So much happened last year I don't know where to begin and where to end with all those memories.

I remember that early morning in January when I got up to go to Tartu to lecture again. It had been a while since I had last done it and I was nervous. I didn't know that it would turn out to be a wonderful semester full of teaching and good conversations and lovely students. I remember my birthday evening when Dr A. N. skyped me and told that Newbold would send their lecturers to Baptist Seminary to help us educate our students. I remember the overwhelming sense of pride when I heard my dad's song closing the Christian song festival and saw thousands of people clapping and waving to him. I remember my birthday weekend with a road trip and good times. I remember the excitement when I landed in Amsterdam to start studying again. I remember the thrill of giving the Diversity Lecture in Newbold. I remember sitting in my favourite Old Town restaurant with A. N., discussing life. There's a lot to remember. It has been a wonderful year.

And on the other side. I have lived through two very serious heart breaks this year. I haven't recover from either one of them. To go through it once would have been bad enough, but twice... I'm still getting used to living with constant grief, two years down the road. But I have also welcomed a new friend this year - loneliness. Most of the time we can exist side by side quite peacefully but there are moments when loneliness attacks me with such force it literally makes me wish I was dead. There have been many tears. It has been a terrible year.

But despite all this I still hear that small voice every morning that makes me continue my journey, through joy and tears. As Frederck Buechner puts it: Come unto me. Come unto me, you say. All right then, dear my Lord. I will try in my own absurd way. In my own absurd way I will try to come unto you, a project which is in itself by no means unabsurd. Because I do not know the time or place where you are. And if by some glad accident my feet should stumble on it, I do not know that I would know that I had stumbled on it. And even if I did know, I do not know for sure that I would find you there. And if you are there, I do not know that I would recognize you. And if I recognized you, I do not know what that would mean or even what I would like it to mean. I do not even well know who it is you summon, myself. 

May the Almighty be with us though our joys and tears and adventures and heart breaks and achievements throughout this coming year. Amen.


It's time to wrap up this reading year. It has been a good good year - all in all I read 35 books. I was aiming at 40 but that didn't happen, most likely because I started studying again. (A side note - I haven't got any feedback about my Hermeneutics essay, it's probably because no-one wants to read it. I don't blame them.) The best things that happened to me this year were my UK trip in April and Dr A. N.'s visit in October - both of them gave me a couple of extremely good books. I'm so grateful to A. N. because her advice really has proven to be priceless.

So here's my top five books from last year (in a random order):

1. Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Travels with a Tangerine. It was William Dalrymple who made me fall in love with good travel writers, writers who don't just try to be funny or smart but who, uhmm, actually study history in Cambridge University before hitting the road. Tim Mackintosh didn't quite overthrow Dalrymple's throne in my mind but he came close and that's a serious achievement too. He's a worthy writer, an Oxford-educated Arabist. And his attempt to travel in the footsteps of one of the greatest travelers of all times, 14th century Moroccan traveler Muhammad Ibn Battuta, is absolutely brilliant. Funny - yes. Smart - yes. But most of all, educated - yes, yes, yes! I remember reading this book in May when I went to preach in Helsinki, sitting in the quietest corner I could find on the ferry, ignoring drunk Finns, and just devouring the book. It was a pure delight.

2. William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! When I started reading this book, I would not have thought it could make my top books list. It was so annoying, like, who writes sentences half a page long?! But I got used to it and started to enjoy Faulkner's style soon enough. It's a strange book, nothing is said directly and not much is happening, but Faulkner finds a way to put you under his spell. And the topic is a tough one - racism, slavery, love, hatred. 19th century America, wild and harsh. It's a book that makes you very serious indeed. Here's my favourite sentence from that book (sorry, it's about half a page long), just to give you a taste: You make so little impression, you see. You get born and you try this and you don't know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they don't know why either except that the strings are all in one another's way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rag; and it can't matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying and then all of a sudden it's all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and then sun shines on it and after a while they don't even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn't matter. It gives me the shivers!

