Sunday, April 8, 2007

Some thoughts at 6 Months

>>>>some thoughts at 6 months. I never sent this out as a letter to friends. Not sure why.

Well, the end of March has just passed and that means our family has reached a milestone. We've lived in Germany for six months. This is a tremendous feeling. Why this is such a good feeling is what I will try and explain in this entry.

First of all it is quite natural to set goals in life and hope to attain them. The funny thing about this time line goal is that just surviving, just being alive at the end of the six months in this new and foreign land seemed to have been the goal.

How did we know that this would be such an important goal. Why did we have the feeling that if we make it to six months we might just make it. I can't really explain that. The only thing I can explain is what has happened to us during the six months. We've have some of the sweetest experiences and some of the most difficult experiences of our lives. My wife has documented many of these experiences very well in her Living in Germany blog. I will attempt to discuss of few experiences here.

I remember seeing my wife in a whole new light when we visited a sacrament meeting one Sunday in Mönchengladbach, Tamara's last city on her mission. That was cool. The Luchs family remembered Tamara and had invited her over for dinner that Sunday afternoon. When we arrived in church, brother Schuh, the current bishop of the congregation was so excited to see her, he started talking about the times when she was there and what happened to certain families in the time since she was last here. Then when he introduced the speakers for the day, he spoke with such conviction about the great spirit that Tamara had brought into the ward. I was filled with so much love and admiration for my wife on that day, it was great.

I next remember the Sunday morning in early January when Tamara and I drove to church in Düsseldorf when we both realized that it was 16 years earlier that Tamara and I had first met and that this was the spot on which we first met - in the church parking lot in Düsseldorf. That brief meeting in Januarary of 1991 came as Tamara was first arriving in Germany and then going to work in Dortmund with her first companion and I was leaving the mission office in Düsseldorf to work with a new companion in Duisburg. It was an awesome day, to reflect on our first meeting and feel so grateful that the Lord had brought us together.

On that day I truly felt that we were meant for each other. That Tamara was the perfect match for me. I thought back over the years together and about our first meetings here in Germany. Maybe other couples have the opportunity to return to the place of the first date or the first meeting and reflect on those first moments together and how they led to the rest of the enjoyable times together. For us, this opportunity was a bit more out of the way than your normal restaurant, but it was well worth the trip.

Working with the team that I work with has been great. I was asked to be the leader of a five person software testing team. All of the testers are inexperienced testers. One has training in business and a little bit of information technology background and is from Würzburg in southern Germany. The other four worked in a call center previously and are from the new German states (the former East Germany). The person who helped get me placed on the team is another American, Keith. He is the manager of testing and production support and I am his deputy manager of testing and quality assurance, so to say. Keith's wife is German and he enjoys living in Germany. We enjoy talking about life in Germany from an American point of view quite a bit and it was a huge help for my transition. Our team also works with Sweden and this has been enjoyable to work with the teams up there. The client manager is also very nice to work with. It's uncanny how well I fit in there. I hope that it will continue.

The challenging side shows up in the usual obvious struggles associated with moves, all of which were more difficult than expected, even for what we expected for our international move. These things include finding a house, shipping of household goods, establishing the kids in school, financing the trip, finding a car, working so many hours at a new job, and the obvious struggles my wife and children have faced finding their way in the new neighborhood, school, shopping styles, house, etc.. But, the things that made the transition most difficult are now seemingly so small.

I remember driving in the first week being incredibly difficult. I couldn't follow the street signs and instructions from traffic lights at the normal traffic speeds in a VW minivan and was constantly making wrong turns, because I was constantly trying to figure out what that sign two intersections ago, or two off ramps ago was trying to tell me. Well it was trying to tell me to turn left, but I missed that obvious point, and now I was stuck heading towards the Dutch border, not sure I would ever find my way back to my desired destination.

All of the fun of driving was topped off by attempting to fill up the VW rental with diesel in the first week. This relatively simple task required at least 20 minutes before I actually started putting diesel into to the tank.

First problem was the gas tank location. I'm not sure what genius in Volkswagen engineering came up with the idea to hide the gas cap, but whoever it was did a fine job of it. It took me roughly 10 minutes to find the gas cap. This consisted of 9 minutes of reading the manual (with no success) followed by 1 minute of asking a friendly gentleman at the pump. The gentleman just laughed as he recalled his first experiences with such a car, and helped me find the gas cap.

So what happened in the other 10 minutes before I started actually filling the tank with diesel? Well that was caused by the genius of the gas dispensing system in Germany. What I didn't realize is that there are three different types of diesel and hence three different types of pumps and nozzles. This prevents novices like me from putting the wrong type of diesel into one's car. The nice gentleman was still pumping his gas when I realized that the nozzle at the pump would never in a million years fit into the VW's gas tank. The gentleman explained the system and pointed out where the correct diesel pump was. I was at the medium sized truck diesel pump and needed to be at the car diesel pump (the normal one). I had to back up and wait to get into a spot at this car diesel pump. All told another 10 minutes had passed and then I was able to pump gas.

There were hundreds of similar experiences over the course of the first six months. All were similarly frustrating because I felt like I was missing something that everyone else knew already. These include, getting a cell phone, signing up for health, renters insurance, finding phone service for the house, applying for services, gas water, buying oil to heat the house, getting a monthly bus pass, opening a bank account, getting a loan for a car, getting the kids into school and into the correct grade, signing up for pre-school, finding bikes for the kids and Tamara, going to the doctor, finding a parking place for a minivan. All of these experiences have a story similar to the one above with the gas tank.

My wife would tell you the same thing I believe. For me it simply seemed like my judgment was constantly being clouded. I wasn't open to new ideas when I should have been. I relied on my own genius, when I should have asked for help. I asked for help, when I should have trusted my own judgment. And so things were just hard, like wading through water when you wanted so badly to be walking on water. For us the fact that we have made it thus far is very fulfilling.