I just returned from a two week vacation to Germany and Norway. We have friends who serve at Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany. We also have a former exchange student, friend who lives in Norway. Our daughter has wanted to visit our friends in Germany for the past several years. When our exchange student left us a year ago we promised that we would visit her in Norway. Our daughter graduated from high school this past year and will be leaving for college in one week. So if we were going to make this trip it had to be this summer.
This trip, from start to finish, was a gift from God. There were many ways that God blessed us, but I want to focus on three.
God blessed us with the privilege of traveling as a family. I know that there are many who will never be able to make a trip like we just completed. I don’t take that for granted. God allowed us to travel with our daughter and our middle son. Experiencing new things together has always been a big part of our family. We enjoy being together and exploring new places. Our son is studying in California, so we had not spent time with him since Christmas. It was a joy to reconnect in Minneapolis and travel to Europe together. Family is a gift from God. Many people do not enjoy close family relationships. There are many broken and dysfunctional families in our world. To be together and enjoy being together is something to be celebrated.
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. Psalms 127:3-5 (NIV)
God blessed us with the renewal of friendships. We have known our friends in Germany for about 25 years. For about half of that time they were part of our church. For the other half they have been located elsewhere. We have maintained our relationship from a distance. Having the opportunity to spend a week with them in their home was a treat. They introduced us to their community and the surrounding area where they live. Exploring a new place with someone who is in the know is a gift in itself. So often we travel to a place and miss some of the best things there because we are unaware of them. When you have a personal guide you see things better. Again, this was a shared experience. It strengthened the bond that we already had with this family. We now have a much better understanding of their ministry and their life.
In Norway we had the opportunity to develop a relationship with our exchange student’s family. We had hosted them briefly when they came to Minnesota to pick up their daughter. On this trip we got the chance to enter into their lives. They invited us to experience their world in a very personal way. As in Germany, they became our tour guides to show us the wonders of Norway; and there are many.
God blessed us with a new appreciation of his awesome creation. We live in southern Minnesota, which is relatively flat with many open spaces. We were transported to the world of mountains, rivers, and seas. In Germany we were introduced to the majesty of the Alps. Kandern is located in a valley. The streets are on an incline and you have to go up to get out of the village in any direction. My leg muscles were put to the test as we hiked into the Black Forest and as we meandered down the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.
I was in awe of the surroundings in Germany, and then we went to Norway. Our friends there live on the edge of the North Sea. The best way to describe their setting is that it is the convergence of mountains, fields and ocean. Our friends in Germany live in a neat, German village. Our friends in Norway live on the rocky, majestic farm, with small fields enclosed by rock walls leading down to the water’s edge. They raise beef cattle and sheep, as well as fish for the bounty of the sea. The days were long, with wonderful lingering evenings. The air was cool and fresh. The pace was determined but leisurely. From a visitor’s view it was idyllic.
As I looked around I was reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 1:20. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. It is hard to believe that people can live in a place like Germany or Norway and not believe in God. His handiwork is evident everywhere that you look.
The mixture of family, friends and God’s amazing creation was a gift that I will cherish for a long time. God gave me a chance to renew my spirit in magnificent fashion. I want to fully celebrate the gift that He has given to me. We all need to go to the mountain top from time to time and get a new glimpse of God’s goodness, so that we can descend into the valley of everyday life and serve Him with all of our heart.