To Know and To Be Known

FriendsTo love another person is to see the face of God.  - Victor Hugo

Is it not miraculous to fall in love with a stranger? Not a love like that of wine and roses, but like that of wine and laughter and shared stories. A love that doesn’t tarnish with time or distance, but seems to rest until the next meeting when you know your heart will be full once more with he or she who was once a stranger and now a friend.

I have many such friends who now create a beautiful network that stretches across a world of land and sea. They each began as strangers; strangers we lived with, dined with, faced fears and pain with. Strangers whom shared their lives, their plenty and want, their joy, their strength and weakness. An unfamiliar face may define a stranger but love makes that face a friend.

I have had someone who cares for me take time to explain that people are very fortunate to have 1 or 2 friends in there lifetime. This person’s definition of friendship was loyalty, companionship and a true knowing of one another; a friend is the person you could call in the middle of the night for anything.

I could tend to agree that we may have few very close allies in our lives as I have a very small number of people who truly know the intimate workings of my life and heart. They know about my day’s ins and outs, special hobbies and select fears and dreams. Time spent together with these friends is frequent as proximity allows.

Okay. Fair enough. Go on.

This very caring person went on to tell me that the many people whom I’ve encountered as strangers are not, in fact, my friends. The sentence ended with a kind smile and left me with a pain in my chest that occurs when I am not understood.

I smiled in return and told this person, “I know.” But it wasn’t that I was agreeing with their statement, but that “I” actually “know” a reality that this person does not; a reality that perhaps few people know: that when you see God in another person a stranger is transformed in to a friend. Eagerness comes over you to hear what other stories and life experiences this new found friend has to share. As the courses keep coming, vulnerability is second nature, laughter and crying ensue; its beautiful and it is love!

When the days or even short hours conclude, is it naive of me to think that we are now friends? For how could I possibly think of this beautiful person as a mere acquaintance? They have let me in and I them and only friends can part knowing there are no goodbyes.

If not in this life time, but the next, we shall meet again. We will enjoy the love that we forged together last and reminisce upon the history of our first meeting. I have to believe that only friends can comprehend the pleasure that can be experienced within the realm of knowing and of being known. Only friends can look at one another and know they are staring in to the face of Love, Himself.

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G.B….The Long Goodbye

There is a lot more life and attempts at faith going on these days than my travels. In general, I need to write more for myself; perhaps I may find that despite the infrequency of plane rides, bumpy roads through Iceland and Tube cramming, I am having plenty of adventures. My curse is that of being a verbal processor. One like me, has limited insight in to his or her heart until he or she begins talking or in my case, writing. So here it goes.

Grandma in boots @ The BeachMy Grandmother passed away very recently and I have found it to be quite the blow to my heart. She nearly made it to 96 years old, in fact, she was only nine days shy of her birthday. I can remember attending the 100th Birthday of her father when I was only four years old.

What I have found most challenging in my attempts at grieving is that it is hard to know what to do about the grief that you feel. When someone is around for the entirety of your life, there is this false reality that their existence on earth is indefinite. A healthy 90-year-old seems invincible; when their wits are about them and they still tend to the garden. How or why would that ever change?

As I took the time to write for her memorial program and assemble photos, the overwhelming reality of her influence in my life set in. Nearly every Christmas, Thanksgiving, Spring Break, Holiday weekend was spent with her and there are many memories surrounding it all.

She introduced me to the Big Band Era, kicking her feet to Glen Miller’s, “In The Mood”. She taught me that seagulls can eat everything, including your leftover spaghetti. I learned what a marionette is and how creepy they are. I discovered what cloisonné, the Orient, pheasant, candied ginger, The Macy’s Day Parade, escargot and hydrangea are and how to crack nuts, properly make a bed, play black jack and prepare veal bockwurst.  She snored unbelievably loud, loved the beach, had the most beautiful roses and soil in her garden that I wanted to truck it out when she sold that great house. She stretched every morning, pitched baseballs to the kids, befriended neighborhood cats and loved Chinese food.

She was a legend in the family, because in one moment, if she was buying she wouldn’t let you have a whole cheeseburger at a restaurant (forced sharing) or try to convince you that “no one charges that much for bananas” at an honor system fruit stand – leaving the more appropriate amount; but in the next moment she might pay for your college education, give you a huge no-interest loan or just write you a $2,000 check, just because. You couldn’t accuse her of being stingy. She was frugal with a heavy side of generosity.