3. Ismail Kadare, Chronicle in Stone. It was during my heavenly vacation at my cousin's summer house that I read this book. I basically read in one go, it was nearly impossible to put it down, and I had all the time in the world. To be able to see war through the eyes of a little child is really something. As I understand, Kadare really was a kid in a small Albanian village when the WWII hit the country so it is based on his own memories but the way he's able to describe it is just brilliant. After my vacation I went on to read two more of his books but I didn't like them half as much as I liked the Chronicle.

4. Jean-Paul Sartre, Words. I love a good autobiography. And that's one good autobiography. Actually, it's almost too good. It's a book where Sartre talks mostly about his early childhood and how he got into writing, and it's written in a way that makes me just a little bit suspicious - is it actually possible for someone to remember their childhood in such detail? Don't people as talented as him just make it up afterward? I don't mean to say they're lying but it's as if they're creating a whole new reality by writing about their lives like that. I don't know. I'm not a literary critic. All I know is that my own memoirs of my early childhood would be embarrassingly short and shallow.

5. Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace. Buechner is one of the best Christian writers I know. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction kind of speaks for itself... It was the third time for me to read his Alphabet and it was still as good as ever. It's basically a description of an ordinary day in his life where not much happens. But as it turns out, everything is significant and everything has a meaning, and grace is everywhere. After reading this book you can't help but notice the grace in your own ordinary day too. Such a great book!


I went to the national tv yesterday for the recording. I had never been to a tv studio before so I was rather excited, a bit like a kid. And nervous too. Before heading there I walked to and fro in my office and practiced my lines with a loud voice, trying to memorise as much as possible (I was lucky all the other office guys were at a pastors meeting and weren't there to see it). And it was a good thing I practiced it - something strange happens to your brain once the cameras are on and everyone is silent and the camera crew just stares at you. Words and lines get kind of blurry in your head. Obviously, when it comes to that Christian program, everyone knows we're basically all first-timers so the crew is nice and supportive and all. But still, you try to be as professional in your task as possible.

I was very interested in how everything works in the tv studio. And it's what you'd expect, really. Someone takes you to the make-up room (it was my first ever professional make up so I was vain enough to take couple of selfies before I left haha - but I'm not vain enough to post them here), then someone else makes you sign a paper (I didn't bother reading so I don't really know what I agreed to) and takes you to the studio. Then they sit you down on a lonely chair in the middle of a big big room, someone checks the lights, someone else holds a microphone above your head. And then you sit there in the middle of cameras and lights and...well, basically talk about Jesus. It was all rather bizarre, to be honest. But the lady who was in charge seemed to be happy with the outcome and when she sent me out she said 'Until the next time' or something like that. I don't think it means they're going to invite me back but it does mean I managed the task I was given. So all went well, thank heavens.

I thought about tv and radio when I headed back home. And I remembered how everything was like when I worked in the Christian radio station. I did the morning programs there for about 4 years. I remember having to be in the studio at 6:30am the latest, I remember how I had to drag myself out of bed and how I sat in the studio with my pillow face, drank tea and yawned. Radio is just so much easier because all you have to think about is your words and your voice. No-one cares what you look like. No-one cares what you wear or how much you wave your hands. Or whether you smile or not. In that sense I really prefer radio. But I'm also thankful for yesterday's experience. Yet another thing checked off my bucket list.


