Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Review

Last Sunday at church, we were invited to think back on everything that has happened in the last year. We were reminded to think about not only the good things, but also the challenges. We were encouraged to think about the things that have been difficult. As I sat there in the still moments, I realized how much has happened in the last 12 months. So today on New Years Eve, I wanted to offer a quick year in review, mostly in chronological order.

On the first day of last year we waiting in line outside for our visas for over 24 hours! We stayed warm and got to know the people around us. We made some good friendships that night! It is not something we want to do every year, but it was great to see the body of Christ come and visit us (and even bring us McDonald's cheeseburgers out in the cold)!

Bethany and Nate with their visa paperwork
After we applied for our visas, we left for England where we spent a few months with some WorldVenture colleagues. We learned about tea, sheep and seeing God move in the face of difficult times. It was challenging, stretching and rewarding to be a part of what God was doing there!

In February, we picked up our visas and in March, we returned to Austria. We set up our apartment and started up again at language school.

We spent most of the spring and summer studying German in a language school.

We had two new additions to our family. In August, we picked up our new puppy Mozzy.

We also found out that we were expecting our first child. Much of our time in the fall and winter has been preparing for our new little bundle of joy to arrive early in 2014.

Thinking back on all of this, the word that came to mind for me was "faithful." The Lord has continually been faithful to us to provide for our needs in so many ways. He has led some very wonderful people into our lives and given us far more than we could have asked for or imagined! It is easy to have a forward focus on life and always be looking to the next thing, but it is equally important to meditate on the ways that God has provided for his people.

Question: How will you seek to remember what God has done this last year?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Baby Update and Prayer Request

We've been on an interesting journey over the last 6 weeks and I thought it would be helpful to share the full story here on the blog. At least with this platform, I may not have to explain and repeat myself quite as much!

At about 29 weeks into the pregnancy, we found out that my amniotic fluid level was very low. Sometimes this happens randomly and sometimes there are more serious reasons for this problem. When we saw this on the ultrasound, my doctor had me go right away to the hospital for a high resolution ultrasound and a test to check the baby's heartrate, in an effort to make sure the baby was still doing well and growing appropriately. Thankfully, everything looked great. Since that time, I've gone regularly for more screenings to make sure she's still doing well.

The only downside to the low fluid level is that it's very hard for her to move around in there! Ever since my appointment at 29 weeks, she's been head up and hasn't turned around. We've tried several homeopathic/natural ways to encourage her to turn, but it looks like she's just not able to turn to face the right direction for a natural birth (especially now that she's bigger).

So, we've scheduled a c-section date for January 6th, which is earlier than we thought she would be coming! But our doctor has advised us that a little earlier is better in this case, because the risk of the umbilical cord being compressed in those final weeks goes up as the fluid levels go down. And she doesn't want me to go into labor and have to have an emergency c-section. Planned is much better. She'll be nearly 38 weeks at that point, so she'll be fully developed and able to live outside of the womb.

I'm writing all this to say that it's been an interesting journey and a learning process for us over these last few weeks. The pregnancy was very uneventful for a long time and perhaps we took that for granted. Now I have a much greater appreciation for the fact that our little girl is healthy and for the miracle that she is. Every baby is a true wonder and now I think I understand that more. It's also been a blessing for me to have time to let the idea of a c-section sink in. I am thankful for that gift, because an emergency c-section would have been much more difficult for me to handle. With weeks to think and pray about it, I've been able to come to peace and to prepare and inform myself about what is to come.

Please pray for us on January 6th and in the weeks leading up to her birth date. Please pray for peace for me, since this is my first time having surgery of any kind and I'm a bit nervous. Please pray for the baby's health, my health and for our recovery. And of course, for God's blessing over us as we adjust to being a family of three!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nuance of Language

Now that we have moved on into the upper levels of German, we are venturing into the territory of language nuance. In this world, learning becomes less about straight forward words and definitions and more about how, when and why particular words are used to communicate feelings, thoughts and subtleties. 

For example, there might be a verb you can use to communicate the idea "I did my homework". But there might also be several other verbs to replace the verb "did" that sound better and add variety to your vocabulary. Some of those verbs might imply that you completed all of your homework, while others might imply that you simply worked on it. Some may imply how quickly or with what attitude you did your homework.

Another example is two words that overlap in meaning by 80 or 90 percent. We may be tempted to call these two words "synonyms" but in reality, that 10 or 20% of difference puts these words in different categories. That percentage of difference is more important that the similarity between the words. Sometimes, the words may be used interchangeably, but at other times, one word would be inappropriate in place of the other. 

The difficulty comes when the difference in meaning between two words is difficult, or even impossible, to explain. Here come the nuances. Some words you just need to experience over and over again in context to learn how to use them and when they are appropriate or not. You can't simply write the difference in definition down on a flash card and memorize it - you need to experiment with the word and then ask if you used it correctly. You need to listen for the word and mentally note the situation in which it was used by a native speaker. This requires patience, endurance and attention in social/language situations. This is especially true when we have just one word for something in English, but there are multiple words used in the foreign language you are learning.

It's encouraging to be at the stage where we have moved beyond basic grammar and vocab. However, this nuanced stage of language learning brings it's own challenges. It can be more difficult to notice and celebrate progress when the steps we take and advances we make are are now smaller and subtler. It requires a different level of focus and a less concrete learning strategy. It's another step in the long journey towards fluency. 

Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Gospel in the Classroom

At the beginning of the language learning process, the topics of conversation were pretty basic. We learned to build sentences that you would find in most children's books. We talked about farm animals, daily objects and seasons. At that time, it was very challenging to be in a room with educated and fascinating people and discuss such basic topics.

Once we reached a level that was a bit deeper in the language, we could talk about more complicated topics in class. It was fascinating to ask deeper questions and hear the range of backgrounds and stories that many people carry with them.

The last few weeks of school, we discussed a pretty heavy topic in class, namely juvenile crime. The conversations tended to wander, and we were soon talking about what causes someone to commit a crime or kill someone. A few people in class put out the idea that only "abnormal" people commit serious crimes, especially crimes like murder. 

Through this conversation I had the chance to explain the Christian view of the source of evil and the possibility for evil that lays in every human heart. I find it a truly humbling part of Christian theology to recognize how much potential for wrong-doing lives in me. I ended my statement by pointing to the good news, and that it can't really be good news unless the reality is really bad. Basically, we don't need a savior unless there is something to be saved from. And this something is not just in the life to come, but also in our daily lives here. It was interesting to share this in class and to hear other reactions.

This conversation was difficult, but it was also very interesting and rewarding. I think it is all too rare for Christians to have honest conversations about faith with people who don't agree with them.  And it was a stretching experience to discuss these topics in German. I hope and pray I have more opportunities like this!