Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Těším se na .../ I look forward to...

After two years of living overseas, people have asked me what I'm looking forward to back home. Of course, there are the easy answers like friends, family, and my dog, but when I really gave it some thought, I came up with a big list. Some of these things might surprise you, make you laugh, or give you a glimpse of what the past two years have been like in my apartment. But my real hope is that it will help you to appreciate some of these "little things" in your own life a bit more. After all, the little things tend to add up.

Here's the list (in no order of importance or gleeful expectation):

  • Bathroom cabinets. And a bathroom counter for that matter. There's just zero storage space in bathrooms here, which is fine if you live alone, but a different story if it's 3 girls living together.
  • No visa issues or foreign police to worry about. 
  • Good morning hugs from family.
  • Baking with (and partaking of) PUMPKIN. If you follow me on Pinterest, you already know this...
  • Talking to my parents and friends in person instead of over Skype.
  • Readable oven settings. I've never truly been sure which symbol was for 'bake' on our oven. In fact, for the first month or so last year, my flatmates and I were accidentally broiling everything. 
  • A double sink in the kitchen. Necessary? No, but super handy.
  • Room under the bed for storage. My bed frame here is like a wooden box that the mattress sits in.
  • Easy availability of items like vanilla extract, brown sugar, peanut butter, pancake/waffle syrup, good cake and brownie mixes, etc.
  • The crock-pot, blender, and food processor at home. I am super pumped to make smoothies and utilize the goldmine of crock-pot recipes that I've found over the past two years.
  • Being able to buy medicines at places like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and CVS, where I can browse for what I need AND read the labels. Here, I have to go to a special store for meds and ask the people behind the counter for what I need. The people are always nice, we just don't speak the same language.
  • Not having a 6-hour (minimum) time difference between me and my family and friends back home.
  • Being able to rent DVDs from the library and/or Redbox and watch them with company on a TV screen, as opposed to streaming movies online from my tiny netbook (no disc-drive) where I have to use headphones to hear anything decently. 
  • Going to hairdressers, dentists, and doctors that I know and can communicate with in English without needing any language-barrier assistance. 
  • Having a washing machine that doesn't drain into the bathtub. Trust me, that water smells gross.
  • The ability to get filtered coffee almost anywhere. Here it's usually only espresso-based beverages that are available at restaurants, cafes, and gas stations. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a good cappuccino, but sometimes, you just want a cup of normal, drip brew.
  • Multiplied kitchen counter space. I don't know how Czech women prepare such big meals with such limited preparation space. 
  • Huge (and relatively inexpensive) ice cream selection in supermarkets. 
  • Having a printer/copier at home. 
  • Renting oodles of books from the library at no cost. 
  • The joy that comes with getting mail from the mailbox and the newspaper and ads from the front door.
  • REAL Italian food. They often use ketchup in their tomato sauces, and don't even get me started on their lasagna...
  • REAL Mexican food. It just doesn't exist here, and neither do frozen margaritas for that matter.
  • Seafood. You can get it here, but it's definitely not cheap or very fresh. Czech is a landlocked country if you're not up on your geography.
  • Snuggling with my dog. Czech people love their dogs, and you can usually see at least one in any direction that you look, but petting a stranger's dog is frowned upon.
  • Ceiling fans (I have yet to see one here) and more widely-available air-conditioning. 
  • Window screens to keep the bugs out while letting in fresh air. They are available here, but our flat doesn't have them. Needless to say, I've become good friends with the flyswatter. 
  • Product labels that I can read and don't have to translate. Usually, the front label or product title will be in English, but the user info and/or preparation guidelines/instructions are in 2-3 other languages (not including English). Hooray for Google Translate!
  • Flavored coffee creamer.
  • A clothes dryer, especially for delinting and softening towels.
  • English measurements for weather comprehension (Celsius is like Greek to me) and cooking/baking ease.
  • Being able to sew projects and mend items with a sewing machine.
  • Having a real home address for online shopping. 
  • Blinds/curtains in the home. Not that they're not available here, we just don't have them in our flat. Let's not think about what people may or may not see from the street...
  • Sticks of butter. It sounds silly, but you try baking with a big bar of butter that's measured for baking in grams instead of cups.
  • Challenging sermons at church with no headphone translation necessary. 
  • Not having to carry my groceries home from the store. For this reason, I don't ever recall buying potatoes here.
  • BAGELS. I don't know why, but they just don't have them here.
  • My church family at DCOG. I'm so looking forward to worshiping and serving with them again.
  • Watching football with Dad.
  • Honeycrisp apples. They're my favorite, and they kind of turned me into an apple snob.
  • Finally being able to make a lot of the recipes and crafty things I've found on Pinterest.
  • Cheaper drugstore makeup. For example, the average L'Oreal mascara is about the equivalent of $15-20 here. 
  • Commercials. Call me crazy, but I tend to like them, especially the ones from Target.
  • Target! I could browse there for hours.
  • Being around a larger percent of people who wear deodorant. As a friend here once told me, "Czech people are clean, but they don't wear deodorant. German people are both clean and they wear deodorant. French people aren't clean, but they try to cover it up with deodorant."
  • Reese's peanut butter cups. They finally have Oreo's here, but they haven't discovered the magic combination of peanut butter and chocolate yet.
  • Visiting my favorite restaurants from back home. There are way too many to name here.
  • Finally meeting my friends' babies that they've had while I've been gone and/or celebrating with my friends who have tied the knot in my absence. Amanda Kay Prior...Block, I'm looking at you!!!
  • Not being stared at by strangers when I answer the phone in English and have English conversations in public.
All that being said, there are so many things and people that I will miss from Czech when I get back to my Indiana home in August. In fact, I'm sure that I'll end up making a new list in a few months with the opposite perspective. But if I think about it now, I'll surely burst into tears. It's rough to have two homes. So for now, I will enjoy the last few weeks in Ostrava as I look forward to the people and things (be they big or small) that make up my life in my American home. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Back in late September, my teaching schedule got thrown for a loop. I went from teaching mostly individuals and small classes of adults to mainly teaching classes of 15-25 children at a primary school in another city. Goodbye, comfort zone. Hello, chaos. When I was just entering that period of change, I sat down at a local cafe and penned some thoughts about the idea of change. Now, about 8 months later, I'm getting ready to make another big change: going home. Therefore, I think it's a good time to reflect back on those thoughts. So here they are.


