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Next week we leave Finland – the place we have come to call home for the last 11 months.  We came here to continue my studies, thanks to an exchange program between Gettysburg Seminary and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. I was also very interested in learning more about the church here – especially about the decline of the membership and what’s being done about it.  We came to travel and see parts of Europe.  We came to live in a different culture with a different language.

We did all of these things and so much more.  And, as if often the case, things turned out differently than our expectations – but on the whole, far better than we could have ever imagined.  For one thing, we fell in love with Finland.  There’s just so much to love about Finland, it’s hard to even make a list and frankly, making a list doesn’t do the country justice.

We grew closer as a family.  This came out of necessity as we often had to rely on each other for so many things.

Now we are just about at the end of our time here in Finland – less than a week remains.  We have mixed emotions.  We are sad to leave the friends we have made.  I can’t lie and tell you I was excited to buy the return tickets to the US.  It was hard to do.  But…

But new adventures await us – which is exciting.  It’s my internship year – which means I’ve been assigned to a congregation to learn the practical side of being a pastor.

We know that if we can pack up our house, put it in storage, move to a different continent and live there for 11 months, we can do anything.  Plus, we’ve learned something else about ourselves – we look for the good in everything we do.  We already know that we’re going to love where we are headed next – not because we have been there, or because of anything we’ve seen, but rather because, that’s just who we are.  It certainly helps that the people we’ll be working with are excited to have us. And that God is calling us there – which means God’s got our back.  And as much as I love to read, I also love to do something practical and internship is an excellent pastoral shaping experience.

Next week we head to Iceland for a few days of rest and adventure on our journey back to the US, then we arrive in the US on the 4th of July.  (I’m expecting fireworks for our return, Not) Next week I take a break from blogging as we make this transition.  It’s good to take a break every now and then.

I’m not sure what to expect when we go back to the US.  How has the country changed while we’ve been gone?  I’ve read headlines and news stories, but they don’t give the full sense of it.  I can’t say I’m super excited to go to a country that appears to be ripping itself apart with racial tension.  At least that the impression I get from what I read.  But I also know that this isn’t the whole story either.

How have we changed while we’ve been gone?  I won’t know until we reunite with friends who comment on something here and there that they notice about us.  I do know that we have changed.  It’s impossible not to.  A friend of ours who has lived overseas told me before we left that you develop a third culture when you live abroad. You have your first culture – the country you come from.  You gain a second culture – the country you go to.  And you develop a third culture – something of a mix of cultures that is purely unique because you are unique and you have changed.

How do we answer the question – “So how was your time over there?” I don’t have a good answer for this.  Are people really looking for an answer or a nice one-line sentence?  How do you condense the last 11 months into one phrase?  I can’t and I doubt anyone wants to sit for hours on end to listen to everything we’ve learned and experienced. I think the best answer I have is “It was life changing.” It’s the most honest answer I can think of.

The next month and a half will feel like a hurricane.  And the time will go by fast, I’m sure.  We’re taking it one day at a time.  That’s the only way we can right now.  It would be too overwhelming if I had to think through all the things that have to be done.  Today we are visiting Helsinki – maybe for the last time.  We’ll enjoy it and inside we’ll probably shed a tear.  It’s kind of like mourning a loss.  But we also know that the future is wide open.  God calls us to some amazing adventures in life.  I don’t know what the future holds, only God does.  I’ll keep my trust in God – that always turns out to be the best.

One more post tomorrow, then a week off.  Then we’ll see how the jet lag is affecting me.  I’ll start posting again in July.  God Bless.