Adventures in Greece (Part 1)

Greece was really amazing, guys. Thanks for praying for us and being excited with us.

One way to know for sure that it’s going to be a great trip is finding that the airline you’re flying (Turkish Airlines) has individual foot rests. I just can’t even tell you what a game changer this was for me. It even adjusted to various heights, and I’m pretty sure it’s the main reason I was able to sleep for much of the 10 hour flight that left Boston at 11:30pm. I can hardly ever sleep on an airplane.

And then there was the food.

A week or so before the trip I was looking up “Turkish Airlines amenities” and found that you could order special meals for special diets – gluten free in my case.  I really despise having to be “high maintenance” in the food department, and oftentimes just choose to bring my own snacks, so I don’t have to make a scene inquiring about accommodations. I’ve actually tried to request meals before with other airlines who promised, but did not deliver in the end.  Not so with these folks.

The flight attendant knew just where the “special meal” people were seated and pulled out special trays with our names on them. We did not have to ask or remind.  Amazing.

That’s fish, red potatoes, peas and carrots, fruit salad, some kind of tomato/eggplant salad with feta, green salad with chicken on top, a rice cake, a small jar of honey, and inside the packet of utensils was butter and a wedge of hard cheese. The things that were supposed to be hot, were hot, and the things that were supposed to be cold were cold. It was delicious, and about 5 hours later, they served us another meal for breakfast that was equally amazing.

But you’d probably rather read about our destination…

It’s just that I really love food, and so I won’t be able to talk about Greece without mentioning and posting photos of the food. The local and traditional Greek food is even one reason I was interested in going there. Olives, olive oil, yogurt, meats, cheeses, hummus. Though I learned that hummus is not really Greek.  Syrian, most likely. The Middle Eastern countries. That’s where hummus comes from. The word hummus is Arabic for chickpea. Though, there is a lot of crossover when it comes to foods in that general region.

The main difference between our typical food routine and the Greek one was breakfast. We eat eggs and bacon and potatoes; they eat pastries. I have to tell you, life would have been a lot easier if we could have eaten pastries. Pastries and espresso, this is the Greek breakfast.

Fortunately, there are some local restaurants that cater to big-breakfast people, and we hit the jackpot on our first day in Athens. The place was called Meliartos, and was just down the street from the Acropolis.

Espresso, Cappuccino Freddo (iced), beautiful glass bottle of ice cold water, Greek yogurt with honey, and Greek Scrambled eggs. So, so good.

And like I mentioned before, plenty of Starbucks in town – really all in view of the Acropolis, but this one was probably the one with the most direct line of sight. We only went once for iced tea, electrical outlets, and wifi.

And not to worry…PLENTY of “You Are Here” mugs to collect from your travels.

I promise, we did see some sights on that first day, but we also drank another iced cappuccino while we waited for our Athens Walking Tour group to assemble.

We also seemed to hit the tour-guide jackpot. Ours was a man who was extremely knowledgeable, and spent from 11am until 3:30pm with us, which is about an hour and a half longer than the tour is advertised. It enabled us to skip the very long line to buy a ticket and enter the Acropolis area, and provided all of the details on the major sites along the way to the top and once there. I would not recommend trying to visit the Acropolis on your own, unless you happen to be an expert on all things ancient Greece and Rome. (Which I know a couple of you probably are, but not most.) Reading Percy Jackson does not really count, but it would certainly help.

There are many sites along the way to the top and at the top of the Acropolis, which just means “high part of the city” really. Many cities had an acropolis.

akros “highest, upper”  + polis “city”

I’ll just show a few photos/sites here…

Theatre of Herodes Atticus. It is located at the south slope of the Acropolis and was added in 161 AD during Roman rule. The theatre was built by Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Roman, in memory of his wife Regilla. It has exceptional acoustic capacities and can sit up to 5,000 spectators. (Source: www.greeka.com) Sinatra, Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John, and Diana Ross (and many others) have all performed here. We also saw the Theatre of Dionysus on the way up which held more like 15,000 in its day being near the bottom of the Acropolis with seating up the hillside.
Erechtheion On the north side of the Acropolis, it was erected in 421-406 BC as a replacement of an earlier temple dedicated to Athena Polias, the so-called ”Old temple.” This is where, according to the myth, Athena’s sacred snake lived. The sanctuary also contained the grave of Kekrops and the traces of the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for the possession of the city of Athens. (Source)
Parthenon It was dedicated to the patron goddess of the city, Athena, since Parthenon means also the apartment of the virgin. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war and also a virgin. The Parthenon is located on the top of the Acropolis hill. It was created between 447 and 432 B.C. (Source: www.greeka.com)
Standing on the Areopagus (Mars Hill). Acropolis in the background.

