8/18/2016


I let my friends talk me into a mountain hike on the Kungsleden hiking trail in Northern Sweden - 110 kilometers of rocks and mud high up in the mountains. I don't know how I let such a thing happen because I have become a person who really likes the little comforts of life. I like my bed, I like good restaurants (plenty of them in Tallinn!), I like long evenings with a good book, I like having my phone on me at all times. So I was really surprised when I found myself packing only the most essential of things into a rucksack (a tent, a mattress, a sleeping bag, handful of clothes and protein bars, brand new hiking boots, head lamp and bikinis) and taking off for ten long days in an unfamiliar place far from home.

As I was walking on the trail, I thought about the whole things as a massive experiment I run on myself. So I guess one of the main reasons I agreed to go was because I wanted to get to know myself better and because I was curious about my limits and my abilities, trying to find the different breaking points in myself. I wanted to know how long I could walk without getting tired. I wanted to know how much pain I could endure without starting to cry or complain. I wanted to know how many days I could go without washing myself. I wanted to know when I would stop caring about my looks, away from our mirror-obsessed culture. I wanted to know how many days it would take me to go through a Facebook rehab. I wanted to know whether I could always stay calm or not. I wanted to know if my relationship with some of my friends would change radically during the trip. I wanted to know how I would react if someone treated me unkindly - would I snap, would I lash back? I wanted to know if I could get real quality sleep on a thin mattress in a cold tent. I wanted to know if I could swim in a lake of melting snow water. And I wanted to see if there was something God needed to tell or teach me that He couldn't tell or teach me at home.

I guess every experiment has twofold results. There are the results that you were looking for and that make you happy, and there are the results which, well, you wish weren't there...

I could go on without washing for about five days. I stopped caring about my looks on day three. Facebook became meaningless already on day two. Yes, I could swim in a lake of snow water, only for about 10 seconds though (the temperature of the water, we discussed, might have been around +6'C). I could get used to constant pain. But I couldn't sleep in a cold tent very well, at least during the first nights. One night I had to change the tent in order to get warm, and had to sleep between two big guys like between a sandwich. I couldn't get use to the tasteless canned food (there were only a few bright exceptions to this and they all happened when A. cared to cook - I knew he could cook but I didn't quite know he could make magic with the most simple of ingredients). Yes, some relationships changed, some for the better, at least one for the worse. The person I thought I knew the best I didn't know at all, as it turned out. Some teenage guys whom I didn't know and didn't expect anything from, turned out to be some of the nicest and kindest and calmest people I know. Most of the time I could keep my mouth shut and not complain. Most of the time I could stay calm and not lash back. Most of the time. Not always. And God managed to come through, His voice and answer to a question I went to Sweden with sounded crystal clear. It was the answer I didn't want to hear, I was until the last moment hoping for another answer, but the answer came and I think that's the most important thing of all.

There are three things I am especially happy about or thankful for as I look back on the hiking adventure. I am very happy about my hiking boots (I called them Tough Mudders) that brought me through all that mud and mountain rivers, keeping my feet ever so warm and dry. I am grateful for having such a wonderful hiking buddy as W. - one of those teenagers. He never tired of making me laugh with his jokes, and I never tired of laughing. One moment (the only moment I really wanted to cry) when I managed to spill the frying pan with mushroom sauce that was almost ready for supper, losing at least a quarter of the precious sauce, I could see how he made an extra effort to comfort me and cheer me up. He has no idea how grateful I was to him for it. And third, the nature - the breathtaking, Lord of the Rings kind of nature, massive mountains, little streams with wonderfully tasting water, rushing rivers, big plateaus, massive clouds hanging right above your head, big rocks that gave shelter from the ice-cold wind. Oh, the nature really was the real star of the hike!

But I am also glad to be back. On the first evening as we arrived back late at night, I just fell in my bed, only thanking the Almighty for life and for my bed before dozing off to sleep. The next evening I was in a better shape - I made myself some good salad, put my feet up (literally because they are still swollen), listened to classical music, ate ice cream, and started reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography. And on the third evening (yesterday, that is) I accepted my dear auntie's dinner invitation and stayed at hers until I was so full I could eat no more of her delicious food.

Wilderness is good. Home is better.

