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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 5: Count Down

Children (well, and adults too if truth be told) all over the world will begin the treasured tradition of opening advent calendars, one for each day, until Christmas arrives. Chocolates or toys or other treasures lurk behind the windows and it takes a certain amount of discipline to limit oneself to just the one window designated for today.  Here in Sweden many people burn an advent candle, a little piece of it each day watching the days melt away as Christmas draws near.  
I have on occasion been known to forget about the candle burning on the kitchen table and sadly see that more of December had been gobbled up in one day than was intended!  
I love the tradition and enjoy marking time in this manner.  (See my previous blog post on marking time here.)  I even had my act together and bought my calendar candle last week.  Alas, I cannot find it now that it is December 1 so will scramble around later today and purchase another one!  But I digress.
What I love about the tradition of the Advent calendar is that it's all about the day at hand.  The days that have past are gone and the windows are open and the treats are finished.  The days in the future await us and we hold onto the eager expectation that comes with knowing that as long as there are unopened windows, we have something to look forward to!  But the best part about the tradition is that you get something just for today.  You have at least one wonderful moment to look forward every day that you wake up.  At least one surprise awaits you as you peel back the door of the calendar or enjoy watching the candle wax melt down to the next day.  I like the Advent calendar because it keeps us focused on the day at hand and if done properly, does not allow us to get ahead of ourselves.
So many scriptures come to mind...Give us today our daily bread...God promises enough for today even though we feel better with the warehouse full.  Don't worry about tomorrow, tomorrow had enough concerns of its own.  Trusting God today certainly does not solve every worry about tomorrow but most of can get through one day.  Perhaps the week or the month or the year feels insurmountable but maybe today is doable, even if you have to stay in bed to get through it!  The Advent Calendar reminds us that lurking behind each day is the presence of God whose promise to us includes providing enough sustenance for today.  So I urge you to delight in the moment that you are in and don't get ahead of yourself.  What fun would it be to rip open every window or burn down the whole candle today?  There is no point in that.  But opening a new window on every new day that comes our way can help us to leave the past behind, anticipate the future without troubling over it too much and savor the quiet joy of a new day dawning.  Or if joy isn't part of your Advent journey then the calendar can help you cope one day at a time.  


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 4: Broken Bulbs

I love the ljusstakar that adorn most windows throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons here in Stockholm.  They give the short days a real boost of light and energy and the added bonus is how our neighborhood is beautified by the window lights. I love walking around the city, noticing the different styles, marveling at how most people participate in this form of decoration.  We join the throngs as well and have 6 different ljusstakar in our apartment.  They burn 24 hours a day and I love the fact that our house is never pitch dark now.  We are constantly surrounded by the soft glow of our window lights and I love it.
However you would think in a country that awards the Nobel Prize someone could figure out how to design these window lights so that if one bulb goes, the rest do not.  Is this not the age old problem of Christmas lights?  Why must all lights dim if it is only one that has quit?  When I pulled ours out of storage the other day, only one "tree" was functioning.  The rest were dark.  Each of them have 7 bulbs and I had no idea where to start.  So I began removing each bulb, painstakingly testing each one in the "tree" that did work until I finally had 6 functioning ljusstakar glowing in my windows!  It is a frustrating and tedious task, only made worth it by the beautiful outcome.
Funny isn't it, how it only takes one wrong turn in a day, one bad incident, one small bump in the road to de-rail our entire lives.  Advent brings wonder into our lives but also frustration.  Time is short, demand is high.  We want to focus on the things that function well in our lives but then one of the bulbs goes out, we don't even know which one, but suddenly we can feel that all of the light in our lives has diminished.  Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out which bulb has blown.  It can be tedious and frustrating and often we want to say that it is not worth it.  We resign ourselves to simply sit in the dark and look at everyone else's lights.  What a mistake that is!  When you feel a blown bulb in your life, simply (ha ha) slow down.  Take time to test the bulbs.  Find the one that went out and replace it if you can or at least embrace the difficulty and ask for a way to get the other lights going even if that one cannot be replaced just yet.  At least prepare for the full glow of your life to come back on even if it may take awhile.  And remember, the light of Christ is growing brighter each day not fading.  Look to Christ to fill the space where your broken bulb has extinguished all other light.  You'll be amazed by the comfort that Christ's presence, guidance, and assurance will bring, even to your broken state.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Day 3: De-Clutter

