About the time I went to Serbia.

When the nightmare of last summer transpired, and I was no longer able to stay with the global journey team I was on, I figured I either needed to rethink going into the Nations OR take it as a sign that God had big plans for me. Plans the enemy would go to great lengths to thwart. I decided to go with the last theory and stand on the firm, holy ground of Father’s promises to use me in the nations, and I joined another team. All summer long, even as I trained, I wondered if I’d make it on that plane this time. You guys, even as I was driving to the airport with my family, I wondered what the enemy was planning. What was Father warring against on my behalf so I could get on that plane? I can’t know for sure, but I made it onto that plane sitting on the Eppley tarmac and every plane thereafter. They were all on time and the bags followed us faithfully. We were healthy, in good spirits, connecting seamlessly as a team and thrilled to be traveling to Novi Sad, Serbia. A place I can confidently say I never dreamed of visiting as a little girl. But that was before I knew the Lord.

Assuming that God was at work, I had my expectations set high. Maybe too high. But it was no tall order that my God couldn’t meet, because my time in Serbia BLEW MY MIND a million times over. To say that it was amazing and phenomenal and life-altering is just way too small in comparison to what it actually was.

*I loved all the strangers I met on all those plane rides, even in seats with no leg room for hours and hours. I thanked Him for every mile I covered, every cloud we flew threw and every person on every plane.  (I even overlooked the two cats meowing for 9 whole hours on the way back to the States. CATS. For NINE hours.)

*I loved the weary exhaustion that comes with jet lag and jam-packed days. Because it meant I was somewhere far, far away from my norm and I knew He was the only one that could make that happen. (jet lag = legit. The struggle.)

*I loved the language barrier. I loved every word I didn’t understand and the graceful smiles extended as we explained what we meant and bumped over pronouncing words foreign to our tongues. I loved those little kids with hearts to learn the language I take for granted.

*I loved that beautiful seminary building in Novi Sad and every team member working here. Those people God was preparing for weeks and months and years before it ever occurred to anyone to establish a Lifegate in Serbia. The people who ooze God from their smiles and hugs and hands and laughs and eyes. I have absolutely no idea how God can make people feel instantly like family, but He did. And I know I’m not the first to say it. Every day felt like a family reunion and departing from them was heart wrenching. There’s no way to describe the way I’m missing them, or the glee I feel when we communicate over social media. It will have to do until I can see them in the flesh again. Soon.

*I loved the delicious little bread store and the salon around the corner, but more than that, I loved the people working inside of them. Their welcoming smiles, their desire to know where I came from and sincere bear hugs with broken English that implored me to return.

*I loved all 53 of the children wandering the camp tucked away in a rural village in Serbia. The camp with spotty WiFi, legions of bugs, well water and dirty bathrooms. The camp that served up amazing food and warm hospitality. The camp that felt so familiar and so foreign at the exact same time. I miss it desperately. Take me back there, Lord.

*I loved those late night dance parties at the English camp, how sweat slid down the back of my neck as we bounced around, dancing like we had no cares in the world. The 50 year old dancing beside the 30 year old dancing beside the 17 year old and the 10 year old. To the same music, on that dusty floor with the moonshine streaming in and mingling with the colored spotlights we rigged in the corners. We shuffled back to our cabins, weary from the day and that dancing, but so alive.

*I loved that little hill by the corn fields and the horses at camp. I climbed up and sat to watch the sunset and to journal, the tears soaking the collar of my already drenched shirt, the pages filling with words. I loved what He told me. I loved knowing that He could only say the things He said to me in Serbia, because that’s where my ears and heart could receive them. And I wondered what He was saving to tell me as I wander the globe in the future.

*I loved the leaky eyes and falling tears of each child that we hugged at the train station, over whispered goodbyes. I kept thinking about how God collects all our tears in bottles and how the bottles have tears from all over the globe, mingling together in the sweetest way.

*I loved the dew that fell on the land of the camp each morning, blanketing everything in tiny drops of His refreshment. I loved how it made the sunrises glow through the lens of my cell phone camera, the one that could never capture well what my eyes were seeing.

