The Booker Prize 2023

I have dropped the blog ball almost completely. I haven't meant to do it but life is busy (the usual excuse) and energy is limited and so it has happened that I haven't written much. But I feel like if I drop the yearly book review ball, too, then it is truly over. So this is my attempt to save the blog.

As to 2023, it was quite a good reading year. I really felt I got back into a reading rhythm. The historically disastrous reading year from summer 2021 to 2022 when I used all my evenings for phone calls with S. has turned into a routine of an old couple who have been married forever and who don't need to speak to each other that much anymore. I'm kidding, of course, we are still very much on speaking terms and - spoiler alert - even more so from March onward when he quits his old job and comes to sit in the same church office as me five days a week. He will be (a much-appreciated, if I may say so) addition to our Union's media team. This will change some of our life dynamics completely and I am rather excited about that. :)

But we were meant to talk about books today...

When I look at my book list from 2023, I can see some real gems there. So many, actually, that it is difficult to find the winners. But I try to keep to four of my favourite thematic sections: theology, history, biography, and travel literature. And here are the winners:

1. theology - Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday. RHE was probably the brigthest young star on the progressive theological lit scene in the USA but her death at the age of 37 some years ago ended all that. Thankfully, she managed to write quite a few books during her short life. And although her experience as a girl from a small and terribly conservative Trump-voting southern town where everyone is a fourth-generation baptist is very far from mine, her search for meaning, for community, for the mysterious and divine in the midst of the mundane is so easy to relate to. She is both sharp and soft, and the book is a balm to one's soul. 

2. history - Philippe Sands, East West Street. Curiously enough, the best history books from last year were all about the Second World War and Holocaust. It just happened so, I wasn't particularly looking for that theme. And while I wonder if anyone in 70 years time will write the same way about the present Gazan genocide, it is somehow fitting that the last year's best history book talked about the man who came up with that very term after the WWII - genocide. East West Street is a marvellous mixture of biography, history and legal study, showing how one man's experience in a world where everything came crushing down around him gave birth to new ideas and new understandings of the world. It is a sad world where we need that kind of terminology, but as the news show - we cannot retire that word. Not by a long shot. 

3. biography - Simon Winchester, The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Maybe some of you have seen a film titled The Professor and the Madman. This film is based on that very book, telling the life story of a strange character who, by today's medical standards, suffered from something like scizophrenia and who, according to the 19th century's medical conventions, was locked up in an asylum for life for killing an innocent man during a manic episode. There have been many sick and unfortunate people locked up during the history but against all odds this guy, William Minor, became the most valued contributor to the New English Dictionary, an insanely big dictionary project in Oxford in the 19th century where they wanted to record all English words in all possible contexts. For those of you who like both biographies and linguistics, this is a real gem. Even dry dictionaries are interesting after reading this book, I promise. 

4 travelogue - Edmund de Waal, The White Road. Read everything that man has written! His sweeping family history Hare with Amber Eyes is just breathtaking. But this book, where he as an acclaimed ceramist goes to different places around the world to trace the history of porcelain and its journey from China to Europe, is so slow and beautiful you never want the book to end. And I kid you not, every time I happen to see porcelain cups and plates in some museum or shop, I stop and look at them with completely different eyes. There is marvel in my eyes now, thanks to this book. 

But sometimes slightly lighter reading material is required:


The Parallels

I remember clearly a counselling session I had with H. P. It must have been in the very beginning of my pastoral internship so my mom was either dying or dead. I remember telling H. that I was not cut out for pastoral work, that I was not strong enough and my own life was a smoking pile of rubble. H. asked, "Well, would you want to go to a church where the pastor had a perfect life? Where (s)he didn't know what pain and grief felt like? Where (s)he couldn't emotionally relate to others' sorrows?" No, of course not, I replied. Then H. just looked at me and let me figure things out for myself.

This conversation has come back to me a couple of times over the last month or two. In several situations I have sensed a clear link between what others go through and what I have gone or go through. 