It can make you crazy.
It can make you doubt yourself.
It can make you forgetful.
It can make you feel completely out of control.

It can make you grow.
It can make you change your perspective.
It can force you to trust God more and yourself less.

It can be startling, sudden, and unwanted.
It can be overwhelming and confusing.
It can feel like it'll break you.
It can be completely mind-boggling.
It can make you resentful.

It can be refreshing.
It can be exactly what you didn't realize you needed.
It can allow God to use you more.

A good sunset always calms my soul. Here's one from our balcony back in October. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Prince Charming

I've read the books. I've seen the movies. As a little girl, I can remember dreaming about my own Prince Charming. I don't remember him whisking me away on a magnificent white horse or anything, but I do remember one very important thing: he was perfect.

Didn't grow up in the height of Disney-adapted fairy tales? Here's a recap: Prince Charming was brave, strong, handsome, charming (I couldn't resist...), and most importantly, he loved his maiden enough to battle evil to be with her. A love-struck hero who is willing to sacrifice himself to save his maiden in distress? He sure seems like quite the catch.

It's usually the case that girls start liking boys first. In my head, it goes something like this:

         Little girl: "He's dreamy. Oh, he looked at me! Time to start planning our wedding."
         Little boy: "Ewww, why is she looking at me? I think I need another cootie shot...just to be safe."

That was definitely the case with me. I started liking boys at a very early age, much to my parent's dismay, I would imagine. And I remember them telling me a story from when I was probably in preschool. I had asked where we were going, and my parents had replied that we were heading to church. Apparently, my response was, "Oh goody. There's boys there."

