Finding God in Groceries and Gladiolas

While it bothers me to admit it, I can be very stubborn. If I have decided on a certain course of action, then I must complete it without opposition.

I wanted to buy a ham in Michigan for a picnic we were hosting with our small group from church. I love a good bargain with groceries as it enables me to buy more, so that we can share more with others. We drove 20 minutes to the border area but noticed immediately that there was significant traffic. So congested, that upon checking the web for the update, it would take almost 2 hours simply to cross the bridge. That wasn’t going to work, since my beloved sidekick was inferring that the time spent was not worthwhile.

I was completely exasperated in the moment. I had ‘a list’. I had ‘a plan’. Now it was foiled. I used the ‘Return to Canada’ lane and headed back towards home. Knowing I had to re-calibrate my plan was totally frustrating. In the moment, I couldn’t even think straight because it meant starting over, when I had been thinking about it for a while. I felt overwhelmed in the moment. My desire was altruistic, get some great food for a great price. Now what?

My beloved was trying to offer some words of helpfulness and encouragement. I wasn’t receiving them at all. My thoughts were racing with ‘what now’? I felt compelled we must to go to No Frills. Start small and expand from there, I thought. So it was….the grocery store parking lot was quite empty, making me feel a little peaceful in this storm.

I entered the store and one of my favourite flowers was being sold in bunches for $8.00. GLADIOLAS – big, bold, beautiful colours. Right then and there, I stopped and smiled. I felt like God beckoning me further into the store so that He could show me how He would provide what I needed, on HIS agenda. I stood there and thanked Him for the flowers. They made their way into the cart.

My next stop was ‘meat’ for it formed the basis of the rest of the meal. A major sale was happening with ground beef – I had to stop, load it in my cart and say ‘thank you Lord’ for showing me how to get started on this meal. God is my Provider! With each step, my confidence grew – in God. He provided lemons, and chip dip and relish….all for great prices….I hadn’t left the produce area, but I felt God so near, that I was smiling at how He was leading me through the store. No list necessary, just an open heart to hear Him speak to me through the groceries and the gladiolas.

The task was completed without bridge traffic and time wasted. Money was spent wisely. Lots of food was provided. The outcome two days later? The fellowship was sweet. The Lord’s name was lifted high. No one even knew that the sidelined trip to Michigan was so that I could find God among the groceries and the glads. I rejoiced as I was reminded of Matthew 6:8 ‘your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’

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This is Where the Healing Begins

It’s the time of year when my beloved and I are marking an ‘anniversary’ of sorts. Not the joyous anniversary of our marriage or our first date. It’s an anniversary of the closing of a chapter in Christian service. It’s a somber time where we reflect on the years spent in preparation, studying, going, serving and ultimately leaving.

The details of the past 36 years are actually irrelevant in earthly terms. It is a story of two people loving God, desiring to serve together in His chosen place. As we reflected and prayed together this morning under cloudless skies and golden sun, we remembered ministry comrades – seminary students, missionaries, pastors who have also had their careers ended before they expected to be finished.

As we shared fellowship today we talked about men and women who serve us at war or in protecting our country. Sometimes their service lasts one day, and sadly, they are gone. Others serve to the very end of their lives before they are finished in their career. When a soldier gives their life in combat, they are returned to us as a hero. Indeed, they are a hero. They sacrificed of themselves to protect our nation. Others may not die, but are returned as the wounded and scarred. All heroes. We owe them so much.

Our thoughts returned to our fellow workers around the world and we could see a spiritual picture rise from the discussion. Christian workers – pastors, missionaries, teachers and the like are the ones who have dedicated themselves to full time Christian service in love and loyalty to our Saviour. They are the ones who teach, preach, comfort, guide, lead and direct in a wide variety of activities in the name of Jesus. They don’t choose their vocation for money or fame. Their work is done out of love for God.

This important global work from the beginning of humanity has been met with opposition, disloyalty, grief, shame, pain, torture. While there are earthly rewards – certainly, the cost is great. Paul, the Apostle was a diligent, faithful man who gave his very best to bring the message of Good News to the people. He suffered so much, including beatings and imprisonment – yet buried in the depths of 1 Corinthians 16: 14 he exhorts us to ‘Do everything in love’.