7/19/2016

Work Talk

Things have been developing steadily since the conference session last month. I had a dream somewhere in the back of my mind as to what would be the perfect outcome of the session for me personally and how it might change my work but I didn't want to talk about it much as I was very afraid of disappointment. Only a few friends knew what I really had in mind. So the conference session came and it went and it all happened so quickly I didn't even have time to blink my eyes before it was all over. And then when I reflected on the decisions made at the session I realised the outcome for me was the best one I could have asked for. I was appointed the leader of the Sabbath School department in addition to the personal ministries and the educational department I was already leading before the session. Then only one more change needed to be made. The increasing work load on the conference's level had to result in some sort of decrease somewhere else. And there's only one 'somewhere else' for me - the local church. So it was that I was waiting for the first meeting of the newly appointed conference board with growing anticipation because only the board could make a decision about my role in the local church. And finally, last Wednesday the decision was made about me: I will finish working in Tallinn's church in the end of August and then I'll continue working only for the conference. After only three years in pastoral ministry I'm done with it, well, for the time being, that is. And I have to admit, I received the news with a quiet sigh of relief. Not that I don't like what I'm doing but I think I can be more useful to the church leading these departments. And honestly, I don't think I make a good pastor. Really.

The conference board is also a new thing for me. It was a very interesting day last Wednesday when the board met for the first time. The board itself is quite something - seven members out of twelve are under 40 years of age. I think we might be the youngest conference board around here. And in general I enjoyed the meeting. There were many decisions to be made that were purely administrative. But I felt very, I don't know, insecure when we had to discuss things and make decisions about people. It was then that the realisation of the weight of the responsibility hit me. Heavens, we need to make decisions which have direct effect on people's actual lives, their future! I don't feel confident at all in this role. I guess that's something I need to get used to - the decision making and the responsibility that comes with it.

But in general, things are good. I go to work every morning with a smile on my face and with a silent "whoop whoop!" in my head. And now, a month after the conference session, I've finally understood - this is my time. This is my time to work, to dream, to cast visions, to succeed and to fail, to try new things, to give my very best, and also yes, to take the responsibility for all of it. There is no future I need to wait for. This is it - the opportunity is now and the opportunity is mine. I'm lovin' it.

--

Alicia Keys, One Thing. Oh, so smooth!

7/10/2016

My two weeks of bliss are over now, I've just arrived back in Tallinn with my suitcase full of dirty clothes and my mind full of wonderful memories. They were good weeks, nay, they were actually wonderful weeks, so wonderful that when I passed Tartu last Friday and had an hour to spare there, I went to St John's church and lit another candle (the one I had promised to lit I had already done a week earlier) to show my appreciation to the Almighty for all the good things I was able to enjoy during my vacation. I sat in a pew for a while, listened to one of the best Estonian pianist who happened to practice there for his evening concert (it is a church highly valued by many classical musicians), and was just grateful. I don't sit in the gratitude bubble very often but I did then.

If there's one thing worth telling from the past week then it is probably the mighty thunderstorm that hit us and its aftermath. It was Sunday morning a week ago when we were having a late and lazy breakfast of pancakes on my cousin's porch when we realised that the weather was turning bad. It didn't seem as anything too serious at first but when it started to get really dark, we decided to bring everything inside. And then the wind hit. And then the hail. And then the rain. We barely managed to get inside when a storm of such magnitude broke loose that it left us all breathless. We all stood at the big window, mouths open in awe and surprise, and there was nothing else to see other than the white of hail and rain. Two trees fell very close to the porch, the outdoor furniture flew as if it was made of paper and the electricity was cut. And it was the only time in my life when I've wondered about the strength of the roof and the quality of its construction... The storm didn't last for long, luckily. Once we had recovered from the initial surprise - things like that don't happen often in this corner of the world - and had gathered ourselves, we walked to the nearby village, only to see many many trees blocking the road and to find the village shop closed because of the power cut. So we spent the evening in candle light and without the groceries we had wanted to buy. We still heated the sauna though - you don't need any electricity for that! But things got even better the next day when my cousin's family had to leave the summer house for two days and they left me there alone. Once again I walked 4 km to the village shop only to find it closed again. So I walked back and searched for more candles. I was beginning to run out of food, there was some bread in the cupboard and a can of chick peas. The stuff that was in the fridge I did't dare to touch as it was already the second day without electricity and thunder can have a strange effect on dairy products (I'm serious). So I turned off my phone to save the batteries, I went swimming, I sat at the lake and read a book until it got dark. I felt like I was as far from civilisation as one could possibly be. It was like a real adventure for a city kid like me, nothing like this could ever happen in Tallinn! So it was with a bit of relief and with a bit of sadness that I realised the next morning that the electricity had come back. It had also come back in the village so the store was open once again and I bought way too much candy in the celebration of its re-opening (some candy are still somewhere in my suitcase). I could charge my phone again. I was back in the civilisation.

