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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stockholm in My Heart: People

Of course, it's the relationships with people that you forge that makes a place particularly memorable. This is certainly true with Stockholm. While the city of Stockholm dazzles, without the abiding relationships that we enjoyed through the years, it seems highly unlikely that we would've been there for 16.5 years. At the center of it all is Immanuel International, the congregation that we loved and served as pastors. We grew up with this church, matured in our personhood and ministry and the church grew and matured right alongside of us. Even though we knew it was the right thing, leaving this ministry was very difficult. So to go back and reunite with these beloved folks was a real dream.
Night one took us to our friends Sven and Hannah's. Sven and Hannah are likely our oldest friends in Stockholm. We met them early in our ministry, clicked right away and grew in love and friendship to the point where we felt ingrafted into one another's families. Their kids were little when we came. Now all are adults, 2 married, 1 with the cutest kid ever. We spent midsummers and birthdays together and ate a turkey at some point in the Christmas/Epiphany time period. All the kids and assorted spouses and boyfriends gathered with us and we laughed and talked around the table like old times. It could not have felt more like any other night when we shared a meal in their home. Except we didn't go home that night. We slept in their flat! In the morning, after Sven had gotten up, Hannah was still in bed and I crawled in with her! There we shared a cozy time together, sharing, laughing, enjoying. Old friends. Such a comfortable place to be.
On the first full day of being in Stockholm, in addition to wandering around the city, we stopped by our old flat at Tegnergatan 4 to share some time with the interim minister and his wife, who are dear friends of ours. At first it was so strange walking into the building (we remembered the door code which was amazing!) but upon entering, seeing the warmth and beauty that Janet had created there, made me feel very happy. It was so much nicer than when we had left it empty and she is such a beautiful decorator that I almost wished she had added her touch to the place when we lived there!
Our old flat, now decorated in a slightly different way
I shed a few tears, a mix of emotions, not all sad, mostly nostalgic and grateful for the years we had in that home. It gives me hope and joy to know that it will provide a warm, loving place of hospitality to the others who follow.
Night 2 took us to Steve and Madeleine's, another family who feel like family to us as well, in part because their kids have fully embraced us and in part because we somehow made it a tradition to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve with one another through the years. Their home has always been a cozy and warm place for us and it was a real joy to land there again as well. That night 22 of us gathered around the table for heartfelt conversation and more good food, of course! There were a few tears shed as we recalled some of the hardship of the past year...leaving Stockholm, losing Doug's sister, adjusting to life without my parents. It was a real gift to sit with these people with whom we have such a long and abiding history. Again, it felt almost as if we'd never left and were just gathering as we had done so many times in the past. It was a joy to crash into bed, very late that night, in the cozy home of Steve and Madeleine and to wake up to an easy morning with them.
Friday we buzzed into town. I was having lunch with some of the women from my book club and Doug was meeting a friend. The weather was horrible so it was good we did our wandering around the previous day! Lunch with my book club buddies was great. Again, it was as though time had not passed and we just picked right up. I miss these monthly meetings with this group who had become so special in my life in Stockholm. It was fun to get caught up on their lives, share about our life in London and renew the warmth of friendship that abides.
With a little time before we had to leave for the next gathering, I popped into the pub that is across the street from our house, The Man in the Moon, for a beer with Anita, our music director at Immanuel. It was great to have a little time together. We miss working together a lot and have forged a meaningful and deep friendship as well. One of the bartenders recognized me right away and wondered what we were doing back! It was like Cheers! Where everybody knows your name. So fun to make that connection and have him remember us as well!
Finally, that night we shared in our last gathering in the home of a Pakistani family who have meant so much to us through the years. This couple is the very embodiment of hospitality and we've experienced so many meaningful gatherings in their home that when we walked in, again, it was as if time disappeared and it was just one more lovely gathering in their home. We weren't entirely sure who all would be stopping by so it was a joy to see one face after another, each accompanied by a warm embrace. There were tears as I bid farewell to Rozina and Yasin once again. I stood in their kitchen, where so much love and fellowship has been had, and again, was so grateful that I had been the recipient of such love for so many years.
When you leave a place where so much love and such deep friendships have been forged, you sort of wonder what happens to all that when you are gone. What this visit did for us was to reveal how deeply forged these relationships are and that no amount of time or distance will ever diminish the years that we shared together. I was just blown away by how normal every gathering felt, how easy it was to pick up right where we left off, how wonderful it was to be in the company of such dear people. The love that everyone demonstratively showered upon us was overwhelming and encouraging.
I didn't take photos of us with people. It just didn't seem all that necessary! Their picture is emblazoned on my heart and mine theirs, and in some ways there are no words for the depth of gratitude I feel in having had the opportunity to retouch these relationships and sit in the presence of such dear people once again.
It's OK that we don't live in Stockholm anymore. The losses we've felt in leaving, while very real, no longer create a vacuum that aches in our souls. Instead, this trip helped to fill that vacuum with a lifetime of love and friendship that I now know will endure. We have no idea when we'll have the chance to be in Stockholm again, but I do know that when our paths will cross with these dear people, it will be as if we'd never left. That is the mark of a deep and abiding friendship...that feels  a lot like family.