. I could easily imagine what he was dealing with at the time. He was surrounded by temples to pagan gods as far as the eye could see. Read Acts 17 for yourselves. Include that in the research you undertake on Athens. It is a part of you too, whether you believe in God, in Jesus or not. Just like the prolific paganism of ancient Rome is an intricate and undeniable part of our ancestry and our own inheritance and theology that we have today, so is God, Yahweh. He has a place in your history too. Whether you are a believer or not, bible history is still a part of your past, a past that has shaped our own culture and who we have become these thousands of years since. 

Ancient Areopagus

ANCIENT CORINTH (Day Trip from Athens):  We did a private car tour with “Tours by Locals” to Ancient Corinth. I really like Tours by Locals because they give you private drivers! And the tour guides are truly knowledgeable. Not in all cases though will they actually accompany you to the site. They will answer any and all questions you have while in the car together, but they deliver you to the tourist spots to do a self-tour. Vassilios did not accompany us to the site in Corinth. He was a talkative and totally engaging person and full of great information and questions. Anyway, Ancient Corinth should be largely absorbed in beautiful silence, introspective meditation, and contemplation. It was also here that Paul the Apostle spent the better part of two years living with the Corinthian church he had planted in this very place, teaching and admonishing them. There is a museum adjacent to Ancient Corinth that is run by Americans of all people.  The building was designed by Stuart Thompson, following the architectural model of the “Chicago school”. It is a really terrific museum. And this is why I would say you need more time here at Corinth than what the Tours by Localstour afforded us. It was a full day tour that took in several sites in Athens before leaving for Corinth. So, I did not have enough time in Ancient Corinth to include getting through the museum. 

Ancient Corinth

            But now more on our tour guide. He had great questions about my personal faith and my church. Like, “How many times a week do you go to church services?” For instance, most Athenians are orthodox Greek and by the time they are out of their teens, they only go to church occasionally. He was stupefied by the fact that I go to church weekly and, stop the press, have a small group that meets in our home. He was further fascinated that we don’t require a priest either for our church services, or for taking the holy sacraments of communion. I explained the role of our pastors. They bring the gospel to the local churches weekly or as often as they meet, admonishing them and encouraging them in the Word, not unlike Paul the Apostle. And also, pastors are charged with challenging their church family (just like the Berean Christians in the middle of Acts 17) to open up their own bibles and read the scripture on their own, “testing” what the pastor says against what they find for themselves in scripture. Bill was super impressed by my bible knowledge. Now, I want to add here the irony of this. He would have been super impressed by most American protestant bible knowledge. Because in the Greek Orthodox faith, they simply don’t study the bible for themselves. So, suffice to say my tour guide was fascinated by our personal faith stories.

THE CORINTH CANAL:  The Corinth Canal is a waterway that crosses the narrow Isthmus of Corinth to link the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. As such, the canal separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese, turning it into an island. The Corinth Canal is an important navigational route which once allowed ships to enter the Aegean Sea. Dug through the Isthmus at sea level, the canal is 6.4 kilometers long with a width of only 25 meters. Impossible for modern ships to go through, the canal has now lost any significant economic importance it once had.” (The Culturetrip.com) It was a site to behold just before heading into Ancient Corinth. 

Corinth Canal

CHANIA, CRETE:  This is my second time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Specifically, both of those visits have been to Chania (pronounced Hon-ya) So yes, I am feeling strongly like the next time I get to Crete, I need to explore another part of this lovely island. 

Getting there from Athens:  Again, you can fly super cheap from Athens.  And the flight is only about 40 minutes from push back to landing. OR you can be extra adventurous and do what my friend Clarissa and I did. We took the ferry. Yeah, finally remember the title of this blog, “Planes Trains and Automobiles, + One Boat? ”Well, the one boat was indeed the ferry. Specifically, Minoan Lines, and we sailed on the ship Myokas Palace. It’s an overnight ferry. We set sail about 8:30 pm fromThe Port of Piraeus in Athens and docked in Chania about 4:30 am. You can spend next to nothing and just sleep in fairly comfortable recliner seats all night. They look a lot like airplane seats, but they recline more, and they have triple the leg room. OR you can do what we did, still spend next to nothing (59 euro per person) and actually get a room with beds and a shower. I have to lay down in a bed and sleep as much as possible. I am getting old. The ship is loaded with bars, grills, restaurants and fabulously comfortable lounges with comfy chairs, couches and tables. For 5 euro you can get 10 hours worth of wifi. But I warn you. It’s not that good. We docked right on time and disembarked incredibly quickly. I have a feeling the ship will get much busier in the summer. Our ride picked us up and off we went. Oh yeah, I stayed with an expat friend here too. So, no lodging this time. BUT, the first time I was here (July 2016), my friend Rebecca and I, along with 4 kids between us, reserved a BNB and got a beautiful apartment, super big and loaded with amenities for 750 euros for 4 nights, which we split between two families. So, BNB’s are prolific here and don’t forget my favorite hotel booking website, booking.com. It’s always good.

Myokas Palace

            Chania’s old town is especially beautiful. The alleyways of the oldest district, which seems to be the artisan shop district, is simply enchanting. You can’t miss it. It is directly behind the Fort. Also walk through the many fun shops in the next section over which dumps you out to Starbucks (surprise surprise) and the lovely Chania harbor. Walk the long, but lazy meandering way to the lighthouse. Bask in the beauty of the Mediterranean and take a ton too many pictures because you just can’t help yourself. I was here in July the first time I visited, and it was lovely but hot. This time February was just captivating. And the mountains were all still snowcapped.

            Besides old town and the harbor, other favorite sites adorned with jaw dropping beauty and wonder are the ancient Aptera ruins just outside the city. Also, Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach are absolute must sees. The summer is especially nice because they are great swimming spots, especially Stephanou Beach. The Mediterranean Sea is by far my favorite swimming hole. NOW driving to both the Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach is a little scary. You can get on a boat in Chania that will sail you to Balos. But we didn’t know that. Yes, rent a car in Chania. It’s nice and necessary for getting around the island unless you’re literally staying in Chania town and can cab everywhere. But you won’t do that after reading this blog right? Anyway, knowing how to drive a stick shift is a nice skill to have here, but if you can’t, make a special request for an automatic. I also found the stick shift helpful for driving up up up to Balos Lagoon and Stefanou Beach (which when you arrive at each of them, you must then hike down down down to the beach). So, make sure you have go with hiking shoes, loads of sun screen, drinking water, snacks, and an off the chart anticipation of the ginormous explosion of nature that awaits you.

 On my most recent trip to Chania, Clarissa, Keisha and I visited the Gouverneto Monastery just East of Chania. We were able to park our car at the monastery and the drive there was easy! But from this monastery we hiked (yeap solid hiking shoes and a hiking stick are helpful) about 2 miles to a nearly deserted and rocky beach that had turquoise waters and offered another stellar surreal swimming experience. Between the starting point of the Gouverneto monastery and the beach is a trail which takes you past multiple ruins in the sides of the mountains of old abandoned monasteries, for instance Katholiko Monastery, or Monastery of St John the Hermit, or simply Katholiko. After the last abandoned monastery, you find yourself hiking the last few minutes in the Avaki Gorge. This was the best last day I spent on this most recent trip to Chania. I think hiking in nature is close in proximity to the very heart of God. Thus, when I am in a place like this, beholding such beauty, I can’t help but stare into the heavens and just say, “Thank you God.” I hope you get to experience this hike in all of its natural wonder and glory. The craggy beach at the end is a sweet sweet reward for the moderate hike. (Compared to the hike down to Stephanou beach, this one was easy peasy.) The water changes colors as the sun shines on it. The way it feels on your skin when you’re swimming or floating in it, is also indescribable.  

Avaki Gorge Hike

FOOD IN GREECE:  Remember what I said about the Bulgarian food? Same for Greece. Yeap, ditto! It is ALL GOOD. I mean delicious. And again, the yogurt in this place is better than the best ice cream you have ever eaten. Not to compare it to ice cream. Because it is not a worthy comparison. I just want you to know what pleasure awaits you as you eat either Bulgarian or Greek yogurt.  