Of course, much to my disappointment, boys my age still thought girls were the grossest thing on the planet, and let's remember that little boys like some pretty yucky things.

Fast forward to middle school. Boys were finally getting the idea that maybe girls weren't really so bad, and that maybe they were even kinda pretty. There was really no point in dating, as nobody could go anywhere without their parents driving them, and therefore supervising, but still young romances prevailed. I remember talking with my friends about the boys we thought were cute and could be "the one," and wishing and hoping for my turn. As humiliating as it sounds now, I remember showing up to school and thinking it was a sign that we were meant to be together if my crush and I were wearing the same color of clothes. Yup, that was me, pathetically and perpetually boy-crazy.

Continue on to high school and college. There were some almosts, that's for sure. And even almosts can cause some heartbreak. But there was never any official boyfriend & girlfriend relationship, much to my dismay (though I'm sure that it helped my father to sleep more peacefully). I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I was destined to be an old bag lady.

If I look back, part of why it never happened was because I was really particular. I didn't want a boyfriend just for the sake of having one. Especially past high school, I wasn't interested in simply dating for fun. I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to last. And I had quite a mental list of the qualities I wanted in a significant other. Not that I was necessarily looking for Prince Charming, but you get the idea.

Now, almost 2 full years out of college, I am in that lovely stage of watching all my friends get engaged and married. I'll be honest, sometimes it really hurts. Sometimes I feel left behind. I look at the people from high school and college, and so many of them are married and already have little families of their own. And then I look at myself, single and with no marriage prospects (boy, I sound like a character from one of Jane Austen's novels...). Sometimes I'm relieved at this. I know I'm not ready to have my own family yet. But I would like someone to share my life with. I want somebody to love that will love me in return.

And then I realize, there is someone who loves me more than I can imagine, more than everyone else in the world put together. Someone that died so that we could be together forever. Someone who knows absolutely everything about me and still loves me anyway. Someone who loves me no strings attached. Someone who is fighting a huge battle for me, and who asks me to bring Him my worries, doubts, fears, struggles, and problems so that He can help me through them. Someone who is always there and always has time for me, no matter how silly the problem seems to be.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that what Prince Charming is all about, only at least a thousand times better?

Over the past 24 years, I've spent a lot of time thinking, hoping, and praying that one day, God would bring a special man into my life. And I will continue to hope and pray for that. But, I will remember that I already have my Prince Charming. He's been there by my side every step of the way, and there He will remain, for His love endures forever.

To all my single ladies (myself included), stop looking for Prince Charming, and look to your creator. He's more of a Prince Charming than we could ever hope for, and He'll bring the right earthly men into our lives when the time is right.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

the decision

so i have good news and bad news. often, when people say that phrase, they follow it up with this question, "which one do you want to hear first?" i've given it some thought, and i think it's better to hear the bad news first. that way, the good news can potentially soften the blow of the bad news. if you hear the good news first, then the bad news has the potential to completely wreck the happiness from the good news. of course, that's just my opinion. and in this case, whether the news is good or bad depends on which side of the atlantic you live on.

so without further adieu, here is the news: after much prayer and consideration, i will be finishing out my contract this summer and returning stateside. if you read my previous post, then you know that this was not an easy decision to make. people say that home is where the heart is. well i've got two homes, both with people that i love and cherish, and both with their different ways of life and corresponding advantages and disadvantages.

if you're from my home in america, i'm excited to see you again soon. mom and dad, i'm so excited to see you in person, and not just over skype where your images often freeze in the strangest ways. mr. dog, you know that i am most definitely excited to see you and snuggle with your furry softness. friends, i'm excited to meet your new significant others, husbands, and/or babies and catch up over highly addictive caffeinated beverages. church family, i'm excited to worship with you again.

if you're from my more recent home in czech, my heart breaks to leave you. but i want you to know that i'll never fully leave. a part of me will remain here forever (and i'm not talking about that lost sock that will probably be a permanent resident of our flat since i can't seem to find it). the past two years with you have been some of the most encouraging, challenging, and growing experiences of my life. thank you for teaching me, for being patient with me, and for allowing me into your lives. now this isn't goodbye, so don't get all sappy. instead, let's enjoy the last few months we have together before we have to say "see you later." we can cry then. i know i will.

