Friday June 14, 2019

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

We took great delight today as we were treated to another day of peace, quiet, and some amazing play amongst our children.  Because we are on vacation Sara and I have let the kids more or less decide how to spend their days.  They have spent countless hours already on the trampoline, playing battleship, and recently they discovered the pool and ping pong tables in Fellowship Hall.  While Sara and I were working on resumes and blogs Anjali and Luci were busily preparing a show.  Anjali wrote out several songs (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Down to the River to Pray, etc) which Luci would sing to us.  The girls put on an excellent display amd we were amazed once again at the talent our kids can show.

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Because Johannes was out of town for a meeting we decided to have dinner at home and then meet up with the Hofmanns and Birgit for an evening swim.  Birgit found a different water hole from our trip last year which was more remote and peaceful.  We were surrounded by a large wheat field which made for some pleasant scenery and an especially wonderful sunset.  The kids (and adults) had an amazing evening just being in the moment and enjoying a nice cool swim.

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Sunday June 9, 2019

Psalm 34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

We got up this morning and headed off to explore Malmo, Sweden…okay not really explore, but rather go to the mall where the kids could play some laser tag after lunch. We didn’t really get to see Malmo at all, but we had such fun (and lacked for nothing) spending time together. The kids have all played so well together and it is wonderful see friendships forming. After lunch and laser tag, we headed for a coffee shop for Fika (Swedish tea time). Again, we just visited and laughed for an hour and then realized that we all needed to leave.

I am not a fan of goodbyes, especially this one. I have missed Hanne and our friendship, but I do take comfort in knowing that we will find our way back together again. I am so grateful for every moment that we got to spend together. It was an emotional goodbye, but Anjali was so thoughtful and took 2 pictures of Hanne and I with her Polaroid camera (one for me and one for Hanne). I was so moved by her kindness to use her film so we each had an actually photo of our time together, not just a digital one. I will cherish this picture forever, not just because it is of Hanne and I, but also because my eldest daughter was so generous and aware of my difficulty in saying goodbye to my friend. Her heart is so big and this picture will always remind me of that.

After are hard goodbyes, we got our cars and drove opposite ways, Hanne back to Karlskrona and us to Kolding, Denmark for a night. We got into Kolding just before dinner, but quickly realized that the town was basically dead. No stores were open and only a few restaurants were serving food. Fortunately I found a grocery store that was open and was able to pick up some food and wine for dinner. Saying our children were tired would be an understatement. The fighting and arguing was almost unbearable for Jeff and I, so we quickly put them to bed. Jeff and I spent the evening talking.

A couple views of Kolding, Denmark from our apartment.

We learned that there is so much to do in Kolding and I do wish we were here longer. You can use free paddle boats for the river, there is the castle, and many neat areas to explore in this small little town. But we were leaving tomorrow, so our hope was to make the most of our time and hit the highlights in the morning before driving to Hamburg, Germany.

Friday June 7, 2019

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Friday, the last day of our stay in Karlskrona.  Once again we awoke with no significant plans for the day other than to have Mexican food and margaritas.  For Sara and I though this is somewhat of a major plan.  Margaritas to us do not come in cans or mixers, they come from real limes which we juice and then mix with a simple syrup, tequila, and cointreau (or triple sec if our budget is tight).  We had a nice breakfast and hung around the house until Hanne and Sara decided it might be fun to head to the local beach just up the way from their house.  I was not particularly keen on the beach idea and opted instead to handle grocery shopping duties.  This was a major step for me as it meant having to drive the manual transmission car into town, park, then drive home.  Given the fact that I had now had about 10 days of practice there was some trepidation at this idea but I wanted the challenge and encouraged everyone to go and I would handle the “monumental” task ahead.

Turns out it wasn’t so hard to shop but I had fun and as it turned out so did everyone else.  We reconvened at the house and proceeded to get dinner ready which required roasting chiles, juicing lemons, and browning meat for tacos. Dinner was a success and all seemed to enjoy the food. For us adults, the margaritas were a welcome treat for the rest of the night. We enjoyed watching Sweden take on a fierce opponent in a soccer match.  Visited with Hanne and Christian and then retreated to bed for the evening.

