I was introduced to many unfamiliar baked goods while in Sweden. Dammsugare, an old Swedish classic, means “vacuum cleaner” and is made to resemble the cylinders of old vacuum cleaners. There is also a theory that they were created as a way to use the leftover cake crumbs at the end of the day (“vacuumed” up), since cake crumbs are used in the filling. I was reluctant to try this green colored confection, but I am so glad I did. The unexpected flavors combined to create a lasting tasteful memory. When I returned home I researched recipes and each one is a bit different. I learned that most Swedes purchase theirs, and after making these from scratch, I understand why. One must already have a batch of cookies or cake to provide the interior crumb base. The secret ingredient that exhilarated my taste buds is Swedish punsch (arrack or aniseed liqueur). While making the marzipan, I tried a batch with bitter almond extract from Sweden. Wow – so pleasingly potent! The surprise ingredient in the marzipan is rose water. It is subtle amidst all the almond flavor, but adds a floral depth. After making the filling and marzipan, I took all the pieces of leftover delicious chocolate bars from 2018 and melted them for the final dip. I don’t know how many pounds of chocolate I brought back from Scandinavia to give as gifts and to replace the stash I keep in my desk, but the customs officer did remark on how I must love chocolate. I brought back many pounds of something else, but that’s a story for another day…I’ll just say the extra bags were worth it!
A few months ago I saw this construction sign on my way to help a friend: Repairs underway. Expect delays. It reminds me that I don’t always have or need the answer, but to patiently wait for God. Although a friend or loved one may be hurting, and my instinct is to fix their problems, this is usually not the best choice. The times of greatest growth and joy in my life have come from climbing out of the deepest pits; a truth I discovered years later. So when I offer help, and I don’t know what to pray for, I listen with all my heart and pray that God will take over.
When I started back to work a few days ago after the new year, I began my daily morning ritual of watering my fountain. The watering can had a bit of water, but not enough for the fountain to operate smoothly. It reacted by sputtering at me. I went to retrieve the extra stash of distilled water, but it must have been used up before the holidays, so my day didn’t begin well. Constantly hearing the fountain’s silence, the feeling sat with me all day long. But the emptiness was deeper than that. I have been allowing other things to get in the way of my time with God. Always when I take time to listen, God speaks to me through words, art, music, people, cleaning, baking…..even the fountain in my office. Today I needed a word from God, so I turned to today’s lectionary and the following Psalm spoke to me.
Morning Psalm 20 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion. May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. May he grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand. Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright. Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call.
While in Sweden I baked a traditional Swedish bread; Lussebullar (golden yellow saffron buns) as an early celebration of Santa Lucia Day (December 13th). Saint Lucy was a 3rd-century martyr who, according to legend, brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head to light the way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible.
In Scandinavian countries, as carols are sung, girls dressed as Saint Lucy and boys in traditional hats carry cookies and vibrant yellow saffron buns in procession. This Santa Lucia feast offers light and hope during the darkest months of the year and points to the arrival of the Light of Christ on Christmas Day.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot he hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on his lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. -Matthew 5:14-16
My husband and I have been staying in northern Sweden with his sister and brother-in-law at their home near Frösön. Frösön is the largest island in the lake Storsjön, located just west of the city Östersund in J. Storsjön’s water seemed to move with a thickness as if it was cold like the air. My brother-in-law, who works on the water, explained that before lake water freezes, its consistency becomes syrupy. Several people were ice skating on huge expanses of newly frozen Åresjön, a lake closer to the mountains, with some areas still unfrozen or merely a few inches thick.
Our family graciously introduced us to Swedish culture and showed us places of history and beauty, such as Frösön’s runestone,
We attended worship today (the first Sunday of Advent) in Åre gamla kyrka, a medieval stone church built in the late 1100s by farmers in Åre parish. The small choir in the balcony was passionately boisterous in their singing of traditional hymns of communion and Advent. As I attempted to sing along in Swedish, I thought of our own congregation possibly singing these same hymns seven hours later on this very day.
According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, “Östersund is widely appreciated for its gastronomic culture, based on local sustainable food inspired from longstanding culinary traditions.” One of my favorite experiences while staying with family this past week was mixing, rolling and fire-baking Tunnbröd (thin bread) in their century-old outdoor brick oven. Tunnbröd is full of wonderfully fragrant ingredients such as anise and fennel, and this version contains multiple grains including graham, oat and rye. They taught me how to use special rolling pins with grooves, and another one for pricking the thin dough disc until it was gently but quickly tossed from the long wooden paddle onto the extremely hot brick oven floor. In seconds the dough began to turn black. When we removed it, the Tunnbröd was beautifully tinged with burnt edges. We enjoyed it, hot and freshly blackened, with butter.
While the fire was hot, we made pizza (because we could)…so yummy.
I am bursting with cherished memories; with more yet to come. Thanks be to God for life in all fullness!
Windy canals, layer upon layer, people on bicycles everywhere.
