what gifts are given in a million minutes

Every year consists of 525, 600 minutes. I know that from a Rent song.

That’s over a million minutes in two years and seven months.

Two years and seven months ago, I began a crazy journey. It began the day after I came to peace with both a past relationship and my future. It was the day that God helped me open my hands.

And what has he put into these hands?

Well, love and friendship, a completed thesis and graduation, an engagement and marriage, sad goodbyes and a cross continental move. A new language, a new culture. A new little life and a changing body. (Yes, pregnancy is weird. Now I know what they mean when they say that pregnancy is like an alien invasion. A welcome invasion, yes, but still…)

Back to two years and seven months. Each year made up of 525, 600 minutes. And into these moments He has put the gift of people.

 “Seasons of Love,” written and composed by Jonathan Larson, begins:

            525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes – how do you             measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In
inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

It’s taken over one million minutes to transform from a graduate student/English teacher driving down a coastal highway in Florida on her way to work, vistas open and unknown, to a very pregnant woman with a working knowledge of Dutch typing a blog in Amsterdam. Only the computer is the same.

It’s been a glorious two years and seven months. It’s been a terribly stretching two years and seven months. I wouldn’t change a thing, but…I couldn’t have done it alone. I have so many people who I’m grateful for. They are Gifts. I wonder if it’s so easy for me to miss and love family and friends (Stateside Gifts), that sometimes I neglect to remember and thank my Gifts here in the Netherlands.

In 525,600 minutes – how do you
measure a year in the life? How about love?

At the risk of embarrassing people, I’m just going to lay it all out here, just like I did with the Garfield Valentine’s Day cards on the desks of my third grade classmates.

Garfield Valentines

(And I will embarrass people because, let’s face it, Americans are much more gushy and braggy than the more modest, private Dutch. So I’m pulling out my foreigner card here and saying in my best American accent, “You guys are amazing and yes, I will tell the blogging world! No, too shy? Too bad, I’m American. I can’t help gushing about you!” And in no particular order…)

Our kring. Kring is Dutch for ‘circle’ and for Frans and I, our kring consists of three close old friends and Frans’s brother. We all attend the same church and decided some time back to meet together twice a month to study the Bible or discuss a book or topic. Currently we’re early into Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew, so far an enlightening book intent on creating a thoughtful and more historically-accurate portrait of Jesus. We pray together and for each other, ask advice and share life in a real and meaningful way. We try to eat together as much as possible. But with these six people, there is a sense that no matter what, they got my back. In fact, what makes this current group even more special is that although they are all Dutch, each one was present at our wedding in Florida. Loyalty, thy name is Kring!

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The van Santen dames. Now before you read that last sentence like Joan Rivers would, it’s important to know that in Dutch pronunciation (if you don’t care about pronunciation, skip ahead to the next paragraph), the ‘e’ at the end of a word (even before an ‘s’) is pronounced like an ‘a.’ And ‘a’s are pronounced like ah-s. The traditional American ‘a’ does not exist in the Dutch language. Using that nasally ‘a’  separates us so easily from a crowd when in Europe. Anne Frank is actually pronounced ‘Ahn-ah’ Frahnk. So if you want to look cool and local in Amsterdam when asking for the Anne Frank House, ask for the Ahn-ah Frahnk Howws (long owww sound).

So, these dahm-ahs of mine, the vahn Sahnten dahm-ahs at that, have been a consistent and loyal encouragement. I know I can call my mother-in-law, the painter, at any time of day to ask her advice. We also have similar tastes (and I flatter myself here, because her taste is really refined) and enjoy finding bargains. The other week she came over and helped me make six freezer meals and showed me how to sew a button. Liesbeth and Sylvia are my sisters-in-law. They are as different in personality and make up as any two people can be, but together they have created a united front to welcome me here and help me integrate. And they express their support and love often. Liesbeth through words and cards and gifts, Sylvia through her questions and encouragement and patient correcting of my Dutch. The other day, with our kitchen torn up in preparation for putting in new floors the next morning, I answered the doorbell sweaty and breathless in a tank top and crazy hair. It was the dames! All three had traveled to throw me a van Santen dames baby shower. We had so much fun, and their gifts were so thoughtful…and my mother-in-law had traveled an hour and fifteen minutes each way just for the night. When the four of us get together, we have a blast, and I always leave a better woman.