While the day was very low key it was once again a pleasant respite.  We have enjoyed just being, not doing, in Sweden, content on spending time with our friends rather than racing around to find the next activity.  We certainly have felt reconciliation with our friends and I know for Sara especially this has been a tremendous gift.  I believe that is what it means to be saved by Jesus’ life, that by living as best we can in His image we will truly live.  Our focus for these last few days of our trip has been to really live in the moment, grateful for the time that we have to visit and rest our bodies and minds.  We know that there will be lots of work ahead for us and most certainly challenges aplenty but we can rest easy knowing that we are in God’s hands and that our worries can wait for another day.  For now we will rest easy and prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for the road ahead.

These two pictures were taken just after midnight from Hanne and Christian’s dock. As you can see the sun is just finally setting, but will only rest for a few hours before shining bright again on a new day.

Thursday June 6, 2019

2 Corinthians 13:11-12 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

“Boat drink, boys in the band ordered boat drinks, visitors scored on the home rink, everything seems to be wrong…”

Or incredibly right.  What a wonderful and peaceful day.  We awoke with no plans whatsoever.  Thursday is Sweden Day, and as our lovely hosts admitted they had no idea what that is.  As it turns out Sweden Day is a day to celebrate more or less the fact that Sweden has never been conquered.  As a result they don’t bother with an independence day like in the US, they don’t need one.  But everyone likes a day off I guess, so hence, Sweden Day.

As everything is basically closed for Sweden Day we simply hung around the house.  Hanne and Christian kindly pulled out their kayaks and stand up paddle boards which all the kids immediately gravitated towards.  I went for a run through the local park, and Sara did some yoga.  We were also treated to an Air Force helicopter flying the Swedish flag over the house.

After lunch we decided to take the boat into Karlskrona and go get ice cream.  Our kids were excited beyond the pale to get to ride in a boat again and so we hopped aboard and took to the high seas, or at least the calm and serene bays.  We docked in the city and then traversed our way through the Sweden Day celebrations occurring around us.   Most notably was a biker group that drove through downtown and then parked in front of the main city square.  The kids all got ice cream and then decided to go to a cemetery, or more aptly stated a graveyard, nearby at one of the churches.  There they played zombie tag and had fun.

 

Lucia showing how happy she is to be on the boat.

Following our short foray into town we hopped back aboard the boat and while Hanne, Sara, Jonathan, and I played cards, the other kids took turns driving the boat.  Despite our captains’ youth we made it home safely and proceeded to enjoy a quiet evening with dinner, wine, and good conversation.

I know that not everyone shares our same faith but I am feel so blessed that everyone on this journey has shared our same love for each other.  Paul no doubt was speaking of the God of Christ in his letter but in this closing he simply says “agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  The God of love and peace was most certainly with us today and we are grateful.  

Wednesday June 5, 2019

Matthew 18: 1-3 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Become like a child.  How?  Adults are hardened in their ways and they know everything don’t they?  Besides, children are naive, weak, impetuous, ignorant, etc.  Why would I want to be that?  Haven’t I already grown up and learned from being a child how to be an adult?  This Jesus guy sure is a bit odd.

Children see things from a very different perspective.  I remember being a child and going to Disneyland.  The entire spectacle seemed enormous, otherworldly, and awe inspiring.  As an adult going back I saw things very differently.  The rides were not so fast, the buildings were not so tall, and the inspiration so not so much there anymore. In a sense Disneyland was rather ho-hum.

But God’s creation is anything but mundane.  I think that is what Jesus is getting at when he says we must be more like children.  We need to be inspired and even slightly overwhelmed by this incredible universe in which we have been blessed to live.  Moreover, that excitement and inspiration will cause us to constantly be thankful and excited to absorb everything we can from it.  It is when we stop being awed that we begin to take it all for granted choosing cynicism over enthusiasm.

