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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Incredible Joy of Confirmation Weekend

This past weekend we were privileged yet again to celebrate with 10 young people the culmination of their journey through our Confirmation program.  These 10 have spent the past 8 months learning about God's word, deepening their understanding of the Christian faith, coming to a clearer sense of what it means to belong to the family of God also called the church and determining for themselves where they are in their own personal journey of faith.  Our tradition is to gather on Saturday night for a family time where each of the students must either share the faith journey paper that they have written or talk about a significant experience that has made an impact on them during the Confirmation process.  All 10 of them were just magnificent.  The depth of their understanding, the clear articulation of what they've learned, how God is shaping them, and evidence that they desire to keep growing closer to Jesus and embracing more fully what it means to be a Christian in our world was amazing.  These kids have learned a lot over this year and in the process also bless the pastors along the way! 
The students also have to recite the Apostles' Creed from memory.  They do this on Saturday night and in church on Sunday.  They did well.  It was a proud moment!
Each of the pastors shared a bit too from their experience of the year.  This year has been a bit special because the kids came together in a unique way.  All walls and barriers dropped, they embraced one another and left no one out.  It was pretty great to come together with them and see how they treated one another, to experience their eagerness in learning, to interact with their young and curious minds around matters of faith.  This is one of the best aspects of my profession!  On Saturday we eat really good cake too as we celebrate with great joy the accomplishments of our Confirmands.
Vanity moment: The way my dress is sitting, my stomach looks HUGE.  OK, I could lose a few but this is a distortion!
We return on Sunday morning for our Confirmation worship service.  The students wear the traditional white robes, process in and share in the service.  Two of the Confirmands read scripture and three brave ones shared their faith journey.  This is manna from heaven...bread for the journey.  Nothing encourages a church family more than hearing how God is at work in the lives of their young people.  We swapped sanctuaries with the Swedish group so we could use the big sanctuary and have the organ for this special Sunday.  It was great fun to participate in this service.  The kids did well with reciting the creed and they confirmed their faith in Jesus in front of the entire congregation.  The most touching aspect of our service is when the parents join the students near the end of the service and lay hands on their kid as the pastors pray for each student individually.  It is moving to see the parents surround their children with love, visible and symbolic and continue to offer them heartfelt support.  The service ends and the students recess out of the sanctuary with their parents by their side.  It is a moment of great joy for all involved.
We have completed yet another Confirmation year!  So many commented on what a great day Confirmation Sunday represents.  I could not agree is indeed a favorite of Pastor Jodi's.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Paris: The City

What more could possibly be said about the magical city of lights, Paris?  Paris is indeed a special place.  I feel a bit gluttonous as I have had the privilege of being in Paris on 6 different occasions.  This means that I've seen many of the sites, sometimes twice, and can now enjoy the privilege it is to simply "be" in the city.  This time around we did not visit any museums.  Long lines, prior visits and sunny days kept us outside.  Instead we wandered around the neighborhoods we love and explored a few new places.  I discovered the world's largest shopping bag and found a gorgeous perfume shop. Small squares filled with fountains and flowers abound. I visited the Marais district for the first time.  I saw where Victor Hugo lived, the gorgeous Place de Vosges with its regal apartment buildings and lovely square. I enjoyed an early morning coffee in the Jewish quarter. On another day I walked through the Latin Quarter, impressed by the Sorbonne, dazzled by the Luxembourg gardens.  I enjoyed the view of Notre Dame from the small Île Saint-Louis in the center of town. We figured out that Bus 69 took us on a joy ride from the Eiffel Tower to the Place de Bastille.  We walked toward the Arc de Triumph along the Champs-Elysées where we stumbled upon a photo shoot that Abercrombie and Fitch were doing.  I find them a despicable company, marketing to youth in a most unsavory manner and yet I could not resist my "Mrs. Robinson moment" when given the chance to be photographed surrounded by the Adonis-like models.  We sat on the shores of the Seine, facing the gorgeous facade of the Musee d'Orsay, our favorite, the home of the lovely Impressionists.  This afternoon was quintessential Paris: Grabbed a cheap bottle of red wine and a baguette and made our way to the riverside.  We sat in the sun, laughed about life, shared our thoughts and indulged in our treats.  Of course, we made our way to Eiffel Tower a couple of times, once at night, once during the day.  This is a site that does not disappoint.  The closer you get, the more mammoth it becomes and on the hour in the evening when it begins to twinkle, a childlike wonder erupts in your spirit.  How many times can you see it and have your breath taken away?  Every time it comes into view from the various vantage points in the lovely city that sprawls out around it. 
Our favorite afternoon was spent with our dear friends Daniel and Marie who live in the outskirts of Paris.  Daniel grew up in Paris and drives around the city with no problem at all!  We headed up to Montmarte with them, home of Sacré-Cœur, the huge, wedding cake-like basilica that is perched on this hilltop. I love this area of Paris with the square filled with artists and narrow streets that twist and turn all around you.  In addition to the lovely time spent on Montmarte, the drive through town was equally as thrilling!  You haven't experienced Paris until you've driven in the giant mix master that is the round point that surrounds the Arch de Triumph!  What a thrill to see how Daniel navigated these 8 or 9 lanes (or non-lanes) of traffic to get where we needed to go!  The thrill ride ended with the view along the Seine that allows one to see that amazing Eiffel Tower once again alongside of the miniature version of the Statue of Liberty that overlooks the river. 
Ahhhhh, the city of Paris.  It is easy on the eyes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Paris: The Conference

