Friday, November 29, 2013

Communication (Or, A Little Too Much About Me)

{Photo taken in Ålingsås Pingstskyrka}

Maybe you've studied a language in high school.  Maybe you lived somewhere and picked up whatever kind of jive they spoke there--your language or not.  But I didn't.  I didn't learn another language in high school.  My mother-tongue became my major at the univeristy.

My Dad is multi-lingual, which made him seem super human to me when I was growing up.  He used to say it would only take about two weeks immersed in a culture to speak the language.  I was older than thirty when I finally took classes in Spanish, which helped me understand the constructs of language far better than English grammar ever did, but by no means did I learn to "speak Spanish," either.  Dear Old Dad had no idea he was denying me anything when he didn't teach me his second language at an early age.

I can't even speak sign-language properly.  And I'm not referring to an official language, either.  I can't even speak body language. I'm a talker, too!

Now I'm pushing fifty and learning yet another language.  Six (off and on) years in Sweden, relatively immersed in the culture, has still not produced Swedish-speaking fluency in me.  A patient person tutored me for two years and gave me an amazing foundation, but I still couldn't speak.  So, this school year I have settled into taking local language classes for immigrants. My chances are better that I'll one day truly know some Swedish compared to the Spanish I learned but hardly use.    

Typing this note reveals to me just what learning another language does to me.  I can no longer spell properly, and the red lines under my prose indicate that my sentence construction is also challenged.  There are times, when I need to speak Swedish, that the only words I can think of are in English, and visaversa. Sometimes,I know this will be hard for you to believe, I am struck dumb and find a way to excuse myself.

This leads me to the cool new word/idea I learned in September and am only beginning to understand:  trivs.  Trivs is Swedish for thrive.  People want to know if you are doing well/enjoying yourself/thriving in your situation--like school, work, or the place you live. The conversation on the street in Sweden rarely goes deeper than the state of ones health and the weather, but you might be asked, "Trivs bra på skolan?" (Does it go well with you at school?" or "Are you enjoying school?")

I want you to know, that "Jag trivs bra på sverige!"  I feel like I'm doing fairly well in Sweden.  It is a relief to be learning the language along with the bits of culture I learn in class.  I still love the winter weather with the bare trees and late sunrises.  I'm crazy about our home and the village we live in, as well as the work I'm doing running a Culture House with various venues.

There are some situations that are still a challenge for me.  It doesn't take long in a day to realize I am not in my home country and the limits to my understanding of the language can be frustrating.  I'm still learning the difference between the Swedes love of a good curiosity verses their aversion to otherness.  We seem to fit in both categories at various times.

Nevertheless, I'm learning to listen.  Listening makes all the difference.  When I listen well, I can read the body language, I can differenciate between many of the spoken words, I can sense what someone means even if I don't fully understand.  Sometimes I can hear a new bird call in the distance, or church bells ringing when I didn't expect them.  I have a whole lot more listening to do.

Recently I have heard about someone recording cricket song, then slowing it down and realizing that there are beautiful harmonies embedded in the song (you've probably seen that post on facebook--and all the nay-sayers who don't believe it).  I've also heard that plants communicate, somehow.  I believe it!  Plants don't thrive well under my care (trivs inte bra!).  The dying fig tree seems to have communicated something to my huge Christmas cactus so that it forlornly (is that even a word?) refuses to bloom.  Seriously, though, they say plants can communicate with birds, butterflies and bugs! 

It gives me pause that there is so much to learn, to know, to hear, to give a response.  I have to slow things down, look for harmonies in some of my frantic, high-pitched moments.  I need time to meditate on truth, meaning, and origin.  I need time to pray and time to listen to God. 

When I'm standing at the kitchen window with a cup of tea, watching the birds taking turns plucking the remaining grapes from the grapevine, I wonder just exactly what the vine communicates to those birds, and what the birds are telling me I need to gather for winter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grumble, Bang, Brrrr, Smile

Sweeping the dust bunnies and pine needles out of the old indoor-outdoor carpet, I felt myself growing frustrated that we had rented a cabin for the 4th of July when we really didn't have the money.  The cabin assigned to us, I grumbled to myself, was filthy and old.  It was too close to dirt bikes, atv's and souped up pickups revving past on the main road.  The public access boat and fireworks launch area was only a stone's throw away from the kitchen and bedroom windows.  "Forget about sleep," I told myself, miffed.

