Dreaming In Swedish

ImageI dreamt in Swedish last night. The only thing I can really remember is standing close to where I took the ferry to go out to Linanäs, talking to some people about how to get to a place called Hötorget. I got up with Sweden on my mind.

I have a long weekend of work–things to get done for at least half of tomorrow, my usual day off, a meeting scheduled at the last minute for Saturday morning. Then, the hardest–I have been asked to do a funeral in Spanish on Sunday afternoon, at a funeral home, for a young man I don’t know who was killed in a hit and run. I gather the family is a mixture of lapsed Evangelical and Roman Catholic folks who have no community or pastor to tend to them in this awful time. I escaped from work early because of all that.

With a quiet afternoon by myself, I cooked in Swedish too–took out my scale that measures in grams and mL measurement cups to make a batch of Kardemummbullar. I am giving them all away except one Sherod and I will share–we don’t need to be eating more than a tiny bit of this kind of food. But oh, the smell in my kitchen.

And somehow, that got me thinking about one of the things I liked the best about the cottage we stayed in earlier this month. For a long time when I was younger, I fantasized about a bathroom with a jacuzzi, one of those ‘rainforest’ showers, a skylight, and a vanity with his and hers sinks. You couldn’t pay me enough to have anything like that now. In fact, I have a new ideal:

DSCN1725There’s a very good washing machine right next to the ‘loo. The shower has doors that swing in and out. They close really tightly when you go in to have a shower so the bathroom doesn’t get all soaked but tuck out of the way the rest of the time. There’s a drain in the middle of the floor which makes it súper easy to clean the whole floor really well. When you aren’t using the shower, it is very easy to load and unload the washing machine. And all the plumbing is out against the wall–maybe not really pretty, but sure beats frozen pipes in the brutal winters of Sweden.

DSCN1727If you want some style, it is not all totally utilitarian–an IKEA sink isn’t so bad to look at. The cieling is lovelyy to look at when you are rinsing the shampoo out of your hair. And of course, those amazingly wonderful towel warmers. I can’t quite capture how utterly luxurious it feels to reach for a towel that’s toasty warm on a chilly morning.

These pictures are going into the ‘wish book’ for life after the life we are beginning to wind down in South Florida. If you come visit in that next place, I hope you don’t want too much luxury. Less is more…






fallAt the end of week before last, I didn’t so much fall off the face of the earth as fall back into my life. Only now does it feel like I am finally coming up at least for a gulp of air.  I came back to the US sick–another bout of bronchitis that I’ve had a hard time shaking.  I have also been far more affected by jet lag than I ever remember.  At about 5:30 or 6 each evening, until this week, I simply could not stay awake.  But on the other end, getting up early has been bitterly hard as well.  Weird!

There was much about my trip that was absolutely marvelous.  There was also far more ambiguity and ambivalence both in the going and in the returning. I think that was clear in my postings while I was in Sweden.  Now that I am back, along with being swamped in work and trying to get better, I am faced with a whole lot of questions that will take time to answer. Sherod’s announcement of his retirement has so many implications.  The space for making decisions is smaller.  The margin of error is tighter–after all, the last major move we made was in 1996, when I was 36 years old.  Making a wrong career move at 36, I could recover just fine, thank you very much.  Now 53, and especially in this economy and with the current state of the church?  Not so much.

Perhaps what is most important and different now, is my own outlook, my own sense of myself.  My mother dying, Sherod and I accepting that it was time to place Maria in BARC, her long-term residential program, represented losses I had no real control over.  Death comes.  Our children grow, their needs change, we start letting go of them the minute they announce themselves in our lives.  But those losses changed me, they cut me loose, they  helped to distill, to really start focusing and crystallizing what matters now, how I want to make the time I have left, count.  One of the hardest parts of all this process of discovery is that I am now at the point not so much of making my peace with what is lost because life happens, as trying to gather  the courage to let go of what no longer works for living the life I have received.

I realize this all sounds vague and murky.  I am still in the very earliest days of putting words around this new place I find myself in. For now, here’s one thing ‘ve figured out: I have to let go of wanting to have it both ways.  Specifically,  that gets played out in a desire to both be liked and still be true to myself.   Recognizing the danger of trying to have it both ways is some of the most basic “clergy well-being 101” kind of stuff imaginable. You start hearing it almost from day one in seminary.  We cannot be true to our vocation and the Gospel if all we do is try to please others.  It is also basic to any emotional health and maturity. But the ability of this internal pushme-pullyou to hide way out of sight is insidious and confounding and right now, I am quite horrified to uncover the extent to which that dynamic has been at play in all kinds of aspects of my life.