The work of the ministry is very hard. It is very rewarding. It is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. To see someone understand what Christ has done for them, is probably the most incredible experience you can have in this Christian walk. When we have felt so tired from ‘doing’, yet we would never dream of quitting. We were God’s soldiers and faithful soldiers don’t give up and walk away. Hebrews 12:1 instructs us to run the race with endurance. The Christian walk is not a sprint. It is a gruelling marathon.

One year following the culmination of ministry preparation and service since 1979 has been very hard. It has been filled with grief and sadness. Lots of tears. We didn’t want to give up. God has selected a different assignment for us. Isaiah 55:8 says ‘MY thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways MY ways, says the Lord’. God’s plans for us and our precious co-workers that have been assigned to God’s Waiting Room, are higher than our plans. Our wounds from ministry are completely understood by the ONE WHO was wounded for us. While we know that God is not finished with us yet – HE has a plan for our lives, our race seems to have been halted. We are overcome with sadness about this fact.

While we grieve, we HOPE. We hope in God. HE is our Guide, our Rock. It doesn’t make the sadness lighter, but it does provide context. We are in a temporary situation. We will be with HIM forever. For now we need to rest secure in HIS promise that HE will never leave us. HE does have a plan for our lives. We rest confident in this fact.

The marathon isn’t finished! It has become very difficult as we are getting closer to the end – and this was recognized by Paul in Philippians when he said ‘Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.’ It would be amazing to receive God’s approval for a race well run.

So we need some refreshment and a time to reset before we continue running. THIS is where the healing begins.

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The Final Leg

July 5, 2014

With clouds gathering, we set our GPS for the final autobahn ride to Harley Warehouse in Frankfurt. We agreed that if rain should start, we would pull over and don our rain gear (it would be miserable being wet on the autobahn). And then, we were off – gently – happily – racing on the highway as German countryside rolled by. The rain came, gear added, journey continued. Shortly before arrival in the city, we stopped to fill the tank, pay our last E .50 toll for a bathroom, pack away rain gear and ready ourselves with the now severed GPS.

My beloved deftly followed the route changes leading us closer to the completion of another safe trip. Before we knew it things began to look a little familiar and we had arrived. What I wasn’t prepared for was a Manhatten (Germany) Harley Club gathered in front of the building observing the spectacle of us un-loading our bike, re-packing and walking away with our rolling cases and backpacks like we were bereft.

My human GPS a.k.a. tour leader found our way to the train which would haul us to our final hotel of the journey in the heart of Frankfurt. By all accounts, Frankfurt is a totally forgettable city – borne out of industry and big business. We were 100 metres from Skyline Plaza and since everything is closed on Sunday (the next day), we hustled to complete any purchases we hoped to find. An English book for the plane….We noticed Chipotle and since we were tired of heavy German food, decided on a burrito as the centrepiece for a hotel picnic so we could watch more soccer. We were cozy and peaceful – we had one final adventure planned for the next day – our trek to visit an English church north of the city.

We are definitely ready for some rest off the bike and some downtime. The Central Europe tour of 2014 is quickly drawing to a close.

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Guten Morgan Nuremburg

July 4, 2014

The room darkening shades were very effective. Wondering why we couldn’t relax any longer, we looked at the time – 8:30! What a restful night in a lovely hotel. As we ventured to the breakfast room, we were again taken with the little details in the hotel – its sheer loveliness – for E 100.00 including breakfast. We lingered over coffee, talked, and then in an unhurried manner, prepared for our more detailed tour of Nuremburg.

Having gotten the lay of the land last evening, we were very comfortable expanding our walking tour and checking out historic sites. We found an interesting tour of a cellar that sheltered Nuremburg’s important works of art during the bombing of the city. While we waited for the appointed time we found yet another restaurant nearby in the historic area established in 1826. Not requiring a heavy meal, we ordered from the vegetarian lunch menu. What came was mouth watering ‘noodles and cheese’, salad and potato pancakes. Sigh…comfort food at lunch too!

With stomachs soothed, we went to connect with our tour – alas the guide didn’t show up. With so many things to see and do, we were untroubled. We strolled through antique shops, selecting an artist’s depiction of the area where we had just eaten lunch – it was a great keepsake.

