Thank God for America!

Several conversations and visits plus of course our most recent Presidential Inauguration that has caused such disruption and divisiveness in our country cause me to take stock of all that I am grateful for in my wonderful homeland of America.

First, let me introduce you to Herr Schmidt (no picture, sorry) whom we visited last week. He is in his seventies and not able to get out of his apartment very often because of a recent stroke. He had no problem speaking though and gave us an hour long version of his life story as well as a lovely looking meal (I declined) of pork, potatoes, peas and carrots with gravy all over it fixed by his wife, Frau Schmidt, who would peek her head through the door of the kitchen once in a while but never joined us.) This was all in German and so I just got bits and pieces shared by my very able German translator:)) When in his twenties, he escaped to West Germany and lived and worked there for a few years. He decided that he missed East Germany and wrote them a letter to see if he could return. They sent him a letter, welcoming him back and said, of course!! When he then crossed the border into East Germany in Kiel, just north of Rostock, they arrested him. He showed them the letter which they promptly tore up. He was in prison for twelve years. Initially he was to only be there for four, but they kept extending his sentence. Politics have been a great disappointment to him both Eastern AND Western.

Friday, we went to a training meeting for missionaries in Berlin. We had just enough time to drive by the Brandenburg gate, but because of time constraints and no available parking, we weren't able to stop for pictures. The Brandenburg gate was built in the 18th century and is located right near where the Berlin wall was; it was on the East side of that wall and became a symbol of freedom and of oppression both at the same time. Several American Presidents have spoken there among whom are John F Kennedy, Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton and Obama. This little snippet is shared by Wilkepedia where you can look to learn more about it if you wish:
A Soviet flag flew from a flagpole atop the gate from 1945 until 1957, when it was replaced by an East German flag. Since the reunification of Germany, the flag and the pole have been removed.
In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate. The Soviets hung large red banners across it to prevent him looking into East Berlin.
In the 1980s, decrying the existence of two German states and two Berlins, West Berlin mayor Richard von Weizsäckersaid: "The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed."[9]
On 12 June 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan spoke to the West Berlin populace at the Brandenburg Gate, demanding the razing of the Berlin Wall.[10][11] Addressing the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet UnionMikhail Gorbachev, Reagan said,
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Here is a picture of our flying trip past the gate in the morning as well as marks in the pavement where the Wall once stood and one of our missionaries, Elder Keller standing in front of it when he was able to visit that evening. You have to stand on the East side in order to see it properly since the horses face the East.
                                                      View from the west as we drove by

So hard to imagine, that a wall could have stood here dividing a country! See the marks?

Much more beautiful at night from the East side!!! Berlin Marathon ends here as well as many political events. It has become a great sign of freedom. Just down the block is a beautiful monument to Jewish people killed during the Holocaust. So much sadness and strife, yet now more unified and restored.

So, then we move on to yesterday when we had Vladimir from the Ukraine and his family here for dinner after lunch as well as Daniel from Ghana who I shared about in an earlier blog. Vladimir fled to Germany a few months ago  after the political parties changed in the Ukraine as he was a part and active in the opposing/losing party. If he had stayed, he would have been thrown into jail or killed. Now he is fighting with a lawyer (same one as Daniel's) to be able to stay here since Germany says you aren't really a refugee since your country is not at war, there is no political unrest and there is no danger. He begs to differ.

I look at the faces of his darling children and he and his happy and kind and loving. Yet, over them hangs the threat of possible prison or even death if they are not allowed to stay here. But, they have hope and are learning German and planning for their future here. Vladimir worked in construction for 16 years as did his father and grandfather. Their ultimate hope is  to return to the Ukraine if and when the reigning political party would lose the next election in three years or the election after that. They both still have parents and family members of course back in the Ukraine.
I cannot look at those faces without tearing up. My heart weeps for them, and we pray daily for them that they will be safe and well and that all will work out.

All of these events and visits have caused me to reflect upon how very blessed we are in America!! Yes, we have a new President.Yes, many do not support or like him and are marching and protesting against the man they feel should not be in that office. They are allowed to march. They are allowed to say whatever they want without threat of being thrown into jail or being killed. Maybe we all need to take a step back, lick some wounds and be grateful that our great United States which has ALWAYS been great is a free land.

What have Herr Schmidt and Vladimir and Daniel discovered? Politics have been a great disappointment to them both Eastern AND Western. They  have found that their source of joy and peace is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, showing that man's ideas and ways and politics are imperfect and ultimately will disappoint us at some juncture. But God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever never will.He will never turn His back on us.

