Takk

A picture from our travels in Iceland in front of a pretty waterfall the name of which has a bunch of letters and sounds cool but I'll never be able to pronounce.
A picture from our travels in Iceland in front of a pretty waterfall the name of which has a bunch of letters and sounds cool but I’ll never be able to pronounce.

I had an awkward encounter the other day with a kind lady behind the cash register. I was at a local store picking up a few necessities. We’d finished the transaction and she handed me the bag after which I smiled and, on instinct, uttered a word that sounds like “tock”.

She looked puzzled.

“Takk,” I repeated.

“Tick?” She asked.

I spoke louder. “TAAK!”

She appeared startled. I looked at her expectantly. She stared back at me. The folks behind me in line darted their eyes back and forth between us like they were watching a ping-pong match. Finally I realized my mistake and was somewhat embarrassed.

“Sorry,” I said. “I meant to say ‘thank you.’”

And with no further means of explanation, I turned and sprinted out of the store.

All this goes to say that we’ve arrived back in America safe and sound. Our plane touched down Thursday night. After sitting on the runway for nearly an hour while our pilot tried to figure out which gate we belonged at (“Sorry about the delay, Lufthansa seems to think they own the terminal these days”), nearly losing our customs slip (“that’s not really important is it?”), learning that immigration officers don’t have the best sense of humor (“what were you doing in Iceland?” “Well, I wasn’t getting a tan now was I?” “….”), we found our bags and met my family outside a crowded airport terminal. We were back home.

The first (and arguably only) Icelandic word I learned is “takk.” It means “thanks” or “thank you.” I learned this word years ago when it was released as the title of an album by one of my favorite bands, whose origin I would go on to learn was the small north Atlantic country I which would quickly absorb my fascination. They released the album on the heels of their first world tour, as a tribute to their country of origin, to the people who had launched them into their career. It’s a beautiful album, with a simple title and a pure message: “takk…thank you.”

The word is easy to say, flows smoothly off the tongue. Accompanied with smile and a nod, it communicates genuine appreciation, simple sincerity. Perhaps it’s because this word was introduced to me with the beauty of an album of music holding it up, or perhaps it was just the foreign nature of it, but I always found that it held a greater weight and significance than it’s English counterpart. And while in Iceland it’s the one word I could communicate easily and freely. I ended every encounter with a small nod and “takk”. It became instinctive for me, more so than saying “thank you”.

Which is why, when it comes to showing our gratitude for this trip, I think we’ll revert from English and embellish in one final Icelandic indulgence. I hope you don’t mind. Because there’s a few people to whom we wish to say “takk”.

To everyone who supported us and prayed for us before this trip, to those who gave financially to the fund that sent us over to Iceland, who encouraged us, and equipped us: takk. When we initially conceived the idea of taking this trip, we imagined it’d be difficult to raise support. We cannot tell you how grateful we are for the way in which numerous people rallied behind us. To all of you who supported us in prayers, letters, encouragement, finances and numerous other ways before our trip: takk.

To the people at Gordon-Conwell who educated us, the administration behind the Overseas Missions Practicum who provided for the class and infrastructure behind the program, and our professors and mentors on both sides of the pond: takk. Much thanks to Bill and Gunnar who hosted us in country and the endless efforts they put into providing a place for us to stay and the countless logistical efforts it took for us to even come and be with them during this time. Our time in country was not a walk in the park for them and we are incredibly grateful for their selfless service in shuffling us around, finding housing for us, and being our tour guides and translators while we were there. To everyone who providing for the logistics, infrastructure and education for this trip: takk.

To everyone who has supported, encouraged and prayed for us while we were on the trip, to those who sent an email, message or simply lifted us up daily while we were in Iceland… we are infinitely grateful to you as well. An email here, a message there, went a long way to encouraging us at just the right time. Furthermore, we cannot underestimate the power of prayer. This trip was not without it’s difficulties and prayers, through the grace of God, supported us in ways you can’t begin to imagine. For countless supporters who aided us and lifted us during this trip behind the scenes, for those of you loved us anonymously: takk.

