Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To Fred, Limhamn, Sweden

There are many things I could write, today.

But I'd like to propose a moment of silence in honor of the man who originally found Phil and offered the contract in Sweden. He died two days after Christmas, 2008. Phil just got word yesterday.

We are thinking of Fred's family and feeling like there was so much left unsaid and done.

We owe the joys of discovering Sweden to Fred.

(He's the man in the orange shirt, sitting next to his wife. One of his daughters wears a striped red and black dress, the other holds the dog. This photo was taken on the day we celebrated an American Thanksgiving together at Fred and Kathryn's home November 2007).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An old Christmas Letter (2007) I neglected to send out

It's the time of year to send Christmas cheer to friends and family. For the last few years, I've been including a newsletter tucked into the cards (or just an envelope, depending on the stress level). I was re-reading some of my letters to determine how to start this year's letter when I found this which actually went out to only one person (who doesn't read this blog). The letter is full of comments on events that some of you may enjoy reading.

Please bear with me as I work on THIS year's letter while posting one from last year (written before the Easter letter post in Feb/Mar 2008):

January 2008

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 N.I.V.)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 N.I.V.)

Dear Friends,

Here’s to your health, your search for meaning and for the New Year! We hope this wordy note finds you feeling better than we were at Christmastime. We were lying around coughing, blowing and shivering. It was supposed to be some kind of fulfillment of every man’s dream that we make a temporary move to Sweden. And it is, except when it doesn’t feel dream-like, like when we’re sick for a week and more, the money keeps running out, the weather is bleak and we haven’t made many friends. (We do attend an International Church in Malmo, and we enjoy our neighbors).

From our U.S. Pacific Northwest perspective, it feels like we have spent the year seeking the One Who lives and reigns at the right hand of God and in the hearts of those who seek Him. We’ve even tried traveling “far and wide” on such a search, but we had no idea how far those travels would take us and how many ways we would find Him.

The only travels we had in mind would be a Work and Witness trip to La Esperanza-Chilatz, Guatemala, to help build a large church. We had no idea what we would do, since we are not great builders and Hunter is such an independent little one. Phil brought some computer gear and I brought Hunter and a camera. Phil proved himself indispensable. I proved to be a near nuisance with my camera, and enjoyed hitching rides in the back of small pickup trucks into Cobán to find an internet cafe. Hunter played with other children, chased chickens and ate heartily of the delicious meals. His blond, curly hair, blue eyes, and fair skin were such a curiosity that he learned to endure being touched, petted and pinched by many hands at once. We look up to the lovely people of that community, as they sacrificially worked for our comfort and care and for the Lord. They did this on top of carrying bags of dirt and sand on the men’s backs and buckets-full on the women’s heads up a steep hill, back and forth, for the leveling of the new church floor, water jugs on their backs for the cement along with carrying on their daily lives. Miracle upon miracle resulted from the prayers and work and we are grateful to have some small part and to have made many more friends.

After that trip, Phil realized he had saved up enough frequent flier miles for us to keep our promise that we would someday visit Marília and her family in Sao Paulo, Brazil (our exchange student 2005/06). He promptly saved seats for the whole family to go in the summer (Natassja ended up backing out because of the time commitment). We went about our days as they came.

Some highlights: I got to be a featured poet at an advertised local reading, Ana got a job at MacDonald’s and Phil had to put Seth, the family dog, down due to a tumor in his chest. Phil received a promotion to the management level at F5 networks, something he had dreaded ever doing, but accepted for the sake of helping his supervisor and the company. In May, Ana turned eighteen and graduated from high school (Hooray!) and I decided to put in my resignation as a substitute teacher to pursue travel writing and photography and spend more time with Hunter.

Phil was increasingly restless about his management duties so that I asked him if he hated them. “I really do,” he said. I asked what he really wanted to do. “I want to go back to Consulting.” That night we told the Lord about Phil’s desire and asked for guidance. The very next day, Phil received an e-mail from an old consulting client. We continued to pray, but Phil accepted the proposal that he fly to Sweden to look over the project. He visited Sweden the week before our trip to Brazil. Meanwhile, I was happily painting a big mural of Mica Bay in a basement room of one of my friend’s housekeeping clients—my first mural for pay. Ana moved out in July.

At the end of July, we flew to Dallas, Texas, for an overnight layover on our way to Sao Paulo. We enjoyed our time in the city, slept well and blissfully arrived at the airport in time to check in and wait for boarding to Sao Paulo. However, we were stopped at check-in because we did not have the necessary visas for entry in Brazil. The travel agent threatened to put us back on a plane to Idaho. Our hearts sank. Ana cried. Phil set his mind and face, saying, “book us on the next flight to Sao Paulo” (two and a half days away) “and we’ll go to the nearest Brazilian consulate to set things straight.” The travel agent shook her head with pity and doubt, but did as Phil asked. We called Marília, who had already waited at the Sao Paulo airport for six early morning hours, that day, to tell her the bad news. She said, “Call me if you end up really coming,” and hung up to go back to sleep. I prayed under my breath, “Please, Lord, go before us.” We were in Houston that night and, miraculously, returned two and a half days later for our flight with visas in hand—normally a nine to thirty day process. When the travel agent saw us come in, she dropped everything to exclaim her surprise that we were back and quickly asked to see the passports. As she processed our boarding passes and luggage, she continued to squeal about the miracle of our success. Our time with Marília and her family was incredible. They spoiled us with great food, loving hospitality and whatever we could possibly want to do (while shamelessly spoiling Hunter)! We are thankful for our beloved friends in Brazil! And we are thankful to the Lord for making it possible for us to be with them.

Phil decided that it was difficult to work full-time and moon-light, so he quit his job at F5 at the end of September to begin consulting full-time. No sooner had that happened, than the Swedish company asked that Phil temporarily MOVE to Sweden for ready availability during the approximately six month project. I surprised Phil when I told him, “Let’s go!” but asked to leave no earlier than November. That was two months ago. Our home is still North Idaho, but Securitas is renting a lovely home for us in southwestern Sweden in the village of Höllviken, approx. 30 minutes south of Malmö, where Phil commutes each day.

We’re still shaking our heads. What a year! With Natassja living and working in Seattle, Ana out on her own in the Coeur d’Alene area, and quitting my subbing job, the timing could not have been better. It even seemed beneficial to my new start at travel writing. Starting a new business is always a bit of a struggle, especially financially, but we are surviving and learning to be resourceful (because Sweden is surprisingly expensive). Hunter and I are bonding more than ever.

As if that were not enough, Phil recently attended meetings in Israel and took us along. With the help of the Regional Coordinator, Lindell Browning, we were able to go into Bethlehem and see the cave in the basement of the Church of the Nativity, where Christ is thought to have been born. This, weeks before Christmas. Hunter said it was his favorite place (besides playing in the Mediterranean Sea). But the Christ child was not there. Nor was Jesus in the believed burial places—because he is alive and can be found wherever we bow our hearts to seek Him. He has taken us on such adventures (of the heart and in travels) that we enjoy seeking Him each day.

May your search for a loving, living God be equally exciting and fulfilling in its own special way!

Love, Phil, Juliene and Hunter