After having completed our mini-vacation in Byxelkrok we made our way back to Hanne and Christian’s home in Karlskrona.  We made a point to stop again in Kalmar this time at the Kalmar Slott, a four hundred year old castle.  There was an immersive Van Gogh exhibit being held within the castle which Sara and I were excited to see.  The kids tolerated the 40 minute program which was by my account fantastic.  We toured the castle a bit and then grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe across the street.  Then it was off to Karlskrona and just in time for a quick dinner with Hanne and Christian.

After we put our respective progeny to bed we retreated to the back deck for some wine and beer and fellowship.

This opportunity to just chat was the whole reason we were so excited to come to Sweden for this visit.  We missed our friends very much and having time to spend a few hours conversing is all the reason in the world to be here.  Christian reminded me of this Bible passage with his comments about his family’s home here.  He somewhat jokingly remarked that he didn’t understand why he was so lucky to be here, living in this beautiful home along the Baltic Sea.  I remarked that I appreciated his humility and more importantly his gratefulness.  That is one thing that I have really noticed on our travels, that the people we have met seem completely content with what they have and are grateful for it.  Unlike so many of the people we have met in the United States (and admittedly ourselves) who conversely are always looking for the next best thing, seemingly uneasy with what they have because it is never enough.  Here they are content with what the have and will take whatever they get.  I think that is what Jesus wants from us, to be grateful for what we have and to be inspired about the greatness that abounds.  There is no need to ask for more because God knows what we need already and will provide if we ask and are thankful.  Children rely completely on their parents for nourishment, safety, and well being.  I hope that I will remember my need to be like a child of God, reliant on Him for all my needs.

 

Tuesday June 4, 2019

Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It was another beautiful and relaxing day in Byxelkrok on Öland Island. We didn’t do much today at all. The kids played on the beach, we completed a round of mini-golf, and then took the kids to Neptuni Akrar, which is a beach filled with smooth rocks and fossils. They had a blast walking around while I found a smooth spot to lay back and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.

During part of their time on the beach in front of our hotel, the kids were able to find some really neat rocks that they collected and then sorted. It was awesome to watch them work together to eliminate the rocks that would not be kept. They worked so well together and it was a wonderful sight. Every once in a while they do get along and I try my best to enjoy every moment.

I also got to play a riveting game of Tic Tac Toe with Lucia. This game board was awesome because it only had 3 pieces for each player, which meant that you had to keep moving your pieces around the board. It was a much more exciting way to play the game!

We ended up having a frozen lasagna for dinner tonight and we all agreed that it was definitely not the worst meal we ever ate! The kids all went to bed and Jeff and I sat on the porch enjoying the long days of Sweden overlooking the Baltic Sea.

During our time on the patio I opened my email to find that I didn’t get the job in Wisconsin I was hoping for. I felt that pang of disappointment and a feeling of having to start back at square one. I tried to not let this get me down and had to remind myself that it just meant that this was not the right job for me, and that God had other plans for me. I then found myself praying before bed, telling God that it is okay that I didn’t get that job because it obviously was not where He needed me, but if He could please share some of His plan to us, I would greatly appreciate it.

I know things will come together, but it is so difficult for me to just sit back and enjoy this part of the ride. We have nothing planned beyond driving back to Hanne and Christian’s tomorrow and then heading to Germany sometime early next week. We have no flights back to the states (we found great flights yesterday and by the time we went to book them this morning the prices had doubled!), no jobs, no house/apartment, etc. Jeff keeps reminding me to stay in the moment and not be overcome with trying to plan everything out, but I am really struggling with this. I have faith that it will work out; it always has. But I feel like I have no direction. I know what I want to do as far as my career goes, but I don’t know how to get there because I am not a great candidate due to the fact that I have been out of the workforce for the last 12 years. This is not easy, and while I never thought it would be, I guess I didn’t really how challenging it would be.