We attended a conference last week held annually for pastors and spouses from churches belonging to the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East.  A friend who serves in Nairobi, Kenya joined the fun as well.  The American Church in Paris served as our hosts. 
The spire of the American Church to the left sits in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower along the shores of the Seine.
This gathering is a treasured gathering for us as it connects us with friends and colleagues who are serving in churches similar to our own.  We have forged deep friendships and enjoyed a great time of learning, sharing and growing together.  Doug and I are among the longest standing members of the group now, having served in the same ministry for 13 consecutive years.  Only one other couple at the conference was in the same position and they too attended their first conference in Cairo, Egypt, just like us back in 1999.  While each conference is unique, this one was amazing because of the combination of excellence that spewed forth.  First of all you have Paris as the backdrop so you know that even if everything else stinks, the city itself will dazzle.  Second you have the American Church in Paris which is an amazing, diverse, large, bustling congregation with a wonderful building that they used in delightful ways to feed us literally and figuratively!
The beautiful sanctuary of the American Church in Paris
The volunteer corps from the church spent months preparing for our arrival and then put on amazing meals in beautifully decorated rooms and surrounded us with embracing hospitality.  Third, the time with colleagues was treasured and heartfelt.  We connected with old friends who we love to see year after year and met some new folks who were a great encouragement to us as well.  Rich, meaningful conversations abounded as we shared around the table, in the sessions and around town.  But the capstone of the entire week was the speaker, Dr. Mark Labberton, from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.  Mark is one of the most gifted speakers I've ever encountered, speaking in a conversational yet layered style that never ceased to amaze me.  His content was powerful, full of stories and challenge from a lifetime of ministry and I found myself having a hard time soaking it all up.  Most remarkably of all, he shared for hours on end without using a single note, allowing him to truly connect with his audience in a very personal way.  His wife Janet was with him and they were generous with their time, hanging out with us throughout the conference, getting to know us, sharing in our laughter and lives.  It was a very special time together.
Mark has written two books: The Dangerous Act of Worship and The Dangerous Act of Loving your Neighbor.  The core challenges were these: He urged us to make our worship a whole life event, not merely a Sunday morning gathering focused mainly on getting our personal needs met.  He also challenged us to consider what it means to more fully follow Jesus especially through the dangerous act of loving our neighbors, even our enemies. He spoke of keeping first order priorities our real priorities instead of getting bogged down in the minutia of life and ministry that sometimes demands our attention yet zaps all our energy.  We were confronted with the difference between sight and vision and in the end, he reminded us that following Jesus means living a life that is radically different than those who do not follow Jesus.  I have never come away from a learning experience feeling more resonance with what a speaker said yet wondering on a deep level if I can apply what I've learned.  Very challenging in many personal ways.  If you are interested in more, get his books and chew on them.  They are hard to swallow but quite satisfying if you can digest it!  The first day ended with a boat ride on the Seine.
Yes, that is Notre Dame in the background.
As I floated past the amazing sites of Paris, at sunset with my sweet man, surrounded by dear friends, I just knew that the week ahead was going to be remarkable.

