Three nights ago, our family finally succeeded in setting up our tent and sleeping, all four of us lined up like sardines, the night of the blood moon eclipse. We kept peeking our heads out of the tent as the earth eclipsed the moon, and it glowed red in the night sky.
It has been over a year since we all slept in our Big Agnes tent, and we notice the girls have gotten bigger. But Jeremy is determined to start sleeping outside one night per month, following the pattern of a dear Montana man from our congregation in Plains and his son. No longer living in a Central European capital certainly makes this an easier proposition for us.
Our family remains in transition, living part of the time with Jeremy’s brother, our sister-in-law, niece and nephew, on a property in Stillwater, MN. They rent a large brick house and its almost ten acres of land stretch out towards lakes north and south. The girls and their cousins ran through the grass all summer, climbing trees, riding bikes, playing “olden times.” Esme is heard to call out periodically, “I’m Baby Carrie!” and the older girls debate about who gets to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jeremy set up a biathalon training course with a BB gun, timing the four cousins (aged 2,3, 6 and 8) and helping them shoot large towels on the line (easier to hit than small targets.) The event kept the adults laughing, and helped the kids run hard and sleep well.
In late August, Ursula started first grade at her cousin Addie’s elementary school, where she is learning how to read and write in English. She loves – unsurprisingly – both her teacher and fellow students.
On the weekends – and for much of the summer – Jeremy’s parents opened their Shoreview home to us. Dale, a relentless morning person, entertained the girls over and after countless breakfasts. Linda completed any number of sewing projects for them (including a quilt, a bonnet, and Halloween costumes). The girls embraced the Saturday morning ritual of grocery shopping with Grandma and Bempa.
On Sundays, we have been attending Christ Church Lutheran in south Minneapolis, where Pastors Kristine Carlson and Erik Haaland welcomed us with open arms. I am very grateful to have a congregation during this in-between time. It tells me something (or perhaps God is trying to tell me something) that as a pastor who pretty much always likes to be in charge (!) I am content for now to sit in the pews with my girls and spouse, drinking in the Word and passing out Cheerios. Apparently, I need rest from leadership, renewal.
The last few months have held their fair share of international travel for me. While I worked remotely for part of the summer, I made two trips back to Slovakia and Hungary, leaving Jeremy and the girls with the family in Minnesota. In July I was gone for two weeks, leading the final retreat for last year’s YAGM group in the High Tatras, packing up our flat in Bratislava, and finishing final paperwork with Intern Paul Kacynski. Later in August-September, I left for another three weeks, to help Rachel Eskesen, my successor, begin orientation for a new group of YAGM’s in Hungary, and preach and preside for the last time at the Bratislava International Church. My time in Central Europe was made more interesting by a broken down church car (the one we affectionately named “Lola” three years ago) and a YAGM undergoing surgery for appendicitis in a small Hungarian hospital, just one week into her year abroad.
More seriously, the surging refugee crisis makes traveling in Hungary no light thing. I walked one morning through Keleti train station in Budapest, the very week that the trains to western Europe were shut down. Images of thousands of men, women and children camped and waiting, anxious and uncertain, are still seared on my brain. And I was there for about ten minutes. Privileged with an American passport, I was able to easily buy a bus ticket to Slovakia and days later board a plane to the USA. How many millions pray for the journey that I have now made so many times?
I said many goodbyes during my time in Central Europe — to Hungarian pastoral colleagues, members of the Bratislava International Church, and friends at Next Apache café. I sang Compline in harmony with the new YAGM’s. I shared some wonderful dinners with the ELCA volunteer teachers at the Lyceum, and with Esme’s Slovak-American godparents. Then I packed up the last of our things, and retuned to the family I missed so much while I was away.
Back in the USA, Jeremy has had the gift of medical care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He underwent surgery for his foot in late July, which by that point had contracted to a state of true deformity. I have started to pray more regularly for the lame, whose stories fill our scriptures, especially those around the world today who will never have access to the excellent medical care that Jeremy has had, those who will never walk again.
Jeremy’s recovery has thankfully gone well, though being in a cast for another 5 weeks tried every ounce of Jeremy’s patience. We are grateful to God and the surgeon. Jeremy’s foot now looks like a normal foot, and for the first time in over 9 months, he is beginning to put weight on it.
We are not naïve. He still has a long way to go toward full mobility, maybe a year or more. But we are starting to believe that healing will happen, and Jeremy will walk, and hike, and ski, and ice-climb again.
I am in the call process, hoping to return to parish pastoral work in the western Rockies. We have enough rich memories from our time abroad to swallow and digest for years, whenever we move back to a land with less people, less written history, and more open space for sleeping outside. I thank God that even in these wide-open spaces the church can be found. The same church, one, holy, catholic, that has nurtured me on three continents, in so many different villages, towns, and cities, for almost 39 years.