Coming down from the Acropolis, the Areopagus was next on the tour – or Mars Hill – probably from “Ares” the Roman name of the god, Mars, and “pagus” meaning rock. Ares Rock in Latin or Mars Hill in Greek, I suppose.

Our guide wasn’t planning to have us walk to the top, but he clearly didn’t know who he was working with, because not standing on Mars Hill was not an option for the Bible nerds in the group. (See Acts 17:22-34) He gladly obliged, and then gave us the insider information that people like to watch the sunset from the top. We finally did that on day three.

I’m sure that sunset viewing from Mars Hill was a top priority for the Apostle Paul, too. Or not.

The Apostle Paul’s “Men of Athens” sermon.

After Mars Hill we walked next door to the Agora – or marketplace. Every city had one of these as well, but this one is best known for it’s philosophical debates, the beginnings of democracy, and lots more. Here’s a good description of its importance in the 6th-1st centuries BC:

…the heart of the government and the judiciary, as a public place of debate, as a place of worship, and as marketplace, played a central role in the development of the Athenian ideals, and provided a healthy environment where the unique Democratic political system took its first wobbly steps on earth. During this time, the Agora’s political, cultural, and economic influence shaped some of the most important decisions undertaken in the shaping of what we commonly call today Western Civilization. (ancient-greece.org)

Temple of Hephaestus located in the Agora – He was the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes.

This is where Socrates was exposing faulty logic and weak worldviews (and corrupting the youth?!) with his incessant questions. It’s probably where Plato, his famous student, was developing his ideas of transcendent Forms known only by reason, whereas his pupil, Aristotle decided that reality was not dependent on those universal forms.

And yes, I had to look those guys up for a refresher. You’d think after many years of tutoring Classical Conversations and several grad level philosophy and theology courses I would remember those important ideas, but philosophy still feels Greek to me!

And I haven’t taken Greek yet, so it makes perfect sense.

The Stoa of Attalos Also in the Agora, the Stoa became the major commercial building or shopping center in the Agora and was used for centuries, from its construction in around 150 B.C. until its destruction at the hands of the Herulians in A.D. 267. (Source)

We were starving after this almost 5 hour tour, so we got an early dinner at a nearby restaurant and did some shopping. Leather sandals, olive oil, olive wood, olives, and honey – these were the contents of most every shop, just in various forms and brands, and we bought a little bit of each to bring home as gifts.A trip to Corinth and more food were on the agenda for the next two days in Athens, so I’ll be back soon with more pics and details.

Truly an amazing adventure.

25 Years of Incompatibility

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. 25 years!

I remember thinking ten years was a big accomplishment.

Justin Taylor posted a G. K. Chesterton quote on Twitter last week. It made me laugh…and think. I’m not going to pretend to be well versed in Chesterton’s writings (I’ve only read a couple of Father Brown mysteries), but I did download the book from which this quote was taken (What’s Wrong With the World?) on my Kindle over the weekend. It was free, and I’ve been accumulating a few things to read on our trip to Greece which begins this evening.

It was over 100 degrees in San Antonio, TX that day. We rode off in a horse drawn carriage with all of that birdseed stuck to our sweaty skin. The air-conditioning at the reception venue went out, and the ice sculptures my mother insisted upon did not fare well. (Neither did our poor guests.)

Anyway, here are the tweets:

Don’t feel compatible with your spouse? Chesterton: “I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.” >>

>> “The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.”

This led me to look up the definition of compatible.

Compatible: (of two things) able to exist or occur together without conflict.

Chesterton was definitely on to something.

In my small hometown (Uvalde, TX), weddings got a half page write up.

Two weeks ago I watched Robert as he instructed us, a group of camp Bible study leaders, on the framework and theology of the book of I John. White paper ripped off its roll and taped to the wall in order to illustrate overlapping themes, he pulled out his marker.

A dry erase marker.

I thought I might have to leave the room hearing that expensive marker, meant to glide smoothly and quietly across a slick white board, spill its precious ink on that crude butcher paper.

“But dry erase markers work fine on paper, too” was his reply to my later (and incredulous) inquiry.