We decided to shop for some small gifts and simply take in the city. Before long, we happened upon the Friday open market area – perfect for a bright sunny afternoon – people selecting their flower bouquets, fruits, and cheese for the coming days. As an avid shoe shopper, I spied Birkenstock in the distance and felt fuzzy with excitement. Would I find my special ‘take home shoes’ today? I did! I found a pair of black patent fine German design. My beloved laughingly calls them ‘winter sandals’ as very often I will wear sandals all winter. I was thrilled.

Emboldened to tackle the rest of the shopping we trudged on in the punishing 30 degree heat. Staedtler was on my list – as an office supply junkie – its like the mothership to me. I made some selections, ooo-d and awwww’d over others and moved along. My beloved was feeling the heat and so we rested while I tackled Muller (a German department store) – a couple more gifts and keep moving.

We were also thinking the Germany-France soccer game was about to begin and we needed some serious air conditioning (scarce here). Starbucks is so reliable on all fronts. WIFI, Toilet, Large Coffee, and Comfortable. We hung out to cool down and just ‘be’. After about an hour and a half, we had the energy to tram it back to the recently discovered grocery store and bought our desired picnic food for tonight’s game in our lovely room at Hotel Klughardt. We also bought a couple more goodies for loved ones.

Even though we didn’t tour museums, we felt we maximized our experiences in this incredible city. From rubble to regal, the Nuremburgers have risen from tragedy of the war to restore their medieval city to greatness. We loved our time in Nuremburg but most especially at Hotel Klughardt with the gracious Elizabeth. As we departed she said – ‘always remain happy. Auf Weidersehn’

Indeed Elizabeth – we would love to see you again!

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The Black (green) Forest – Bohemia to Bavaria

July 3, 2014

We are hoping the highway out of Prague heading to Germany will be better that our approach from Austria. At any rate, we left after rush hour to minimize stress to both driver and passenger. Departure was so much better than arrival! The GPS was in my death grip so I could be the navigator out of Prague. For any who know me – navigator is the farthest thing from who I am and what I do. I feel stressed to the max! However, I worked hard at staying calm – and together we did it 🙂

The highway out did prove to be much better. We were grateful for lovely weather, gentle autobahn and a peaceful start with our destination for the day – Nuremberg. With our Czech coins left behind we wondered what experiences would be ahead in Bavaria. The forest became thicker, the cheesy CZ border was imminent and then – the Black Forest. Lush, green, tall and straight. A good place to nod off except the 140-150 km speeds tend to keep you a little more alert due to the wind battering your head.

We found a roadside gas station that was serving fresh food like salad and meat loaf. For a few Euros, the sturdy German lady lady says ‘it’s gut German food’. We agree – delish! Ready to roll the last hour or so to the best kept boutique (inn) I’ve ever seen – Hotel Klughardt – very near the centre of Old Town (on the metro). The owner – Elizabeth – an elderly lady warmly greeted us. It was a small hotel, but completely updated – we were thrilled. We settled in quickly, bought our now standard metro passes and headed for our first taste of Nuremberg. What a delight! We got off at the main station and meandered through the streets to get our bearings. We ventured into the old (circa 13-14th century) walled city and quickly found a biergarten established in the 1800’s. We trusted the English menu and ordered pork knuckle and sauerkraut with knoedel (potato dumpling) with our waitress’s curt approval. We always share meals so that we can broaden our food sampling. Both meals were German comfort food made by mom! WOW! The ‘crackling’ on the shoulder was to die for…crispy, smoky goodness. The meat fell off the shoulder into a pool of seasoned delicious sauce…..mmmm…The knuckle was so tender is forked away and each bite dipped in mustard was more compelling than the prior one. Brought back memories of my mom making ham hocks which I was thought were totally disgusting then…..boy was I wrong!

German food is plentiful and cheap. We feel wasteful but we cannot finish our plates. We packed up and walked through this photogenic town – here – there – everywhere. Since our German was limited to pleasantries, our ability to understand is correspondingly limited. However, we did see a sign that resonated and, in the end, captivated us – ‘Summer in the City Fest’. We love ‘fest’! Before long, we saw huge crowds, masses of umbrellas and beach sand! Hundreds of beach chairs! It is ‘summer in the city’ to be sure! People everywhere were enjoying an evening drink as if they were on the beach – except they were in business attire for the most part. There was fun food, palm trees, tiki huts – a real party for this landlocked, very warm city. We bought into it as well…found our places courtside for beach volleyball and people watched for awhile. As darkness was falling, we reluctantly left to find our night tram home. It left us tired from the sheer fun of it – can’t wait till tomorrow!

