Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Birth Story

I've decided to share the story of Maya's birth here, both for my own processing and for the interest of those who want to know. Personally, I really enjoy reading and listening to other mothers' birth stories, and I really appreciate what seems to be a recent trend of women sharing these stories with each other to affirm the miracle of birth, acknowledge how different each birth story can be and to remember such an important event in the life of a family. While I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time listening to the Birth Hour, which allows women to tell their birth stories.

The following gets pretty personal, so read at your own risk. 🙂

As many of you know, Ellie was born via c-section almost 3 years ago. It was discovered at 29 weeks that my amniotic fluid was low (about half the normal amount), and she needed extra monitoring to make sure she was developing properly. She was also breech and didn't turn, no matter what we did (she had less space to move around, due to the low fluid). So she ended up being a planned c-section a few weeks early.

As soon as Ellie was born, I started asking my doctor and midwife about the possibility of VBAC for my next birth (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I didn't want to get locked in to having c-sections for every birth, and I wanted the experience of a vaginal delivery. Both my care providers said a VBAC was definitely an option, should I have a pregnancy without complications. 

Fast forward to Maya. My due date came and went, without any signs that she was coming soon. At 39 weeks and 40 weeks, I wasn't dilated at all but there was some effacement and my cervix was "very soft" (whatever that means!). Maya was still very high up and wasn't dropping. I had a few contractions at night two nights in a row towards the end, but they didn't turn into anything substantial. She didn't seem to indicate she was ready to come out yet. I was anxious, because I knew my doctor wouldn't let me go very far past my due date, and induction options are limited with a VBAC, because they can increase the chances of uterine rupture at the precious incision. For some reason, I had little faith in my body to go into labor on its own, and I kept telling my midwife, "I'm not surprised she's late. I'm not sure this is going to happen." I wonder, looking back, if my body wasn't ready, because I was so tense and nervous about it all.

Finally, 8 days past my due date, I started trying home induction methods. I used my breastpump, went on long walks, took homeopathic herbs, and then on Tuesday, October 18, I followed a recipe from my midwife for an egg dish with castor oil. I ate it at 4:15 pm, and it tasted fatty but surprisingly, not as bad as I expected. I started trying to line up childcare for Ellie, in the event that the castor oil got things going. At first, I felt queasy but no other symptoms. At 6:45pm, I ended up on the toilet with diarrhea. Then around Ellie's bedtime at 8pm, I started feeling some tightening and discomfort. By 10pm, I started having some contractions. I got in bed soon after, but couldn't sleep and finally got up at 12:15 am when the contractions were intensifying and lying down didn't feel comfortable anymore. They continued throughout the whole night, but weren't so painful that I couldn't cope or breathe through them. I was up all night listening to podcasts, emptying the dish washer and cleaning the house, and bouncing on my birth ball, with contractions lasting a minute and being about 3 - 5 minutes apart.

Ellie eating breakfast with our friends
I was texting regularly with my midwife and finally around 4:45am, we decided to call friends and go in to the hospital. My midwife didn't want us to wait too long, so I could be monitored during labor (because of the VBAC and risks of rupture). We left for the hospital at about 6:30am, but between 5 and 6:30 am, my contractions slowed way way down, to about 10 - 12 minutes apart. I think dealing with logistics and packing up got me distracted and this seemed to affect the contractions. I was nervous about this, but then my contractions picked up in the car on the way to the hospital. We arrived at about 7am and got settled in a delivery room. We turned on our LED candles and essential oil diffuser to create an "atmosphere" in the room.
My water broke just as I arrived in the delivery room to meet my midwife. It was only a little bit (apparently it broke at the top of the sack and not the bottom, so it was only a trickle...I didn't know this was a thing). She checked me and I was dilated to 1 cm. This made me excited that at least I had progressed a little, even if it was barely anything! We hung out in the delivery room for a few hours and also went up onto the outdoor terrace of the hospital to get some fresh air and walk around. At this point, though, the timing of my contractions was a bit sporadic and less regular than it had been at night. I was monitored sporadically to check on Maya. She was doing fine.
Since I had been up all night, I was exhausted, so I tried to lay down on the bed for a moment. I fell asleep and woke up 45 minutes later, very distressed that I had had no contractions for the whole 45 minute nap. This was, in fact, the beginning of a 6 hour lull where I had absolutely no contractions at all. :( I was so discouraged during this time. I wanted to go for a walk to see if that would make things start up again, but I wasn't allowed to leave the hospital. We sat in our room, watching TV on netflix, listening to podcasts and eating lunch. Absolutely nothing was happening. I also spent time figuring out who was going to stay with Ellie for the next few days (it ended up being a complicated puzzle!), because I knew Maya would be arriving some time soon one way or another (because my water had broken).