That “they work” is, of course, not the point. The point is, “is it best” to use them in this (savage) way. We discovered, after 25 years of marriage, that we have serious conflicts about the proper stewardship of dry erase markers. Robert’s sole concern is with necessity, practicality; mine contains both the practical and the ethical. (And is therefore much more pious, of course.)

And to think that he actually questioned my morals here. He may have even called me a “dry erase legalist” a couple of weeks ago. I’m just not sure I can submit to his leadership in the case of marker usage, and I know for a fact that many of you are with me on this one.

Rehearsal Dinner with the flower girl – my little sister, Melinda.

Even before this shocking dry erase marker debate, I noticed something that happens fairly regularly when we are in the car together.

He’ll be turning left, but my body is leaning right. Left is clearly not the fastest way to our destination, but I have gained a smidge of self control through the years, so I wait. But it happens again. This time he’s turning right, and I’m leaning left. Patience and self control all used up (it lasted at least two whole minutes), I ask him where he’s headed, because surely we’re not going to the same destination in our minds. I’m surprised when he assures me that we’re headed to such and such a place. Really? He must have  forgotten the route.

But, no.

He did not forget how to get to that place we go to on a regular basis. In fact, his route and underlying logic (though questionable in my mind), will get us to our destination. Our daughter, Kayla, claims to have directional dyslexia; Robert and I are just diametrically opposed, directionally speaking.

To-may-to, To-mah-to. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

We’re definitely not calling the whole thing off over markers and maps.

Our engagement photo. When my grandmother saw it she said “Why didn’t you comb your hair?”

But our incompatibility is not always over such minor things. (Though dry erase markers and efficient travel can become major if left unchecked.) We have opposing methods and visions for many things, some of which we didn’t even realize until recently. In fact, it wasn’t until about 23 years into our 25 year marriage that we realized how much differently we viewed our role as parents.

 “But you’d already raised your kids for the most part,” you might interject. True, but a lot of that child rearing was done with some unspoken and underlying conflict and questioning of each other’s methods. When we finally (or more fully) discovered this in year 24, it was not very pretty. Ugly attitudes were exposed, angry words were spoken, self-righteousness surfaced, contempt and disdain could not be contained, and I’m not proud to report that most of those sinful reactions were mine.

We needed help to navigate those volatile waters, and we found it in a fellow-pastor-turned-friend. He asked us questions, helped us understand the other’s perspective, gave us journaling assignments and scripture to memorize. He also marveled at our kindness toward one another, and complimented our mutual respect and love. Those were encouraging words in the midst of what felt like such a difficult time.

New Year’s Eve in Austin, TX
My brother’s wedding in Santa Monica, CA.
Anniversary trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Parenting, finances, extended family, friendships, free time, ministry, holidays, and more. I’m not sure how we didn’t realize for such a long time that we aren’t very compatible in many areas. Sometimes I think it’s a special mercy from God that we haven’t been fully aware of our incompatibility, because we very often have conflicting convictions, varying visions, and differing dreams. And it’s not just us.  If you’re married, it’s you, too. (In fact, you probably knew it long before me, and handled it with much more grace. Really.)

But here’s where we are completely compatible: The gospel is our go-to.

We each treasure the good news that Christ has died in our place. We both acknowledge that we desperately needed the forgiveness given at the cross. We know our capability to inflict wounds as well as our incapability of knowing and loving one another sufficiently.  We each realize that we are dependent on God’s power and strength daily. And really, even these things are not of ourselves. The ability to love God, His gospel, and each other are gifts straight from Him – “nothing but the dripping grace of Jesus” is how someone might put it.

Molly and Brian’s Wedding at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst. (Photo Credit: Shannon Sarkisian)
Crested Butte, CO for Chris and Katie’s wedding.
Deerfield, MA Family Photo Shoot. (Photo Credit: Kylie Lynn Photography)

And I know there are very serious and seemingly insurmountable issues in marriage, even marriages between two Christians, but I’m convinced that if both partners receive and depend on the gospel, anything is possible. I’m not just theoretically convinced either.  I’ve witnessed it.

The gospel has the power to make incompatible people harmonious. Happy, even. Just look at the church and it’s assortment of all different kinds of people. I think it’s what Chesterton was getting at. An overarching mutuality and kindredness arises when the gospel is your go-to, but it still takes effort. There remains a necessity to choose and focus on gospel truths (i.e. I require grace and forgiveness as much as he does) and fight through the incompatibility.