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Czech – ing Out (Prague)

July 2, 2014

At the beginning of the new day at The Daliborka, the very accommodating staff confirmed for us we could proceed into Prague confidently. We asked more questions while under the gaze of a Czech police officer (in plain clothes). He comes to the hotel (and others) to verify that the guests have not been registered for more than three days. Apparently every three days we would need to ‘register’ with the hotel and provide proof of identification with our passport. We purchased our Metro passes (sold in increments of time) and used our cell phone GPS to walk to the bus stop. All very smooth thanks to my beloved tour guide.

Once reaching the Metro, there were some food vendors reinforcing what Helena told us at the front desk – ‘you will find some things to be very cheap’ Indeed! Coke for E 1.00 is unheard of! With only three simple Metro lines (think QEW, 401, 403 in terms of railway) – it was super easy to find our way to the centre of ‘the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life – PRAGUE’.

Stepping out of the Metro into the bright sun, the main street downhill is a gorgeous cobblestoned boulevard lined with architecturally fascinating buildings. If you have money to spend (and very large suitcases) Prague is a shopper’s dream. Everything you could ask (or hope) for is here. People were meandering the streets and enjoying the day. 1.2 million people and the centre of the city was closed for a ‘walkable’ street festival. No one is bothered.

The buildings all represent architecture from baroque to neo classical (this is most stunningly represented at Prague Castle). The Charles Bridge spanning the Vitava River is an edifice build by Charles IV in 1357. It features incredible statues across the bridge. most Czechs encourage you to see the Charles Bridge – they are proud of it – you can tell. So many locations to see in a very walkable city. However, we wondered if we would run out of steam and miss some important highlights of this European jewel. We decided to actually pay for a tour! (I know, those of you who really know us probably just gasped as its something we would not typically do). However, the city is sufficiently large and we were not as energetic AND we needed the ‘Coles’ Notes’ version. We spent about E 60.00 for a guided 3.5 hour Grand Prague Tour. The tour included some bussing by beautiful governmental buildings, up to Prague Castle (it makes Chateau Versailles look like a dwarf). We walked the perimeter with our small group for about 75 minutes while our multilingual guide Eva gave us an overview and allowed us to photograph the marvelous buildings.

About halfway through the walk, I saw an ice cream vendor. I decided I needed one urgently and I ran over – forgetting all math and subsequent conversions. Since math is not my strong suit, I asked for a cone – 90 CZ dollars. UGH! E 4.00 tiny cone now in my hand! I was so frustrated with myself. I consoled myself that we opted not to buy two more bus passes. Not that it really mattered, but I do hate wasting money and that ice cream was a definite waste. We finished the castle tour, hopped the bus to head to the one hour riverboat cruise. So great – weather was perfect and we floated under the spectacular Charles Bridge past show stopping buildings of every architectural era.

At the conclusion, we walked through the Jewish quarter which hosts the oldest synagogue in Europe. (The most exclusive retail therapy resides here, as well – Chanel, Prada, etc.) We completed our tour in Wenceslas Square making the Christmas song drum through my mind under the perma stare of Saint Nicholas from the church.

The cheerful guide was finished and we tried not to get whiplash looking at every amazing building imaginable. Strolling through peaceful back streets we made a small purchase for our grandson. While passing many inviting cafes (food IS cheap in Prague), we craved something non-pork, and our noses noticed a steak place! It drew us in. A fabulous steak dinner for E 30.00? Only in Prague and Lisbon!

Feeling completely accomplished with our day, we used our final Metro pass to get to the peaceful Prague suburbs to the boutique Daliborka. After settling in for the night, we prepared ourselves for the next leg back to Germany.

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Czech-ing In

July 1, 2014 Part 2

I always get excited when I see road signs to new cities, states, provinces, or countries. I relish reading licence plates to see where a vehicle is registered (yes, I am one of ‘those’). on our motorcycle the EU for Germany is ‘D’ for Deutsche. Also there is an ‘F’ indicating the ‘region’ – which is Frankfurt. A couple approached us at a scenic lookout and started speaking in German. Once we said ‘Canada’, the lady spoke in an Australian accent and explained because of our licence plate, she thought we were from Frankfurt, as they lived there as well.

