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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Book Club

I belong to the most special book club in the history of reading. I know there are others who think that their book club deserves that praise, but it doesn't. Mine does. You see, in the midst of the talking and the laughing and the crying (mainly it's me crying), something magical has unfolded. We've learned to share not just our opinions about literature but also our very selves . We reached inside of ourselves and offered it up to those listening. And then we received one another with grace, respect and affirmation. So our book club is about the books we read, sort of. For me, it's mainly about a journey of friendship and closeness that has emerged through our shared love of reading, or at least our shared love of talking!
Why do I think my book club is so special? For starters, the majority of us are Americans living in Sweden for a variety of reasons. Some have Swedish spouses, some have husbands who were transferred here, some have jobs, some are moms, some are retired. But in any case, we are all living across the pond and that shapes and informs our perspective. The unspoken thread that binds us all together is the fact that we are all living in Sweden. And that thread has invited us to know one another in ways that other contexts might have hindered. In spite of our many differences (and honestly, no two are that much alike in this crowd!) we do share a deep down inside similarity...we live in Sweden, for better or worse, and we're happy to know other American women who do the same. But beyond this obvious connection, my book club buddies are the women who saw me through the worst year of my life. They brought flowers and food when I had hand surgery. They sent flowers to my parents in California when my brother died. They brought food to my husband in Stockholm while I spent weeks in California caring for my parents last summer. They journeyed beside me through emails I sent as I sought to sort through the devastation that a cancer diagnosis heaps upon a family. They know that weird things make me cry and they are OK with that. They let me wax theologically as we extrapolate the inner meanings of a writer's intentions. They love some of my book choices and they hate others and they love me at the end of either discussion. And I love them. These 13 women who have graced my life first by urging me to read stuff I wouldn't necessarily pick off the shelf, and then by sharing what they think and finally, amazingly, listening to what I think. I feel totally embraced by this crowd. For one night each month I know we're going to enter one another's world and take a peak at what lurks inside of us. And those glimpses that we allow one another one night a month allow us to support one another for the other 364 days a year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sometimes you gotta look up

For the longest time we've had a spill in the middle of our kitchen floor. I haven't been able to figure out what in the world I'm doing to cause this perpetual puddle in our kitchen. Is Doug spilling liquid every time he opens the fridge? Am I flinging water across the room when I load the dishwasher? Is Tanner drooling his water all over the house? I couldn't figure out why in the world our kitchen floor seemed wet ALL THE TIME.

One night, last week, I got out the mop and cleaned up the mess once again. I went to bed knowing that my kitchen was clean and tidy. If you know me well, you know this helps me sleep better at night. In the early hours of the next morning as I padded my way into the kitchen to make my morning cup of life, I stepped in a puddle of water! No man nor beast had been in that kitchen since I last cleaned up the mess so there could only be one solution. I slowly turned my head upwards and sure enough, there was a large crack in our ceiling with little water droplets coming on down. Of course, the water wasn't a spill after all, it was a slow, steady leak in our ceiling.

It occurred to me that I don't look up at my kitchen ceiling very often. Obviously. We knew that there was some water damage due to discoloration but I hadn't thought about it for a long time. Obviously. But I was sort of intrigued by the fact that so much time had gone by without my looking up. I took for granted that we were spilling something even though the mystery puddle was there on an almost constant basis. It got me thinking about the things in life we pay attention to. The directions that we look or over look. I've learned to stop and look behind me now and again when we're out walking in an especially beautiful place. The rear view is often stunning and easily missed if you simply charge ahead. Looking back gives you a new perspective on where you've been.

Perhaps looking up is a totally different thing, but it does beg us to consider how we intentionally pause to ponder what's going on around us, or behind us, or above us. I realized that I wasn't really paying attention to the water on my kitchen floor. Once I stopped to look up, I found the source.

Sometimes you gotta look up to find the source.

