Sunday, August 17, 2014

Among the Alps??


A good friend of mine recently pointed out that the title for my newsletters (and, consequently, the title of my blog) is a bit of a misnomer. Though at first I didn't want to admit it, he was entirely correct. I do not technically live or teach in the middle of the Alps. I live in the Black Forest, which is lovely trees, green hills, and endless hiking trails…but regretfully, no Alpine peaks. As someone who likes to write, I suppose I just got caught up in the alliterative allure of a title such as “Among the Alps.” It was so much better than “Frolicking in the Forest,” “Teaching in the Timber” or anything else that was coming to mind. To be fair, my life is not entirely devoid of this famous mountain range. I can technically see the Alps from Kandern. I just have to climb to the top of Sausenburg Castle or head up the mountain for dinner (5 Euro Schnitzel!) at Alpenblick. When the weather is clear, the snow capped peaks are just visible on the horizon. For an American who for many years had always dreamed of living even remotely close to such a magnificent mountain range, I think we’ll count “being-able-to-see-a-peak-on-a-clear-day” as being in the among category. So, in the future, please know that I do indeed know the difference between the Alps and the Black Forest. I have just decided to translate “among” to mean “within a 100 mile radius of.” But thanks again to my friend for helping me to clarify my geography!
You can just catch a glimpse of the Alps on the horizon


As for recent events in Kandern, the hustle of school is almost upon us. Today is our last official day of break and tomorrow we start with All Staff Conference. I am so excited to meet all the new teachers, RAs, and other new staff members. There will be lots to meet because this year at BFA there are about 50 new faculty members! As is BFA tradition, we will begin the week with new staff testimonies. This is where all the newbies get to share the awesome story of how God has brought them to Germany to serve at BFA. From past experience, I am looking forward to these testimonies as being a time of encouragement and celebration for the year ahead.


As for myself, I am once again starting to get the start-of-school jitters. I was hoping that those would go away since it is my second year teaching and all. But, the anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach, the crazy dreams that I’m late for the first day of school, and the waking up in the middle of the night and writing down a sudden idea for a lesson plan (which always ends up making no sense in the morning) hasn’t seemed to have diminished at all from last year. The students arrive on August 31st and school begins September 2nd. More updates to come!

Enjoying summertime on a hike with friends :)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Wait a minute…where’s our bus?


On Saturday morning, I waved good-bye to my parents and watched as they began their journey back to the United States. I feel so incredibly blessed that they were able to come for a visit. Even the little things like sharing a meal together, tasting new ice cream flavors at the local Eiscafé, helping Mom learn new German words, climbing mountains with Dad, or showing my parents around the campus at BFA have left so many special memories of our time together.

While my parents and I had an overall fantastic time of traveling together, we also had a few misadventures. One of our craziest adventures occurred during our trip to Munich. Wanting to save money, I searched around online and found an awesome deal for bus tickets for only 14 Euros a person. I had actually traveled on this same bus back in October when some of my roommates and I visited Munich for Oktoberfest.

Excited about the great deal, we packed our bags and boarded the train to Freiburg where we would then catch our bus to Munich. Besides the noise from a group of rowdy teenage boys who decided to choose their seats directly behind us, the bus ride was pretty comfortable. We had a table in between four seats and were able to look out the bus window and enjoy the German scenery.

We were nearing the midway point of our journey, a little town called Friedrichshafen nestled near the Bodensee. In October, we had had time to get out at the bus station, stretch our legs, grab a bite to eat, and use the restroom. I, being rather drowsy from watching a World Cup game the night before, was starting to doze off. A long stream of German announcements went completely unnoticed by my mother and I (the only two partial German speakers in our family) and my dad, awake but not comprehending, assumed that Mom or I had gotten the gist of whatever the bus driver was trying to communicate.

I woke up as the bus was pulling into the station at Friedrichshafen. Remembering the trip from October, I explained to my family that we would have about 15 minutes to use the restroom or get a snack. Leaving most of our belongings behind, the three of us exited the bus to take a quick break. Although it was somewhat heavy to carry, I decided that just to be safe, I should take my backpack.

