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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Amsterdam.

Tonight, I begin the monumental task of chronicling my European vacation. Bear with me, in the weeks to come, as I unpack. Considering the condition of my heart right now, the distraction is nice.

I left the States on the evening of March 31 on a KLM flight to Amsterdam. As I jettisoned over the Atlantic, I battled bouts of nausea (placing blame on either the plane food, or the rapidly fluctuating cabin temperature, or my inability to sleep despite exhaustion), and watched one man fall out on the aisle next to me. By the time I arrived at Schiphol, I was a zombie. Somehow, I managed to make it to the city, and finally to my house-hotel around noon on Thursday.

My innkeeper met me at the front door of Helmers Inn, the place where I would spend the next three nights. Greg was a delight, and apologized that the room wasn't ready yet. He checked my luggage and said he would have the room ready in about an hour. I walked around the corner and found a little bakery-cafe called Vlaamsch Broodhuys to have lunch: think Dutch Panera. My first meal in Amsterdam:

As I sat at the window bar, the sun beamed through the window, as if to say "welcome." I enjoyed my meal in leisure, watching the bikers pedal by. I kind of had to pinch myself...I was in Amsterdam!

By the time I arrived back at Helmers, Greg had the room ready. He left me to my own devices, but not before he asked if I smoked "the ganja." He wanted to make sure I knew the best smoking coffeehouses. No thanks, I said. I just say no.

I unpacked a few things, bundled up against the wind, and headed out. This was my fourth trip to Amsterdam, so I arrived with a list of my favorite shops to hit, as well as sights to see. It did feel a bit weird though, as my previous three trips were on official Adtec business and I spent most of my time at IBC at the RAI.

I headed over to the Westermarkt area to walk along the grand canals and do some shopping. I wanted to visit the Anne Frank Huis, but the line was about an hour long. I punted and went to the Westerkerk instead, one of the few Protestant churches remaining in Amsterdam.
Prisengracht Canal (Princes Canal)

I spent the next few hours shopping in Westermarkt, visiting my favorite Amsterdam store, Kitsch Kitchen. By the time evening rolled around, I'd been up for more than 36 hours with no sleep, and let's be real...I'm not in college anymore. I picked up dinner at the market, went back to my hotel, and was in bed by 7.

Friday morning, I awakened fresh and ready to brave the wind and cold. I hit the Waterlooplein flea market first thing, and despite the occasional bong and porno tape, I made several purchases...like hair clips adorned with peacock and quail feathers. After browsing for awhile, I hopped the tram over to Muntplein to shop at the Kalvertoren department store, and specifically HEMA, a Dutch Target.
Munttoren (Mint Tower) on the Singel Canal

I strolled down the Singel Canal in search of Chocolaterie Pompadour, a little cafe I'd read about in one of my travel guides. I found it...

I enjoyed my solitude, Earl Grey, and strawberry tart over a novel and warmth. A little while later, I made my way to the Spui area to visit Begijnhof, an inner court featuring the "English Church" and home to Catholic single women. Upon walking through the big wooden doors at the portal of Begijnof, you leave the bustle behind and find instant peace and quiet. Immediately to my left, I found a wall of carved and painted mini-vignettes featuring well-known Bible stories.

Proof I was there.

De Krijtberg
Lunch was a fried cod sandwich from a street vendor. I couldn't quite bring myself to go for the raw herring sandwich that is authentically Dutch lunch fare. Fish in hand, I took an afternoon stroll through the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam's floating flower stalls. U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn't allow tulip bulbs to immigrate in my suitcase, so I only marveled at the amazing size of some of the bulbs.

An Amsterdam Staple

My cheeks had windburn after being outside all day, so I was pleased to get some time indoors on Friday evening. I spent several hours in the Van Gogh musuem, and while my eyes feasted on his gorgeously rich Sunflowers, Irises and self-portraits, I was disappointed in the bulk of the collection. The man painted some beautiful, but he painted a lot of ugly, too. I'm just sayin.'

I dined alone that night in Leidseplein, Amsterdam's entertainment district. Actually, my table for one afforded me the opportunity for some good old-fashioned people watching, so I guess I wasn't alone afterall. Either way, I wouldn't be alone tomorrow, as Emily was going to arrive on the early bus from Paris! More to come soon...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beauty for Ashes

Today is the day I celebrate each year as my spiritual birthday. Twenty-three years ago, I made the most important decision of my entire life, as I asked Christ to enter my heart and transform my soul. At six years old, I didn't understand how this decision would equip me to handle the failures, surprises, and train wrecks that a fallen world inevitably creates.

A dear friend of mine lost a baby around this time last year, and is persevering through her grief. I received an email from her recently, and I was moved by her words: "This is an extremely difficult time of year for us, but I don't think that anyone can be more grateful for Easter than a mother who has lost her child." Incredibly wise words from a woman who knows the resurrection of Christ yields beauty for ashes.

I am experiencing some deep hurt today, and this hurt isn't likely to fade for awhile. But I know I am not walking in this hurt alone, and my Savior is at war against the source of the pain and ugliness on earth. We win, by the way.

If you read this, and you are hurting too, know that you are loved. Christ died for you, then conquered death for you, and you don't have to resign yourself to hopelessness and despair. There is a perfect purpose for you, a peace that passes all understanding. All you have to do is receive.

"...and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor."

Isaiah 61:3

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