Monday June 3, 2019

Psalm 4:8 “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”

Today was a touch bittersweet.  Hanne and Christian have to work this week.  Apparently bills come even when Americans visit.  Thus Sara and I offered to take a few days away from their house to give them and the kids the time to focus on jobs and getting through the last few days of the school year.  We were sad to leave but glad to give them the space they need.

We originally thought about making the five hour journey northeast to Stockholm but decided that truly we don’t like big cities.  Instead we decided to head almost due east to Oland.  Oland is a large island that is off the eastern coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea.  It is very long and very narrow.  We are staying at the the northernmost point.

The drive up was gorgeous and once again a reminder of our home in Wisconsin, except for the moose crossing signs.  We did notice that the area was rather quiet, almost unusually so and upon arriving at our hotel we learned that we were literally the only guests.  Apparently this area is very popular in the summer but as schools had not yet let out the high season had not yet begun.  So we settled in, did some grocery shopping, and then sat down for a quick dinner and some wine.  The kids enjoyed some beachcombing until a late afternoon storm made its way in but as it was getting to be bed time it was just as well.

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Today’s passage is a reminder of the peace that God has and will bring us.  These last few days have been very relaxing already.  I am at once totally at peace with what we have done and simultaneously grateful for the opportunity to do it.  While I had been sad that the journey was over I am also so thankful that I got to go on it.  God’s gifts are unimaginably generous and His grace brings with it great peace.  I have caught myself today taking several deep and full breaths just absorbing everything I have been given.  I am utterly relaxed and I think God is preparing me for the next journey to come.  I don’t feel ready quite yet, perhaps because I am enjoying this time right now, but I know that when His call comes I will be more than ready to answer.

Sunday June 2, 2019

Ephesians 5:20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not sure how to express the level of relaxation I feel, on top of the absolute joy of being with a friend whom I haven’t seen in so long. I can’t believe I am finally at her home in Sweden after all the years of trying to get here. We really did not do anything at all, just sat on the porch and caught up on the last decade of life while our children played together in the yard. The kids were laughing and having fun all day long, even going for a swim in the Baltic Sea, which I told them I would not be doing, but that was early in the day.

I later learned that Christian had plans for all of us to head down to the sauna, take a swim in the sea, and then back into the sauna. I have to be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled by this idea because I had felt my children’s bodies after coming out of the water and to say they were freezing is an understatement. But, not to be outdone by a child, I conceded and it was incredible. The adrenaline rush of getting hot in the sauna and then jumping in the freezing cold sea was exhilarating.  So much so that I repeated the process 3 times! By the time we walked back to the house and settled for dinner I was more relaxed than I ever have been.

Jeff and I have decided to take the kids on a short trip to Oland Island, just off the mainland of Sweden, for 2 nights since everyone still had school and work Monday-Wednesday. This worked out great for everyone (though I will miss this time with Hanne) because it will afford them the opportunity to be on a normal routine for the school/work week and then back to vacation mode on Wednesday afternoon (they are off on Thursday and Friday). So with the help of Hanne and Christian we booked our hotel.

I am loving this time with Hanne and Christian. We have so much fun just hanging out and talking about anything and everything. I love that we can sit down after almost a decade apart and pick up right where we left off, like time just stood still between us.

I know that our time together in college at the University of British Columbia was all part of God’s plan and this is one of those moments that I will be forever grateful for this connection and friendship. Hanne was there for me during a time of major transformation and supported me as I slowly became the person I am today. It is quite possible that she had no idea how much she influenced me because she held qualities that I wanted but didn’t have. She was one of the role models for me, showing me who I could be. God put me where I needed to be, when I needed to be there. He placed her in my life because I needed her and now as I am sitting on her porch, overlooking the Baltic Sea and listening to our children laugh and play, and I am forever grateful for her impact on my life.

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Saturday June 1, 2019

Jeremiah 29:12 “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”

This excerpt comes from a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiled peoples of Israel.  It is a letter of hope and promise.  It is fitting then that this is the scripture for today.  Today is our first day of our vacation. A time for us to visit our friends in Sweden and then to cap off our trip with a last stop in Germany to see our friends whom we first met to start our travels.

