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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Last Day of 2009

It's been a quiet day here in Stockholm. It is absolutely gorgeous outside.

It is rare that we have this much snow coupled with freezing temperatures extended across several days creating this amazing, frosty, beautiful wonderland around us.

I took Tanner for a midday walk and I was just dazzled by my surroundings.

A beautiful way to end the year. We've had a very quiet day at home today and tonight we are headed to some friends' who we haven't seen much of lately. Greatly looking forward to hanging with them, ringing in the new year, playing some Wii, and enjoying a great dinner. I am thankful that we aren't having this for dinner.It really amazes me that people willfully eat Lutefisk and actually look forward to it. Look at that plate. Does that look remotely good?
Give me a steak.
This is a steak my father cooked for me last March. I ate the entire thing and loved it!

Our friends have 3 dogs so Tanner is most welcome. We'll spend the night out there and enjoy a nice morning with them as well. They live in
Saltsjöbaden which is a lovely community on the water's edge south of Stockholm. Their house is set in the woods and Judy and Olle are just wonderful hosts. We look forward to an enjoyable time with them.

As the year is almost over, it seems appropriate to summarize it in some fashion. I look back on 2009 and feel it was a good year, except for being sick the last two months. But now that I'm feeling better and we've been able to enjoy such a lovely Christmas season, I feel content and satisfied with the year gone by. 2010 has some wonderful things in store for us, but I'll tell y'all about that another day. For now, here's my year in review for 2009:


Highlights:

We started the year with our annual trip to the US and enjoyed time with both families. We are thankful that we are able to travel back to the US as often as we are able to.

In February, we learned that my mom miraculously went into remission after fighting stage 3 ovarian cancer and has remained cancer free for the entire year. This has been such a huge gift to our family and we've enjoyed the new lease on life that she's been given.
In March, I took a little extra trip back to California in order to celebrate this great news with my folks. So many of our visits over the last two years revolved around sadness or hardship and I just really wanted to be with them during a season when my mom was actually feeling good. It was a great time and a huge gift from Doug who stayed behind to take care of Tanner and things at church. In April, we enjoyed an amazing International Pastors' conference in Turkey. This is at Pamukkale, where the churches in Hieropolis and Laodicia would've been.

We toured the area of the 7 churches of the Revelation and ended up with a few days in Istanbul. It was a wonderfully meaningful trip, fortified by the amazing conversations we share with other International Pastors in Europe.
Just waiting to walk into Ephesus!

Cruising on the Bosporus with Istanbul in the background.

The summer brought us loads of fun with our new boat, The Finnmaster. What a great little toy she has been for us. We spent many of our long and beautiful summer evenings out on the water, doing a little fishing, taking a dip, watching Tanner swim his little heart out...basking in the beauty of the amazing and wonderful long days of summer. We found time to take a hot air balloon ride over Stockholm as well. Breathtaking!
My folks ventured over to Sweden one more time and enjoyed some fun on the boat, playing cards and hanging with our dog. We were happy to have them here again.


In September we moved into our renovated sanctuary space. Everyone has been so thrilled with the results and we continue to find great joy in serving Immanuel International Church.

We enjoyed a nice break to the island of Sardinia in October, marred only by cooler weather than we had hoped for. Still, the scenery was just breath-takingly beautiful and the food and time together was truly wonderful.Unfortunately, shortly after we returned from Sardinia, I got sick with a bug that kept me down for 2 months. It was a trying time for me as I just couldn't get back to full health. Fortunately, I began to feel a bit better in time to decorate and entertain for Christmas and as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, have really enjoyed the season.
These are mere highlights of a wonderful life that we enjoy together. I am very thankful at year's end that Doug is my life companion. His love sustains me and his humor brings me great joy. We love our faithful dog, Tanner, and feel grateful for the love and affection he shows us. He keeps us on our toes with his energy but we love exploring our beautiful city with him by our side.


