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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Solstice, Stockholm Style

A few years have gone by now since we've experienced the joy of a Swedish summer.  
I have always said that when weather is good, there's no finer place to be. 
The challenge for the years that we lived here was that often, it was not hot enough for my taste. Now that I have experienced the summer heat of the desert, (often hovering around 45C/115F) and the hot, humid urban heat of Paris, sans a/c, well, these "cooler" Nordic days feel pretty darn good right now!    Swedish colors, represented in wild flowers
And with the cleanliness of the air, the deep green of the foliage, the sparkling clear, clean water that is everywhere, and of course, the endlessly long daylight, well, I am reminded of why we loved summer in Sweden so much.
Additionally, we had developed quite the tradition around celebrating the big midsommar holiday with our dear friends in a small little village a bit south of Stockholm. I have not been a part of this celebration since 2013 because in 2014, I was in CA dealing with the aftermath of my father's death. So it's a real treat to think about renewing our traditions with this fine family and enjoying all of the silliness that accompanies our time there.
It is great to return to Stockholm in the summer. In 2015 we spent 2.5 quick winter days here so to be here now for a few days, savoring time with sweet friends, is quite wonderful.  We're enjoying meals and conversations with dear friends, will attend our former church for the first time in 2.5 years, and will spend some time in the archipelago. We long for our little boat and of course think of all the joy Tanner delighted in when he lived here but are thankful for the memories that being here evoke and for the opportunity to dip our toe in a summer solstice in Stockholm one more time.

Last night we had dinner with a dear friend along the sea front. 
He cooked up some of his Indian cuisine that we adore and have missed.   A bonus was that the sunset put on quite the dazzling show of color and light.
 We were mesmerized and could not get our eyes off of the sky. 
I look forward to enjoying the light, the sky, the long daylight of Stockholm over the next several days as we celebrate midsommar and enjoy the archipelago.
I still feel the same...when the weather is good, there's no finer place than Stockholm in the summertime.   
Last light of the day...almost midnight.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Roland Garros: The French Open

When we moved to Paris at the end of February, it soon dawned on us that we'd be there when the French Open tennis tournament was taking place! I was quite excited as it is a sporting event that I've always wanted to attend. So we jumped in the online queue the day the tickets went on sale and got good seats for Thursday, June 1, 2017.
Of course, since we had to purchase our tickets pre-draw, we had no idea who would be playing on the day that we would attend. Unfortunately, the marquee players who we really wanted to see were not playing yesterday but instead are all on the court we bought tickets for today. Hence the term, it's the luck of the draw. Even so, we were treated to great atmosphere and great tennis. We could get there via metro and it was quite easy.
As soon as you walked in the gate, there were signs displayed showing where the other tennis majors were located and how far away they are! Very cool.
We did get to see Stan Wawrinka, seeded no. 3 play a good match. We had end line seats so could watch the serve come in. It was indeed impressive when it went over 200 kilometers an hour! We also watched women's doubles from very close range on one of the smaller courts and saw some mixed doubles on the smaller courts. It was not as easy to move around the courts as we thought it might be due to the large crowd. We were very happy we had bought center court tickets and that our seats ended up being in the shade for the afternoon. The sun was a roaster. And it was pretty easy to get sunburned while just sitting there spectating!
The first match that we watched was between a young French woman Alizé Cornet and seed no 20 Barbora Strycova. The French woman ended up upsetting her! We saw her later on the grounds after she finished a doubles match. She's a cute girl. Was fun to watch the French get behind her.
Other players that we really enjoyed seeing included Gael Monfils, (15 seed) a Frenchman with a loyal local following. He was playing very well and the crowd enjoyed him! The last match of the day was with the no. 2 women's seed, Karolina Pilskova. At first it looked like she was going to wipe out her opponent in 30 minutes flat but after a dull first set, things got more interesting. Ekatarina Alexandrova charged back to win set no. two, pushing it to a third set. Pliskova was too tough in the end and took the third set 6-3. She had her serve up to 185 kilometers an hour at times. She was almost lackadaisical in her demeanor so I will be interested to see how she does from here on out. The number 1 women's seed was beat in the first round so Pilskova has a good chance to get through. The women's field is dominated by "ovas" from those Eastern European nations. Venus Williams is playing, a no. 10 seed but Serena is sitting this out due to being pregnant. The US need to step up their game. Not too many American players in this field. 
Andy Murray was playing yesterday as well and ended up in a tight set that went 4 games with tie-breakers. Our tickets did not permit us to enter that stadium so we watched on the big screens set around the grounds. 
My dream would've been to see Rafael Nadal play but alas, he's playing today. Oh well. There's always tv.
Clay is an interesting surface. I have played on clay a fair amount here in Europe and it is a different animal. It looks great and it's fun to watch the players slide through their shots. 
The grounds were nice but quite modest. Food options not great and probably not really enough vendors to handle the crowd. They had some interesting displays regarding the history of tennis that were enjoyable to walk through. 
The hosts were dressed in really classy dresses. It added to the prestige of the event to have these young people scattered round the grounds, checking tickets, giving directions. 
I'd never been to a tennis major before and while I would've loved to have seen Rafa and Venus Williams play, it was still a thrill to be on the grounds and enjoy the very fine level of tennis that is played be it singles, doubles, or mixed doubles. Makes me long to get back to the game again one day. And now I know how to say zero, 15, 30, 40, deuce and game in French!