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My brothers-in-law also show their love and support in amazing ways. Questions, cards, words, hospitality, work around the house, cooking excellent food. Most of all, as brothers, they support my husband well. That to me is the biggest gift of all!

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Feisty Expat Women: Sherry, Kathy, and Cassia. Egyptian, Tennessean, Brazilian. Sized me up and believed the best of me from the beginning. Big hugs (a change from the three kisses!) with rapid-fire talk enough to challenge and inspire me in two minutes for the rest of the week. Cassia and her husband Jonathan hosted Sherry, Kathy, and I and our husbands at their home. Their hospitality and warmth was so exceptional, that Frans and I met eyes across the table at one point and I whispered, ‘heaven.’ He nodded. I aspire to be like these ladies some day. They’re also hilarious. Take a look at a cartoon Sherry sent me:
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My Docenten and Klasgenoten: My Dutch teachers (docenten), Lobke and Annika, made Dutch a worthy endeavor by teaching from their hearts and with respect for us. At a vulnerable time in our lives in their own ways they made us feel like respected, worthy adults. My klasgenoten (classmates) are amazing, varied, passionate, brave, and resilient. I can’t believe their stories and how hard they’re working for a good life here. I’m consistently awed and impressed by them.

My Support Team. Rieneke, Stefanie, Marie, Annet, and the ladies who loaned me maternity wear. And baby clothes. And gave me gifts. And who check in with me on Facebook just to see how I’m doing and extend invitations to come over ‘any time!’ Stefanie and I are expecting girls within a week of each other. Our conversations are easy and varied. Marie has the patience of Job because she only speaks to me in Dutch. Keep this in mind: she is completely fluent in multiple languages including English, yet she allows me to feel completely comfortable speaking my broken new language. She introduced me to Cityhouse Café, which is where I now write my blogs (they have the best decaf vanilla lattes and the foam art is consistent).

Stefanie introduced me to Anne & Max, answers my million questions and asks good ones herself, understands the draw of Little House on the Prairie books, and I’m honored that she reads my blog. Rieneke is beyond generous…with her time, her ear, her possessions, and her words.  Annet is a stable and brilliant force who expresses unwavering support. These ladies have passed down maternity wear, baby clothes, a listening ear, encouragement, and advice.   And even one-I won’t mention her name out of respect for her modesty-gave me the thoughtful gift fourteen day pass to a baller gym where I can swim and feel weightless for an hour as I do the butterfly and the backstroke next to the geriatrics I share the pool with.

Those Who Helped me Transition: Annelies, Robb and Christa, Kathy, Marloes and WP, Alycia, Mariska, Corrine, Folkert, Kina, Henk and Riana. Several have listened to my early lonely woes, and listened well. Several have asked good questions. Several opened up their homes to a complete stranger while I, the undaunted American, visited this special Dutch guy named Frans two years ago. Two have given me a good and realistic vision of what to anticipate in a cross-cultural marriage. Encouraged me to develop my individual gifts and talents. It’s enough for me to want to write a book. Hmmm.

So this is my rather late, open Garfield Valentine’s Day card to you (we do this in the States…Valentine’s Day can be a consumerist annoyance or a fun day to gush about your friendships…I choose the latter). Even if I haven’t named you, you are Gifts given from the Giver, and your gifts have meant the world and inspire me to pass it on!

It’s time now to sing out, tho the story never ends let’s celebrate remember a year   in the life of friends. Remember
the love! Remember the love! Remember
the love! Measure in love.

Okay, I promise now is The End of my gushing.

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One thought on “what gifts are given in a million minutes

  1. what a fun tribute to those in your new country who have supported you well! We as the US family, are very grateful that you all have been the welcoming Dutch for our daughter. It has made a separation much easier to journey through – an American “Thanks!”

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