All posts by Jude

LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!

Art work by Emma Gulitti

I think most of us categorize lying right at the top of the worst offenses our kids can do. I mean getting out of their chores or whining or fighting with their sibling or not sharing, are all things we see as NORMAL right? But lying?? Ahhhh! Our morality meter pegs immediately. There is just something about lying that sets us off and increases our parenting fear! “What’s going on with my child that she would LIE?” We go 0 to 60 in our irrational thoughts from them being a lying little 6 year old scamp to a homeless con artist at 20. But honestly as rotten an offense as it is, and clearly needs addressing, we must be careful not to go haywire over making it any worse a “sin” or offense as other things like selfishness, not sharing, refusing to do homework or wash the dishes. Lying is not that uncommon in kids, and it’s not unusual for one sibling to struggle with it and another one not to. We also tend to think “Well if a particular behavior is normal for children, then all my kids will _______”   But that’s not true either. Just as some kids are more emotional and some more serious, some playful and some not, some keen on math and others keen on reading, so there are some who tend to have a propensity for one offense over another more than their sibling. This also does NOT make lying more evil and twisted than another form of disobedience. So I would just say be careful parents about assigning it more evil points than for example, not doing their chores or fighting with siblings. Because if you do assign an inordinate number of evil points to lying, that might be your filter for how you deal with it, and perhaps that will be out of balance with how you handle other behavioral misconduct. To some degree, that sends a message to our kids it’s okay to act out and disobey us in certain areas of instruction, but never in this one particular area-lying! And also assigning it to the darkest of the dark side, will put us into a frenzy of worry that is perhaps unnecessary and that too will rob us of our joy and peace. So while there is no magic bullet for this, any more than there is for getting them to eat their veggies, there are some fundamental steps we can take to address lying as well as a few fun suggestions:

1. Be consistent and follow through with consequences. Remember we don’t give our kids consequence because it works.  Every. Time. Right. Away.  We are in this parenting thing for the long haul.  And sometimes it’s a long haul. But our God is faithful. And where necessary, they should always pay restitution for their act of deceit when possible. 

2. Model integrity.  So important parents! Don’t let the kids see you lie to someone, i.e. saying you can’t go to their home jewelry party because you have a commitment, when the kids know you don’t have that commitment. Be honest with people yourself. It’s the little things that get us into trouble with our young’uns. Model integrity. They are watching.

3  Find The Veggie Tale movies: (Excellent for littles) Larry-Boy And The Fib From Outer Space! It’s all about telling the truth. And also, “The Little House that Stood” which is all about making good choices.

4.  Be on the lookout for real life examples of someone (maybe a child that your child knows) who was not truthful and that choice resulted in pain. (age appropriate stuff)  Maybe this could be an example of a child at school who was dishonest with a teacher and it didn’t turn out good for the child. Just be on the lookout for those stories brimming with life lessons. 

5. And finally, use scripture. It’s timeless. It’s our ace in the hole. It’s truly raising the bar for them. It’s not just your parents saying “blah blah blah.” It’s God’s desire for us to be truthful. Score! Do you read the bible out loud with your children already? If you do, find scriptures (in an easy to understand version for your little one, tween or teen) that remind us of the character of Jesus. For instance, James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. Questions you can ask: “What are some of the perfect gifts that God give us? What are shifting shadows?”  Maybe they will look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Or maybe they will just say “I don’t know.” Then you can say something like  “Shifting shadows are people and things that lie about the truth. God is not like that.”  

Or Galatians 5:22-23:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” This luminous gem is about the fruits of the spirit. And one of those fruits is faithfulness which underscores integrity and honesty. 

When you feel your child is ready for John 8:44, it is the mother of all verses on lying because it clearly tells us that “you know who” is the father of lies. The enemy, the devil. Indeed, lying is his native language. This can be heavy for the littlest of kids. So start out with easy to understand verses on the importance (and commands) of being honest, and work your way up.