and now, good news for everyone! my parents are coming to czech! after showing and describing lots of pictures and many discussions of who is who and what is what, they will finally get to experience czech in person, and i'm so ridiculously excited to share my 2nd home with them. they are arriving in prague on august 3rd and my goal is to bring them to church in ostrava on the 5th. *you cb'ers better mark your calendars so that i can introduce you to my family!* after some time in ostrava and prague, we'll be flying back home as a family on august 13th. i don't even want to think about all the heavy suitcases, but i'm glad we can do it together.

one last note: i want to give a big shout-out to everyone who has supported me financially these past two years with teachoverseas. all the necessary funds have been raised (including the cost of my flight back to indiana-land), and i am beyond joyful and grateful to you and the sacrifices you have made to allow me to be here. thank you!!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pursuit of a Path

Patience has never been my strong suit. And let's be honest, if it was a struggle before high-speed internet, it's really a challenge now. We live in a society where we have instant (or nearly instant) access to everything. It's a point and click kind of world. And all that experience with instant access makes us want instant results. Take for example, the relatively clear goal of physical fitness. *Note: I didn't say easy, I said clear.* I went to my first aerobic class recently (not only my first in a foreign country, but truly my first ever) and I'd be lying if I said the hope of instant toning results never crossed my mind. When we put effort towards something, we want that effort to not have been in vain. Of course, in the case of physical fitness, one time of effort, no matter how intense, is not likely to yield any instant results other than fatigue. It takes repeated effort over a period of time to gain results. And that requires perseverance and the determination of refusing to be lazy. Combine laziness and a lack of patience, and you don't really have a chance.

And if it's hard to be patient in circumstances with a clear path or goal, it's extremely difficult when you can't see the path or haven't determined what the goal is. That is where my life is right now. I'm about halfway through my second year with ESI/TeachOverseas, and the time has come to make a big decision: do I stay for another year or do I return to the U.S.? Last year, it was a relatively easy decision. I knew what my heart wanted, and God confirmed those desires. This year, it is decidedly more complicated. And I'm on a deadline: I have to make my decision official by February 20th. I feel like I know what I need to choose, and up until about a week ago, I was feeling mostly confident of what my decision would be. But now? Now, I'm scared, for that choice would mean a path that I cannot see, and goals that I have not yet made. It would mean certain uncertainty in many areas of my life. And if you know me well, you know that I like to have a plan. If I have a plan, I can know what to expect, at least to a degree. No plans = expectations of mass chaos and probable regret.

You might be asking, why is this year's decision so complicated? That's a good question. Here are some reasons:

*Student loans: I can't keep deferring them much longer. But I don't make enough money to pay on them with my job here.
*Job: I have absolutely no idea what I would do for a job in the U.S. and I feel rather unqualified for most everything. And I kind of need a job to pay back those loans...
*Address: The chances are very, very good that my parents will move, if not to another city or state for a new job, at least to a smaller house. I can't quite apply for jobs if I don't know what my address will be. And I would surely be living with my parents again for awhile to build up savings.
*Relationships: While my parents and dog are a big draw back home, most of my friends there have lives of their own now with spouses and/or children to tend to. Here, I have a wealth of friends and other people near my age to spend time with.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both leaving and staying. No matter what I choose, it won't be a complete win. It will be extremely bittersweet. And just thinking about that breaks my heart. So right now, in the days that remain of my decision-making, I am in pursuit of two things. First, a path. Second, peace that will accompany that path.