Finally, at 4pm, my midwife broke my water more fully and then we started pitocin to see if that would help things start back up. Since Maya hadn't descended and I was only at this point dilated to a 2/3, she thought an epidural might help relax everything and help me progress with the pitocin. We started a low dose and contractions did start showing up on the monitor, but things were inconsistent. After the pitocin was increased, the contractions got stronger and more regular, but my midwife kept checking me every hour and progress seemed negligible. She checked me during a contraction and said that it seemed like the top of my uterus was contracting, but not the whole thing and perhaps that was why the cervix wasn't dilating and Maya wasn't coming down. We increased the pitocin again and kept hoping and praying things would change.

Late that evening, between 10 - 11 pm, other things started to happen that indicated things weren't going well. I started bleeding a little and the midwife was concerned about the source of the bleeding. We had reached the maximum dose of pitocin that my doctor was comfortable with and contractions were still inconsistent. I was dliated to about a 4/5 but Maya was still high up. Then, even with the epidural, I started to experience pain with contractions, which my midwife later told me could have been a potential rupture at my previous c-section incision. 

I was at this point given antibiotics, because my water had been broken for 15 hours. My doctor came in to check on progress and was concerned that my body didn't seem to be responding to all of these interventions, and baby wasn't engaging. We had tried everything and had exhausted our options. Plus, with the bleeding and pain, it seemed like baby needed to come out soon. We agreed that we needed to give up at that point and opt for a c-section.

It was a very emotional moment for me. I had spent months preparing and hoping and praying for a vaginal birth, and it seemed like I had so many things in my favor - great care providers, a healthy pregnancy without complications, etc. But sometimes, God has other plans. It was very difficult to give up this dream. There were a lot of tears. But I was also ready for all of it to be over and to meet Maya.

Once we decided to move forward with a c-section, things went fast. They increased my epidural dose, got me into a gown and prepped and then wheeled me into the operating room. (This seemed to happen very quickly to me, with a flurry of activity, but Nate later told me he had plenty of time to pack up our things, bring them to our room and get into scrubs, etc.) On the way to surgery, I nearly passed out in bed from lying on my back and had to lie on my side for a few minutes to recover.

The surgery went very well. Because I had been through it before and knew what to expect, I was pretty calm. I shook a lot, which happened to me last time as well due to the cold and a side effect of the anesthesia. Lots of teeth chattering! When Nate came in, he played songs from Keith and Krystin Getty's album "In Christ Alone" right near my hear to keep me calm. (This is my favorite worship music album). They pulled Maya out at 12:16am, just barely on October 20th (her oldest cousin's birthday!). I didn't have any pain, but I always say from both my c-section experiences that the physical sensation of feeling them pulling and tugging to get the baby out is the weirdest thing I've ever felt. She cried right away, and we were also both crying and feeling very emotional about her finally being here. Both my arms were free to hold and snuggle her. 

After a little while, Nate took her to another room to get her cleaned up with the midwife and I had a nice chat with the nurses in the operating room while they stitched me up. These nurses were so friendly and our conversation really helped distract me from the rest of the surgery. This part went by more quickly than with Ellie's birth. I also asked to see the placenta, which I found very fascinating (and an interesting distraction). Then my doctor said "all done!" and I was surprised at how quickly everything had gone. I got wheeled into the recovery room and finally really got to hold and nurse Maya. We made phone calls to family and then Nate took Maya up to our room, while I stayed in recovery for a few more hours to be monitored and to rest. I didn't make it to our room until about 4am.

