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Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review 2012

The last day of 2012 has kind of snuck up on me.  I was thinking that Tuesday was New Year's Eve but alas, Tuesday is New Year's Day!  It's good to take a moment and think back on the events of the year.  It's been a good year in many ways and I feel quite thankful for the graces and blessings that have been ours to enjoy.  We continue to journey beside family members with significant health issues but are grateful for each new day we're given with them and remain hopeful that full healing remains on the horizon.  The fight is not easy but the time we continue to enjoy with each loved one is a treasure.
January began with good friends on a freezing cold night overlooking the city enjoying the fireworks.  We had quite a mild winter last year but the views of our lovely city remained a joy to take in.
Of course, January is easier to swallow when February in California awaits you!  The desert sun was extra memorizing this year as we ended up buying a house at Mission Lakes in Desert Hot Springs, 15 miles away from my parents, on a golf course (Doug's dream), with tennis, swimming, hiking and a fitness center all nearby.  It was crazy and we have no idea how much we'll be able to actually be there but a series of uncanny events unfolded and we felt it was too good of an opportunity pass up.
March brought us back to Sweden where winter was still firmly planted.  We jumped back into church life and prepared for a wonderful Easter celebration.
In April we spent a rainy but joyful week in London at the International Pastors Conference.  This group of colleagues and friends have become extremely important to us in our ministry and we thank God for this rich time of fellowship and learning each year.  I climbed to the top of St. Paul's, we took in two shows, and had a blast just being in London surrounded by English speakers!
In May we took to the high seas, embarking on a Baltic Cruise with the St. Peter's Cruise line.  Stockholm-Tallin, Estonia-St. Petersburg, Russia-Helsinki, Finland-Stockholm.  4 nights, 4 cities.  It was great fun and included all the quirkiness of being on board a Russian cruise ship.  Highlights included sailing on the waters late at night, with the sun just rolling along the horizon as the white nights of the spring and summer were beginning to take shape.
In June we returned to the US to marry a young couple who had met in our church.  She an American, he from Malawi, this was one joyous celebration.  We took a couple of weeks in CA to work on the house as well.
July found us back in Sweden, working on our children's summer program at church and getting out on the boat into the archipelago as much as possible.  The summer was chilly so we didn't swim much and had jackets on most of the time, but still...those long summer days are hard to beat.
Since we had been away during the Swedish midsommar, we went to the summer place of our friends we are usually with and shared in a crayfish party with them!  It was lovely to spend a couple of quiet days away from the city, enjoying the beauty and charm of little Mellösa.
September turned out to be a gorgeous month after a fairly chilly summer so we continued to enjoy being out on the water.  We spent a lovely evening at the island home of our good friends and took in the fantastic views that their place provides.
October took me back to both California and London.  California to see my folks and enjoy our home, London to speak at a women's conference.  I wrote my talks for the conference in our cozy little cove off the master bedroom in our little house.Both were fantastic experiences and I cannot wait for Douglas to enjoy our home in the same way that I was able to then!
In November we celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with friends from around the world.  We were also very thankful that the US presidential election went the way that it did and we hope and pray that the US can make some progress in the areas where they have been stalled for far too long.
December came and went once again with the fantastic seasons of Advent and Christmas.  Our church services were filled with joy and hope.  We continue to feel so blessed by our church family and of course, very thankful that we get to share our lives with one another. Our dog Tanner continues to bring us joy while providing endless amusing entertainment.
2012 was a very good year in many years.  We have been stretched and challenged in various ways. We have been visited by sorrow and joy.  We have hosted many friends in our home and enjoyed those visits immensely.  We have hope for the future and anticipate the new year with a sense of humble gratitude.  We are grateful that throughout our adventures and our journeys, we feel the love of Christ surrounding us, beckoning us, pushing us along life's fragile and wonderful pathway.
Happy New Year dear Readers! I pray you have a safe New Year's Eve and that the year ahead will be filled with the grace of God in your lives, however the year unfolds.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Window Dressing

The big department store in downtown Stockholm, NK, decorates their windows every Christmas with a fine tale of the season.  
I love this.  One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Chicago was to venture down to State Street to look at the beautiful windows in the then Marshall Field's department store.  In this respect, the child in me really comes out!
One evening, we were strolling through the city and stopped by for a look.  It was kind of late so the streets were almost empty, thus allowing us to get a good look at the windows, read the commentary and get some good photos!
Yes, that's Pippi Longstockings busy making Pepparkakor!
This year, the windows were a tribute to famous Swedish fairy tales and books.  The details were marvelous and I'm sure my eyes sparkled as I took in the beauty with childlike wonder.
Loved watching the skiers turn the corner!
I may have to walk downtown one more time to have one last look before the windows return to their high fashion state.