I have neither of those yet, but I do have hope. I was given a new devotional back in July. To give you some background, I was angry and frustrated when I received it, and out of some sort of rebellion, I refused to read it right away. I took it back to Czech with me, but put it in a poor location where it wasn't easily visible. In my defense, I originally thought it was a great location... Anyway, I didn't start reading it until late December. In that pivotal moment, I saw it and felt a strong pull to open it, if only to read the introduction. It was late at night, and I had an early morning line-up of difficult classes, and after seeing that the intro was more than a few pages long, I almost put it down. But I felt something spiritual at work, as if God wanted me to read it and Satan was trying to keep me from it by attacking my laziness. So I purposefully started reading the introduction to a devotional by Sarah Young, entitled "Jesus Calling." It was much more interesting than I had imagined it to be, and about halfway through it, I found something I'd been looking for (yet not actively pursuing) for years: a bible verse to claim as my own. Everything I'd seen that I'd liked was either someone else's or a verse that is often taken out of context and/or has become overused and cliche. Well here was one that spoke directly to my soul. Isaiah 55:12 "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace." Finding that verse made the score 1 to 0. Satan was losing, but he hadn't given up the battle. As I finished reading the intro, I thought that I might as well read the devotional for the day. That's where Satan stepped in once again and said, "But Ashley, this devotional starts in January. It's practically the end of December, so you can just put it off for a few days and start it neatly at the beginning with the new year." His argument made logical sense, and I almost gave in. But I sensed the continuing battle and delighted in the opportunity of not only obeying God, but annoying Satan by reading the message for that day. I had just started to truly ponder this decision before me, and so not only was it encouraging then, it is applicable and encouraging now.

Here it is. December 21:

My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when the time is right, the way before you suddenly clears--through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles--and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory.

More recent hope I've found for making this decision and surviving the aftermath is yet another message from this devotional. February 1:

Follow me one step at a time. That is all I require of you. In fact, that is the only way to move through this space/time/world. You see huge mountains looming, and you start wondering how you're going to scale those heights. Meanwhile, because you're not looking where you're going, you stumble on the easy path where I am leading you now. As I help you get back on your feet, you tell Me how worried you are about the cliffs up ahead. But you don't know what will happen today, much less tomorrow. Our path may take an abrupt turn, leading you away from those mountains. There may be an easier way up the mountains than is visible from this distance. If I do lead you up the cliffs, I will equip you thoroughly for that strenuous climb. I will even give My angels charge over you, to preserve you in all your ways.
Keep your mind on the present journey, enjoying My presence. Walk by faith, not by sight, trusting Me to open up the way before you.

If you look at the name of this blog, you will notice it is called "Walking by Faith: Giving God the Wheel and Learning to Sit in the Passenger's Seat." I gave it that name in 2010 as I signed up to live overseas and teach English in a country that I had just recently learned the location of. I knew nothing about teaching. I knew zero Czech language. I didn't even know my teammates yet. Everything ahead of me was uncertain, so the name seemed to fit perfectly. Now, as I get ready to make a decision that could very easily toss me out of my comfort zone again, this blog's name reaffirms itself again.

Like I said, I neither have a path nor peace about the decided path yet, but I do have hope. Hope that comes from my faith that God will lead me in this decision and in the result. Of course, that means trusting Him and choosing to LET HIM LEAD instead of trusting in myself. Once again, I must be intentional about walking by faith and not by sight.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tidings of Comfort and Joy...and Starbucks.

It took me a long time to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I listened to Christmas music (not until December, mind you). I visited Christmas markets in three different countries. I watched Christmas movies. I sang English carols with a choir for an advent service at the church I attend. I drank hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps. Still no cigar. It was strange and confusing, and suddenly, Christmas was a day away. I thought, "I'm not prepared for this. I'm not emotionally or spiritually ready." Part of the reason was definitely due to missing family. I figured that the second year being away during the holidays would be easier, but truth be told, I've missed my family a lot more this year. We'd had a brief glimmer of hope that they might be able to come visit over Christmas, but it didn't work out, which was disappointing. I'd kept my schedule open in the event that they could come, so I was without plans, which probably didn't help my lack of Christmas spirit.

