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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short Days

Since Doug broke his leg, I've been on full time dog walking duty.  It's actually been a special time for me to sort my thoughts, get out in the winter wonderland called Stockholm and listen to Christmas music on my ipod.  The light was especially stunning today.
I took Tanner to Brunnsviken...a beautiful park area where the water meets the shore with forest all around.  We come here in the summer to swim. It was kind of surreal seeing it all winterized again.  I left the house about 2.30 p.m. and thought to myself, "Wow, not much daylight left."  I was right.  But in the day time I did have, I got to enjoy an incredibly beautiful sunset.  So what if it was only 2.50 p.m.  Tanner had a blast running around the snow and I enjoyed the beauty of this winter afternoon. I decided that since I was alone in the area, I would join the singing on my ipod and sang out at the top of my lungs to some of my favorite Christmas songs!  I'm sure it sounded awful, but my heart was filled with joy.
Darkness continues to descend for 3 more weeks.  But the small glimpses of daylight coupled with some incredible afternoon sunsets encourage my spirit.  It reminds me that even the smallest of light shining in the darkness brings joy and peace.  Isn't that what advent is all about anyway?  Except during Advent, it's the brightest of lights shining in the darkness bringing us joy and peace.  May those gifts be yours even on your darkest days.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shopping at IKEA

Once each holiday season, I venture out to IKEA, the Swedish mega store that lures you into buying super cute things because they are already put together in wonderful little displays throughout the store.  Then you get home with a zillion boxes and wonder when your home will resemble, even a little bit, the display you fondly left behind when you drove home.  Of course, IKEA is kind of the Target of Sweden...there's just kind of no way to go in there for just a couple of things.  We started with the small, hand held IKEA shopping bag and ended with a full cart and a flatbed with not one, but two pieces of furniture, disassembled, of course.  And true to form, we forgot something.  UGH.  That kills me.  Now I have to figure out when I can go back.  But in spite of the long check out lines and the fact that the stores are set up so you have to look at everything they have before you check out, and of course, all of the Christmas stuff is right before you check out, I enjoy my trips to IKEA.  My one rule is that I absolutely, positively will not go on a weekend.  So, on a wintry, sunny Monday in November I decided to make my annual Christmas run for napkins, candles, Christmas plants and other delights.  Doug needed an outing so off we went.
Poinsettia, IKEA.  Bow, Jodi
 Of course, the first thing we did was go to the cafe where we both had a nice lunch of Swedish meatballs.  They were running a special so we both ate for 58 crowns...That's $8.00, for both of us!  Nothing costs 58 crowns in Sweden.  We almost felt like we should eat twice for that price!  From there we began our sojourn to find a coffee table, a TV stand for the television in our bedroom, a new laundry drying rack, pillows for the living room, a new salad bowl, glasses for the kitchen, and the aforementioned holiday items. Naturally, we didn't plan to buy all of that stuff, but it just kept jumping off the racks into our cart(s).  I scored on cute plates for our Christmas party, some new ornaments, nice candles for the fireplace, poinsettias, a gardenia, an amaryllis, a lovely hyacinth plant and wrapping paper, cards, etc. It was actually kind of fun poking around.  I hadn't been there for ages.
Whenever I mention I'm going to IKEA here in Sweden, many Americans are interested to know what the experience is like.  Yes, the IKEA's in the US are quite similar except here everything is priced in crowns and the clerks speak Swedish.  Also, we say E-KAY-AH here instead of EYE-KEY-AH in the US.  There are two giant IKEA stores within 20 minutes of where we live.  The flagship store...that is the very first IKEA, is built in a circle and it gets to be too much like Dante's Inferno so we prefer the other one.  Curiously, the IKEA's here in Sweden are not blue and yellow like everywhere else in the world. I suppose it would seem a bit over the top nationalistic if the IKEA's looked like the Swedish flag as they do in other countries.  The IKEA's here in Sweden do not sell food.  The food that Americans buy in IKEA's in the US is sold in regular grocery stores here.  It's not IKEA food.  It's just normal Swedish groceries that IKEA happens to sell in the US.  So if I want the food that IKEA's in the US sell, I simply go to my local grocery store, which is great because it's much easier than going to IKEA.
Of course, getting home and getting everything put away and put together is the best part about IKEA.  Even now as I write this, I'm sitting in an IKEA chair, receiving light from our IKEA lamp, looking at our IKEA couch and bookshelves, and pondering how to use the new IKEA decorations throughout our home this Christmas.  I guess I really do like IKEA and I'm lucky that my husband enjoys a good challenge now and again!
Happy 2nd day of Advent from me and IKEA in Sweden. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Begins

