My first week in Finland has come to a completion. It has been a rather eventful week indeed! I’ve shed the tears of both joy and sorrow; the unfolding events being pretty intense at times. It’s difficult if not impossible to describe everything in depth, but I’ll give it my best try.
I’m staying at my oldest brother’s oceanside log house in the town of Merikarvia for two nights, finally I get a chance to update my blog. (There’s thunder in the air so I may have to shut the computer down temporarily at times).
My childhood village has changed so much in the last five years, they no longer have a store nor a gas station, even the library is closed during the month of July! (Meaning, no public internet access!) Even the local bank is open only on Tuesdays!
OK, let’s start from the beginning:
On Monday morning, I bid farewell to my loving family and boarded a plane in West Palm Beach. The flight to New York went smoothly, as did my connecting flight with Finnair to Helsinki. I had plenty of time to spare and plenty of space in the airplanes as well. Finding the right terminal in NYC and going through the security checks proved easier than I had expected, even my luggage was among the first ones to arrive through the baggage claim Tuesday morning at Helsinki airport.
My brother Ari was there to take me to his apartment. I would’ve been lost without him as my guide in the city. Helsinki public transportation is simply superb; one can purchase tickets that are honored in any of the buses, streetcars or the metro-rail, and mothers with young children in strollers ride for free!
My brother had to work an evening shift so we had little time for catching up before he took off. I was tired and decided to take a nap in order to get over the jet lag. (Wishful thinking- it actually took me several days to overcome!!!) A few hours later I woke up, refreshed. The evening was sunny and beautiful so I went out for a stroll. The Helsinki-Vantaa area has plenty of forests and green meadows for the city dwellers to take advantage of. And Helsinki, being also a seaport, offers miles of beautiful shoreline marked with bedrock, sandy beaches, picturesque archipelago… The city itself is unique with lots to see and do.
Walking along an unpaved road, I soon discovered a little path. It led me to a number of garden patches the city of Helsinki rents out to it’s residents. Taking a closer look, I saw lush, flourishing vegetables, fruits and berries. Yummy! I had a pleasant conversation with a lady who was tending her crops. Beaming with pride, she was eager to show me the fruits of her labor.
I love meeting new people; however, here in Finland it’s not always easy. "Mind your own business" remains the quote of the day, despite the effects of globalization. Unlike many ethnic European people groups, Finns’ gene pool has remained (for the most part) unchanged for centuries. There are several reasons for this, remote location, strong sense of identity and patriotism, stubborness and self-sufficiency… To put it in a nutshell, Finns keep to themselves and are -at times- hard to approach. On the other hand, once a true friendship is established, it’s usually for keeps, lasting a lifetime!
It is not very common for people to acknowledge strangers here. Rarely does one make eye-contact with, or greet a passer-by. I found this almost physically painful at first, excited as I was, to be back in the old country. I wondered just how "bottled up" I’d become, but soon dismissed such thought as rubbish and whenever a foreign looking or a black person crossed my path, I greeted them in a cheerful way! They’d greet me back, smiling, though a bit surprised. Oh, that made me feel so much better!
Back at my brother’s, we enjoyed each other’s company, sharing our thoughts late into the night. My brother is pretty neutral in his opinions when discussing the matters of faith, but he does not "object" either. So I can share my views and experiences, little bits and pieces here and there, without endangering our good relationship. I’m thankful for that.
On Wednesday cousin Harry picked me up to visit his family. There I’d meet another Canadian cousin and his wife also, they had just arrived there from the airport. It was a special gathering, cousin H. and his wife have a very special place in my heart -I consider these precious people "my angels." In the early 90’s they helped me re-establish a closer walk with God after I had gone astray. I was in state of despair during the late 80’s, reaching the bottom after a downward spiral of partying, drinking and smoking.
We then received our first blessing, a beautiful and healthy baby boy and I could not continue such destructive lifestyle any longer. The sins I had committed bothered my conscience and, combined with the added responsibility, weighed heavy on my shoulders. The time was ripe for repentance. So, during my visit to Finland with our baby boy, I spilled it all out in the open to cousin H and his wife! I received the sweet gospel of mercy and by God’s grace was able to renew my faith in our Savior and Lord! Praise Him for the precious people He places on our paths!