In our marriage, Robert has led the way in this fight. Quick to listen, quick to ask forgiveness, slow to complain or accuse, he’s displayed a humility in our incompatibility that has softened my many sharp edges and given me a safe place to grow.

Sometime during our newlywed stage, I was introduced to Beth Moore and her Bible study workbooks and videos. If you don’t know who she is, it’s time to look her up and order her study on David, or The Tabernacle, or Daniel, or maybe the best one of all in my opinion, Jesus, the One and Only. In many ways, she continued into my adult life the depth of discipleship I had received during my college days at UT (Thank you, Laura, Cas, and Tracy) only via workbook and video and conference. (I did meet her in person once at a Passion Conference probably 23 years ago. I’m sure she remembers it well.)

Chris & Nicolette’s 1920’s Speakeasy 40th Birthday Party. (Photo filters by Jen Sinclair)
A 1970’s 40th Birthday Party for Lois.
Halloween. Taylor Swift and her rapper friend.

If I had to guess, I would say the following two pieces of advice came from her study on the life of David, but I’m not completely certain. Anyway, I tucked them away in my heart, have prayed them regularly, and believe God has answered powerfully. I suppose this has been one way I’ve fought through our incompatibility.

Beth said this:

Pray to always be thrilled by his kiss.

And now I’ll attempt to comment on this exhortation in true Beth form: (Read with a deep, serious Texas drawl)  Y’all. Let me just tell you right now, my man’s touch still thrills me to no end. His kiss sends my heart aflutter to this very day. Whew. Be careful what you pray for, sister. Y’all don’t need to wonder how we’ll spend the time in Greece when we’re not touring those ruins. MmmmmHmmm. 

In other words, I think (actually, I know) this is a prayer God loves to hear and answer.

Incompatibility and conflict have a way of dampening attraction and desire. This prayer is a remedy for that, and I can attest to its power. I don’t like for Robert to leave the room I’m in, let alone the house or the country. I never tire of being with him, and his kiss, embrace, and touch still make my heart beat fast. It’s a gift and a specific answer to a specific prayer.

Here’s something else Beth taught me about praying for my marriage:

Be shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

It comes from Matthew 10 and deals with persecution. Beth expanded this by urging us to remain pure of heart and to maintain all hope, but to face the fact that the enemy wages war on our husbands daily. She taught me to pray shrewdly that Robert would have eyes only for me and be able to resist the temptation that will inevitably come.

Imagine what happens when both spouses pray along those lines for each other? It’s something that transcends mere compatibility, I can tell you that for sure.

Whether it be silly things like dry erase markers or serious issues like parenting (and don’t even get me started on purchasing appropriate wedding gifts for others or timeliness in returning emails and phone calls), Robert and I are incompatible in many ways.

But we are happy. Happy in the gospel of Christ and therefore in each other – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health – conflict or compatibility, until death do us part.

So today, and with much gratitude to God, we celebrate 25 years of happy incompatibility.

Crosswalk Camp “Flight Plan” photo – 2014
Allyson, our camp director, had all the campers and chaperones pray for us this year in celebration of our anniversary. Truly an overwhelming blessing.

P.S. Beth’s marriage has been anything but ease and compatibility. Want to be greatly encouraged regarding your marital incompatibility? Then read this post by Beth on their 38th anniversary.

Not convinced enough to click? Here’s an excerpt to help with that…

We don’t just kiss on our anniversary. We high five.

I’m really reluctant to do what I’m about to do because what if he and I get into the biggest fight of our lives tonight and I maniacally hurl all his fishing gear and deer heads and forty pair of unders in the front yard? I’ve never done that before but I’ve always known I had it in me. I’ve always kept my pitching arm in shape for such a time as this. And what if one of the neighbors videos us and I end up on the YouTube cussing? I’ve never been one to cuss much but, if I’m ever going to have a cussing conniption, it will be my luck to have it on the YouTube. One time I did try to leave Keith and he said, “Go right ahead. Leave me. But you’ll look in your rearview mirror and there I will be and not because I like you any better than you like me. Because I don’t. But because we are married and married we’ll stay.” Keith never was a great Catholic except about the one thing I wished he’d been more Baptist about: splitting.

(She cracks me up.)

And here’s a poem she wrote about marriage, in which she also urges a young bride to “pray to love his tender touch and want his gentle kiss.”