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Friday, May 29, 2015

America the Beautiful: Part 4

After spending a bit more than 2 weeks in MN, we knew that we needed to begin to the trek back to California. It was hard to accept that going home meant saying good-bye to Doug's family, especially his sister Jan, and this was a juxtaposition that I didn't like at all. After much deliberation, we decided to head north then west as the scenery along the route we chosen had the potential to be quite lovely. We felt like we needed some wide open spaces to think, pray, and soak in God's beautiful creation. We were not disappointed.

We did have torrential rain all across Minnesota. And it was in the 50's F when we left. Not a good temperature for the end of May. By the time we reached the 7th state on our journey, North Dakota, it was a frigid 41° degrees. How can that be?! We got gas outside of Fargo, ND and we were just hoping that we wouldn't run into Billy Bob Thornton! (TV show Fargo reference for the uninformed.) The rain had stopped however and it was even beginning to clear. 

Interstate 94 pretty much goes in a very straight line through miles and miles of lush, green farmland. West of the capital, Bismarck, things started getting more and more interesting and just about an hour before our destination, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park popped into view. We decided a detour was in order. We were not disappointed. 
The Badlands of North Dakota are breathtakingly beautiful. Layers of color and various rock formation took my breath away. The prairie dogs were adorable little creatures, scampering about, standing up on their hind legs to catch the sunshine and generally charming all who drove by. The areas where they roam are called prairie dog towns and there were several scattered throughout the park. The other animal that roams freely is the bison. These animals are huge, weighing up to 2,000 pounds! We even saw a mama and baby. They were on the run so the photo was blurry. Very cool.

Tanner desperately wanted to run around these gorgeous grounds but strict pet rules in National parks prevented him from doing so. Domestic animals and wild life do not mix so warnings about keeping your dog on the leash or in the car abounded. He did enjoy sticking his head out of the window when possible.
I was once again stunned by the diverse beauty of the United States. I've never been here before so it was a real treat. I was inspired to sing Home on the Range and delighted to discover that there is an actual town with that name just outside of the park! A 36 mile driving loop gives you a good lay of the land when you are short on time. The evening sun was just gorgeous. We felt so lucky to be ending our drive in this manner, especially after how lousy the weather was when we started. And it had warmed up to 57° so we weren't completely freezing when we got out of the car!

Our final destination for today was The Beavercreek Inn in Wibaux, MT. We had never heard of it either but good reviews and pet friendliness encouraged us to give it a try and I must say, I'm happy we did. It's a lovely little local spot which I love. Tanner is right at home and after a long day of driving, got on the bed before we did. He's a good little traveler!

Upon the recommendation of the hotel owner, we ventured into town to the Shamrock bar and grill. This place was great. I didn't have my camera which is unfortunate because a big 'ol longhorn cow head adorned the wall above the bar and the food was amazing. We deduced that having a loud discussion about politics or gun control would not be a good idea but I loved hanging with the locals in their place! 
Driving back to the hotel, I told Doug that I didn't really think we were in the United's just so different than what we are used to and yet...I love being here. I love tasting and touching this area of the US, seeing people just doing their thing, happy for a Friday night after a long week of work. 
As for me...I'm happy to have a full belly and a clean bed. It's very quiet here in Wibaux, Montana, the 8th state we've now entered on this trip,  and I'm pretty sure I'll have a good sleep tonight. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015


