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Friday, November 29, 2013

Thankful

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. I kept tradition and made my own holiday out of it! Due to the time difference from the US, we didn't watch any football or see the parade.  But it was great none the less!  As I've mentioned before, Thanksgiving is the hardest day to be away from the US because it is such a uniquely American tradition. It is also the one day of the year when most Americans eat the exact same thing as the core of the main meal. Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes will be on most tables.  Each family of course has their add ons but it's fun to think about everyone getting the big bird ready.  Turkeys are hard to come by here in Sweden so I was happy to find one that weighed about 13 pounds.  Any bigger and it wouldn't fit in my oven anyway!  While getting it ready I had a little fun him!
It was a fun day, putzing around the kitchen, setting the table, getting things ready.  I had asked our guests to bring the pies so it was great to not have to worry about that!  I did have some canned pumpkin on my shelf so I did contribute that to the pumpkin pie as that is another item that you cannot buy here.  Luckily I had a little delivery from the US recently from some friends who came over so I was well-stocked with all the goods needed, including stuffing mix and cranberry sauce!
Another friend who was going to the US for Thanksgiving graciously donated her Trader Joe's cornbread mix for me to enjoy!  I tried a new recipe for the sweet potatoes that included a glaze mixture made from butter, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.  It was delicious with just the right kick.
Around our table this year we had people from Canada, Switzerland, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, and the US.  What joy to share in good food, conversation, and laughter.  Doug gave a beautiful tribute of thanksgiving before the meal, remembering my mom, who was not with us nor my dad.  I missed her today as we are often on the phone, talking food, mainly me wondering how to get the gravy right.  I did it well this year...felt as though I was channeling her in some way!
In spite of the losses and hardships of the past year I feel a great deal of thankfulness in my heart. The trip to India has also put many things into perspective.  While I can complain at times, and feel a sense of malcontentedness, my issues are all squarely in the first world problems category. Because truly, I have this beautiful life that is filled with privilege and luxury and choices.  I am surrounded by people who I love and who actually love me too, flaws and all.  I have a lovely home, and a wonderful husband and a sweet dog who reveal faithfulness in ways that are beyond me.  My church is a place of grace and encouragement.  I miss our families in the US but feel connected through Skype, Facebook, email and even the old fashioned telephone!  I am thankful on this morning after Thanksgiving and look forward to jumping into the advent season.  I hope you feel equally as blessed...there is always a reason to give thanks.  Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Dip in the Arabian Sea

We took the last Friday of our time in India and offered people a chance for a little rest and relaxation.  Several of us ventured to the sea while others stayed in Panvel to shop or sleep.   I felt that I would regret the opportunity to swim in the Indian Ocean so in spite of feeling quite tired, I decided to head to the coast.  Just before leaving the women were told that we would not be able to swim in our bathing suits but rather would need to wear longer shorts and a t-shirt.  This did not make me happy. I was doing pretty well with adjusting to the social conventions and modesty requirements but the thought of having to swim in my clothes about put me over the edge.  Even so, we sallied forth hoping that perhaps we might be able to figure something out.
The drive to and from the coast was hairy.  Traffic in India is unlike any I've ever seen so all of our trips in vehicles had some craziness to them, but the road to the coast was narrow and not well-kept and the way in which our van jockeyed for position with the busses, trucks, scooters and rickshaws was a times, a bit much.  I chose to close my eyes and try to get some rest but believe me, the car ride was anything but restful!
We thought we were going to Alibag, a large public beach, but true to every other thing on this trip, plans changed somewhere along the way and we landed at Nagaon.  Upon arrival we sipped tender coconut juice right from the coconut and headed out to beach.   It was deserted so the women felt fine swimming in bathing suits.  My day improved a hundred-fold.The tide was way out.  We probably had to walk at least 50 meters from the shore just to reach water that was deep enough to swim in.  Gentle waves were rolling in and out.   The water was warm but still refreshing.  The water was murky due to the heavy sand content and it was also very salty but it still felt great!  After struggling with dirt, heat and humidity all week long, to have the sea water wash over you was a great treat.  We swam and bobbed and played like little fish.
Nagaon beach is special because the coastline is filled with these towering trees. They are a mix of coconut, betel and suru trees.  So you have jungle like trees on one side and the sea on the other.  The beach stretches out for miles in each direction.  The tide creates beautiful contours in the sand that were quite lovely to look at. 
However, I could've lived without seeing the snake that slithered by.
Eventually we found our way to a beachside "resort" (resort is a term that can be defined in many different ways!) where for about $18.00 each we could rent two rooms in order to shower and change.  We ate a little lunch, hung out in the hammocks, drank some Thums Up cola and braced ourselves for the ride back to Panvel!  
Even though an Indian friend corrected me when I said that I swam in the Indian Ocean, (he said they call it the Arabian Sea not the Indian Ocean), in principle, the Arabian Sea is part of the Indian Ocean so I'm sticking to my story of adding the Indian Ocean to my collection of seas in which I have taken a dip.  Our day on the coast ended up being a delightful break in routine and I remember feeling very peaceful and calm when the day ended.  I am a girl who loves the sand and the sea no matter where in the world I might be.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Putting the Boat to Bed