Sneezing in clouds of broom dust, despite the deep aroma of the sun-warmed wood walls next to the fragrant towering pines outside, I barked at my husband as he unloaded the Suburban.  My son ran from room to room, claiming each one as he encountered it, thundering up and down the A-frame stairs and running through the dirt I was trying to isolate.  Cobwebs clung to the rafters, the mineral-stained toilet leaked and the kitchen faucet didn't turn off completely.  None of the beds in any of the rooms was big enough for my husband and me to sleep together, so we would each have our own rooms.  As if that wasn't enough, it was cold on a July day!

The camp manager is a personal friend of mine whom I have known since my middle childhood.  He generally wants the very best for me.  Looking around, however, I could see absolutely nothing redeemable about this place so close to the road when there were quieter cabins deeper in the woods.  He had teased me that my accommodations might be as rustic as those we have experienced together in the rural areas of Guatemala, but I took it in stride, knowing it couldn't be that bad.

It didn't help that my husband was brooding over something wrong with the Suburban's radiator and worrying that we wouldn't make the two hour trip home without a tow.  We were a pair, alright, while our son was giddy with adventure and begging to light fireworks a day early.

Eventually, the place was more presentable, our sleeping quarters established and our groceries cooling in the roaring refrigerator.  We closed it up and went down the road after our son on his bike to have a barbeque with my parents at their summer trailer.  They seemed heated up about how many burgers to fry and how quickly the meal should come together, too, so I was gladdened when I heard my son exclaiming over smoke bombs and noisemakers and the fun of lighting them himself (under his grandfather's supervision, of course).  After all, we purposefully came to visit from Sweden so we could enjoy celebrating our beloved country's independence day!

After dinner and more small fireworks, we threw the bike in the back of the rig and drove up the mountain maybe a mile to watch an early display of professional fireworks over the lake.  We had never viewed them from this vantage point, so we enjoyed the anticipation until the engine began to overheat again.  Fortunately, we were soon parked and forgetting all about our troubles as we watched the sparkling reds, whites and blues stringing through the sky, reflected in the water below.  To my great relief, the show only lasted about twenty minutes, that spot shared with only a few other people--just perfect for a tired, grumpy ol' gal.

Back at the cabin, we wriggled into our sleeping bags, mine a leftover from someones childhood and not wide enough to go completely around me, hoping for warmth and sleep, even as the sound of illegal fireworks felt like cannon balls coming through the slanted roof close over our beds. I shivered, cringed and jumped like a frightened dog for hours before I finally fell asleep.

Five hours later, in the alarming stillness of morning, I could sleep no more.  I slipped reluctantly out of bed and padded to the sliding glass windows, overlooking the main road and, in the distance, the lake.  There before my eyes the tall pines silhouetted against a deep pink sky.  The lake shimmered like roses and diamonds.

Then I knew exactly why my friend had put us in this cabin.  I felt a smile of gratefulness and a bit of shame.  Too bad it had taken me so long to find the gems among the seeming discomforts!  I watched the beauty fade into an indecipherable pinkish white before crawling back into my sleeping bag and falling soundly back to sleep.  When I awoke, my husband was already making a hearty breakfast and my son was reading comic books on the couch.

The 4th of July was going to be a good day, no matter what else happened, because God had shown me the veil of His Glory, the kindness of my friend, the goodness of my husband and the peacefulness of a reading boy on a couch.  Let the freedom of thankfulness, even in the midst of difficulty and discomfort, ring! 

That night before going to bed after a great day with family at my folks' place, the celebration of fireworks in the public access area across the road was loud enough to make the cabin feel like it was dancing on its joists and ready to split at the seems.  Before crawling into the sleeping bag, I rested my arms and head in the kitchen window and watched the people play, drawing the sparklers in the darkness, filling the air with light and sulfur.  Sometimes I plugged my ears.  But the view of the people's fireworks was terrific!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bemusement of the Day

Today I decided to get 50 Swedish kronor worth of change (mynt) for use in the parking meters around Malmo.  Sure, I could use SMS instead of change, but not all of the parking meters are so updated. 

