a life again upended... june 2014.
We drive to Tel Aviv, fly to Zurich, and take a night train to Bonn (Germany) and, as usual, Little Buddy is at the top of his game. We somehow muddle our way through two airports and three train stations without the benefit of our trusty car seat wheels. It is painful (literally) and we make it, but had we lingered even 10 seconds longer at the baggage claim we most certainly wouldn't have. Instead of The Music Man carrying 50 pounds in a pack and 50 pounds in a shoulder bag and me carrying 50 pounds in a pack and easily wheeling 100 pounds (Little Buddy, a ginormous Recaro car seat, and a veritable plethora of carry-ons)... well, we had to manhandle all 250 pounds (9 bags and a small person) between the two of us (since Little Buddy wasn't about to walk) all at the same time. It's amazing what you can do when you simply don't have any other choice, am I right?
Even though Saint Sebastian is willing to come meet us at the train station at 5:20 in the AM (and with a genuine smile on his face, if you can believe that!) we get off to a slow start, as is our way. Round about 2:00 in the afternoon, after banking, shopping, situating, lunching, nursing, napping, and taking the van back to Sebastian's shop for a few minor modifications, we are finally ready to embark and start making our way toward Switzerland. We find a lovely spot on the River Rheine and make ourselves at home... especially Little Buddy who is pleased as punch to be back in our van-home (even though it is yellow and not orange). And that's when we hear it for the first time in months: quiet (except for the occasional question from Little Buddy as to the whereabouts of Art and Julee). What joy! Thank you, God, for quiet... for silence, for peace, for rest, for audible space to ponder and wonder and consider and dream and create.
We cook. We clean. We cozy. We stare at each other in disbelief. We sleep. We dip ourselves in the river repeatedly. We wander around town. We get back in the van and continue on our way. We realize we are in Germany (which isn't part of our plan until two weeks prior) and Jean Philip is in Germany. Hey wait, we realize we are only an hour away from where Jean Philip lives. We try and fail to call, so we just show up.
Jean Philip (affectionately called JP) and Andreá are the second set of foreign exchange students which The Music Man's parents housed many years. We haven't connected with JP since Andreá and Sarah's wedding, back in the summer of 2009.
We show up at his family home, which is actually a lovely hotel in Miltenberg, complete with a fancy-pants restaurant. JP's mother, Christina, greets us warmly and joins us for drinks out on the patio. JP eventually emerges, with his usual knowing and slightly mischievous expression and, after a round of hugs and some catching up, invites us to dinner. What you probably don't know yet is that JP is a chef. I mean, a real chef... like with stars and stuff. And they don't just shovel out stars in Germany. Now, it occurs to me en route that perhaps JP will make us a yummy snack or something, but I am unprepared for what happens next.
Not only are we extremely hungry for dinner after a big day, we are extremely hungry for deliciousness after months of hardly eating out (not counting the countless 5 shekel falafels we consumed) and being restricted to a fairly limited menu at home due to the sometimes shocking lack of what I would have previously considered the very basics, such a pinto beans, chili powder, and any and all pork products. Did I already mention that they don't have limes in Jerusalem? What about salsa? What about guacamole? What about tom kha gai? What about mexipho?! (If you don't know what that is, it's my secret recipe and you're missing out.)
So there we are, lounging out on the patio under the setting sun at the classiest restaurant we've been to in years, if not ever. It is such an unexpected gift, one which we can not presently even hope to afford. My eyes fill with tears time and again as wave after wave of beauty, generosity, deliciousness keeps coming: tiny homemade breads (made daily by JP's father, Wolfgang) with wild garlic cream sauce and home smoked venison. Home cured salmon and gherkins in dill cream sauce and amazing herbs we don't even recognize, with cold cream and dill soup. The world's most ginormous prawns over papaya-mango salad. Delicate whitefish with peas, pea purée, fish foam (fish foam!), baby chanterelles, roasted red pepper, and salt (and yes, the salt itself is worth specifically mentioning). Venison over greens with spätzle, brown and white sauces, red currants, and nutmeg. Creme brûlée with fresh strawberries, homemade strawberry sorbet, and mint. And as an added bonus, homemade Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream bars dipped in dark chocolate, with chocolate cover sparkles (pop rocks?!) inside -- fashioned especially for Little Buddy after he repeatedly requests Popsicles for desert. Ridiculous, right? Amazing. Amazing!!
In response to the bounty before us, Little Buddy's exact words are, "it happies my heart!" When we arrive, we don't order. We sit there with no expectations, only open hands and an ever increasing confidence in JP's desire and ability to surprise us with delights we cannot conceive of. And the next night, as I wonder what JP can possibly throw at us that can come even close to the previous night's experience... out comes the tartare de boeuf. Which, as you probably know, is my all-time, absolute favorite thing to eat on the entire planet. It's better than sushi. It's better than Red Mill burgers. It's better than mexipho. I am astounded. I am satisfied. If that's not proof that Jean Philip is inspired by God, well I don't know what is.