P.S. Fortunately we live in a building where the maintenance guys are terrific and fast. They came and cut a hole in the ceiling and discovered a leaky pipe that actually goes to the apartment above ours. So now I have two big holes in my ceiling and no more water on the floor. It was kind of painful watching them saw into my ceiling. But I'm happy now that there's no more water on the floor. They will fix the ceiling when we go on vacation. What's funny is that I rarely even see the holes, unless I intentionally look up!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom's 78th birthday. We are happy to be celebrating it. It is also the one year anniversary of when she started chemotherapy to fight the stage 3 ovarian cancer that had invaded her body. One year ago, we were all scared, shocked, and sad. This has clearly been the hardest year of my mom's life, my dad's life, my life. I will offer some comments on the past year in the weeks ahead, but today is a day of jubilee and I want this entry to be a celebration of life, my mom's life of 78 years and of life in general that we no longer take for granted.
My mom is a fun-loving person. Often, if not always, the life of the party, people just flock around her. I have never met a friend of hers who hasn't just gushed about what an amazing person Rose Ann is. Sometimes it's embarrassing, maybe even a little annoying. I mean, there is a flaw in there somewhere. But the world in which Rose Ann inhabits is a world that sees only her generous spirit, her kind compassion, her strong and trustworthy leadership. It's flattering and wonderful to see how well-loved your mom is.
My mom is one of the greatest athletes ever. She would easily have been a pro something, or an Olympic softball player but she lived during the wrong era for female athletes. I remember when we were kids getting a game of baseball, football or basketball together in the neighborhood. My brother and I would wander into the group and all of our friends would ask, "Is your mom going to play. If she is, we get her." When I was in college she played pick-up basketball with my friends and sank a lot of shots. When I turned 40, she was 70, and we played Laser Tag and she won. I think she got sympathy passes from everyone. They all felt bad shooting at an older lady! She and my dad would play two men in doubles tennis and consistently win. She'd beat the guys in golf with her crushingly long drives and amazing scrambling short game around the green. She broke a friend's nose while playing park league softball. You get the picture. She was a stud athlete.
She also has the highest pain threshold of anyone I've ever known. When explaining this to others I just said, "Yeah, she's a tough cookie. She pulled her own tooth once because it was bugging her. Didn't even flinch." In the meantime, my dad and I were passed out on the floor because the mere thought of it had caused us to faint.
Her oncologist told us that if she hadn't been in the shape she was in or as strong as she was when the cancer attacked, he didn't think she could've survived the rigorous treatment. All those years of dominance on the sports field paid off as the IV poured poison into her system.
The irony of chemotherapy is that it sucks the life right out of you in order to put life back into you. It's been hard to see her weakened condition over the past year. We've had to accept some limits in the pace in which she can do life. But the gift to us all is that she is indeed DOING LIFE! What more could you ask for? I am so thankful that she's here today so we can celebrate who she is for the 78th time!
So here's to you your strength, to your toughness, to your will to live which allows us to celebrate YOU today and everyday that the gift of life is ours to enjoy with you.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Twice a year we take a group from our church on a 24 hour getaway to a lovely place on the Baltic Sea called Stensnas. We depart from church on Friday at 6.00 p.m. and are back at church by 6.00 p.m. on Saturday. It is always a fantastic way to spend 24 hours. We sing silly songs. We play silly games. We eat great food. We listen to God's word. We learn to know one another. We take in the beauty of God's creation. We sing around the campfire until we're hoarse. We laugh. Sometimes we cry. Always we rejoice.
This week-end we explored our spiritual gifts. My shepherding gift comes out strong again. I am thankful. I love the sheep of Immanuel International. There is truly no greater privilege than to lead this wonderfully diverse, gifted, enthusiastic, amazing group. They are grateful. They are hungry to learn. They are fun! They participate with joy. They willingly, even eagerly, participate in the crazy schemes we come up finding demented moose who have escaped from a wildlife preserve in Northern Sweden. (My husband has a very active imagination! See photo of said moose below!). They play Maria Goes to Town, a brainchild of our Philippina corps! Each team gets several articles of clothing that they have to don, then they have to walk "into town" swaggering all the way, and return to their team where the next person takes on the persona of Maria. The men are hilarious...they don't know how to carry the handbag! But they like to strut their stuff on the catwalk! Everyone does it. Everyone laughs. We grow closer through silliness.

We are a diverse group at Immanuel International Church. People from Tanzania, Malawi, Singapore, England, South Korea, Scotland, Taiwan, the US, Canada, Sweden, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the Philipines, Eritrea, Ghana, Japan, Uganda and Ecuador were present on this outing. And I marvel at how the walls come down between people as we relax, and share and find our center in Christ. We bring different spiritual journeys to the table. We come from diverse cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. And yet, all of us are trying to know God and his Son Jesus with greater fevor. It is a gift. It is a retreat from the tensions between people that are all too present in the world around us. I feel blessed beyond expression.