Protestant churches though few, are synonymous with diversity here. You truly get an idea, at least on some level, what it must have been like for Paul the Apostle as he traveled the region with his spiritual brothers and sisters planting churches. I love my church home in Houston, and one reason I love it is because my pastor and the leadership, and all my fellow church attendees are so intent on being a colorful congregation, not full of folks who look exactly alike. But I am not going to lie. It doesn’t come natural to us in the USA to do this. We all just naturally tend to segregate ourselves in churches. Yes, some churches are a better blend of multiple ethnic backgrounds than others. But as a whole, it is still a struggle in 2019. As a general rule, this is not so among protestant gatherings when traveling in Europe.  It is so when you are in orthodox churches in Europe. But though the protestant offerings are very few, I feel it is exactly BECAUSE of that reason, that generally they are very diverse. Anyway, not to beat a dead horse, just a fascinating observation. And not only that, but they are some of the most loving bodies I have ever known. They don’t hand out surveys or have you jump through lots of hoops if you are in need. They just act and look so much like the church of Acts 2. Pooling their efforts and their “stuff” and then making sure that people who are hurting have what they need. I had the opportunity to attend a diverse Hillsong service in Sofia Bulgaria. And in Crete I had the special privilege of attending a protestant church that meets in a coffee shop. They are small but mighty. They include English, Americans, Cretans, Russians, Afghani Refugees, and many others.  What love they showed to me a complete stranger. What lessons they gently taught me about love and Godly hospitality. 

WHAT THE LOCALS SAY ABOUT……..

Their government: The Bulgarians and Cretans that we had the privilege of talking to about such things, beyond food and tourism, both cited a strong distaste for years of oppressive governments. Whether that was communism or socialism. Our Bulgarian tourists emphasized the oppression and violence that was a hallmark of their government for so long. It was stifling and murderous. In Bulgaria during communism rule, you could be murdered for being a song writer. Only in the last two decades has Bulgaria really began to emerge from the damage resulting from years of communism first, and then socialism. 

 Our Crete tour guide lamented that today, about 75% of a person’s earnings is taken by the Greek government for taxation. Shops are closed by the scores. The reason is two-fold. First, the shop owners are so heavily taxed, they cannot stay afloat. Secondly, this is coupled with the locals who themselves are so heavily taxed, they can’t afford to shop. So business stops. And we were witness to the scores of shops and restaurants closed along our route. Our tour guide said that personally he enjoys eating out and socializing at his local restaurant as well, but he cannot go often because he is so heavily taxed. He also added that the only two groups who can be bribed in Greece are the very rich and the very poor. Greece seems to be one of those countries with one foot in “developed 1st world country,” while the other foot struggles to stay out of “under developed 3rdworld country.” 

On my tour in Sofia, I made friends with “Mike,” from London. Mike was visiting Bulgaria for a dental appointment to do routine dental work with dentures. I asked why in the world would he come all the way to Bulgaria for dental work. He said, “In England, it would take a year to get this routine work done.” His additional comments were not complimentary of the health care that is available in the UK.  I have a Dutch friend who is a cancer survivor. She said she strictly sees a homeopathic provider now because the traditional health care provided by the State doesn’t pay for anything to the point of refusing standard and necessary tests. This is not a new story of how health care operates in most of western Europe. I have received many such stories from my European friends. 

And Their God:  I find a majority of people on two ends of the religious spectrum with a much smaller number in between. On one end are the devout orthodox still committed to the liturgy found in their orthodox services. And on the other end are those who have walked away from religion all together because it holds no personal meaning for them. In Europe, religions have long been a product of the state. Very seldom is there any such thing as separation of Church and state. Indeed, in Germany and many other countries, part of your taxes is paid into the state Church. Typically, you must renounce yourself from that religion in order to extract yourself from the tax obligation. Protestants have been present among the religious throngs for centuries. But their history in Europe (believe you me) is not pristine either. Centuries of religious hostility and violence coupled with longstanding legalism, form a backdrop for the total disdain you find today among much of the younger (and middle aged) people across the continent. Indeed, the bible’s message of Grace has yet to be fully injected into the mainstream of religious bodies in Europe. 

So there, a little of this and a lot of that. I hope you have enjoyed this travel blog. It is a lot different from my usual travel blog. But my goodness there are so many stories and insights and so much more to be learned about our European neighbors. Do whatever you can to get there. You will never regret it. The beauty of both landscapes, people and nature continue to blow my mind. 

Greece


Community

What everyone needs!

Community happens in different places and spaces. It happens in a small group at church whether that’s your community group, your worship team, your children’s serve team or another group where you have shared experiences. It happens in your expat group when you live overseas. It happens with your neighbors here or abroad. It happens with the moms of your friends. Because after all, who knows better than they do how challenging parenting can be? It happens in all kinds of groups. The thing about community, whether it is with a group of Jesus followers at your church, or your neighbors next door, or your team at your office, clearly, just the group itself does not“community” make. Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than that which is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements. Spiritual growth quite naturally is born out of real community. When you have authentic community resulting from personal investment which includes personal disclosure and quality time spent together, spiritual growth is inherent. It is inevitable. You can’t really stop it from happening. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that in the same way a lack of engagement in the Word, or an on and off prayer life, can stymie spiritual growth, so can a lack of true community. 

So how does community grow us spiritually? How does it make us better friends, spouses, parents, employees, or ministry leaders? How does community compel us to be more loving agents of the Gospel? Well, when you engage with people in your home, or over a meal, or at their child’s T-ball game, or in most any place that is away from the church pews, it transforms you from a spectator to a player-from a consumer to a producer. Community is one way we express our faith in action.  It means doing life with people outside of your immediate family. We are a military family, now retired. In that business, we moved a handful of times. That did not stop us from forming the kind of community in our lives that propped us up emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, that career demanded it. In those years of frequent transition and change, we formed communities literally home and abroad that helped sustain our marriage and our family life. Those communities were composed of diverse and fascinating people. Undoubtedly some of them were very similar to us in every way, but many of them were very different-different in ethnicity, politics, and religion. In fact, the four years we lived in Germany, we were never able to come home for Thanksgiving, so we exploited that opportunity to share our holiday celebrations with our neighbors who included German, Dutch, French, Canadian, and American. As we gazed around that table of God given bounty, and not just food, but the bounty of fellowship, with our own children serving our invited guests, I was reminded of the parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14. The prep for that banquet began with an expectation of guests who looked a lot like Jesus but ended up being just the opposite.  As we shared food and fellowship around our own banquet table in our small village in Germany, it was overwhelming to think about how God blessed us with such camaraderie and hope as we had found in the most unlikely of friends. Language barriers be damned. And that is just the thing about true community. It strives to erase those barriers.  And not just language barriers, but cultural and social barriers. Community is often a real-life picture of Ephesians 2 which says “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”     

Community also helped us survive those tough years of being newly married. I often tell people that Paul and I “grew up together” as young single adults and forward, in church small groups. Community gave us hope and encouragement when raising babies from infancy to young adult. Recently we went to a wedding for a daughter of one of those “old” friends. As well as a wedding, it was also a small reunion of our old life group, the one that started us on our way with babies, the one that propped us up emotionally and gave us the confidence necessary to handle that ginormous task of parenting. And at every season of parenting, I have relied on my community of sweet and loving mom friends who have the courage to hold me accountable while at the same time loving me unconditionally. 

Truly, the world inflicts much deeper wounds than what our skill set alone is able to reconcile. We were simply never hardwired to power through life on an island, single handedly fighting our way through the trials and hardships that life abundantly supplies. Likewise, we were not hardwired to revel in our joys alone. What parent ever said, “I hope no one asks me about my daughter’s latest accomplishments?” Said no parent ever! What person ever said” “I am keeping the news about my big promotion all to myself?” Not one person ever! Community invites us into a place of utter refuge, a place of hope, a place of unspeakable joy, a place where DNA isn’t required and where-thank you Jesus-the every-day, unrelenting evil of this world cannot breech the threshold of those who surround us with such deep and abiding love and acceptance. In Zephaniah 3:9 the Lord said, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lordand serve him shoulder to shoulder.”Is that not one of the most beautiful pictures of community you have ever seen in the written Word? Just imagine a group of people who do life together shoulder to shoulderso much so that when the going gets tough, the tough can still get going.  