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Life is Different than Yours

So a little reflection is in order today. Doug and I share a wonderful life with many experiences that most only dream of having. We have been very lucky to have the exposure to traveling, people, and cultures that we have. And we are enjoying a season of interim ministry opportunities that we could not have planned in our wildest dreams. And we have the unique opportunity to take sabbatical rest, to dream about what's next without worrying too much about what is next. We could never have predicted a year ago that we'd be living in Paris, France doing youth ministry for goodness sakes, and soaking in all of the grace of being part of a strong, vibrant ministry that gives us back in spades whatever small contribution we are making. It is pure gift and we are grateful.
But here's the thing. When you feel envious of us, as I'm sure many of you do (I would), you have to remember what we don't have and that hardly any of us have everything in this life that we want or dream of having. So for all of you who celebrated Mother's Day yesterday with your mom, kids and grandkids, I don't have that anymore. I'm thankful for my mother-in-law's presence in our lives, but our choice to live abroad means not being present with her on Mother's Day. Mother's Day doesn't sting quite like it has in the past, in part because it wasn't Mother's Day here in France yesterday so we weren't smothered with reminders and the deification of motherhood that happens in the US. In part too because the wounds of my infertility and the loss of my mother 4 years ago are healing. In fact, I'd say this season of life that we are in right now is probably the easiest season to be without kids. Our financial life is not pressed, our worries are not great, and we don't need help from others to care for us just yet. In some ways, it's the sweet spot of not having kids. No college to pay for, no one else's future to worry about, no expenses beyond our own. Yes, that part is pretty sweet. Life is plentiful for us and the future is simple. This part of not being a parent is lovely.
But for those of you who will say that you want our life consider this. Our life comes without birthdays to celebrate, without graduations to feel proud at, without grandkids down the road. So in some ways I want your life too. Not all the time mind you, just some of the time! At one point I told a mother of 4 that we traded kids for great vacations! She replied, "Would you judge me if at times I wanted the same?!" No judgement ever, for anyone. Because here's the deal.
The life that you've been given, that you often don't choose. And you have to work at not envying another's road because there are always hidden potholes that the glitz and glamour of Facebook or Christmas photos or blogs never really show. In every life are joys that we'd never trade and hurts so deep that we can hardly articulate them. Loss is sprinkled throughout everyone's journey, be they big, like deaths or unexpected realities like a child born severely disabled, or never conceived, or miscarried. Or they could be smallish, like money trouble, and siblings who fight all the time, or in-laws who meddle, or mothers who live in the past and never really let you grow up into the adult you are. Or they could be the loss of dreams when you realize that certain realities will just never come about because of circumstances that just won't yield to your hopes. We all have losses that we have to contend with. I'm content right now without kids or grandkids and yet, when I consider the honor it was to sit by my parents' bedsides as they passed from this life to the next, I worry a bit about dying alone in a trailer in the desert with no one to come and hold my hand. (To be fair, some of our friends with kids have the same concern.) But I can't live my life impaired by that concern. I can only live the life that I have been given today and for now, I'm thankful for the sweet season we are enjoying. It's not perfect. I still hurt and long for my parents to be alive to share our joy but I'm quite OK with not being a mom at this juncture. Maybe being called back into youth ministry is the special grace that God knew I needed as one headed for the "senior season". 🤣
But I guess my point is this...don't long for another's life. Long to enjoy the life you've been given. Embrace the now. Love what is joyful and seek to contend, with grace and perspective, that which is challenging. Each advantage that we have in life has likely come about because another opportunity closed. We're a bit footloose and fancy free right now because we don't have kids. And I need to remember that when I feel lonely or lost because I don't have parents or children and can begin to feel a bit like an island in this world, untethered to people who need me. And when those of you with kids, long for simplier days, or better vacations, squeeze your kids, revel in their accomplishments, take delight that when you're my age, they might give you a grandkid or two and be thankful. Be thankful for the life you've been given instead of longing for a life that was never intended to be yours.
Live your own life with joy, intention and grace. Good words for me to remember when life feels sad or hollow or lonely, which, even in the midst of my wonderful opportunities, still happens now and again. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fantastic Vienna

