Saturday, October 27, 2018

Family Visit

We were so thankful to have Nate's parents (Oma & Opa) here with us for nearly two weeks in early October. We had a really special time together playing at home, doing some fun outings and taking a 5-day trip to the Alps. We also got to celebrate Maya's birthday with them before they left. Here are a few highlights from our time together:

Visit and hike up to Dürnstein Castle

At the top of Dürnstein
Walking around on top of Dachstein

Snow in October!

The view from the top of Dachstein

Riding up the cable car to the overlook in Hallstatt



Sisters holding hands!

The house we rented in St. Martin am Tennengebirge

Going for a hike

Enjoying the fall colors!

Exploring Hallstatt

Walking around Salzburg

Overlooking Salzburg from the fortress

Running Around and Chasing a Ball

I (Nate) tend to enjoy solo sports. It is fun to compete against myself and see how I grow as I train and work hard. But when a guy at our church wanted to start a soccer group, I jumped at the chance to build relationships with some of the younger guys in our church. I also love the chance to stay fit and run around. I have accepted the fact that many of these guys have been playing soccer a lot longer than I have and are way more skilled, but I can run hard and have a good time. This last weekend, we had a practice tournament against a few other teams on Saturday morning. It can be hard for me to make time for an event like this. Saturdays are important family times, as well as the chance to spend time with people we are connected to inside and outside of the church. But I think this time with these guys is also important. So as we stepped out onto the field, I was genuinely curious how the day would go.

Well first things first, we lost... Every. Game. It was hard to be at the bottom of the pile. I played defense most of the game, and man, some of the other offensive players were small and fast and just way beyond my abilities. In no way did my few seasons of grade school and middle school soccer prepare me to face these guys. I honestly didn't expect anything different for myself. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I am not sure I expected it to go this badly. I had heard we hadn't done well in previous games, but I didn't know that we would lose all of our games. And that we would lose them so decisively. Most of the other teams were just better. But here is something I realized: this is practice. Not just actual match practice. Not that we are practicing soccer. We are practicing life. This brings up a basic question: How do I handle failure? What do I do when I screw up? What do I do when it feels like the failure of your team is someone else's fault? How easy is it to undervalue my own failures and overvalue others? Once you start thinking of things this way, it can be hard to stop asking these sorts of questions. Each question has a subtly different answer. Each question peels back the layers, showing us the selfishness and sinfulness in each of our hearts.

The challenge is we often face true failure so seldom in regular life, that it can be hard to apply the personal gains to the next instance. But in this environment, where we get to accelerate the exposure, we can also learn more about it in our own lives. I said this is retrospect to a few people after the games, and the more I process it, the deeper in strikes home for me. The way we win or lose is far more important than the outcome. Displaying godly character is far more important than a number on a page. Scoring goals is fun. Winning is fun as well, but my identity is not defined by the number on the page.

I think the ultimate question I'm sorting through here is: Is there a Christian way to win and lose? Can we glorify God and be a witness in how we treat people when emotions are high on the field? I've seen it before, and I strive to model it as well. I want to be someone that works hard, that pushes and gives it my all, but also someone who doesn't lose a kindness that stems from remembering the image of God in each of my fellow teammates and the people I'm playing against. It is possible to show people Christ as we play together because I've seen it. I've seen players that work hard, but are selfless and charitable. I've seen and made my best effort to grab onto the chances to encourage others and to tell them when they did well. This is a habit that should extend into our daily life. We should be generous with our encouragement.

I found this to a be a pretty valuable experience, even though my 35 year old body is hurting, and we lost every game. Where do you see unexpected discipleship opportunities around you?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dealing with Weakness

I like to listen to podcasts. I may in fact be that guy who mentions it in a conversation. Much of what I listen to is incredibly nerdy and only of interest to insatiably curious people like me. One podcast I've come to enjoy is the outgrowth of an internet friendship. Two guys, Destin from Smarter Every Day and Matt from the 10 Minute Bible Hour, got together and started having conversations about history, science and things that they thought were interesting. I listened to one of their recent episodes called "Congrats...On a Life with Chapters". And it hit home for me because our rhythm of life provides this sort of chapter structure. Our life is one where we have extended times of ministry, usually between 2 and 3 years, and then we travel back to the States and get the chance to share what God has done and give an update. This provides milestones or boundary lines for our life. It marks the changes that have happened in our lives.