Paul the apostle understood the value and necessity of community as well as anyone. His tearful separation from the Ephesian elders at the close of Acts 20 is underscored by Luke’s words in Verse 1 of the following chapter, “After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea.”  This preempted their arrival and layover in Tyre where the bible says, “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.  When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.” Wow. That’s some serious community.

If you are someone who is “community-less,” ask yourself a couple of introspective questions:  1) Am I a person who walks in and out of the spaces and places of my life, including my church, without interacting with anyone or without investing any of myself, my gifts, or my time in that place?  OR  2) Am I so hungry for community that I am over-involved in so many “small groups” that I have not the time or energy necessary to invest in one or two of those groups on a personal, deep level?” Both of these situations can render you community-less.  Because remember what we said earlier: “Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than what is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements;” and it requires“personal disclosure and quality time spent together.” Neither of these two aforementioned situations (under involvement or over involvement) allow for this.  

In his poem penned in the 16thcentury John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  I think Donne was so so right. You might say, I cannot afford either the time or the emotional investment of community.” I say, “you cannot afford the loss that is sure to happen without it.” I don’t think human life can sustain itself without community.

And as a final important thought, if you are a parent, the last thing you want to do is to send your kids out into this chaotic, cruel world community-less. Kids who have never had community modeled for them, or who have never lived their lives this way, often become church casualties. If they have spent their whole lives leading up to college surrounded only by their immediate family, even if that included “regular” church attendance, will they know how to form the kinds of relationships away from home that love them so much they are willing to hold them accountable, and to laugh with them when they laugh, and cry with them when they cry? Relationships that steer them toward God, not away? I fear not. We must have a sense of urgency when it comes to equipping our kids to embrace true community. 

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it does not matter.  I’m more introvert than extrovert. I tend to recharge alone-not together. I often seek out solitude when my life is in overdrive. But undoubtedly, I enthusiastically seek out God given, and God ordained community when I need hope, help and truth; conviction, love and joy! 

Veterans Day: 100 year Anniversary of the Armistice

11-11-1918  – 11-11-2018  

Why this Veterans day is especially special and what is the armistice actually?

Celebrating 100 years of the Armistice: At 11:00 am on 11-11 in the year 1918 A German Republic was declared and peace extended to the Allies. This because at 5 AM on that same morning of November 11, an armistice was signed in a railroad car in a forest glade outside of Compiègne, France near the front lines in the presence of France’s WWI Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch.

The terms of the agreement called for the cessation of fighting along the entire Western Front to begin at precisely 11 AM that morning. After over four years of bloody conflict, the Great War was at an end.The Germans had signed the Armistice ending World War I in front of French General Marshal Foch, a long and horrendous war that resulted in more than 20 million dead and as many wounded, military and civilians alike.

Ironically, on June 22, 1940 amidst the outbreak of WWII, a pompous “Hitler dictates that the French capitulation take place at Compiègne, in that very same forest glade north of Paris. This is the same exact spot where twenty-two years earlier the Germans had signed the Armistice ending World War I (on 11-11-18) in front of French General Marshal Foch. Hitler intended to disgrace the French and avenge the German defeat. (Indeed he chose to sit in the very same seat used by his nemesis Marshal Foch in 1918.) To further deepen the humiliation, he ordered that the signing ceremony take place in the same railroad car that hosted the earlier surrender. Under the terms of this Armistice, two-thirds of France is to be occupied by the Germans. The French army is to be disbanded. In addition, France must bear the cost of the German invasion.” (Eyewitness to History: Account of American journalist William Shirer). Indeed the Paris Blvd, Avenue Foch, named for the famous General, literally was largely confiscated and controlled by the Nazis during the Paris occupation with one few exception at #11 Avenue Foch where American expat Doctor Sumner Jackson and his family carried out resistance activities literally under Nazi noses. Alex Kershaw’s book “Avenue of Spies” tells the rest of that story.

Today let’s not just think about Veterans day as a holiday from work. This year of all years, remember that forest glade 100 years ago, that railroad car, the generals, the soldiers, the people who strived to bring peace to the world, what sacrifices were made 100 years ago, and in the years since by so many for the cause of freedom.

 

Dublin: A Travel Blog

So here is Part 2 of Ireland. So much of this country to see, and I have only just tipped the iceberg. My daughter and I had just 13 days. I operate under a certain rule when I travel. I never try to bite off more than I can chew so to speak. If I do, I fear that I lose the allure and the discoveries that are waiting for me every place I go. There were plenty of travel itineraries available on the internet suggesting tours that circle the entire country in 13 days time. The entire country in 13 days!  How would you possibly see one solitary place in its entire measure when traveling 32000 square miles in only 13 days? I believe you have to be wise about your time, not allocating so many of your precious few hours to the transportation alone that is surely required to get from one city to another. This alone robs you of the joy of just being in one place long enough to really get a feel for its history, the stories, and the people who call it home. So we did not venture North at all. We chose to explore the southern route of Ireland on our first visit for the better part of 8 days, culminating in only 4 1/2 days in Dublin, the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. 

In Dublin, we stayed at The Inn on the Liffey, (The Liffey is the river that flows through the centre of Dublin). I would highly recommend this wonderful place in the winter. The summer made it quite a difficult location because it was very noisy on the sidewalks below and the busy street. Our room was situated directly above that street. Moreover, since there is no air conditioning, and no fans were provided, (I asked), one has to keep the windows open in the summer or one will overheat very quickly. This means the noise can seriously hamper one’s sleep.  I suspect this could be entirely different in the winter, since you will ostensibly have the window closed without the concern of overheating. Otherwise, the breakfast is terrific, and the desk is 24/7. Security was great and everyone super friendly. And the location was truly fabulous.

We took an inexpensive uber taxi from the airport to our inn after turning in that vexing rental car.  Normal Uber service is not available in Dublin. They have traditional taxis or the “Uber Taxi.” We did the latter on two occasions, using the Uber app, one arriving at our hotel, and the other leaving our hotel, and was quite satisfied with the service. The inn staff also offered to telephone a taxi on our behalf, and I thought that was quite nice. 

Our first evening we walked over to Temple Street for a quick look around and a  bite to eat. It is the home of the famed Temple Bar and the area itself is teaming with tourists and locals alike. There is plenty of cobblestone streets in the area to satisfy your inner romantic wayfarer. It is a colorful and eclectic area packed with good food, live music, and interestingly (at least in the summer) beautiful flowers which adorn the roof edges of the buildings. 

 

The Temple Bar Area 

Day 2: We fell asleep (finally) anxious for our first full day in Dublin. After a lovely breakfast in a fully sun lit breakfast room, Katie and I set out for our first spot on our self-made itinerary.  The Book of Kells is located inside the insanely beautiful library at Trinity College.  We purchased our tour for the Book of Kells online when planning our trip months ahead, which I highly recommend doing. But the campus tour must be purchased just across the courtyard from the Book of Kells Library on the day you would like to tour. This was easy even in July. We did so as soon as we finished our tour of the library. And the campus tour is a nice accompaniment to the library tour.  The Book of Kells is a famed exhibit, a copy of the four gospels in Latin which was written around 800 AD. It is also accompanied by two pocket gospels. The library itself is very “Harry Potterish,” (sorry for the trite description but so true), and is simply gorgeous inside.

After refueling ourselves with nourishment and coffee (always), we decided to take on Dublin Christ Church Cathedral and the adjoining Dublinia Museum in the afternoon. Christ Church Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest building and also a place of pilgrimage for nearly 1000 years. It is home to a 12th century crypt one of the oldest and largest in Britain and Ireland. The cathedral was founded in 1030 by a Norse King of Dublin by name of Sitriuc. It became part of the Irish Church in 1152 and was later led by the patron saint of Dublin, Laurence O’Toole. We took the tour, including the bell tower and were so pleased to have done so! It’s a very informative tour that takes you through the cathedral which is very beautiful,  and then you go up 84 very tiny curved steps in a narrow passage to the bell tower, inside a room where all the bell ropes are located. We were allowed to ring one of three bells.