We were only gone for about seven minutes. The three of us had walked around to the back of the bus station to find the restroom. Well, as we soon discovered, seven minutes was all it took to get left behind in Friedrichshafen. At first, we didn’t believe it. The bus was probably just refueling somewhere. I tried desperately to reassure my mother (and myself), “he’ll be back, don’t worry, the bus just went to get gas or something.” After about 15 minutes, I wasn’t so sure…and after 25 minutes, I knew we must have been left behind. Being left would have been bad enough, but to add to our stress was the fact that our three suitcases, my dad’s laptop, my dad’s camera, our lunch box, and my mom’s favorite hat were on their way to Munich without us.

Thankfully, we had my backpack—a bag which contained my wallet, passport, laptop, German cell phone, and the bus tickets. Seeking help in the lobby of a local hotel, we explained our situation and showed them the phone number of the bus station (which just happened to be printed on the tickets). Since my German is still pretty mediocre, the receptionist kindly offered to call the bus company for us. After a lengthy German conversation, we were told that they were working on the situation and that they would call back on my cell phone when they had more information. So there we were, trapped in a rainy German town with no bus, no luggage, and anxiously awaiting a phone call (which as far as I knew might be entirely in German).

I nearly jumped from my seat when my cell phone started to ring. “Hallo?” I spoke somewhat hesitantly. Much to my relief, the speaker answered in English. He explained that there was another bus coming in two hours and that he would email me complimentary tickets to ride that bus to Munich. “Wonderful!” I responded, “And what about our luggage?” The man explained that regretfully, he was unable to get into contact with the bus driver, but he would figure out a way for us to retrieve our belongings. I then went through the lengthy process of describing all the luggage in great detail, even including the brands, colors, and sizes.

After a desperate search for internet and the quick download of the new bus tickets, we were ready to board the second bus. Much to our relief, it arrived right at the scheduled time. A little after 6pm, we pulled into the bus station in Munich. Before we even had time to worry about our luggage, a man with a big red beard came up to greet us. Waiting in a neat stack behind him were our three suitcases, my dad’s laptop bag, our lunchbox, and even my mom’s favorite hat. “Your luggage?” he asked with a smile. We thanked him profusely and smiled with relief to see all our belongs waiting there for us. Even when we thought we would be stranded in Friedrichshafen, God was faithful not only to get us safely to Munich, but to protect our luggage as well. :)

As we walked away, with smiles on our faces and our luggage in tow, I couldn’t help but think how rare it must be to find that your lost luggage has actually been waiting for you.

Mom and Dad in Munich

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summertime


I realize that I have disappeared from the world of blogging for quite some time. If any of you are familiar with the rush of activities, grading, and events required of a high school teacher at the end of the school year, then you know where I’ve been. To top it off, I also had to move to my new apartment the same weekend as graduation. So, yes, the word “busy” just doesn’t seem to encompass how I have been feeling lately. More like trapped beneath a cascade of enormous responsibility or something along those lines.

Despite the enormity of my recent schedule, I have also experienced a season of great blessing. I don’t mean to sound cliché or cutesy. I truly have been overwhelmed with how much I love these students, this school, and this community. With coaching track, helping my freshmen navigate their way through writing their first full-scale research paper, reading my creative writers’ “mini-novels,” prepping for graduation, and saying good-bye to students and staff, I have felt God’s presence more at work here than ever. BFA is truly a special place that has already left it’s mark on my heart. 

Sprint Medley Relay takes 5th at European Championships
I feel compelled to write a few lines about how fast the year flew by…about how it seems like August was just yesterday and I was a scared, nervous little first-year teacher waiting anxiously for the first day of school. It’s true, the year has escaped with lightning speed. The faces that were exactly that—just faces—at the beginning of the year have become real people who I now know and love. The students who were just names on a roster are now individuals who, even if they don’t realize it, have influenced my life in so many ways. I know... I’m a teacher, I’ll have lots of classes and lots of students. But what teacher ever forgets her first year of classes? I know I won’t. Thanks guys for making it a year to remember. :)

My Creative Writers
So, now that it is summertime in Kandern, what am I up to? With the mounting of my last WVU cross-country poster, I am at last fully settled into my new apartment. It is a small one-bedroom place attached to the home of an older German couple. It’s cute… some of the furniture and especially the curtains and the wallpaper is rather antique-looking, but I don’t mind so much. There’s a lovely backyard, a kitchen with an oven that works, and the best part…the BFA cross-country course is literally a one-minute walk outside my front door! 