Friends...we are blessed. I hope you feel the same. I look forward to welcoming a new year with lots of possibilities and adventures. May the love of God in Christ pour into your life and bring you peace.
Thanks for being a reader this year. I continue to enjoy blogging and feel humbled that you take time out of your busy lives to read what I have to say.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Annan Dag Jul: The Day After Christmas

Santa is ready for a day off...just like the rest of us!

Swedes often get the eve of a holiday, the actual holiday and the day after a holiday as, well, holidays! It's great to extend the celebration. The day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day in some parts of the world, is a great day to have off. Time to relax after a very busy season. This year it happens to fall on a Saturday so most would be off anyway, but it's still nice to think that today is a holiday!
We had a wonderful Christmas. Christmas morning was quiet with just me and Doug and the dog. We had decided to go easy on the gift giving this year since we have a big vacation in the United States in January and we like to shop while we're there. Plus, sometimes it's nice to just focus on other things. It's a lot easier limiting the gift stuff when you do not have children. Tanner didn't even get a new bone this year! But we did write one another cards, always a meaningful exchange, and we did give one another some small thing. Except Doug's wasn't really small! There's a new thing happening in Stockholm. Roof-top tours! Apparently you can now walk around the roofs of the buildings in Gamla Stan and get a bird's eye view of the area. The walk includes a guided tour with all kinds of interesting information about the city! So he gave me a walk for two which means we have a great evening ahead of us when the days start to get long again! It was very thoughtful and totally unexpected. I gave him a couple of books which is boring but also what he likes!
Once we were finished with our time together, we both needed to kick into high gear as we have a Christmas Day Open House that we invite anyone from the congregation to come to.



It has become a great tradition that people love. Our specialties of the house include Hot Apple Cider (a drink most have never tasted and love), spicy meatballs, homemade salsa, Mexican layer dip, prinskorv (tasty little Swedish sausages) wrapped in dough (pigs in a blanket), shrimp cocktail with cocktail sauce that is heavy on the horseradish, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, and many other scrumptious treats.

We make the food ourselves. This year we had great help from several in our congregation who came early to help us put the dishes together. Doug puts the tables up and does such a nice job with getting the house set up. Homemade chocolate chip cookies and toffee along with clementines and chocolates adorn the sweets table!

We had very little left over this year! It's so much fun watching people enjoy the food that you have made for them.

Additionally, we turn our extra bedroom into a home theater and show a movie, this year Up was showing. It's awesome in there! I wish we could just keep it. We'll watch a movie or two today before we tear it down and take the equipment back to church!
It never ceases to amaze me how people love to come to this party. It's so much fun to see people gathering and enjoying on a day when lots of us could feel alone. The house is filled with people...this year, about 80, and people are laughing and eating and enjoying themselves and it just makes me warm inside. I am so thankful that Doug is willing to work hard on this and that together we can create a situation for people to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of warmth and community.
As the day ended yesterday, I was filled with joy. I felt that the joy of Christmas and the love of Christ had been shining around me all day and I was so content. Today I am pondering these things in my heart and I am so happy for the day after Christmas...a day to relax, reflect and revel in all that happened in the past couple of days.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

The candles of hope, peace, joy and love surround the Christ candle.

Advent is over...Christ is born in Bethlehem and Christians all over the world tonight will celebrate this sacred truth. We had a great church service and a wonderful time of fellowship afterward.
We came home to a nice, relaxing dinner with our good friend and associate pastor, Chris and his girlfriend Hanna. Good food and warm fellowship around a beautiful table.
\Now we're sitting in bed watching the holy mass from St. Peter's in Rome...that's kind of become a late night Christmas eve tradition for us. I feel very blessed tonight. God has been good to us and the fellowship and worship that we enjoyed with our church family set just the right tone for entering into the Christmas story once again.
Here are the words we used as we lit the Christ candle tonight.
The Reading:

Hope, peace, joy, and love. Four candles, four promises continually offered to us by God, and all of them manifest in this one we light tonight: the Christ candle. In Christ we find the hope of transformation, the peace that follows justice, the joy of self-fulfillment in community, and the love that encompasses us in all our diversity, empowering us to make our own unique contribution to this world. In Christ we find light and life, and the courage to be like him, answering his call and following in his footsteps.

