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Saturday, July 28, 2018

20 Years Ago

I haven't written much on the blog of late...guess life has been just a bit to mundane to muster the energy to write about something! But today is July 28, 2018 and it made me think about July 28, 1998. 20 years ago today we moved to Stockholm, Sweden!
Many happy moments shared in Sweden
It's hard to imagine that 2 decades have gone by since that initial move overseas. We were so young...a mere 37 and 38 years old.
We were kids when we moved to Sweden!
Neither of us had been senior pastors of a church but I had been the campus pastor at North Park and Doug had been the interim senior pastor at the church where he had been an associate for 7 years so we were ready to step into more responsibility and leadership. But still...looking back, I realize that the church took a bit of a chance on us, green as we were! But the beautiful thing about our going to Immanuel at such a young age and then staying on for almost 17 years, is that we and the church grew up side by side. The church was very gracious with us, allowing us to try new things, use our creative energy, and make mistakes! We learned just about everything we've ever known about ministry and life in the caring embrace of the beautiful congregation of Immanuel International.
Celebrating Advent and Christmas at Immanuel was always a highlight
That congregation has kind of ruined us for life as far as churches go. It's a bar set way too high but we are so thankful that we were privileged to lead and be a part of that place for so many years. Friendships that we formed during those years are friendships that are sealed on our hearts. We don't get to see those dear folks very often but thanks to social media and Facetime and Skype, we do get to check in once awhile. That said, I also know that years and years could pass by without contact and our shared history in Sweden would immediately draw us near to one another again.
There is no way to recount the highlights of 20 years but here are some memorable moments.
-We moved our first dog, Lucy, overseas and she spent several years enjoying Sweden with us after surviving a 4 month quarantine.
-We got Tanner, our Swedish born lab, 4 months after Lucy died. He was a huge part of the heart and soul of our life there. What a fabulous companion.
-We owned 2 boats while in a complete junker that at least helped us get a prime marina spot and the fabulous Finnmaster...
The boat that we enjoyed countless hours on, sharing with friends, exploring the fabulous Stockholm Archipelago.
Tanner and I both loved swimming in the Baltic even though it was usually freezing cold!
-We attended the International Pastors Conference every single year that we lived there, with the exception of the one I missed when my mom died. That group remains a mainstay of support, collegiality and friendship for us even to this day.
-We suffered loss during these years, most notable: Doug's 2 sisters, my brother, my mom and dad, our dear friend Ethel Magoye who helped us forge the Uganda project we worked on, and dear Bali, the mentally ill man who graced our congregation. Peace to the memory of them all.
-We endured the dark winters and enjoyed the long summer nights. I can honestly say that while the snowy winters were initially always beautiful and more fun to walk the dog in, I do not miss the short days one bit. I can long for the amazing summer nights in Stockholm but now that I live where sunshine is pretty much guaranteed most of the time, it isn't as hard to live without that long light.
Summer nights
-We became Swedish citizens ensuring our right to live and work in Europe forever. What a gift.
The entry to our apartment
-We lived in the most beautiful city apartment and retain amazing memories of meals shared around our table, parties held to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, church events, holidays, both Swedish and American, and friendship.
Our cozy kitchen
Home office
Our living room. I loved this apartment.
Oh if those walls could talk, what a story of friendship, love and life would emerge. 
Our beautiful dining room. So may meals shared around that table with loved ones from around the world.
-We dressed up a lot...
We were always up for dressing up!
Like the king and queen of Sweden, as crazy characters for our Vacation Bible School program known as Wacky Wednesdays, for parties and halloween.
-We loved deeply and were deeply loved in return.

People ask us if we miss it. That's hard to answer. I miss some things. Other things not so much. I miss the people. I miss the church. I miss living near the people and places I love so much. Mostly I'm just so grateful that those years were ours to enjoy. We grew so much. We learned so much. Our horizons were broadened in meaningful and necessary ways. 

20 years ago today I departed on a jet plane from Chicago O'Hare airport into a vast unknown. There were tears. There was sadness. But there was great anticipation about the new life we were going to forge ahead with. We'd signed a 3 year contract and suddenly 16.5 years zipped by. But in the meantime, my heart became full with friends who became family, people who made places memorable, experiences that I will never forget, and a church that will always be the gold standard for congregational life for me. I savour the memories with gratitude in my heart.