While we rolled through the final kilometres of farmland, some signs indicated the direction to CZ. I photographed them with anticipation, but it seemed in one startling moment, we had left Austrian crisp and clean and had reached the disorder border of Czech Republic. There is a strange mangling (yes, mangle) of extreme casino, sex shop commercialism, strange letters on signboards and English words too – its like an area struggling to find its real identity, unsure as to how to market its welcome.

My first impressions were that of disappointment. Everything looked weary. I was thinking of my basic knowledge of the CZ and Slovak Republics and the length of time it takes to emerge from communist oppression. Since we are in a very rural part of CZ at the moment, it is very evident. The first city is Znoma and it looked very poor and beaten down – a reasonable sized city but struggle is apparent. My mind loops the question ‘why does the supremacy of an interest group always include the oppression of others’? and at the same time I am grateful that my Heavenly Father wants to lift me up higher – my good is His loving concern. As we roll through the countryside, it reminds me of southern Ontario – low rolling hills, dotted with trees.

We happened upon a truck stop with a big sign that said ‘Ham Ham’ and a smoker (for meat, not a person) outside. We had to ‘Czech it out’. The kind lady played charades with us so we reached the clean bathroom (toilet is the universal word, it just sounds so crass). She vainly attempted to interpret the menu and then summoned her knowledge of something we might understand ‘schnitzel’, she said with a smile. We said ‘sure’, although we had eaten quite enough of it already. This means pork, pounded thin, breaded, deep fried. We also order ‘limonady’, thinking lemonade (but who really cares, we have water on board). We sat outside and waited. When it came, we were enraptured by the delicious sight, flaky schnitzel and the potatoes!!!!! Like buttery candy! The Germans could take cooking classes from this truck stop chef. The limonady turned out to be slightly fizzy, bright yellow. We weren’t sure what it was – perhaps a soda pop, but more flat. It was comfort food on a scale of one to ten – an ELEVEN.

We were also bewildered by everything listed in Czech dollars. Our gas bill for the bike for a half tank top up was CZ 375.00. We wondered how that would play out on our Visa bill. We showed the truck stop lady our credit card and Twenty euros. She said ‘ten euros’. Our whole meal was ten euros! You would never eat such delicious food anywhere for this price.

It was soon time to connect with the highway to Praha. Everywhere there is construction and for good reason. Czech roads are deplorable. So bad, in fact, that the vibration broke the mount of the GPS. Thankfully my beloved had planned the bulk of today as a non-highway run. We would possibly have done more damage. As we are speeding along very narrow highway, they’re working on expansion, it started raining, but we were unable to stop for rain gear. Using the ineffective Harley navigation system, we tried to get close to where we think we need to go. I tentatively pulled out our GPS in hopes it would add more detail. Strange names, rush hour, it was a hairy ‘Czech In’ – however – the final leg ended at Hotel Daliborka in a wonderful neighbourhood.

Helena greeted us at reception and began to melt our fear of ‘what’s next’ right away. She reassured us we would enjoy real value in this beautiful city (we are value shoppers, so this is music to our ears). She told us up front that CZ taxi drivers would charge us double. (The Harley rep told us that on day 1 – he said ‘those communists are out for every dollar, so watch out’, then laughed.) We didn’t laugh along as we believe these countries are now free and are working to build their futures. Helena told us about the cabbies and the street sales people – we simply responded ‘there are dishonest people all around the world, not just in CZ Republic’.

The Daliborka was built in 1912 – the year my mom was born – and they have retained the neo-classical décor (apart from the Samsung flat screen). The light fixtures alone were incredible examples of a by gone era. They operated a small dining room with a very cheerful waiter who taught us some basic Czech phrases such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’ ‘good day’. We were solo in the dining room and surrounded by peace after the hectic highway travel. We enjoyed a big salad (so hard to find), a lovely main and a CZ dessert specialty – strawberry dumpling with shaved cottage cheese like a warm strawberry ice cream – each bite melted the stress and we were ready for a cozy wind down on our brief side trip to Czech Republic. The day’s spend? Under E100.00.

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