We lit the first candle of Advent this morning during church.  Our theme for the day was waiting...Doug challenged us to think about what it really is that we have set our expectations towards this Christmas.  He reminded us of Simeon, who waited and waited for the Lord's promises to come true in his life.  Most of his life, Simeon waited for an answer that never came.  That is, until one day the promise came true and he met the Messiah that he had been promised.
Do you have enough faith to believe that God will make good on his promises in your life?  Do you have enough faith to understand that the way God may fulfill his promises in your life may look quite differently than what you expected?  Do you have enough faith to stay the course and wait upon the Lord?  If you do, then you too will enjoy the fulfillment of Isaiah 40: 28-31
 Have you never heard?
 Have you never understood?
 The Lord is the everlasting God,
      the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
      No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
 He gives power to the weak
      and strength to the powerless.
 Even youths will become weak and tired,
      and young men will fall in exhaustion.
 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
      They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
      They will walk and not faint.

After church, I took Tanner on a beautiful walk through snowy Stockholm.  We've had loads and loads of snow, the most this early in my memory.  It's peaceful and beautiful in the city, now tastefully decorated for Christmas.  I listened to a favorite Christmas album on my ipod, City on a Hill: It's Christmas Time. I love entering the story once again, the anticipation of the weeks that now lead us to the celebration of the Christ child once again.
What are you waiting for this year?  What thoughts cause you anxiety?  Do you have enough faith to know that the Lord will renew you and give you strength to face each new day?  Because even when the season exhausts you, the Lord does not grow weary.
Glad Advent!  Anticipation the season with hope and joy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving in Sweden

Of course, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving day in Sweden according to the Swedish calendar and yet, as an American I can hardly let Thanksgiving day go unnoticed!  Since the last Thursday in November is a regular work day here in Sweden, often Americans celebrate the holiday with the traditional meal on the Saturday following the real holiday.  I've done this and while it is fun to gather with people and acknowledge this wonderful American tradition, I've also found myself dreadfully homesick and out of sync with my home country on the actual holiday.  I've been grumpy at work all day as I think about everyone else scurrying about, getting the big bird ready to go in the oven, watching American football and making general merriment all the while I sit at my desk in a bad mood.  I've even resorted to taking part in "Black Friday" by going on my favorite shopping sites just to see what's on offer!  Thanksgiving has always been my most homesick of all days because it is so totally unacknowledged here in Sweden!
So this year I decided that I would simply give myself a holiday, prepare the meal and invite people to come eat at 19.00 on a Thursday night!  And it was really the best decision.  The only bummer was having to get up and work on Friday!  I'm a total novice at cooking this meal so after looking on the internet and consulting an old college friend who is a great cook and talking to my mom on the phone, I was ready to tackle the bird.  Having bought the largest the store had, 9 pounds at $4.00 dollars a pound, I didn't want it to go to waste!  I got up early on Thursday and baked a pumpkin pie that turned out quite well, if I say so myself given that I haven't made pie crust since, well, ever.  Then I made cornbread that didn't turn out.  Oh well, you can't win them all!  I set the table, and then starting messing around with Mr. Turkey.  He went into the oven around 3.30 and then I was busy with everything else.  Given Doug's broken leg, and given that it is a normal work day, we had only invited 6 others.  The countries represented around our table included The Netherlands, Sweden, Ghana, and the USA!  In the end, we were 7 around the table, with 1 more coming as we cut into the pies! Two of our guests have a daughter who bakes the most incredible apple pie and she graced us with this magnificent gift! Everything turned out quite nicely and I have to say, the turkey was really quite delicious!  It was very hectic at about 19.30 but by 19.40 we were seated and feasting.  It was really great to feel like I was doing what the rest of my nation was doing, even if a bit ahead of schedule!  We had to tape the football games as it was far too late to watch football, but we skipped the nap as it was midnight by the time we had spoken with family and began to tackle the Herculean clean up task!
When we said good-bye to the last guest, turned on the dishwasher, and crawled into bed I felt very, very thankful indeed.
In the hullaboo of the day, I didn't take one photograph so I hope you can picture our celebration in your mind, but most of all, for all you Americans...I hope you had a great day of feasting and Thanksgiving as well.  Oh, and by the way...I'm headed over to an American friend's house later today, the Saturday following Thanksgiving, to enjoy yet another feast in the company of other Americans, anAustralian and of course a Swede! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Just After Lunch Last Wednesday...