The museum focuses on the Viking and Medieval history of the city.  It is located in a part of the Christ Church Cathedral known as the Synod hall.  The two are connected by a really cool Medieval corridor. We thoroughly enjoyed the Dublinia because it covered the Viking origins of the city, their culture and character; then the Medieval era of the city which included the era of the Black Plague, a disease that ravished all of Europe killing 30% of the entire population in less than two years. In Dublin alone, from July 1348 to Christmas of that same year, 14000 people died from this plague. Before leaving Dublinia, don’t forget to climb St. Michael’s Tower, an original medieval tower. It is a 96 step climb to the top, where you can see spectacular views of the city.

Laugh if you will; it was a blast. 

Day 3: Kilmainham Gaol (prison) opened in 1796 as the new County Gaol for Dublin. It closed its doors for good in 1924. Our tour of this place was off the chart. The youngest prisoner held here was a boy of 5 years old, held for 48 hours for begging. Another of my favorite, but very sad stories: (There are hundreds) James Connolly and Patrick Pearse were the leaders of the Easter Uprising of April 24, 1916, the Monday after Easter, The Irish patriots held out for about a week. This as WWI raged on about them as well. Seven leaders of the rising proclaimed an Irish Republic. All seven of the signers were executed along with eight others, including Connolly and Pearse. Another one was Joseph Plunkett who married his wife, Grace Gifford Plunkett, in the prison and had 10 minutes with her under guard prior to his execution. They simply sat silently together the entire 10 minutes. Though the rebels surrendered and 14 (according to our tour guide) of their leaders were executed, the 1916 Rising had a huge effect. It became the first stage in a war of independence from Great Britain that resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and, ultimately, the formal declaration of an Irish Republic in 1949. Tip: We definitely needed a lot more time here. We  arranged our time adequately for touring the prison itself, but allowed no extra time for the extensive museum floors attached to the prison or the nearby Royal Hospital Kilmainham. I would most assuredly devote a whole day to this area of Dublin which is just a short bus ride from Dublin Center.

Nonetheless, upon returning to Dublin Centre, we made our way a lovely little restaurant called “Bite of Life,” a delicious and quaint cafe a mere 2 minute walk from our next destination: St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I had the  Brie, Ham, and Cranberry Sauce Sandwich with a cucumber and carrot salad, both which left my taste buds fully satisfied. We were ready for St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

This cathedral dates from 1220 to the present. It has taken many hits over the years by various kings, but sustained its elegance nevertheless. On the day we were there a choir from Minneapolis was performing and their voices and the acoustics in the cathedral were splendid. Also Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels) was the Dean of the church from 1713 until his death in 1745.  His is a grand exhibit in this cathedral. There is also an excellent park adjacent to the cathedral for catching some Z’s or just some downtime on a clear, warm day.

Dublin Castle.  This is really Dublin Palace. But its origins are a castle fortification from the Viking Ages, with a castle being built here by King John of England in 1204. Most of the medieval castle is gone except for the one remaining tower and foundation ruins. In the 18th century, a palace was built in its place.  “From 1204 until 1922 it was the seat of English, and later British rule in Ireland. During that time, it served principally as a residence for the British monarch’s Irish representative, the Viceroy of Ireland, and as a ceremonial and administrative centre. The Castle was originally developed as a medieval fortress under the orders of King John of England. It had four corner towers linked by high curtain walls and was built around a large central enclosure. Constructed on elevated ground once occupied by an earlier Viking settlement, the old Castle stood approximately on the site of the present Upper Castle Yard. It remained largely intact until April 1684, when a major fire caused severe damage to much of the building. Despite the extent of the fire, parts of the medieval and Viking structures survived and can still be explored by visitors today.” Source: Dublin Castle.ie  You  know, some people wonder “Judy don’t you ever tire of cathedrals and castles and cobblestone?”  Nope!  Do the guided tour because otherwise you will not see the Viking settlement ruins under the castle.  And furthermore, literally we stood over the Poddle River (that indeed flows into the River Liffey) which used to run all above ground, but diverted years ago for fortification purposes.

Dublin Castle

Day 4: St Michans Church. St Michans Church was largely rebuilt in 1686 on the site of an 11th century Hiberno-Viking church, the façade of this church hides a more gloomy interior. Down in its vaults lie a slew bodies that have barely decomposed because of the dry atmosphere created by the church’s magnesian limestone walls. Their wooden caskets, however, have cracked open. Inside are the preserved bodies, complete with skin and strands of hair and fingernails. I’m not posting pics of the actual corpses because our guide asked us not to. This place was fascinating!!  Source: @ Dublin, Ireland  Our guide was wonderful. Just show up when they open. You do not need to buy your tickets ahead of time. This is one of those hidden gems.

After a perfectly creepy, but fascinating time in the St. Michan’s crypts, we moved onto The Dublin Writer’s museum. So being that Katie and I are both writers, when we started planning our trip to Dublin, it was with pleasant surprise we discovered what a historical literary giant this place is. What an added bonus. This museum occupies an original 18th-century house, with original ceilings and woodwork, the whole shebang. Swift and Sheridan, Shaw, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett, and Bram Stoker are among those presented through their books, letters, portraits and personal items. Original publications of classics like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Yeats poetry, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s plays, and the list goes on. What a big check mark on our bucket list.  Afterwards, we took a trip to the National Library of Ireland and walked through a fascinating and insightful exhibit all about the life of William Butler Yeats.

Day 5:  On our final full day we headed straight for the Chester Beatty Library.  This place is a fantastic collection of ancient text and scripture and books; maps; chronicles; devotionals; and the list goes on. Make sure you have at least 2 or 3 hours to spend here. It is packed with some of the oldest known copies of parts of the bible, including letters of Paul the Apostle from the New Testament, not to mention ancient copies of the Torah, from the Old Testament. It is free to the public. They just ask for a 5 euro donation, but you’ll want to give more probably. Beatty was actually an American. He received his mining engineering degree from Columbia University and worked his way up to being a mining magnate, consultant and expert in CO. His wife died after only 11 years of marriage, and he moved to London where he started his own consulting business. He remarried and was an avid collector. He began to amass a huge amount of ancient literature, including some of the oldest known copies in existence of the Pauline epistles of the bible. So take your time going though this. Also he collected ancient texts, scrolls and literature from other religions besides Christianity and as well books from all genres spanning literally 1000s of years. Around 1950 he moved to Dublin. Upon Beatty’s death in 1968, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public. His priceless collection lives on as a celebration of the spirit and generosity of Chester Beatty. I was very excited we were allowed to take pics, minus the flash. So rest assured, I didn’t break any rules.

You might be wondering with all of these touristy sites and historical venues we visit, do we ever shop or meander? The answer is, “Yes, a little bit and a lot.”  We certainly did find ourselves over at St. Stephen’s Green for shopping and all of that. But I guess it is true that shopping is never high on our itinerary.  We also had a delicious “fancy” dinner one night at FX Buckley’s. But as for the meandering, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is write letters and post cards to friends and family at breakfast. I love the whole sharing aspect of travel. I have no intention of keeping it all to myself. And all in all, we try to take time to drink coffee slowly, window shop and cafe sit while people watching, along with all the crazy incredible sites we want to see. And of course it is never enough time, but then again, that always keeps you coming back for more.

Ireland (The Southern Coast): A Travel Blog

So when my youngest daughter, Katie Ann, requested Ireland for her high school mom/daughter senior trip, I was pretty quick to say “Yes.”  Ireland had long been on my travel bucket list, and in the four years that our family had lived in Germany, somehow, we had not made it to Ireland, even though we were prolific travelers during that time.  So off Katie and I went to this new place we had only seen in pictures up to this point.  And the new place did not disappoint.