The Prayer:

Loving God, tonight we rejoice in your steadfast presence in our lives, and in the coming of Jesus Christ, whose miraculous birth we celebrate this night. We give you thanks that Jesus came as a tiny little baby and grew to embrace and manifest the qualities of hope, peace, joy and love in our world. For the gift of salvation that is ours to embrace, through his birth, death and resurrection, we give you praise. Amen.

The Charge:

May the Lord Jesus come near to you this night. May he be born in our hearts, our minds, and our lives. May the light of His life be kindled in us all, and lead us to the shining truth, of God with us, God for us, God in us.


God bless you on this holy night. May the reality of Christ's birth bring you joy and peace. Amen.



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent day 25

Karlavägen, one of the streets that we like to walk with Tanner.

Humlegården park...near our house, another Tanner playground.

The Christmas tree at Karlaplan.

It is the day before Christmas eve. Today was a bit pressure packed but once everything I needed to do got done, I felt so happy and content. It's been a very different advent season for me as I've continued to battle health concerns. I'm still not back at 100% energy and am struggling with some continued issues with my throat and sinus. Energy remains a bit elusive. The up side to all of this is that I'm not a frazzled mess heading into Christmas. I've had to choose carefully what I can do and let the rest go. In some ways it's been rather disappointing to not be able to do everything that I would've liked, but on the other hand, it's also been a bit freeing to just accept some limits. It feels good to be heading into Christmas Eve with a bit of a calm. I look forward to our service tomorrow evening and we're starting to gear up for the big open house on Christmas day night. We bought all the food today and I've got a few lists going with things I need to remember to do!

The wintry Stockholm harbor.

It seems inevitable now that we are going to have white Christmas. It's been a long time since that happened...I believe it was 8 years ago actually. The city is so lovely and charming. The cold and the snow have created quite the magical atmosphere.

My beautiful city...no matter what time of year.

Not being swept up into the bustle of the season has given me some time to ponder the ways in which love is shown to me in my life. I have a truly loving and caring husband who I also dearly love and deeply appreciate. I'm thankful for my parents and the ongoing relationship we continue to enjoy. I am grateful for Doug's family and the ways in which they care for us. We miss these folks at Christmas but feel so glad to know that they are sharing in many of the church traditions that we do and that their celebrations are rooted in the celebration of the birth of Christ. I am very grateful for our church community and the amazing love and support our congregation shows us. I am thankful for friendships that sustain me even at a great distance. And I'm thankful for Facebook, which has enabled me to re-connect with old friends with whom I share an important history but with whom I had lost touch. The gift of my relationships is on my heart tonight as I consider what my loved ones will be up to in the coming days.

I hope that as people begin to celebrate and enjoy the outer beauty of the Christmas decor and soak in the fun of the traditions they will share in with loved ones, that they also pause to consider the inner beauties of the season as well. I am amazed once again to consider that God sent his son Jesus to dwell among us so that we might know God and His love and grace in a tangible and wonderful manner.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent day 24

Someone recently introduced me to Spotify, an internet music provider that is quite cool. You can punch in any group or type of music and it comes up on your computer and you can listen to it for free. Every once in awhile you have to listen to a silly advertisement in the midst of your listening pleasure but that's a small sacrifice to make for having all the music of the world at your finger tips. In the past week I've heard Christmas music from Sarah McLachlan, Nat King Cole, Amy Grant, King's College Cambridge, and John Rutter. I also have just asked for instrumental Christmas music and the most gorgeous stuff comes up. Music that I would never have had access to if not for Spotify.
Music is one of the great treats of Christmas for many people. As I've looked over the services for Christmas Eve and next Sunday, I've delighted in the songs we're going to be singing. I cannot wait to revel in the classics of Away in A Manger, Angels from the Realms of Glory, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and of course, the all time favorite, Silent Night. I am so thankful for the ways in which music tells the story of our Savior's birth. It brings such depth and vision to the sacred events of Christ's birth and draws us near to this most holy event. And that my friends is what Christmas is all about...God drawing us near to him through the birth of Son Jesus Christ. May the music of Christmas touch you deeply as you ponder all that we are about to celebrate in the days ahead.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent day 23

