I walked arm-in-arm with an 80-something Slovak woman in the dead of night through the streets of Vrbovce. I had known her for all of ten minutes and she didn’t speak a word of English. We were united only by mutual curiosity, and a desire to go to sleep. The town was dead quiet. No planes, only the occasional car passing through, or a dog barking at nothing.
When we arrived at her house, she gave us a full meal – with a shot of peppermint Schapps. I learned that night how hospitable my “grandmother” Betty was, and how much I don’t like liquor.
In a town that’s barely on the map, my life changed.
I stood beneath tall, solemn trees in Brettheim, Germany planted in front of a cemetery. Father Michael, a tall, sad-looking man, told us the story of an exhausted town at the end of the second World War, when a group of Hitler Youth marched through the town but were stopped by three men, who took their weapons and sent them back to their officer. The boys reported the men, and they were hanged in Brettheim for treason.
“Look up,” said Father Michael. “They were hanged in these trees.”
In a town that the world has forgotten, my life changed.
I sat at Wartburg Castle, an ancient bastion where Martin Luther changed the world by translating the Latin vulgate into German, so that the common people could finally come face-to-face with God. I looked out over endless forest, imagining Luther doing the same thing hundreds of years before. And I heard the still, small voice of God – “Be a Luther.”
And I, like Moses, responded incredulously, “How, God? I’m one person. Luther literally changed the world. How could the things I do today change the world 500 years from now?”
On a quiet perch in the middle of a foreign country, my life changed. I underestimated the power of God, and He proved me wrong.
Sometimes we need to be taken out of our comfort zones in order to come face-to-face with the majesty and glory of God. It’s easy to become comfortable with His daily providence, so much so that we wake up in the morning and forget to thank Him for breath, we eat and forget to thank Him for food, we drive to work and forget to thank Him for safety.
But then you get on a plane that’s held aloft by shafts of air and you pray fervently for safety. You thank God for food after trying to order it in a different language and failing miserably. You thank God for rest after a long day in a country you’ve never set foot in before. You become a stranger in a strange land, and you realize how much you take for granted.
Language, for instance. Here in America, most people speak only one language and maybe a smattering of another. I don’t speak a word of Hungarian or Slovak. Being in those countries made me understand what it’s like for a non-English speaker in the United States. Talk about feeling like a stranger, or feeling unwanted or unnoticed, even.
So, I’m back. I arrived back in the U.S. yesterday, jet-lagged and grateful to see familiar sites. I have returned to my roots where I feel most comfortable. That comfort is both a blessing and a threat. God, let me not forget your providence even in the safety of my home. Let me be ever grateful for blessings great and small.
On this trip, I have found my wings. My wings are still small. I loved every moment of traveling, but I won’t deny that I often got homesick. My roots are planted deep, and to be so far from them was a strain on me.
But if I had been afraid and decided not to go, I would’ve handicapped myself. I would have remained comfortable and unaware of the daily blessings of God. I would have been unaware of some of the deepest truths of our faith.
I don’t think it’s bad to have deep roots and small wings, nor do I think it’s bad to have shallow roots and large wings. I think it is bad to be content with either. If your roots are shallow, why not try to water them? If your wings are small, why not try to beat them and see how far you can fly?
That’s all I have for this one, but I’ll be back soon, I promise. I have plenty more to share.