We landed in Dublin and immediately rented a car. Why? Because I have always wanted to drive a stick shift from the right seat while shifting with my left hand and driving on the left side of the road. (Just kidding!) No, really, we did it because for the first 8 days of our trip, we were heading south through the Wicklow mountains, into Kilkenny, onto Kinsale, and then along the southern coast to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula before heading North to the Cliffs of Mohr, and finally ending up back in Dublin where we happily (ecstatically) turned in our rental car and spent the last 4 days in this beautiful city as pedestrians. That is a different Travel Blog entry. Part 2 you might say. 

Renting a car is a must if you are planning an extended trip and drive around the country side. Sure there are great bus tours you can do, and if you are staying in Dublin or Shanon or Belfast and just taking day trips, then I think this is an excellent option. But if you are leaving the city for a significant amount of time, then driving allows you an excellent vantage point for taking in this breathtaking scenery, for making impromptu stops, and to just be leisurely along the way. Yeah, we were often driving around with the old “deer in the headlights look,” but we did it. You can too. I would highly recommend, if it is your very first time to drive on the wrong side of the road, (oops I meant the left side of the road), that you do it with someone in the passenger seat. Katie Ann was indisputably the best navigator ever. And she was extremely helpful with her constant motto: “Left side mama, left side mama!”  Yeap, this was a crucial reminder. I rented online with Hertz from my kitchen table in Houston and paid about 257 US dollars for nearly 8 days of rental. But all the usual suspects in car rental agencies operate in Dublin. 

Driving in Ireland:

Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in Ireland. St. Kevin, an Irish Saint, built a monastery here in this glen in the 6th century. It’s in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains. Once you leave Dublin Airport in your nifty little compact rental car, the mountains and Gleandalough are just a short drive away.  Be on guard. Glendalough is very touristy. It was definitely one of the most crowded places we visited. But even though, don’t miss it.

Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough

After Glendalough, we continued South to Kilkenney where we spent our first night at JB’s Bar and Guest House. And guess what? JB had a oscillating fan ALREADY in our room. You have to love that. Don’t expect AC in many places you stay. It is few and far between, and we visited in one of the hottest weeks of a summer on record in Ireland. JB’s is located on the main drag in Kilkenny and we parked for free just across the street. We visited Kilkenny castle while here. After breakfast at a nearby cafe, we set out for Kinsale with stops at Jerpoint Abbey and Cahir Castle, just because we could. The benefits of traveling in a rental car. Kilkenny Castle is a castle first built in 1195 to control a fording-point of the River Nore and the junction of several routeways. Jerpoint Abbey is a ruined Cistercian abbey, founded in the second half of the 12th century. The abbey is pleasantly quiet and free of crowds, but yet so mystic and enchanting.

Kilkenny Castle and Jerpoint Abbey: 

Cahir Castle is situated on an island in the River Suir. It was built from 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond. The castle is well preserved and has a guided tour and audiovisual shows in multiple languages. We were satisfied  with the self guided tour.

After our short stopover at Cahir, we set out for our evening destination of Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland, but actually stayed at a lovely BNB called The Blue Horizon in nearby Garrettstown. The two best things about the Blue Horizon were the views and the breakfast. And alas, one old but working oscillating fan.

Breakfast at The Blue Horizon BnB in Garrettstown near Kinsale

Things we loved about Kinsale and Garrettstown: 

History: On May 7, 1915 about 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale ( which is just down the road from our B&B in Garretstown) the Lusitania crossed paths with the German submarine U-20. The commanding officer Walther Schwieger gave the orders and a single torpedo was on its way. It struck on the starboard bow, alongside one of the cargo holds and moments later a second explosion erupted from within the hull. The ship began to list steeply and within 18 minutes the Lusitania was gone. Of the 1960 on board only 767 survived, and four of whom died over the following months. The survivors were mostly taken from the water by merchant mariners (fisherman) from the harbor of Queenstown (Now it is Cobh-pronounced Cove) The link between this harbor with the Titanic is also an irony. The Titanic also made its last port of call here at Queenstown (Cobh) in April 1912 just days before it hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic en route to NYC. But back to the Lusitania, here is a shout out and plug to Erik Larsen’s book “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania:” There are lots of books out there on the Lusitania but this was a great one. It was such an honor for me and Katie Ann to be able to visit the very places that mark this tragedy in history. And it is good for us to honor the lost. We live in such times of peace, comparatively. In some ways, they died for our freedom in that war, in the same way that the soldiers did on the actual battlefield.

Old Signal Head Kinsale 

Also the town of Kinsale is adorable and colorful and the marina is lovely.  Parking was super easy and cheap on the outskirt of the center of town.

Kinsale, Ireland

Fort Charles is a must see if you are a history buff like us, and if you aren’t, that’s okay because the views alone are fantastic. This was just minutes away from our Blue Horizon BnB in Garrettstown. Had we more time, we would’ve laid a blanket down and taken a nap on the grounds. Seriously, beautiful views and so peaceful. And the history is incredible. “This star-shaped military fortress was constructed between 1677 and 1682, during the reign of King Charles II, to protect the town and harbour of Kinsale in County Cork. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham Dublin, and Superintendent of Fortifications, is credited with designing the fort. As one of the largest military forts in the country, Charles Fort has been associated with some of the most momentous events in Irish history. These include the Williamite War in 1690 and the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Charles Fort remained garrisoned by the British army until 1922.” Source: Discoverireland.ie

So off we went after two beautiful days visiting Garrettstown and Kinsale and Cobh, we headed along the coast and a little North to the very touristy Blarney Castle in Cork.  We. just. had. to. We bought our tickets ahead of time online, but you don’t have to. And we were smack dab at the end of June, a busy travel season.  Blarney was built nearly 600 years ago by a famous Irish Chiefton, Cormac MacCarthy. Blarney is an odd castle in that, touring the castle and kissing the famous Blarney stone is all the same queue. You  do not have to kiss the stone, you can walk on by, but it is not two separate attractions. The line goes pretty fast. We were there in June. I can imagine it is even faster in the off season.  But you know what the true show stopper is at Blarney castle that makes the visit worth it, are the gardens. They are some of the most spectacular castle gardens I have ever seen. Truly engaging and beautiful.  Also the Blarney House, a Scottish baronial-style mansion, was built on the grounds in 1874, is also open to the public. We just missed its opening time. So check the hours of operation for that ahead of time. Plan on a full morning or afternoon at Blarney. But if you bring a picnic basket, maybe longer.

Next, destination Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Think Ring of Kerry. Here we opted for a good old fashioned Holiday Inn, but guess what? No AC as we had hoped for. But they did produce at my request, the tiniest oscillating fan I had ever seen in my life. Truly amazing that it had not been put in the Guinness Book of World Records. Truly.  Our first stop: Muckross House and Gardens.  We did the guided tour, this being the only way to see the mansion. Built in 1843. First lived in by Henry Herbert and his wife Mary Balfour Herbert. They entertained Queen Victoria here but ended up bankrupt and and sold the estate. The new owner was Arthur Guinness (of the Guinness brewery family) and he rented it out to wealthy groups as a hunting lodge. In August 1911, not long before WWI, the house was bought by a wealthy Californian mining magnate William Bourn. He and his wife gave it to their only child Maud as a wedding present since she married an Irishman. They had two children. Maud died an early death in 1929 and her parents subsequently presented the house and its 11000 acres estate to the Irish nation. The grounds are beautiful and the Lake you see is one of the three Lakes of Killarney, Muckross Lake. Beautiful. Something I would plan for here if I had to do it all over again, is to swim in the lakes. We did not plan for this and were neither parked or dressed accordingly. We did however, splurge on a horse and carriage ride to the lakes and the waterfall  just before we had to hustle back through the main gates by closing time.

So after checking in to our very American Holiday Inn in Killarney, we ate a slow dinner and caught our breaths. The next morning we set out for the “Ring.”  I would say that the beauty of rural Ireland never ceased to amaze us. We drove the whole approsimately 110 miles around the Ring of Kerry, making many stops and taking in incredibly wonderful, simply divine views.  Along the Ring of Kerry we meandered Skellig Island, driving around the Skellig Ring, and walked Kenmare City.  We had to cross over on the 10 minute car ferry from Cahersiveen to Skelllig Island where we took a somewhat treacherous drive to the Lighthouse in Valentia Island.