Other than that, what could be said about those weeks? I went swimming 13 days in a row. I read 3,5 books (the fourth one I still need to finish). I found two new wonderful restaurants in Pärnu. I ate too many pancakes. And I spent time with some of my very favourite people in this world: my cousin R. and his family, my dad, K. and I. in Pärnu, A. and L. in Türi who always welcome me at their place so kindly (and, oh, those late night conversations!!!!), and the Pathfinders camp people I spent this past Sabbath with... There's a lot to be thankful for.

And until tomorrow morning I can ignore the fact that I need to preach three sermons this coming weekend and I have 30 unanswered emails in my mail box.

--

Here's a song I discovered last week: Robyn Sherwell's version of Landslide. Ain't it beautiful?

6/29/2016

I remember a late night conversation with one of my cousins, a conversation which turned out to be unexpectedly deep. "I've thought about what I want to remember and what I want to take with me in life," she said, "and I've come to the conclusion that most of all I want to collect memories." I thought it was a really nice thing to say and a really nice thing to wish. To collect memories...

I was thinking about this just yesterday and this morning I happened to read Annie Dillard's essay that went so well with that idea. Dillard talks about her childhood and how she used to take some pennies and leave them on the sidewalk for someone to find them. She drew arrows with chalk that led to the pennies. The idea of an unexpected surprise that was waiting for someone excited her. And then she continues, "There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. But - and this is the point - who gets excited by a mere penny? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get."

And I think this is what I have been doing these past four days. Collecting pennies. They aren't worth a fortune, at least not separately, but by picking those little pennies someone's generous hand has cast on my way, I can, in my own poverty, buy a lifetime of days. During these days spent here in Pärnu I have indeed stooped to pick up every little penny and every little memory that has come my way. I leave today to the next leg of my trip with a lot of little memories in my heart that will tinkle for a long while still.

I have met up with some good friends who happen to spend a shorter or a longer part of their summer here in Pärnu. It was very kind of A. and I. and K. to invite me over to their place for some pizza and sauna and conversation. Good friends keep us grounded, they keep us sane and they keep us loved. I am very grateful for such friendships. Another penny is the sea - and I have faithfully gone swimming every day, no matter the weather. Every time I feel the warmth of the water, the strength of the waves, the sand beneath my feet and the wind in my face, I am grateful to the Almighty for the ability to sense things physically. Morning walks in the seaside park - yet another penny. The sparrows who want to eat my cake as much as I do and who keep me entertained the whole time spent in my favourite cafe - isn't that a penny too? An hour long conversation about theology with my dad in a fancy restaurant we've just discovered. The freedom to leave my phone and my wristwatch home when heading to the beach. Eating strawberries. Watching tiny Iceland win an epic football battle and yelling my head off in relief with the final whistle - even this I counts as a penny worth picking up. :) The freedom not to open my work e-mail. Books. Sun. Rain.

That's a lot of pennies!



 

6/26/2016

I woke up early this morning, packed two weeks worth of clothes and books in my suitcase, threw in also my running shoes and bikinis and left the city for two weeks of vacation. I was careful not to take my laptop with me, I buried it in my drawer in the church office. I have yet to figure out how to make my email account send automatic holiday replies to people who dare to write me. I'll figure it out alright.

I have decided to start my Eat Pray Love trip of this summer from Pärnu. Vacations here are now very different from the summers I enjoyed here when I came from Newbold and had two and a half months of unlimited freedom, when I could wander to the local library and decide on a whim to read the whole of The Lord of the Rings and then lie two weeks out in the sun in the backyard reading, occasionally popping by the kitchen to find out what mom was preparing for lunch. Life is different now. Time is much more limited. Joy doesn't just lie around the house but comes with more effort. There are more things to remember now, and more things to forget. But the moments of life are precious all the same.