Looking back on the birth, I don't think I could have or would have done anything differently. I think we intervened at the right times and did all we could, but my body just wasn't able to fully engage in the process or just wasn't ready for some reason. I dealt tearfully with a lot of disappointment the first week I was home, but I was able to process the experience with Nate, my midwife and some other friends who had been through similar things. I have peace about the final outcome after some of this processing time. I am thankful to live in an age where medical interventions can happen so that both my girls were born healthy. I will probably never give birth the "traditional way" but in the end, God knew this outcome before I did and He protected me along the way. I am thankful to have recovered very smoothly and quickly from the surgery, something I should not take for granted.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Feel free to share thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Unintended Consequences of Marriage

Recently I had an interesting conversation. I was talking with a friend about his relationship with his gielfriend, and he made a comment to the extent of, "I have learned so much about myself in this relationship." We went on to discuss the ways in which dating and marriage are huge tools used by God as He molds us more and more into His likeness.

As we were talking about this, it made me realize something. There are a variety of reasons that people get into a relationship or start dating someone. Sometimes it is just because it is fun or it works. It is the thing to do. Often people want companionship, someone to share life with.  I find it fascinating that God takes this desire within us, this piece of ourselves, and He uses it in such a different way than what we intend it.

In marriage, we are constantly confronted with our own sin. There are points where the other person accepts our sinfulness and failings. But so often we get caught on the carpet. We get caught in our self-lies and self-deception. We are caught as the patterns of sin in our hearts bubble up. We can often fool people from a distance, but a spouse is in close. They see the ways that we fail time and again at the same thing, not just once or twice, but consistently. As a recently married college friend once stated, there are times when his wife looks at him and would just ask, "what are you doing?" He said he often couldn't even answer the question. Our ability to deceive ourselves is strong, and marriage pulls back the cover and lets light flow into those hidden areas.

In marriage, we are also confronted with another sinner. We see not only our own sin, but we have to deal with the sin of another. We get the chance to view their sin up close. Because they are also not as familiar to us, it can be equally as eye opening. We also see the consequence in a new light. And when those choices affect us, it brings another new perspective in. It leads to the interplay between grace and justice. If we only ever sought justice with our spouse, it would very quickly degrade into keeping score. When fairness becomes the ultimate goal no one wins, because it is impossible. There is no way to keep things equal.

Finally, in marriage, forgiveness takes on a different flavor as we are the one being forgiven and needing forgiveness. In marriage, we can learn the power of confession and forgiveness as we seek to live in peace with one another. This proximity, this being in each other's business, has the effect of forcing us to confront our own sin and the other person's sin. We then have the chance to confess and be forgiven, or to receive the other person's confession and to forgive them. We are given daily practice in this necessary process for the Christian life.

Talking to this younger guy was a great reminder of how God has used my marriage to shape and mold me. After a few years, I think it is easier to get into a routine, but I needed the reminder as well to press into those learning opportunities from God. I need to remember to grab those chances to forgive and be forgiven. Through that process of confession and forgiveness, we taste something truly divine, something that only comes from God. The chance to let go of ourselves and be free from the weight of keeping score and comparison. We often get into marriage for different reasons, but it is great to see how God uses it to make us more like him.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Our First Outreach

This Friday night was our first formal attempt to reach out to our neighbors. A musician who is friends with a few of my family members, Jason Harrod, reached out a few months ago because he was attempting to plan a small European tour. I helped him organize a concert at a bilingual church in Vienna, and then we decided also to host a small living room concert as a chance to invite our neighbors over. (House concerts is a common way that Jason performs and that was his suggestion.)
We decided a bit last minute to host this performance, because we wanted to see how we were coping with a newborn at home. Since things were going smoothly, we decided to go for it...but that meant we only had about a week and a half to invite people. Once we printed invitations and started going door-to-door, that meant just a week for people to decide to come and RSVP. We think this was a bit of a hindrance to people coming. 
Austrians also tend to be very private people, so our expectations of attendance were low because of this. It's rare someone will come to an event not knowing anyone else personally. However, despite these obstacles, inviting people to the event became a wonderful opportunity to introduce ourselves to our new neighbors and to "break the ice". Even for those who didn't come, we at least can put names with some faces and start to greet people we see in the neighborhood!

Four neighbors and one American friend attended. We had a great time laughing and talking before the concert and because it was a small group, there was much more time to get to know each other. We were able to tell everyone why we moved to Gerasdorf, why we are in Austria, etc. and also explain some of the tenants of the evangelical faith that make it unique from Catholicism (the branch of Christianity Austrians are typically familiar with).