The Cliffs of Kerry 

Our last and final sleepover along the southern coast of Ireland, the Dingle Peninsula.  We opted for two nights at the Broigin Bed & Breakfast just a stone’s throw from Dingle Town proper, but far enough if you don’t have a rental car, you might want to consider staying right in town. On the other hand, I wouldn’t opt to travel all the way to the Dingle Peninsula without a rental car.  Broigin BnB was lovely and our host, Anne, did a custom breakfast with piping hot coffee every morning at exactly the time we requested. Anne was wonderful. Very hospitable. She was also great with advice for your itinerary and helpful with directions.

As soon as we checked in and digested all of Anne’s advice we shot out for the Slea Head Drive which makes a loop, starting and ending in Dingle. There are many places to stop along the way. One of them was an abandoned farm from the potato famine that occurred in Ireland in 1845–49 when the potato crop failed in successive years. There were also monastic beehive huts speckled around Dingle which have their origins dating from thousands of years ago; beaches beaches beaches and for us, everywhere sunshine! Bring on the Slea Head Drive.

In the afternoon, we decided to do the other loop in Dingle, which we now look back on as so memorable both in a wonderful and frightening way. Wonderful, because the views and the drive were fantastic. Frightening, becasue one time driving through the Conor Pass is enough to last me a lifetime.  

“The Conor Pass, which runs from Dingle on the southern end of the peninsula towards Brandon Bay and Castlegregory in the North, in County Kerry, is one of the highest mountain pass in Ireland, at an elevation of 410 m above the sea level. Conor Pass is situated in the Dingle Peninsula and offers to drivers the breathtaking, cliff hanging experience of navigating through Ireland’s highest mountain pass, in a road tight and precarious, weaving its way around the sharp cliff faces. The views from the road are breathtaking, as the glaciated landscape of mountains and corrie lakes comes into view. From Dingle Town the road runs some 4½ miles rising to 1500 ft as it winds its way to the pass.” Source: Roads.org

Along the way back to Dingle, we found the perfect beach for swimming, relaxing and enjoying the Atlantic on a warm day. Fermoyle Strand Beach: 

The next morning after our breakfast at Broigin, we arrived at he Dingle harbor for our Blasket Island tour. We were taken to these iconic islands by our boat captain, Billy from the Dingle Bay Speed Boat Tours & Great Blasket Island Experience. In the 1920s and 1930s the Blasket Island resident writers produced books which are deemed classics in the world of literature. They wrote of island people living on the very edge of Europe, and brought to life the topography, and life and times of their Island. They wrote all of their stories in the Irish language. Sadly, the Blasket Island community declined as a result of the persistent emigration of its young people, until eventually the Island was abandoned in 1953 when only 22 inhabitants remained Those who immigrated largely settled in Springfield MA and a few in Butte MO. We also saw seals, lots of different birds including Puffins. And one lone dolphin who is the resident dolphin in the Dingle Harbor.


After checking out of the lovely Broigin BnB, we left the beautiful Kerry Region of Ireland by way of the Shannon Ferry in Kilrush, which took us to the Shannon Region of Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher. We lingered there only a little while before heading to Dublin and turning in that rental car. As sad as I might have been to depart the Irish countryside, I was never so happy in my life to turn in a rental car! This wrapped up a glorious 8 days of travel, not soon to be forgotten by two little Texans. 

Shannon Ferry

Cliffs of Moher

All in all what a jaw dropping place to visit.  Entry costs at tourist sites were so inexpensive, and if you are traveling with a student, you can buy the OPW Heritage Card for 10$ for entry into all sites labeled “Heritage Sites.” Now feel free to ask me questions if you have them. That’s part of the package. And stay tuned for part 2, “Dublin: A Travel Blog.”

Telling Your Fear to Stand Down: Phobos vs. Yare’.

The author and her daughter embracing yare’ on their “mom daughter” trip.

On the subject of fear, we all have it, but is it phobos, or is it a yare’?  It  makes a difference.

Phobos is the original greek word for the fear found in 1 John 4:18. which says “There is no fear (phobos) in love. But perfect love drives out fear (phobos), because fear (phobos) has to do with punishment. The  one who fears, (who has phobos,) is not make perfect in love.”  This fear we all know and recognize. This greek word is defined as terror or alarm, and the part I find the most eye-opening: withdrawing or fleeing for feeling inadequate, or to avoid because of dead fright. Phobos.

In 2 Timothy 1:7  We are told clearly that “God did not give us a spirit of fear (deilia) but one of power, love, and self-discipline.”  The original word used here for fear is deilia which means timidity or cowardice. Ouch. Both deilia and phobos are the types of fear that control us, keep us sidetracked; off-center, out of balance; preoccupied; and therefore….unhappy and disgruntled with the world and the people around us.  Do you see any connections?

On the other hand yare’, a wholly different kind of fear found in Deuteronomy 10:12 seems to be one that drives us forward; motivates us; spurs us on to do the right thing; to embrace healthy risk, Hope, and goodness:  “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear (yare’) the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”   

Phobos. Yare’.

The first, phobos, is the one that most all of us fall victim to-I don’t care what religion you profess, even no religion at all. We all fall victim to phobos.  I mean these are the original Greek and Hebrew definitions for two distinctly different types of fears, particularly as they are used in this context, and the ancient writers of scripture apparently found them useful in making sure their readers understood the types of behavior characteristic of both phobos and yare’.

 Phobos vs. Yare

I just finished a 15 day overseas trip with my youngest daughter Katie. The tradition started when my oldest daughter Shelby graduated from high school and requested a “mom and daughter” trip.  She chose England. My middle daughter chose France and Katie chose Ireland.  What does this all have to do with phobos you ask?

Well, a lot really.

I think I am guilty as charged of posting a plethora of pictures when traveling, perhaps presenting the idea that “this is all so carefree and easy.”  Tripping across the ocean alone with my child, renting a car and driving on the left (the wrong) side of the road; negotiating foreign lands, cultures, ferries, boats, planes, uncharted territories and situations. I often feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of being the sole caretake for my girl-protecting her from harm’s way were it indeed to come our way. I pour over the details in pre-planning stages, then when we are in the eye of the storm, I reexamine, every. single. night. our itinerary for the next day. Truth. I sometimes lose sleep  (not just from jet lag) and have a lot of anxiety.

That is when I realize that the phobos of 1 John 4:18 is taking hold of me, and I need to tell it to stand down.  Because the almighty God is the house. I know this specifically because 1 Corinthians 3:16 is explicit about where the Almighty dwells….in me. I am the house.

When I trade phobos in for yare’, He moves into first place, and my phobos is suppressed by the only thing it can be, yare’.  Yare’ is phobos’ greatest enemy.  Yeah we need to name our fear.

Life is full of bumps in the road, to put it mildly right?  Death, murder, loss, bad diagnosis, betrayal, disappointment, depression, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of opportunities for us to be 100% consumed by a phobos kind of fear. Yes! But we have 100% reason to not be either. We have all the more reason to be covered with a yare’ kind of fear.

If you were to take a poll of 100 people and asked them which emotion consumes them the most. Which one takes up residence in their hearts and minds, I think phobos would be the clear winner.   Yes, it wins over all of them: jealousy, anger, hurt, sadness, joy, disgust…because I believe phobos is at the root of all of these emotions. I belive that phobos is the common denominator among all of our negative emotions.  Just as yare‘ is perhaps the common denominator among all of our positive emotions.

Fear (phobos) of inferiority or insignificance can cause jealousy.
Fear (phobos) of commitment can cause loneliness.
Fear (phobos) of loss can cause depression .
Fear (phobos) of failure can cause timidity.
Fear (phobos) of the darkness can cause hopelessness.

On the other hand,

Fear (yare’) of God, can lead to understanding.
Fear (yare’) of God can lead to wisdom.
Fear (yare’) of God can lead to Hope.
Fear (yare’) of God can lead to Joy.