I had decided that yesterday would be the day when I would get most of the house decorating done for Christmas.  I have a lot of decorations and it require a bit of effort to bring the numerous boxes up from our basement storage, unpack them, and figure out where I want to put things.  But the very first thing I have to do is take down and put away the stuff that adorns our house for the rest in the year.  In the process of finding places to put things, I found myself beginning to clear out spaces that have needed attention for a long time.  Fortunately for me, Doug was also in the mood to delouse the house so he started in on the extra bedroom, which becomes a dumping ground when we don't have time to deal with stuff in the moment.  We moved from the bedroom, to the closet, to the boxes stored on the floor and and in the closet, to the drawers, etc., etc., etc.  You get the picture.  It was amazing to see what lurked in that bedroom.  Some of the items found were treasures and it was really great to locate some items that we had wondered about.  Other things were just trash and needed to be pitched.  We parted with our video tapes, realizing that we don't even own a VCR anymore and there were only two video tapes worth keeping and trying to convert over to digital.  I saved those.  Some things are worth saving, like your wedding video.  But most of the stuff that took up space in that room, well, did just that, took up space. And while some of it was perfectly decent stuff that we donated to the thrift store, I was astonished at how much was just simply trash.  
A small portion of the stuff we took to the thrift store.
While I have to admit a bit of angst that perhaps we have thrown or given away something that eventually I will want (that which is the great temptation to hold onto clutter, right?), given that I hadn't seen most of what we pitched or gave away for years, I seriously doubt that Tuesday next week I will reach for it.  It made our lives so much easier when we hauled in the Christmas boxes and began to sort through those treasures.
It's often hard to let go of things in our lives, even when all they are doing is taking up valuable space that could be filled with something else or perhaps even left empty in order to allow for something new to come into our lives.  During the Advent season maybe we hope to meet God in some special new way, but I have to ask...have you created some space in your life in order to make room for God to show up in a special manner?  We need to de-clutter our minds and our hearts in order to create some breathing room for ourselves.  What do you need to purge from your live in order to create new space for God to breath something fresh into your heart?  Is it letting go of a past hurt?  Is it simply allowing yourself the chance to sit and breath for a few minutes without thinking about the next 10 things on your list?  Is it saying no to something important and worthwhile so that you can be freed from the frenzy and pace that surround you?  Think of one thing today that you could let go of, be freed of, in order to open up some space in your life for God to fill you with something new.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 2: Preparing the House...and the Heart

We host several events in our home throughout the Advent and Christmas season and thus I love to decorate our house at Christmas time.  It is fun to see how people delight in walking into our little winter wonderland here at Tegnérgatan 4.  We have a broad collection of decorations as I have things that date back to my childhood along with a beautiful collection of carolers that we began receiving as gifts when we were married and now of course, assorted Swedish decorations.  I love to fill the house with flowers and candles.   I actually enjoy the process of transforming our home as well.  I carefully take down the decor that graces our house for most of the year and look forward to opening the boxes that sit in our basement storage for 11 of 12 months of the year, releasing their contents into our home.  It's a special time for me when I ready our home for Christmas.  It makes me think about the ways in which I am readying my home to welcome not only assorted friends and church family members into our home, but also and perhaps most importantly, Christ as our honored guest on Christmas day.  The decorations point us to the special season that surrounds us.  But they are just decorations...outward symbols that need to lead us to an inward change as well.  So as I look at my Santas and my Nativity sets, as I tie bows and hang ornaments, as I prepare my house for Christmas, I hope too that I can prepare my heart for Christ.

First of Advent 2011

We have arrived once again at the start of a new church year and the much anticipated season of Advent.  I am going to try and blog daily in the days leading up to Christmas.  It feels like a worthy goal and a great way for me to focus on what's happening throughout these days.
In our staff devotions last Wednesday, the Swedish choir director pointed out an interesting play on words that had never occurred to me.  (Plays on words are hard in foreign languages). She spoke of how Advent and att vänta are interconnected!  The verb, att vänta, sounds a lot like Advent with an 'a' added onto the end.  It means to wait, and well, the season of Advent is all about waiting...waiting with great expectation and hope for the incarnation of Jesus Christ to pierce our darkness and flood our world with light and grace.  Taking time in the midst of the chaos of Christmas that surrounds us to consider the coming light of Christ will increase your ability to appreciate Christmas.  There is nothing worse than being sick of Christmas by the time the main event occurs!  I have no doubt that everyone has plenty to do in the coming weeks, but I urge you, as I urge myself, to find some quiet time in each day to consider the spiritual realities that are surrounding us at this time of year.  Wait, with eager anticipation rather than impatient frustration, for all that awaits us in the coming weeks.  The first candle has been lit.  May its small flicker of light point you in the right direction throughout this first week of the Advent season.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Adventures