Most of you know by now that Doug took a bad fall last week and broke his leg.  We originally thought it was his ankle, but x-rays revealed cracks in the fibula and tibia.  About 1.00 pm last Wednesday, I received a frantic phone call from Doug and I knew right away that something was terribly wrong because, well, Doug is hardly ever frantic.  Fortunately, he had fallen near church so I raced over there, arriving at about the same time as the ambulance. 
The slippery downhill slope
It was kind of surreal to hear an ambulance approaching and know that it was heading towards my husband!  Our associate Chris went with me, and minutes later, Geri, our children's director arrived on the scene.  She takes care of Tanner often when we are away so she grabbed the dog and dealt with him.  He was great by the way and wasn't even the perpetrator of the fall!  When I arrived, he was snuggled next to Doug, protecting him, knowing that something was not quite right.  It was very comforting in the midst of a distressing situation.  The paramedics were fantastic and soon enough Doug was on his was to S:t Görans Sjukhus. (St. George's Hospital, about 10 minutes from where we live.) I dashed back to the house, said hello to Tanner, assured him that everything would be OK, and then took off for the hospital.  Our experiences with hospitals while we've lived in Sweden has been very limited, thank God, but it's amazing how all those feelings of being a foreigner come charging back once you are involved in an emergency.  Thankfully,  I figured out where to go, where to park, and how to get to the emergency room.  I found my husband, just after he came out of x-ray, with a big plaster cast on up to knee. Everyone was terrific.  The verdict was an overnight stay in the hospital with surgery in the morning.  I had to run back home, deal with the dog, check in on our first Confirmation meeting of the year, pick up some things for Doug and then get back to the hospital.  He was in his room when I arrived and was doing pretty well.  It was very hard to leave him that first night as we were so uncertain about so many things.  But the next day, he went into surgery around 11.30 am and was back on the floor about 5.00 pm.  A couple from Pakistan who are active in our church stopped by with some delicious food and it was very helpful as it gets difficult to eat right in these situations.  I was so happy to finally see Doug when they wheeled him onto the floor.  He was sharing a room with a young professional ice hockey player who plays for one of Stockholm's teams.  He's Canadian and the two of them had a nice time commiserating with one another through what was going to be a long night of pain.  But Friday morning rolled around and Doug was much better.  We got our discharge instructions after Doug had a little physical therapy to make sure he could manage with the crutches and the stairs and off we went.  The crutches are great.  They have crampons that can snap into place to help you deal with the winter weather.  Swedes really do think of everything when it comes to function!  We were very happy to get home and get settled into more comfortable surroundings.For me, I have been reminded again how quickly life changes and what I thought was going to be a busy week getting caught up on a million and one things came to a screeching halt when my husband broke his leg.  I ended up in the hospital for 2.5 days and spent the weekend just happy to be together, trying to get this new way of life figured out.  The help from friends with food has been a lifesaver.  I have gained a new appreciation for why bringing food to people who are going through a rough time is such a great help.  And stupid as it sounds, the encouragement and prayer support that we've received from Facebook updating has also been a huge blessing.  You feel very alone when something like this happens, and the social network really helped me feel connected to a larger world.  The church has been wonderful and last night the choir popped over to sing for Doug after their rehearsal.  It was a special act of love that touched us both.
Doug is on the mend!  He's wielding his crutches well and learning to get around better each day.  This morning he had a mishap in the shower with the plastic bag and the cast got quite wet so we took a little trip back to the hospital so they could take a look.  It was good that we did because they said it would've likely rotted from the inside out and made things quite unpleasant for the rest of us.  So they took the cast off and replaced it with a brand new one!  We got to see the offending wound and all in all it looks good.  If you are interested in taking a peek, just look at the next picture!
Seriously, we are very grateful for the love and concern that has been poured out upon us.  Doug will heal.  It's a slow process and of course, we've had snow every day since the accident and the streets are like sheets of ice and it's Advent season, etc.  But somehow in the midst of it all, I feel strangely calmed and at peace.  I am grateful for the community of care that surrounds us, locally and globally.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating the Belgian King

