It took about an hour to ride the bus from Stockholm’s Kungliga Tekniska högskolan (Royal Institute of Technology) to the island community of Vaxholm, on the far outer reaches of the city. As we pulled out of the station, I put on my headphones and listened to Sleeping At Last’s “Uneven Odds.” This was the refrain that finally allowed me to fall asleep last night, after nearly two hours of tossing and turning. “In spite of the uneven odds, beauty lifts from the earth…” and I thought about how I wanted to use the day our team had set aside in our schedules for seeking God and processing the first half of our week in Sweden.
Some of my trouble sleeping was probably jet lag, but a significant portion of my restlessness was personal insecurity. I can’t exactly explain everything that’s been going on in my heart, but some aspects of ministry in Stockholm triggered memories of pain, shame, and rejection from difficult experiences in Amsterdam. It was a nightmarish experience. But when I had reached a point of desperation in the middle of the night, that song drifted into my mind right when I needed it and reminded me that our darkness if often the soil from which God allows beauty to lift from the earth.
An old mentor used to remind me, “The Good News is that our hearts and minds are far more dark and dismal than we’re ever willing to admit… but God’s grace and goodness are also far more glorious and extravagant than we ever allow ourselves to dream.” As Bus 670 continued past the suburbs, into an area of forests and bays, it brought me peace to remember that there’s nothing going on this week (or this year, or this decade, or this lifetime) that falls outside the reach of the Gospel.
And when the bus arrived in Vaxholm, God’s grace and goodness became more immediate and abundant to me than I expected.
This is going to sound silly and unspiritual, but my biggest felt need upon arrival in Vaxholm was to find a bathroom — and even in this basest of human needs, I felt God’s Providence in a delightful way. With no previous experience or cultural instinct to guide me, I just started wandering towards the water. Within three minutes, I discovered a free-standing building clearly labeled “Toalett.” Inside, the restroom was remarkably well-kept, heated to a pleasant temperature, and amply supplied with the softest toilet paper I’d seen in Sweden. Properly relieved, I started wandering north and west in a vague hope of encircling the island by keeping the water on my right. The town of Vaxholm itself was pretty and quiet — but my delight doubled when I made it to the western end of the island, which turned out to be a sort of nature preserve called Eriksö.
Eriksö was so “Eric” I could hardly believe it. Tall, thick forests filled with Aspens and Pines… well-maintained trails of dry, packed earth and loose gravel hugging the rocky coastline… hills gently rising and falling along the way… The stillness was broken only by bird-song and the lapping of water against the rocks.
I felt God’s nearness and goodness with every step.
At one point, I looked at the pristine water and wondered if I should maybe go for a swim — just for the joy of it. I was serious enough about the idea that I legitimately considered the logistics of it all (Stripping down to my underwear? Going completely naked? Stacking my clothes in some bushes? Scanning the opposite shore for a potential destination…), but ultimately, I decided to just keep walking.
After another five minutes of walking, however, I came to a clearly-marked swimming area with a picturesque diving platform out in the water. I wondered if God was trying to say something to me, through the swimming platform. I’m not normally much of a swimmer, but I’ve been trying it out a bit more recently — and this seemed like such a unique opportunity. The air was quite cool, though, and the water was certain to be even colder. I worried that wet clothing and sticky sand would wreck the rest of my morning. So I started walking again.
And then, right there on a sandy beach carved out among the rocks was a bag that included a swimsuit and a towel. I couldn’t see anyone else in the vicinity. Just a stone’s throw away there was a shelter that was expressly designed for changing. And it seriously felt like a grand gesture from my Heavenly Father, just showing me how extravagant his grace and goodness really are!
The situation reminded me a lot of the deer antler that was literally dropped right in front of me at Yosemite back in 2015 (during another time when I was processing a lot of grief, insecurity, and shame). It might not make sense to anyone else, but I just felt so close to God at the recognition of this grand gesture. I grinned from ear to ear. But I ultimately decided to keep walking — content to just know that God loves me, without having to call in any “favors.” Almost like it would have been a sort of idolatry to grasp onto the swimsuit, or the antler, or whatever mindset these things might represent.
A little further along the shore, I discovered a cluster of buildings where there were signs indicating canoes and kayaks available for rental. Some workers were painting canoes, but it wasn’t entirely clear if they were open for the season yet. So I asked, and sure enough I was able to rent a kayak. It felt like there was finally an appropriate avenue to get out into that water, so I decided to go for it.
I only stayed out on the water for about an hour — but the sun came out, and my nature-loving, introverted heart was filled to the brim as I paddled around a smaller, uninhabited island and soaked up the silence and solitude.
Walking back to the bus station in Vaxholm, I kept thinking about Psalm 1. I decided I wanted to forsake the foolish, wicked route of sinners who can be so self-absorbed and critical of others. Instead, I want to find my delight in the Lord and His ways, where I’ll thrive like an Aspen tree by the waters of Eriksö.
By the time I was back in Vaxholm, my insecurity, shame, and grief had honestly melted away to the point that it was legitimately difficult for me to remember why I’d gotten so twisted up in the first place! I hope that I will always remember Vaxholm as a place where I was reminded of my smallness and God’s greatness. And I hope I’ll be able to go back there again, when I need to.