I was rather amused when the cashier told me, "Be patient.  This could take some time."  I was bemused until I watched the process.

Apparently the old push-button-to-pop-out-cashier-drawer trick for getting change is defunct.  She had to slip my 50 kronor bill in an automatic bill-receiver, then punch a few buttons on the computer (forget cash register!), until a 10 kronor piece swirled out of the stainless steel apparatus.  Then, she had to put the 10 kronor back into the change sorter, punch a few more buttons, wave her hand over two little sensors so three 10 kronor pieces swirled into the tray.  What was worse was that I also wanted some 5 kronor pieces, which took on more of the same but with a lot more hand-waving magic over the sensors and a much longer wait for four pieces. 

It took 2 minutes to ring up and pay for the items I purchased.  It took about 10 minutes to get change. 

The man who wanted to buy a loaf of bread behind me was nearly beside himself with that feigned patience of Swedes. 

Won't be long, now, before everyone will fairly run to have those marks placed on their foreheads and hands.  It will be so much more CONVENIENT!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Feeling Stupid

Pumpkins in the Poznan City Square
I can feel so stupid, sometimes--not just ignorant, but completely void of good judgment and good sense.  Does that ever happen to you?  The thing that gets me is how quickly this problem arises, even after I have made preparations, studied, or whatever else.

For instance, nearly two weeks ago, I was ready to take my first trip to Poland to study up on a coffee house ministry I want to try here in Sweden.

The day had been more chaotic than expected because our container came in and was being delivered to the place we'll move into and needed to be emptied within two hours.  But there were issues for driving our car out of the container and onto Swedish soil (the strangest feeling--our U.S. car of 5 years on Swedish soil--it was like time travel), offices to find and visit before unloading, etc.

By the time Phil drove me to the train station, we were sore and already exhausted.  The train station was new enough to us that we had trouble finding a good drop-off place.  We eventually found the station entrance and Phil left me at the curb, pack on my back and rolling suitcase in hand.

Enter:  My feeling of stupidity.   Where did one purchase a one-way ticket? I wondered, after taking only a few steps away from the car.  I approached the railing overlooking the train tracks to get some clue which track I needed and where to purchase a ticket.  I heard Phil yell behind me, "What are you looking for?"

I told him I didn't know where to buy a ticket.  He assured me there would be a kiosk down by the tracks, "I promise," he said.  He usually knows these city things, so I hauled my suitcase down two long flights of cement stairs to the tracks.  As I reached the platform, I could sense someone else on the stairs above me, so I acted confident walking away down the tracks.

Sure enough, there were bus ticket kiosks and garbage stands the same design, but no place to buy a train ticket.  I kept moving up the tracks and sensing that someone was behind me, following as if a shadow.  I finally glanced back only to discover Phil standing there, no coat in the wind whipping through the terminal, arms crossed, having followed behind me to see that I found what I needed before the train arrived.  He had been trying to leave this adventure to me.

He was also surprised there had been no ticket kiosk, yet.  Together we found it, almost at the end of the station.  He left as soon as he saw that I could buy the ticket.

I couldn't have been happier to see Phil--to know he is there for me like that sometimes.  Who knows how often he has been there without my knowing.  The rest of the trip worked without a hitch.  I even got home by plane, train, bus and on foot a few days later without Phil's help.

It reminds me of this old song, "Clumsy," by Chris Rice.  You might be able to pull the song up on the web, but I've posted the lyrics, here, and will tell you another of my "feeling stupid" episodes at the end of the lyrics.  Think of Jesus' disciple, Peter, and of me, another clumsy disciple.
You think I’d have it down by now
Been practicin’ for thirty years
I should have walked a thousand miles
So what am I still doin’ here
Reachin’ out for that same old piece of forbidden fruit
I slip and fall and I knock my halo loose
Somebody tell me what’s a boy supposed to do?