While 21 is the legal drinking age in the US, the name of a popular casino card game also known as Blackjack, the number of points you need to win a badminton game, and the name of a song the Eagles wrote, it also happens to be the number of years that Doug and I have been married. 
We're here in Minnesota for the first time since we got married to celebrate surrounded by Doug's family. It's bittersweet...wonderful to be with them on a day when we were all together 21 years ago, difficult that Debbie, Doug's oldest sister, is no longer with us, and even more difficult that his youngest sister, Jan, is failing daily. But even so, it's good to be buoyed by family during this challenging time.
We've always felt so lucky to have parents who modeled faithfulness and enjoyed a lifetime of love together. My folks made it to 55 years. A week ago we helped celebrate Doug's parents' 64th anniversary! That was a very special occasion as all of their kids were present to help them celebrate, something that doesn't happen very often mainly due to the fact that we were in Sweden on May 20th most of the time. Long love is pretty beautiful to see and while 21 isn't 64, we're understanding a little bit about the joy and depth of a long and lasting love.
When we first met. Doug has often had longer hair than I have throughout our relationship!
Doug is my one and only...he gets me, accepts me, and even loves and appreciates me...most of the time! Well, he loves me all the time...he appreciates me most of the time. We only drive each crazy a little these days! I'm really thankful that we share a spirit of adventure for life, a desire to love and serve God, an openness to learn and grow. When I consider the beauty of our life together over these 21 years, I marvel at all we've been privileged to enjoy. From the pyramids of Egypt many years ago, along the shores of Lake Lugano,

to the camel back ride through the Moroccan desert we enjoyed in January and most recently our dip in the dead sea and the privilege it was to lead communion with our group on the Sea of Galilee,  our life is rich. We have enjoyed being goofballs together, making others laugh alongside of us. Life is not boring.
We've just finished renovating our dream home and likely place of retirement. A new adventure awaits us, (more on that later), and the joy of sharing it together brings me peace. I'm thankful that we said I do so many years ago.
I remember before we got married I was daunted by the prospect of making a lifetime commitment. To say that I was nervous before we got married is quite an understatement. But I remember shortly after we got married, I woke up one morning and thought, "Wow, now I don't think a lifetime is enough time with him". And I still think that today...a lifetime is not long enough with you Douglas. You are the love of my life, the grounding I need, the laughter that sustains, the comfort that brings peace. Thanks for the joy and the sorrow the good times and the bad, the laughter and the tears...Happy Anniversary my love. I'm glad we promised those things to one another 21 years ago today.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day

We haven't been in the United States for Memorial Day since 1998, 17 years ago! And because Sweden doesn't commemorate a Memorial Day, we have often lost track of this holiday weekend in the US. In many ways, it's the weekend that kicks off the summer season. Unfortunately the weather here in MN is not very summery...rain, rain, rain. But even more to the point, it is the day when Americans pause to remember those who have lost their lives in service to their country. Not to be confused with Veterans Day, November 11, Memorial Day commemorates those who died while serving in the military while Veterans Day honors all who have served in the military at one time or another.
Memorial Day is tomorrow. Tonight on television, an annual concert is broadcast from Washington D.C. that commemorates some of the stories of those who have lost their lives and to take a look at the US history as it relates to our war history. We had no idea about this concert but it is an annual event for Doug's parents. It's beautiful and sorrowful. It's never easy to be confronted with the carnage and death that the wars have wrought on people's lives, but it's good to give pause around this holiday and recognize that sacrifice has been a big part of the life that I enjoy today.
While the show was good, the very best part of the night was when Doug's dad snuck away for a minute and returned with his naval hat from the time he served in the Navy from 1951-1955! It was a great moment for us all! He was singing along with the naval hymn and clearly felt a sense of honor as we watched the concert,
These are the moments when being back in the United States is a real blessing. It's good to connect with our culture, our holidays, the remembrances and special events that shape our nation. I'm very glad that we are here in MN for this holiday so Doug's parents could introduce us to the Memorial Day concert from Washington D.C. And so that we could enjoy a lovely, fun memory of Paul's service to our country.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Old Friends