Re-calibrating the balance without over-reacting, sorting through what and what relationships matter for the long haul, being willing to take a whole new set of risks takes a lot of energy.  I have returned from my trip aware that I need to clarify my role in our regional ministry in ways that I wish weren’t necessary.  The spouseman and I are going to have to renegotiate the terms of our relationship now that he is headed to retirement and I have a good 12-15 years of work I have the energy and desire to do.  The list goes on.

To willingly let go.  To allow myself a form of free-fall that happens quite slowly and takes me to a place I cannot even begin to imagine right now, rather than hold on to the safety of what I know, that’s my work right now.

Last One, I Promise

So, I never got to church while I was here. Long, rather cautionary tale of what happens to a state church in decline. Nonetheless, I was rather intrigued by a sign outside the parish office at the Ljusterö Kyrka.


When i saw that, I thought, “man, I’m going into Stockholm, the city of free love, all by myself the night before I catch my flight back to the USA. I might have to see if I can figure out what a Pastorsexpedition is.” Then, I found out this is the Swedish word for Parish Hall. And if that wasn’t disappointing enough, I’ve come down with a cold that’s edging into something worse that includes a temperature. A girl just gets no breaks around here.

Now said soto voce:



In Hebrew Scriptures, to live many, many years and have a multitude of descendants is to be truly blessed by God. For the past three weeks, my 86 year old dad has gotten to spend time with his three children and a biological granddaughter who carries his family name. Not many descendants, but enough. Today, my brother, his wife and daughter, my dad and I took a last ferry ride to Vaxholm on a day of crystal clear sunlight and breeze. Tomorrow, I ride the ferry alone into Stockholm and take my flight back to Fort Lauderdale early on Saturday morning. The rest of the crew will return to Stockholm by car on Saturday afternoon to spend a few more days there before my dad returns to Panamá and everyone else to the UK. Today, though, we were here. None of the fights, hurts and disappointments of the past, none of what lies ahead, mattered. We were gifted with an amazingly beautiful day.

My brothers and I went through a John Denver phase as teenagers. As I looked out over the water to the islands and sailboats and seagulls, I kept thinking of that Denver song, “Sunshine”. My dad was very sad for a time on the ferry, taking in the contours of sea and land and sunlight. A hard, hard goodbye, this one, maybe the hardest of all. I realized that though most of his ashes will swirl down the Caldera River to join my mom’s ashes when he dies, I will bring some back to put in the water here when that time comes. This is what he’s made of, this is where the dust shall return to dust. Regardless that he was sad today, regardless that death does await him and there is no denying that, my father has been blessed, deeply, widely, wonderfully blessed.


Yesterday in Sweden

Glorious day, yesterday. The morning in Vaxholm was simply magical. I have so many more pictures than I would dare sic on anyone, but here are my favorites:







If I could compose a picture of the life I would like to live at this point in my life, this would be it.


And then, of course, I got to meet my niece.


Out of Darkness

I caught the 6:20 AM ferry to Vaxholm this morning. The light was good and I had wanted to go back to do some more photography. I almost start to think that like families, all beauty is alike around here. But not really. Today there has been a little hint of ice in the wind that’s blowing from the North. The subtle but relentless shift into Fall and Winter is undeniable. But it was easy in the light to ignore all that. I have noticed over and over again, the outdoor living spaces around here. Any space with sunshine becomes a space to claim as home, at least for a while, and I am moved by the little details that celebrate the sunshine.





Sometimes, it seems like the space ends up having to get shared with at least a little chaos. One neighbor has a small green house where she has put an easy chair, and a table and then filled it with flowers. Maybe this is a brave attempt to claim the sun as early as possible in the year, as long as possible come autumns, and from the moment the first rays reach out at dawn.


I sat at a little coffee shop in Vaxholm this morning, having a cappuccino and thinking about these spaces. I have never spent a winter in Sweden. The longest, darkest one I ever experienced was in Virginia–mild in comparison. However, it wasn’t just the darkness outside–I was clinically depressed, borderline suicidal that year, struggling with the disappointment of what had not happened by moving to the USA, needing to make a change but not knowing why or how. The relief I felt when spring arrived, when the decisions were made, for better and worse, is indescribable.

