Auld Lang Syne…Best Part of My German Holiday

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Age appears to be best in four things: old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. –
Francis Bacon

It began as a house swap inspired by one of my favorite Christmas films, The Holiday.  My friend, Amy, would stay at my apartment in Marrakesh while I would stay in her apartment in Hamburg, Germany.  I’d also travel to see Arunima in Idstein, but she convinced me I’d be spending all of my time on a train. I didn’t want to be a bother, but she said I’m family.

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I met Mithu, (still Arunima to me) discussing old authors in my English class. She was my student and graduated high school in 1986– the last year I lived in Kentucky before moving to Tennessee. Though she hasn’t aged in three decades she was and is an old soul, still taking care of people she loves, still loved by many. The Super Student is now Super Mom. And a lifelong friend.

Thirty years ago she was my TA and Girl Friday (and Monday-Thursday), a pro at managing the yearbook staff, helping me with my paper load, and keeping a new teacher sane. She helped me pack up my life in Lexington and even visited me a few years after that in Nashville. In the time since we’d seen each other, she became a mom of twins in Germany who are now the age she was when I met her. Knowing I couldn’t fly home Christmas, she and her sons, Lucas and Max, graciously opened their home to me. And I am so grateful they did.

I knew reconnecting with this old friend would make my first Christmas away from my children bearable. She must have been exhausted after a weeklong business trip to Crete, and when she had time to decorate, cook, clean, and gift shop I have no idea. I do know that when she picked me up from the airport, same warm hug, same wry sense of humor, same kindness and ease, we picked up the friendship as if no time had passed. Now both adults, expats, single moms, we have even more in common.

Who knew in the ’80s two Kentucky girls would spend this Christmas together in Germany?   I will never forget walking into her quiet, peaceful home, advent candles glowing before a beautiful tree.

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Or wandering the quiet Sunday streets of Idstein, a town founded in the 12th century.  The oldest building, the watchtower below, was built around 1170, but became the “witches’ tower” around 1676 during witch hunts similar to those in Salem.

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Here mistletoe abounds.

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I will never forget talking the new Star Wars movie and books with Lucas and Max who are majoring in German and English (or playing Activity  which required game-challenged me to explain, pantomime, or draw the English translation of German words and phrases–like “pipe of an organ” or “beer crate” for my partner to guess).

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Or walking with Ingrid, the boys’ grandmother, in green fields flanked by a German wood and a pink sunset after she and Mithu prepared dinner. We returned to a cooked goose and white linen.

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Fresh apple pie, our Nachtisch (aftertable/dessert in German)
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Baker and Bearer of Roses

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Or being invited to the home of Patrik, Arunima’s boyfriend, where I had Christmas lunch with his mom and sister.

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Raclette on Christmas Day–simila to fondue, meat is grilled at table and topped with melted cheese

Or the night before I left, after a week of all the  food, food, food (to be said in the rhythm of Dr. Zeus) Arunima served,

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we relaxed, talked, and laughed over wine and a movie.  Prost! (Cheers!) to her visiting me in Marrakesh soon.

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As 2016 calls us to all look ahead in hope,

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I love that “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning “for the sake of old times”) reminds us to first look back in gratitude, remembering one of life’s greatest gifts, old friends.

Cologne, Germany Christmas Markets

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The Cathedral Christmas Market in Cologne

I am still with my friend’s family at their home in Idstein. Earlier this week I spent 48 hours in Cologne.

In this city in 1709 Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian perfume maker, created a fragrance he named after his new home. He described to his brother the concoction called Eau de Cologne: “I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.” The original formula is still sold there.

But the highlight (literally) of the city is the Cologne Cathedral (Koelner Dom), the largest Gothic church in Germany and the tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world. The UNESCO Heritage site was built to house the bones of the three wise men, brought to the city in 1164. Started in 1248 and finished in 1880, it was dedicated to St. Peter and the Virgin Mary in the tradition of Gothic cathedrals in northern France. From 1880-1884 it was the tallest building in the world.

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Bones of the 3 Wise Men are enshrined here in gold.

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I originally planned to see in 24 hours four of the city’s seven markets–the Cathedral Market, Old Town “Home of the Elves” Market, Neumarkt’s Market of Angels, and the Harbor Christmas Market.  An ambitious plan, but it would mean booking a room for only one night. A solo female traveler, I wanted to be near the Cathedral Market, having read it’s the hub of celebration, to enjoy live music at night. I hoped to walk everywhere in safety day or night with no need for a taxi—even to and from the train station. I found a hotel,  in this perfect location on one of the websites with deals I typically use. However, my friend, Mithu, said rather than sprinting through the city, I should book through HRS (Hotel Reservation Services) because at their prices I could get two nights for the price of one. My room was 65 Euro. It overlooked the Elf Market and was one block from the Cathedral Market. Mission accomplished.

