Jan 30, 2012

Grace.

Grace is defined as unmerited favor. Gaining something even if we don't deserve it and being spared from getting what we really do deserve.
This past Sunday one of our Chaplains recounted this story written by Charles Stanley.

“One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.
The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, "You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment."
Wow? We sat there stunned. "Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?" Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.
When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.
Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.
One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A
.
This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard--moral and ethical perfection--and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff.
Others are like the student who read the test through and was award of the professor's offer but took the test anyway. Unwilling to simply receive God's gift of forgiveness, they set about to rack up enough points with God to earn it.
But God's grace truly is like the professor's offer. It may seem unbelievable, but if we accept it, then, like the stunned students who accepted the professor's offer, we too, will discover that God's grace truly is free. All we have to do is accept it.
I'm stuffing this little gem in my memory bank of wisdom and I trust that one day, I'll dust it off and share this great explanation to someone who needs to see God's grace in a tangible way.

Jan 26, 2012

Things to Hate about Germany

I've got nothing for this week. I really did try.
Instead I have one random thing that I am going to miss. Dogs in the mall. I can't explain it but there is something just so adorable about dogs in the mall. Every single time I see a dog in the mall I want to walk up and ruffle its ears. I don't though because then my hands would get dog dirty and I would require sanitizer or a bathroom asap. But seeing them does give me warm fuzzies and I do crack a smile.

Jan 22, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year's Ever!
2012 is the Chinese year of the Black Water Dragon or Black Dragon or Water Dragon just year of the Dragon. I read a lengthy explanation about how the Chinese use the Stem-Branch calendar system to include the 10 symbols (yin fire, yang fire, yin water, yang water....) mixed with the 12 animals (rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon.....) and you put all this together to determine what the symbol for the year is. Apparently the year of the Black Water Dragon means this year will bring change, but with a measure of calm, sensibility and prudence. That is great news since this year is in fact going to bring change and I like to think I'm sensible when it comes to big life changes like the ones we will face this year. Then again....doesn't every year bring change?
Anyway, I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to start my new year based on the Chinese calendar because I wasn't really ready on January 1st. I have spent the last few weeks tying up some loose ends, getting some balls rolling and I do feel a little more ready to start 2012.
I'm excited to officially start this year. I'm ready to get back into a routine. I'm excited to see some more new and wonderful places here in Europe. I'm looking forward to spending time with the amazing people we have in our lives right now. And I am starting to get a little pumped up about finding a new place to live, settling down in Washington and seeing family again that I haven't seen in at least three years.
While I have a lot to look forward to this year, I cannot overlook the tough goodbyes that will take place as well. My heart is already breaking as I think about leaving the Mlacks. How many people in the world actually get to live down the street from their best friends? The other day Eli was talking to me about how hard it is going to be for him to say goodbye to Mason for the last time. He was chattering away about how much he loves Madison and Mason and how sad he is going to be to leave them. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the drivers' seat bawling my eyes out. I do believe that seeing Eli say goodbye to Mason will be the most difficult aspect of this move. We have other great friends here as well that are going to be missed so much and I dread saying good bye to. And of course we will really miss just living here in Germany and experiencing all the amazing things available to us.
As I get ready for bed on this New Year's Eve I pray that my family remains healthy and happy in 2012, that the good days outweigh the bad, that I gain wisdom as a wife, mother and friend, and that I may be a blessing to others this year.
2012.... I'm ready.....let's do this!


Jan 18, 2012

Mexican. Dude.

I hope someone reads this title and knows exactly what scene of what movie it is referring to. Anyone?
Don't worry if you have no idea. That probably just means you have a more exciting life than I do or you read books or watch movies with greater substance than this silly romantic comedy.
Four Christmases is the movie.
The family game of Taboo is the scene.
After Brad's mom and step-dad struggle through their turn at the game, Brad's brother and sister-in-law are up and ready to hand out a beat down. They sail through the cards guessing the correct answers with spot-on clues drawn from their life or relationship. Then the sister-in-law finishes her turn with the least descriptive clue possible:
"Mexican. Dude."
To which her husband immediately responds "Ricardo Montalbon".
Correct!
It is hilarious. Maybe not so funny to read, but trust me it is a funny scene and quite an entertaining movie.
So, the other day I picked up an anniversary card for Matt, wrote something incredibly sweet on the inside, sealed it up and addressed it to.... Mexican. Dude.
When I handed it to Matt he looked at it for a second or two and then looked up at me and said "Ricardo Montalbon?"
After 15 years of marriage and another 4 of dating and engagedness this is what we have accomplished .... the ability to quote movies to each other!