I am so grateful for these lessons I am learning that cause me to pause and reflect and thank God for the privileges and freedoms I enjoy and hope that in some small way, we can ease any pain or homesickness that our dear friends who have fled their homelands might be feeling. There is suffering all around us. Isn't part of what makes America great  that we can ease others' pain? That we can reach out with love to one another and resolve differences? Let us all unite in a spirit of love and friendship. That spirit of love is what has made and can continue to make America great!

                                               HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY MOTHER!!

Today is my Mother, Lucille Marker Jones' 100th Birthday. We all thought she would live to see it, being such a healthy 93 almost 94 year old until a stroke brought her down three months before her 94th birthday in October of 2010. She died January 1, 2011.

Yesterday, our daughter Maggie sent me a text saying she wanted to tell her future children about me and how brave I am. I don't feel very brave most days, so I shrugged this off for a moment, then I replied, "You do have brave genes, Maggie. Running through your genes are homesteaders, pioneers, farmers, artists, musicians, coalminers, housewives, teachers, preachers, soldiers, writers, mothers, fathers, builders, cancer survivors, business owners,  missionaries, lovers of children and that is just the few that we know about."

So, walking the streets of Rostock, Germany with my best friend by my side this morning, I thought, yes, I am brave! We all are when we get up each morning and move forward with whatever it is that needs to be done no matter how difficult. I pulled my shoulders back and walked just a little straighter into that cold wind.

So, hooray for all the heroes and brave people in my life! They are too many to mention, but for today, I will celebrate one of the bravest women I know...My mother, the Farm Girl who became a teacher, a preacher's wife, mother to four girls, grandmother to 19 and friend to many many people and always positive!

Two of her favorite scriptures were: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" and "...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (Both in Phillipians 4) She not only recited these verses, she lived them.

The world was a better place with Lucille Marker Jones in it with her cheery hello, beautiful smile and twinkle in the eye that was never missing. Happy100th Birthday dear Mother in your heavenly realm! Know that you are never forgotten down here. God bless us all until we meet again!

An unsolicited Piano lesson in humility

I play the piano...well, I am the only one of four daughters who took lessons of any decent period of time. Rather amazing, since I was not very disciplined in any area of my life back then least of all piano practicing.  But, I had a wonderful teacher in Chillicothe, Illinois, Mrs. Grogan, who was patient with me probably because she loved my parents and I stuck with it for ten years. During my teenage hormonal years I played the popular songs of the day, mostly Beatles and cried out my emotions. Music brought me and still does great comfort.

I truly enjoyed playing the piano as long as nobody was listening, but as I grew into an adult, moved away from home, the piano playing stopped. Then I became a member of the Mormon Church and moved to Jacksonville into a small branch (congregation) where piano players were desperately needed (we are a lay ministry, so no one gets paid for such responsibilities). So, with a prayer in my heart I started playing the hymns for our services, hitting plenty of sour notes, but no one seemed to mind. This has been all the piano playing I have been doing for the last 42 years. No practicing.

So, coming to Germany to a small branch once again, I thought, "well, I can't speak the language, but maybe I can be of service playing the piano...they have probably been singing acapella all these years." Imagine my surprise, our first Sunday here when an angel sat at the piano/organ playing beautifully and singing with a lovely soprano voice. Meet Angelika Albrecht. Later, visiting her home on Christmas Eve where sat a lovely Grand Piano, I learned that she is a voice teacher, and she used to sing and play publicly in addition to some opera. Thankfully, I only need to play when she happens to be out of town on Sunday, but one fateful day when her sister was visiting, I foolishly told her, "oh, sit with your sister, I will play" and so very nervously and self consciously with a few sour notes as always I played the hymns. I would certainly never call myself an accomplished pianist.

