The only thing more fun than exploring Europe with family is exploring Europe with more family...
Not just any family. Family I've looked up to as heroes as far back as I can remember. I grew up the oldest grandchild on my father's side -- my father, the second oldest of seven. This meant that my earliest memories were made on my grandparent's farm in North Logan, Utah with aunts and uncles who were in high school and college. My sweetest childhood memories included Sunday afternoons spent around Grandma's dining room table, the piano bench brought in for more seating; the way Grandma got me to eat garden-fresh tomatoes -- the sprinkling of a little sugar from the emerald-green server, and snap beans -- two plump ones at first, then three, perhaps the next week four, until eventually I had a full serving. And endless conversation, everyone engrossed in living passionately. Fully alive. High school musicals, choir performances, motorcycle rides, hikes in the canyon. Palpable joy.
I learned to ride a bike in Grandma's driveway, circling round her Volkswagen Beetle, Aunt Ann cheering on the sidelines. Eventually, my heroes moved on from Cache Valley and my visits consisted of me gathering up yellowed comic books discovered in an old box in the barn and taking them up into the tree house where I'd lay on my back for hours, a cool breeze rustling my leafy loft.
Over time, my aunts and uncles, my heroes, married -- and one by one, I had not six heroes, but twelve. And then they had families of their own. And by then, I was old enough to watch them parent, take notes... covertly intern. I watched them love each other. Deeply. I witnessed them go through hard things. And persevere. I saw them demonstrate the importance of doing the right thing.
All those years I eagerly awaited the monthly installment of the Round Robin. To witness through handwritten letters job changes, moves across state or country or around the world, birth announcements, academic achievements. The struggles and victories shared with typical Whitworth Family humor and wit.
The rich legacy handed down.
Now I marvel at the wonder of sitting at an outdoor cafe in the early hours, us happening upon Gent's largest music festival... or, rather, the morning after an apparently wild night.
We chit chat over pastries and cappuccinos before a walk through the city, snapping photos of the castle, canals lined with quaint boats and narrow houses, enormous cathedrals. Our time is strewn together with smiles and easy dialogue.
Upon reaching Brugge and making our way toward the city center, we pass by a brightly lit, cheerful candy shop. We pause to breathe in the delicious scent of sugar and Aunt Nancy invites us to follow her inside where she tells each of the children to pick out one sweet. And isn't this the coveted prerogative of aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas? Moments of lavish grace? It was all just as I remembered growing up... except now this grace is being poured into the next generation, too... like a waterfall that gushes over a precipice only to gather before flowing over the next falls and the next and the next...
And I can't help but marvel as we walk through these ancient cities, at the way Aunt Nancy and Uncle Brian take an interest in my children, ask them questions, listen to their ideas, laugh at their silly antics... gushing grace over the precipice into the next generation, and the next, and the next...
We climbed 366 steps together to the top of the medieval Brugge Belfry where we took in gorgeous views...
...climbed stairs as steep as ladders to windmill doorways...
...operated a nine-person cart along the North Sea beach...
...laughed until our smile muscles ached...
...pedaled and steered wildly... losing shoes but making memories in the process...
...only to finish the day off with gelato... always gelato...
... with some of us sitting for a spell along benches to watch the others splash carefree...
...splashing moments all the way into twilight.
The next morning, Uncle Brian and Aunt Nancy and my cousin, Kristen, met us in the lobby of our hotel near downtown Antwerp. We walked past expensive jewelry stores, store names that included the word "Diamond" in nearly each one. The evening before on a long, long... stressful "didn't we just go down this street" and "seriously? Why does the GPS say our hotel is right there and we're stuck at this dead-end... again??" search for our lodging, we passed many people and individuals in traditional Jewish attire. We learned from reading our tour guide book that this was the Diamond District in the city known as the World Diamond Center... which is also where the Jewish District is located. So we lingered long over pastries in the heart of a place known for its earthly riches as well as a people with a rich cultural heritage. How appropriate! It is times like this that I feel like the richest girl... surrounded by family who pour out a wealth of grace... a generational waterfall of rich heritage.
We reluctantly said our goodbyes, grateful that we would meet up again in several days to spend time at our home before they returned to the States. While they drove North to their next destination, we spent the morning exploring this quaint, cobble-stoned city.
**In fact... I smell homemade pizza baking in the oven as I type... the best part of the pizza being the cheese we bought that morning at the outdoor market!
**75. Cheese bought clear back in July, at the Antwerp, Belgium outdoor market, kept frozen, until this evening when husband grates it onto homemade pizza round.
76. Children who tumble in from spending all afternoon in the forest working on their tree fort... all enthusiasm, all at once, over the supremely successful construction and future architectural visions.
77. How I am simply, inexorably, exhausted and overwhelmed by this mission of parenthood and how it reminds me I'm called to something so much bigger than what I can accomplish by myself.
78. The mercy from eldest son, "Don't worry about it, Mom. I forgive you," when I apologize for a meltdown -- the one where I spoke through gritted teeth until I finally exploded and sent everyone running when I shouted.
79. Girlfriend who stops by "just to give me a hug" and stays for tea, ministering to my heart -- and my marriage -- during her visit.
80. Her words that remain at the forefront of my mind and the visual of Jesus saying, "Don't worry, I've got this!"
81. How God's grace is made tangible when daughter, all frustration and tears and selfishness, takes a deep breath and says quietly, "See? This is why I like to come talk to you," as all repentant she makes things right then skips off to finish the brownie recipe.
82. Israel's, "That's called being mature," when I tell her how much I'm scared and not in the mood to go on a long run in the predawn of the day.
83. Two dates with LeRoy -- in two consecutive days! One on Saturday morning and one on Sunday morning before chiclets stir. And how we laugh and laugh during the parts we relate to and "hmm" during the convicting parts when reading through The Marriage You've Always Wanted by Gary Chapman.
84. And how we have coffee and toast -- his with chunky peanut butter, mine with Speculoos Spread.
85. The way LeRoy constantly thinks of me; like when he mentioned that we'll have to go to Belgium and buy up "a case or two of Speculoos before we go back to the States so you can have it even after we leave."
86. Snuggling up in pajamas with blankets and pillows for pajama church and listening to a sermon on James 1:1-5.
87. Reading together as a family and the way that Tim Huff has a way of writing that makes Christianity raw and real in Dancing with Dynamite. (And how thankful I am that Belinda shared about the author and book on her blog!)