Twenty Years Since our Week of Destiny

Bicycling Down the Westerstraat

This week marks twenty years since the period in our family’s life which I sometimes call our “Week of Destiny.” That was the week in which we raised the last of our financial support. It was the week we closed on the sale of our Bowling Green house. It was the week we ordered our tickets for Amsterdam. And it was the week we flew across the Atlantic. To start a new life and a new church in old Amsterdam.

I kind of want to fact-check myself on the exact timelines. Because honestly, even to me, that sort of coincidence seems pretty incredible. At the same time, I don’t want to take the time to run down all the details. Nor do I want to potentially disturb the memory. Even if it was eight days, or eighteen days, it still felt supernatural. Like we were swept up in something way bigger than ourselves.

And regardless of the details, I want to reflect on that week. Because it’s been twenty years, almost half a lifetime ago. That last week of January in 2003 was the initiation of a life-shaping experience. And it still reverberates, all these years later.

So, I’ve started reading through some of my old journals and blog entries. There are a lot of gaps in the historical record, as well as my memories. But there are also fascinating, potentially-insightful relics that open a window into that phase in my life. Some are purely amusing, like the third blog post I ever created. Nothing more than a black-and-white self-portrait titled “Eric Asp in Amsterdam.” My hair was mussed with gel. The background included the merest suggestion of Amsterdam Oost architecture and street signage. The overall effect is that of an impossibly-youthful visage. Even so, some of these windows into the past feel profound. Important to remember (at least for me).

So I want to deliberately pause and reflect on what happened twenty years ago — and in the decade of life and ministry that followed, there in the Netherlands. I want to spend this last week of January referencing and reposting old blog content… sharing old pictures… and remembering all the things that happened during that incredibly meaningful and formative period in my life.

I’m going to start this week of retrospection by reposting the content of something I wrote in the Winter of 2005. It speaks to themes I also found in my journal entries from 2003, so it seemed like as good a place as any to start. I was rather loquacious and self-important to a degree that feels pretty cringe-inducing, looking back now. But it’s good to remember both the good and the bad. So, here’s a piece titled “Zolder Venster” (Attic Window), starting this look back to twenty years ago, this week:


zolder venster

I remember the first time that I really gazed out the attic window to the view of the Bosboom Toussaintstraat. The night was black and starless, but the string of amber streetlights offered a gentle glow to this quiet urban canyon. The tall, gabled houses framed the narrow street with a sense of diminutive grandeur. A typical Amsterdam street, except for the absence of bends or crooks in the thoroughfare, allowing an unrestricted view of the entire Bosboom Toussaintstraat – straight as an arrow pointing to the monolithic urban developments built on the fringes of the city long after its illustrious golden age.

The view offered an epiphany. A moment of realization and understanding. A quiet knowing of the fact that this was Amsterdam. The strange amber light, the 17th Century architecture, the traffic flowing with hatchbacks, scooters, and bicycles, the measured two-pitched song of an ambulance racing through the night… That first deliberate view out of the attic window provided a sense of genesis – a threshhold to new beginnings in this city we chose for our own.

I’ve sat to gaze out of that attic window many times since my initial reflection upon the Bosboom Toussaintstraat. It seems to offer a timeless window on life in Amsterdam. Through all the people who have come and gone, through times of sorrow and joy, through sleet and sunshine, through silence or singing… the amber streetlights flicker to life every evening and illuminate the Bosboom Toussaintstraat, essentially unchanged from my first view of the Amsterdam nightscape. Every view is an opportunity to re-center, re-focus, and renew my perspective. I remember who God is. Who I am. How we came to find ourselves in Amsterdam in an attic space overlooking the canals and streets of the city centrum. Every gaze is a new beginning.

This evening, I look down upon the dancing waters of the Singelgracht beneath me. The amber reflections of the city streetlights are refracted and projected in a cycle of perpetual motion, as if I’m methodically running my fingers through piles of golden treasure. Above the canal, a woman on bicycle is silhouetted against the streetlights as she struggles to surmount the incline of the Koekjesbrug. And beyond the bridge, on the other side of the busy Nassaukade, the Bosboom Toussaintstraat stretches out like a long, straight finger, pointing the way to tomorrow.

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