It's been good to be back in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It had been about 15 months since we'd seen Doug's family and of course, with his sister Jan being so sick, it's great to have the time to hang out here awhile. We've been able to see Jan and her family quite a bit.
A favorite photo of Doug and Jan, taken in Palm Springs a few years ago
She weakens quickly and needs to rest and they need time in the house for just them as a family. They have two dogs, smaller by a lot than Tanner, and one of the days we brought Tanner with us. It was quite the canine romp. Good thing everyone is this mix likes dogs! Our hearts are heavy with the road that Jan is on right now. Please continue to keep her and her family in your prayers. These are fragile and precious moments that are also not easy.
Saturday evening we, along with Doug's folks, his sister and her husband, met up with a dear friend from college, her husband and daughter to attend a play their son was in here in town. The play was a based on the old Swedish American vaudeville circuit that was popular when new immigrants were pouring into the US. It was pretty funny with their exaggerated Swedish accents and silly Swedish jokes. The best was connecting with my dear buddy who I have known since 1978. Our friendship was sealed as we studied genetics together in our freshman year Life Science class.
Another bright spot for me is that several people from my days of being chaplain at North Park University live here. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a church where a former student is the pastor.
Couldn't find a wedding photo so here's the whole family!
I also had the privilege of marrying him and his wife almost 20 years ago. It was a joy to see their sweet family and see how Ryan had matured in the pulpit. It happened to be their last service in that church. They are moving west to a new church this summer so it was especially sweet to enter into this time with them. I sat with another couple who I married, also, 20 years ago, and they were lifted up in Ryan's message as true servants to the church.

It made my heart sing to see how these young people had grown into the church leaders of today. Another woman, there with her two kids, was in high school when I was the intern in her church. We were close when I was her youth pastor and it's also neat to see her active in the church, caring for her children. The service was wonderful and I felt almost at home! I was able to go to lunch with another friend who has visited us in Stockholm and with whom no subject is seen as taboo. We went to an awesome burger joint and I enjoyed one of the best burgers I've ever had. Good 'ol American burgers. Can't beat 'em!

There's a couple from our church in Stockholm...another pair who we married a few years ago, who now have a newborn. Can't wait to see them and hold their little guy. Pictures reveal a very cute baby! And when I think of it, there's yet another couple whose wedding was the last I did before we moved to Stockholm! I guess the Twins Cities have been a bit of a magnet for the couples I've hitched! I hope to see them later this week. They are the parents of 4 kids now! It's amazing how the years have gone by. I feel humbled and honored that we've kept in touch all these years and still enjoy catching up.
Old friends...there is something about sharing a history together that lends itself to an immediate sense of closeness even when years have gone by and geography separates. To see how these young people have matured into family folks, good parents, church leaders, civil contributors brings such joy to my heart. I'm very thankful that my path is allowing me to cross theirs every now and again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

America the Beautiful: Part 3

Today was a drive across America's Grassland! Huge farms dotted the landscape of South Dakota. We crossed the big and beautiful Missouri river and enjoyed watching the acres go by. 
Our first stop was the famed Wall Drug. Who knew that such a ridiculous and wonderful place could be put on America's map simply by offering free ice water from billboards strategically placed a good 20 miles outside of its location? I had not been there since I was child and I was every bit enchanted by it as any kid would be! It's the wild west as you envision it! Kitsch abounded in every imaginable manner! And I even got a cup of coffee for 5 cents! I did like the travelers chapel. If all else fails, maybe we have a career there!
Tanner and I tried our hand at driving a stagecoach. Doug recreated his Dusty Dan part and decided to ride the giant Jack-a-lope...a legendary range animal that is a mix of jack rabbit and antelope!
I loved the horse tie ups in front of the parking spots. Well, we could've stayed there for a long time, but we still had miles to travel.
The next stop was another bizarre and wonderful place: The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota! This is a civic center that is entirely covered in corn cobs! The inside is a big arena where sporting events, public events and even the upcoming High School graduation will take place. The woman in charge took great pride in her job as she told visitors about the place. They were working on the exterior so it wasn't really displayed in all of its usual glory, but it was still very fun to see this! Tanner had to stay in the car for this one. When we returned he had finagled his way into the front seat!
Eastward we continued. More farm land. But with the added bonus of a few of the 10,000 lakes that Minnesota boasts! Soon we crossed over into Minnesota...more farmland! But then it was time for our first ice cream treat of the trip. Tanner even got a cone and boy was he happy with that! He enjoyed looking out the window and poking his head between the seats, checking in with us now and again.
So we have finally arrived at our destination! It's great to be home with Doug's parents. Tanner is quickly making himself at home and testing Doug's parents to see if they will slip him some food!
We're glad to be here. There are some challenging days ahead as we get the lay of the land with Doug's sister. We are so thankful that we can be here. And we really enjoyed these days of driving across our beautiful and diverse country.