Maybe these are all things you’ve already thought of. Sometimes we just need affirmation that what we are doing is okay especially when the problem continues. Keep fighting the good fight. And know that consistence is key! 

Five great Habits for getting your kids to listen.

Unfortunately there are no easy 5 step plans to make your kids listen well. But there are some tried and true habits we can employ. And they involve kids of all ages. These methods work at virtually every age, but the younger your kids are when you get started, the better they work  when your kids are older. Each of these habits have demonstrated success over and over by a whole passel of parents who have gone before you. Furthermore, there are wonderful (extra) parenting perks to be had with each habit besides just getting your kids to listen. I call that “Advantage Parent.”  So let’s get started.

Habit #1  Quit allowing them to interrupt.  Our littles all the have the same middle name: Interrupter. If you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone else, take their hand and place it on your arm or shoulder and squeeze it. You can even wink at them for extra affirmation.  But all the time you are holding their hand so they know you’ve not forgotten them. When you have an opening with the other person or a good pausing place, you can look at your little and say “Okay what was it you wanted?” The whole while you where holding their hand gently against your arm, or face or at your side. This probably won’t work the first time you do it. The key is patience, and diligence in training. If they are old enough (3 or 4), you could probably even have  a conversation with them about how this works before incorporating it as a new habit. AND you can practice it at home while conversing with your spouse.  The more you practice this at home, the better it works when you utilize this technique inside or outside of your home visiting with friends. I found this to be a conversation lifesaver when my girls were little. Advantage Parent:  It simultaneously teaches your child to be respectful of others while also validating your child’s needs.

Habit #2 Quit threatening. Do what you said you were going to do the minute they disobey.  If you say, “The next time you use the toy to hit your brother, I am taking away the toy,” then the very next time they use the toy as a weapon against their sibling, immediately take it away. Threatening does nothing but teach them not to listen. Without a doubt, the minute the offender breaks the rule, and you say “That’s it; the toy is gone,” he or she is going to explode into cries of remorse: “I’m sorry” or “I won’t do it again.” Don’t fall for that. They should’ve been so sincere the first time you gave them fair warning. Threatening just adds to the chaos. Advantage Parent: Your kids quickly learn from a “follow through” kind of parent two very important things. 1  Your plans cannot be thwarted by their drama.  And 2 You are an honest person. They can trust you. Both of these things will be important when you are establishing appropriate boundaries in the teenage years.

Habit #3  Make deposits into their emotional bank accounts.(Concept borrowed from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  In moments, minutes or possibly hours apart from those necessary blocks of time devoted to instruction, discipline, and daily tasks, we must spend quality and quantity time with our child. If we only feed them, cloth them, and instruct them, but never allocate time just being with them, validating their ideas, playing games with them, going to coffee (or tea time), or reading books together, the chances of them being good listeners are very slim. It’s all about credibility. Our human nature cries out loudly “Why should I listen to someone who doesn’t care about me personally?”  Advantage Parent:  We build trust with our children that is reciprocal. Life is more fun. It’s exciting what we learn about our children when we share our time this way. We build up their self- confidence and self-esteem. They make better relationship choices because they know they are loved and cared for at home. 

Habit #4 Be hospitable.  When you invite someone over to your home or out to dinner, and your kids are invited too, they learn to listen. Because when you invite other people into the intimate spaces and places of your life, learning about those people is inevitable. And the way that happens is to ask questions and listen. Our girls learned a heap about other people’s lives, their fascinating jobs, and their spiritual journeys, all at dinner around our table. We just listened. And naturally, our guests asked us questions too. So there’s this fun exchange of information that propels and enriches the conversation.  It all starts with a desire to be hospitable. It ends with our kids being better listeners. Advantage Parent: We teach our kids the value of community and hospitality. They meet new people who can have a significant and positive influence in their lives for years to come. We make life long friends. We teach our kids the power of personal versus electronic communication.

