Exploring the Unknown Uncategorized

9 Things I Learned While Living in Europe

I’ve always been fascinated with Europe.

I’ll never know if it was the Disney movie castles and cobblestones, the Eiffel tower pictures I had hanging in my room, the report I did in fifth grade on Christmas in Germany, or the Polish pierogi I made in middle school that sparked my interest…

But eventually a fascination turned into my future.

It’s been over six years in total that I’ve lived in Europe. And like a good novel you can’t stop reading even though its midnight, the pages of the story just kept flipping.

The story got juicy and good. The plot ripened and gripped me. And now, I find myself with tears in my eyes, having to say goodbye to a continent that has captivated me since I was young.

We’re moving to America and people assume that I’m excited to go. They think that I’m tired of living here away from family, and from the convenience of Walmarts and one-stop shopping. They think we’re done being expats and we’ve had it with being foreigners who don’t speak the language yet. Living in America is the wiser, more sensible choice for this season of parenting three under three.

None of that is true.

Europe is where I first awakened to my own adventure. Where I started growing into my gifts and discovering God without pressure or performance. It was here that I took my first steps, walking into the unknown with expectancy and finding my feet dancing to the rhythms of adventure.

More than packing suitcases for our move to America, I’m hauling a full heart of simple lessons I’ve learned while living in Europe. Experiences that have written chapters in my story that is better than any fairytale.

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What I Learned Living in Europe

1. Wind-Blown Hair is Better

Out my front window pass walkers and bikers all day long. The first thing you do when you get to the Netherlands is purchase a bike. It’s a completely normal way to get around town. Although most American streets aren’t designed for pedestrians and people assume you’re a bum if you’re on a bike, that doesn’t have to be an excuse. I’m currently eyeing my next two-wheeler and already mapping my route to the local grocery store or coffee shop. The secret to me staying mentally sane and a joyful mom of three has been all the fresh air and wind-blown hair I get every day instead of sitting comfortably in car. It might take some creativity but I don’t want to let go of this lifestyle just yet!

2. Take slow and Sabbath seriously.

Just recently our local grocery store changed its hours on Sunday from closed to open from 12 to 5pm. I was sad. I appreciate the slowness of most European towns, they take Sabbath seriously around here. In Maastricht, Thursdays are known as shopping night where stores are open until 9pm instead of their usual 6pm. During summer, it’s common to see the front windows of restaurants and cafes with a handwritten sign explaining that they will re-open again in 2 weeks because they are taking a vacation. I’ve noticed slowing down is respected and Sabbath is routine. It’s easier to be here instead of do, and I like the way that feels. It makes progress and success organic and natural not the product of a workaholic.

3. Study to be quiet.

Ask anyone to describe an American tourist here and they will say, “loud.” We are loud people, not just in our volume of voices, but in our sharing of opinions and thoughts. I’ve learned and seen the beauty of a quiet life since living here. {1 Thessalonians 4:11} Not that I keep to myself and never be vulnerable, quite the contrary. A quiet way of life is inviting and inspiring to others, and requires more trust and intimacy with Jesus. A quiet life is ultimately a life of wisdom, reflecting the mystery and gentleness of our Savior, something I want to continue learning.

4. Learn a new language.

Like tilling soil and sowing seeds, building community is being a farmer. It takes a faithful willingness to get dirty and work hard. In a new country this work and the reward is magnified. When others speak a different language it is a daily reminder to continue to making the effort to get to know people and learn how to bring their hearts joy, even if it’s as simple as a smile and a “hoi, hoi” {hello in Dutch} or a loaf of banana bread. I never want to stop learning the language of the heart, it always grows community.

5. Keep exploring & being a tourist.

Even after two years of living in Maastricht I still take pictures of the same places. We still get out maps and look up new places to visit. We have become permanent tourists even in our own town and I don’t ever want to forget how magical the mundane can become when we take the time to see it with fresh eyes.

6. Cultivate Traditions to Combat Fear.

About twice a month, we’d take the kids out for pancakes and omelettes at the same café across the border in Belgium. We saw Skip, our waiter and we didn’t have to even tell him our order because he already knew it. Simple traditions brought sameness and comfort that made it easier to keep stepping out of our comfort zones and leaving our fears at the border.

7. Remember His story 

I’ll never forget the night I invited her to tacos. She came as a friend, but a few months later she became my future sister in law. If you had told us earlier that we’d be flying back to America with my brother’s fiancé in tow I would have laughed in your face. But that is how God stories unfold. Unexpectedly and suddenly and just in the nick of time. September 10th is their wedding day and proof to me and everyone else that indeed we are all a part of a bigger story, even when all we see is a page at a time.

8. Don’t tame my faith.

When I was 22 I followed Jesus to Austria with two huge suitcases and my pillow and blanket as carry-on. I got laughed at because I  was a toddler in 22-year old skin. But its childlike faith that carries us across continents, to countries that become home. Even if you need your blankie, let your faith be wild. Adventures are ahead for those who dare to get laughed at.

9. Always keep my curtains open. 

The dutch do something funny. They keep their front windows open. They become a display of candles, flowers, or figurines. On our walks around the neighborhood, we can see what’s playing on their TV screen and how many people are sitting on the couch. Europe isn’t the same as when we first came. In the face of terror and violence, I’ve been tempted to shut the curtains and keep out the scary people, but doing so would mean I’m inviting fear into my house. So I’ll keep being funny and flinging wide the curtains, letting in the Light, and displaying hope in my window!

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Now it’s your turn, you can link up with Emily Freeman today or browse
through a collection of summer lessons here.

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