Overall, it was a huge success. For us, it was about relationships and not about numbers. God truly answered our prayers, and we are hopeful this will give us the momentum to be able to continue inviting neighbors over for fellowship and deepening relationships. We want our neighbors to know us as welcoming, inviting, hospitable, and most importantly of all, loving in a way that points directly to Christ.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Family Photos

We had the opportunity to have a photographer come to the house to capture our family of four. We are so thankful for these beautiful photos and for how well the photographer captured the early days of Maya's life. We are enjoyed this cute, snuggly addition to our family!

Do I Really Need to Learn this Lesson Again?

Patience. It's something that I definitely lack, and I don't think I'm alone in this. I've always been a do-er and a task-oriented person that likes to complete things. This has it's advantages: I get things done quickly and efficiently most of the time. But it's disadvantages are also numerous: sometimes I do tasks too quickly (and not carefully), and I don't like waiting for things to be done. When something is moving more slowly than I'd like, it's tough for me to be patient.

Since August, our patience has been greatly tested with two things in our life: our car and our basement. Even as I write this, these things sound mundane and minor, but I've been surprised how much stress they've caused me and how much I am struggling to be patient with these two things.

First, the car. We purchased the car in early August and it has had persistent problems ever since. It has broken down on the road once and returned to the mechanic at least 5 times for more repairs. We've spent much more money on repairs than we planned, and there have been many days we have not had the car available to use, because it was being fixed. The car story just seems to drag on and on. What's more, driving the car has been stressing Nate out, because he has been worried about it breaking down again. The day he picked Maya and me up from the hospital to come home, the car was sputtering, and he was praying, "God, please just let me get my wife and newborn baby home safely".

Then there's the basement. We had flooding in our basement the night we moved into our house. This was on September 10th, and the basement drying process isn't done yet. A professional company was hired by our landlords to get all of the moisture out of the basement, especially the standing water under the tile floor. Each time a deadline is set to remove the equipment from the basement so we can use the space again, something goes wrong: an appointment is missed, the drying is not yet complete, the devices need to be name it. Having these professional drying devices in the basement means that it's approximately 95 degrees F down there, and Nate can't work in his office space. It means our basement guest room can't be used, and we have our first guest coming this Friday. It means the whole basement is a mess, and this drives me crazy. This also means we've been dealing with our renter's insurance company and our landlord's insurance company, which is stressful (especially in a foreign language). We're still not sure who is going to fit the bill for this professional drying process.

I've been asking God a few questions through all of this...first of all, why does all of this stress me out so much? And why do all of these challenging things seem to hit at once, while we're dealing with a move, a new baby and a new ministry? But more importantly, why haven't I learned to be more patient already? Why do I still struggle with waiting and trusting? God, can you help me keep these small things in perspective?

There is something about living cross-culturally that adds a level of difficulty and stress to all of the normal stressors of life. It magnifies small struggles and makes them bigger. This is why we need God's patience and peace to pervade our attitudes and reactions even more. Please pray for us during the times when our patience is tested, that we would display Christ-like attitudes and not our own!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Maya Elizabeth is here!

It is our pleasure to announce that Maya Elizabeth Johnson made her entrance into the world on Thursday, October 20th at 12:16 am, weighing 7 lb. 4 oz. and measuring 20.5 inches. Mama and Maya are doing very well and should be going home soon.

Maya's arrival was a bit of a challenging and emotional journey, but we are very thankful for the final outcome and that Bethany's recovery is going well. We had been hoping for a VBAC, but after many hours of labor, very little progress and some increased risks, we agreed with the doctor's recommendation for a c-section. Thankfully, everything went very smoothly, and Bethany was up and around the next day. Maya has been sleeping and eating well, and she enjoyed meeting her big sister on Thursday afternoon. Thanks for your prayer for our family!
Our first family photo (minus the other two minions, Ellie & Mozzy)

Big sister and baby sister meet

Sleeping on her first day of life...lots to take in!
And now with eyes open!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New House, New Baby, New Ministry

For this month's update, we'd like to share a quick video of a tour of the new house and prayer requests for us. We are so appreciative of your prayers during this major time of transition for us. Thank you!