Habit #5 Model good listening skills for them.  As adults, hopefully we already know how to be active listeners. In other words, we actually listen to what another person is saying to us before we draw conclusions, make judgement or offer responses. Our body language is also a huge indicator of our attention to another person’s words. If our kids see or hear us constantly at odds with their other parent, or if they see us monopolize every conversation we are in, chances are  we are teaching them how to be a poor listener. Any other methods  we utilize to teach them good listening skills will be null and void, if we cannot ourselves model good listening skills.  Advantage Parent: Our kids learn that they are not the center of the universe. They also learn conflict resolution skills and how to bring change to a hurting and broken world. 

We all want our children to listen to us.  Toddlers, tweens, teens, and young adults. We want them to listen when we say “Quit using the toy to hit your brother,” and also when we say, “Don’t drink and drive.”  And of course we want them to listen to us when we say “I love you.” It’s imperative that we cultivate good listening skills in our kids. In my book I talk about having “Life Saving Conversations” with your children. If we have not taught them them how to listen, they will struggle with grasping the importance of those life saving conversations. They will tune them out. The ones regarding their safety, security, relationship building, reconciling conflict, or a whole host of other important discussions that require their listening ears. 

Parenting With Gumption and Grit is now Available for Purchase

Finally, I have released my book, and I am happy to announce it can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Target. This project has been a long time in the making. It is something I am very passionate about, and I have a deep desire to  help equip  parents with the tools necessary for raising positive kids in a culture that is not always so.  Take a chance on this easy but powerful read. You won’t regret it. 

 

Shout out to the producer and videographer of my first promotional video, my wonderful daughter, Kate Ann.

A guide for Reading (connecting) with your kids and Book Lists For All Ages!

Forever and a day I have been working on a book list. My friends and fellow parents know how passionate I am about the importance of reading. And so, they frequently ask for book recommends. I LOVE talking about books. I have also written one. Recently I released a book titled“Parenting With Gumption and Grit.” It is a book of 52 tips for virtually anyone who parents or mentors a child. One of those tips is “Read With Your Child.”  I would add to that: do so at every age and stage of their life. When my 3 girls became older teens, I had required reading, which I added to their own queue of books. Yes, it’s true. I had required reading. And with few exceptions, they always read the book before seeing the movie. And now as young adults, I heartily dish out suggested reading for them. Usually they humor me and comply. They do this because they love to read and because it is an activity we have done together literally for years. So, I have a little credibility with them when it comes to recommending a book. Books are a faithful friend. They don’t betray, abandon, hurt, or withhold forgiveness or mercy from us. They are always there for us. They are faithful. They teach our kids literally everything. How to be a kid. How to be a grown up. How to be generous, compassionate, and really-how to live well. They are capable of teaching life lessons to our kids virtually without us lifting a finger. Yeap I’m in.   

I have included a list of my own favorites below. This is not all inclusive. Not even close. But I went through my shelves, literally and figuratively, and did my best to compile a list of books I love and cherish. I asked my girls to do the same. Clearly, their input was vital. There are a handful I have in the last section which they have yet to read. For instance, Left to Tell, The Liberator, and a few others. Don’t worry. I have them on their “suggested reading” list. Likewise, there are some on that same list which my girls have read, but I have not (yet). When Shelby was just a toddler, and we said, “Shelby get your books,” she literally walked across the living room floor carrying a pile of books almost as tall as she was. What a sweet memory. And then there was Paul reading chapter books at bed time. I will never forget when he was reading Charlotte’s Web, and as Charlotte died, he turned and looked at little 6-year-old Shelby, who was absolutely silent with big droplets of tears rolling down her cheeks. And just like that she experienced the death of a friend. She experienced loss in a profound way, by reading it in a book. It helps prepare them for the real-life experiences that are sure to come their way. We can’t stop those real-life experiences. So we should let books lend us a hand. Halle and Katie Ann had their favorites too. Besides E. B. White, we must have read Princesses Are Not Quitters, Just Us Women, and The Relatives Came,a thousand times. Arthur, DW, Henry, Mudge, Eloise, Katie Kazoo, Nancy Drew, and so many others were all personal friends of ours. It seemed as if they lived in the same house with us. 

