The building was cold. Drafty would be one way to describe it, but the word wouldn’t do it justice. The heat never worked, and the winter months dragged on. We sat at a long, white table, all bundled in our hats and coats, hands tucked into pockets in an effort to stay warm while the teacher drilled us on the Nominative case, the Genitive Case, and everything in between.
It was 1998, and I was a student at The Institute of Foreign Languages in Kiev, Ukraine. There were seven students in my Russian language class – six of them from China, and me, the blond-headed American with a love for languages and a longing for adventure.
After school we’d attempt small talk. Our only common language was Russian, so if we wanted to converse it had to be in the language we’d come there to learn. We did a lot of gesturing, and a lot of laughing. I’m sure we looked quite comical walking down the street, the Chinese and the American charading our way through Kiev.
On the afternoons when I wasn’t hanging out with my classmates, I’d explore the city on my own. My very favorite pastime was getting lost.
I got lost on purpose.
I’d walk in a new direction and take multiple turns until I didn’t quite know where I was, then I’d make myself find a way back. In my self-induced confusion, I found so many great little treasures.
I stumbled upon a tea shop on one of my wanderings. I walked inside and breathed in deep the heady scent of hundreds of different teas. Glass jars lined the wall from floor to ceiling, all of the labels written in Russian so I couldn’t quite make them out. But oh, how I enjoyed the challenge.
The owner of the shop was an older woman with bright grey hair and piercing eyes that probed my face. She found me amusing, maybe even a little annoying, and after a few attempts at speaking and realizing that my language was not strong enough to keep up with her fast speech, she left me to explore the walls on my own.
Another day, I got so turned around I could not find my way back. It was getting dark, and I was freezing cold. I was twenty, and didn’t always make the best decisions, but I did know that getting lost in a big city after dark on a cold night was a bad idea.
So I hailed a cab.
In Kiev, anyone can be a cab. Stick out your hand and anyone looking for money could swing by and pick you up. I decided to wait until I saw an actual cab car before sticking out my hand. You know, for safety.
I ended up in the car with one of the happiest, friendliest men I’ve ever met. His eyes swam with kindness. He spoke no English, but he was fluent in Spanish. My Russian language was stronger at that point, and I had a small cache of Spanish words stored in my memory from high school, so we pieced a conversation together using Russian and a bit of Spanish.
It’s been nearly eighteen years since I spent that semester in Ukraine, and even now I find that I still long for adventure. I crave that feeling of being lost.
Last year just about this time, I jetted off to Munich for a week with my dad, and on my first day there I took a walk. I turned left, then right, the left again until I was significantly turned around, and my heartbeat quickened. I was lost, and I was thrilled.
There’s beauty in wandering, and comfort in adventure. Sometimes it’s scary, not knowing where the next turn will lead you. But if you’re willing to take the ride, to seek out the treasures in the unknown path, you just may find that the unknown is the place where your soul comes alive.
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Some days, I feel swallowed up by the predictability of my life. Each day, though hectic, is relatively the same. We wake up, we have sports and school and bickering and loving, we go to bed, and we wake up and do it again.
I’m not complaining. I love my life. It’s messy and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to walk this path with anyone besides the people I’ve been given. So in the moments when I find myself longing for adventure again, I look at the unknown that stands before me.
Though my schedule may be predictable, the truth is I don’t know which direction tomorrow will lead me or my family. It’s always a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and looking for the adventure that is right now.
Even today, it’s possible to get lost on purpose. The fun lies in exploring each new turn life throws our way.
Are you an adventure seeker? How do you find adventure in the mundane spaces of life?
“It’s not fair! You’re just…you’re putting to much pressure on ME!”
With face in hands, the child ran from the room and slammed the door leaving me bewildered in the kitchen. All I asked was for help putting the dishes away.
Too much pressure?!
With a shake of my head, I left the dramatic child alone for a few minutes, because we both needed a time out. I pulled the box of old photographs down off the shelf and began rifling through. Sometimes memories bring a soothing balm to the rocky places of the present day.
When I came across the pictures from my trip to Ukraine in 2003, I let out a little yelp of joy. I’d been looking for those pictures for weeks, wanting to jog my memory of the events that so clearly marked the path for my book. I ran my fingers across the photographs, willing myself to remember the moments.
2003: A Meeting with veterans in Kam’yanets Podilsky, Ukraine.
Some of them seemed vague. The time I spent in that country was a whirlwind, and I was rather pregnant great with child, so not all the memories were cohesive. But a few were, and as I sifted through them, my dramatic child came and sat by my side.
“Who’s that?” The voice was soft, with the hint of apology floating at the edges.
“Those are men who battled evil,” I answered. “Those are men who know pressure. Real pressure. They understood suffering.”