I have learned through the years to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day even though it's not a holiday here in Sweden.  It is easily the one day of the year when I miss being in the US more than any other.  I think it's because the entire nation aligns itself around one theme...giving thanks.  And unlike other holidays that are celebrated here in Sweden, like Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving is totally missing.  So for instance, tonight, the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, I ran to the store and it was surprisingly empty.  No frenzy in the produce aisle, no looking for the perfect dinner roll, no one frantic over wondering how much cranberry sauce to get!  In fact, cranberry, stuffing, dinner rolls, pie crusts, canned pumpkin...not available.  Fortunately, I've had enough folks stopping by Stockholm from the USA lately that I've been able to assemble the goods necessary for making stuffing and pumpkin pie.  I have to make my crust from scratch, but hopefully that'll turn out just fine!  I did panic a little tonight when I could not find sweet potatoes in the store.  Luckily, after perusing the produce section a couple of times I located them tucked away on an unassuming shelf.  Again, I was the only one buying them.  By the way, they were $1.60 a pound...is that a good price?  And in case you are wondering, I was able to find a 9.9 pound turkey, the biggest the store had.  How 'bout you?  How big was your turkey?   I'm very thankful for my American friends here in Stockholm who rally around this holiday as I do and we will love every minute of being together eating our small little bird tomorrow evening!
I do miss the US, I miss our families, I miss all the buzz and excitement around this great week-end.  I miss this lovely 4 day weekend at the end of November.  But I am taking the day off and will enjoy the adventures in my kitchen tomorrow and toast our friends who will join us around our table.  And when the lovely smell of roast turkey begins to take over our stairwell, perhaps my Swedish neighbors will wish they were just a little bit American on this 4th Thursday of November.  Happy Thanksgiving readers.  I hope you enjoy the day, however you are celebrating.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time Marches On

Yesterday marked a year since Doug broke his leg on the street .  It was an icy November afternoon, bone chillingly cold and a difficult, long day.  Yesterday was sunny and beautiful here, not too cold yet, and no signs of ice or snow.  We haven't even had much rain.  Doug started to repaint our bedroom, handling being on a ladder with ease.  I am very happy that I am not going to have to walk the dog alone for the next 4 months! It's amazing too because at the time, the Dr. said that it could take up to a year for the leg to fully heal and of course, we thought that was crazy.  But I must say that in just the last two weeks, Doug has noticed a significant shift in the pain and flexibility in his foot.  Perhaps there is something to this year time frame.  
Thinking about the "anniversary" of Doug's breaking his leg got me thinking about the way in which we mark time and remember events.  I am a "remember the date" person.  I like being tuned into the rhythm that remembering dates allows.  I am not entirely sure why marking time matters to me.  Maybe it helps us understand that we are growing, changing, moving ahead...or in some cases not.  Of course, we all want to remember and be remembered on the big days of our lives: birthdays and anniversaries, but what about the sad events of our lives...is it also not important to somehow mark the way in time goes by in light of those things as well?
Anniversaries of death for example are hard.  And the first year after a death is especially significant getting through all the "firsts" without your beloved.  People tend to be a bit more aware of all that people who have experienced loss are feeling during that first year.  Our hearts are heavy as a family as we face the coming holiday season without Debbie.  Her absence is felt every single day, but for some reason, during these seasons that you just count on being together but are not, well, the acuteness of loss strikes again.
But even as the years go by, marking significant moments remains important. A friend just marked the 3 year passing of her husband on 11-11-11.  Sunday another friend marks the 2 year passing of hers.  In March it'll be 5 years since my brother died.  In May, 5 years since my mom's ovarian cancer was diagnosed.  We feel incredibly grateful that she has survived this tough ordeal and still enjoying life.  We treasure every day we have.  And we mark time.  We count the years that go by, perhaps hoping to see growth and healing in our lives from the hard things, a swelling of joy and happiness from the good things.
 Time goes by so fast.  You hear so many people say that.  Maybe marking the significant moments in our lives is a way of somehow not allowing the passage of time to just completely overwhelm us.  So much of life is a blur.  I think it is a gift when the calendar reminds us of something significant that has happened in our lives.  Even the hard stuff.  After all, it is what life is about.  Moments, experiences, events, and people who have shaped and formed us.  At times, I am grateful to be able to order my world around remembrances.  Painful though some of it may be, I do think it helps us to understand more fully what truly matters, what's truly going on in the present, and how far we've come from the past.  I wish you peace when the difficult anniversaries of your life pass by and I wish you joy when you celebrate the wonderful ones too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Anthropomorphic Collective Nouns

I totally stole this off an email someone sent me but I found it so hilarious that I had to share it on my blog.  Most of us are familiar with certain ways in which we name animal groups even if we never did know that in doing so we were using anthropomorphic collective nouns.  So for instance a herd of cows, a school of fish, a flock of chickens, and a gaggle of geese are all collective nouns that are familiar.  Less familiar are a pride of lions, a mob of kangaroos, an exultation of doves (love that one!), a rookery of penguins, a troop of chimpanzees, a murder of crows, and presumably because they look so wise, a parliament of owls.  
Now, consider a group of baboons: They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates.  And do you know what we call that?  
A CONGRESS of baboons!  There's your laugh of the day!  Sadly, too much of what goes on in politics today is sheer monkey business or should I say baboon business!  Many thanks to whomever thought of this in the first place!