I get so clumsy
I get so foolish
I get so stupid
And then I feel so useless
But You’re sayin’ You love me
And You’re still gonna hold me
And that You wanna be near me
‘Cause You’re makin’ me holy
You’re still makin’ me holy, yeah

I’m gonna get it right this time
I’ll be strong and I’ll make You proud
I’ve prayed that prayer a thousand times
But the rooster crows and my tears roll down (again)
Then You remind me You made me from the dust
Find More lyrics at
And I can never, no never, be good enough
And that You’re not gonna let that come between us

I get so clumsy
I get so foolish
I get so stupid
And then I feel so useless
But You’re sayin’ You love me
And You’re still gonna hold me
And that You wanna be near me
‘Cause You’re makin’ me holy
You’re still makin’ me holy, yeah

From where I stand
Your holiness is up so high I can never reach it
My only hope is to fall on Jesus

I get so clumsy
I get so foolish
I get so stupid
And then I feel so useless
But You’re sayin’ You love me
And You’re still gonna hold me
And that You wanna be near me
‘Cause You’re makin’ me holy
You’re still makin’ me holy, yeah

Feeling stupid episode number 2:  It was the day after I had returned from Poland.  I was even more tired because everything had happened late at night, too early in the morning or loud as hostels are in the middle of the night on weekends.  It was time for my Swedish lesson, which I forced myself to attend though my brain felt like mush.  Every movement felt slow and exaggerated.

I arrived at the place and couldn't fit the car in the free parking spot I found, so had to find a place in the paid parking.  I decided to back in for easy driving away afterward.  I carefully put the key fob (to a Mercedes station wagon rental) in one section of my purse, and my smart phone in another.  I grabbed my purse and school bag and went out to buy a parking slip.  Back at the car, I placed my stuff on the hood of the car because it had been difficult to drag all that stuff between the door and the hedges.  In the time it took me to open the car door and reach in to set the slip on the dash, a man in a hooded black coat walked casually up, took my purse, walked to his bike, set my purse in the bike basket and rode away.

Two things went through my mind even as I tried to figure out if I should chase him or just kick myself for being so stupid:  "The Lord is my helper, what can man do to me?*" and "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" even as I chased and yelled after the man to come back (as if!).

Of course, I went to my Swedish teacher's place, winded and full of alarm, to get help.  The remainder of the day was spent calling police, looking around in the hedges for a discarded purse (no luck), waiting with the unlocked rental car, no key, talking to police, waiting for the tow truck, and watching even the car I had driven in with drive away.

It was difficult not to take this scripture out of context, "For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them" (Matthew 25: 29). Because my identification, license, money, cards, phone and contacts, and now car all vanished within one tiresome morning.

After the car left, we had as much of a Swedish lesson as I could stand.  Then my teacher and her husband (dear friends from our church in Malmo) took me to Hunter's school so I could meet him and go home with him on the bus.

I've learned some things:

1.  Don't leave your purse on the car hood, even for a second.

2.  The advice, "don't keep all your eggs in one basket," works for stuff in a purse as well as Wall Street stocks and chicken eggs.

3.  It's good to have friends to help in times of trouble. (It was a bright, beautiful fall-color day).

4.  The mind has trouble turning off the re-play of awful events so that fear can take up residence in an otherwise adventuresome mind.

5.  All that stuff is just stuff.  But I let my mind sometimes believe that I am what is in my purse, so that it takes something like this to figure out who I am when there's nothing left.

6. That forgiveness is absolutely the only way to peace and sanity, even if I have to forgive every moment of the day until the pain stops hurting so badly.

7.  Now I feel even more deeply for those who have had to leave so much more--who have had so much more ripped from their arms.

8.  What I have should be shared, because keeping or hoarding stuff guarantees absolutely nothing.

I'm back to working on getting more sleep as well as wisdom!  Wish me well as I do you!

I get so clumsy
I get so foolish
I get so stupid
And then I feel so useless
But You’re sayin’ You love me
And You’re still gonna hold me
And that You wanna be near me
‘Cause You’re makin’ me holy
You’re still makin’ me holy.