Outside my new apartment

Summer means time to cook! :)
View from my kitchen window

Next week is work week for me at BFA—painting the school hallways and watering the flower beds is what I have heard is on the agenda so far. And…the best news, after work week my parents are coming to Germany! I am so excited to get to see them! I have been away from home for almost 11 months now and I am more than ready for a nice long visit with my parents. I hope that they have been training well because I have lots of hiking trails planned for us to explore. :)

The Kandern trails
Mom and Dad are on their way soon :)



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Catchy Pick-up Lines & Bus Riding Adventures


Though the history, culture, architecture, and art of Turkey are fantastic and well worth exploring, our time in Antayla and Istanbul was not without its adventures and in some cases, misadventures. As I soon discovered, exploring the city streets as a group of young, single American females is not always the best option. With features such as blonde hair, blue eyes, or in my case, just a fair complexion, you are bound to draw a lot of public attention. In fact, I don’t think that I have felt any more noticed in my life. Regretfully, much of this attention came from the younger, and shall we say “overly-friendly,” male population. Rather than worry too much about this unwanted attention, we decided to make a game out of keeping a list of the most creative pick-up lines. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “Hello angels…I will be your Charlie.”

2. “You dropped something.” (I look behind me to see what I may have dropped.) The Turkish man places his hand across his chest and says with exaggerated conviction: “My heart.”

3. The four of us were walking in a group shopping at the Spice Bazaar. As we walk by one of the booths we hear, “Hello Spice Girls!”

4. While shopping at the Grand Bazaar: “Hello ladies! Come to shop here. It’s almost free!”

5. “Why are you ignoring me? Do you not speak English? Don’t worry, I can give you English lessons!”

Though it was annoying, I have to admit that a few of these guys do get a few points for creativity. :)

 
Turkish spices at the Grand Bazaar


Even amidst the unwanted friendliness of some of the men, I did notice many redeeming aspects of the Turkish culture. In general, people are extremely helpful and kind-hearted. During one of our crowded rides on the bus, I noticed a mother board the bus with her young son. Although this woman searched everywhere for her bus pass, she wasn’t able to find it. A worried expression crossed her face as she wondered what she and her son were going to do next. Almost instantly, a kind Turkish woman sitting in the front row took out her own pass and handed it to the mother in need. Though the mother tried to repay the woman, holding out a small handful of Turkish lira, the woman shook her head and insisted that she needed no payment. It was wonderful to see the generous heart of this woman. Not long after this incident, a little old Turkish grandmother boarded the bus. Before I continue with this story, I need to point out the fact that the seats on the bus are prime real estate. With the crazy traffic, bustling crowds, and long commutes, everyone is hoping to secure a seat for themselves. Well, this little grandmother enters the bus and believe it or not, the same woman who paid the bus fare for the mother and the son, gets up from her seat so that the grandmother can sit down. Again, I was so encouraged to see such a genuine display of thoughtfulness and generosity.

Besides generous people on the bus, there were also many helpful people on the streets. Whenever we stopped to ask for directions people would not only help us, but would often go above and beyond the expected response. When people realized that we weren’t understanding their Turkish directions, they would often go out of their way to lead us to our desired destination. We even had a family offer to drive us to where we wanted to go. (At least that’s what we think they were offering…our entire conversation was composed of Johanna and I speaking English, the Turkish family speaking Turkish, and both of us doing a lot of pantomime.)

On one of our more disconcerting adventures, Johanna and I were coming home to the Asian side after a lovely day of exploring the European half of the city. We were tired, it was getting late, and the bus monitor that tells the passengers which stop is coming up next was broken. As you have probably predicted by this point, we missed our stop. The trouble was that we didn’t miss it by one or two minutes…we missed it by about 20 minutes. When we finally realized our error and exited the bus, we were in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere in a completely unfamiliar part of the city. And it was dark.