Monday, September 19, 2016

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Our life has changed a LOT in the last month. And some of those changes we are still experiencing for the first time!

Our new (to us) car
First, we purchased our first car in Austria. After not owning a car for 4 years, it's been a new experience to navigate car ownership in a new country. And to get used to getting around in a vehicle again! (I have yet to learn how to drive a stick shift more changes to come!)

After the car, we signed a lease on a townhouse outside of Vienna and started the moving process.

Holding up the house keys! 
Signing the lease!

Now, we are living in the townhouse and beginning to feel settled. But the changes keep coming! Although we are living just a kilometer from the border of Vienna, we can definitely say we are not in Kansas anymore. Living in the town of Gerasdorf feels completely different than our former city life.

Here are just a few things we are getting used to...

  • People are kinder and friendlier here! A lot! The Viennese do not have a reputation for being very polite or offering a very high standard of customer service. We got very used to this. But so far, nearly every service person we've interacted with in Gerasdorf has been polite and helpful. Each time, we've been so surprised by it. Today, we went to register at the local government office and the women working there were so kind and friendly. They emphasized that we could call anytime if we have questions and they even cracked jokes! We commented on the difference between our experience here and in Vienna, and they promptly said, "Yes, we hope it's different. That's something we're very proud of." The people of Gerasdorf appreciate having access to a big city, but living in a small town...and they show it through their kindness.

  • Bugs! It is very uncommon to have windows here in Austria with screens on them to keep bugs out. In the city, this was absolutely no problem and a few flies here and there never hurt anyone. But here, there are more bugs and bigger bugs and at night, especially after a hot day, opening the windows can mean insect galore. I had mosquito bites after just a few days and Ellie got her first, as well. Guess we have to be more strategic around here in the summer about window opening!

  • We have to be more strategic with going shopping and getting places. Thankfully, we can still walk to the post office, grocery store, bakery and pharmacy. But anywhere else requires a little more planning or a car trip. The bus only runs every 20 minutes, so we don't get home as quickly. We don't mind, but it's an adjustment. The other day, I was in the city for a doctor's appointment and proceeded to get errands done at 6 or 7 different stores, just because I wasn't sure when my next opportunity would be. This is a new experience!

  • We can see the city skyline from here, but from quite a long distance. Otherwise, we can see other houses, apartments and a big open field. No more busy streets and tall buildings!

  • Having a house is a bit different than an apartment. We are still getting used to climbing up and down flights of stairs (and trying to remember to bring something upstairs so you don't have to climb the stairs over and over again). We are dealing with water heater issues and mowing the grass in the yard. Mozzy is also adjusting. He has yet to poop in the yard, and we're not sure when he is going to figure out that he's allowed we have to keep taking him out on walks. Having a house is a HUGE blessing, but it comes with some lifestyle changes!

  • We have more space for our family and for ministry. We finally have enough storage space for our baby things, outdoor equipment and many other items, that were previously very difficult to access in our basement storage locker. We feel less crammed and have more space to entertain and show hospitality. We have space for our growing family. We are very thankful that God has provided this larger space that seems to be a better fit for us and for the work we hope to do here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

So what are the needs?

We've been asked in the past questions about why Austria needs missionaries, as well as what types of gifts or skills might be best utilized here. The answer is: many!

To give you a better sense of the spiritual and ministry needs in Austria and how perhaps YOU could be a part of meeting these needs, we worked with a WorldVenture summer media team to produce the following video. We hope it gives you a sense of how varied and vast the needs are here in Vienna.

If you want to talk more about joining us team, please contact us!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Processing - Part 2

I am continuing to think about my time in Tirol and my observations of our interns there. In part 1, I talked about the role of expectations in ministry and our emotional processing of events. Head over there and check out that part, as well. In this part I want to discuss something that is rarely talked about in leadership today. This idea gets almost no air time at all. No one writes books about this, or gives lectures or conferences about it. But it is essential to the function of a team and is needed in every single leadership role. The idea I want to examine is following. What does it mean to follow a leader? How can we, as those under leadership, work with leaders to make them more effective and help them to equip us to accomplish our roles?