*"So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?'"  Hebrews 13:6 Psalm 118:6,7

Friday, October 7, 2011

Month of the Pumpkin, or We're Turning into Pumpkins!

My kiddo picking out his pumpkin in Bjarred, Sweden.  He keeps asking for pumpkin pie.

Picked myself a lanky veggie--pumpkin colored, too!  What looks like a cigar is actually a carrot top.
Here we are, back in Sweden--waiting--fat and happy, I might add.  We're in a temporary rental that is beyond comfortable. 

The weather has been sunny and warm for two months, now.  Leaves are starting to change and the wind is teasing us that it might come back to live for the next several months.  Oooooo, we shiver, we are very afraid.

We're waiting for temporary residency permission, for our container to arrive, to move in to the house we will be buying in Sweden, for a financial windfall (well, aren't we all), for H. to stop growing (when will THAT be?), for sleek and slender to be our own realizations without having to try, for the Swedish language to dawn on us without any practice or study (though I am being tutored and making strides), for our U.S. house to rent, and for the Lord to reveal to us the next step we are to take.

But waiting is not so bad when you have a house to live in, a car to drive (rental), food to eat (good veggies from the pumpkin patch!), a school for your kiddo, and friends to spend time with. The people who graciously rented to us last winter/spring gave us some furniture, including beds, which we are deeply grateful for!  The only problem with waiting is our inability to predict what customs will be like when our container arrives on the ship, what things will need attention once we move into our house, and why we still don't have residency permission.

We are incredibly indebted to our dear friends and family who helped us accomplish the impossible task of moving out of our house within only two months during summer.  In fact, there are still people helping to maintain things at the U.S. house while we are away until someone rents.  I'm told my favorite plum trees are ready for harvest.  Sigh.

The dream for our time in Sweden that we had when we went home in June has gotten bigger and more amazing.  We've found people to bounce our ideas off of and to whom to be accountable.  We've found that there is so much to do before the dream even begins!  More on this dream, later.

Keep praying for us as you think of us, and we'll do the same for you. 

Time to pick the kiddo up from school.  Let us know how YOU are!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Malmo's Western Harbor! 1 day: Countdown Malmo to Idaho

People have asked me, "Do you like living at Vastra Hamnen" (Western Harbor)? "It's a rather posh place, isn't it?"

The only thing I can see out the windows are apartments and the narrow street-wide sections of sky.  The people next door are often remodeling with a cement drill loud enough to echo through the apartments connected to it, including this one.  Crowds of people get off of tour buses with their cameras and peer into the windows at us.  I tell people about these things.

But I would be lying if I said I never loved walking only one block to the sea, or one block to the grocery store, or one block to my chiropractor.  I have loved the floor plan of the house--especially that every bedroom has a door and the kitchen is full of cupboards.

We've all loved eating at Vespa Pizza, where they've come to know our names and you can watch the people on the promanade who also love looking at the sparkling sea.  I especially love to visit the coffee shop for a quick chai latte on my way to going for a walk or going back home to do housework.

They say Swedes live for summer.  From here, I can see why.   The sky is near, the green park so close to the white sandy beaches surrounding the sparkle of water under the midnight sun--it's possible to forget that nine months of wind and cold ever really happened.  This place is a little piece of heaven.  If you tour Malmo, you have to come here on purpose.  I highly recommend the side trip.

Two things we did right on this big packing day:  We took a nap midway through the day, and we ate at Vespa looking out over the sea.  The packing and cleaning are hardly part of the memory.

To my friends in Idaho, see you soon!  To my Malmo friends, see you in two months!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hands! 2 days: Countdown Malmo to Idaho

The handshake of greeting and of meeting,
of those who have welcomed us to this land;
The helping hand of those who have volunteered
to help us pack, clean, store, and move--each time;
The hand raised in warning--for our safety
and for better understanding;
The beautiful hands of pianist, Lorenzo, now gone;
The tool of hand--to grasp, clasp, crimp, pull, push,
twist, wring, wrap, fold, tape, wipe, stir, kneed, wash,
the list goes on, tapped under these hands;
The hand to hold.

Of course hands can be used for ill, but I am thankful today for helpful, useful, soothing hands.