Just last weekend we said goodbye to a church member whose godliness and gentle spirit touched many lives. I had my own story with her. The story actually started the first day I ever set my foot on Ekebyholm campus - on June 10, 2021 - when she was the first person to greet me and give me the keys to my room. We developed a really nice, close bond as there was something very similar between her and my mom. The wisdom. The gentleness. The undying faith. And then visiting her in the hospital over the past months and seeing her body slowly lose the battle to an evil disease let the memories come flooding back. The links were so obvious although, thank God, the light of resurrection shone much stronger this time. We will see again soon, very soon. 

Yesterday I visited an elderly lady who buried her 18-year-old grandchild last week. We sat in her living room, drank tea, and talked about lives that are cut short too early. Of course, I don't know how she feels, I don't know how unnatural it must be to say goodbye to someone who should live much longer than you. But I do know what it is like to live in parallel realities and imagine a life that should have been but never was. My first baby should have been born last week...

The going is rough right now. The extraordinarily high sensitivity that I have and that can be a blessing in some situations is a very heavy burden to bear these days. The feeling of not being enough, of not doing enough, of not being able to fix broken things or heal hurting people. The helplessness. Somewhere in the back of my head I have a constant conversation with God, begging him to let me go and do something else, something easier.

But we survive. 

"We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." - Saint Paul 


I just want to say a big thank you to all of you who reached out to me last week. I was overwhelmed by the messages and the love I received, and most of all by all those prayers sent up on my behalf.

I could sense the power of prayers surrounding me on Wednesday and the following days. In the hospital on Wednesday, things went as quickly as they possibly could have - I spent some 6 hours there before I was sent home. On Thursday, I didn't need painkillers any more, and I felt strangely energised. On Friday, I took a long walk in Stockholm's old town (and unintentionally got stuck in the crowd celebrating the king's golden jubilee) - 12 000 steps. And although I felt weaker and had more pain over the weekend, I have still been able to visit some lovely church members, we've been helping out at the renovation of our "church home", and on Saturday evening my father-in-law taught me how to bake proper British scones. :)

The sadness I feel is not on a surface level but somewhere deep down. 12 weeks is a time long enough to get used to an idea of a completely different future. It is a time long enough to start imagining what that little boy or a girl would be like. So, when things end abruptly, you have to take on the hard work of re-imagining life, the work of going back to the way things were before, of erasing all the pictures from your head of what could have been. It's very strange. 

It still hurts my brain to think about future. 

Other than that, I'm fine. I'm not depressed, I'm not crying myself to sleep, I'm not isolating myself from the world. I'm back to work again - a sermon needs to be written today and a Bible study needs to be prepared. It is good to do meaningful things.   


I found this poem a little while ago, and it resonated with me. And I can't help - every time I read this, I think about all those people in my life who are dealing or have dealt with major losses themselves. May these words help us see the wonderful stars in the middle of a dark night:


Two Sides of a Coin

It's as if we walked on water

It's roughly a year since I started working in Sweden. And it is only now that I begin to realise how very different my work here is, compared to the work I did in Estonia. Looking back at that first year, the things that make me the happiest are the things that I was never able to experience - for different reasons - in Estonia. My involvement on the local church level was limited there. Here, on the other hand, I have been able to take part in and experience all the different aspects of pastoral life. 

I call them The Big Four - a funeral, a wedding, a child dedication, a baptism. For the first time in my life, I have been able to do all of them. I had my first funeral early in spring, my first baptism in August, and my first child dedication and wedding now, in the beginning of September. Plus, I have also been able - again, for the first time ever - to take part in serving at the Lord's table. Like someone asked me when I told them this - what did you do in Estonia?

I didn't expect these things to mean so much to me. It has taken me by surprise that the services of The Big Four have touched me so deeply. It is a very special privilege to serve people at the happiest and saddest moments of their life, to break the bread and share the cup, to remember the Lord's death, to say an encouraging word when it is needed, to be in the long line of generations of Christians over hundreds and thousands of years who have taken part in these ecclesiastical services. It is nothing short of a miracle for me that I have been able to do these things and even if my work changed one day - maybe we will go back to Estonia one day? - I will treasure these moments dearly.