Food, Feasting, and Family

One of the sad realities of living overseas is that you miss out on most family gatherings.  The added reality that we are pastors of a church means that we have never spent Christmas with our blood families but rather have been with our church family.  And while we miss family at Christmas we have come to treasure the other "families" that we have forged our way into!  And we do delight in our church family and love to be with them and enjoy the wonderful Christmas days with them.  Over the years we have developed some traditions that have become dear to us.
The first is with our Swiss-American family.  This family has a mom who is Swiss, a dad who is American and three delightful grown up children who we love to be with.  Laughter, joy, meaningful conversation and games are always a part of our gatherings.  They also love Tanner so he often gets to come along!  We have made it a tradition to spend Christmas Eve with them and this year did not disappoint.  They live a bit outside of Stockholm and are surrounded by beauty.  With the incessant snowfall that Stockholm has enjoyed this year, we stepped right into a winter wonderland as we arrived.  There is a huge field in front of their house and Tanner loves to run and frolic in the wide open space.  Their home is a lovely haven of beauty and comfort.  We enjoyed wonderful appetizers of sausage and cheeses, a beautiful ham dinner and I contributed a decadent cheesecake with berries on top for desert.  Cookies, candy, chocolates and other delights surrounded us throughout the evening.  We played A Christmas Carol duel, drawing a word from a hat and in teams, needing to think of a Christmas song with that word and then singing the verse containing the word!  We won't win any Grammy awards but it was great fun laughing our way through the songs of the season.  We spent some time sharing our joys and challenges for the year ahead and all in all, it was a delightful Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day is devoted to our church family.  We began a tradition of having an Open House on Christmas day evening as this is when one can begin to feel a bit lonely.  The day after Christmas, Boxing Day or the Second Day of Christmas as it is known in Sweden, is also a holiday so people don't mind being out in the evening on Christmas.  By doing an Open House, we can also ensure that anyone from church has a place to go on Christmas to get a good meal and enjoy some warm fellowship.  A blizzard began on the Christmas morning and continued throughout the day thus cutting into our party total.  We usually have between 80-100 people and this year is was a modest 50 folks.  We enjoyed the company however and people talked and ate and enjoyed one another's company well into the evening.  I brew up a hot apple cider that is our signature beverage and people love it, most having never tasted it before!  I bake a zillion chocolate chip cookies and make homemade toffee in addition to the variety of dips and appetizers that adorn the table.  Doug fixes up the house, and I'm in charge of the food and we love having this tradition as the centerpiece of Christmas Day.
Last but certainly not least is our Swedish-Ghanian family.  We are also invited to Hannah's turkey feast each year.   Hannah is famous for making what is likely the most delicious turkey in the world and we look forward to the mouth-watering feast that awaits us each year.  Doug has become chief carver at the event and does an awesome job of ensuring that everyone gets a nice slice of the delicious bird.  The food goes fast at this delightful family gathering.  So while we long for family to join us in our traditions here in Sweden, we are not alone in our journey through the Christmas days.  We are grateful for the other "families" that have become an essential part of our life here in Sweden.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

