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Monday, April 19, 2010

Iceland's Volcanic Spew

Europe's been grounded since last Thursday. We had a friend fly into town last Thursday morning and had arranged to meet for coffee since he had a "long" layover...about 5 hours. His flight was late and we later learned that it was diverted due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland. We thought it was noteworthy but didn't give it a second thought as he headed back out to the airport to catch his flight to Barcelona. As the day unfolded, we learned that the airports all over northern Europe were closing. At 6.00 p.m. we got a call from our friend who with a smile in his voice announced that he was now checked into the Hotel Birger Jarl, the hotel that our church owns and is right down the street. He had decided to scrap his meeting in Spain and spend the weekend in Stockholm, having confidently re-booked his seat for Sunday. We made plans to have dinner on Saturday.
Well, of course this mess has turned out to be much more difficult than expected. Today our friend left on a 6.00 a.m. train to Copenhagen as he had a confirmed flight to Chicago in the afternoon. Problem was that the airline made a change in the middle of the night and diverted all traffic to Oslo, Norway which meant that by the time our friend got to Copenhagen, he had missed the chance to get out of Norway. When we spoke with him this afternoon the smile had disappeared from his voice since the next flight they could promise him was a week from tomorrow, April 27. And now he was in Copenhagen. ugh. His 5 hour layover is turning into a traumatizing ordeal.
Since we just arrived home last Tuesday, I have felt utterly thankful that we are home. Then it dawned on me that this could've happened the week we were supposed to leave for Augusta. How disappointing would that have been...that after all my scheming, we would've been grounded in Europe?! I thank God that we have traveled so much this year with no incident.
The ripple effect of European airports being closed is staggering. Food is rotting in African airports because it cannot be exported. All trade is just halting. This whole crisis reminds me of two important things. We are not ultimately in charge. A natural disaster has thwarted many plans. More importantly, it reveals how deeply interconnected the globe really is. To think that the fruit industry in Kenya is being affected by the shut-down of European airports is really something to ponder.
Ultimately, I feel awful for people who are stranded and separated from loved ones. I feel terrible for our friend Jay who is now wondering what the next step for him should be. Last I heard he was taking a train to Jönköping and hoping to get a flight out of Stockholm to anywhere in the US within the next couple of days. The director of World Mission in Sweden is now working on this for him and should he land back in Stockholm, he will likely move in with us for his own comfort. I wish we could do more but there's really little that can be done except pray for people's safety and sanity. As much as we need to get the air traffic moving again, we also don't want to put people in harm's way by flying into unsafe skies.
The big wrinkle for us is that we are hosting the International Pastors' Conference that is scheduled to start one week from today. I cannot begin to think that this event won't happen. It would be so disappointing for us...so we keep hoping and praying that people will be able to get to Stockholm one way or another next Monday.
In the meantime, I am very grateful to be home in Stockholm in my lovely surroundings with my husband by my side. For those who find yourself in a more stressful situation...you have my empathy and my prayers. Especially Jay tonight...wherever you.
One last thought...we do deal with stress with humor in many situations and this one is no different. Iceland went bankrupt last year so the big joke has been Iceland, we said cash, not ash! The other noteworthy crack was that Iceland's last wish was to have her ashes spread over Europe. Laugh or cry, right?
And by the way...there has been no evidence of the ash in the air here in Stockholm. We've actually had quite nice weather with blue, blue skies. So we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Tanner's Big Day on Djurgården

Signs of spring in Stockholm are finally starting to become obvious. The first wildflowers have made their way above ground. My favorite are the blue ones...They blanket the ground with the most lovely hue...a true reminder that change is on its way and soon our world will be strewn with color. Another sign of spring are the numerous outdoor seating places that all restaurants in town are now putting up. Down on the water it is so great to see people facing the sun, soaking it all in.I found a new statue today and had to laugh. Swedes are notorious for sitting or standing with their faces careening upwards towards the sun like sunflowers who have been deprived of sunlight for months on end. Well, I guess we have been! I find myself cranking my head upwards as well. When you've lived without the warmth or light of the sun for months on end, the instinct to tilt your head towards the sun happens without thought! This little guy is called Soltice in Stockholm!
It's warm enough now to walk around without a hat or a big jacket. A down vest and a cotton scarf feel good. Truth be told, gloves would still be nice too, but I refuse to wear them anymore!
Instead of our usual route through town, we decide to venture out to Djurgården to enjoy the waterways and experience the wide open spaces of the King's former hunting grounds. It was glorious.Tanner cannot be off the leash out there but he loves to snort along, rolling around in the dirt and slowly sprouting grass. Our good friend and co-worker Chris joined us today and it was great because it has been ages since we all hung out together. It was so refreshing! We walked all around the island and finally ventured up to Rosendal's Garden for a fika. Closed. But they had a water fountain, complete with one close to the ground for dogs. We headed up to the restaurant, but it was also closed. Sure signs that the season hasn't yet quite come to life. But, we did see signs for the Doggy Bar reminding us that when they do open, Tanner is most welcome. We eventually found a lovely spot that was serving coffee and to our surprise, they even had a hund meny: A dog menu! We ordered our coffee and the girl waiting on us was quick to say that she'd be right out with some water for the dog. Of course, we had to carry our own coffee to the our chairs, but Tanner got served! The view was stunning.It was so wonderful to sit outside and not shiver. The conversation was as warm and inviting as the setting. I was reminded once again of what a fantastically beautiful city I'm living in. Hope it's not long before we can explore these waterways with our boat.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Augusta