On “Judy’s Favorites List,” please use your own measuring stick for your child. In other words, if you feel like there is something on the “Elementary Age” list, that should wait for “Tweens/Teens,” then that is your prerogative. I categorized the lists based on my own experience with my three girls. You can and should custom build your reading lists for your children.

A final thought. I am a Jesus follower, so there has always been a generous number of faith filled books on our reading list. Francine Rivers for instance is one of our favorites. Shelby and I read “Her Mother’s Hope” and “Her Daughter’s Dream” simultaneously. Rivers’ book “Redeeming Love” is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written about a woman’s worth and not only that, but how a young girl’s opinion of her own worth impacts her sexual choices. We have tons of favorite Christian authors for sure. But secular books have had just as powerful an impact on my kids and on their faith journey. The Glass Castle is a poignant memoir about a young girl who was raised in a sea of dysfunction. It’s a book that made my girls’ childhood look like a tiptoe in the daises. They need to see that. They need to know and understand that other people live lives in stark contrast from theirs. The book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a jaw dropping story of American surgeon Sumner Jackson and his family who lived and died after the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII. It is a riveting and true story. And how could we ever forget To Kill A Mockingbird? Every person’s experiences and journeys hold life lessons for all of us. Our faith guided our choice of reading for sure. But it did not censor our choices. The two things are not the same. We have always tried to steer out kids away from the inane, pointless, shallow offerings of the world. The same is true in our choices of books and media. One day Shelby picked up what she thought would just be a short fun read based on the fact we had just seen the movie of the same title, Confessions of a Shopaholic which was rated PG. She figured the movie was cute, so why not read the book? Quite on her own, she intentionally left it behind in the hotel where we were staying. When I asked her why, she said “language.”  Wow, and just like that, all those years of age appropriate reading and guiding them into age appropraite books (and media choices) seemed to instill wisdom in her. Suddenly they had their own sense of books that were worthy of their time and those that weren’t. Books that point them to truth, fiction or non fiction, and those that don’t. Sure, all three of them have read a lot of books since then with colorful language and content. But the language and the content served a purpose. In those cases, it was neither shallow or pointless. 

We also found that reading age appropriate books with our kids in an environment where they were loved unconditionally helped us quite naturally graduate them to the next level. As they moved into different stages of growth, so did their books. For instance, if you let them read the Hunger Game Series in the 3rd grade, they may never want to read The Little House series or Chronicles of Narnia. And how sad would that be?

The best thing ever your child will say to you one day: “Mom you have to read this book. Then we can talk about it. You’ll love it.” That is exactly what Halle said to me after reading The Poisonwood Bible for her Senior AP English Literature class in high school. You can bet I grabbed it up and devoured it. Because guess what? It rendered an in-depth sit-down discussion with my sweet girl that happened all because we read the same book. 

Happy reading everyone.

My book list is below along with other resources. On the links provided, click twice, once here and once again on the next page.

Additional resources that I highly recommend:

  • The Bible
  • “Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Bruner
  • “Honey For a Child’s Heart,” by  Gladys Hunt
  • “Honey For a Teen’s Heart,” by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton
  • “For the Children’s Sake,” by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay

Judy’s Favorite Books list https://judymccarver.com/?attachment_id=2400

Additional Wondeful Book Resources : Book Lists and Guidance https://judymccarver.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Reading-Resources-For-Children-and-Parents.docx

Link to Judy’s book “Parenting With Gumption and Grit” https://www.amazon.com/Parenting-Gumption-Grit-Must-Read-Influence/dp/1595559442/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1C20JIY5H42DI&keywords=judy+mccarver&qid=1562697716&s=gateway&sprefix=judy+mcc%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-1

Faith part 1: Believing God Can even when he does not…

I have only to consider the beauty of nature when I wonder for even a single second if God “can.”