It is the third day of Christmas and since the second day of Christmas is also a holiday here in Sweden, we've had some time to relax and pause after the hectic days of celebrating Christmas.  It was a wonderful few days for us however and I feel really satisfied and content with my journey through advent this year.  I am also happy for the quiet days that follow the high season as we look forward now to another year unfolding before us.
Doug preached on the 4th of Advent in a service that was full of joy and great music.  The sanctuary was packed full to the brim as people from all over the world gathered to celebrate the coming Christ child.  Sunday night was filled with baking cookies and making candy and a cheesecake in preparation for the celebrations that were to follow on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  There was also my Christmas Eve sermon that needed some last minute touching up so it was a full day.  Christmas Eve morning was filled with final sermon preparations and present wrapping.  Then we were off to church!
Held in the large sanctuary upstairs, the service was just lovely.  Candles surrounded us on all sides in addition to the altar candles and the advent candles and the Christ candle.  It was finally time to have 4 Advent candles lit alongside of the Christ candle.  A series of lessons and carols mark the evening and this year we enjoyed a special treat from a professional Chinese opera singer who is part of our church.  He sang two songs, including O Holy Night and it was simply divine.  My other favorite duo, Chris and Doug, sang Shepherd's Watch from Michael Card's The Promise.  They are, hands down, my favorite duo ever and I just love it when they sing together.  I posted my sermon in an earlier post.  If you'd like to read it, click here.  My theme was focused on the notion that there is really nothing humankind can do to keep God out of Christmas.  It's an important promise when the world looks darker and darker.
The service ends with Doug and I lighting our candles from the Christ candle and then passing that lit flame to all in the congregation who have obtained a candle for themselves.  We shared the words, Christ is the Light of the World, no go and be the same.  We sing carols reflecting the light of Christ, ending with Silent Night as the sanctuary is illuminated with candlelight and filled with the beauty of God's people singing his praise.
Christmas Eve is a special time.  I treasure our worship service and the time spent in the company of others.  It is a gift and privilege to serve our church in this way.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hope on Christmas Eve: God Will Not Be Kept Out

Michael Card renders the story of the incarnation in the following manner: A sign shall be given. A virgin will conceive. A human baby bearing, Undiminished deity. The glory of the nations. A light for all to see. That hope for all who will embrace, His warm reality. For all those who live in the shadow of death, A glorious light has dawned. For all those who stumble in the darkness, Behold your light has come. Immanuel, Our God is with us. And if God is with us, Who could stand against us? Our God is with us, Immanuel.