Perhaps when you have moved out of the darkness into spring and summer, when the light has found you and you have found the light, you build your house there. You want to have close to you all the beautiful things that you couldn’t see before. You don’t care how small the space. You eat and drink and laugh and live. And ignore that hint of ice blowing in the soft summer breezes for as long as possible.

“Old Age Does Not Arrive Alone”

That’s a saying in Spanish my dad quotes with some frequency. He has injured his knee, though we don’t really know how. All we know is he woke up in considerable pain day before yesterday and that knee is swollen and painful. Tomorrow more than likely we will have to go get it seen by a doctor. It is particularly worrisome because his other leg is the one really affected by his old back problems–it’s the one that when he gets tired, his foot drags. With both legs compromised, he is very unsteady on his feet.

We were going to meet his old class ‘compis’–his old schoolmates today, at a nice restaurant in Vaxholm. Earlier this week, we found out that one of them, Einar, had been hospitalized after a heart attack. Hans had to bow out because he is still recovering from heart and back surgeries and had had a setback this weekend. But Arne and his wife, Ulla Britta, and Barbro, agreed to come to our cottage for a ‘ficka’–a little afternoon snack. Arne and his wife drove 2 hours to catch a ferry and come on the island. Barbro took buses and then walked for about 1 kilometer. She arrived so early that she stopped along the way to pick a bag of blueberries for us.

In your mid to late eighties, even a year makes a difference. I saw that in all of them. I watched them linger over the coffee, knowing they needed to call it a day so my dad could put his leg up, so Barbro could catch her bus, so Arne and Ulla Britt could drive all the way back to Uppsala. But when you know you’ve come to an end, a real, a final end. When you know this is the last good bye, it is hard not to try to get one more story, one last laugh, one final moment of companionable silence that too quickly will slip into absence.

Since my dad hurt his knee 2 days ago, I have been having a hard time of it. There is little for me to do except tend to him. I go out and bike and walk each day but I would give anything to be able to share this beautiful place rather than explore on my own. Helping Dad carry his grief by myself has been lonely work. My older brother and my younger brother will spend their time here with their life companions and I watched how my older brother was able to draw strength from his partner during their visit. I imagine it will be the same with Nils and Laura. It is a relief that they and my niece arrive tomorrow afternoon, regardless of the “stuff” between my brother and me.

I took some pictures this afternoon. Even in the midst of the blues, I am struck by how beautiful these old folks are–and how dear. It is a privilege not to be taken lightly to be a part of this long good bye.




Yesterday’s adventure, a little on the misbegotten side, left my dad very tired and in pain. Today it has rained on and off most of the day. At noon, suffering from some cabin fever, I decided to hop on the ferry and go to Vaxholm, the closest town (bigger than the villages on this island) to look for a little gift for the girl Maria and do some grocery shopping. Dad had decided he would read and keep his legs up most of the afternoon.

When I got off the ferry, I enjoyed wandering around in the heavy drizzle and made my way to the church. Again, the question, “where is home”? There’s a graveyard behind the church; I saw more than one family plot with tombstones that ranged from the 1600’s to the last few years. Talk about belonging. As much as my dad and I love Sweden, I am here for only 8 more days. I have no idea, now that my dad has decided this is his last trip, if I will ever be back. My dad, older brother and I talked about the fact that Dad will almost certainly die in Panama, Hans will probably die in Holland; in the same way, Nils will die in England and I in the US. None of the rest of my family members want a Christian burial, all of them want to be cremated and all of them want their ashes scattered where there is no way to mark their final resting place.

I understand their reasons and I accept the differences that define us as a very loose-knit family. I understood something else today as well. After wandering around the nave of the church, stopping in front of the altar, admiring the pulpit, I ended in a back corner far less remarkable than the rest of the space. There was a place to drop some money and light a candle, which I did. I wept again for my mom, said a prayer for her, missed her. I realized every church is the church to remember her in, every opportunity I have to light a small candle allows me to re-enact the liturgy of the light, that beautiful liturgy we celebrate on the Eve of Easter, when we reaffirm that death is not stronger than life, that darkness has not overcome the light. I felt very much at home in that beautiful church this afternoon–maybe the best I can claim for myself is, “home is where the church is.”