02290006And so goes Grandma. We didn’t see as much of one another in the last few years. I’ve gotten older with a family of my own and she moved further south. But we would talk and write and I made sure to always tell her I loved her. That was the last thing I said to her when I saw her the few days before she died. She hadn’t been up for 24 hours and something stirred her. So while I put a cold rag to her brow and touched her hand, I told her, “I love you Grandma. Very much.” And she said, “I love you too. Very much.” She never got out of bed after that day and passed three days later.

Memories live long after the deceased, providing that comforting sense of a life prolonged in to eternity. Though she is not with me now, it is in the blink of an eye that we shall be reunited and kicking our feet to the Big Bands together.

I will conclude this long epitaph with what I said at the memorial. She was a treasure, I hope she knew that in this life; she certainly knows it now.

When I think of Grandma, I can’t help but think of the joy in her heart that welcomed us all in. Standing on the porch, greeting us when we arrived armed with candy dishes and a big smile.

As grandchildren we were invited to participate in her world: talk at the table, venture in to the mysteries of the basement, smell the flowers, pick the raspberries. She shared her life. It wasn’t just showing up at her house to be entertained; she was a teacher of life. I think of how much I learned from her, just being around her; hearing her stories, watching her at the sink or by the radio, in the garage or wandering around downtown Portland.  It was fun to follow her around, being a student of her admiration of just about everything.

That big smile that she smiled with her mouth and her eyes conveyed a joy in simply living. She took pleasure in warm days – turning on the sprinklers to give her garden a drink and her ankles a cool down. She would describe in detail and with great enthusiasm every morsel of her supper, even if it was just soup and sandwich. That ancient jar of pickles was an opportunity to share family history as well as her chance to help you discover more ancient canned goods in the basement… and tools… and magazines… and a fridge that you could talk through. Her collections of little birds and cloisonné vases were treasures and tomatoes, onions and figs were gifts. A YAHTZEE or a bunco made her gitty and just about anything you would say, made her sing. ALL of it was joy.

As she got older, those smile lines got deeper, showing the world that delighting in life should be worn on your face.

To quote Shakespeare, “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

She seemed to let those wrinkles come unashamedly. She was Grandma, take it or leave it and that is what mattered; the memories she created, the life lessons she shared, the spontaneous dancing she encouraged – all with a smile.

Grandma, thank you for all that you were to all of us.  I hope that we all leave this earth with the signs of love and laughter permanently on our faces, as you did.  You were one of a kind and you will be deeply missed.

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Something To Believe In

LiesI’m finding it more difficult as my age increases, to believe ‘the experts’. I fear its making me cynical. The ‘they’ that I once looked to for guidance has now become an object of my mind’s scorn.

Who are you panels of knowledge, think tanks of wisdom, approved committees of expertise? What makes you so special?

My Hypothesis: If you believe in the experts, then your life will be fine.

The Educated: Its not so much that I don’t believe in education as providing a certain authority in knowledge, but after having graduated and observing many professors teaching their well constructed opinion labeled as fact, a few letters after someone’s name is no longer that impressive to me. Maybe its knowing that Harvard professors have been paid large sums to write great things about failing economies; essentially being used for their credentials and openly lying for a paycheck. Perhaps if a doctorate was given to those who were best able to consider (and research) all ideas presented, and present their conclusion as a possibility like the philosophers and scientists of old, then my respect may be returned.

The Governing Bodies: I’d like to look at the Office of the President, House Committees or even the FDA as some sort of grouping of geniuses, but the more I learn about various acronymed administrating bodies, I am disgusted. Career politicians who have forgotten who they work for, panels of people who would rather be sued that speak the truth about health and wellness, lies told until someone blows the whistle. Really? Is this what it has come down to? Defend ‘your’ truth at all cost. Where is the humility? Where is the integrity?

Group Think Society: The ‘they’ that inserts expertise in to the mind, conveying the absolute truths of responsibility, parenting, career, finances, image, relationships. The ‘they’ that brings doubt to that gut feeling that I was so confident in just a moment ago. ‘They’ are the helpers that are only trying to help you help yourself. It’s innocent really. All you need to do is follow their plan and all will be fine. Though you felt at ease one moment, ‘they’ came along to make you anxious, but ‘they’ wrote a book about it, so it’ll be fixed soon… It never works. Otherwise, the self help industry wouldn’t be booming; there would be one book in each category of self help and it would solve every problem within that category.

I have been lied to over and over and over again. I am sickened by the notion that those who have been charged to convey truth have taken it upon themselves to lie with great fervency and defend their lies with great vigor. What am I to believe? Who am I to believe?

My Conclusion: God is the expert, because God can not lie.

Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

This conclusion is not my excuse to quit thinking. I continue to ask questions, at times to the dismay of my friends and family. But Father, Son, Holy Spirit is the only ‘they’ that gives me any semblance of peace and washes the doubt from my mind. The only expert that doesn’t lie to me is the King of a Kingdom that has eliminated pecking orders and pride, special panels and blatant lies. It’s a Kingdom who gives wisdom to those who ask for it; a Kingdom that provides values that even our humanist forefathers perceived as beneficial to society.

Ask the questions, but find the Answer. He’s is the hope that my heart needs every time I find out, that once again, I have believed false claims and ideologies. The only belief I have that can turn what I perceive as absolutely hopeless in to hope for the future is Christ, Himself. Not church or friends or family. The Man who was the example to the world of  righteousness. Who atoned for our sins that we can be righteous in Him. In the darkness of lies and deceit and worship of self and man-made expertise, is pure, bright Light.

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense to someone who might stumble across this blog, but some days you just need to write.

 

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“Let Us Speak Of Things That Matter”

DSC_0483The phrase continues to echo in my mind, despite the time that has gone by and the thousands of miles away that I first heard the words. On the little island in the cold waters of the Atlantic sits a man and his wife in an old home that once served meals from an open fire. The wind and rain rattle the original windows and tear at the blue and white paint of the home exterior. But there they sit, warm and content, surrounded by their artwork and books.

He’s 88 and he still drives…hardly. She too is in her 80′s a Canadian transplant with family ties to Lewis, hence why they remain in what was her grandmother’s home.

We joined her for lunch at a humble table in a room with a piano. A small square in the wall peaked in to the kitchen and allowed the alluring scent of fresh soup to waft as we sat waiting; anticipating a lovely conversation and edible hospitality. We were happy to get to know one another and delighted in the stories as we looked history in the face.

Soup, it turned out was only the first course. Homemade meatballs, roasted vegetables, boiled potatoes, bread. Try as I may, I could not squeeze any more in to my very stuffed belly. The spoon that lay horizontal above my now empty dish reminded me that dessert had yet to be served. Custard… my favorite. Perhaps there was still room enough for more.

We retired to the sitting room around a modern heating fire and heard about the home and the boys who had left from its walls to go to war, never to return. Amidst the stories I was thankful as I glanced outside, the view hardly visible through the rain soaked pane. Then his car pulled up. Her husband arrived in his dark suit and tie, fresh from a wake.

He removed his hat and with thick accent and huge smile, thanked us for still being at the house. I love how he spoke. Slower than most, annunciating his words perfectly (no doubt left over from his days of teaching Latin and Greek) with a slight lisp of the tongue. We asked how he was post an emotional afternoon of funeral. He answered all our questions with “Oh yes…” or “Oh of course…” all the while grinning and expressing his gratitude that we remained. After a few minutes of the days topic, he stopped and with lowered voice said, “Let us speak of things that matter,” and with a smile began to tell stories of his island’s revivals; of great preachers and teachers; of memories and scripture very clear to him and “oh yes…” very dear.

He was beautiful and pure; imperfect and intriguing; wise and ever so grateful. We sat at the humble table once more and shared tea and shortbread. We sat and listened and took in the moment that would never occur again.

He drove us home on a single track road back to Stornoway. I pondered what I had heard and prayed also for our safety. He “knew that we were special”; we knew this afternoon would have a lasting impact on our hearts.

The man and woman at 7 Ranish Loch sit in my minds eye in that cozy home, enduring the harsh winds and rains of the Lewis Winter and they speak, frequently, of things that matter. When I see them in their chairs, surrounded by their artwork and books, I think of Him; the One whose love, kindness and grace carry forgiveness, joy and peace. When I think of Him, it is then that I shall speak and have it matter most.

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Life On Lewis

I can’t bare skipping over our time in Scotland, simply because I am behind on my Norway adventures. Kristiansand and Bergen are just going to have to wait for another time.

We’re living here. Literally. We have our own flat, with our own groceries in the fridge and we now how our favorite butcher and place for tea. Living on an island is on my ‘dream’ list that I created after hearing Danny Silk speak on such matters down in Redding, California (here’s a taste if you’re interested). I hope this counts to some degree, despite it only being for 4 weeks. But we’re getting the hang of it and enjoying ourselves very much.

Islands are beautiful, mysterious places with nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered by the acute eye and the attentive heart. The Isle of Lewis is no exception exuding a peace and kindness that allows for the commodity of time to rest in your favor. Somehow your  pace slows and your ears tune to the people greeting you and it doesn’t seem odd to ask someone to dinner whom you’ve just met.