After months of scheming to surprise Doug and making plans for a magical week at the Masters, the day had finally arrived. We got up at 5.00 a.m. and left for the course at 6.10. We had about an hour and a half drive down to Augusta from Columbia, South Carolina. As we pulled into the parking area, I glanced over at Doug and he was grinning from ear from ear. Then out of the blue he said, "I'm thrilled!" I got a little teary thinking that this moment meant so much to him. We parked the car and headed towards the main gate.
Augusta has a strict no cell phones, no cameras rule so it was all about taking it all in mentally and locking the memories into your mind. As we approached the entrance, we were both in a 'pinch me is this real' state of mind. And then all of the sudden, we were on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Course! We had gotten a tip to set our chairs down by the 18th green and then start walking around. Augusta has this great tradition of allowing people to set down their specially designed green Masters chairs anywhere on the course and they will be there any time of the day for you to sit and enjoy the action. Amazing.
Before we proceeded to walk the course, we indulged in a Masters tradition of grabbing a cup of coffee and a sausage biscuit. The biscuits in the south are so yummy you just can't believe how they melt in your mouth! The most surprising thing of all was the bill as we checked out: $5.00. We had heard that the food at the Masters was reasonable, but seriously, nothing on the menu was more than $2.50 with most items ranging from $1.00-$1.50. Beer was a bit more at $2.75 a pint! So much fun to be a part of such a neat happening.
We were eager to walk the course and as we did we, like all others before us, stood in awe at the immaculate nature of the set up, the beauty of the trees and flowers and grass and the contours of the course.
What I noticed right away was my husband's amazing knowledge of the game of golf, grass, and Augusta National. He knew which holes were which, what their par was, what the issues were for each shot. He was telling me about the grass, why a certain strain wasn't so good for the course, how the they mow, why they use certain machines to do certain things, etc. It was so neat for me to see this and listen to him pontificate about this sport and this place that he loves so much.
Walking the course was amazing. So many more hills than you see on TV and the toughness of the course becomes clear in how narrow the landing areas are and how hilly the greens are. When we arrived in Amen Corner, the beauty of hole 13 just takes your breath away. It is truly one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, golf holes in the world.
After getting a feel for the course, we decided to try and get a glimpse of some of the golf. Phil Mickelson was my favorite from the beginning and he had a morning tee time. We stood on hole 6, a beautiful par 3 with a difficult putting surface. Eventually we found our way to our green side chairs on 18 and began to watch the morning groups finish up their rounds. We were present when Tom Watson hit an amazing approach to about 2 feet from the pin on 18 and subsequently make birdie for the low round of the day. It was a thrill to sit there and watch the leaderboard and listen for the roars going up around the course that signaled something incredible was going on somewhere!
Augusta is great because they have maintained so much tradition around this tournament. No electronic scoreboards, no big screen TV's perched around the course. If you wanted to see what was going on, you had to walk to the area where the action was! The atmosphere on the course is electric, especially around hole number 1 and Amen Corner, where many golfing dreams have been shattered by the challenge of holes 11, 12 and 13. We were on 11 for awhile and watched as Anthony Kim, another favorite, hit what we thought was an impossible shot through the trees to just shy of the green! The putting surface at 11 is so fast that it boggles the mind how anyone ever makes a putt. The players were barely tapping the ball and it was flying across the green. 12 looks so harmless...at 156 par 3 and yet there are so many ways to get in trouble and such a delicate area in which you can land your ball, that it's easy to see why the water comes into play. The beauty of the course along with the mental and physical challenges that Augusta creates for the best in the world just make it one of the greatest golf venues in the world.