I turned and offered a crooked smile. “Those are men who probably didn’t enjoy cleaning the kitchen, either. But they wouldn’t call it pressure. Maybe just more of an annoyance?”
A smile in return. The ice was breaking just a bit.
“Do you remember their stories?”
I looked carefully at the photo. “Not specifically,” I replied, “but I have them all written down. I’ll look them up later.”
“Why are their stories so important?” The innocent question was met with a quizzical stare, and all I could offer was a shrug at that moment. I couldn’t formulate the right answer, so I let the question hang in the air.
“Why are their stories so important?”
Long after the kitchen was cleaned and the house grew silent as the sun set low, I continued to mull over that one, simple inquiry.
Why are their stories so important?
These men are not American. Their stories and experiences tell of not only a time unfamiliar to most of us, but also a culture. Why is it important to tell their stories? Why should you care? Why should I care?
It’s said that the shortest distance between two people is story, and if that’s true then the question we should be asking is why wouldn’t we care?
These men stood up before their peers, and before a strange American girl, and they shared their stories. They shared them because they wanted me to know, and they wanted you to know.
They wanted us to see that the distance between us and them isn’t really all that far after all. We share the common longing for peace in a world that often quakes with violence.
We were all uniquely designed by a common Creator, and that design draws us together even if the miles, the language, and the landscape of our lives looks different.
So why are their stories important? Why should you care about the histories of a handful of men and women from half a world away?
Because their stories offer the connection between then and now, and in a time when evil runs rampant and we watch the world with wide eyes, a reminder of man’s capacity to overcome evil is beautiful, indeed.
In the months leading up to the release of my book, I will offer more background on the stories and events that inspired the novel. In the meantime, visit the War Stories page to read the histories of the four people who most impacted me as I researched this novel.
Do you remember that feeling you got as a kid when a birthday would come and go, or Christmas morning passed in a blur, and suddenly it was all over and you were left feeling a little let down?
It was the post-celebration blues, and they snuck up on you every single time.
The same feeling washes through when you finish writing a book. It’s sort of a day-after, did-that-really-happen kind of feeling that leaves you wringing your hands and wondering what you should do next.
The thing is, there’s still a lot to be done. Just like after a great birthday party, or a memorable Christmas, there is cleaning up to do. A new day dawns, and brings with it a flurry of activity. And yet you find yourself a bit dejected for a few days until the moment finally passes and you can start looking forward to the next celebration.
Wendy and I turned in our manuscript on Tuesday. It’s been an intense couple of weeks as we’ve gone through the book with a fine-tooth comb, pulling out sections that didn’t make sense, or stopped the flow. We’ve done rewrites, and we’ve challenged one another on theological concepts, always pushing each other toward becoming stronger communicators.
We’ve pushed ourselves late into the night, and throughout the day, filling each down moment with editing and sharpening.
And now it’s out of our hands.
Add to the the fact that I turned my novel back into the editor on Sunday night after doing all the rewrites, and you find me here in the corner, feeling like my birthday and Christmas just rolled past me in one giant swoop. I’m a little sad that it’s over.
There’s still so much to be done, obviously, but today I’m simply in that strange aftermath – the waiting period before life kicks back into gear.
Tomorrow my husband celebrates his birthday. He’s had a stressful few months as well, so we’re sneaking away for a few days, just the two of us. We’ll join Matt and Wendy in San Diego, and we’ll celebrate birthdays and finished manuscripts.
And hopefully we’ll sleep, because I’m running on fumes.
I’m not taking my computer with me, and I’m not going to lie – I’ve had a couple of panic attacks today as I’ve thought about leaving it behind. I need to get started on marketing plans, and I need to finish my ebooks. I need to contact people for endorsements, and I have a MOPS talk to prepare.
But if I don’t stop to take a breath, I simply won’t make it to the next goal.
There’s something to be said about stepping back and taking it all in. Just like there’s something to be said about sitting in front of the fireplace the day after Christmas and not diving right into the cleaning and organizing. Memories can’t be made if we don’t stop to digest the moments.
Books won’t be launched if we don’t stop and digest the accomplishment of writing them.
So tomorrow morning, I will drag myself out of bed at O’Dark Thirty (it’s hard to fly from one coast to the other), and I will leave the work behind. It’ll all be waiting for me when I return, no doubt.
I’m going to step away and celebrate the accomplishment of finishing these first steps. This is the time to breathe, to soak it all in, and to not think about what’s next.
So that’s where I’ll be, and that’s what I’ll do. And hopefully I’ll come home relaxed, refreshed, and ready to prepare for the next big celebration. TWO BOOK LAUNCHES!
Ten hours and fifteen minutes after taking off from Munich, the plane finally began it’s approach into the Atlanta airport. I couldn’t even really feel excited over the sheer exhaustion of it all.