*I loved each one of those believers in Belgrade and every piece of their broken stories. I love how they leaned in with elbows on knees and looked me right in the eyes as I told them my testimony, nodding their heads excitedly when they heard a part that resonated with their own. I love how each word knitted my heart to theirs and I instantly felt a kinship to those perfect strangers. I loved their sweet children in the next room, noshing on some of the most amazing pizza I’ve ever eaten. I loved the thick feeling of the Kingdom in that room in Belgrade where we met, sitting in a circle of chairs in an old building re-purposed many times over. I loved the distinct feeling of knowing that God was there and at work in gigantic ways. I loved the sadness I felt as we drove home that night, missing them like crazy. The sadness reminds me of where I left my heart, like a little bread trail.

*I loved every belly laugh from those 15 days. There were hundreds, maybe thousands. Laughs on planes and in vans and on trains and in English classes and over meals and with my roomie, in the quiet of the night because perpetual exhaustion makes everything seem really funny. My time in Serbia is hallmarked by laughter and that’s so, so precious.

*I loved the cobblestone streets we walked and shops hidden in alleys. I loved the locals sitting on benches as we passed by and exchanged smiles. Did they immediately know I was from somewhere else? Probably. But they made me feel like a neighbor anyway.

*I loved telling people about my family back at home. I loved searching for the words to accurately describe the man and the daughters I have been given, and realizing that I was coming up empty to express the feelings in my heart. I loved the way my heart leapt when a text or video would pop up on my phone, the one that faithfully scanned for service constantly. I loved the dream that God wrote on my heart to bring them with me next time, to stamp their memories with a lifetime spent discovering the world as a family. I loved the way my breathing quickened when the wheels of our plane touched down in Omaha, because I knew I was minutes away from being in the presence of the people God had designed for me before I was ever born. I love how the longings to be with both my family and people 4500 miles away have taken up camp in my heart effortlessly, and it doesn’t confuse me one little bit.

*I loved the feeling of scales falling from my eyes, and realizing how gigantic the world is. How beautiful the stars look when viewed from sleepy eyes at 1am as the camp leaders relaxed from the day over chuckles and quiet discussion. How breathtaking the sunsets are over the golden stalks of corn. How mesmerizing the storm clouds are, and how the big fat raindrops that fell on my arms felt like chunks of cold snow, even as I sat covered in sweat. I loved discovering birds I had never seen before, and wondering if they’d ever flown the air outside that village. I loved my eyes welling with tears as I gazed on the faces of those around me, the Father pressing into my heart how gorgeous He thought that person was, finding the beauty in everything and everyone. He so loves creation, y’all. It’s all His favorite.

*I loved falling in love again, with my God. That first-love feeling that screams ‘I’ll go anywhere You call me, it’s all Yours, I’m with You, Lord.’ I loved leaning into His arms and feeling Him all around. I loved the warmth in my heart, radiating from the comfort and joy that comes from a good Father, knowing that I was safe and sound, that my adventures were in His hands and for good purposes.

*I love what He did in me. And knowing that He’s never done, that there’s no limit to what He can do with a willing heart and a whispered ‘Yes’. I loved the butterflies in my stomach when it occurred to me that, at 36 years old, I wasn’t nearing the end of my God’s plans at all. If anything, He was just starting to use the girl who needed a whole bunch of molding and I was finally, finally starting to take shape. His hands must be sore, after all that sculpting I needed. I’m so glad He never gave up on me.

There’s more. More than I can write in one post, so I’ll keep writing. More than I could write in one blog, though I’ll try. The Word says that God gives the Nations as an inheritance. Tears filled my eyes as our plane sped down the hot cement runway in Munich, on our way home. Because it took me 36 years to know the gravity of that. I looked down through the clouds to the landscape below and saw deep greens, yellows, browns and blues. All those houses that got smaller and smaller as we lifted higher and higher in the air, allowing me to see so far. Bathed in the light of the high sun, Germany sparkled like jewels and a gasp caught in my throat to see the gift He was giving, the heirloom He held in open palms before me. This abundance, this richness, this treasure. He finds it in the people He knits in wombs and the trees burrowed into the soil and the water covering the land and all those stars He hung just so, each with a special name. That inheritance is for me and for you, scattered all over the terrain, just waiting to be discovered like a gift, tied up in His love. Friends, I just can’t wait to unwrap all those packages.

In love,
Mande

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