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Choosing to Remember: Reflections on Auschwitz

November 28, 2015

A difficult day-trip to write about, but writing about it is necessary. Auschwitz is open to the public so that the public remembers and does not forget. In fact, one of the first things visitors see when entering the former barracks and current museum portion of the grounds is a black sign that says the following:

So today, we’re remembering.

Auschwitz isn’t so much a place that you want to see as it is a place that you must see. It’s almost impossible to describe – the gates we saw in history books, the places where unimaginable atrocities were committed against people groups regarded as a disease to be eradicated in life, and a commodity to be exploited in death. We were shown hair shorn from corpses that had been turned into fabric and mattress stuffing; told of ashes used as fertilizer and bodies used for experimentation. It is all unspeakable, and yet it must be spoken of.

Our tour guide called the grounds that are left of Auschwitz II Birkenau a cemetery. We saw watering troughs fit for cattle and lines of exposed toilets, heard stories of priests who entered starvation chambers to save the life of another who cried out in fear. There were cattle cars and loading docks and pictures of human beings standing before other human beings as they waited to be signaled right, toward death, or left, toward living hell. It is a soul shaking experience to see the eye glasses, and the luggage, and the pots, and the brushes, and the shoes of thousands of people – red shoes with low slung heels, work boots, children’s shoes – piled in endless heaps on either side of you, pressing physically against glass and in every other way against the mind’s ability to comprehend; looking so much like piles of garbage but at the same time so much like the hopes of someone who believed they were going to a place where such things could be used and loved again.

The anguish of the extinguishment of life is everywhere. It was only at Auschwitz that we could begin to understand the lack of presence, or identity, felt in many aspects of Poland. Millions of the people who had once shaped it are gone. Original buildings that were utterly decimated have been reconstructed with a semblance of age, giving towns, streets, and corridors an atmosphere akin to a movie set. Demarcations on the ground bear witness to facts like, “The 1943 ghetto wall was here.”

There are not enough words to describe the emptiness of Auschwitz. The searing “Why?” of that place and the dark history it is linked to can never be fully answered. It is impossible to begin to understand what Poland is outside the context of World War II, and feeling the impact of the absence of the once-vibrant Jewish community that is now a fraction of what it once was. So places like Auschwitz must be seen. We are thankful for the chance to remember, and not forget.

memorial flowers at the end of the train tracks | Auschwitz II Birkenau

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Travel and Trust: Lessons From Our First Backpacking Trip

September 13, 2015

Note: This blog post first appeared on Karley’s personal blog in October of 2014. Enjoy!

Before our first backpacking trip, this blog was nothing more than a back-burner dream. Taylor talked about the practical tips he’d like to share, and I imagined myself writing about how to find fabulous locations, book incredibly cheap-and-chic AirBnB stays, and discover hidden-gem restaurants and boutiques that only locals knew about (#deep). But when our trip to Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria had finally come and gone, I found myself suddenly emptied of the desire to talk about Trip Advisor details and just talk about what had really mattered instead. Here’s what that meant:

I basically had no idea what was going on for the majority of our trip. I sketched a vague outline of a few things I’d like to see and do in each location, but beyond that, I was completely and entirely dependent on Taylor’s lead. After all, he has done substantial traveling on his own, isn’t afraid of public transportation, and is 100% more comfortable (and attractive) wearing a backpack than me. It just made sense to turn everything over into his hands. So I did.

Pike's Market

Taylor booked our airfare, our Amtrak seats, our ferry rides, and our clipper trip. Taylor bought our bus passes. He tracked each stop on Google Maps to make sure that we got off at the right location. He researched every city we visited and pre-planned day trips he knew I would enjoy.

As for me? I didn’t know which way we were going, what method of transportation we were taking, which bus stop to wait at, or what activity we’d be doing when we arrived. I didn’t book, check in, check out, route, map, or tip. I just went. I just woke up in the morning, got dressed, did a few hours of work, and walked out the door with full confidence that good things were ahead. I trusted Taylor because he’s done this before. I trusted him because he knows me—what I like and what I don’t. I trusted him because he has my best in mind, he wants to provide for me, and he always keeps me safe no matter where we go.

I was telling my mom all of these things after our trip when I saw Jesus. Not physically, but spiritually. Emotionally. With the eyes of my heart. It was so clear: If I can trust the details of so many unknowns to Taylor, how much more can I free-fall into the arms of my Heavenly Father? If I can hand over the reigns of trip planning to Taylor, how much more can I give over control of my life to my Savior? If I can follow Taylor no matter where he’s going, how much more can I walk in complete, blessed assurance no matter which direction my God and King is leading?

I struggle with trusting the Lord for no good reason at all. He has provided for me in every season. He has loved me with an everlasting love. He has grasped me by the hand, pulled me out of a pit of confusion and anxiety and depression when no one else could reach me. He has comforted me, called me His own, given me the good gifts of a family who raised me to know Truth and a husband who points me to Him. And yet I fear. I grasp at control as if the future is something I can predict, hold, and manipulate. I resist giving it all up, giving it all away, and simply resting at His feet, choosing instead to lock my spine and tighten my shoulders and brace myself for continued battle with a thousand “what-if” questions that have nothing at all to do with my reality.

But I want to grow. I want to abide in peace. I want so badly to walk barefoot with Jesus with my hair blowing in the wind. So every dollar we spent on our first backpacking trip to Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria was worth it as this realization poured through me: I don’t have to know exactly where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, where to wait, or what to do. I don’t have to create an immovable five-year plan, make things happen on my own, set the pace, or plot my own course. I can just go. I can just be. I can just get up in the morning, get dressed, do a few hours of work, and walk out the door with full confidence that good things are ahead. I can trust my Father because He has seen all of this before. He has pre-determined every moment of my day. He knows me—what I need and what I don’t. He has my best in mind—my earthly sanctification and eternal salvation. He has provided for me, and will continue to do so no matter what unknowns are still to come on this journey. He always has and always will keep me safe, no matter where I go.

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him…It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights.” Psalm 18:30-33 (read the entire psalm here)

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children…” Psalm 103:13-17 (read the entire psalm here)

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity…’” Jeremiah 29:11-14 (read the entire passage here)

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28