Notes from Jan

Sunburned in Stavanger

May 26, 2016

To be sunburned in Stavanger’s almost like saying, “If you want a really good suntan, go to Seattle.”

This morning when our ship docked in Stavanger, the sun poked holes in any notion that Norway’s a bleak, humorless place.   In a recent poll Norwegians were voted (not sure by whom) as the second happiest people on earth, second only to Danes.  On this sunny day, the closest thing I saw to a scowl were squinters, blinking at the brilliant sunshine.

For many years, Stavanger’s been known for herring, canned herring. Men fished and women worked at the cannery, packing 600-1000 tins a day, by hand, which left them smelling fishy.  But then, folks love fish in Norway.  Made me think of lines from a song about Mr. Snow in Carousel.

The first time he kissed me the smell of his clothes knocked me flat on the floor of the room. But now that I love him, my heart’s in my nose and fish is my favorite perfume. 

After machines accelerated the canning operation, they produced 6-7000 tins a day.  Today, Stavanger’s known more for its oil production, than those oily little fish.  Growing up, I always knew Norway had oil. Cod liver oil!

For me,however, the best part of today happened as we were docking.  Because this is a smaller ship, we pulled right up to the town, almost onto the sidewalk. While crew secured the ship and readied the gangplank, I watched from my balcony, a growing number of people, just beyond the security fence, waving Norwegian flags, welcoming family or friends to Stavanger.

As I watched these eager welcomers, my mind and heart shifted to a different shore with another group of people waiting and waving.   Now, hold your panic, I’ve not gone so far as to equate Norway with heaven.  But this morning,  the image shifted from strangers to familiar faces, waiting just beyond a barrier that separates us from them.  They’d gathered to welcome us, not to Stavanger, but home.

Too soon a sense of loss moved in and I turned and walked back into my room for a kleenex.   Then came a story I’d read or heard as a sermon illustration.  A number of years go, a large Trans-Atlantic ship was pulling into the New York harbor.  There were many celebrities on board and throngs waited with flowers and balloons,  the rich and famous disembarked to bands playing and crowds cheering,”Welcome Home.”

An old missionary returning to New York after many years of service, slowly made his way down the gangplank.  By this time, musicians and crowds had dispersed, balloons and confetti long gone. He felt tired, alone, unwelcomed and of no consequence. Then, he sensed God’s presence wrap an arm around his shoulder and whisper, “Just wait. You’re not home yet.”

And I suppose that’s why I stood  and cried this sunny morning in Stavanger. For one brief moment, I pictured my grandparents, parents, family and friends, jumping up and down, some waving Norwegian and Danish flags.  Jud, not a flag waver, stood quietly smiling at the back, his eyes, like lasers, beaming me home.

It’s true that,”This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”  Until I’m really home, I pray to be faithful in large and small matters because they matter.  And to never forget to be grateful for gifts like this morning, when I had a peek into heaven and a sunburn in Stavanger.


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  • Reply wendy lane May 26, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    It’s been a little while since one of your posts made me cry – whew. Beautiful thoughts. Love you!

  • Reply Dale Lefever May 26, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    I doubt my thoughts make you cry, unless your gasp bring tears. At any rate, I always think of Bill Hybels when he was asked by a friend as to why he spent so much time with him. He answered: “I don’t want to spend eternity without you.” What a great reason to love.

    Blessings, Dale

  • Reply Sharon Wolgemuth May 28, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Thank you Jan for your insightful perspective of home. My Osterhus relatives came over from Stavanger, and it seems like home there too. You are a master at capturing the moment. I’m so enjoying going on this trip with you! Thank you for sharing your heart. Much love to my fellow Norwegian.

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