To the people we’ve met on this trip, to the endless Icelanders whose gracious hearts, welcoming attitudes and loving spirits have permanently endeared us to you and your country, we are eternally gratefully. It’s incredible to think that six weeks ago we entered a new country alone and yet this past week we had to spend five days saying goodbye to a community we’d come to know and love. We realize that this didn’t happen just by letting people into our hearts but because others let us into theirs. And for the willingness to be open to complete strangers entering into your lives, we are very grateful. To our new friends, to those we met along the way, to the numerous people who opened up their houses and homes, bought us a cup of coffee, offered us a ride, gave us a place to stay, made us a meal, even gave us directions when we were lost, we cannot say it enough: takk.

Lastly, but of greatest importance, thanks be to God. Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, filled with some of the most beautiful and wonderful people I’ve ever met. It is a place yearning for redemption, yes, but it is still a place that sings the praises of its Creator. We are infinitely grateful to and thankful for a Creator who did not abandon any of us to our own devices but actually chooses to utilize us in His redemptive work. And we’re thankful for the fact that He is a creative Creator, whose beauty is reflected in the diverse and brilliant landscape of Iceland. To Him first and foremost we give our infinite and foremost gratitude for allowing us to be part of His work in that country. And with grateful hearts we say, simply but sincerely: takk.

The past six weeks have been a memorable journey we’re not soon to forget. There’ve been ups and downs, sunsets and rainy days. Through it all, we’re grateful for the experience and thankful to everyone who supported us and provided a way for it to happen. We cannot say it enough nor is there a word in English or Icelandic that means it as sincerely as we do.

So we’ll just keep it simple and mean it from the bottom of our hearts:

 

 

 

takk.

 

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Iceland In Photos & Prose

I’m not much of a photographer and despite years of training there are not words that can adequately surmise our summer in Iceland. But I managed to snap a few photos during our time in the country. I’d like to share them now along with some words of others who carry a pen more eloquently than myself. Their wisdom has echoed in my heart while we’ve been in the country, a reminder to me of how experiencing a new place, a new culture and then attempting to do ministry in said location is always a humbling experience. I carry them with me as we leave today.

So here’s a summary of our time in Iceland, in the best way I know how:

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“Perhaps these thoughts of ours will never find an audience

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Perhaps the mistaken road will end in a mistake

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Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time

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will be blown out, one at a time

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Perhaps the candles of our lives will gutter out

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without lighting a fire to warm us.

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Perhaps when all the tears have been shed

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the earth will be more fertile

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Perhaps when we sing praises to the sun

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the sun will praise us in return

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Perhaps these heavy burdens

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will strengthen our philosophy

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Perhaps when we weep for those in misery

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we must be silent about miseries of our own

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Perhapsberg

Because of our irresistible sense of mission

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We have no choice.”

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(Shu Ting, Translated from Chinese by Carolyn Kizer)

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My time in Iceland has been informative, humbling, wonderful, educational, inspiring and memorable all at the same time. I hope I had as much as an impact on the people and country as they had on me. Perhaps I did, perhaps I didn’t. My hope for this is just a prayer on the wind of this beautiful place as we leave here today.

I’ll close with sharing the following music video from one of my favorite artists. I saw this video several years ago, when I’d just begun dreaming of coming to Iceland. As it turns out, it was filmed not far from where we spent most of our time while here. And we actually drove through several of these locations and visited some of the sights as you may recognize from one of the pictures above. The song beautifully sums up my time in the country more than I ever could:

“…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
High above the highway aisle
Jagged vacance, thick with ice
I could see for miles, miles, miles.”

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Bless Ísland, takk fyrir allt.
(Goodbye Iceland, thanks for everything)

Stalling

A small church in the Icelandic countryside. It has no relevance to this story other than the fact that it is pretty and I probably stalled the car while driving to it.
A small church in the Icelandic countryside. It has no relevance to this story other than the fact that it is pretty and I probably stalled the car while driving to it.

