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Author’s note: this is the first in a series of reflections written as letters to my mom, but you can insert your name here, too. I hope to highlight some of the events and insights I have had since moving to Germany in 2014.

Dear Mom,

We arrived safely in Hannover and are now working on settling into our new home, new school for the kids, and new work for Phil. I know it will take time but I am looking forward to the adventure!

However, some unexpected observations caught my attention today: I don’t know the names of the trees in the forest near our apartment! I didn’t know the names of the ducks on the Maschsee when we were there the other day! Of course there are trees I am familiar with, and we did see some mallard ducks on the lake, but it caught me off guard! I wasn’t anticipating the fact that I wouldn’t know all the names of the flora and fauna when we moved.

It highlights the loss of “home” for me in ways I wasn’t anticipating. I could expect mourning the loss of having family and friends and church community nearby, but home is so much bigger than that! I was participating in a new-to-town group at the kids’ school the other day, and the facilitator asked us to picture home. We then shared the image that appeared in our minds.

The first thing I thought of was Lake Michigan! I could even smell the beach grass in my nostrils. But, of course, all the other more heartfelt parents pictured their spouse or their kids. Oops! Needless to say, I am mourning the loss of my familiar, heart-held landscape.

I have to explain over and over again as I meet so many new people that I come from Holland, Michigan, and not Holland the Netherlands. We were laughing when the kids were at the end of their class alphabet with last names that begin with “T.” We’re no longer in the land of last names beginning with “V” or “W!”

I recognize more clearly why the Dutch immigrants simply used the names of the Motherland when they arrived in Michigan. Without the ability to travel back and forth readily, I think I would have done the same thing as the immigrants – the heart clings to familiar and warm memories of “home” when you are far away.

I was reminded of these verses from Luke 9 the other day: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go…’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

Even though Phil and I feel very strongly that God has called us here for this season, these words about looking back struck a deep and strong chord in my heart! It is difficult not to look back when we miss you and the rest of the family, Mom, as well as my beloved landscape and the familiar places of home.

Our desire is to serve God and follow Jesus – and as Linford Detweiler from Over the Rhine said, “We were hungry to have something to do that would invite us to try our hardest.” I believe sometimes the sacrifice is greater for those who are left behind, so thank you for continuing to support us and love us and pray for us in this endeavor! It is a lifeline for our souls!

More soon,
I love you!

Gretchen Schoon Tanis

Gretchen Schoon Tanis moved to Hannover, Germany with her husband Phil Tanis (Executive Secretary of Communication for the World Communion of Reformed Churches) and kids Jon and M.E. in the summer of 2014. She is a minister in the Reformed Church in America, with a Ph.D. from Kings College in London, England. Currently she is practicing the arts of a Hausfrau, pastoring an English language congregation, periodically teaching youth ministry, and splitting her attention between her favorite football (soccer) clubs Arsenal (of London) and Hannover 96 (who have been demoted to the second division this season so things are not looking very promising!) 


  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I am looking forward to the rest of these.

  • Jan Hoffman says:

    Thanks, Gretchen. I’ve recently moved to Florida from upstate NY and a wonderful, yet surprising, challenge is to learn the flora and fauna, the names of the long-necked white birds! How big our world is, how narrow my knowledge. Thank you for articulating the loss of familiar territory. Blessings on your family’s journey!

  • Kath says:

    Loved reading this G. While I know it’s hard being so far away from loved ones, we are so glad you are here in Germany otherwise we wouldn’t have had the chance to know you and your wonderful family x

  • Gretchen Latowsky says:

    Thanks so much Gretchen! Keep them coming! We should all get in the habit of posts like these! I remember how much we looked forward to letters from family in the days before online communication! I saved many of them! Particularly those that I sent to my parents when my boys were young and long distance phone calls were expensive! How far we have come in the last 40 years or so….
    Love to all! Including those who read these posts!

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