Today is the long awaited winter solstice! The daylight grows longer now instead of diminishing. While it's only 2 minutes per day right now, it really makes a difference knowing that we are getting lighter by the day instead of darker.
Christmas is growing nearer now too. I baked cookies today and wrote my grocery list. I'm thinking about the sermon I need to have ready for next Sunday as Thursday and Friday I won't be working on it and don't think it'll be the first thing on my mind on Saturday! I'm pondering the prayer I will pray on Christmas Eve. I'm thinking about the 100 or so people who will come through the house on Friday night. It's all exciting and filled with anticipation. I want people to come to our service on Thursday at 16.00 and to stop by the house on Friday night from 18.00-21.00...not because of what I have to offer, but to share what Christ has to offer. Christ is the one who showers us with unconditional love and offers us unlimited hospitality...a place to belong in the grand scheme of life...to be a part of his body, the church. I am so thankful for our church and the way in which our congregation loves one another and welcomes the stranger into our midst.
Today is also my parent's 52nd wedding anniversary. I admire the way they still love to be together and take time to acknowledge their love. No longer with fancy gifts or lavish celebrations but by sharing life together and enjoying the moments they've been given. 2 years ago we were quite uncertain if mom would be alive for their 50th anniversary celebration. Now it's 2 years down the road and she is back to a high quality of life and we are all so thankful.
I am thankful for the growing light of day, the consistent light of my parent's love and the ever present light of Christ to show me the way.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent day 22, 4th Sunday

Well, the journey through Advent is almost complete. We lit the fourth candle during our worship service today and had a great worship celebration. I did the children's lesson during the service and showed a beautiful batik of a nativity scene that was a gift from Sri Lanka. I spoke of how we are about to celebrate Jesus' birthday and commented on some of "funny" characters that were invited to Jesus' birthday party...sheep and shepherds and kings. I asked the kids if they had ever had a birthday party in a barn. They giggled at that one. Then I asked them if they had to give presents when it was their birthday party. They said no, they get them! And I proceeded to share with them that that's the best part of celebrating Jesus' birthday...we get invited to the party and get the gifts! The gifts of God's unconditional love, his peace and his presence that follow us no matter where in the world we are. The four candles are burning brightly now...hope, peace, joy, and love. We wait now until Christmas eve when we light the Christ candle...the one who brings hope, peace, joy and love into our world. May these gifts be yours this week and beyond.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent day 21

Snowy, Snowy Stockholm. Took Tanner out to the woods again.

Tromped through the freshly fallen snow and marveled at the beauty.
Had dinner out in a great pub in Gamla Stan with good friends.
Talked about all manner of things. It was refreshing and relaxing.


My energy level is low tonight and I am very tired. I don't feel very inspired to write something great so I'll just say that I feel thankful for the relationships in my life.
It's been great to be able to walk the woods with Doug and Tanner again.

It was wonderful to get out and enjoy our friends tonight. I look forward to the week ahead when we will have many opportunities to be with people. I am thankful that God saw it fit to send his son into our world so that we could have a relationship with him.
God coming near...that's what the week ahead is all about.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent day 20