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The Elf Market Outside my window

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Breakfast

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Lunch (Mulled wine comes in a mug which can be kept as a souvenir or turned in for the deposit).
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Green cabbage–my favorite dish
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Dinner

 

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Live music, more food and Glühwein or “glow-wine” (the German winter drink of heated red wine spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed,  citrus, and sugar) one could ever possibly eat or drink, and friendly folks were found at all four. With the Cologne-Bonn airport close by and train connections aplenty, it is a beautiful Christmas destination.

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Around the corner and up the hill…Cathedral Market

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I met a very kind lady, Lina, who sold the best cookies ever and is a Life Coach at www.aura-soma-wellness.de.

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In Cologne but Never Alone: Reminded by Christmas to Fear Not

 

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Christmas is charged with nostalgia. I’m in bed looking out my window at the Market of the Elves in Cologne, Germany. Under tents and trees all lit up, replicas of funny bearded men beckon below. Elf statues are more numerous here than in pictures of Santa’s workshop in the book Mama Lou read to my sister and me when we were kids. I came to Cologne to find Christmas cheer because I knew I’d need it.

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I have dreaded the holidays for months. It is the first Christmas I’ll spend without my children with me.  My son graduates in May on my daughter’s birthday. Last year we had the ultimate Christmas reunion, but because flights from Marrakesh to Nashville are too expensive with the May trip, we decided I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.

Because flights are cheap to Europe, I decided to spend the holiday with a friend in Germany and take the train to the Christmas markets. My daughter said she couldn’t bear to think of me sad in my apartment alone and all the family wished me well. All my coworkers—international teachers who in their collective years abroad have traveled to every country on the planet it seems—said “No one does Christmas like Germany.” And so here I am in a city with seven Christmas markets—an amazing place (as you’ll see in my next post). Yet despite enjoying the music, live trees, winter air wafting with spices and mulled wine, I’ve also shed some tears.

Since moving to Africa I’ve had bouts of loneliness and fear. Through every trial God comforted me, strengthened me, grew me more into the woman He has always wanted me to be. I have found freedom, peace, joy that nothing from without can sustain—only his presence within. I have seen beauty and experienced adventure as gifts—love letters from Him–during this amazing season. I have been protected and contributed on this new continent,  feeling totally in His will and being blessed beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Still… despite so much growth…so much faith and thankfulness for how far God has brought me physically, emotionally, and spiritually throughout the course of my life and particularly over the last sixteen months… despite feeling closer to God than ever  and thus, like the Proverbs woman clothed in strength and dignity who smiles at the future … a woman who now lives most days without fear, regret, and doubt….that woman took a holiday. Today, thankfully, she is back.

While teaching The Life of Pi my eyes filled at the line, “All of life is letting go.” It seems I was brought to Africa to learn this truth more than any other.  I had to let go of so much to follow the life in Morocco God planned for me. Being close to family and friends; renting the home and leaving the job where I’d been secure for over twenty years; giving up comforts like water and wifi that never failed, a car to grab what I forgot at the store, a neighborhood and greenway where I’d walk my sweet dog, Ella.

Letting go is painful. Because our natural reflex is to hold on. We fear if we let go we’ll lose something rather than free ourselves to receive gifts God wants to place in our hands. Letting go means losing the illusion of control and stepping out in faith, believing, remembering this leg of the journey was God-mapped though I can’t see where it ultimately will lead. I’m realizing that distance doesn’t mean I’m asked to let go of family and friends. Though I can’t hug them during the holidays, they are with me in my heart, loving me on Skype and in spirit.

Letting go means losing fear—the greatest enemy of the soul. I believe with all my heart, “God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” I just don’t always live it. Like Linus, I’ve been able to drop my security blanket (whatever I contrive and hold onto thinking it will protect me against fallout of a fallen world) when I remember two simple words—a mantra in my Bible: “Fear Not.”

My Truth and Light

Yesterday as I walked along the Rhine River with God I thanked Him for being my wonderful Counselor, my Prince of Peace. I believe with all my heart He is Emmanuel—God with us. This morning I googled “Daily Devotion” to reset (as I must do every day) my mind to truth.  Only truth trumps fear. Up popped this post by Jason Soroski explaining the impetus for dropping what we cling to in fear.   I’m also grateful for his Part 2, which reminds me why, after letting go, I as a human, pick up my blanket again.  I’ve often felt like Charlie Brown–someone who wants to be perfect but never gets it right.  I’m thankful for this reminder that I don’t have to. I’m loved by One who will never leave me.

I came to Morocco believing the move would benefit my family, finances, future, and faith.  In the latter, I knew I’d find true freedom.  I haven’t seen where my story will end and thus fear sometimes still rears its ugly head, but the Christmas story  reminds me again that I am to fear not.

On the train ride to Cologne I saw beautiful woods and a river. I knew this trip was what I needed. Though the skies were cloudy and I was striving to trust in the dark what I’d seen in the light, God again was taking me on a journey that would make me lie down in green pastures…lead me beside still waters… restore my soul.

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And this Christmas I find comfort and cheer knowing no matter what 2016 holds, no matter where I’ll live, work, serve, that surely goodness and mercy will follow my all the days of my life and I’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever.