Tuesday, August 2, 2011

From Death to Life

Yesterday, we took a trip to the outer coast, west of Bergen. One of the places we visited was Tellevåg. This is a tiny place that is quaint and idyllic. Looking around, you would have no idea what tragedy took place not all that long ago. During WWII, this coastal community was taken over by German Nazis. On April 30, 1942, every single building (homes, boat houses, and businesses) was bombed and completely destroyed by the Gestapo. The whole town completely wiped out. Every man between the ages of 16 and 60 were sent to German concentration camps. Over half of them never returned.

We had a picnic down at the harbor. It was peaceful and beautiful. The whole area has been rebuilt. We visited a memorial honoring those who died. A reminder of what can happen. Yet, looking around, the Norwegian people rebuilt and moved forward. From death to life.....

This week has been the first of many funerals for those who were killed in the bombing and the shootings on July 22nd. The newspapers and the TV have been showing us the faces and the names of those killed - most of them just kids.....The Pastors here have a tough job. It is a challenge to speak God's love and forgiveness when such a senseless event has happened - one that brings tears to God's eyes and makes God's heart heavy. A lot of the news programs over here have been including conversations with clergy, with intentions, I hope, of helping to bring comfort and a breath of new life to the Norwegian people. They have a great task of ministering to a whole country that is open to listening right now. Churches are being filled with people coming to light candles, to pray, to have conversation, and hear God's Word of grace and hope in the midst of tragedy. Uncommon for a country where only 2-3% actually attend worship. The Spirit is powerful and I believe the Spirit is moving in this country right now. From death to life.....

This evening, workers are clearing away the enormous mounds of flowers, candles, and messages that have been left in memorial in Oslo, in front of the Cathedral. The memorial has grown so large, they had to close off the street. Some of the flowers are starting to die. The plan is that everything will be removed yet nothing thrown away. Once the flowers decompose, they will be used as part of the ground at the memorial that is being planned to be constructed. The candles and messages will be saved as well, and somehow displayed. What a powerful image......the 100's of 1,000's of flowers placed in memory of those who died, are going to be used to bring new life.

Overall in Norway, I believe that there has been life that has arisen out of the unthinkable death. You can feel it in the air. You hear it in the conversations. Even strangers will start talking to each other about the tragedy that has taken place in this land, yet I now hear them end their conversations by talking about how the people have come together and how Norway is stronger through it all. From death to Life....

Resurrection is powerful. We have a powerful God who promises us life. Sometimes it can be hard to see and it can be easy to feel overcome by darkness. But as the sun is setting over here in Norway, the Land of the Midnight Sun, it does not ever get completely dark these summer days. A powerful reminder. Christ's light shines, whispering to us the promise that Christ brings us from death to life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pondering Peace

Today in Norway, the sun returned. It has rained every day since the horrific events of Friday. I am staying at my in-law's place in rural western Norway. They have a beautiful view overlooking Seim's Fjord, with mountains out their front door and "the world's northernmost wild growing Beech forest" right next door. The view over the fjord today, as you can see in the picture, was peaceful. It almost makes you forget for a bit, the terrible terror that has shaken Norway to it's core.

It is in fact, so peaceful here, when I sit out on the patio, I can hear the sheep chewing their food up on the mountainside. No kidding. Vollom (where I am now - where Vidar, my husband grew up), is a peaceful place. It's hard to even grasp the terrible reality that one of the girls who lives just down the road was on Utøya. She jumped into the water and swam for her life and was rescued by a boat 40 minutes later. Only after witnessing some of her closest friends shot and killed. No, such a nightmare is hard to imagine in such a place as this. Where the days are filled with boat trips out on the fjord to catch supper, picking berries from the garden, hikes in the mountains, conversations with family neighbors, sipping coffee with friends, gazing at the magnificent beauty filling this fairytale land...

That fairytale image was shattered on Friday. At least temporarly.....

Yesterday I took a trip in to Bergen and visited the ever-growing memorial to those affected by the bombing and shooting. It was powerful to see all the candles and flowers and messages. The memorial was surrounded by both Norwegians and tourists - all in silence - reflecting on all that has taken place. It was encouraging to see that life is still going on; as locals were back at work, tourists were chattering at the fish market and enjoying the quaintness of Bryggen (the harbor), and the stubborn clouds were still hanging over Bergen like usual.

The night before, 50,000 people gathered in Bergen to join in the torch-light procession. 250,000 in Oslo. It is estimated that over 2 million Norwegians gathered in their respective cities and towns to process together - peacefully. Amazing, for a country of 4.5 million.

What has made a huge impact on me, is that in the aftermath of the bombing and the massacre, there has been no violent outrage, no diplays of hate, no talks of revenge, no voiced hatred or bitterness. Only peace. Only an outpouring of support. Only people gathering together in sorrow while determined to rise from this stronger than ever.