Trying not to panic, we began to come up with a strategy of how we were going to make it safely home. Our first plan was to ask some workers in a nearby ice cream shop. As we soon discovered, the number of English speakers begins to dwindle the further you travel into the Asian side of the city. Completely unable to understand our English, we showed the shop owner the only thing we had to help us at this point, a small slip of paper with the abbreviation for our desired bus stop. He looked at it with a somewhat puzzled and confused expression and then motioned for us to follow him outside. Pointing with his hand he indicated that we should continue straight down the road and then, at some point which was thoroughly described in Turkish, turn left. We thanked him and continued down the road another two blocks. Since it was dark and none of the landscape was looking even remotely familiar, we soon decided that walking was not the best option. We needed to somehow get back onto the bus in the opposite direction and find our stop in reverse. The trouble is that the bus numbers often change when traveling in the opposite direction meaning that we had no clue which bus to get on. The last thing that we wanted to do was ride a random bus into an even more random and remote part of the city.

Since I had my German “pay-as-you-go” phone, I decided that this constituted a good enough reason to pay the ridiculous rate of 3 Euros a minute and call my friend who we were staying with to get directions back to her apartment. She answered the phone and I explained the situation as quickly as possible. We had just reached the point in the conversation when I was telling her what bus stop we were near when my phone went dead. I was out of minutes!

With that plan no longer being an option, Johanna and I decided to go with Plan C. We would simply hail every bus, show the bus driver the abbreviated name of our desired stop, and hope that he could tell us the bus number that we needed to take. The downside of this plan is that the bus drivers really hate to stop or talk even a second longer than is necessary. The other downside is that all the drivers we met that night didn’t speak any English. After a few failed attempts, we finally found a bus that apparently was going in the right direction. A young man at the front of the bus smiled nicely and said that he knew which stop was nearby and that he could lead us there when we arrived. Seeing no better options, Johanna and I boarded the bus to await our stop.

I was sitting in the middle section of the bus beside a young woman and Johanna was standing to my left by the window. As we rode along, I couldn’t help but notice that the man who was planning to lead us to our stop kept looking back and smiling. It may have been totally innocent, but it was starting to creep me out a little bit. I began to fiddle with the paper that had the abbreviated name of the bus stop written on it. Finally, the woman beside me turned towards me and said quietly in English, “Where are you trying to go?” I showed her the paper and she took it and puzzled over it for a while. At last, she handed it back and told me that we needed to get off at bus stop 44. (The monitor was working in this bus, so I was able to see the numbers listed beside the very confusing Turkish names.) I thanked her, beginning to feel a little better that I didn’t have to put all of my trust in the young man sitting up front. At least now I had a second opinion as to which stop was going to be the closest to our destination. After another minute of driving, the women turned to me again. “Do not go with him,” she said in a hushed voice, “he is a silly boy.” I thanked her, realizing now for the first time the seriousness of the situation. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to be following any “silly boys” through the streets of Istanbul. The woman exited the bus and I motioned for Johanna to come and sit beside me. I explained the situation and we decided that as soon as our stop came, we would exit the bus, not even look for the boy, and head straight towards a heavily populated area.

I began to get more and more nervous as we drew closer to the intended stop. Most of the streets had been rather dark and I wasn’t particularly keen on exiting into any dark alleys with our new “friend” from the front of the bus. I kept praying that God would protect us and give us wisdom as to what to do next. The bus rounded the corner and much to my and Johanna’s delight we saw the bright lights of a mall that we recognized. In fact, this mall was only about two blocks from the apartment where we were staying! We quickly got off the bus and immediately started power-walking towards the mall. We heard the voice of the boy calling after us, but I kept walking and responded over my shoulder, “Thank you, but we don’t need any help. We know where we are.”

