25 years with Macedonia and counting my blessings
Today is Tuesday, May 25, 2021 and on this day in 1996, I flew into Macedonia for the very first time in my life. I came for a quick three-day visit to see if I would like Skopje (which was the only place I visited on that short trip), and the Macedonians, which would then inform my decision on whether or not to return in July for a limited three-month gig with a humanitarian organization working in the region and based in Macedonia. I did return that July — with the intention of staying for three months. Little did I know, 25 years ago, how my life would be impacted — and in so many positive ways — through that first three-day visit. But it has been and hopefully will continue to be, in the years ahead.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Chapter 16, verse 9, the Apostle Luke writes how the Apostle Paul came to Macedonia in the first place. Luke writes “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” And while I did not have a vision during the night of a Macedonian man asking me to come to Macedonia to help, I did get an email late one afternoon from a man in the process of moving to Macedonia asking me to come and help. I answered the “Macedonian call” in a manner of speaking.
With those brief, opening thoughts, allow me a moment of your time to reflect on four ways in particular in which I have been blessed by Macedonia starting with my Macedonian friends and family, which is, and should always be, first on anyone’s list.
Family and friends: Because no one is an island and we all need, and want, others in our lives I remember, like it was yesterday, that day 25 years ago when I first flew into Macedonia not knowing a single soul, other than my future employer and his wife, both Americans. In quick order, however, Macedonians befriended me, welcomed me into their homes, and opened up their lives to me, a complete stranger. Since then Macedonia has given me some of my closest friends on this planet, and family, through the blessings of the Church.
During this past quarter century, I have, quite literally, dined with presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, even a prince and a princess. And while those were enjoyable times with moderately pleasurable company, my preference is with my friends and family and a fine Macedonian meal. Give me a skara any day, with rakija or mastika, depending on the season, a superb Macedonian Vranec, perhaps a cold Skopsko (sorry Dab fans!), outdoors preferably, and under a warm Macedonian sun with a slight breeze, and I am absolutely content with life, talking, laughing, sharing thoughts both deep and whimsical. Ah, bliss!
An appreciation for a simpler life: More is not more, less is more. Macedonia has reminded me about the important things in life and they are not necessarily material though there are, of course, material things we all need in life. But it is that social interaction with others, first and foremost, combined with a somewhat slower pace of life that allows one to reflect and relax and genuinely appreciate that many things of life, the really important things, that are not geared toward wealth, power, or fame, which, after all, are transitory and fleeting.
Natural beauty: While I come from the great state of Arizona which is blessed with The Grand Canyon, majestic mountains, verdant forests, deserts full of stark beauty, and much more, in Macedonia is it the undulating hills, stately mountains, deep and abundant lakes, flowing rivers, plentiful forests, rich vineyards, and much more of the natural beauty of raw land that has blessed me every time I am there. I can simply look at a picture of an engaging Macedonian landscape and instantly be transported there.
A deeper, more authentic life: As I have written before, there is a lack of superficiality and need among people to be something they are not in Macedonia. Most Macedonians are what they are. They’re open and honest — sometimes to a fault — but I would rather have that than a false pretense. As individuals we all crave authenticity, and an authentic individual is an honest one. Beyond authenticity in individuals, I see authenticity in almost everything around me in Macedonia — the places, the art, the music, the gastronomy. This is another thing the world craves, especially when it comes to visiting and experiencing new places and people.
These are simply four ways, and there are more, in which I have been blessed by Macedonia and my Macedonian friends and family these past 25 years. And no matter what the current situation in Macedonia, no matter what your current situation in life, it is possible to count your blessings, and it is especially important to be thankful, to be grateful for them.
In the New Testament book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Macedonians in Philippi, he writes “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…” And what Paul wrote then, I can affirm now, for I pray every day of every week for Macedonia and the Macedonians. I remember you in my prayers, and with joy. And I am thankful — I am grateful — for these past 25 years with and in Macedonia, and with my Macedonian family and friends.
One last thought in closing. I have been humbled — in fact, remain humbled — by all that I have seen, heard, experienced, and learned these past many years. My Macedonian family and friends have taught me much, things that I could learn nowhere else. And for that, I am grateful.