Ten hours is a long time.
I’d finished writing a chapter in my book, written the beginnings of a short story, read for quite a bit, and watched three movies, because somehow zoning out to the tiny television screen felt the least like trying to slog through quick sand.
Sandwiched between my husband and a very kind young German man, I’d shifted and squirmed through most of the flight, because I can find neither comfort nor sleep on an airplane. It’s a terrible curse to not be able to drift to sleep in any position but fully prone.
One of the movies I watched had a bit of suspense to it, and at one point, when a shark leapt out of the water and almost bit the main character’s head off, I yelped and accidentally grabbed the arm of the kind, young German man. Lee fell over into the aisle laughing while this poor fellow confirmed his suspicions that I was a crazy American. I tried apologizing, and he smiled politely, then shifted as far away from me as he possibly could.
As we made our way down, the runway in our sights, I offered Lee a small smile. “Almost there,” I said, and he nodded in return, equally numb.
We raced toward the ground, waiting for the wheels to touch down on American soil, and then WHAMO!
It was one of the roughest landings I’ve ever experienced in an airplane. I suspect the pilot had his own feelings of numbness to contend with, and perhaps he got tired of the slow descent and decided to just throw that sucker down and be done with it.
As the plane shuddered and bounced under the weight of a quick landing, I gripped the armrest. I almost grabbed my new German friend’s hand, but I noticed he had tucked his hands under his legs in self defense. Poor fellow.
A few minutes later, the plane rolled to a stop, and my grip loosened as I realized we’d made it safe and sound. The plane didn’t barrel roll into the gate like it seemed it would in those first few moments after slamming to the ground. We had arrived. We were home.
I didn’t realize our landing would be a metaphor for reentry into every day life.
It’s amazing how a getaway can revive a person. Last week away was fabulous from start to finish. I loved every minute of it, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t really miss the kids until the day it was time to go home. I simply relished in the freedom of kidless-ness. There were many moments when I wished that the kids were with me. Each time I explored a castle, I wished I could share the experience with them, because I knew they’d love it.
But I never once wished I was back home.
When we finally landed in Tampa, though, Lee and I were beyond ready to get home and see the children. This was our slow descent. It felt like it took forever for our wheels to hit the ground, but finally we were there, and the return hugs and snuggles we got were worth every minute away.
The first night was sweet and fun as we shared our trip with them, and they shared their week with us. My mom not only survived, but she did a slam bang job of holding the house together in the process. She deserves a few extra jewels in her heavenly crown for last week, for sure.
We went to bed that first night, and slept soundly, then woke up and WHAMO! No more slow descent. Arguments, homework, notes from teachers and homeroom moms listing out 8,462 things that needed to be done before the last day of school, soccer try outs, practices, and incidents that occurred while we were gone that needed to be addressed.
It’s like we fell out of the sky and slammed back into real life, and last night Lee caught my eye after we finally managed to get them all in bed. His wide eyes matched mine, and we sort of just stared at one another for a long minute before starting to laugh.
“I guess there’s no easing back into this, right?” I asked. Lee shook his head and raised his glass to me.
“To Germany!” he cried.
To Germany, indeed. I write this now after a restless night with a kid who had nightmares and ended up in our bed…on top of me for the the most part. The same kid woke up with a gushing bloody nose that I got to deal with before a sip of coffee crossed my lips.
Welcome home, and thanks for dropping in, I thought to myself when I got them all on the bus, but there’s a grin behind the thought, because I wouldn’t orchestrate life any other way than this – crazy, and busy, and brimming with love.
Salzburg is romantic castles towering high above the city. History and beauty, and so many stories tucked into the marred, stone walls.
Salzburg is graveyards and flowers, and beautiful remembrances of loved ones lost.
Salzburg is doors. So many magical, curious doors. Doors that might be portals back in time. Or maybe they just lead to the dumpster, but either way, there’s something fascinating about all those doors.
Salzburg is a place that can even make McDonalds look inviting and romantic.
Salzburg is exploring and hiking behind the castle where you find a leafy path that leads to…where? You don’t know because you don’t have time to explore it. And also, there’s a sign that says Private Property, which really only makes it all the more intriguing, right?
Salzburg is horse drawn carriages on cobbled sidewalks.
Salzburg is standing high above the city and biting your lip to keep from singing “The hiiiills are alliiiive!” You want to do it, but you know people would think you were weird.
Salzburg is flower boxes in windows everywhere you turn.
Salzburg is a place that you never want to leave. It’s a place you dream of bringing your children.
Salzburg is spectacular.
I decided to leave my bulky camera behind on this trip and, instead, use only my iPhone to capture the images. I’m thankful that I read David Molnar’s iPhone Only Photography book before I came. Have you read it? You should. So many great tips!