In part 2, I want to discuss something I saw very quickly about camp. Camp is a leadership incubator. There are so many different roles and responsibilities. Camps function different ways, but I can break down a bit of what I observed. Our interns were under three program staff that were running the main operations of the camp. These were people leading games and deciding where events would take place. They spent time with students as well, but their primary role was making sure the camp ran smoothly and safely. Our interns lead their own cabins in teams of two. They invested in their students and focused on ways to connect with them directly. It is, from what I gather, a pretty standard leadership structure.

At the airport sending 3 of the 4 back to the states.
Our interns were moving back and forth between the role of leader with their students and the role of follower of the program staff leading the whole camp. That dynamic in and of it self is not new; many find themselves in such a situation, moving back and forth between leader and follower. However, the role of "Follower" is not something that is often discussed in leadership books. In a leadership structure, it is crucial to be an effective follower.

One way we can be a good follower is to recognize how much power and influence the subordinate actually has, which is A LOT. Much of this isn't direct authority, but we can indirectly push a team towards success. As followers, we have the ability to speak truth into a situation and help a leader understand the most important facets of the problem as well as a solution that is viable. We may not see the big picture that a team leader sees, but we do have a very unique perspective based on the specific needs of our role. When we effectively communicate our needs or how a leader can best support us, we empower that leader to make the best possible decisions and improve our own productivity.

As you grow older, you realize how much you become your parents. One of my father's favorite phrases was simple but powerful. "Nate, think." Deep, I know, right?! But it is so deep. He usually explained it as, "think about what you are doing. Don't just do it. Think about the process. What needs to happen next? What are the tools required for that? How does that fit into what I am doing now? What can I do in this step of the process that will make my next step smoother? How does all this fit into the big picture?" And so on. The questions can continually roll. He wasn't meaning it critically; what he was trying to instill in me was a level of self-awareness. What am I doing? Is this the best way to do that? Apply previously acquired knowledge to the present situation.

This self awareness is so important in team work and in working with a leader. It applies beyond physical tasks to intangible ones, as well. Asking questions like, "What sort of personality is my leader? What are the strengths and weaknesses of that personality? How can I compliment or support that leader in areas where he or she is weak? What ways can I rely on  his or her strengths?" You can see where this is going. The great thing about all this was I saw my interns doing this! I saw them engaging in situations and offering up helpful responses that supported their leaders to do better.

I hope you are enjoying reading along as I process this summer with our interns. I learned a great deal from my time with them, and I am excited to see what God does through them.

Do you think the skill of following a leader is not talked about enough in the church? Throw your answer in the comments below. We'd love to start a great discussion.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Our Vision for Church Planting

We are excited to share our vision for church planting with you this month! This video was produced by a talented WorldVenture media team that visited us last month. They helped us put together a piece that encapsulates our new church planting project and upcoming transition into this new type of ministry. We hope you enjoy it, and we welcome questions and comments!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Processing and Reflecting

a view up in the Alps
16th century castle ruin near the camp
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Reutte and go see our interns. Reutte is in Tirol, which is in the bone part of the "chicken wing" of Austria. It is also in the Alps. It was an trip filled with extreme beauty as I took the long bus ride through the small villages and town. It is also the kind of place where you take a picture, look down and realize that it just doesn't capture what you are seeing. 

As much as I did get to see a few things, my primary focus was not to ride through the mountains. My main focus while there was to check in with our interns on the second leg of their journey in Austria. The first half of their time here is encapsulated by this post here.

view from the ruins
So I set off to spend the weekend there and connect with our interns. It was a great time of encouragement and seeing the work that God is doing among the students at camp. I got to do both a large group debrief with all of our interns at once as well as one-on-one times to check in with each individual intern. Through all these conversations a few key themes rose to the top. As I have processed through these ideas, I realize how important they are, not just for short term camp ministry, but also as general life principles. In my next few posts, I hope to discuss some of these ideas and draw out some of these connections.

There is a climbing section
in the grocery store
As I talked to our interns, one topic that came up over and over again was expectations. The more time I spend in cross-cultural ministry, the more I see how our expectations of a situation shape how we experience it. In our missions training, we talked often about how difficulty can be compounded based on our expectations of a given situation. When we walk into a situation expecting it to be different, expecting it to be challenging, expecting a curve ball, we often are not surprised when things don't go smoothly. But if we expect things to flow smoothly, it hurts all the more when we have to adapt and change. In this way, it is like a rubber band around our waist. The farther apart our expectations and reality are, the more the "snap" hurts.