Sweden is, in a word, amazing.  We would scarcely realize we were not in Wisconsin again with all of the trees and rolling hills, farms and peacefulness all around.  Save for the fact that our friends live in a house which is on a small island in the Baltic Sea, we feel entirely at home.   After a long day of travels we were fortunate that the kids all slept in until 8ish.  We were also fortunate that both Hanne and Christian were both up for doing exactly nothing for the day.  We did make a short trip in to Karlskrona for some ice cream and mini-golf for the kids but it was otherwise a day of utter relaxation.  This was just what mom and dad had ordered.  While we weren’t exiled by any means we certainly felt the strains of our service over the last ten months and knowing that we were done and now just relaxing felt very rewarding. God had heard our prayers for peace and had more than answered.

It was even more reassuring as we had so long wanted to visit Hanne and her family in Sweden.  We had made plans ten years or so ago to come here but those plans sadly fell through.  Now, many years later here we were.  Enjoying a cool breeze off the ocean and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in over a decade.

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Jeff during a run around the island.

More happily our children all played together perfectly.  Having never met prior it was like they had grown up together their whole lives.  They played putt putt, tag, and everything else they could imagine all day long.  I absolutely love the exuberance and openness our kids have for meeting new people.  It is infectious and inspiring.  Meanwhile, moms and dads got to sit back and enjoy some beverages, a late afternoon lunch and a truly chill day.

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Sara and Hanne enjoying the beautiful sunshine!

 

 

Sunday May 26, 2019

Isaiah 28:16 “therefore thus says the Lord GodSee, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: “One who trusts will not panic.”

The context of this passage is a bit frightening insofar as it discusses a vision of the Lord beating the people like grain – being threshed until they are once again pure.  This snippet however seems to stand in contrast as a beacon of hope amidst the coming terror.  Basically, the Lord is about to bring furious judgement, but don’t worry because it will all work out.  Mysterious indeed.

As for the day, well that was less mysterious.  Today was our last day of church in Romania.  We gathered ourselves together and made the walk to church though we were slowed a tad by Anjali “Crutches” Hayes.  She was a trooper but had to stop regularly to give her hands and arms a break.  The message from church was spot on for our feelings the last few days.  Both Sara and I remarked about how we both felt that the lesson spoke directly to us and we both felt a bit embarrassed by some of our poor choices and thoughts the previous few days.  I suppose I could chalk it up to the stress of the unknown or trying to make plans but in reality we just weren’t being very good Christians in our thoughts.  Fortunately there had been no damage yet done and we just needed a bit of a reset from the Lord.  We were also given a very unexpected but equally appreciated send off by the congregation and took some extra time after service to say our goodbyes.

 

The plan was then to head to the city square to enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon, get some lunch, and just enjoy Brasov.  Unfortunately the aforementioned “Crutches” wasn’t having it.  The pain was too much and we could not find a cab to hail down to take us the rest of the way.  After some tears and aggravation we opted to send Sara, David, and Luci into town and Anjali and I stayed back at the apartment.  When all was said and done we got what we needed.  Sara had some quality time with the younger kids and Anjali and I got to hang out.

We had another restful evening with leftovers for dinner and then I headed out for one final Sunday evening of Ultimate Frisbee.  This group of new friends will be greatly missed.  I was blessed to be invited to play with them and I feel that in a short time we have created some strong bonds.  I had often wanted to play back in Madison but kept making excuses.  Having played these last few months in Brasov I can no longer muster any reasons not to play.  While I will miss the Transylvania Ultimate Frisbee (aka TUF) team, I am looking forward to going home and starting up with a new group.

I don’t think the cornerstone Isaiah references was anything so mundane as playing ultimate frisbee, but I think that God’s cornerstones come in all shapes, sizes, and places.  In looking back at this year I can see many times that a cornerstone was laid for something else down the road, whether it was for a new opportunity to volunteer, a new friendship, or something as yet unknown.  I trust the Lord and therefore will not panic.