This may be an oldie (post) but a goodie.

Recently, an acquaintance made an innocent statement that said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will.” I think this could be misleading. Okay, I think in some cases it could even be bad theology-depending on what the writer is referring to-our preferred outcomes OR God’s power. I flip this around a little bit. Because I believe faith IS indeed believing that God can– even when He does NOT. Faith is believing in the power of God even when the outcome is not to my liking. If your life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, does that render your God powerless? The short answer to that is “No.” But how often do you unconsciously act this out in your life, “My faith will be strong when_________” “I will believe in the power of God when I see this happen:_____________” Well, let’s see, When I meet the perfect man or woman and get married. When I have a baby. When I get that great job. When I see my children to adulthood. “ OR I will believe in the power of God as long as ____________ (fill in your own blank) Really? Is God’s power contingent upon our preferred outcomes? The bible says that God’s plans will not be thwarted. (Job 42:2, Isaiah 14:27) It doesn’t say the same thing about our plans. In fact, it says just the opposite. (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:10 and Proverbs 19:21) Many Christians are missing great opportunities to serve God and cheating themselves of the abundant life promised us in John 10:10- because they are still waiting on that perfect marriage, that perfect church, perfect children, perfect job and ministry, and well-a perfect life by a standard that perhaps for years has been propagated by false theology, “Faith is not believing that God can but that God will…” (Fill in the blank) make my marriage perfect; Save my children from disastrous outcomes; give me the perfect job with the perfect boss with the perfect salary. 

Another way this might manifest itself: Well, maybe, rather than talk about problems in our marriage with a close and trusted Godly friend (of the same gender,) we keep it to ourselves. After all, if my marriage is in trouble, it must mean I don’t have enough faith, or the faith I have isn’t strong enough to ignite God’s power. It couldn’t be that sharing the daily issues of anxiety and strain and seeking out Godly counsel might put my marriage on a different path. Or, maybe rather than join a small group or enlist a mentor, I would avoid investing in deep intimate relationships, and not expect a small group or mentor experience to help me grow into spiritual maturity. If I need the help of someone else for that, then my faith must not be strong enough. Remember in this scenario, faith is not believing that God can, but that God will…” so that if he doesn’t then it must be me and my lack of belief. I think this theology possibly leads us to thinking that as a “Christian,” we must have it together at all times and always have the answer to our problems. If this were true, then Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, David, Esther, Ruth, Paul the Apostle, Peter, and a host of other Godly biblical men and women were the wrong people for the task at hand. Christianity would most certainly have died in the 1st century. It wasn’t perfect marriages, or perfect ministries, perfect leadership or perfect children that caused the glory of God to shine forth through these men and women. Rather it was their imperfect lives striving to be more and more like Jesus that made all the difference. 

I love love love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Look at Daniel 3 with me. Okay, are you there yet? (Humming my favorite song.) Giving you time to go to Daniel 3 in your hard copy bibles, or your electronic bible; Okay got it? Now read verses 13-18. What do you see there? Some of the most powerful words in scripture you will ever read about 3 of the most faith filled God followers you will ever know. The Pagan king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three teenage boys into a hot fiery furnace if they did not bow down to him. This was there reply. And no matter how often I read it, it always gives me goose bumps. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They knew and believed that God was way more powerful than that fiery furnace. They trusted 100% in the power of God to rescue them from that furnace, but they also knew that God’s plans would not be thwarted even if their desired outcome was different. “But even if he does not choose to rescue us from death or give us what we want or what we think we need, we will still believe in Him.” (paraphrase) 

Okay, we know the end to that story. God did indeed save them from the fiery pit that day. But similar accounts did not always end this way. During Nero’s reign as Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, he arrested and tortured Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches. This included men, women, and children. Indeed Paul the Apostle was martyred in Rome around 64AD and this would have been under Nero’s reign of terror. We also know from scripture and history that all the disciples of Jesus (not including Judas Iscariot) met with violent martyred deaths, with the exception of John who ostensibly died of natural causes on the Island of Patmos. One might ask, “Was their faith not strong enough for God to show God’s power?” 

