in the land of the midnight sun. june 2014.
We blew through Germany and quickly wound our way up through Denmark. Our destination was at the very top of Norway on the tiny island of Nordkapp -- the northernmost point in Western Europe. A much different kind of high place than we'd envisioned when this whole thing began, but certainly a high place geographically. We realized that summer solstice was nearly upon us and it felt like the day we were supposed to be up there, but getting there in time it meant driving like mad and refraining from having loads of fun or exploring the countryside until the return trip.
We stopped for a few hours in Copenhagen and went to a big park to run Little Buddy around and do our thing, which I guess is secret code for worshiping the Lord. We've been so busy adventuring that we have yet, after all these many months, to explain what the heck we are even doing out here, so far away from home. To explain that, I'll have to take you back a year...
Post-miscarriage, mid-cancer, pre-healing, we were in an all out desperate search for healing, direction, and truth. Call it a health crisis. Call it a pre-mid-life crisis. Call it what you will, it was desperate, it was powerful, and it was really real. Somewhere along the way we started doing more than just talking to (and shouting at) God -- He started talking to us, answering us, leading us. No doubt He had been talking to us all along, but hearing requires one to listen, and listening requires one to stop talking or shouting or complaining or just generally filling that space with something or anything or everything -- and therein lies the rub.
The more we practiced listening for God's voice, the easier it became to hear Him speak. Some of the first words we clearly heard the Lord telling us that first month of listening was that He was going to heal me, and that this wasn't about us, this was about Him: Him being good, Him being kind, Him being faithful, Him bring gentle, Him being full of grace and mercy, Him being able -- and not just able to heal me but able to do abundantly beyond anything we could ever hope or even imagine. Had we not very clearly heard God tell us, "I've got you" and "you can't make a wrong decision" and that He had healed me, was healing me, and would heal me, well we most certainly would have gone to chemo. His words to us were like a dare to trust Him. Much to my surprise, the more we trusted the words He spoke quietly to our hearts, the more He started speaking to us out loud through other people. And many strangers spoke to us about our calling as a family to worship on the mountaintops... which only confirmed what our hearts (and a few other strangers) had been telling us for years.
Mountain tops have long been a common thread in our story. I inherited an obsession with mountains from my parents. The Music Man inherited an obsession with mountains from his parents. While my family's appreciation of mountains was cultivated at a great distance, The Music Man's appreciation was as up close and as often as one could hope for. He spent the entirety of his youth in a tiny mountain town in the North Cascades, surrounded by mountains. He was just one month old the first time his folks took him to the top of a mountain, and he's been to a great many mountain tops since. After The Music Man encountered Christ, he headed out to the mountains for a week of solitude. He proposed to me on a mountain. We climbed a mountain for our honeymoon, as we have done nearly every year since.
Our decision to rent a van and drive around Europe going wherever we felt the Lord was telling us to go was an intentional experiment in listening, in obeying, and in willfully stepping out into that call to worship on the mountain tops that we'd been hearing about, over and over, since September 2010, when a stranger (a stranger at at the time -- she is now a trusted friend) first told us she'd heard the Lord tell her that we have voices to open heavens and break strongholds, and give us a verse from Isaiah 52:
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Back in 2010, I was honestly pretty freaked out and wasn't really interested in relinquishing my right to live my life in whatever manner I saw fit. But when you have cancer, you start praying prayers like, "Lord, if you heal me, I'll do anything you want me to." And when he heals you, you are left with a surprising resolve to make good on your promises. And so, being left without an excuse to avoid the mountaintops he kept speaking to us about, we found our courage and off we went!
Turns out there are a lot of mountains in Scandinavia -- they've pretty much got it all. From Denmark, we drove on to Sweden and Little Buddy prayed to find a campsite next to a playground. He'll often expound on our prayers (and occasionally commandeer them), like if we are praying for our friends, he'll chime in and request a blessing for their kid and/or their cat, but this was the first time I remember him praying a whole prayer all on his own with no invitation or assistance. Pretty cute. So you can imagine our excitement when we pulled over at a rest stop only to discover it had a really great playground! When Little Buddy awoke in the morning and found us parked right next to the first playground we'd seen in Europe (and the best one we'd seen since Seattle) he was thrilled! God must love delighting us.
Most of Europe makes wild camping (free camping) easy and fun, but in Scandinavia it is especially amazing. Their rest stops are cleaner and more luxurious than most campsites I've been to in The States. In fact, we only paid for an actual campsite for seven of the 36 nights we spent in the van... and we stayed in some truly gorgeous spots.
Other great things about Scandinavia include:
1. absolutely stunning scenery...
2. in the summer the sun threatens to set but never actually does (we didn't see sunset for over a week or even momentary darkness for 11 days). we were able to do most of our driving while Little Buddy was asleep (with the help of a little something I like to call melatonin, which was recommended by his naturopathic pediatrician), and saw many glorious sunset skies that lasted for four to five hours.
On the down side: it really messes with you when it looks and feels like it's time for afternoon snack at two in the morning, and paying for anything (and by anything, I mean everything -- especially gas) is next to impossible and somewhat humiliating. Apparently you need a chip in your debit card to be able to use your money in most of the countries we went to! We might as well have been down to our last 5 dollars any of the many times we were actually down to our last 5 dollars on our adventure -- although this time we had money in the bank, we just couldn't get to it). We were livin' on love and drivin' on faith, trusting that we'd find a way to pay each time we needed to buy gas or groceries, and sometimes that meant leaving our passports as collateral and driving 50 miles (there and back) and stopping at 6 different banks before being able to access our money. While I did occasionally lose it, overall it feels like a really big deal to me just how much the unpredictable unknown isn't a really big deal to me anymore... it used to feel exactly like torture.