Ode To 15 Years

There I stood at the back of the church with my dad beside me and my future husband up ahead.
The bell ringer headed down the aisle as a signal that I was on my way.
Music began to play and a tiny cry was heard throughout the congregation "the music scares me".
The bell ringer turned on his heels and reversed coarse.
During rehearsals my three-year-old cousin walked down the aisle of a silent church ringing his little bell. However, due to a little mix-up with the sound guy, the music was an unknown variable and proved too much for the young boy.
I looked to my dad and gave his arm a tug.
Who needs music? Let's do this.
We then proceeded to practically run down the aisle.
The "Wedding March" began as I was about 3 feet from the alter.
(Apparently, I'm not very patient when things don't go my way.)
Standing before our pastor with our friends and family looking on Matt and I made some promises that day to each other and to God.
I don't exactly remember what we promised but I do know we promised to be together.
Here we are 15 years later.
Not only together, but fully enjoying our togetherness.

A few years ago some friends and I were talking about meeting our spouse and proposals and such. One friend asked "When did you know that he was the one?" I know the very romantic and popular answer would be when Matt kissed me under mistletoe or when I saw him for the first time, but I went for a completely honest answer "I guess about 2-3 years after we got married".
Looking back I don't know why I said "yes" to Matt's proposal. It was definitely the least thought-out decision of my life. And even more mystifying is why Matt asked in the first place.
The truth is I didn't really love him back then. I thought I did, but what we shared was a mere shadow of love. It looked like love and felt like love but it was flat and fleeting. It wasn't until months and years passed that we really started to love each other the way God designed us to. As time passed we learned how to be patient with each other, to be kind even when we were in a disagreement. I learned the importance of honoring and respecting Matt and not looking out for myself first. We learned to trust, dream and persevere together. Today I can say with great confidence that I love Matt more than I ever have.
Matt is truly my very best friend, the one who loves me more than I deserve and more than I could have ever imagined. I laugh harder with Matt than anyone else in the world because we are both complete dorks who find humor in the most ridiculous things. I find myself reaching for his hand to hold at each opportunity because I do want to be that close to him.
I can't believe he proposed. I can't believe I said yes. But I'm so very thankful for that we did and completely astounded at this amazing life we have led so far.
Prost! to the next 15 and the next 30 after that!


Jan 14, 2012

More Things to Hate about Germany *Update*

3. Sandwiches. Or shall I say, lack of sandwiches. Sometimes I'm just really craving a Paneraesque sandwich. Delicious bread, fresh meats and veggies, and a yummy sauce. German sandwiches - if you can even grant them that title - are so lame. They are likely a hard miniature baguette with either some form of a salami looking type of meat or prosciutto and if you are lucky a tomato. Clearly the sandwich thing hasn't caught on here.
4. Toilets. My friend Allison reminded me of this situation. Two things about toilets here. First, you often have to pay to use a public toilet. It is strategi
cally important to always have change in your wallet in the form of 10, 20 and 50 cents. Sometimes the toilets have attendants and you can get change if all you have is a 5 bill. But other times - no change - no luck. Second, a lot of German (and European in general) toilets have poo shelves and that is just gross. I don't think I need to further explain this one. But I should say, it isn't quite as disgusting as the fact that you can't flush toilet paper down the toilet in many Greece cities. Yep. I'll leave that one to your imagination as well.
Thousands of people have requested m
ore information on the poo shelf. OK just one. So, in response to my reader's request, I have included this lovely photo of a toilet (not mine, though I wish mine were so clean). The left of the photo is the back. Strategically located where the non-liquid form of bodily waste exits the body. Apparently, the volks here in DE like to inspect their business before sending it into the sewage system. There ya have it. German toilets.


