Monday, April 24, 2017

Power Up Conference

Every few years WorldVenture, our missions organization, plans a regional conference for everyone working in Europe. We missed the last one, because it was just a few days before Ellie was born. That conference took place over New Years with child care so that families could attend without school issues and bring their kids along. This time around, they chose a different model that we are really excited about. They are putting the exact same conference on twice, once in the spring and again in the fall so that families with small kids can attend, with the parents taking turns. Bethany is looking forward to having Maya weaned and having a new gal arrive on our field so that they can go together in the fall, so the spring time was my turn.

The conference was called Power Up and took place in Vilnus, Lithuania. For those that think this sounds like a really exotic location, remember that A) This is still EU, which means easier travel for most of us who already have EU visas and B) it is a lot cheaper than having something like this in a place like Switzerland or France, where everything would be more expensive from food to lodging. It was a really pretty city and a place that would be fun to go back and visit. There was an interesting mix of old world monarchical history and the recent soviet influences. It is still a country stuck between and influenced by both Moscow and Europe. The old city was a great place to just wander around and find little corners and shops.
the view of the city from our hotel
evening wandering in the city

The conference itself was on interpersonal communication. This is a topic near and dear to my heart and something I find very important. Here were a few key takeaways that I gleaned from our time.

1. The first thing I wanted to share was from a session called "Loving Listening." They talked about how we can show people we love them by making them feel truly heard. There was a quote from David Augsberger: "Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable." We often don't realize the power that we hold, simply by listening to people. Life can be so hectic and full of running from thing to thing, that there is a huge relational power in stopping what we are doing and truly listening to what another person has to say. Not just hearing them, or trying to break in and make our point, but listening to them and understanding where they are coming from. This can help all of our relationships from casual acquaintances all the way to the people that are dearest to us. How can we show the people around us we care for them by listening to them?

2.  Another key group of sessions was about the book Crucial Conversations. They defined a "crucial conversation" not necessarily as conflict, but just like the subtitle of the book says "when things are at stake." When we disagree and decisions need to be made, we get into the realm of a crucial conversation. One of my main take-aways was a pretty simple observation. It is the idea that when we are in a conversation and someone says something we don't understand or it seems to be negative or critical, we create a narrative in our own minds about what that could mean. We set their statement in a context which answers the question "why would someone say something like that?" Often the answer can be something like: "They think I am stupid" or "they don't believe I am capable of succeeding here." We then go forward with that internal story and begin to believe it is true. But what happens if that isn't true? Do we really take time to expose those underlying stories to the light of day and check if that person really believes that? There are often totally reasonable explanations that also fit the facts of a situation, and it is our personal fears or insecurities that drive it forward.

There were many other key takeaways from the time there from personal soul care and rest, building trust in relationships, and personal moral purity; just to name a few. I am very excited for Bethany to be able to go to the same conference in the fall so that we can debrief and compare notes.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring Getaway 2017

We just returned from our annual WorldVenture team retreat. This is a longstanding tradition for team Austria, allowing us to get away together for 4 days for a time of learning, refreshment, prayer and retreat. Here are a few highlights from our time together:

Team game time
 * We played a few games together that Ellie could participate in. It's important to us as a team to include the kids in activities and time together, so they feel like a part of our team as they grow up. Ellie had fun with "hot potato" and a game where we guessed what objects were that we picked out of a bag while blind-folded.

* We watched video messages/sermons each day as a team and discussed them.

* Each family had a time of sharing about the last year and how we could be praying for each other. We had a focused time of prayer for each family.

Being commissioned as the new field leaders
 * Nate and I will be stepping into the team Austria field leadership role in the coming months (something we will write more about in our coming updates and probably a separate blog post). The group prayed over us and commissioned us as the new field leaders.

* Ellie got to spend our meeting times playing with our friend Mallory, who joined us for the retreat to provide childcare. They did lots of crafts, played on the playground, went swimming and had an all-around great time together.

* We took an excursion to a local chocolate factory and samples lots of delicious chocolate.
* We went swimming almost every day. Ellie is obsessed with the water, so she begged us everyday to swim in the hotel pool! Maya had her first swim and loved it.

* We survived four days staying in a hotel, despite some horrible night sleep from Maya. After several weeks of sickness, Maya was struggling to get back to sleep on her own at night. This has improved since returning home and we hope it doesn't repeat itself in the future when we travel! Unfortunately, the sleep deprivation made the week a bit difficult for me...but such is life with a baby!

Overall, it was a good time away. We will be planning the Spring Getaway for our team next year, so
we will soon begin to think about where and how we will spend our time in 2018. We hope to continue the tradition of getting away as a team to worship, pray, rest and spend time together.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Brains and Sponges

Ellie's first day of kindergarten
This is a photo of Ellie on her first day of Kindergarten back in early January. In Austria, Kindergarten is the name of the pre-school/child care programs provided from birth through age 5, up until they start first grade around age 6. Ellie started attending kindergarten in German 5 days/week from 8:30 - 12:30 the day after she turned 3 on January 7.

Word cannot express how proud we have been of her for jumping in to this new experience with very little fear. Although she started the program not knowing any German and not knowing any of the kids in her class, she was excited and eager to play and learn. When Ellie was younger, she was very attached and struggled with separation anxiety for a long time. She was also very shy. But we have seen a lot of change in her in the last year, as she has learned to be apart from us and come out of her shell. She is really blossoming into an outgoing, sweet and friendly little girl who brings joy to many!

Sitting at the lego table
It has been so interesting and neat to watch her language acquisition begin. Her teachers at school both speak a little English, so they spoke quite a bit of English to her at the beginning when it was important that she understood what was going on. But they are doing this less and less, and it has become clear that she understands more and more simple sentences and commands in German, even after just a few months.

Ellie's English language skills have always been ahead of the curve, and she started speaking English so well so early, because she has always repeated almost everything we say. She was like a little parrot starting around 18 months old, and her vocabulary in English has continued to increase for this reason. (If you know Nate and I, this probably isn't a surprise. Knowing our personalities, we always assumed our kids would be bookish and very verbal but probably not very good athletes!)

Playing a game with her teacher
So far, her German learning seems to be progressing very similarly. She has started throwing around German phrases at home, even when she has no idea what they mean. She repeats German words and phrases that we say and is eager to experiment with the language. Unlike many adults learning a foreign language, Ellie is not afraid of making mistakes or saying things perfectly. She just tries and experiments and repeats. Her brain is truly like a sponge, soaking in and learning a lot of information very rapidly, and it's incredible to watch. I can already hear her pronouncing German words with correct sounds that are hard even for me to reproduce properly. Within a few years, she'll be speaking fluently with absolutely no American English accent, and I'll be jealous of her language skills!

We are so thankful for how God has blessed us through this kindergarten transition, a change that could have been difficult. We are praying that she not only acquires the language, but also friendships with the kids in her class. These friendships could lead to play dates, which could lead to relationships between us and the other parents. We are praying that Ellie will be a light for Jesus at her school and that God will use these connections to help us find community and share our faith with the families in our neighborhood. Please pray with us!