But as usual, God provided, and I had the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve with my roommate, Shelly, at the home of our office secretary and her family. We ate cabbage soup, potato salad, fried chicken schnitzel, and possibly the best salmon I've ever sampled. Traditionally, Czechs eat carp instead of salmon, but the secretary's husband and son don't like it. From what I hear, it's a very bony fish. We sang Czech Christmas carols around the table and had conversations in Czechlish. Then we opened presents and relaxed in the living room with mandarins, Czech Christmas cookies, peanut butter fudge (courtesy of my roommate), and silly youtube videos. It was wonderful. Shelly and I spent the night and we all went to church together in the morning. After the service, a group of about 9 young people from church (including myself) joined the pastor and his family for Christmas lunch in their home (conveniently located inside the church building). We ate way too much food and talked about various Christmas traditions in our families and different parts of the world.

Shelly and I in front of the Christmas tree at our host's house on Christmas Eve.

The next day, I started a holiday adventure, beginning with a 7.5 hour journey by train to Cheb (a small city on the other side of the Czech Republic) with Shelly to see a mutual friend who lives and teaches there, also with ESI. The following day, we went on a trip to Nuremberg, Germany together, as it was only about 2 hours away by train. It was a beautiful place, and of course, I took the opportunity to delight in a caramel macchiato from Starbucks, which you can see in the photo above.

The next day, we took yet another trip. This time, we went to the famous spa-town of Karlovy Vary. Wow oh wow, this place was just breathtaking. Now, if you're not familiar with spa towns, these are places where of course, you can get various spa treatments done. But, the main thrills here are the many natural hot springs, which supposedly have numerous health benefits if you drink the water. The water is free and there are plenty of places to buy specially decorated "sippy cups" for consumption of the water. Since I was the newbie on the trip, the girls let me pick out a cup, which they purchased for me. Of course, there was a catch: I had to try the water from all the springs. Let me just tell you, it was...something. The best way to describe the taste is like a warm liquid penny. Just delicious. My friends captured this magical moment on video, but I don't currently have access to it, so I will upload it at a later date. Until then, here is a picture of us on one of the bridges in the city.

One sip of each spring was quite enough, and my roommate was sure to take a picture of every drinking point. By the time we reached the last spring, I decided that it might be the best out of all the ones I'd tried, so I decided to get a cup-full for any potential health benefits. As we left, I took a big gulp, of which my taste buds instantly rejected. Sorry Karlovy Vary, but I will not be coming back to visit for the sake of drinking your water. I would however come back to enjoy the scenery and giggle at the name of Grand Hotel Pupp (pronounced "poop").

Before leaving Ostrava, I'd contacted a good friend in Germany to see if it would be possible to see each other after the trip in Cheb, while we would be somewhat closer in proximity. I packed extra clothes on the off chance that it would work out, and let me tell you, my backpack was stuffed to the max. (Packing light is not my strength, so I was quite proud.) During the course of the time in Cheb, I found out that it was indeed possible. So on the 29th, I left my friends in Cheb and traveled 6 hours by train to Berlin to visit Claudia Weigel. Oh my goodness. Berlin is amazing. If you ever have a chance to travel anywhere in Europe, go to Berlin. It is an amazingly historical and modern city at the same time. And if you're addicted to American coffee, you'll be right at home. I've never seen more Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts shops in my life. Seriously, it was almost comical. And yes, I did partake in some other Starbucks favorites during my stay :-) I've gotta say, it was nice to not miss out on their gingerbread latte this year.

Claudia showed me around Berlin, took me to the 34th European meeting of Taize (literally thousands upon thousands of young people gathered to worship and pray in multiple languages), and then we got to spend New Year's Eve together. It was a wonderful time with such a great friend, and it was amazing to experience such a vibrant city. I was half tempted to just stay there forever. Unfortunately, I don't speak a lick of German... I headed home to Ostrava on the 1st, and for a 9-hour journey, it wasn't too bad. I spent the first 6 hours with two Australian guys who were on holiday between their first and second year in university, and it was great to have someone to talk to. We even played cards for awhile. Such foreigners :-)

Claudia and I with one of the Berlin bears stationed around the city. This one was inside the train station.

And now it's 2012. How crazy is that? And so I leave you with this quote from Grey's Anatomy: "We're adults. When did that happen? And how do we make it stop?"