The Last Week of January

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The last week of January was a big week for our family back in 2003 — a week of miracles and transformations and shock. Looking back, eighteen years later, I can hardly believe that so much happened in such a short period of time. It has the feel of a wedding or a birth or a death, where my recollection of events is all jumbled and blurred. Still, my memory latches onto that jumble and blur because it represented something significant.

The last week of January was the week that our family moved to Amsterdam.

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I don’t talk (or think) about Amsterdam nearly as much as I used to. For awhile, after we relocated from the Netherlands to the United States, I couldn’t shut up about our time overseas. Recently, however, I mentioned something about “back when we used to live in Amsterdam” when I was talking with a Kent State University senior. Note: she’s been meaningfully involved with our church for several years. Still, she stopped me in the middle of my reference to the past and said, “Wait! You used to live in Amsterdam?!?”

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It’s weird to have something so significant become a smaller and more distant part of one’s life, as the years stack up. It’s a part of growing and grieving, I suppose. Still, I don’t want to forget about our Amsterdam years. Especially not the last week of January in 2003, when we made the leap across “The Pond.”

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An old blog post provides a helpful summary:

In the third week of January 2003, our family was still waiting (after almost half a year) for the sale of our house in Bowling Green. We were still sharing the story of the “Amsterdam Project” with anyone and everyone who would listen, hoping to build a base of financial support that would allow us to focus on full-time ministry in the Netherlands. And we were still wondering if we’d ever actually be boarding a plane across the Atlantic, to help build a new community of faith in central Amsterdam…

Yet by the first week of February 2003, our American automobiles were in other people’s garages and our winter coats were in a shipping crate on an Atlantic ocean-liner, while we were struggling through icy winds to frigid tram stops. We had set a fresh bouquet of Dutch tulips on our make-shift dining room table that overlooked the wood pile and the power tools serving as accessories to the semi-furnished apartment beneath what would one day become “The Zolder.” And we were meticulously working to decipher the application forms for our verblijfsvergunningen (residence permits) — providing us with a critical indicator that we were in for more than just a vacation in Europe.

In that week between… we witnessed the cosmic alignment of three stars in the simultaneous sale of our house, attainment of our financial support goals, and finalization (and execution) of our travel arrangements. Consequently that “week between”… represented a dramatic turn in our path that has caused us to navigate not by sight, not by sound, but by spirit.

Reflections from Amsterdam Asp, January 2006
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I look back now on the pictures, and I marvel to think: Those were my places. My people. My stuff. It’s surreal to think how different my commute from home to work looked and sounded and felt for that decade of our life in Europe. Even when I see a Dutch word like verblijfsvergunningen, it’s amazing to me that I can understand and pronounce that word! It feels like a totally different decade. A different continent. Because, of course, it was. But it really feels like it more and more, as time passes.

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We still miss the people we got to know during our years in the city. I thought about that when we left Amsterdam. I just had a feeling that the relationships would be the part of the city that we’d miss the most. And I was right. Looking back, I still have very fond memories of those relationships and the experiences we had together.

We were all so young. So full of life. So faith-filled.

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The longer it’s been, however, the more I remember the way that our Amsterdam years affected my relationship with God. My human relationships from Amsterdam have shallowed or dropped off, without the benefit of day-to-day or week-to-week interaction. But my relationship with God has continued and deepened. Looking back, I see how God used those years in Amsterdam to deliver me from sinful desires, pride, and foolish idealism. He also equipped me with an appreciation for people who are very different from me. The Lord helped me to develop a shepherd’s heart, loving and caring for His Church. He proved Himself to be my refuge and my strength. And my understanding of these divine character qualities is now deeply personal, not just theological.

Some friends recently reminded me that we who follow Jesus must ride the twin rails of grief and joy. We can’t have balance without both. And that feels especially true when considering my memories of our Amsterdam years. There’s still pain from those years, but also lots of gratitude.

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