Some changes are obvious. Last time we were in the States, we had one child; now there are two. Last time, my hair was one shade darker; now you see a lot more grey. But some changes are more subtle and under the surface. Through conversations with some of the really great people we know across the country, I had the opportunity to look back on the last few years of ministry, and these are some of the themes that have emerged, especially as we've transitioned into a position of leadership.

1. No Leader Can Do It All
It is easy to fool ourselves as leaders, to think that we have things together. Often we expect a leader to have an overabundance of all of the necessary skills. They must be gifted administrators, communicators, organizers, visionaries, and not let anything fall through the cracks. The reality is leaders are people, and all people have strengths and weaknesses. This is of course an obvious observation, especially for leaders we know that have glaring weakness, but I think where it really holds true are for exactly those leaders who look like they are competent. Exactly those people who look like they are holding it together are the ones for whom this reminder is the most important, and it is important mainly because of my second point.

2. Our Weaknesses Don't Have Only Short-term Consequences 
We often have this short-term view of areas in our life where we are not as strong. We see it play out in the smaller ways. I am, for example, really bad at calendars. Dates don't stick well in my head, and I struggle to keep them all straight. My Google calendar has saved my bacon so many times. I get into a situation where I have completely forgotten an appointment but was reminded in time to make it. My wife and I joke that I know so little about the calendar that she takes care of it and I just put my shoes on when she tells me to so we can leave on time. These things play themselves out in the micro, in the specific moments. But they also have longer term impacts. People often point out that pastors that have served in churches for longer periods of time tend to take on some of their weaknesses, even down to a structural level. If my weaknesses as a leader go unchecked, then that can have lasting consequences. 

3. I Need to Know My Weaknesses 

It is incumbent on leaders, not just leaders that struggle but all leaders, to know themselves. I need to know my weaknesses and strengths. I must be aware of my blind spots and the places where I struggle. I need to recognize where I am lacking and then find people around me that can help to balance out where I are weak. I need that level of self-awareness. I need to see my own weaknesses and see the places where I need others. I also then need to empower those people that are strong in certain areas to take those areas over so I can also work in my strengths.

Much of this I have been processing as I have been stepping into the role of leading our team here in Austria. I've been asking big questions about what we want this team, this community of workers to look like. Some of this is recognizing that Bethany is very gifted administratively, and there are some details that she handles effortlessly that would bog me down. Working together in this, we are strong where the other person is weak. To accomplish the things that we want to see happen as a field leader, I need to be honest with myself about my weaknesses. We need to then seek out strategies and people that can help me work through those weaknesses.

As I was thinking about this, I posed the question to my brother, who is also in full-time ministry. His big question about all these ideas, which I found profound, was how do we do this? What does this look like practically? It is profound because we often see leaders investing in those that they manage. We see a boss doing "professional development" with her employees...but actually if we are going to put this into practice, if we really are going to be realistic about our weaknesses as leaders, then there needs to be space for humble leaders that ask hard questions about themselves and ask those they partner with to accurately assess them. We need to be open to healthy feedback and criticism. We to have our antenna up. When we hear suggestions or critiques, we need to receive them with humility and gladness, even if we ultimately go a different direction.  

A Photo Update

We have been back in Austria now for a few weeks, and we've settled back into a rhythm and routine. We have a great summer in the US, but we are also very thankful to be back home. Here are a few photos from our first few weeks back:

Ellie started a ballet class last week

Getting lots of work done at our fall team meeting :)

Nate purchased a new guitar and used it at small group last week

At a local amusement park with Ellie for a fun afternoon

A trip to the zoo with our new teammates, Brian and Melissa

Ellie's first day back to kindergarten

A walk on a rainy day

We missed Mozzy so much this summer! He got a haircut right when we returned.

Riding in the combine in a friend's rice field

Happy to be back home!!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Looking Back on Summer 2018

Time for a video update! Here's a look back at our summer adventure:

Heading Home

As always, it is with mixed emotions that we prepare for our journey back to Austria on Monday. We are very excited and eager to return to our home, our community, our dog and our routine. We have missed Austria a lot this summer, and we anticipate a sweet reunion with many friends there. On the other hand, though, we have had a wonderful summer with friends and family here, and we will miss these people so much.  It has been a special time, with a refreshing break from our daily routine (even when this "break" was very busy!).  No matter where we are, whether in Austria or in the U.S., our heart is always aching for people on the other side of the ocean. We are always missing someone somewhere!

We are so thankful for God's provision this summer, and we look back on the last two months very fondly. We made some wonderful memories that we will cherish! We head back Monday on an overnight direct flight from New York to Vienna. Please pray that we all sleep at least a little and for a smooth transition back to home and ministry in Austria. 

Here are a few more photo highlights from the last few weeks:

Enjoying beach time and lobster rolls in CT

The "great American playground tour" continues!

Ellie and Aunt Crista

Ellie seeing Uncle John call the horse races at Yonkers Raceway

Cousin Tyler and Ellie at Silverman's Farm


A Girls' overnight with Bethany, her mom and her sister

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What God Has Been Doing This Summer

We have been on a whirlwind adventure this summer, travelling across the U.S. on a 2-month home assignment, visiting friends, family and supporters, connecting with churches, and sharing about Austria. Wow - God has been doing amazing things! Here are a few highlights from recent weeks:

  • God has provided enough donations for us to pay off our car loan IN FULL!
  • God has provided enough donations IN ADDITION that we met our goal for the summer and will return to Austria in a better position financially!
  • God has provided the funds for a new guitar!
  • God has blessed us with many new monthly supporters and our need is now down to $240/month.
  • God has lavishly blessed us with many homes to stay in, many delicious meals and lots of special times connecting with people.
  • God has given Nate the opportunity to preach a powerful message from John 4 four times. (After hearing the sermon all 4 times, God's words have really sunk in for me!)
  • God has allowed us some times to connect with our family, whom we don't get to see very often. Those times have been very special.
  • God has reminded us of all the wonderful friendships we have here in the States, as we've reconnected with many dear friends during our trip.
  • God provided a vehicle to use this summer and has kept us safe through many trips on the road.
Wow! We have been blown away by His provision through His people. A special thanks to all those who have been a part of this blessing this summer. We are humbled by all of this, and through it, God is reminding us of how much He loves us and how He provides for our needs.

Here are some photos highlights from the last month of our travels!

Nate preaching at Cornerstone Church in MN

Sunbathing with friends in WI

Picnicking with friends in Chicago

Reuniting with our Interns from 2016!

Sharing with friends and supporters in Winfield, IL

Visiting Wheaton College

Sharing with friends and supporters in Wheaton, IL

Meeting up with Bethany's Aunt in Chicago
Sharing in Warren, OH at Champion Presbyterian Church

Ellie and Ellie (Bethany's cousin's daughter)

Nate preaching at Stanwood Church in Navarre, OH

Hanging out with friends in OH

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Summer Home Assignment Highlights

Oops! Another blogging hiatus from us - we are so sorry! Our last few months in Austria before boarding a plane for the U.S. were quite busy and Nate also came down with a very bad case of tonsillitis that zapped him of energy for about 3 weeks. He was just trying to keep up with what he could during that time. Then, on June 17, we all hopped on a plane and flew to Atlanta to begin our 2-month summer home assignment in the U.S. It's been a whirlwind adventure so far and will continue to be! We have been having a great time and feel really blessed to be here. Here are a few highlights from our time so far!

On the trans-atlantic flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta. Lots of screen time for all :)

Attending VBS for a day in Atlanta with Ellie's cousin, Meg

Driving from Atlanta to my parents' house in SC

Grocery shopping with Grammy

Maya goes for a walk with Grampy

At the Veerman family reunion in NC. Maya plays piano with her cousins

Beach time!

My dad and his siblings and spouses at the reunion

The next generation down

Grampy and Maya snuggling

We've arrived in MN! Beach time at the lake!

Ellie gets to go fishing with Opa!
Many more memories to come! We will soon be sharing with churches and small groups about our ministry in Austria, as well as spending time with family. We'll keep you updated!