So what can we do about phobos? Capture every single thought that is riddled with phobos and trample it into a million fragments under your feet into nothingness.  Every thought or pretention that sets itself up as truth-but yet it is not-let it disintegrate into the same darkness from which it came. (2 corinthians 10:5) If you need to, write your phobos on a piece of paper, and rip the paper to shreds. It is a thought, a contention, a fear- a phobos- whose only purpose is to separate you from your God, from yare’.

Yare’ advances us. Phobos puts us into retreat.
Yare’ puts phobos in its place. Yare’  tells phobos in no uncertain terms to stand down.  My God is in the house.

My Constant Reminders of the Oklahoma City Bombing

Oklahoma City Memorial

Today I found myself sitting in an airport with time on my hands. This  time it’s Little Rock, AR. When I have time on my hands, I tend to find things to do. Rest is way overrated when you are a Type A such as I am. Good or bad, I have long since quit apologizing for that, and instead just rest in the way that I believe God has wired me. And so it is, that on this one day before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995 I remain irrepressibly thankful.  Irrepressibly hopeful, and irrepressibly overwhelmed by the goodness that relentlessly remains in our world in spite of all that we see and know is NOT good. Tomorrow is indeed the 23rd anniversary of this tragedy. The 23rd anniversary of the loss of 5 of my best friends and multiple of my close friends and colleagues whose offices were adjacent to mine, whose lives intersected with mine with indescribable magnitude.
I don’t ever forget.
But the way that I remember, now that is always different.
For you perhaps, you would see no connection between these two things.  The seemingly mundane things of daily life that bring to my mind those I loved and lost tragically in 1995. But for me, it is as plain as the words on a page. And the reminders are both joyful and sad.  This makes sense since recollections of my friends are both joyful and sad.  Joyful at the remembrance of us being so close and doing our jobs and our lives together. Family not tied do DNA. Sad at the remembrance of the huge hole left in my heart at their sudden departure.
As I sat in the airport I thought of the last couple days spent with my aged mother-in-law, who is struggling with her health. I am infinitely thankful for my husband’s siblings, who in spite of their differences, stand together as a family on what is important.  As I began rifling through my email and texts, I exchanged the following communications. Both my niece and my sister are celebrating the new life of a first child and grandchild respectively, two sweet and beautifully innocent, baby boys. Oh the joy! My niece, an educator in a very low income, suburbia area of Houston, asked if my husband, a commercial airline pilot, would be interested in speaking into the lives of her sweet (and very marginalized) students on their career day. My daughter texted me with the glum news that a health issue she has been struggling with has reappeared much to our chagrin. I had a potential publisher call me with lots of optimism about the two of us being able to work together on a long time passionate project of mine. Meanwhile, my mind also remained occupied with the recent news of raging destructive wild fires in NW Oklahoma and my friends there who are yet in harm’s way. Still in the national news, the sudden death of a young woman, a mom, while traveling by air in a plane that has perhaps successfully completed that route hundreds of times before.  My daughter texts me with great news about her decision to double major, and how that is going to best contribute to her desire to perhaps one day work closely with trafficking victims.  My women’s pastor at my church, and close friend, sends an email asking for us to brainstorm ways to reach women who are in need and who are hurting.  One of my very best friends, lets me know that another surgery is in the cards for her in battling breast cancer. My husband sends me a text about our future choices in retirement. It’s an inside joke. It seems that virtually every single article related to this topic has a signature photo on the front page of a woman who is voluptuous.  As if this were pertinent to the top 10 best places in American to retire. This leaves me laughing so hard I am crying.
And. that. is. just. it. Sometimes we are crying so hard we laugh. Still other times, we are laughing so hard we cry.  But always we remember.
We remember the good and the bad. Our lives are full of hearty doses of both. The question is what will we do about it? For me, I am answering my (teacher) niece and going to make every effort to be present for those sweet little kids on their career day.  I am texting my sister to tell her how blessed I feel to be a part of her celebration with her new grandson. I am sending Deuteronomy 31:6 to my best friend as she prepares for surgery. I am telling my daughter with regard to her health issue: “Don’t worry Katie, we got this. We can do it.”  I am letting my husband’s siblings know that whatever is in our future for their mom, we can do this thing together. I am letting my women’s pastor know that I am on board. I am encouraging my girls, all three of them to be the world changers that I know God has created them to be. I am overwhelmed with their desire to make a difference in the world of the lost and hurting. Finally, I’m praying to my Creator, the One who knows what we are going through, who knows our pain and our joy, and for whatever reason, chose to cover my own multitude of sins with ginormous amounts of love.
And that’s just it. I am overwhelmed. Still by the loss of my five sweet friends 23 years ago, Carrol, Kenny, Carrie Ann, Rona and Shelly. And still by the way that life just keeps marching on, both tragically and joyfully, both demanding a response from me. Judy what are you going to do now?

The Disaster of Comparison

Apples and Oranges

We live in a world that more often than not lends itself toward constant comparisons. We compare everything under the sun. Our marriages, kids, jobs,  churches, clothes, cars, names, yes! You name it. We compare it. Anything and everything can fall victim to the comparison game that is perpetually in motion in our minds.

Comparison trap is more like it.

The first problem with comparison is that it inevitably leads to a perpetual lack of contentment or satisfaction with your lot in life. This kind of satisfaction or contentment referenced here  isn’t about compromising or settling or not having goals. No indeed! All of those things are important. But our expectations (of ourselves and others) shouldn’t be tied to comparisons. They should rather be born out of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. I am talking about expectations and goals that are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon how many likes you get on your instagram post. They are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon replicating someone else’s (perceived) success. Rather they are expectations and goals based on what we want to accomplish in order to make our homes, our communities, and our world a better place, and our life, a better life. For instance, if all of your life you dreamed about becoming a baker, that is wholly different from wanting to become a baker simply because your next door neighbor is a baker and he seems to have it a lot better than you do….better cars,  spouse, kids, a greener yard. You get the picture.

The second problem of comparison is that we inevitably teach it to our children. In this year 2018 our kids are already inundated with a plethora of electronics and social networking options. Most of them spell trouble. They really don’t need disgruntled and malcontented adults aggravating that situation. Is social networking fun, productive, and a terrific tool for communication? Yes, to all of those things. But what we must know as parents, what we must understand is this: Most social networking sites spell trouble for our kids. We must teach our kids to be masters of their social networking habits, not the other way around. Comparisons are part and parcel of social networking. Today our young citizens, our children, are navigating dicey, emotional, distressful and confusing social scenarios that I didn’t even dream about when I was a kid. Because all of our communication was done in person with the occasional exception of a land line telephone call. The comparison trap was alive and well in those days too. But today’s penchant for comparison is ginormous. The onslaught of media choices and social networking sites has offered the comparison game a robust revival, a new catalyst for wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in their relationships.

So what happens as a result of the comparison trap?

This. It’s an irony really. Rather than achieving more, we achieve less.  Because comparison dictates our pursuits. Rarely do we pursue what is best for us, for our kids, for others around us, when we are so focused on “keeping up with the Jones” So, we achieve less and less, while we continue to want more and more.

And this.  Our relationships decline. In dire circumstance, they may collapse. Our work relationships, personal, marital, parenting, and peers. They are all vulnerable. Because as we constantly pine away for what we see as the optimum life or job or marriage partner or daughter or son-well, the one right in front of us is starving for our attention.

I think Paul the Apostle said it best in 2 Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

It is time to take stock of what we have. What do we have in the warehouse of our lives that needs to be inventoried? What good things, rare and beautiful treasures, are right under our noses just begging for examination? Take them down from the shelf, dust them off, and remember. How can we shift our focus from what we are missing to what we have? How would this change the way we see ourselves, our spouse, our children, or our jobs? And how will it move us from discontent to joy? I think the answer is critical in propelling us forward on a positive course toward joy and success.

 

Where was God in Harvey?