I am trying to maintain a healthy balance between activity and inactivity during these weeks. We have become so busy in our lives we unknowingly take this busyness with us to our vacations too, cramming every day and every moment with something, a place, a trip, a family get-together. By the end of such a vacation one is so tired a second vacation is needed to sleep off all this holiday busyness. I try to avoid this. And yet, there is a list of people in my head I wish I could meet, and a list of places to go. First of all, as soon as I am done writing this, I need to go and check if the sea and the beach are still where I left them the last time I was here in Pärnu. Then I want to go and sit alone at my mom's grave in Türi without anyone bothering me for a long time. I need to go and light a candle in St John's church in Tartu, sit in the pew and thank the Almighty for the past three years and for what He's let me do in the church (it's a promise I made before the conference session but I was unable to find time for it). And if there's a cherry on the cake for me, I want to sit in the sauna at my cousin's summer house until I can't sit there no more and swim in their lake until I can't swim no more. Only then I think I am ready to return to Tallinn and to the never ceasing pile of obligations.

--

The last two weeks have been as ordinary and extraordinary as any other fortnight. I could almost cram everything into one sentence: I've marked exams, I've written sermons, I've raked hay and peeled potatoes in our conference's new camp site, I've watched the guy I studied the Bible with last winter get baptised, I've accompanied K. on a shopping trip, I've watched football, I've read two great books, I've agreed to take on a museum/exhibition challenge proposed by Dr. A. N., I've seen a psychiatrist (who declared me sane and healthy), I've booked plane tickets to a preaching trip in Norway. Oh, and I think I managed to get my first theological article published. But one thing I wasn't able to do over these weeks though. I wasn't able do make up my mind about being in love or not being in love. It's a decision I'm quite relaxed about as a) I'm in no hurry and b) even if I make up my mind about it, no-one gives a damn.

--

This morning on a bus I started reading my 15th book of this year - Annie Dillard's The Abundance. She makes magic with words.

--

It's been too long since the last time I posted any music. Here's Jack Savoretti and his Catapult. Have you ever heard a song more beautiful than this?

6/13/2016

It's time to share some emotions from last weekend.

The anxiety started to build up sometime in the beginning of the last week. It started with rather serious sleeping problems which for me equals a disaster - if there's anyone who needs 8+ hours of sleep every night, it's me. It's difficult to say what exactly caused it but I think I worried about the upcoming conference session a bit more than I was willing to admit to myself. The number of obligations I had agreed to take on for that weekend also added their share of stress. On Friday morning when the session started in Tartu I wasn't exactly feeling well but despite that the day was good and productive and the session actually very nice. Looking around in the church hall one could tell there was a serious generational shift happening. Many of the delegates from different churches were young people. And the conference leadership wasn't exactly old either. So the atmosphere was serious and yet enjoyable. I thought I. did a brilliant job leading the session. Later my dad told me this might have been the best conference session we've had in Estonia for a long long time. And he's attended a number of them.

I preached on Friday evening service, participated in the Sabbath school discussion on Saturday morning and sang in the choir. We had rented a big concert hall for the whole of Saturday so all church members who wished could come and join in the session's celebration. It was great seeing so many people coming together and enjoying the preaching and the music and fellowship. The only thing was that my anxiety got worse and worse, by Saturday I wasn't eating properly any more and I started having troubles with my sense of balance. It was as if a big dark cloud was starting to gather above my head. At one point I realised I was going to have an anxiety attack, the only question was where and when and how. And sure enough, it happened. My dad was sitting backstage in the afternoon, waiting for his rehearsal time for the evening concert and I was just hanging there, feeling terrible, when the attack came. Fortunately not many people saw it but what was even better, the right people sort of happened to be there. At one moment I just found myself sitting in the dark backstage corner, crying and shaking uncontrollably - it must have been the worst anxiety attack I've had for many months, if not longer. Of all people H., bless her, happened to be there. She sat with me for a long time and held me and talked to me and reminded me I needed to breathe, she gave me tissues and water and candies which tasted like sugar. The cloud disappeared slowly. By the time the evening concert started, I was back on my feet. I didn't dare to wear high heels because my balance problem hadn't got any better, but at least I was able to stand and attend the concert and sing my dad's songs with the rest of the choir, and enjoy being part of this weird thing we call church. I sensed very strongly that I had once again been saved (or at least my sanity had been saved) by those wonderful people God has blessed me with. Without them... No. I don't want to think about that.