Jan 11, 2012

Dinner

Although I had known for months that my parents would be here in Germany over Christmas and New Years, it wasn't until the end of November that it sunk in that my parents would be here for New Year's Eve. Score one for Matt and Riss. I sweetly asked my dad and mom if they would watch the kids so Matt and I could go out. Since I was their tour guide and primary provider of transportation and meals, I had them against the wall. They really had no choice but to do it!
New Year's Eve day started nice and slow, just the way I like it. Then around 4pm Matt and I hopped in the car and headed up to Wiesbaden. We checked in to a hotel, got all fancy, and then grabbed a cab into the city to meet some friends at their flat.
Our "cocktail" hour was loads of fun. We spent a good amount of time taking pictures. We were like kids getting ready for prom but the roles were reversed. My friends' 13 year old daughter was taking the pictures and the adults were posing and being goofy. I haven't seen those pictures yet. I'm slightly scared and yet excited to see them too!
The bartending technique for the night consisted of people randomly picking a number between 1-1000 and then making the corresponding beverage in the Bartender's guide. I'm not sure who had that idea but it made for some good laughs and a lot of half-consumed beverages. The best drink of the night was a blue fru-fru drink that our friend made - it was quite smurfy.
Shortly before 8pm we left the flat and walked into town for our quite fancy 6 course meal. It was extravagant and so special. The whole event took 4 hours. Normally, I wouldn't consider dinner an event, but when it takes 4 hours it becomes one.
I absolutely loved this experience. We opted for the "surprise me" method of eating. In other words, we asked the waitress not to tell us what we were about to eat. Sometimes it is really best just to taste the food first and then find out what it was, this was one of those times. We started off the meal with a Prosecco toast and then sat back and enjoyed the food and company.
The menu as best as I can translate it:
1. Venison Carpaccio with Veal tartar with mango and quail egg.
2. Batter-fried Scallop with Octopus Carpaccio
3. Roasted Foi Gras (Goose Liver) with Truffel Sauce and Shallots
4. Home-made Tortellini filled with truffles in a truffle sauce with a truffle foam.
5. Black Angus Beef in a truffle puff pastry
6. Zabaione filled biscuit with Campari Orange Sorbet

Yes...carpaccio is thinly sliced raw meat and tartar also refers to meat that is raw. How is it that raw food can be so expensive?
I'm so glad I had the opportunity to taste all this food. I have to say the venison carpaccio was quite tasty, the octopus was neither great nor bad, and the foi gras was surprisingly edible. I loved loved the Tortellini and all the truffle business. If you haven't tasted truffle sauce or anything stuffed with truffle - do so soon! Every time I see some type of pasta on a menu that includes "truffle" in the explanation I go for it. The meat was very rare but still incredibly delicious. Don't judge me for the foi gras. At the time of consumption I didn't know what it was or what has to happen to the poor little goose in order to become a foi gras goose.
A bonus for the entire menu was the beauty of all the food. Everything looked so pretty. I think they spray-painted some of the food silver. There was a silvery frost on the scallop and the blueberries.
We finished dinner just before midnight. We paid our bill and headed to the streets in time to see the fabulous amateur fireworks display in the city. The church bells were ringing, people were kissing, and 2012 arrived.

Jan 10, 2012

No Joy

A few weeks ago we loaded up the van and headed to Strasbourg, France. My parents were here visiting and we thought we'd skip over the boarder and show them this lovely town and stroll through the Christmas market there as well.
The boys were less than excited that they had to 1. get dressed 2. go to "annnooooother town" 3. go to annnoooother Christmas market and finally 4. drive an hour to
get there. They are pretty tired of cute towns that require walking about and after the first two of the year, they are tired of Christmas markets.
As we were driving around looking for parking that would accommodate one American not-so-mini-van, Eli broke his silence to make a definitive declaration "this place has no joy"! He followed that up with a comment about how Strasbourg didn't look very special to him.
This joy he was speaking of was the trappings of Christmas. The lights, the garland, the Christmas stalls set up all over town to sell gifts, decorations, and food.
On the outskirts of town Strasbourg looked quite lame compared to most of the cute towns we take people to, but once you break through the city blocks and get into the old part of the city, the adorable factor explodes and you see the allure of the town. And in December you cannot look anywhere without seeing the "joy"!