So the Seminary's Christmas party. I sat there last night and thought about stuff. I represent our denomination in two committees of the Estonian Council of Churches which means that I hear a lot of talk about ecumenism. Why it's good and why it's important and why we need it. Et cetera. But honestly, there are times when I don't know how I feel about it. At times it just feels like words and nothing else. Hot air. But last night I sat in the Seminary's decorated assembly hall with Adventist students and Baptist students and Adventist lecturers and Baptist lecturers, celebrating Christmas, and it was a truly beautiful thing. I think it was the real Christian oneness we talk so much about but so rarely encounter. And I realised yesterday that in my head I've stopped making the difference between 'us' and 'them'. I'm probably not the only one - I remember the principal making the same comment once. The best memory from last night was from the very end of our Christmas party when my dad sat at the piano and everyone else formed a big circle and we all sang joyfully and triumphantly O Come All Ye Faithful. And it felt like it. Like the faithful ones had gathered for a celebration.

I submitted my Hermeneutics essay yesterday. I feel very sorry for those people who have to read it. Very sorry indeed.

Late last night I landed at my cousin's and spent a wonderful evening there. And I realised - I have come to think of their home as mine. My cousin seems to do absolutely everything to make me feel that way. 'Here are the keys', 'Come and stay as long as you want', 'You know where the kettle and the fridge is', 'Next time you're in Tartu again make sure you come back'. And it's funny, I thought today as I was drinking my morning tea, you can own a place without owning it. You can refer to a place as your home without having your name on the mail box or the front door. I don't quite know how these things happen but I feel very rich. And very grateful. The memories and the emotions I collect from that home of mine are beyond price to me. Like last night. My cousin and his wife had to leave for a short while so I got to read the little monkeys their bed-time stories. After a bit of quarreling they chose Pippi Longstocking stories. The older one fell asleep in five minutes but little J. didn't - he kept interrupting my reading and telling me his own stories instead. Then my cousin came home and I think he felt a little bit embarrassed and he was like, OK, J, auntie Mervi has read you more than enough now, it's time for you to go to sleep. And he didn't even know that I needed that bed-time reading much more than those two boys did. Because, let's face it, I might never have children of my own, so it's very important for me to know that there are at least two kids in this world to whom I have told Pippi Longstocking stories and who have fallen asleep (or not) while listening to my reading. One day they'll be all tall and grown-up and cool and there will be stuff they'll remember and some they will forget. But this will stay forever. Auntie Mervi and her bed-time reading.


Christmas time is approaching. For about a week or so I've been listening to Christmas music when in the gym - it's a bizarre experience to cycle uphill, sweat dripping, and to listen to Josh Groban sing "Glooooooooooria, in excelsis Deo" at the same time. Rather bizarre. I don't know how I would feel about it if I were Josh Groban.

And yesterday I took most of the day off (I worked very hard the whole weekend so I had every right to do so) and got my Christmas shopping and card writing and parcel sending done. Now I refuse to go to another shopping centre until the new year as they are becoming increasingly unpleasant and crowded places.

Our conference's students have their monthly school days from today until Friday in Tartu and they have the Seminary's Christmas party tomorrow evening. So as a dutiful leader of the conference's educational department I feel a strong need to go to Tartu and attend the party and represent our conference. It's all purely professional, of course. The fact that I also intend to visit my cousin's family and eat in Werner Cafe is of no importance whatsoever.

I've received my first Christmas gifts already. Last Tuesday I attended a women pastors meeting turned into Newbold reunion in Copenhagen and I came back home from Denmark with more than one nicely wrapped packages. The other ones I've opened already but the one my dear S. gave me is waiting for the Christmas Eve. It's a small red box with white polka dots, it's sitting on my closet and it makes me smile every time I happen to see it. And then yesterday evening my brother K. called me and he came over with a big package. I had told him some time ago that my bread toaster had died. So he brought me a brand new one. "Merry Christmas" he said and left. Some awesomeness, I say!

And in a weird way I made myself a gift last weekend as well. We had another Bible School Weekend and this time I got to do what I love the most - I got to lecture the whole weekend and teach our church members about preaching. It was very intense and by Sunday afternoon my brain hurt from thinking, my throat hurt from speaking and my feet hurt from standing but I was happy and content. It's a topic very close to my heart and it's a pure joy to help other church members to become better speakers as well. Merry Christmas to me!