Our route took us through Finland and within a stone's throw of Russia. The one thing we weren't prepared for was the cold... and it was extremely cold. We own great cold weather gear but didn't bother bringing much of it because why would we when we were probably going to Italy?! There were some pretty scary roads driving along some pretty big cliffs, and some pretty tense moments driving through some pretty unexpected snow, but we made it to Nordkapp the day before the solstice. We cuddled up and thanked God that we had brought our down sleeping bags, which seemed so excessive at the time.
We awoke to crazy cold, heavy fog and occasional sprinkles. Summer solstice at The Top of the World, indeed! We bundled up and braved the elements on the edge of a cliff and sang our hearts out (especially Little Buddy). We explored Nordkapp a bit and warmed up the van cooking a delicious dinner. The next day we woke up good and ready for warmer weather. We decided to go see the fjords in southwestern Norway, but had to go by way of Finland and Sweden to get there. We had a big drive that day and around about two in the morning we decided to start looking for a spot to camp for the night (and by night, I mean it felt like two in the afternoon). We were in the middle of nowhere but right away we saw a sign with a picnic table on it and took the turn. While Little Buddy and I hunkered down in the van, The Music Man emerged to explore our new home. He told me later that when he went out to the dock a swan circled overhead repeatedly while calling out, as if to trumpet our arrival.
In the morning I eventually awoke and found the boys out on the dock. We'd struck gold! A dock, a boat, a swan, an outhouse, a fire pit, a little stack of chopped wood, and... wait for it... a wood-fired sauna! Hadn't I just been lamenting the night before about being in Sweden and Finland and not getting my sauna fix?! And here the boys were resting after working all morning cleaning it out and stoking the fire (which I think is so romantic). It was ready and waiting!
It was the perfect way to warm up after all that cold in the Article Circle. We skinny dipped in the frigid waters and warmed up by the raging fire. We lounged and relaxed in the sauna. We washed all our laundry and dishes in tubs of water in the sauna. We took sun-showers in the sauna. We cut my hair in the sauna (and by cut, I mean the scissors were as close to my scalp as they could get). It was marvelous. It was everything we needed it to be. It was amazing. The only time we saw another person was when two guys drove up, unloaded a bunch of chopped wood right after we'd just burned up the last of what was there when we arrive, and then immediately drove away. So of course we decided to stay and sauna another day...
It's the strangest story but at some point, while scrubbing myself down with a scrub glove in the sauna, I absentmindedly thrust my gloved hand into the bucket of hot water instead of the bucket of warm water. Now, by hot water, I mean that The Music Man had filled a bucket full of boiling water out of the boiler mounted on top of the enclosed stove that heated the sauna not 3 minutes earlier. I remember turning to The Music Man and yelling "HELP ME!" the moment I realized what I'd done... and I remember ripping my glove off and blowing out the door and running barefoot across the (very dry and prickly) lawn, buck naked, and flying down the dock and praying feverishly while thrusting my hand beneath the icy waters in the lake... and I remember being in agony in the van and seeing the blisters and washing several Alieve and several melatonin down with a bottle of red wine... and I remember waking up and being perfectly find with no pain and no blisters and absolutely nothing wrong (except an aching head) -- but I can't account for how I got from blisters to being back to normal in about 8 hours. We have a growing number of incidents like this, which cannot be explained!
It was hard to leave but we tore ourselves away from the sauna and drove through the mountains of Sweden back over to Norway. We hardly saw a soul -- it was as if had the entire country to ourselves, and the very earth itself was ours. The landscape was the best of everything we'd seen pictures of from other countries (England, Ireland, Scotland, Austria, Germany, Switzerland), but never known could be found in Scandinavia. We zig-zagged through the highest mountains and rode over the longest bridges and dove down and drove through the deepest tunnels. We camped on the coast and hiked over the bluffs and sang by the shore. We took ferries through the fjords and wandered south, making our way back from Norway through Sweden and Denmark, until we reached the sea and took a ferry to Germany. Some drives were leisurely and some were harried. I remember racing to catch the last ferry of the night and them seeing us driving down the road and holding the ferry just long enough for us to get on and then the boat pulling away from the dock before we'd even parked and turned off the van -- only to then realize that this was a cash only ferry and we didn't really even have any cash! But when we turned out all our pockets, we discovered we had EXACTLY the right amount of change, to the equivalent of a penny, for the crossing... at which point we agreed we were indeed heading in the right direction. It was amazing!
We prayed about where to go next. I thought I heard home (once again, we were on the wrong continent) and The Music Man thought he heard Prague. Turns out that on my father's side I'm Bohemian, which before the term was hijacked by western culture, it actually referred to a region which was comprised of modern day eastern Germany and the Czech Republic. I don't usually say I'm part Bohemian, I usually say I'm part Czech. So I guess in that sense, Prague could be considered kindof home-ish, right? I was really anxious to get to some sort of beach somewhere for heaven's sake, so I was kindof annoyed (but still on board to go). I know it's not what anybody wants to hear, but that sort of thing just doesn't excite me. Big busy city? No thanks. Quiet day on the water (preferably turquoise waters with white, sandy beaches) spent soaking up the sun with my boys? Sign me up!