The first day we left at 4.00 p.m. as threatening thunder storms were lurking. They never materialized but we were happy to watch the last few holes on TV and rest up for Friday. Friday we arrived at 7.30 a.m. and didn't leave until 7.30 p.m.! We sat on holes 4, 5, 11-12, 7, and 18. Great fun to watch the players approach and then set up their putts. These greens are crazy man! We saw every golfer at least once and were thrilled to be on 18 as Phil Mickelson came through looking like a real contender for victory. It was a bit sad to think that soon our presence at Augusta National would be ending, but we treasured the memories that we had built over these 2 days.
Stunning highlights include:
1. Seeing the course, of course! Far more beautiful and far more hilly than television reveals, it was a treat to walk along the fairways and sit on the greens and tees.
2. The atmosphere. Being on the course in key places is very cool. You have to pick your spot as following a group is really hard to do. The galleries are quite large in the prime spots so you are better off finding a good perch and watching several groups come through. What is totally awesome is to be on the course when a loud roar goes up somewhere else on the course. You try to figure out on what hole the amazing shot occurred and then you check the leader board to see what's being posted to reveal what happened! This is where the old school leader boards and non-electronic communication is just so cool. You're looking at this old fashioned board and there are guys sitting up on them, putting in the numbers and the names and then flipping them around and when it goes up, it's just such a thrill to see what's happening around the course.
3. Generally speaking, white pants are not my favorite. There are few who pull the look off well and often, it just doesn't look that great!
4. The young golfers care about fashion and their appearance! They are dressed to the nines in high fashion attire and the skinny, fit ones look, well fabulous. This is a big industry in golf and the handsome young men who are wearing the goods look great on the course!
5. Doug knows golf. It was so much fun asking him questions to which he knew every answer! He always knew what fairway, which green or tee was lurking nearby and he understood what the issues were for each shot. Fun, fun, fun to cash in on his knowledge and love of the game.
6. The dogwood is more beautiful than I could ever believe. It is a delicate thing. This I never knew. I always thought dogwoods were big, blooming trees like Hazelnuts, but they are not...they have delicate branches with sweet little white or pink blossoms. Lovely to see them dotting the course.
7. Here in the southeast, the folks consider the Masters a local sporting event. Just about everyone we met through our friends Charlie and Anita, the ones who helped us get our tickets, have either been to the Masters or know people who go regularly. The ticket is hard to get unless you live in the area. Then it seems that a sub-culture around the tickets emerges and stumbling upon the lucky star of getting a ticket is far more likely for the local folk than anyone else. It was fun being here where everyone was talking golf and wondering about what was going to happen. Masters Sunday is a big deal here in the southeast!
8. Watching the Masters live does not improve your own golf game. Too bad. We played on Saturday at Musgrove Mills Golf Course outside of Greenville and I was as terrible as ever. I need lessons on the short game or I'll just never learn to enjoy the game as much as I could. I did manage to crack a few drives however and that always feels good. The greens were elevated however and that is just death for me. I lost many, many balls as well. At least it was sunny!
9. Watching the pros is truly stunning. They swing so fast, they pull off shots that we would never even think of let alone execute, they find putting lines and sink putts that look like they are heading for another realm and they love the thrill of victory and suffer the agony of defeat. It is fun cheering for them all.
10. Augusta just leaves no stone unturned. The food wrappers are green in case one is blowing around the course. It'll blend. The bleachers, the chairs, the umbrellas, etc. are green. The course is green. The jacket is green. It is so immaculate and so well planned that being a patron is just pure joy. Every staff worker was pleasant and helpful and just gave you the impression that they wanted you to have the time of your life.
And we did.
We watched part of Saturday and all of Sunday on TV at our friend's house and especially on Sunday I paid close attention to each and every hole sealing the view in my mind's eye. I was thrilled that Phil Mickelson won the tournament that we attended. What a great moment for him and his family.
And this week was a great moment for me and my family too! Doug and I will forever cherish the memories of these special days here in the southeast at Augusta National.
It's funny. I always thought that if we could go once, I'd be satisfied, but truth be told, I'd definitely go again if the possibility arose!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