Sunday morning came again with sleeplessness but the day went by so quickly I didn't even have time to start worrying about the things that had been worrying me for some time now. The committees were elected and they did their job well and without interruptions. After the lunch the most important part of the election was over. I. was re-elected as the conference president. If it hadn't been inappropriate, I would have done a little happy dance right then and there. The relief was huge! The committee went back and although at one point it seemed like they were never going to leave the committee room again, by the evening the new conference board and the departmental leaders were in place and confirmed. The conference session was closed, our job was done.

So here are the decisions that affect me. I was re-elected to lead the department of education and the department of personal ministries. In addition to this, I was elected to lead the department of Sabbath school. Plus I was elected a member of the conference board. The Sabbath school thing I was secretly hoping for but the conference board thing came as a total surprise. Now I am waiting for the first conference board meeting which will hopefully decide about my role on the local church level. Because obviously, when new obligations are added, some old ones need to be taken away... This is what I was hoping for in my heart but didn't even dare to say out loud. I cannot even begin to describe the relief and joy and gratitude and excitement that fill my heart right now. This can only be God's doing.

As to today, I've taken a day off. I've slept a lot and have taken a long walk on the sea side. I'm still not doing well when it comes to eating properly but I'm feeling much better. Nevertheless, do say a prayer for me.

What a weekend. Heavens.

The session has begun. Voting is taking place.
I love preaching.
The Sabbath school discussion.
The evening concert. I'm somewhere in the choir. The worst is over.
On Sunday evening with the new conference board.

5/30/2016

I'm turning my blog into an Instagram account and sharing some moments through photos again. So much has happened over the last two weeks but since back from the UK I've done little else but run around and frantically try to dig trough the ever increasing work load. So the blog has had to wait. (The fact that I came from the airport straight to my office last Monday should illustrate things expressively.)

But here are some of the highlights of my UK trip:

Sometimes running into good friends just happens. I had no idea the Division was holding an important meeting for the Unions' departmental leaders while I was in the UK. So everyone seemed to be in England at the same time. And I could talk S. into driving me to the meeting one evening (thank you ever so much, bruv!) just so that I could crash their party and meet S. and M. That evening was one real treat! God was good to us that evening (not that He's ever not good but you know what I mean.)

More meetings with good friends! J. invited me to join their Bible study group. Why, yes, of course I'm coming! It was a good day spent with these five guys, a good chance to meet people I hadn't seen for too long. And I know it sounds terribly snobbish but it was incredibly inspiring to have a Bible study with everyone around the table having a Master's degree in theology. Probably my favourite moment of the day was when J., our genius Old Testament scholar, started frantically translating the verse we were discussing from the Hebrew Bible. Mercy! I wish I could attend their Bible study again.

 It is a very rare thing for my feet to look like this on a Sabbath morning. 9 times out of 10 there would be high heels and a church carpet on the picture instead. So I enjoyed the day in Windsor Great Park also for all the 9 Sabbaths which I can't spend in the nature.

While walking in Virginia Waters, I kept thinking about gardens. The same thought came to me also last spring when visiting a nice garden in England. I want to come up with a Garden Theology. I don't know if anyone has ever written on it but I am convinced gardens are very special places for people. Because, well, we have come from a garden. And I think there's something in our heart that wants to take us back to a garden. I think a garden is the richest and the best example of cooperation and creativity of both God and man. These two don't meet anywhere the way they meet in a garden. Yes. I really think I'm on to something here.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos from my epic London day with Dr A. N. I just don't dare to ask her if I could take a picture. She's too cool for picture-taking. But seriously speaking, it was another wonderful day-long mentoring session. She keeps investing in me. She keeps guiding me. She keeps empowering me. It makes me very humble when I think of it, humble and grateful. One lunch with Dr A. N. in Soho usually gives me more than an academic module in a uni could possibly give. I really, truly love her.

No-one ever takes pictures when sitting in The Lady's office either. Nope.


But here are two pictures from a seminar I attended right after coming back from England. I spent two days at a seminar meant for the lecturers of Estonian theological colleges. I met some old colleagues and I made some new friends - it's important, this networking thing. I also had the opening devotional there, I almost went into the preaching mode. I really like the picture that was taken of me during the devotional because I think you can see from it how much I like preaching and teaching. It just shows, there's no hiding.

And this is what I've been doing yesterday and today. Sigh. The deadline's tomorrow.