When I lived in Medellin, Colombia, city wide power outages were a regular part of our life there. We'd be sitting in our apartment, chatting, reading, or watching TV when in an instant, the lights would flicker and seconds later, all would go dark. We'd stumble around, searching for candles to light, seeking to illuminate our dark surroundings. It's really, really dark when every power source in an entire city is cut. You can barely see the hand in front of your face. And in those cases, when the darkness fell, it was up to us to find some light.
In many ways, the incarnation of Christ is the exact opposite of what happens during a power outage. I suppose we could say that spiritually speaking, we started in the dark and through the power of God's desire to bring light into our world, Jesus came and chased away the darkness. But that source of light came on its own merits, ordained by God. We are not the ones who have to go and find a source to illuminate our spiritual darkness. God has taken the initiative and brought the light to us.
For me, at Christmas, the core of the gospel revolves around God coming to us. The light that shines in our spiritual darkness is a light that is given to us, not one that we have to search endlessly for. It is given to us because God never tires of bringing it. At Christmas, we must never forget that Jesus came to us. Not because we deserved it or because we even knew that we needed it. He came to us because he knew that, on our own, we couldn't come to him. It is God's initiative in our lives and in our world that allows the light of Christ to shine. And that is why it can never be snuffed out...no one has the power to stop God's initiative to bring light to our lives through the person of Jesus Christ. No one can impede the love of God in Christ from reaching us. God's love can and will overcome all obstacles. And what is really quite amazing is that God creatively seeks out ways to reveal himself to us. He adjusts and changes the manner in which we might see him, so deep is his desire for us to have an abiding relationship with him. This image of God coming to us, of entering our world, of adjusting his appearance so that we might more easily meet him is beautifully illustrated by Soren Kierkegaard, a wise, Danish theologian. It's the story of a king and a maiden. “The king was the wealthiest, most powerful respected king in all the land. No one dared oppose him or speak a word against him. Now, as powerful and as respected as he was, he had one problem. He had fallen in love with a maiden who was a peasant. How could he show her his love? The fact that he was rich and powerful and famous was actually a barrier. He thought about allowing his knights to escort him to her humble cottage and demand by his authority that she marry him. But that wouldn't do. He wanted a wife, not a slave. He wanted someone to love him and share her life with him, someone who was happy and eager to be along his side. He also thought he could shower her with gifts and jewels and robes, but no, he didn't want to buy her either. He wanted her to know that his love was free. And well, like anyone else, he also wanted to know that her love for him was freely given back. So how was the king going to find a way that his love could grow between him and this peasant woman? Well here's the amazing thing. He didn't disguise himself as a poor man, he actually became poor. He loved her so much that he denounced his throne, stepped aside from his wealth and his kingly power and came adorned in the clothes of humility and of love. And so it is for us, that this is how we know that God loves us as he does. What we celebrate in the incarnation of Jesus is that our great king also set aside his power and his authority and came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, as a tiny little baby, lying in a manger, that we might know his great love for us.”
The key for me is that God comes to us. And he comes to us on our terms, so that we might choose to love him and accept him as our lord and savior, not because we have to, but rather because we can and want to. God does not want to enslave us or lure us to him with riches and wealth. Likewise, He will not demand that we follow him and prioritize him. He will allow us to walk away, to choose another, to reject his presence and his lordship. He will allow us to choose a pathway of destruction, perhaps even evil at times. But those are our choices, not his. And our choices do not ever stop his choice to come after us. That is why when God chose to send his son into the world he did so by stooping low so that no matter our situation in life, we will always be able to meet him face to face. The light that is Christ is a hovering light. It follows our darkness with a longing to burst forth at any moment. So while there are many things in life that we perhaps chase, the light of Christ is the one thing that perpetually chases us. We do not have to search for the light that is Christ. It is constantly present because God has taken the initiative to send his light to our world and no one nor no thing can thwart that mission.
I suppose for me, that is why, the conversation about keeping Christ in Christmas is one that I am not overly fond of. The very language of keep implies that somehow God could actually be excluded from the event. If we buy into this notion that if somehow by saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, we're kicking God out of his own event, we've given ourselves far too much power. Are we really so shallow to believe that God is so fragile that his very presence can be blocked by our actions? Have we forgotten what God overcame 2000 years ago when Jesus came into our world? Remember, it was virgin who bore a son. It was a Jew who showed up in the Roman empire. It was a barn where the king of the universe was born. It was shepherds who saw the light and ran to pay homage and a powerful king who saw a star and took measures to start a slaughter. And even so, the incarnate Christ lived on. Why do we think we can actually keep Christ out of Christmas through our puny actions?
Of course, we wonder a bit, don't we, where the light of Christ shines when country-men kill one another in civil wars, when angry young men shoot innocent children, when “acts of God” pillage and rampage poor communities with fire, flood, and earthquake. But in the midst of tragedy do we not always see acts of kindness and love, graces abounding even in the most gruesome situations? To decide that the darkness that tragedy casts on our earth is a reason to claim that God is absent is to miss the fullness of why he sent his light into the darkness in the first place. God saw the darkness of humankind and knew that we needed a savior. God saw the hopelessness embedded in tragedy and thus decided to come into this world to provide a way of peace, a thread of hope, the promise of joy, and a love that lasts to break the dark monotony of the things this world continually produces. So perhaps instead of asking where God is in the midst of human tragedy, why not cry out with a loud voice of Thanksgiving to God that he choose to leave his throne above and enter this dark world with the light of lights so that we don't have to stumble around in the darkness of this world without his peace, joy, hope and love to accompany us? Imagine how tragic the world would be without the hope of the incarnation.
And that is why I believe with my whole heart that God cannot be kept out. God cannot be left out. God will find a way, as he has always found a way, to take the initiative, to be the bearer of light, to chase us with his unrelenting love, to show up in the most unexpected places of our world. One of the most moving accounts of Christmas I have ever read was a rendering of a prisoner of war's experience in an enemy prison where he had been tortured and where the future of his life was uncertain every single day. He began, “On Christmas night we held our simple, moving service. We began with the Lord's Prayer, after which a choir sang carols. We all joined in the singing, nervous and furtive at first, fearing the guards would disrupt the service if we sang too loudly. With each hymn, however, we grew bolder, and our voices rose with emotion. Between each hymn, I read a portion of the story of Christ's birth from the pages of the Bible I had copied. "'And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.'" The night air was cold, and we shivered from its effect and from the fever that still plagued some of us. The sickest among us, unable to stand, sat on the raised concrete sleeping platform in the middle of the room, blankets around their quivering shoulders. Many others, stooped by years of torture, or crippled from injuries sustained during their shoot down, stood, some on makeshift crutches, as the service proceeded. The light bulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminated our gaunt, unshaven, dirty, and generally wretched congregation. But for a moment we all had the absolutely exquisite feeling that our burdens had been lifted. This was our service, the only one we had ever been allowed to hold. It was more sacred to me than any service I had attended in the past, or any service I have attended since. We gave prayers of thanks for the Christ child, for our families and homes, for our country. We half expected the guards to barge in and force us to conclude the service. Every now and then we glanced up at the windows to see if they were watching us. But when I looked up at the bars that evening, I actually wished the guards had been looking in. I wanted them to see us-- faithful, joyful, triumphant. The last hymn sung was "Silent Night." Many of us wept.” 
God cannot be kept out. Not by the evil action of humanity, not by prison walls, not by sorrow, not by death. His coming means that these things do not get the last word. His light will relentlessly break the darkness because it is central to his identity to reach for us. God cannot NOT love us and therefore there is nothing we can ultimately do to prevent God from dwelling among us for if God's presence is dependent upon our righteous actions, he would've left the earth long ago...in fact, it is likely that he would never have come at all. We are not righteous. We are in need of a Savior. We all stumble in the darkness whether it be from a wrong doing we have committed or a wrong doing done to us...it matters not, we cannot overcome the darkness of humanity by the power of our own will...only God can and thank God he does!
Author Rachel Held shared this good news last week. “God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t “systematically remove” God if we tried. If the incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God can be found everywhere: in a cattle trough, on a throne, among the poor, with the sick, on a donkey, in a fishing boat, with the junkie, with the prostitute, with the hypocrite, with the forgotten, in places of power, in places of oppression, in poverty, in wealth, where God’s name is known, where it is unknown, with our friends, with our enemies, in our convictions, in our doubts, in life, in death, at the table, on the cross, and in every kindergarten classroom from Sandy Hook to Shanghai.  God cannot be kept out.”
So this Christmas let's celebrate the reality that the Christ of Christmas is here to stay. Let's rejoice that the Christ of Christmas came into this world and dwells among us. Let us praise our loving and gracious God who always relentlessly pursues us and our world. Let us give thanks that the light of Christ will always find a way.
Friends, as we prepare to light our Christmas candles from the Christ candle, as symbol of our desire to join God in his desire to see his world flooded with his light, let us remember that the very name of our church, Immanuel, it means God with Us. And let us remember that there's not a thing that we or anyone else on this earth can do to alter that reality. God is with us. Today. Tomorrow. And always. Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Husband's Keen Insight on Guns