When I learned to drive at age sixteen, my father wisely insisted that I learn how to operate not just an automatic transmission but also a manual 5-speed. Unfortunately the only car with stick shift available to us at the time was my sister’s “hey girl!”-blue Volkswagen Beetle, which she’d decked out with polka dots and daisy air fresheners making it a mode of transportation that reeked of as much masculinity as the Pony Pals theme song and hot pink nail polish. So it was that I found myself, on numerous occasions, in the driver’s seat of a car named “Dorie” stalling out halfway through an intersection while my father tried to calmly but insistently instruct me: “now ease of the clut-okay, okay, okay… try again!” Drivers swerved around us. Cars honked. Middle fingers waved out windows. What’s worse is some of the neighbors recognized us and gave us looks of pitiful concern, the kind you often see on parents when they are trying to figure out whether or not it’s their child that just pooped in the pool. When all was said and done, I’m not sure which cost more: the ensuing therapy or replacing the transmission. And Dad, for the record, I’m sorry about the whole neck brace ordeal. It didn’t look too bad on you.

All of which goes to say that, since that time, I’ve had little to no practice in the art of driving a stick-shift vehicle. And this doesn’t bode well for getting around in Iceland.

Iceland, as with many European countries, favors manual cars. While automatic transmissions are now available (whereas ten years ago, they were almost non-existent) a stick shift is much more common than in the States. When Bill picked us up from the airport, I noticed almost immediately that he had a manual car. Throughout the following weeks as he gave us rides to various locations and events, I admired Bill’s handling of the car the way a child admires a quarterback throwing a perfect spiral. He changed gears seamlessly; he never once stalled out or faltered. It was a form of art, I tell you. And I wanted to try it.

Thus when Bill asked if either of us knew how to drive a manual car, I was quick to volunteer my services. My wife, who knows just how thin my resume is on the subject, gave me the look of a co-pilot searching for an ‘eject’ button. So I clarified: “Well, I’ve technically learned. But I could use practice.”

Bill nodded and decided it’d be good for me to get some practice, in case we needed to rent a car at some point or he wanted a relief driver on some of our longer trips.

So it was, a few weeks later that we were finishing up dinner one evening during a conference in the countryside and Bill asked if I wouldn’t mind taking over.

“Taking over…?” I asked.

“Driving,” he said. “Get some practice. I might rest on the way home later.

My wife had been listening to the conversation somewhat abstractly to this point but suddenly looked as if she’d been stung by a bee. She shook her head.

“Uh, yea…” I said.

My wife gave me the look of desperation tone-deaf men often receive from their spouses at the bars, right before they jump up to begin singing karaoke, the look that says: “I really wish you wouldn’t. It’d be less painful for both of us.”

But I’m tone deaf.

I got into the car and took a deep breath. I considered my first step and put my right foot firmly on the brake. Then I put my left foot firmly on the clutch. I put in the key and turned the ignition. The engine purred to life. I looked up at Bill and Mollie ecstatically, like a kid who’s just learned how to pick his nose. But neither of them seemed to notice that I’d just turned the car on without stalling, without neck injury, without spontaneous combustion.

“Okay, then.” I said. I was proud of myself.

Holding down the clutch, I shifted the car out of first gear and into ‘reverse’, verbalize my process as I did so: “I’m always really nervous about this part”, I told Bill, “I’m scared I’ll find the wrong gear, put it in 5th and go sky-rocketing into the building.”

“Don’t worry, you’d stall out before you did too much damage.”

Whew. Well, then.

I found the right gear, at least what I hoped was the right gear, and was ready to ease up on the clutch. I moved my right foot off the brake and started pressing on the gas. The engine purred.

“Remember,” Bill said as I began, “…to ease up off the clutch as you pu-”

I took my left foot off the clutch and pushed down on the gas. The car lurched backwards for a moment then slammed to a halt. I’d stalled out.