South Carolina

We landed late last night in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the states in our union that I had yet to visit. We were immediately immersed in the open and zealous openness of evangelicalism that dots this landscape through the kind and sincere young man who helped us rent our car. It became clear early on in our conversation that he was a conservative evangelical, eager to let "his faith shine" through, seeking to give even subtle witness to his faith with these two strangers who had just arrived from their long journey across the pond. I really thought he was going to share the 4 spiritual laws with us before he gave us the keys! But he was truly kind and sincere and it made me realize that even though we are likely theologically miles apart, I had to admire his sincerity. When he asked what our occupation was, Doug said that we worked in a church and he looked him (and only him (; )straight in the eye and asked if he was the pastor. Doug simply answered yes and I decided that rather than give him a coronary by telling him that I too was ordained and one of the pastors, I would simply stand by my man and play the dutiful pastor's wife. It was fine. We realized that Bob Jones University stood in the shadows of the rental agency and the overt evangelicalism that we were experiencing began to make some sense. It was warm...seriously, 90 degrees (31 C) at 10.00 p.m. We loved being outside in the warm evening and dreaming about the warmth and sunshine that we knew would greet us upon waking.

We woke up to blooming trees, bright sunshine and piles of pollen! It was 80 degrees F at 9.00 a.m. and we were thrilled to be wearing shorts instead of scarves! It made some sense that our first stop should be Bob Jones University since it was only 5 minutes down the road. It was interesting to consider this strand of our faith. Christianity is so interesting in that it envelopes such a broad range of attitude and opinion. The conservative viewpoint that this university is famous for could not be further from where Doug and I land in ours. And yet, we considered that the folks that were involved in this university are likely lovely people just trying to live life in the way that they most fully understand it. We were out of place in our shorts as the men on campus all wore slacks, shirts and ties and the women were in skirts and modest tops. The campus itself wasn't anything special...but it was fun to stop by.
We made our way into downtown Greenville and were greatly impressed by this quaint little town. The River falls walk is spectacular and we really enjoyed the downtown area.We needed to get to Clinton where our friends live to pick up tickets and get information, etc. so we decided to take some back roads and try to discover a few things about the area. We knew this was the Bible belt and we knew that churches abounded, but at a rate of about one per half mile, we were still astonished. Even more fascinating were the names of the churches along with their mottos...many who included the word fundamental on their signs. Again, this is so far from where I am theologically, but it was great to soak it in and consider what this slice of America is about.
We stopped in a little town called Laurens and got a bit more flavor. Highlights included the civil war monument and this little shop: The World Famous Redneck Shop. We didn't go in.You just never know what you are going to discover on a South Carolinian back road!
We arrived in Clinton, the home of our friends as well as Presbyterian College where my friend works. This campus was beautiful. It was so fun to be back on a small college campus and this one has a special charm about it. After a fun lunch getting caught up with my friend, and picking up the treasured tickets to the Masters, we made our way to Columbia. The drive was beautiful and relaxing and the afternoon jet lag lull was hitting us. We got in in time to catch the end of the par 3 tournament at the Masters which is great fun because the players are relaxed and they let their kids play part of the round and caddy for them. It's very cool.
It was still very hot...88 F (30C) and we were loving it! We headed into Columbia for the evening. The State House there is beautiful and the history that oozes from this area is impressive. It was great to walk around such a historically significant area. Even so, the confederate stuff is hard to understand. A confederate flag is flown in front of the state house even while off to one side is an amazing monument to the history of African Americans that depicts their journey from being sold as slaves, working as slaves, fighting in the civil war, gaining freedom but still being subjected to racist behaviors and laws, the civil rights movement and finally some statues of African Americans who have made significant contributions to various professions in the US. I said to Doug, "Now they can add President."

It was moving and beautiful. (Wow, as I write, I'm listening to CNN report on how the governor of Virginia has now declared that the month of April should be Confederate History Month. More on this later, but it's staggering, especially as he overlooked the issue of slavery in his entire reasoning.)
From the we wandered around the University of South Carolina. Again, what a lovely place. We wandered through the "Horseshoe" that adorns a large central green space and read up on the history embedded within this university.
Many thoughts raced through my head today. I am no expert on the civil war, but I do have an eagerness now to bone up on that part of our nation's history. I'd love a great historical fiction book that could guide me through some of the issues while giving me characters with whom I could interact. I wonder about why some Southerners still want to fly that confederate flag when it seems to be such a racist symbol. But I don't judge because I don't know. I need to understand what that flag means to those who want to fly it...and hope and pray it isn't because of oppressive issues.
South Carolina is gorgeous. And hot! A renewed desire to learn more about this place has been awakened and for this I am so thankful. What a great day full of so many thoughts and a feast of visuals never before seen by me.I'm tired tonight and need to sleep. Augusta awaits us!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Doug's 50th Birthday Bash