Although the extra precaution probably wasn’t necessary, Johanna and I took a very round-about, well-lighted way to get home. We just wanted to be absolutely certain that the bus boy wasn’t following us. At the bus stop outside our apartment, we saw our hostess and her roommate getting ready to board a bus to go look for us. We flagged them down and greeted them with much joy and enthusiasm. After our adventure, it was so wonderful to see familiar faces and greet each other in English. We walked home together, happy and relived to be safe with our friends.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gateway to the East


This spring break, I embarked on an adventure much different from any of my past European travels. This was the first time that I have ever found myself in what might be categorized as an Eastern culture. It’s true that Istanbul, Turkey is often considered to be a city on the border—it’s not entirely eastern, nor is it entirely western. Just as the physical location of the city is split between two continents, so does the culture seem to be split between differing world views. The city is divided by a strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara called the Bosporus. It is this body of water that serves as the boundary between the continents of Europe and Asia. It is pretty amazing to think that over the course of the weekend, I traveled back and forth from Europe to Asia a total of six different times!

The beauty of Istanbul
My favorite method of transportation to span the continents would have to be the ferry. For the mere price of 1.90TL (less than a dollar), you can enjoy a beautiful “cruise” across the Bosporus where you can experience the lovely blue-green hue of the ocean, the sunlight glinting off the domed roofs of the mosques, and if you’re really lucky, a dolphin swimming along beside the ferry. While I wasn’t lucky enough to see any dolphins, I did see a lot of jelly fish along the way!

Ferry on the Bosphorus
Another popular method of transportation is the Marmaray. This metro-like tunnel was actually built underground beneath the Bosporus. Speedy and efficient, the Marmaray is an excellent method of transportation as long as you don’t think too much about the fact that there are thousands of gallons of water, fish, boats, and everything else imaginable floating happily along above your head.

Before I get carried away and go into too many details about Istanbul, I want to start at the beginning of my adventure, which is actually the city of Antalya. Due to its lovely beaches, this port in southern Turkey makes a very popular tourist destination. It also makes a beautiful destination for an education conference with other teachers from around the world, which is why it was chosen as the venue for our 2014 global conference. The conference was an excellent opportunity for learning and fellowship, and not a bad place to take a little rest on the beach after a very, very busy third quarter of teaching at BFA.

Boats in downtown Antalya Harbor
One of the afternoon outings during the free time at the conference was the chance to take a cruise on the Manavgat River, explore the ancient Roman ruins of Perge, and dip our feet in the Mediterranean Sea. We also had the chance to taste some delicious Turkish-style ice cream, which is similar to American-style, except for the fact that it is much stickier, making it the perfect consistency to tease unsuspecting American girls by flipping it upside down right before handing it to the next customer. 
 
Jessica waiting for her ice cream
While Antalya was lovely, we didn’t get to truly experience Turkish culture until we left the resort and flew over to Istanbul. My housemate Johanna and I were able to stay with a friend who teaches at an international school located in the city. It was such a blessing to have a friend who can speak some Turkish and is well adept at navigating the public transportation system—a skill which was incredibly helpful since we were staying on the Asian side of the city and the majority of the tourist attractions are over on the European side.

The next three days in the city were a whirlwind of adventure as we spent our time exploring the famous Turkish landmarks. Some highlights were the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace and tulip gardens. Johanna and I were able to meet with two more of our friends—Karen who also teaches at BFA and Emma who teaches in Thailand.

 
My Istanbul travel buddies
To enter the Blue Mosque we had to remove our shoes and (since we are women), cover our heads with scarves. The Blue Mosque still functions as a place of worship, therefore it is important that those who wish to enter are respectful of the Islamic traditions. Inside was a soft red and blue flowered carpet as well as elaborately decorated ceiling and walls. In contrast to Christian churches, mosques are never decorated with images of people or animals. This is thought to be a distraction (or form of idolatry) and may take people’s thoughts away from worshipping only God. Therefore the art is mostly symmetric patterns, intricate mosaics, flowers, lines, colors, and ornate Arabic calligraphy—mostly selections from the Quran or names of important religious leaders, such as Muhammad.