Today is the King's Day in Belgium.  Who knew, right?  Well, I happen to play tennis with the ambassador of Belgium's wife, Myriam, who is a lovely hostess and a great tennis player!  She graciously invited Doug and I to the reception in their home tonight honoring their king.  It is a grim day here in Stockholm weather-wise so having a little something fun on the calendar gave us something to look forward to.  We got a bit dressed up and took public transportation out to the residence.  What a great gift to be able to take reliable, on time public transportation to our destination!
We arrived and greeted the ambassador and my friend Myriam, were served a glass of champagne and then feasted on a variety of appetizers that were among the best I've ever tasted.  Taking pictures would've been tacky so my description will have to suffice!  I especially enjoyed the ones made with shrimp and the cheese was simply divine.  When the dessert tartlets showed up, I was in heaven.  I indulged in one with strawberries and cream, one with lemon meringue, and the Pièce de résistance was the one with these gorgeous, huge raspberries on top of cream nestled in a beautiful pie crust.  Yum.
We knew a few folks from the diplomatic circle and met a wonderful Belgian business man and his wife.  All in all a fun and different experience and certainly a warmer environment than our fair city offered us today.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2010 Youth Conference

Hosting the Youth Conference was such a wonderful experience on so many levels.  A little background to begin.  Immanuel International is part of AICEME: Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East.  Every year we share in a pastors' conference and a youth conference.  Churches take turns hosting and it was our turn to host the Youth Conference.  North Park University generously partnered with us in order to bring campus Pastor Judy Peterson over to do the speaking and our colleague, Chris Peterson, coordinated the rest.  (no relationship between these Petersons!)He empowered our worship leader, Rigael Drake, to coordinate the worship music experiences with our youth and he spent hours working with the kids, helping them learn music, catch a vision for leading worship and putting together a great band.  They did an awesome job.  Because of our great facility, we decided to make all of the meals at church.  Chris found 3 people in our fellowship who were willing to cook and coordinate the meal service and then had sign ups for volunteers to set up, serve and clean up, including doing all the dishes for 130 plus people for 5 meals.  The food was delicious and it went flawlessly. 
Students and leaders from 10 different countries gathered at Immanuel Church on Thursday evening and after a great opening meal, we enjoyed an awesome start.  The band was incredible and Judy really set the tone by introducing her topic of a nutshell...being at peace with God and others.  The kids responded beautifully and we were off to a great start.
The rest of the weekend unfolded beautifully as volunteers continued to show up and execute their tasks, our youth continued to understand what it means to host an event and create a hospitable environment and Judy kept bringing the Word of God in a fresh and funny manner.   Over the course of the weekend, the students were challenged to be real with God and one another, participated in an experience of praying for one another and being honest about what they'd like prayer for, sung their hearts out and built relationships with one another that are sure to endure! 
The fun and games of the weekend were great too with the students running around our fair city doing tasks and looking for clues, singing outside of the Opera House and taking goofy photographs!  The Talent Show on Saturday night was had to be there to truly appreciate how great it was!