This photograph was taken today at 1.15 in the afternoon. The light is almost at its dimmest. The solstice is Monday. Even though it stays really dark for quite a long time after the solstice, a mental change takes place when I know the days are no longer growing shorter. A glimmer of hope erupts within me knowing that now, however slowly, the daylight will grow more prolific each day and I feel that I will survive the dark season once again.
It's profound for me to consider how much the light of day affects my mental outlook. I am reminded yet again that when my life reflects the light of Christ it also affects those around me. If I hover in darkness, it does not help anyone.
Today I wrote a note to a friend of mine who has recently suffered the unexpected loss of her husband. I told her that I would pray that the Prince of Peace would bring a deep comfort to her during this time of grief and loss. I also reminded her that Christ came to bear our sorrows and so she should let him. Easy words, hard actions. But just as the growing light of day helps me to cope with the darkness that envelopes us right now, so too, the hope of Christ's love and comfort pierces our dark emotions and gives us a reason to keep moving forward.
Today was actually a staggeringly beautiful winter day. I was acutely aware of my desire to get out and revel in the dim sunlight. Tonight I am pondering my acute need to revel in the light of Christ. Christmas is soon upon us. I am ready to celebrate the light of Christ once again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent day 19

It's a good thing that Santa has his skis ready. Stockholm is covered in snow. Today was the worst blizzard I've seen since we moved here. It snowed all day and the wind was blowing and the drifts were rising and it has created a most beautiful winter wonderland.
We took a long walk through a forest that is about a 1o minute walk from our house. Tanner loves being in there! He runs and plays and snorts around in the snow...it's a delight to watch his playfulness.
The city is quiet and lovely. The whole movement of life slows down with the snow. It was great to get out and enjoy the cold, dry air and take in the beauty that surrounds us.
Christmas Eve is one week from today. We're busy at church trying to get multiple services ready as well as meet some end of the year deadlines. In the midst of the demands, I need to take time to take a walk with my husband, play with my dog, delight in God's creation and take joy in the loveliness that that fresh winter snow has brought to our surroundings. It's very easy to focus exclusively on the "to do" list. But perhaps what most of us need to do the week before Christmas is to look away from the list and ponder what surprising observation God may have in store for us. The list will get done. It always does. But don't let a special moment of wonderment pass you by because we rarely re-capture the joy of experiencing something like that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent day 18

A little bit of both worlds: A Swedish Christmas Goat (I know, weird!), An American Santa Claus and a cute little Swedish flicka (girl) sitting with a julklapp(present) in her hands resting against the obligatory candle holder.
I have been amused of late while watching my American friends who are wannabe Swedes posting on Facebook things about keeping Swedish traditions in America. It kind of cracks me up since I live in Sweden and am not totally into all things Swedish! I don't like glögg (Swedish mulled wine), I don't bake pepparkakor, I don't like Lussebullar, (saffron infused bakery buns eaten made especially for Santa Lucia but eaten throughout the season). Our house has a lot of candles, very Swedish, but also some very classic American Christmas elements. We do have the lovely advent ljuststalkar in all of our windows. It's quite cozy and lovely.

But there will be no herring or lutefisk on our Christmas eve table. We could never get our money's worth going out to a Swedish Christmas dinner as too much of the table is full of fishy fish. Give me a steak cries the carnivorous American!

This sign seemed a bit out of place at the Jul Marknad in Kungsträdgården. I did not indulge so I cannot tell you if they tasted like the real deal.

But truth be told, I love the way most everyone puts lights in their windows to create light in the darkness. I do enjoy Swedish Christmas music. I love the Lucia celebration. And I love the Christmas markets that dot the town. I haven't had a chance to stroll through Gamla Stan (old town) yet and I have only taken a quick stroll through the Christmas market downtown at Kungsträdgården, a mere 10 minute walk from our home.

I still have a lot to do before next Thursday but sometime in the next week I will take a late night stroll through town and savor the beauty of Stockholm all dressed up for Christmas. I will get down to Gamla Stan and stroll through the red shacks and enjoy looking at all things Swedish. I don't buy much any more, but in my heart of hearts, I still enjoy the atmosphere of Stockholm at Christmas. It's beautiful without being overly commercial.

At the end of the day, I love blending my worlds at Christmas time. A little bit of Sweden plus a little bit of America hopefully adds up to a whole lot of warmth in our home. You are welcome to drop in. I'll put on the coffee and serve you some pepparkakor. (Store bought. Sorry.)