A relaxing train ride took us into Vienna where we found our way to our hotel. Blooming flowers abounded all about the city. 
That night, we feasted, and I mean feasted on the most amazing spare ribs dinner. Held in a huge beer hall, there was no shortage of food or drink on offer that night. Highlights of the week in Vienna included a wonderful visit to the Melk Abbey outside of Vienna.The ride through the countryside was beautiful and soothing. The views from the Abbey were just breathtaking, as views in Austria tend to be. It was so lovely to get outside of the city and experience the beauty of nature. The gardens were in full bloom and the Abbey itself is a beautiful place of peace and quiet.
We also took a tour of Karlskirche. Some of us braved the elevator ride followed by a quite rickety climb on scaffolding stairs. We were rewarded with up close and personal looks at the paintings on the dome of the church. 
A sunny afternoon of free time led many of us to take a hike in the forest where eventually we found ourselves in a wine garden, high above Vienna surrounded by vineyards. At times the hike was rigorous, but the conversations, views, and sunshine on our shoulders made it all worth it.
A major theme of the week was food! We ate well. These sausages were a delicious trio of tastes. Of course, we ate strudel, a few times! Beautiful St. Stephens lit up in the evening.
And while we enjoyed most everything, the heavy Austrian cuisine eventually takes its toll and I was happy for a huge salad upon our arrival back to Paris! Of course, music reigns in Vienna and I loved this piano bench! 
Our week ended with worshipping with the host congregation, this year, The English Speaking Methodist Church in Vienna, where our good buddy Matthew is the pastor. I loved this adorable photo of him holding this little baby! The size contrast was special! The last thing we enjoy together as a group is our closing banquet, this time held in an old wine cellar. The place was aptly named The 12 Apostles and it was charming but also roasting hot inside. The skits for the "talent" show were filled with good humor and we shared one last swan song with our buddies from Brussels. We spent Sunday afternoon sitting in the same beer hall where we had feasted on the ribs, writing up our little song. A good time was had by all.
These conferences remain a mainstay of our years in International ministry. And even though for the past three, we've thought each would be our last, we were delighted to attend another one along the way. Good friends, good content, good insights make for a winning combination of experiences and add deepening joy to these relationships that are definitely burrowed deep into our hearts.
There were so many things that we didn't have time to experience in Vienna. Guess we'll have to figure out a time to get back there!