My cousin has in his possession a testimony I wrote in Finnish regarding those events. It’s titled "From darkness to light" and was also published in a Finnish Old Apostolic faith magazine. My cousin’s wife Inkeri (who was born in Russia) mentioned to me a certain young lady (belonging to the Apostolic faith) who was going through severe crisis and had been institutionalized as the result. She had married very young and has a young daughter. However, the pressures and demands of adult life had crushed her, causing her marriage to fail and her childhood faith to crumble… Inkeri (remembering my previous struggles with self-doubting and despair) thought that, maybe somehow I could encourage this young lady. We decided to go visit her at the mental institute and, in addition, hoped to gain permission to take her on an outing to their lakeside cabin that weekend.
My cousin’s log cabin and sauna cabin are authentic old country log houses, dis-assembled and shipped from their original sites to the new location, the re-assembled by my cousin and his work crew. They must have worked hard, assembling these old cabins to serve as a vacation residence.
I was glad for the opportunity, spending a weekend by the lake with my relatives and their 5 children would be wonderful! I could not stop doting on the kids (especially the 15mo. old Melinda) -such sweet children! Missing my own children, I quickly became a surrogate mother to any of my relatives’ children that I met during my travels…
H. and I. already had overnight visitors so I decided to spend two nights at my cousin Lea’s apartment in Helsinki. She is also very dear to me, I’ve known her since the age of two. She has visited us in U.S. several times and is Godmother to one of our children.
I was also planning on visiting a wheelchair-bound brother on the following day. He’s been paralyzed since young adulthood by a muscular degenerative
disorder. Brother M. walks in a strong anointing, I consider it a very special priviledge to know him! I’ve received tremendous blessings from the Lord through this dear brother. He has prayed on my behalf during troublesome times and his mp-3 e-mails have blessed me more than I can describe. Thank you Jesus, for bringing brother M. to my life!
I had earlier informed brother M. about my upcoming trip via e-mail, hoping for a chance to meet him. I found out that, sometime during the previous week the doctors had inserted a feeding tube to assist
him with nutritional needs. Despite the added discomfort (his way of
communicating is using his mouth and voice), he e-mailed back immediately, welcoming me
to come over and visit him.
It touched me deeply to finally meet with my dear brother! (We were probably both a bit nervous before meeting each other). Yet, no matter what life’s circumstances, belonging to God’s precious family unites us with a special bond! We had long, heartfelt conversations… I will miss you brother, hope to see you again soon!
The next day Inkeri and I met the young lady in the hospital. She was quiet and reserved. The sadness I sensed in her was heart-breaking and it was difficult to tell whether she received me well or not… Witnessing to her about God’s grace, mercy and love was all I could do, as I tried to encourage her in a hushed, caring tone…
Lord Jesus, restore her! She’s so precious, so sensitive… I will continue praying on "Tanya’s" behalf, trusting her to Your care! I know that You in Your mercy, Lord, will provide her with everything she needs. Thank you Daddy, for caring for us, your little ones!
To our great disappointment, T. was not allowed to leave the hospital to join us at the lakehouse. The head nurse made it loud and clear…
The weekend turned out sunny and warm. We spent many unforgettable moments at the cozy surroundings, playing with children, picking berries, enjoying the woodburning sauna and swimming in the lake, discussing issues of faith for hours on end, even as we enjoyed coffee and cakes with visitors. The kids all got along, dad’s enjoyed guy time together, and us ladies, girl talk. Such blessings!
On Sunday we went to a prayer meeting in another town, where I met my uncle and his family, a 85-year old aunt (who’s just as bright-eyed and and playful as she ever was), cousins and second cousins. As the sun was slowly setting that night, I walked down to the lake with my 2nd cousin whom I have not previously known. She told me a very tragic story, how her 21-yr. old handicapped son had committed a suicide by jumping in front of a train two months ago. There, surrounded by water, we cried… so hard, sharing the pain and heart-ache, trying to make sense of it all… Daddy, comfort her, give her your peace that passes all understanding. Restore and heal her Lord…
On Monday the weather turned cloudy as I traveled north toward my childhood home.
My Dad was there in the city of Kristinestad, welcoming me home. How much he has changed during the last five years… From robust and strong to frail, careful, solemn. This too, unsettles my heart. Mom remains patient – and, every now and then- allows me glimpses of her melancholy, innermost reality. Her hopes and dreams, the disappointments- life’s tracks deeply imbedded in the surface of a mother’s heart…
God Bless mom and dad!
It’s raining off and on, as I’m updating my blog on big brother’s computer. I’m spending 2 fun days with him, enjoying the company of my niece and nephew and getting to know brother’s new girlfriend and her cute little kids, a girl and a boy. They’re off spending a day at an amusement park, I’m here at their beautiful home, reminiscing, missing my loved ones, catching up- It’s turning into a gorgeous day, sun is coming out- so I’m going out for an evening stroll…