I read a twitter from some dude who slammed Texans with  this retort: “There are  a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this?”  That seems like sort of a na-na, na-na, booboo kind of thing to say to people who are already deeply hurting. Well, while you’re at it twitter boy, “Did God cause the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Bubonic Plague, the Suffrage of Women, The Depression, the POW camps? Where was He in the civil rights crisis, the Oklahoma tornadoes, or the Oklahoma City bombing? The presence of God is not manifested by the absence of suffering. NO more than our faith is dependent upon an easy life. Indeed, just the opposite.
Time for a bible lesson. If you insist on demanding a response from “Christians,” regarding God’s part in causing something like Hurricane Harvey, well then you deserve a scriptural answer.  According to Hebrews 12:1, faith is defined as “Assurance about what we do not see…..By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”   In other words, our faith is not validated by what we know, rather, it is demonstrated and embedded in our souls based on what we don’t fully know and understand.  That may sound reckless to an unbeliever. However, when your own personal experience testifies to the presence and involvement of your Creator in ways you can catalogue, then you realize and know that the promise of Jesus is not “I will be with you only in the absence of pain,” but rather, “I will be with you always…” (Matthew 28:20). Suddenly, the decision to profess a faith-based on the “assurance of what we do not see,” doesn’t seem so crazy after all. Suddenly the belief that-“God is with us in Hurricane Harvey even though He didn’t stop it from coming,”-is an easier concept to grasp. And in the process, it moves us forward, not backward. HereI will defer to the answer given by three Jewish teenagers to their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar in 585 BC: “ If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)
Why oh why is there so much suffering in this world?  This naturally troubles Jesus followers, how much more so can we expect that it will challenge those who don’t follow Jesus, like our Twitter friend for instance? This is a very difficult, age-old question, albeit with a very simple answer: This isn’t heaven people. It is the same earth we read about in Genesis 3 when God told man  “because of this, (this=Man’s first sin) you shall……” and God went on to name a litany of trials that would now befall man and woman, which we could sum up here in one word: “suffer.”  “Because of this, you shall suffer.”  In that singular Genesis 3 moment we were all cast into a world of sickness and despair, one that required grace upon grace in order to be saved from that suffering.  And if you care to read scripture even more, the bible is chock full of stories about the suffering of man, God’s beloved people no less, and God’s role and/or HIs responses to that suffering.  So natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t new to this earth and neither is suffering. Furthermore they’re certainly not new to God.
I apologize to those of you who wanted an answer that was something much more apocalyptic in nature or for those of you who wished I would’ve just conceded and denounced God all together. But for those of you in that first camp, suffering has been aplenty every century that this earth has existed. We have already pointed that out. For those of you in that second camp, living life without God is not an option for me. While I am not certain that he is the author of all manner of suffering, (there are too many boneheads out there making poor choices to blame God for everything,) I can undoubtedly assure you, with the greatest of certainty, that he is the author of all good things. “ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
1 Peter 3:15 says …”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I believe the Genesis 3 story outlined here can truly be the beginning of the answer we give to anyone who asks us as Christians “Where was God in Harvey, or when your husband left you, or when your loved one died, or when you lost your child? Where was God when you lost your job, or when you were betrayed by your business partner?”

But neither is that the end of the story.

And it’s only part of the answer.
God’s presence and action is palpable in His people. For centuries, Jesus followers have been known for their uncanny way of unleashing God’s strength and His provision upon people as they themselves soak up God’s strength and provision. This is so very evident in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  God pours into us, and we pour out. This very truth has yet again been played out right before our eyes in Houston. As I type this, churches all over the Houston metropolitan area have literally deployed to every part of the city, boots on, and sleeves rolled up, knee-deep in flood water, loving on victims while water vacuuming their floors and tearing out drywall.  We can’t spend too much time demanding answers from God about Hurricane Harvey. And why would we anyway? It has happened. And as long as we are on this Genesis 3 earth there will be suffering. The rest of the story is up to us. Will we “unleash” the love of God into our own homes, and into our communities with unrelenting fervor? Hopefully, we will, and in so doing, we can move people from a place of seeing God only as their accuser to a place of seeing God as their provider.  

 

What Girl Power Really Means

Girls girls girls!

Recently I was perusing a section in Barnes and Nobles entirely dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women. As I did so, I saw a lot of “stuff” related to getting what you want in a “man’s world,” and how to get it. Some of what I saw (as I scanned through it briefly) seemed really plausible, even good stuff.  Some of it just sounded like crap. For those of us with daughters, it’s paramount that we can discern between the two.  There is a place in parenting for books, songs, and speakers that render quality information about empowering our girls. But we need to recognize the difference between what makes them strong and healthy women versus what teaches them an empowerment largely centered around the ideology of self-promotion. Empowerment is important. We need to raise girls into strong women, full of fight-I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’ve got three of my own, and self-advocacy is something we discuss often and in much detail. And I dare say, all four of us have an insatiable love of books depicting the courage and historical impact of both non-fiction and fictional heroines. But God help us, if in the process of raising our girls to be strong, we fail to teach them compassion and generosity.

We live in a world that speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, the world is telling our girls to be tolerant of everything and everyone because if they aren’t, then they are hateful and ignorant. This “sounds like” a message of compassion and generosity. But on the other hand, we are telling these same girls that getting what they want always trumps putting others ahead of themselves. These two messages are conflicting. Truly, women in this great country have had to work hard-and in many cases are still fighting-for many basic rights that we often now take for granted, i.e. voting,  equal pay and equal recognition, just to name a few.  Recently my youngest daughter attended a high school leadership conference and was quite perturbed that the very first girl she met and spoke with had apparently never heard of either Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony.  (Who knows how this conversation even came about?) My daughter immediately, and in rapid fire, sent 4 text messages to me-aghast and full of righteous indignation: “I can’t believe she doesn’t know who either of these women are. This is the future of America. It’s women like her who will be elected to office one day-if women are ever elected to office-seeing as young girls no longer care about women in history who  went through hell and back so we could even vote.” I loved the spit and fire in my girl as I read her text messages. But the point in sharing that story is to tell you this: That same girl, coincidently, at that same conference, found herself neck-deep in the personal pain of one of her peers. She did not run and hide. She wholeheartedly stepped up to the plate, and full of that same spit and fire, encouraged him with words awash in compassion and empathy. She helped move her friend from a place of despair to a place of hope. That is what her heroines,’ Harriet Tubman and Susan B Anthony, did in their fight for human rights and for the marginalized and abused of their time. They helped move people from a place of despair to a place of hope. Men and women.

I am a Jesus follower. As such, we believe the bible is the inerrant and timeless Word of God. It is alive and full of promise and the Hope of salvation. On the sacred pages of this book, I find over and over, the need to instill in my girls unconditional love for others. I also find biblical teaching that leaves me without excuse when it comes to raising girls with spit and fire. There is nothing in scripture that I believe supports raising a shrinking violet. Rahab, Mary, Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, Rachel, and the list goes on and on-women in the bible-who were both empowered and empowering. But these women were also spilling over the top with love for their people, their children, their mentors, their neighbors, and their God. They weren’t perfect by any standard. (Read and find out!) But they were mountains of inspiration to those around them, and they were an intricate part of God’s plan to bring hope to His people then, now, and forevermore.

I’ve grown weary of our culture sending messages to our daughters that ‘they must self-promote first and foremost, in order to be successful. That love and compassion are okay, only as long as these two tenets do not interfere with their climb to the top of the ladder.’ That is reckless endangerment if I ever saw it. This narcissistic model for teaching empowerment is hardly a worthy prototype for moving our girls towards a life full of healthy relationships and successful and joyful living.  It is a model which brings to mind a line from one of my favorite movies, “You have been weighed; you have been measured; and you have been found wanting.” But the powerful punch of this famous line was first delivered to a king named Belshazzar by a young Jewish man named Daniel, the latter of who was fully devoted to God. Daniel boldly told his captor, that his self-promotion and extreme lack of humility were not cutting the leadership mustard. His words were riveting: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:26-27)

I think it’s time we show the world a different model, a different kind of girl power. One that is not found wanting. One that is full of spunk and infectious adventure harnessed together with compassion for others and a generous, servant heart. It’s time we teach our girls that these two seemingly opposite character traits cannot only coexist, but that indeed, girls were wired that way from the moment their beautiful, inquisitive, hopeful, and daring little selves entered this crazy world.

Keep Your Eye On The Prize