Yet, I would not expect anything different. These are a peaceful people and they are a determined, wise, and strong people. They are a proud people who will not let one of their own destroy what they have fought for and built here, in this beautiful little country nestled among the sea and the fjords and the mountains. They will not back down from their openness and their ability to see all people as deserving and equal. They will not let hatred get the best of them. With love and strength, standing strong, the Norwegian people are moving forward and holding fast to what they believe. I am humbled and moved to tears. What an example they are to the rest of the world. Oh, that we could all learn from these peaceful people.....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Light in the Darkness

I sit in Norway - filled with shock, grief, sorrow, anger, betrayal, disbelief......surrounded by the overwhelming reality of what has taken place in this peaceful country - to a peaceful people. A man, a Norwegian, after bombing the government quarters in the nation's capital, set out to Utøye - an island where 700 of Norway's youth were attending a summer camp. These bright and hopeful youth were met by a man dressed as a police officer, who opened fire and continued the nightmare by hunting down these youth for 90 minutes, trapped on an island.  Some tried to swim ashore, others pretended to be dead and hid among the bodies of their friends, others hid under rocks or climbed trees. 86 were shot and killed. 5 are still missing. 7, so far, lost their lives in the bombing. An unthinkable tragedy. 

The Norwegian people are in shock and disbelief and the whole country is mourning. The events that took place on Friday in this peaceful country are horrific and it is still hard to believe what has happened. You can almost hear the pain and sorrow of the people as the rain falls on these dark and dreary days...we all have heavy hearts.

This morning I attended worship at Alversund Church together with many of the Romarheim family. A powerful experience. As I entered the church with a heavy heart, I was met by the open arms of Jesus. The beautiful altar painting spoke words of grace and hope: "Jeg er opstandelsen og livet" (I am the resurrection and the life) John 11:25. The picture of Jesus above those powerful words, was the resurrected Christ down on one knee looking heavenward with arms wide open. The church, as most churches in Norway, was filled with light. Candles on the altar and many large light fixtures with candles - almost blinding to look at. A stark contrast to the darkness that has descended on this land. A reminder that light still shines in the darkness and the resurrected Christ has the final word. 

In the opening hymn, we all raised our voices and sang "Bli Hos Oss Herre" (Stay with us, Lord), as I was made strongly aware that He was indeed with us. The minor melodies of the hymns we sang were fitting. The air was heavy, yet it was comforting to be together as a community of faith in the presence of our gracious God. It was almost as if I could feel the breath of the Spirit come and breathe life into that place, through God's Word, through the community gathered, through the breaking of the bread and sharing of the wine, through the shared cries of a people confused and filled with sorrow. In the front pew sat the mother of a boy who was on the island, yet returned home safely yesterday.

On the side wall of the church, I noticed a crucifix. The crucifix was crooked - whether intentional or not - I do not know - yet it seemed fitting given the horror that has taken place. For some reason, that image really spoke to me. 

The service ended with the healing, hope-filled words of "Bred Dina Vida Vingar" (Thy Holy Wings), sung in Swedish. "Thy holy wings, O Savior, spread gently over me, and let me rest securely, through good and ill in thee."  

After the benediction, there was a time of silence for people to come forward and light a candle in the "lysglobe" - sending prayers and being concretely reminded of the light of Christ still present.

I left worship fed, strengthened, renewed, and reminded powerfully of God's grace, forgiveness and love. A light in the darkness. Praise be to God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The resurrection and the life.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Time to Mourn...

Today is May 17th, 2011. Norway is celebrating today (Syttende Mai). I am mourning. Today marks the end of my maternity leave. I went back to work after 12 weeks home with my wonderful boys. It's hard to believe Lukas is already 12 weeks old. Time flies. Lukas cried most of the day. I cried some too. Lukas' tears were from gas pain, my tears were from an aching heart. There is so much I want to hold on to, experience, and treasure with my dear little Lukas.... Journalling has been something that I have greatly failed at. I have good intentions, but I never follow through. Last night, during one of the middle of the night feedings, I decided it might be a good idea to start a blog. Maybe I will fail at this as well. But, it feels more like a conversation when thrown out there into cyberspace, so I will be more apt to write. I am an extovert and writing in a journal seems too introverted....So, we'll see what happens! I hope some of you will join me on my journey - share your thoughts - and take "time out" for yourself to wonder and cherish being a mom. As mothers, sometimes we need "time outs" just like our little ones. I know my frustration builds, I get frazzled,  and there are times I get a little too worked up, and I need a "time out". I am hoping that this blog will be a place for me and for others to share frustrations, to vent, to step back, take a breath, look at the big picture and appreciate all the joys that being a "mamma" brings.