It is a perfect picture of the love of God, of His goodness, of our lives... throwing ourselves into the hands of a good God who loves to delight us and being not just barely provided for, but lavishly provided for... and with the very things that delight us most.
You can know something about someone, but it's just knowledge, just fact, until you experience it as truth. Like my technically knowing that Jean Philip is a chef... until I discover his creations for myself and realize that ingredients in his hands have the potential to become not just food but beauty. Like my sort of knowing that God is good and faithful and heals the sick and brokenhearted... until I discover his goodness and faithfulness and healing for myself and realize that I, in his hands, have the potential to become not just me but the beautiful me that God created me to be when he originally designed and conceived of me before he even created the heavens and the earth.
How many people do I know who truly have the capacity to utterly delightful and astound the people in their sphere? The Music Man comes to mind, with his endless capacity to deeply love and fully accept people (anybody!) for all they are in each and every moment, all while continuing to walk in his God-given gift of seeing even the most desperate and unjustly marginalized for all that God, in his goodness and grace, originally intended them to be.
Gabriela comes to mind, with her uncanny ability to speak absolute truth in hope and love to others. And not just a truth that is her opinion or perspective, but the truth which she oftentimes cannot know on her own. I've squirreled away innumerable cocktail napkins from restaurants and bars, upon which I've feverishly scribbled down the life-changing words that freely flowed out of her mouth over muscles and martinis. I've packed them in boxes and put them in songs for nearly 20 years now.
Our long ago friend Phil comes to mind too, who is most certainly the closest either of us may ever come to experiencing true musical genius up close, and who I can only be described as anointed. Just the thought of him compels me to max out the volume on my falsetto, which I do without warning, much to the astonishment of The Music Man and delight of Little Buddy.
We are all lessons in beauty, waiting to be learned.
When we aren't stuffing ourselves silly or catching up wit JP, we are wandering around Miltenberg. We wind our way up to the castle overlooking the town and break out our instruments for our first official sing-along since our departure from Jerusalem. It is easier than it has ever been. We both feel a new freedom and marked difference.
We pack up and say our goodbyes and drive away. Except we realize something is very wrong with the van before we even make it out of our parking space. Yep, you guessed it: another shredded pilot bearing, same as in Texas. We call Sebastian and limp four hours back to the shop, where he replaces both the bearing and the clutch in a mere 90 minutes. I guess it takes a lot less than a week to fix when you happen to work at a VW transmission repair shop and have all the right parts and equipment and know exactly what you're doing.
By now it is well past Little Buddy's bed time so we crash outside the shop. We laugh about the van breaking down after only 4 hours of driving and I joke that maybe God was trying to stop us from going the wrong direction... at which point we realize we hadn't actually asked God for directions. So we asked, "where should we go?" I cross all my fingers and toes in hopes that he'll say something like, "The French Riviera, of course," but The Music Man hears, "up." I hear, "north." Uh-oh. Really? We ask again. The Music Man hears, "all the way up." I hear, "Maine." I laugh. Apparently we are on the wrong continent! We asked again and I audibly gasped. "Norway?!" I groan, "well... I didn't see that coming." Where is Norway, anyway? I honestly have no idea. You don't want to know what I didn't learn in school. And honestly, Norway really doesn't interest either one of us. The only thing I know about Norway is that a childhood neighbor, whose name I quite forget, was orphaned and subsequently shipped to Norway to live with some distant relatives... and somehow during the course of the conversation in which this whole situation was being explained to me, somebody let it slip that Norway has nude beaches. This troubled me deeply and I was devastated for days on end that she was being forced to go live in such a horrible place! I have to laugh, as now I might not be so quick to condemn an entire country based solely upon dress code... if for no other reason than that I love skinny-dipping and think that everyone should experience it (but not all at the same time).
When we crack open the handy guide book that comes with the van, the headline reads, "Norway, the New England of Europe". And the pictures looks like a cross between Switzerland and Maine. But then we see how far it was: about 2,000 miles to the top. And by 2,000 miles, I mean 2,000 miles each way. Let's review just a few of the thoughts running through my mind at this point, minus the expletives: You want us to do what?! Do you know that gas is $8 a gallon? Is this a test? It's been 15 months of absolute madness -- isn't this the part where we rest and relax and feast and sleep in and delight ourselves relentlessly in our little boy and each other... oh yeah, and occasionally sing a few songs from high places along the way?!
It is not to be a relaxing vacation... but what are plans for, even barely existent ones, if not for breaking? Within an hour we are in complete agreement that there is really nothing else to be done so we awake the next day and, after exchanging a few shocked expressions and taking a few deep breaths and getting off to another slow start, we fill our tank, point our van north, and hit the gas. As with most all of our adventures this last year, had we any concept of the sheer magnitude of our task, we'd most certainly have gotten back in bed and pulled the blankets up over our heads, but ignorance is indeed bliss.
And so we embark on yet another chapter of our life, again upended...