Thankful for shoes, sturdy to wear, cobblestone walkways are everywhere.
Pedestrian crowds line streets square to square, Christmas markets are everywhere.
Tivoli lights throughout the fair, smells of the carnival everywhere.
Visit bakeries if you dare, Danish pastries are everywhere.
Herring and shrimp, Carlsberg beer, fish balls and smørrebrød everywhere.
Amber and jewels, gnomes with long hair, royalty and traditions are everywhere.
Climbing the steeple up 400 stairs, sights of the city are everywhere.
Blankets and candles warming the air, Danish hygge is everywhere.
Family and friends, moments we share, laughter and memories everywhere.
I couldn’t keep myself from writing just one more post on the eve of our church’s 75th anniversary celebration. Together we journey with hope and growth for the future.
My mother always added an extra candle to our birthday cakes, saying, “One to grow on.” That stopped once I hit the age of “too many candles for the cake to hold.” But this message of growth is a good one; not necessarily in age, but in relationship, wisdom, faith, stewardship and love. I am confident that as long as I keep turning to God, I will grow in these things. How I do this is God’s call, but I couldn’t ask for a better trail partner. Will you join me?
Today marks the first birthday of my blog. 365 posts ago I began to write each night. My goal was to create a habit of evening prayer as I share my story. I have definitely formed a habit, but it certainly took lots of discipline and a very caring, loving husband. Below are links to my first two posts from a year ago:
I will no longer write every day, but my blog will continue, and I will add to my story as the Spirit moves me. I will also continue my evening prayer, but in a different form. Less writing, more listening.
A member of our congregation gave me this beautifully calligraphed artwork twenty years ago. It hangs on the wall by my desk and I am empowered by it each day. Whenever I doubt or am going through difficult times in life, this text reminds me that all I need is faith in Christ, the sure foundation. By reading and sharing with me through these stories, you have been my foundation and support along the way. Throughout this journey, you are the beauty of God’s creation that keeps me going down the path; even through the wildest storms. We will always encounter storms. If we had no storms, how could we learn to appreciate peace and experience true joy?
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long. –Psalm 146:1-2
I feel excited and something else indescribable as I think about our church’s 75th anniversary celebration on Sunday. People from across the country are coming back to participate in worship and join in the festivities. With the return of members and pastors who have been a large part of my faith growing up in this place, it is bringing back memories I hadn’t expected.
I grew up in this faith community, so I know many people who have come and gone over the years. My father was on various committees and sang in the choir, and my mother played the piano frequently. The day before she died, I was in worship and remember being surrounded by the love of our members who knew how ill she was. Her spirit is continually with me as I share music in this special place. Walking around the church, I occasionally think of how much this building has changed, yet it retains similarities to what I remember as a child. The constant is God. I may not have known this in third grade, but looking back I now see more clearly the times God gave me a gentle nudge. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be a part of the history echoing all around this church with vibrations of all who have crossed the thresholds.
As we worship together on Sunday, I know I will feel the love that has been infused into the walls; living walls holding and retelling our stories of faith.
How many voices have sung in this place? How many hymns have rung out in this place? How many tears have fallen in the place? How many feet have stepped in this place? How many Lord’s Prayers have echoed in this place? These walls resonate; these walls vibrate with the wonder of generations; These walls echo with the heartbeats of ancestors and friends; Nothing disappears without a trace in this creation. Love and high aspiration; Grief and adoration; Live in these walls; The heartbeat of generations live in these walls. Their yearning toward God lives in these walls. Whispering to us; Encouraging us; Echoing in us. Singing with us. ~ Susan Palo Cherwien
It’s been nearly twenty-five years since the youth group gathered items for a time capsule to be unearthed in celebration of our church’s 75th anniversary. 1993 seems so long ago, but now we are one week away from the actual date, and I am so excited! I remember observing some of the contents being collected, but I really don’t remember details about what they are. I’m pretty sure a cassette tape or whatever we used back then may be revealed; possibly a church bulletin and photos. Beyond that, I’ll just have to wait. For now they are silently and patiently waiting underneath a bush near the church’s cornerstone.
There are plans for another time capsule to be created for the big 100. What would I include? Hmmm.
The first purple and orange light reflecting into the west beckoned me to turn to a window facing east. As I watched birds flying high in the air, the whole sky changed. Waiting for the sun to peek between branches and leaves, through speckled openings, my breathing became slow and steady. The sky became less filtered and more crisp as the light turned brighter. Now in a peaceful place, my mind rid of needless clutter, I could focus on listening to God. Morning visio divina:
Here it comes…fresh, new light creating contrasting silhouettes of the trees. Now a glimmer; a reflection of hope. Rising higher through the branches, the glow takes on the look of a burning bush. Constantly evolving. Day after day, never the same. The clouds add to the light’s beauty and transformation. It moves so slowly! O Lord, how long must I wait? These trees are awfully tall. God’s time. I wonder what today will bring, and tomorrow and tomorrow.