One of the major challenges to this is it is often a backwards looking thing. We don't often get to know or understand that our expectations for a situation are violated until after we feel the snap. *So often that emotional difficulty is a signal to us that our beliefs or expectations have been violated. But if we just focus on the the experiential side of it (what happened and how does that make us feel) - we can miss the chance to explore our beliefs and expectations. We miss the chance to see what is usually unconscious and learn more about ourselves.

This applied in so many ways to the interns. They were navigating cross-cultural relationships with campers, staffers, and even with co-counselors from different regions of the US. They had so many opportunities to evaluate their expectations of relationships and situations. Everyone that has worked at camp knows how intense it is working together closely with people from all different backgrounds. If we had given our interns a pad of paper and a pen before they left for camp, they probably would not have been able to list the expectations that they are now processing through. 

In my next few blog posts, I'll explore other factors and topics from our debrief time with the interns and how they shape cross-cultural experiences.
*I first heard this taught at a college group at Friendship Church in 2006 or so. I have tried to track down a book or teacher to attribute this to, but to no avail. If this sounds familiar, I'd love to know what book this comes from.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Transition to "Rural Living"

Our new home - the town of Gerasdorf
As we wrote in our last update, we are preparing to relocate for our first church plant. We have known for almost a year that the northern part of Vienna (the 21st District) would be the target area for our church planting project and when we returned from our home assignment, we started looking for housing.

It turned out to be quite difficult to find something in the city close to our target region.

Townhouse kitchen
Most of the housing there was limited and there weren't any houses for rent in our price range. We were able to give up the search and wait until the spring to relocate, but then we decided to look just outside of Vienna, in a small town called Gerasdorf bei Wien. Gerasdorf is just over the border and offers trains and buses to the last subway station of the U1 in Vienna, so it's a direct suburb of the city.  There was more available there and because it's not as urban, options tended to be houses and townhouses, rather than apartments.

We are excited to share that we found a townhouse that seems like it will be a good fit for our ministry and our family. We have not signed a lease yet (still negotiating the details), but we have a signed offer agreement regarding the rental amount which is pretty binding. So we officially feel comfortable sharing this news.

We are excited about moving into this townhouse for a variety of reasons:
Back of townhosue with terrace and balcony

  • It is only 1 kilometer from the Vienna border and the area we'd like to focus on for church planting
  • The townhouse has a small yard for grilling and entertaining, plus an open layout downstairs. Both will allow us to host bible studies and show hospitality more easily than we can now
  • The townhouse can be reached by bus without paying an extra fee for in-Vienna travel (it is inside the same "zone"), which means it won't cost extra for anyone to get to us
  • We can still walk to one grocery store and bakery. This was important to us!
  • We will have enough space now to accommodate an office for Nate & a guest sleeping area (basement) and three bedrooms for our family. We hope to be in this house for a long time!
  • Moving to a suburban area means we are going to buy a car. This opens up new options for us in terms of getting around, travelling and accessibility
  • We will have more storage space, which will be a wonderful blessing to our family. It has been hard to find space in our apartment for baby toys, clothes, suitcases and camping/climbing equipment. Soon, we will more easily be able to access these things!
  • Townhouse backyard  and garden shed
  • We will have space for some "luxury items" that I've been dreaming about, such as a dryer and a deep freezer (since European fridges/freezers are small, this will allow me to freeze meals before the baby comes or buy food in bulk, taking advantage of sale items)
We have found a potential car to purchase and will soon be busy packing, disassembling furniture, taking down light fixtures and getting ready for the big move. We will have both our apartment and the townhouse in September, so we can take our time relocating and painting both places.

It is an exciting time for us, but every transition comes with a bit of uncertainty and trepidation. We have really enjoyed living in our current location, right in the center of the city with easy access to shops, restaurants and public transportation. I (Bethany) am a bit nervous about feeling isolated out in the "country" with a big open field right across the street. 