Getting ready to enter the Blue Mosque
Although Turkey is not an Islamic State, they have had democracy and freedom of religion since 1924, about 90% of the population does claim to be Muslim. This being the case, the Muslim "Call to Prayer" can be heard loud and clear on almost any corner of the city. For those of you who are curious to hear this religious chant, take a look at the following video.

video

After the Blue Mosque, we went over to the Hagia Sophia. The history of this museum is perhaps the most interesting of all structures that we visited. Originally built as a Greek Orthodox church during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the year 537, the church remained a Christian place of worship all the way until the year 1453. In this year, Istanbul (then Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The Sultan Mehmed II was so impressed with the beauty of the building that he ordered the church to be converted into a mosque. The Christian mosaics and symbols were covered over with plaster and replaced with Islamic artwork. Sultan Mehmed also added other Islamic features, such as four minarets, which are the tall towers for sounding the call to prayer.

The Hagia Sophia remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed for restoration and later opened to the public as a museum. Though a great deal of the Christian artwork was destroyed during the Ottoman takeover, some is still visible alongside of the Islamic art. In some cases, the Christian mosaics were actually better preserved because they were covered over in plaster. I was completely fascinated by this intriguing blend of both the Christian and Muslim art and culture. It is no wonder this beautiful structure is considered by some to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

Notice how Mary and baby Jesus are surround by symbols of Islam
Remains of a mosaic including Christ, Mary, and John the Baptist

The final big attraction that we saw in Istanbul was the Topaki Palace. This palace was first constructed by Mehmed II and was the home of the Ottoman Sultans for about 400 years. A beautiful collection of rooms, gardens, treasures, and art this palace could only be defined as spectacular. Regretfully, we misread the closing sign and only had a little over an hour to explore the exquisite grounds, chambers, treasury, and courtyards. As you can imagine, this was hardly enough time to do justice to the 400 years of Ottoman royalty, but at least we were able to see a glimpse of the splendor.

Beautiful fountain in the third courtyard

Gate of Salutation

Observe the lovely statues surrounding the fountain

Enjoying the flowers in a nearby park

I have so much more to write, but I'm afraid that's all I have for tonight. There is more to come on Turkey, stay tuned for my next blog!

 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ahna vs. Badger

I was about a quarter of the way through my Saturday morning long run. It was a fairly nice day…overcast and a bit windy, but not too cold for a nice morning run. I was just rounding the corner of Berbergweg (one of my favorite running trails) when I encountered him standing on the path before me. He was tumbling pile of fur, claws, and whiskers. His ears and the sides of his face were black, contrasting the thick white stripe that ran down the middle of his nose and forehead. No, he wasn’t a skunk (thankfully), but he was a large, bristle-furred, sharp-toothed, and somewhat menacing-looking badger.

For those of you who know me well, you might recall that one of my favorite book series as a kid was the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. If you’ve ever entered the pages of Redwall then you are most likely aware that the fiercest of all the animal warriors are unmistakably the badgers. According to Jacques, once the badgers are filled with the blood-wrath known only to their species, there is absolutely no chance of escape during battle.

And so, there I stood, frozen on the path, staring at the badger, and trying desperately not to replay Redwall battle scenes in my head. I thought that maybe if I could just skirt around to the side perhaps he wouldn’t mind too much if I passed by. I could then continue peacefully with my run. I cautiously took a step forward, but the badger was ready. He arched his back and lifted his two front paws, hissing and snarling like a cat. Okay, now comes the part where I should have probably turned around and made a run for it back up the mountain. But, I was already halfway down the mountain and I had seriously just spent the past 15 minutes running up the mountain. No way did I want to do that hill again. Not to mention the best part of the trail was just beyond his furry body.

I thought for a moment longer. Maybe he was bluffing? I inched forward a second time. Though he continued to snarl, this time I caught the slightest bit of hesitation. I decided to call his bluff. If he could play this game, so could I. Twisting my face into my best wild-cat snarl, I let loose a ferocious growl (at least I imagined it to be ferocious…) and started charging towards him full speed on the trail. The “tough guy” mask immediately disappeared as he fell to all fours and hightailed it into the woods as fast as his little round body could carry him. Relieved to be out of danger, I kept running hard for another minute or two just to make sure he wasn’t following me. On retrospect, this was probably a pretty crazy notion that a chubby furball would be in hot pursuit of a local runner on a forest trail in Germany…but you never know. I finished my run with no other exciting encounters with wildlife. Perhaps my badger has already warned all his friends that you don’t pick a fight with a West Virginia runner. :)