But of course, every coin has two sides, every equation has two sides. There are moments when I can serve others, do something meaningful for them, and then there are moments when I really need others to serve me, to do something for me that I can't do myself. 

Right now it is me who needs people to take care of and serve me. There is no nice way of putting it so I might just as well blurt it out - I am in the middle of my second miscarriage. This time we made it a little further, until the 12th week ultrasound. The baby was there, heartbeats weren't. Now, after three separate doctors have confirmed there is no sign of life inside me, I have to go to the hospital tomorrow (Wednesday) and go through the rest of the miscarriage there as they keep an eye on me, ready to help if need be.

If you are a praying type, please say a prayer for me tomorrow. I would appreciate it very much.

And that't the miracle of the church community. It is only by serving and supporting each other whenever the need arises that we know we will make it. And we will make it.   


Bottomless Well of Wisdom

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary yesterday which means that we have now legitimately become a bottomless well of experience and wisdom. But seriously speaking, one year is a time long enough to experience and learn some things. Not overtly much, but some. Yesterday evening after the church service and a lovely lunch at B & S, we sat on the seaside rocks in Grisslehamn, the place where S. took me on our first date two years ago. And we talked about the stuff we have learnt over the past year. Here are some of these things I have learnt:

1. Try and marry a really nice and kind and good-hearted guy, a guy who is not only nice and kind and good-hearted on the first date but also on moments when he is tired, hungry or irritated. That's the best thing one can do and this one, praise be to God, I have nailed.

2. Learn to know each others' love languages. I thought it was more like a mental exercise when we discussed it during our pre-marital counseling but I have found, with surprise, that it actually matters very much. There is a lot of silent beauty in the relationship when you know how your spouse tells you he/she loves you. I know that S's love language is quality time, so all our Sunday hiking trips and museum visits in Stockholm and discolfing and swimming are more than what they seem. They are his wordless way of telling me that he cares for me and loves me. And that makes all the difference in the world for me. 

3. Bad mood happens occasionally but it doesn't have to reign supreme. It is possible to control it.

4. Give space and air. I married a fully developed adult human being with his own habits and life patterns so the silliest thing for me would be to try to make him just like myself in every aspect of life. He has his own ways of doing things, I have mine, and that's okay. 

5. Some things in us that come from childhood have roots so deep that they are almost impossible to change. In that sense, a similar family dynamics and upbringing may help a lot. One of our differences that comes from my family of origin and has come up for about 87 times over the past year is our eating habits. From very early childhood, my mom hammered into us the knowledge that one does not eat in between the meals and especially, after dinner. And it is hugely difficult for me to break that habit. It just goes so deep. There have been some silly moments when S is like, hey, I bought some chips, let's have a movie night. And I'm like, *gulp* honey, I can't eat, it's way past dinner time. It sounds ridiculous but that's how it is. And only with telling myself that this is important that I eat those chips with him and that it counts as quality time, I have - for a handful of times - been able to break with my habit.  

6. Laugh together.

7. Try to make a difference in your head between things that are important and things that are not important.

8. Silence is okay. 

9. Keep your hobbies going. 

10. Shared faith and principles are a huge thing. It means a world to me that we can go to the church together, that we both put all work aside on Sabbath, that we take part in communion together, that we can pray together, that we have the same Christian hope... Just the other day, we were at the cemetery where my mom is resting, and I told S how much I missed her and how I couldn't wait for Jesus to come back and take us home. I could not picture a life where I wouldn't be able to express and share my deepest Christian longing with my husband like this. So, I am counting my blessings.

I hope the next year will bring new insights and wisdom.

How it started

How it's going


In a New League

One thing that has deeply impressed me about life in Sweden is the amount of time people spend outdoors. In Estonia, spending time in nature is much more random and less systematic. It's like, hey it's a nice summer evening today, why don't we go and have a bbq. But here it looks like everyone is out with all weathers and seasons, hiking, kayaking, ice-skating or camping. Everybody seems to have a whole wardrobe of quality clothes and shoes plus other equipment needed for winter and summer, rain and snow, water and dry land.