Doug wrote this great article in the wake of the Newton, CT shootings.  He was pretty deeply disturbed by the discourse and I am so proud of him for these thoughts.  They are appearing on Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed Blog which you can get to by clicking the link below.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/12/21/confessions-of-a-former-gun-enthusiast/

Please take the time to read his thoughts.  They are so honest and insightful.  I love him all the more for this perspective.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Real Pro-Life Issue is Gun Control

Where to begin today? Most everyone I am coming into contact with is quite devastated by the killing spree that once again took place in the United States.  Because the attack was on an elementary school and the bulk of the victims were small children, there has been a special poignancy to this incident. Even so, there are the voices that are rallying against gun control, insisting that the guns don't go off by themselves. Others continue the battle cry of wanting to equip more people with guns so that they can be protected. BBC news from the UK reported last night that they had gotten reports of some requesting that teachers have weapons in their desk to prevent this kind of thing from happening. They report it with the kind of incredulity that does indeed defy understanding. Why do we think MORE guns, MORE weapons, MORE access will lessen our gun problem? Of course, the related issue are the mentally ill, but in my opinion, American society seems to value the right to bear arms much more than they value providing real and effective health care to those in need. I do not understand that. Which leads me to my main point today. I really think the Christian church is majoring in the minors instead of focusing on what we really need to be about in order to create a more peaceful, loving, compassionate society, which are indeed the hallmarks of our faith. I do not understand why the central concern of the church is not going after gun control. What are we protecting? What are we accomplishing by allowing the access to guns to proliferate? Why is this not seen as the most key pro-life question of our day?
So I struggle a bit to understand why the church has been so willing to fight to the teeth to get abortion de-legalized yet remains silent on gun control.
I struggle a bit to understand why so many churches have been so willing to fight to the teeth to make sure that gay marriage stays illegal. The logic here is that somehow preventing two people who love one another to enter into an institution of commitment and care is more important to us as a society than ridding our streets of assault weapons that kill innocent people. I do not understand that.
I struggle to understand why the church is not on the forefront of fighting for fair, accessible, good health care, both physical and mental, for every citizen in our nation, seeking to ensure that those who are ill receive the medical attention they need in order to help them live as productive and safe members of our society.
I struggle to understand why keeping Christ in Christmas has been reduced to pithy slogans and petty comments towards those who prefer happy holidays over Merry Christmas. Keeping Christ in Christmas requires a much greater commitment to societal change than simply posting it on Facebook or letting it roll off your tongue with a self-righteous tone in tact.