 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Challenges and New Blessings


If you follow my blog pretty regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. In fact, the last post that I wrote was on Friday, January 17th. Just before going to bed that night, I wrote a story about a little dog that I encountered on the hiking trails behind the Garni House. I wrote about how this dog taught me a lesson about trusting in God even when we have to face hardships, distractions, and obstacles—even when the circumstances of life get really tough. (Just scroll down to my last post if you want to read the whole thing.)

As I sat in my room writing that post, I never would have imagined that the very next morning my housemates and I were about to face one of the greatest challenges and tests of faith that we have ever before experienced. On Saturday morning, my dear friend, housemate, and fellow English teacher at BFA, Laura, was seriously injured in an accident at an indoor rock climbing facility. She fell from the wall and landed on her back causing a severe injury to her spine. I was with her during the accident as were several of my other housemates. We called the EMT and Laura was rushed to the hospital in Basel for emergency back surgery.

When the doctors first saw the x-rays, they were basically convinced that Laura would never walk again. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was some pretty difficult news for all of us to hear. At that moment, everything seemed so hopeless. It became so easy to question where God was in the whole situation. How could a loving God have let something like this happen?

Just like the sun is still shining behind the clouds on a cloudy day, God was still with us, even through the seeming darkness. As we waited and cried and prayed and wondered what would happen next, evidence of God’s love, grace, and truth began to shine into our lives like beams of hope. The surgery went well, very well in fact. The doctors were so impressed by the post-surgery x-ray that they changed from their earlier conclusions—walking was no longer out of the realm of the possible (not by any means, likely or easy…but at least they were acknowledging the possibility). What amazing evidence that God was already beginning to work healing in Laura’s body!

Another way that God’s light began to shine was through Laura herself. Her outstanding courage, sincere faith, positive spirit, and ever-present sense of humor have not dwindled during this past month of hardship and trials. That doesn’t mean that Laura never feels exhausted or discouraged, of course she does—we all do at times. But, I have never seen this exhaustion or discouragement get in the way of Laura’s faith in God. Instead, I have watched as Laura strives to be a light to the people around her, first to the nurses and doctors at the hospital and now to the patients, nurses, therapists, and doctors at the rehabilitation center. I praise God for the attitude of hope and courage that he has put within her. I know that she would want no credit to herself, but God has truly been shining through her in some pretty spectacular ways! :)

The fact that Laura has been able to stay in Basel for rehabilitation has also been a blessing. Her parents were able to come and stay with her—first both her mom and dad at the hospital, and then later just her mom at the rehabilitation center. They have both left now to go back to the States, but what a blessing it was for Laura to have them here with her for the first few weeks.

As you probably gathered from the previous paragraph, Laura has “graduated” from the hospital and is now staying at a rehabilitation center in Basel. The center is very nice with a place for aqua therapy and even a “petting zoo,” (I don’t know what else to call it…a menagerie, perhaps?) complete with horses, donkeys, pigs, parrots, bunnies, dogs, cats, and other furry friends.

 Laura has physical therapy every day at the center to help her learn how to use her “walking muscles” again. Though therapy is extremely exhausting, Laura has been able to make some pretty exciting progress. She was able to stand with leg support and was even able to take a few steps with the help of some parallel bars and three assisting physical therapists! Please join me in continuing to pray for Laura’s strength and healing. She still has a long way to go, but I am so excited to see how God has been working already. If you would like to follow the steps of Laura’s journey of recovery, she has a blog at http://posthope.org/laurasjourney. I love reading her updates since I am not able to go visit her everyday in Basel.

However, last Saturday, I did have the opportunity to visit Laura with all of the Garni girls. It was a wonderful time of being together and celebrating Laura’s birthday. Here is a picture of all of use together. 

Celebrating with Laura on her birthday
I have more updates to come, especially about the new classes that I am now teaching at BFA, so be sure to check back for my next post. :)