Sunday, after church, Sister Albrecht (that's what we call each other believing that indeed we are all brothers and sisters with God as our Father) says, "Oh, Sister Franz, come to the organ, I want to show you something." (She speaks English as well as German) She laid her hands tenderly on the keys and told me how to move them differently than a piano. The fingers needed to glide from one note to the next rather than being lifted like on a piano. Now, instead of thinking to myself, why thank you dear Anjelika for giving me a 2 minute I appreciate learning this from one so accomplished!! I will need to practice and get this right. No, instead, I go to "not enough'"...can't speak the language, can't play the stinking organ right, good grief! It's at times like that I just have got to go to gratefuls and "I am enough" but I didn't catch myself right then. You know when I caught myself?  One of the young missionaries here from Idaho, dear Elder Keller who has only been in Germany a month, just a few days longer than us was interpreting the service through headphones for those of us who don't speak German: me, Daniel from Ghana and Vladimir from the Ukraine. This is a difficult task...listening in German and then giving out the English translation. He stumbled a bit and there were long quiet pauses; he's not quite as fluent as his companion Elder Skidmore who has been out a few months longer. But it's very good practice.  Vladimir, who was sitting next to him, said, "you need to be improving in German every week; you don't seem to have improved this week!"
How did Elder Keller respond? Did he say, "Heck, I can't do this! I'll never be good enough at speaking German! What am I even doing here?!!" (yes, that's what I was doing with the "organ lesson") No, he shared the experience with us, laughed about it and resolved to work a little harder at studying the language this week. He is 18 years old. I am 66.

And, so a lesson in humility. Thank you Anjelika, Elder Keller and Vladimir for my Sunday lesson. I am enough. We are all enough. And with God's help, we can improve and change. The learning will continue I am sure.

My Birthday Week in Germany!

Had a great day with hearing from our kids via texts and all of the wonderful facebook messages (gotta love facebook for that, right?) The day ended with a visit which turned out to be a birthday dinner to a couple of families way out in the sticks...darling houses idea what they looked like on the outside as it was pitch black. Here in Germany you take your shoes off when you go into the house and she had some handmade slippers for us to put on. This was like 7 pm and we had already eaten dinner but out came this huge gnocchi casserole....she is apparently an awesome cook. I had to explain myself of course..well, dad did for me since they spoke no English. Then out came the cake, but I told her the sparkling water she provided (they all drink that over here) was my treat. I guess she didn't understand the flour sugar bit as she sent us home with all the casserole and the cake and a gift bag full of chocolates and jam. Oh, and she also gave me some handknit socks. So sweet! I figure surely that will be my toughest one yet, but they are all so hospitable they want to feed you every time you come visit. Not like that thankfully. I suppose they will get used to me and my "strange" eating habits 😉 But we had a great evening laughing and talking, so it was all good.And I took the food to the missionaries on the way home 😬
We had a lovely walk together over near the Rostock Wall. Centuries ago the city was surrounded by a brick wall for protection. Most of it is down now, but still enough to get an idea and they added a lovely park and walking path right along the wall. On one side of the wall you can see old towers and buildings, and on the other side, tall apartment and new office buildings. We bought a picture today of the tower and the man was telling us that the very street that we were on at the time was totally flattened during the war. It is now a lovely brick street with shops and offices on either side leading up to the town square. I am continually amazed by the stamina and rebuilding that went on in postwar Germany. Gentz and I both got our hair cut this morning and the owner of the salon who is 47 years old was telling us as so many do that things were better before the reunification of East and West Germany and taking down of the Wall back in the eighties. During that time, everyone had jobs because if you didn't work, you went to jail. True, you couldn't travel to the west or anywhere else, but they didn't know any different. So, once communism was gone, people lost jobs, many were depressed and alcoholism took a strong hold. It was a very difficult time for the East Germans; some people from West Germany even came back and demanded that their land be given back to them or their house if someone else were living on it. None of us knew any of this..we just thought it was wonderful that they were now a free people! And I suppose it IS wonderful now, but at the time, it wasn't so great.

Our neighbors, Sven and Manya...he's an elementary teacher and she is an architect, had a baby girl last week and named her Gretta. I can hear her crying through the walls..sweet sound! So many noises I 'm not used to...people walking around in the apartment above us,.traffic outside, children laughing, people walking everywhere, but not minding is all rather invigorating!

We went out to eat at a charming restaurant with a couple, Bodo and Sigrid,  from our English speaking class this week.  Gentz says that the Germans understand gemütlichkeit (try pronouncing that!!) It is cozy enjoyment usually with friends and family. The restaurants are the most charming I've every seen!! The owner always walks about and checks on your meal and how you are doing and even offered us a small glass of vodka at the end of the meal! How's THAT for hospitality:)) (we didn't take it:))

It seems there are little tables everywhere, to sit out or inside and enjoy the bakery that you find in every grocery store and on every street corner. Just within 5 minutes of us there are ten bakeries!!