Strasbourg is by far the most Christmasy decorated city I have seen to date.
Every single street has lights strung across it. Many buildings are decorated like this one pictured above and the "joy" as Eli called it is simply overwhelming. It is truly so beautiful.
I have no idea why Eli decided to use the term "joy" to explain the beauty of Christmas, but I quite like it.
I think he is on to something without even knowing it. Twinkling lights and presents are just that until you add the joy of Christmas. An evergreen tree gains its beauty when we add lights. Garland and wreaths are quite boring until ribbons adorn them. Some farm animals and a feeding trough are nothing until you lay the savior among them.
Christmas is hectic and pricey and stressful until the joy that is the gift of God's one and only Son becomes the focus.
He is the Joy.



Jan 7, 2012

Things to Hate about Germany

In an effort to prepare myself to leave this amazingly wonderful place that I absolutely love, I have started to make a mental notes about the things I truly hate about living here.

For this week:
1. Whilst listening to German radio today I heard "9-5" by Dolly Parton. It wasn't the oldies station either. And just to solidify my hatred for German radio, the next station that tuned in was playing that horrible song, perhaps by the Carpenters, "sing, sing a song, sing out loud...." ugh.
2. Pork. When we leave Germany I will never order pork in a restaurant again. Pork sausage, pork knuckle, pork schnitzel, pork medallions, pork on a stick, pork pork pork. It tastes good but come on lets diversify!


Downright Dirty

It is noon and I'm just now finishing my first cup of coffee. Obviously something is wrong with this day.
The house is a wreck. I mean a total and complete disgusting mess. So bad in fact that Matt slipped in a little comment last night as we were getting ready to go to bed:
"Good Lord this house is a mess. Woman, put down your coffee and bon-bons and clean this pig sty up!"
OK. So that wasn't his exact words, but that is how it felt when my ears sent his words to my brain. I think he actually said "Wow, we need to clean this place up".
After sleeping in on this lazy Saturday, we began the task of sorting through all the junk that has accumulated in piles in our room, the kitchen, living room, hall and every last corner of the house. We made a dent - but this will clearly be a week-long project.
Alp d'Laundry is really quite comparable to Mount Everest at this point. It takes my breath away, not because of beauty but there is literally a lack of oxygen going to my brain when I take in the mass of dirty clothes that need attention. And just now as I looked up from my computer to try and remember the name of the above mentioned mountain, and I noticed a spider web so robust it could actually serve as a clothes line. I'm not even going to mention the situation we have going on in the basement, it is truly shameful.
How does this happen? How does a reasonably clean house turn so quickly?
My first instinct is to panic. The house is a mess. It is going to take serious amounts of time and coffee to remedy this situation. Panic because I just realized that after I manage to clean the place, I need to seriously consider clean sweeping - I have a lot of sorting and deep cleaning to do before the packers can come. Panic because it is 2012 and I'm starting off the year under a cloud of dust and Amazon boxes. I'm starting off in the negative, behind, wrong foot, you name it that is where I am. Not a good way to start off the year. How can I even attempt to "turn over a new leaf" when the leaf is buried under all the mess in my house?
After taking a moment to breath into one of the brown paper bags laying around I had a moment of clarity. I found a solution to my problems. I decided it is perfectly acceptable to celebrate the New Year based on the Chinese Calendar on January 23.
From now until January 23rd I will live in a season of limbo - purging the old and getting ready for the new. All New Year's resolutions and goals shall henceforth begin on the 23rd....after my house is in good shape and all the Christmas cookies are consumed! And if that doesn't work.....when is the Jewish New Year?

Jan 6, 2012

Epiphany.

Epiphany - as in the holiday also called Three Kings Day. Not epiphany as in a big lightbulb going off in my head.
Today is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, the holiday when we celebrate the Wise Men from the East who followed the star to meet Jesus.
The boys tried to convince me that they should get gifts if they put hay or grass out for the Wise Men's camels. I'm all for embracing multiple traditions but I draw the line at 1. grass being in my house and 2. coming up with any more gifts or candy for my kids. I quickly replied that the only gifts involved in Three Kings Day would be for Jesus, in the form of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They didn't put up a fight.
The last of our Christmas decorations have been boxed up and stored in the basement, the tree is outside waiting for tree pick-up day, and the sweet sounds of Christmas music no longer fill the air. Christmas is over.
The year is over.
It all ended far too quickly.
While I am looking forward to the many adventures my family will have this year in Europe and the new home that we will establish in Washington later this year, I am truly sad to have bid 2011 farewell. It was a good year and quite frankly I wanted to hang on to it a little longer.