Monday, November 14, 2011

Coping With Dark November

While we've enjoyed the most mild November temperatures in over 100 years here in Stockholm, there is no change in the reality of short days for this time of year.  And while I am happy that I can still be out without a hat, gloves and boots and often still get by with wearing my down vest as a jacket, I must admit that the shortness of the day has startled me at times.  Last week I was in an afternoon meeting in a basement room from 1.00-3.00 p.m. which meant that when I popped back upstairs it was dusky.  It's hard to wake up in the morning because it is so pitch dark.  7.00 a.m. feels like 3.00 a.m.  I am very happy for my Philips Wake Up Light.  It is really the only way that we've been able to adjust to getting up when it feels like the middle of the night.  You set your Wake Up Light alarm for whatever time you want the alarm to ring, but one half hour before the alarm goes off, a wide pattern light begins to come on that simulates the sunrise.  By the time the alarm rings, your room is bathed in a soft, beautiful, easy to wake up to light that your brain registers as outside light.  It's wonderful.  I've actually renamed it the Wake Up Happy Light!
The afternoon darkness really sneaks up on you.  Today we decided to take Tanner for an afternoon stroll through the city.  The sky was blue and sunny earlier in the day but by the time we got out, the sun had started to set and again, it was feeling dusky.  I took these photos on the water front.  Beautiful right?  Guess what time they were taken?
2.00 p.m.  
And we still have 5 more weeks of descending before we start turning around again.  Even so, while I don't love the short days, signs of Christmas are popping up around town which always brightens the landscape and yesterday we hosted a gathering for newcomers to our church and the lit candles were warm and cozy.We will get through another winter!  But in some ways I think the bears have the right idea...go into hibernation for a few months and sleep through this dark period!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Early Thanksgiving


Today I enjoyed an early Thanksgiving lunch thanks to the American Women's Club in Stockholm and the Sheraton Hotel.  What a lovely way to spend a gray November day!  It's pretty fun to walk away from work, head downtown and indulge in this uniquely American treat of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and of course pie!  (I know our Canadian neighbors celebrate Thanksgiving in October...is the menu the same?)  A special taste of America awaited me in the Sheraton dining room.  The beautiful table decorations and delicious food that followed delighted my senses. The turkey was beautifully cooked and I was seriously tempted to dive head first into the bowl that held the mashed sweet potatoes.  In fact, I was first one to completely polish off my plate at my table!  You would think that I was satisfied, but oh no, they were about the begin the pie course! I made my way to the desert table and located the beautiful apple pies and initially what we all thought were pecan pies.  Turns out that they were caramel pies with pecan garnishes.  Oh my...it was like eating a big 'ol bowl of delicious melted caramel.  It was so tasty that I "had" to return for a bit more.  Positively gluttonous.  There is just no other way to say it.
Between the main course and dessert the host of the event read some fun facts about Thanksgiving and revealed the lucky guest at each table who would receive a nice gift.  I happened to be seated in the right place and in addition to the amazing food, I received a fun little gift bag with a film, a Thanksgiving potholder and kitchen towel and some cranberry jell-o which I will use when I make my own feast on the day when the rest of my country celebrates this special and enduring American tradition! 
I had hoped to get some work done in the afternoon but the compelling urge to nap was too powerful.  This evening, I'm savoring the flavors of the food and the joy of being gathered with friends around a bountiful table.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fitness Humor

For ages I've been trying to get back into a decent work-out routine.  Finally, a new gym opened up one block from our house!  They were running new membership specials so we decided to jump on it realizing that if we can't get to a gym that is across the street from our house, well, it seems unlikely that we'll ever start working out again!  And today we took the plunge and made our way to our first class!  Now, the gym is really awesome and I am very pleased.  Great machines, free weights and an entire array of classes to choose from.  I hope to learn how to use some of the equipment and get much fitter in the year ahead.  But for today, we decided on the dance aerobics class.
Now, I have very athletic parents so my gene pool is pretty good.  I considered myself a decent athlete when I was younger and when the competition is just right, I can still turn it pretty well on the tennis court!  And I like a class with a leader where someone is telling me what to do.  But I have to say, had you been a fly on the wall, you might've enjoyed a pretty good laugh as I tried to get the steps right.  By the end of the class, I had about half the steps right.  I was so happy when I finally figured out the grapevine, spin, hop, spin, grapevine move!  I was very proud of myself, but suddenly the instructor added another turn and I was off once again!  Oj.  It was hilarious.  Anyway...It felt great to get out and move and learn some new Swedish words and groove to the beat...even if the beat was my own and not the same one the rest of the class was doing!