Doug turned 50 on February 17th. We had fun parties and celebrations with his family and mine whilst we were in the States. A year ago I decided that the best present I could possibly give Doug would be a trip to the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. This is a dream destination for most golfers and since there are no public tickets available, it's quite a coveted event. So, I knew that in order to make this happen I needed a contact, an insider if you will and so my search began.
I contacted everyone I knew who worked for large corporations to see if they any access. Those pathways dried up. My folks had gotten to go years ago and my dad checked the source that helped them. No luck. I was pretty much giving up when a college friend and her husband happened to be in Stockholm last summer. I met them for lunch and in the course of the conversation, the Masters and the fact that they've been several times came up. I decided to lay my request out there for them. They got excited about my desire to surprise Doug with tickets for his 50th birthday!
Then in October of last year, out of the blue one day I got an email from my friend telling me that they had 2 tickets for us for Thursday and Friday if we wanted them!!! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and so even though our plans for the long sabbatical were in place, I also knew that passing on this was the wrong thing to do. I took the plunge, bought plane tickets and reveled in my excitement. Doug wouldn't know for months. It was very hard keeping it a secret!
In the meantime, these friends of ours helped us with logistics, invited us to play golf over the weekend and basically shared my joy in an amazing way. I only told my father that I had secured the tickets as I didn't trust anyone else to keep the secret.
Finally, at his surprise birthday party in January with family and friends gathered around, I showed him a DVD of photos of him and us that in the end revealed that on April 8th and 9th, he would be at Augusta National watching the Masters live. It was a great moment in our lives and he was so thrilled and surprised and grateful.
Now, it's the night before we leave. I am going to see South Carolina and this part of Georgia for the first time in my life. The spring bloom there is supposed to be amazing and since it snowed in Stockholm today, that sounds really appealing right now!
Of course, in the meantime, the Tiger Woods scandal broke and the fact that he is making his public debut at the Masters is remarkable. We'll be there when he returns to golf!
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our friends in South Carolina who we are spending the weekend with for helping us make the connection to the members of Augusta National who graciously sold us their tickets for only the face value of the tickets.
I have been able to give Doug the dream gift of his life through the kindness of many, some who I have never met, who wanted us to enjoy this opportunity.
I am thrilled and so is Doug. The taxi comes at 5.00 a.m. to take us to the airport. By 5.00 p.m. South Carolina time we'll be landing in America once again. Thursday morning we'll be waiting at the gates of Augusta National to enjoy what I'm sure will be one of the most amazing experiences of our life together.
Happy Birthday Honey! It's not such a bad deal for me either.

Easter weekend

I am a little sad that I never got anything posted over Easter. The truth of the matter is that all my energy went towards planning worship for our congregation which is likely the right use of time and energy but turns out it's hard to figure out how to post blogs! when work is bearing down on you!
We did have a fabulous celebration however, from Good Friday straight on through to Easter Sunday. The whole weekend just meant so much to me. Having missed most of Lent with our congregation, it was a bit odd just to jump right in and practically leap to the main event! But in the end, it was so awesome to be with our congregation. I planned Good Friday and felt very good about how it all turned out. The right tone was hit though the visuals, the music, and the readings. I tried something new with my preaching, breaking it up into 4 different talks after a portion of the scripture was read, and in the end, I liked it quite a lot. I divided the service into 5 significant sections: Betrayed, Sentenced, Crucified, Dead, Buried. And we left it hanging it there...hoping to give people a bit of anticipation for Sunday. We were tired afterward so spent a quiet afternoon and evening together which was also kept us in the right zone theologically.
Saturday was a day to get some things done and finish our preparations for Sunday. The weather was delightful, we took Tanner for a nice wander though the city, and enjoyed a nice dinner together at home. We went to bed early as we were eager with anticipation for celebrating the resurrection of Christ with our congregation.
We did wake up quite early on Sunday, 6.00 a.m. I posted on Facebook that Christ has risen and heard back from many American friends that it was still Saturday night in America and they were still waiting. It was pretty cool. The service Sunday was wonderful, complete with our choir singing, great music and a beautiful communion service. I was happy to be here with my church family but missing our biological families. Always the pull for me. I felt the power of Christ's resurrection through our worship and felt genuinely hopeful after our worship services.Our choir director and his 3 children came over for Easter dinner. His wife was away. One of his kids works in England and was our summer intern for a couple of summers, one is in college in England, and the other is in high school here and active in our youth group and in service to our church. They are a great family and we loved being together. Great food, amazing conversation and just a wonderful day of fellowship and fun.
It was a beautiful Easter weekend for us. I hope the same was true for you and yours.