God is always faithful. God is always good. God will always prevail. How do we know this? The lesson was played out on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that the One to whom we raise our hands and voices is King over all. The Creator of this Universe is more powerful than anything we could hope or imagine 1st and foremost. This power PRECLUDES our existence! Grappling with this truth will render us hopeless and “fruitless,” as we expend our energy waiting and hoping for someone or something to fill in all the missing blanks of our lives so that our faith can “prove itself.” On the other hand, grasping this truth will free us from a stronghold of futility and hopelessness and position us to grow in the knowledge and joy of Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are you grappling or grasping this truth?

The Parenting Club

If there were ever an unofficial club I enjoyed being part of, it was and is the parenting club. Remember when your kids were babies and toddlers and you hung out with moms and dads of babies and toddlers? You shared stories of sleepless nights, first steps, first words, and potty training. Then you moved into the next season of parenting school-aged littles, and offered one another advice on a myriad of topics about sports teams, dance studios, the best schools, birthday parties, discipline, meal planning, and the list goes on and on. If you were really lucky, you took your parent friends with you into the years of puberty, hormonal imbalances, homecomings, high school, and the drama of teens all of which subsequently caused all of us to question our sanity even on the best of days. You lamented together about teaching your kids to drive, the challenges of talking to your kids about sex, and the hopes you had for their future. And then young adulthood happened. Suddenly you were moving them into college dorms, and you wondered where did all of those sweet years go and how in the world did they pass by so fast? But even here, you don’t have to lament alone. Because you have surrounded yourself with other parents, imperfect like you, but still striving to do their best job with the charge they have been given. Now this club, of sorts, you have belonged to perhaps since birthing classes, has catapulted you to a new stage of parenting young adults. And then? Married kids. Perhaps grandchildren. Kids on their own dime. Congrats. You have achieved lifetime status in your club. Parent first and foremost with your parenting partner, the other parent of your child. And secondly, find a “club” of fellow moms and fellow dads who lovingly and with compassion are willing to come along beside you and prop you up in the most joyful of times and the most difficult. That latter part is especially paramount if you don’t have a parenting partner. This is the hardest job you will ever do. But it should also be the most joyful job you ever do. It should never be entered into lightly or alone.

I have a book set to release May 14th, 2019 called “Parenting with Gumption and Grit: 52 Must-Read Parenting Tips for Anyone who has Ever Loved a Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.” Tip #1 Don’t Go it Alone. I hope this book also addresses a LOT of the particulars listed above that are simply inevitable at every stage of parenting. No, my parenting club is not a card carrying private group. It’s just a big bunch of close friends who have ridden out this journey with us as we laughed, cried, hoped, prayed, and grew our children together. And my club is not necessarily only composed of parents. It could be aunts, uncles, grandparents, mentors, “Anyone who has Ever Loved MY Child Enough to Want to Influence Their Future.”

I  have no grand illusions about this book selling millions of copies or about being invited to the Ellen Show. Indeed Tips #1-#13 Smart Parenting Choices may even make you drowsy. Tips #14-#18 Teach Them Life Skills may seem super basic. Tips #19-#22 regarding the Parent Trap and Letting Them Go might make you mad. Tip #25 The Sex Talk might make you downright uncomfortable. Tips #33-#35 Managing Their Media may tempt you to stop reading any further. Character Tips #36-#42 such as teaching them Kindness over Tolerance or True Faith not Religion or No Excuse for Rude, all may challenge you deeply. And Tip #44 I Messed up: Do the Next Right Thing may encourage you exceedingly. Tip #49 Just Parent your Child may convict you.  Tip #50 None of us Gets a Free Pass may frighten you.  And Tip #52 simply reminds you…of what is important. I hope all of these emotions happen when you read this book and more, (Except the drowsy part).

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.