We do a lot of visiting and stair climbing, since many people live in apartment buildings with no elevators. Here is a picture of Government Housing where Rostock is allowing the refugees to live. It looks very similar to all of the apartment buildings here just not as many stories. It  is in a lovely area surrounded by trees; the only detracting thing is a chain link fence all around it, but I think that is for the protection of those living inside rather than keeping people from going out, as they are free to go wherever they need to go. 
I am very impressed the way the Germans have welcomed these poor unfortunate people into their land. One of our church members who we visit here is from Ghana and calls Germany the "Promised land". He fled Ghana because of the intense poverty there but is having a hard time getting approval to stay here since he was in no danger and there is no political unrest there. He has much faith and patience and keeps saying: "God will provide". We pray for him and hope that all will work out for him as he wants and in his best interests.

We are learning much. I feel like my world is expanding; I just wish my language were!! In my small American mind I'm afraid I just don't understand why everyone doesn't speak English!!:) I didn't even know how to ask for the bathroom at the beauty parlor this morning! 
Thank goodness Gentz was there!! But I am using DuoLingo and another church member is helping me with German, so we will see if this 66 year old brain can absorb anything in the time I am here. But the people are patient with me and I appreciate that! 

Tchüss!! (one of my favorite words....sweet, short goodbye.) Pronounced Chews, but soft s not like a z.

Until next time!! Thanks for stopping in!!

Rainy Day in Rostock!
Rain never keeps the Germans in. Mamas and Papas and Omas out pushing babies in carriages with plastic over carriage, baby all covered in a huge blanket so you can barely see them! I haven't had the courage to ask if I can take a picture, so I have to get them on the sly from our balcony. Our neighbors are expecting a baby girl any day so possibly I can ask them so you can see what I'm talking about.

A thought I had this morning during scripture study was how very much Jesus Christ loves EVERYONE!! I never knew Rostock Germany even existed before now, but He did. Each person I see on the busy street is a child of God; each is my brother or sister, and I hope that my love for these people can increase. It is good for me to be reaching out beyond my self and my familiar world. Oh,how I long to have a more open heart!! "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." I Corinthians 13:1
Right now to the Germans my voice DOES sound like brass or a cymbal as they don't understand my words in English, but it is truly an opportunity for me to just show love through my smile or my eyes.
I suppose at all times we need to show love that way as we meet a stranger on the street or in the store...smiles work in all languages! Tchüss!! (a sweet German goodbye, pronounced Chus..long u.

New Year's Eve Weekend

We didn't get out too much on New Year's Eve...just enough to find another fun area and a TK MAXX!! Yes, a form of TJ Maxx and I'll be there on Monday that's for sure...everything here shuts down at 1 pm on New Year's Eve. We did also find St. Mary's Church - quite a tourist stop as it was built in the 15th century. It is only open from May-October since there is no heating but boasts an astronomical clock that has been keeping time since the 1600's, beautiful paintings, stain glass and a huge pipe organ. There are organ recitals every day at noon that certainly excites my Elder. We are looking forward to seeing it once May arrives!
So interesting to see these modern department stores to be in these centuries old buildings. 

There were quite a few people about and the missionaries had been advised by the mission president to avoid throngs of people and stay inside especially after dark; if they were visiting members in their homes, they needed to be escorted home. We had our Elders Skidmore and Keller who live just a few doors down over for Stir Fry and an evening of just visiting and listening to music. Such delightful young men! We feel so blessed by our association with them. Elder Keller is from idaho and only been out for three weeks and Elder Keller is from New Mexico and has been here for five months.
As my daughter Maggie said, when I sent her this video of the fireworks. "East Germans sure know how to blow up a sky!" And that they do. The fireworks started very early on and went all night long. This video is just at 9:45 pm and is from our second floor balcony. The next day there was residue just all over the place and a few garbage cans on the way to church in the road that Gentz and the elders moved out of the way. As neat as the Germans are, I'm sure it will be cleaned up very quickly on Monday. Happy New Year everyone!!

Friday, December 30.
We decided today was our preparation day which basically means we can relax and wear jeans if we want!(yay) Did I tell you that Senior missionaries wear a skirt (women) and a suit (men) or at least shirt and tie? We spent the morning inside as my dear Elder had to translate my sacrament meeting talk for church on Sunday. It took him around five hours to do that.
Then we set off on another adventure. I was looking for a cross body purse and found one at a delightful little leather store and he got a computer case. Surprisingly, as so often happens here, we found another charming little pocket of stores and lo and behold there was a Veganmaster Grill so we went in. And Elder Franz got a fake liverwurst sandwich to go.