We pulled the boat out of the water on October 5 but didn't have a chance to cover it until today.  Thankfully it was a stunningly beautiful, not too cold, autumn day.  It was kind of nice being out in the marina, surrounded by the shrouded vessels, accepting the seasonal change once again.  I played with Tanner while Doug readied the boat for the covering.  Tanner really loves the marina, no matter the season.  He runs and rolls, chases ducks, finds wood to chew on, pads around in the water.  It's all good for him!
Finally all that was left was to pull the tarp across the top, tie it down and walk away until next spring.  It's always a little sad when you realize that the boating season is behind you for a few months.  But now it is dark by 3.45 p.m. and we are still 6 weeks from the winter solstice so the pull to be out on the water isn't so great.  Still...I know when the time comes to undo the tarp, clean up the boat and set it in the water, that will be a happy day once again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

First Morning Back in Stockholm

Now it is rain that I hear outside of my window instead of the incessant honking of horns.
Now it is chill I feel rather than bracing for another hot and humid day.
Now the darkness of night comes quickly, by 4.00 p.m. yesterday, instead of the heat of sun that burns about 12 hours each day, every day.
I am no longer concerned about the water that surrounds me for it is guaranteed to be clean, safe and fresh.
I am drinking coffee that I brewed myself instead of tea that had been prepared for me each morning.
I can speak the languages that surround me once again.
I am assured that things will be on time and go mostly as planned.
I am unconcerned with germs, bacteria, and threats to my health.
I ate a hamburger last night along with a huge, green salad but I also had to clean up the dishes afterwards.
I am home alone, with only Doug and Tanner as my companions.
I am deeply thankful for friendships forged on our trip, both with those living here in Sweden and those who will remain in India.

I am happy for all of the above and yet there is some melancholy as well.
For I will miss the shared journey with the 19 others who traveled this long and crazy road to India with me.
I will miss the friendly and gracious staff at our hotel, Park Inn Panvel, who did their level best (a wonderful Indian expression) to serve us with their incredible and amazing Indian hospitality.
I will miss the flavors that I experienced in the delicious Indian cuisine and trying new things to eat almost every day.
I will miss the joy of a people who live difficult lives, under difficult circumstances yet still find a way to allow a beautiful smile to creep across their face.
I will miss encountering something new every day and seeking to graft it into the narrative that is my life.
I am at peace and also deeply troubled.  I am more aware now than ever before of the privileged and wealthy life with which I have been granted.  My life is filled with choices that at times are inane.  I worry about things that are not worrisome. I quibble over things that have no eternal value.
How can our globe be so diverse in ways that are so unfair?  How can I live in such a way that I am able, even at a great distance, to honor those living in such difficult circumstances?
I want to seek to simplify my way of life, seeking to consume less while I cultivate a deeper contentment with simple and beautiful things.  I want to worry less about things that matter so little and I want to be more concerned with things that really do count.  I want to create less garbage.  I want to value my resources.  I want to be a better steward of all that God has entrusted to me.  I am not yet sure how to do this.  I am enjoying the aftermath of an incredible experience.  Life changing, I'm sure, but what I'm not sure about is how.
I have been to India and I'm not entirely clear what that means for me.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Incredible India

There is an ad in Sweden promoting tourism in India. The jingle echoes a haunting chorus, Incredible India. As we prepare to leave, I have to agree. 
 India is incredible for a million different reasons...some very good, some very hard.
Saturday was a day of celebrations!  In the morning we headed back to out to Morbe, the tribal region where the Community Centre is being built.  We arrived to much progress.  We were there to dedicate the building and to celebrate all that God is doing and will do in the village.  The ceremony was short but beautiful.  I was very moved when the plaque was unveiled and our names were present.  It is very humbling because Doug and I are small parts of a very large whole that have joined together to make this happen.  
We returned to town and some went to the church to clean it, others went to the hall that had been rented for the big 25th Anniversary celebration of the Panvel church that night.  In my hour of free time, I snuck over to the salon across the street and had the best pedicure of my life!
The celebration saw many of us in our new Indian finery!  We were a good looking group!  The program, while long, was very touching.  How proud this congregation is of their history and their future.  The children stole the show with their adorable singing and beautiful dancing.  Toward the end of the program, Doug and I were called upon to cut a cake, wedding style!  It was hilarious!  The evening ended with good food, as always!
We returned to the hotel to begin the packing process.  So many feelings and thoughts to sort through.  Saturday in Sweden was All Saint's Saturday, the day people remember in a special way, those who died.  They go to the cemetery and light candles for their loved ones.  Ana, one of our team members, came to my room last night, with this lit candle, in memory of my mom.  It was sweet and special.
It is the Diwali festival here now, a huge Hindu celebration marked by candles, lights, and firecrackers!  We decided to join the fun and got some crackers as they are called!  Doug, Olle and Lalit had a good time setting them aflame and many of us oooed and awed as we watched them explode in the night sky.
This morning we head to the church where I will preach.  We will say our farewells and be on our way to Mumbai.  We will try to see more of the Diwali celebrations and then have to be at the airport at 10.00 p.m. to begin the check-in process for our flight at 2.00 a.m.  We arrive back in Sweden around noon on Monday.  I am looking forward to getting home in many different ways, but I will miss many things about this trip.  This has been an incredible team to work with and I will miss the joyful camaraderie we have shared day after day.  It will take me a long time sort through all that I have experienced over the past 10 days.  I am humbled and so grateful for this experience. May God continue to bless the work of his faithful servants here in India.