The ice-skating club in Stockholm that S. is a part of has 10 000 members. Ten thousand members. These are the numbers we're talking about. Crazy. 

I'm slowly adding items to my wardrobe, trying to catch up with everyone else. 

We have been out hiking as much as possible, which means almost every Sunday. Because, firstly, the nature here is amazing, secondly, we don't get enough steps in the middle of the week, and thirdly, it's just a fun way to have quality time together. I do my best to guard my Sundays from all sorts of meetings and obligations, and I also do my best to guard them from lazying around. Because in the end of a day when you haven't done anything, you feel kind of sorry and wish you had done something. 

So we go out. 

S. mostly decides where we go because during the lockdown he hiked through many nearby trails, therefore he knows where to go. It is very convenient to me - I have a guide and a driver and a hiking partner all in one person! What more could I ask for!

It was some 1,5 weeks ago when I gave S. a hiking guide book as a birthday present. And although we were already avid hikers before, now we play in a completely new league! Phew! I think we could become professional hikers, if such a thing existed. 

Over the long midsummer weekend, we were able to go on three half-day hikes. My phone claims that I made 48 000 steps, walked 30 km and climbed 88 storeys over these days. There were many wonderful views and wild animals, there was an ice-cream pitstop and a lunch on the rocks with fresh tomatoes all the way from my friends' farm in Estonia, there was sunshine and sweat, there was laughter and silence.

Later, back home, S. diligently noted down the details of our hikes in his book. If we could keep up the tempo of one hike a week, we would hike through the book in a year. That's a worthy goal!

What can I say? I really enjoy life in Sweden. 




It was a bit more than a week ago when I had the privilege of preaching at the Young Adults' Weekend on Västeräng campsite.

Västeräng brought out all sorts of emotions and generated all sorts of thoughts in me. It's a place where maybe more than anywhere else in Sweden I have felt a bit of an outsider. Let me explain. It's nothing to do with the camp itselt or people I met there - all of this was wonderful, and everyone was super friendly! But nevertheless it is a place where the sense of past and my own historical baggage makes me feel somewhat alienated. 

The truth is - I've never experienced a place like Västeräng before.

I think the Swedish Adventist church bought Västeräng - which was just a big lake-side farm with its fields and forests - sometime in the late 1940s (please correct me if I'm wrong). So it has been a place where generations and generations of Adventists have grown up, quite literally. Just a few days before the campmeeting I had a conversation with Y. who sometimes sends me emails. I told her I was going to Västeräng to preach. She then shared with me her first childhood memory of a big tent meeting in Västeräng. Y. turned 80 a month ago... That's how old the place is. That's how deep this place goes in the collective psyche of the church.

On the other hand, in the late 1940s in Estonia no-one thought about buying a campsite for the church, all people thought about was survival. No-one dreamed about enlargening the church ministries, it was a time when church buildings were taken away from the church, when ministries were shut down, when books were copied by hand and in secret. The Estonian Adventist church has its own campsite now - bought some 5 years ago. It is a nice place with a lot of potential but without any roots. No traditions. No generational memories. No bonfire songs handed down from parents to children. 

That's why Västeräng brought out so many conflicting emotions in me. It was with wonder and awe and slight envy that I took part in the camp traditions, listened to the old funny songs sung at the bonfire on sunset, ate a big bowl of ice-cream on the last evening of a camp, canoed on the lake, and breathed in the dusty air of the old buildings. 

I will most likely always remain a bit of an outsider there. And that's perfectly fine. But I do hope that one day my own children (God willing!) would grow up, spending summers on Västeräng and breathing its air without the painful past of me and my parents' and grandparents' generations. I hope they will continue with all the traditions and songs. I may even let them eat some ice-cream on Saturday evening way past their bedtime. 😄