One of the things that I was most impressed with was the way in which our youth stepped up and took a significant amount of responsibility upon their shoulders. They made funny videos to introduce different aspects of our church facility and welcome the attenders to the conference.  They baked welcoming treats for the guests. They set up a cozy cafe where people could snack and chill out.  They were servants of the deepest kind and did not in any way exhibit a "serve me" attitude but rather understood that they were there to serve and welcome others.  And they did it with joy and energy and enthusiasm. 
So many from our church stepped up to make this event flawless in its execution and a warm and welcoming place for our guests. Our church offered a place of grace and hospitality, gave generously of time and energy across the entire weekend in order to create a place where youth and leaders alike could see the body of Christ in action.  For me, it was one of those pastoral moments that you kind of live for...seeing your church fruitfully living out so much of what you hope and pray for.  I was so deeply touched by the servant attitude that just oozed from every corner of our congregation.  It has really boosted my spirits and made my cup overflow with joy.  I love my church and I must say...the youth of Immanuel International have an even more special place in my heart than they did before...which is saying something because I really loved them before the conference!  They are a special and unique bunch who have learned that serving is fun and that it is a true gift to give to others.  Thank you Immanuel International...all of you who gave and gave and gave of yourselves and in return have received the blessing of our Lord.  Isn't it great?!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ahhhhh Spa

One of Stockholm's greatest luxuries is Sturebadet and one fabulous perk of turning 50 is that people give you days at this great city spa.  There are a variety of treatments available and today I enjoyed a spa massage which is really so relaxing you wonder how you ever get off the table and walk again!  I love going to Sturebadet when the weather changes to cold and the light diminishes.  It so cozy and warm and comfortable.  Today was no exception.  I always go alone because, well, there's lots of nakedness (discreet and tasteful as men's and women's "naked areas" are separate) and I like to lose myself in the heat, water, and aromas of this lovely place without anyone I know hovering around me.  I love to bask in the Swedishness of it all and I do that best alone.  Of course, it's also a full service gym but somehow I gravitate to the steam room rather than the workout room.  After all, when I go there, it's to pamper myself!
I arrived out of the cold November day and quickly found my locker, put my things away, and went into the shower area.  They provide these delicious smelling shampoos, conditioners, lotions and body washes along with lovely Swedish designed showers that are so wonderful!  From there I head for the hot, hot steam room and sit in there until I'm stewed.  I force myself to take an ice cold shower and then I jump back into the steam room to get all tingly and warm again.  Can't you just feel the stress melting away?  From there, I wrapped up in my big, white, fluffy robe, took my book downstairs to the gorgeous pool area and relaxed on a chaise lounge until my  masseuse came and called my name to enter the massage room and receive my 50 minutes of total relaxation.  It's easily one of life's greatest pleasures...letting someone else take all the stress and tension out of your muscles.  When that hour is done, I find my way to the warm and cozy aromatherapy room and sit in there for another half hour taking in the warmth and the aroma.  Today I made a fatal mistake and accidentally took a naked shower in an area where clothing is required.  Luckily it was a female attendant who informed me and fortunately for me, the men had not started coming around yet!  Yikes and funny, really.  At last, I make my way back up to the women's locker room, jump into a cold shower, get all steamed out one more time, take one last shower, slather myself in lotion, put my clothes back on and walk home.  On the way home I felt positively renewed and rejuvenated, feeling like I had been cuddled and coddled all afternoon.  The Swedish of life's great pleasures.