I will never accept that more guns are the answer. I will never accept that we can't reign this problem in in the United States. I will never accept that the proliferation of assault weapons, hand guns and semi-automatic weapons in the hands of citizens has anything to do with the 2nd amendment. I will continue to fight for greater gun control as a central Pro-Life issue.  You can argue with my perspective until you are blue in the face but if you are a Christian, you need to help me understand why protecting our gun laws reflects Christ's vision for his people and how it helps us create a more peaceful, loving, and compassionate, society.  And if you are "pro-life", you need to explain to me why gun control is not at the center of your fight for life in our society.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Walking in the Winter Wonderland

We had a rare weekend when neither one of us were preaching in church so we decided to treat ourselves to a little overnight in the cozy seaside town of Dalarö.  While only about a one hour drive from our home in Stockholm, enough away from the city that we felt like we were really away in another world.  The weather cooperated nicely with our plans to spend our first winter weekend in the archipelago by dumping at least a foot of snow on the surroundings!  The drive out there was simply breathtaking with the trees heavy with new fallen snow and the dazzling brightness that the blankets of snow all around provided.  We checked into the Strand Hotel around 2.00 p.m. We realized that if we didn't get out and take a walk right away, the daylight would soon disappear so we dropped our stuff and headed out.  The town is quaint and lovely, dotted with gorgeous homes and wonderful views.  It is a sleepy, quiet place in the dead of winter with many shops sporting signs on their doors that they have gone home to hibernate and will re-open again in the spring.  
It had been a long time since we have had such a huge snowfall and the snow was the perfect consistency.  Dry, fluffy and light, it was a pleasure to wander the narrow streets while kicking up the white stuff all around us.
We returned to the hotel to be greeted by afternoon fika.  What a wonderful way to spend a chilly afternoon!  We were the only ones there for quite some time and finally two others came in for a coffee.  Our room sported a lovely sea view with a gorgeous balcony that would one would surely spend hours and hours on during the summer.  Since it was covered with a foot of snow, we didn't spend too much time out there!  The rooms are a little tired but it was a cozy spot to relax and unwind.  In the evening we decided to take a night walk.  The town was beautifully lit and it was easy to find our way through the narrow streets.  It wasn't cold and the snow just kept falling and falling.  The Waxholm boats came in and out often ensuring that folks could get where they needed to go even in the middle of winter.
In the morning I decided to take a little walk through town.  The bakery had opened and the smell of cinnamon and cardamon was wafting through the air.  People were out shoveling, the plow was going and folks were much more prone to say hello than they are in the big city of Stockholm.  I returned to a beautifully set dining room where breakfast awaited us.  A special table by the window overlooking the sea greeted us and we enjoyed a beautiful, relaxed morning.
We had decided to take a Waxholm boat out to our friends' place in the archipelago.  We marveled at the fact that in the dead of winter one can still hop on a boat and cruise through the archipelago, arriving at the most remote of destinations. Sweden is great in using their land all year round and their tried and true expression: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing certainly rings true with its inhabitants.  There were a few other hearty souls boarding the boat with us that morning and we made stops at 5 different islands.  We disembarked and had about a 20 minute walk to our friends' place.  Again, we were simply dazzled by the surroundings.  It felt as though we had entered Narnia. The way the snow hung on the pine trees, the occasional sea views that peeked through the landscape, the quiet stillness that freshly fallen snow creates were soothing to the mind and body.  We've been to this place in the summer so it was really cool to see it in all of its winter glory as well.  Upon arrival, Kjell got two wood fires burning in their stoves and Marilyn lit the candles so a cozy afternoon was on its way!  Wonderful conversation, good food and warm laughter created a great day together.  By the time we had to leave to catch our boat back, the day was waning and darkness was setting in.  We got to the pier and used our cell phones to signal the boat that there were passengers waiting to board!  It was such a different experience being out in the archipelago in the darkness and cold but it was intriguing and interesting none the less. We kept remarking how lucky we were that it was a snowy weekend as rain and mud would not have been as charming!
We returned to a car buried in snow.  We got it cleared, cranked up the heat and found our way back home.  Our wintry weekend in the archipelago was delightful.  Tons of snow, a cozy retreat, the stark beauty of the archipelago on a dimly lit winter day and time with our friends in their beautiful island paradise are the gifts I take from this wonderful time away.