Back in 1988, I travelled with Cast C of Up With People, a group of young performers which spent over a month in Belgium and stayed with many host families in different parts of the country.
During that time, I was welcomed into the home of a couple in Flanders who asked specifically for a Canadian student. From them I learned of the great love some Belgians have for Canadians because of how hard Canadians fought in Belgium during the World Wars. Gaby and Yvonne Spoiled me -- with a capital S! Because one of their sons was far from home in Canada, they made me at home in Belgium, showing so much affection, driving me to important Canadian war memorials in their area, and planning a day's activities that included a walk on the beach at the North Sea and a special tour of Brugges that almost made us late to catch the bus that was taking the cast to its next stop.
We stayed in touch... and four years later, when my husband and I decided to visit Europe, I wrote to my Belgian friends and asked if we could visit. They were disappointed that they couldn't offer us their North Sea apartment because it had already been rented for the summer, but asked that we stay with them for four days in July, and again, they spoiled us!
Over the years since, there have been baby gifts for our children and Belgian chocolate bars for us at Christmas. The arrival of a package or letter from Yvonne and Gaby melted our hearts many times. And last summer when our eldest daughter backpacked around Europe, Gaby drove all the way to Brussels to pick her up and Spoil her, too. With a capital S.
This past Christmas, a letter arrived in which Gaby recounted our friendship from the first days, and insisted that we come for another visit, saying, "We are growing old, and it is time that you come." So determined was he that he offered us one of two weeks in the month of July to stay in the North Sea apartment. How could we refuse?
In all of this, I marvelled at my friends and the time and effort they put into a week's holiday for 5 Canadians. Their generosity and kindness knew no bounds, and I often found myself wondering what I had ever done to deserve such love. When I voiced the thought to Gaby, his response was, "What have you done to deserve our love? You are simply Maria and Lee."
It's stunning, really, to be loved like this. It makes tears flow down my cheeks. Gaby's love is like a taste of God's love, God who gives us everything -- abundant to the point of overflowing, for no reason other than love.