Open living area downstairs
Despite these reservations and the time it will take to adjust to a new lifestyle, we are confident that this is where God wants us. We have submitted to Austrian church leadership and through conversations with them, we feel good about taking this next step. Would you please pray for us and with us, as we experience yet another major life transition? Please pray for...
  • A smooth transition and plenty of help with relocating, painting the new house and painting our old apartment white again
  • Grace and patience as we adjust
  • That we can feel settled there before the baby arrives. Pray that the baby stays in for long enough! (Due date is October 11)
  • Pray for energy for Bethany throughout the move and transition
  • Pray for Ellie, as she also adjusts to living in a new place
  • Pray for God to prepare the way for us in this new place!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Our First Intern Experience

This summer marks the first time we have hosted WorldVenture interns. In fact, it has been many years since anyone from Team Austria has hosted interns for the summer. In truth, it seemed a little intimidating to us when to consider hosting interns after just 3 years on the field. We still feel like missionary babies in many ways...are we ready to oversee college students here in Austria? Do we know enough about ministry and the culture here to guide them through a cross-cultural experience? What do we have to offer?
God placed three wonderful female interns on our team this summer. I'm pretty sure going in, they knew they were our "guinea pigs" in this process. We are all just figuring things out as we go along and enjoying the journey together!

Having the interns arrive here just a few days after we did was definitely a bit exhausting. We were still settling in to life here when they joined us, and it was a busy first two weeks with them. However, it has also brought us so much joy to watch them learn and process their experience here, to see them offering valuable assistance in a variety of ministries, and to discuss all of their learning with them. I have especially enjoyed meeting with them once a week to do a bible study together and check in about what they are learning and how they are doing.

We knew this summer would not be perfect and that we would likely tweak the intern program after our first time through. It has been hard to watch them struggle at times and to wonder if we should have done things differently. On the one hand, cross-cultural living and language learning naturally comes with some struggle. If they weren't being challenged, they wouldn't learn as much. But we also don't want them to flounder, feel overwhelmed or come away from their summer experience feeling negatively about the time and resources they invested in their time here. 

Their biggest area of struggle has definitely been learning German. Because of the calendar, they unfortunately had to start in German class a week later than the rest of the students. Most of the other students in their class had already lived in Vienna for awhile, so they naturally had more language understanding than our interns, and the girls were frustrated with feeling behind and incompetent in the classroom. That was hard to watch, and I wondered if we should have done things differently. At the same time, seeing them struggle reminded me how hard language learning is at the beginning, no matter how many advantages you have going in. Perhaps struggling a bit was a valuable experience for them in understanding missionary life and cultural assimilation. And sure enough, the class did get a bit easier as they caught up and got more experience and time with the language.

We are excited to see what God does through this summer experience in each of their lives. And may He continue to guide us as we guide them!

Making fresh pasta in our kitchen

Dinner with the interns

Kylee on the team scavenger hunt

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reflections: Our First Week Home

We are home! It has been a very busy but productive first week back in Austria. Being back here feels just as good as I was expecting. There is something about being back home that gives me a sense of peace and a feeling of being settled that I have missed so much over the last 7 months.

Although we didn't have long to get over jet lag and get settled before life picked up again, we at least had a few days to run errands, sleep and get organized. Some things we accomplished included:

  • Picking up Ellie's visa that I applied for back in January. All set!
  • Unpacking and finding spots for everything we acquired while we were in the U.S.
  • Sorting through our belonging at home and putting back all of our decor items that were moved while we were away
  • Buying groceries and stocking up on basic household products, like toiletries, paper towels, etc.
  • Planting our balcony garden with herbs
  • Planting our community garden plot
  • Getting lots of items ready for the interns, like binders of documents, cell phones and a gift basket
It was a busy busy few days, but we are all settled and back into the swing of things, with our interns here and Nate preparing for a sermon at the end of the month.

Here are a few photos from our travels and our first week back!

On the plane! We had a very smooth flight. Ellie enjoyed activities and then slept for about 4.5 hours.

We're here in Vienna! With so so many bags....

Planting and watering our balcony garden

Back at the dog park with Mozzy. We were so excited to be reunited!

Ellie decorating signs for our interns

Baby is 22 weeks! I had swollen ankles after the flight, but now things are back to normal. 

My helper planting our vegetables in our community garden plot (in a raised bed).

Visiting Schönbrunn Palace with our interns and seeing the roses.

Our interns are here!!

Nate got an immersion circulator for his birthday in March and has been so excited to try it out!