“Whoops,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Bill said. “Just ease up on the clutch and apply more gas.”

I tried again. This time I floored the gas pedal, finally releasing the clutch so that we shot out of our parking space like the lid off a soda bottle that’s been shaken.

“Okay,” Bill said, “So you found the other side of the pendulum.” In the rearview mirror I could see Mollie rubbing her head from where it’d smacked the back of Bill’s seat. “Let’s aim for the happy medium now, shall we?”

I smiled apologetically and shifted the car into first gear. I eased up on the clutch and down on the gas. The car lurched forward a couple of feet and died.

“Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”In a span of five minutes I’d moved the car about two feet, most of that back and forth.

“That’s okay,” Bill said. “Let’s give it another go.”

I turned the key and started again.

We’re nearing the end of our time here in Iceland. In less than two weeks we’ll be back home, visiting family, catching up with friends, preparing for another semester. At that time, and even now, there will be a temptation to sum up our time here as entirely positive. It has, after all, consisted of some amazing experiences: beautiful landscapes, chocolate cake, learning Icelandic (okay, just a little), attending conferences, the list goes on and on. But beyond the blog posts, beyond the smiling photos of new friends by waterfalls, beyond the glitz and glamour that usually comes on the surface of these things, our time here has also featured moments of stalling, break-down moments on the side of the road.

And I think it’s important in ministry, I think it’s important in life, to acknowledge and be aware of the moments when we do stall. We can’t overlook them, we can’t gloss them over with our felt boards and Sunday school answers. There’s frustration in the stalling, there’s anger, there’s hurt and there’s pain. There’s discouragement, there’s doubt, there’s fear. We can’t pretend that doesn’t exist.

Last week we drove up north. Halfway there, Bill asked if I wouldn’t mind driving for a bit so he could get some rest. For upwards of an hour, I did a fine job. I didn’t wreck, I didn’t drive us off a cliff, I didn’t even stall the car. Not once. Then, in the middle of a roundabout, the busiest one we’d seen all day. I stalled. Completely and utterly. And it didn’t matter how hard I tried, how much I focused, I could not get the car moving again. From the outside it must’ve looked like I was trying to make the stupid thing dance to the Jiggy or something. And for a moment, I was ready to curse, cry, and laugh to high heaven all at the same time. In that moment, I needed something outside of myself and I was actually ready to realize it.

Life isn’t a smooth road, and even when there aren’t potholes we’re still driving a manual car and it’s not a stall-free journey; we are human, after all. And if we pretend that we’re not stalled on the side of the road, if we pretend there aren’t moments when we’re broken down in the middle of the lane, slamming our fists against the steering wheel, then we’ll always remain there. If we pretend we’re not discouraged, doubting, broken, terrified, and hurt, we won’t admit we need help when the tow-truck arrives and offers to give us a lift. We’ll wipe away our tears and tell him it’s okay; we’re fine. We know how to drive this thing, we’re old pros. And just like that, Jesus passes us by. Grace drives on. I’m not saying He won’t come back, I’m just saying that if we never acknowledge we can’t drive the %#$# car, we’ll just keep waving Him on.

Iceland has been wonderful, but it’s not been perfect. I’ve stalled out; I’ve faced discouragement, frustration, fatigue, doubt and questioning, in more ways than just while driving a manual car, in more ways, frankly, than I’m willing to post online. And while I don’t enjoy these experiences, I’m also glad they happened.

Because if I leave Iceland and I never remember the taste of chocolate cake, the Icelandic word for “yes” or how to find my way around the Reykjavik bus system, one thing I will have learned from my time here is that I still need grace. I can’t just wave Him on. I’m stalled out on the side of the road and I won’t be going anywhere unless He stops. And I hope He does. Because even in my best of moments, I still need Him.

Even if it means finding me in a Blue Beetle named ‘Dorie’, I hope He stops.