Some FYI -

The Isle of Lewis is located in the Outer Hebrides off Scotland’s Northwestern shore. We can see the mainland and the Isle of Skye off in the distance on a clear day. The Isle of Lewis is officially the Isle of Lewis and Harris as the islands are connected by a narrow strip of land. There is, in fact, an airport, but you can also arrive here after a long bus ride on the mainland and a often turbulent ferry ride. Stornoway, where we are staying, is the commerce capital of the entire Hebrides island group.

The population of Lewis is 27,000, allowing for your basic needs to be met in Stornoway with groceries, bakeries, shops, hotels and dining establishments. One of our favorite places is the Castle Grounds, a 5 minute walk from our little flat. Acres and acres of walking paths through woods and along the river and sea are open to the public. There is a castle here, but it is not of ancient history. The original was built in the 1100s, but destroyed in the 1600s, so the present edifice is an 1800 model, but gorgeous none-the-less. This time of year the colorful leaves are abundant throughout the grounds and with scarf and gloves, the breeze that lightly blows the yellow, orange and red is welcome. Our favorite tea room is also here, The Woodlands, which serves up sandwiches, toasties, paninis, fresh soup of the day, delicious scones and treats and of course a lovely cuppa.

The Isle of Lewis also has a rich history of faith. Known for the Lewis revivals, the people here only recently have seen some services, like the ferry, operating on Sundays. When the church bells ring in Stornoway at 10:45am, notifying the community that 11am service begins in fifteen minutes, the men, women and children take to the sidewalks making way to their place of worship. Suits and ties are quite normal for a Sunday here, as are skirts and lovely hats.

We’ve attended the Free Church of Scotland in Stornoway with our good friend who lives here. We are greeted at the door and enter a silent, but populated sanctuary. There are no instruments used for worship and we sing from the Psalm book (no screens for words) with help from a man who picks a tune and sings from the front whilst we follow his lead. It is peaceful. The sermon is powerful, preached from a tall pulpit above the congregation. No matter how tall he may seem, his words demonstrate that he stands beside us; he is a humble man.

Not all churches on the island are like the Free Church of Scotland in Stornoway. Some do have instruments and a screen for music lyrics. But all have services in the morning and evening of which most congregants attend both. Sunday is indeed the Sabbath and it is celebrated accordingly. After morning church, people gather in homes to share a meal and talk (fellowship) with one another until evening service at half six.

When we discussed the Sabbath with a couple we recently met, they expressed how much their Sunday routine helped them to feel prepared for the week ahead. They said how well rested they truly felt and invigorated for the upcoming week. It has made me think about how I view Sundays, as presently it’s another day to accomplish some task or another.

The last bit of the Lewis overview is that the original language of the people here is Gaelic (pronounced gaah-lick for those who like to correct me back home). Many still speak it in the streets and in their homes. One fascinating piece of information is that a few years ago the BBC did a documentary on the Gaelic Church’s line-singing worship style influence upon the African American Church. Don’t believe me? Look here. The language is amazing and when its sung, its mesmerizing.

I’ve yet to mention the white, powdery beaches, the fresh meat, our epic trip to the Butt (yes, you heard correctly) and the incredible times of learning we have had in meeting new people and sitting with our own thoughts. More to come.

It is a blessing to be here.

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A Small Taste of Oslo

I love seeing the world, primarily for the time spent with people and the experiences and copious amounts of food we share when with these people. Its a delight, but one rarely partakes in your typical holiday activities, which I strongly believe I’m better for; I count the sites missed as a small sacrifice for seeing our destination through a local’s eyes.

But there are some places not worth missing.

Last we were in Oslo in frigid February 2011, we saw the palace and walked past the building where they award the Nobel Peace Prize. We walked along the ice crusted piers and strolled through the ‘Naked Park’ more appropriately named Frogner Park, but none-the-less containing several hundred naked human sculptures known as the Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement. It was…interesting and intriguing. We even crossed the frozen waters to Nesodden to meet a distant relative for a cozy lunch. We stayed with complete strangers and left with friends and overall, enjoyed this famous city.

While in Englesviken, you don’t really want to leave the comfort of lazy mornings and afternoon seaside strolls for the busyness of the city, but our dear friends and hosts urged us to take a day trip with them back to Oslo to see the Norsk Folkemuseum and we are so grateful. This open air museum is one of my favorite museums I’ve ever been to. As a visual learner, I was in awe that instead of reading placards describing to me how people once lived in beautiful Norway, I was able to walk in and through the front door of homes, farmhouses, barns, stores, pubs and apartments from years gone by. How in the world, they have managed to get all of these buildings on site is still beyond me, but I was delighted. The interiors were decorated according to the times of the buildings with authentic historic pieces. Floors were warped, windows were hazy and I loved it!