Friday, May 20, 2011

60 Years of Faithful Love and Commitment

Today we celebrate with joy and gratitude Doug's parents, Paul and Eileen Fondell, my in-laws, who have been married for 60 years! The Diamond Anniversary! It is humbling to imagine how they have sustained their love, marriage, relationship, and family through these years.  In an age when many can't see beyond the end of the week, let alone the end of a year, Paul and Eileen stand as a solid testimony to honoring vows made long, long ago.
Paul and Eileen are considered among the most hospitable people for anyone who has ever met them.  In spite of having 5 kids, both of them working full-time and being pillars of their church, they always seemed to find a way to keep their front door open and their refrigerator full.  The coffee pot is always on and no one would ever be turned away. 
Paul and Eileen have loved their kids with the fierceness of a mama and papa bear!  They pray for each of their kids and their families on a daily basis.  Their heart soars when one experiences something joyful and they despair deeply when hardship hits.  Their commitment to family is unwavering in spite of many events that could've caused wavering through the years and as a daughter-in-law, I too have felt that warm, wide embrace as I made my way into this family almost 17 years ago. 
Long and old love is no small accomplishment.  You weather the quirkiness of personality, and the strain of bad habits.  You fully embrace the other person who is totally pervasive in your life, flaws and all, and eventually accept that certain things, for better or worse, will always be a part of your life.  You travel together even when one is limping, slowing down as you see fit.  You lift each other up when one is down, you cheer one another on when life pours joy at you.  You sit side by side in comfortable chairs, surrounded by the comfort of being with one who knows everything about you.  You revel in the joy of shared memories and you feel a bit scared for the future, when old age threatens this partnership that has been solid and sure.  You embrace one another with love, you hug one another for support, you stain one another's shoulders with tears from some of the pain that weighs you down.  And through it all, you continue to walk together, moving forward, linked in holy matrimony, never wondering for a minute if you'd ever want to try this journey alone.
Paul and Eileen...we celebrate your journey of life and love today.  You are a model to us of love, fidelity, service, hospitality, joy and support.  Your love for God fuels all that you do and we are so blessed by that incredible witness as well. We know the road is not easy and the days not always joyful, but we thank God for the love He gave you so long ago and for the ways you have allowed Him to nurture the love between you and also to fill you up with enough love to give away to all of us who benefit by being in your sphere of influence.  We wish you joy in the journey today and thank God for the richness of life that your fidelity has provided for the rest of us.

Happy Diamond Anniversary Mom and Dad Fondell!  Today is a day of celebration and we thank God for you!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Memorable Evening with Memorable Friends

Friday night we were treated to a very special evening.  Last autumn, on the occasion of my 50th birthday, our dear friends, Hannah and Sven (of midsommar fame for you regular readers) promised me a dinner out.  We finally found a day when we could all go! It was a gorgeous, sunny evening in our fair city of Stockholm and we began the memorable evening by sharing champagne on their terrace which happens to overlook central Stockholm. 
Hannah and Sven and us have been friends almost from the very beginning of our life in Stockholm. We were invited to their home for dinner shortly after our arrival and it did not take long to find incredible resonance as friends on many topics.  Hannah and Doug think alike on almost everything and most of the time it is quite charming and funny.  Only occasionally is it annoying, like when you are trying to get another point of view across!  Hannah and Sven are warm, generous, thoughtful, fun, beautiful people and we count them among our closest friends.
After drinks of the terrace we ventured down to the Opera House where we were seated in the beautiful, old Opera Bar. This place has been around for a very long time and the waiters all wear white coats and the interior is beautifully decorated and appointed.  I decided to go for a very Swedish meal so I ordered crayfish on toast as a starter and then one of my favorites, Beef Rydberg.  Beef Rydberg is beef tenderloin, cut into beautiful small pieces cooked to a perfect medium rare accompanied by diced fried potatoes, sauteed onions and an egg yolk.  Delicious.  For dessert I ordered a King Oscar II meringue butter cake.  It too was simply divine.  To say I overate would be a ridiculous understatement.  I was so full by the time dessert came that I forget to take a photo of the lovely last course!
We truly dined.  The courses were beautifully presented and wonderfully tasty.  The red wine was absolutely lovely...a South African Shiraz Pinotage with a name like Goats in the Village of something silly like that!  The company was divine and all in all, we were treated like royalty.  What a special treat to be taken to such a delightful restaurant.  To share the evening in the company of good friends made it even more amazing.  Thank you dear friends, for yet another fantastic, memorable time with you. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fish Pedicure

I subscribe to Groupon, which is a great way to get big discounts on restaurants and experiences.  Recently, an offer came for a fish pedicure...hmmm, what in the world is a fish pedicure?  Well, you go to a shop, stick your feet in a fish tank and let them nibble away at the dead skin on your feet! I know, weird, right?!  Well, I couldn't resist having the experience so I went for it today! 
So I walked into the salon and found the fish tanks waiting for me!  The host told me to take off my shoes and socks, wipe down my feet with a towelette and then stick them into the tank where the swarming fish were waiting for a tasty treat.  Admittedly, as I hovered over the water watching the fish swim to the top, I had a moment of hesitation.  What in the world was this going to feel like?  But the die was cast so I plunged my feet into the tank.  The fish immediately found the rough spots on my feet and began to nibble away.
What did it feel like?  Well, it was kind of a tingly sensation and when the fish grouped together in one central spot at times, it was a bit ticklish, like a feather brushing across the bottom of your feet. 
Overall, I didn't think it was such a great experience.  The chair itself was a bit uncomfortable because you sit there with your feet just hanging in a tank full of water.  Additionally, the pedicure itself is not that great.  You don't get your nails shaped, of course, the fish don't paint them, and I would say your feet don't get as cleaned up as when you have a normal pedicure. 
So, the novelty of the experience was fun.  But, I would probably not do it again.  I'll stick with the pedicure delivered by the hands of humans rather than teeth of fish.