The best aspect was feeling a sense of familiarity with some of the oldest wood structures on the museum properties. I’ve never seen any building directly that resembles the Farmstead or the Stave Church, but I’m certain I recognized these structures from pieces of art. I felt taken back in history strolling the grounds and admiring Scandinavian architecture. It was a delightful afternoon.

If you do venture to this side of the planet, be sure to take in the folk art and clothing display at the museum as well. All of the museum’s contents were invaluable in helping us to understand this country that much more.

I can not fail to mention that before we visited the museum, we were all keen to have a coffee and pastry from a famous bakery in Oslo. We were pointed toward this destination by the Hairy Bikers, whom we fell in love with. These quirky brits love to bake, cook and eat their way through countries. Their Bakeation episode took on Norway and their cardamon infused delicacies. One of their stops was Apent Bakeri for some exquisite focaccia bread.

We made way to Damplassen 24-25 Apent Bakeri site (as there are four in Oslo) and very much enjoyed our coffees, treats and fresh squeezed orange juice (they have a machine that squeezes the oranges). The Bakeri is set in a historic building in a very quiet, gorgeous neighborhood; no hustle and bustle of the downtown core. Another culinary victory was found post museum visit as we ripped apart a huge focaccia bread that was light and airy and tingling our tongues with sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt. I’m having flashbacks to that grease drenched paper bag… heavenly.

With that said, I need to grab lunch. But first a thank you to the great city of Oslo and it’s residents. Thank you for sharing. I’m sure we’ll be back again.

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The Gift of Time in Norway

It’s the Fall in Norway and with gratitude in our hearts, we find ourselves strolling about in it, appreciating the chill on our cheeks and scarves about our necks. Another adventure to call our own stored in a treasure trove of many memories made throughout the earth.

We arrived two days ago now, mid-afternoon on Monday in Oslo, sleep deprived but very happy to see our dear friends. These friends are some of our closest and the time we spend together has become less frequent over the years as they find themselves living in different countries as missionaries do. We have over a week with these beautiful hearts and their loving and hospitable Norwegian family. We are so blessed by this gift of time with people we love so much.

The more countries we visit, the more difficult it is to decide which nation has the best hospitality. Norway is incredible. Perhaps its for guests only, but we have yet to see anything different than breakfast being a delicious assortment of cheeses, crackers, bread, jams, fruit and vegetables. You stack it all up and make little sandwiches. Lunch can often be the same if you don’t end up with a sweet treat from a bakery instead. We enjoyed all of the breakfast goodies plus salmon, pork, cured meats, salad and almond cake for an early dinner upon our mid-afternoon arrival in Englesviken, a small coastal village outside the city of Fredrikstad.

It feels like home here. After our first visit in February of 2011, we longed to get back to this compound of sorts where aunts and uncles, parents and siblings all live within walking distance of one another and the sea shore; residing in brightly painted, white-trimmed homes.  The fresh sea air, the wooden swings in the trees, the lamps and orchids in the windows, the cozy warmth of the house and the exciting challenge of speaking english in such a way that we can have a conversation brings joy to my heart.

After overcoming some jet-lag at our host’s home on Tuesday, we set out on an adventure on Wednesday with our friends to the Hvaler Islands weaving over bridges and stoney shores. It reminds us of Maine’s seashore; wood boats, smooth rocks and plenty of charm. The final destination was a bakery on Skjeroya Island where we partook in coffee, chocolate rolls and (my favorite) school bread. School bread is a sweet bread with a creme filling and a light frosting sprinkled with coconut. We then scaled the rocks over the village to take in the view. It was time to be tired again so we drove home and I resigned to a nap before dinner.

It is a certainty that we won’t ‘do’ much while we are here, as the time spent in Engleviken is simply about time spent together. How many people have opportunity or time to spend a week with their nearest and dearest going on walks and sharing life together? This is the gift that so few have opportunity to give nor receive. So while I write this blog we settle in from our beautiful walk along the coast and share a snack of Norwegian waffles (with cardamon – my favorite), smeared with strawberry (or raspberry) jam, a bit of sour cream and caramely brown cheese. Time is a meal, friends, good conversations, babies being held, jokes being told, knowledge gained, culture observed, life, love, freedom; time will always be my favorite gift.

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