I did find Christmas in the end. I found it in an obvious place. And yet it didn't occur to me to look for it there first.

I found Christmas in music.

There were three moments in particular that made this past weekend memorable to me.

First. On Saturday afternoon me and brother K. went to a Christmas service in one of the Old Town churches, the Holy Spirit's church. Brother S. is singing in that church choir and we thought it'd be nice to go and listen to him sing. The Holy Spirit's church is the only one in Tallinn - as far as I know - that has their Christmas services in English. It's a church that follows a high church service tradition. I thought about it quite a bit when sitting there and also later on our way to dad's place - in our church everyone's expected to be involved in the service in a way or another, mentally and emotionally and intellectually involved. When I preach I always look for - consciously or unonsciously - people's responses, for a nod, for a smile, even for a tear, anything that tells me that people are 'on board with me'. It is a strange thing to suddenly find yourself in the middle of a different mindset and tradition. The whole Christmas service consisted of choral and congregational songs and Scripture readings. No sermon, no nothing. Everyone is left to mind their own minds in the pew. I found it very refreshing and relaxing. So about half of the service time we just sang with the other churchgoers, we sang all the old Christmas classics from Hark! The Herald Angels Sing to Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem to Silent Night. And we stood and sang with K. as if our lives depended on it, inventing three part harmonies on the go and beaming with delight when they turned out well. As if we've heard those songs before, K. commented quietly after another one of those carols. It was the first time I could really sing my heart out this Christmas time and it really bought Christmas home to me. Despite the weather.

Second. After we had arrived at dad's place and had the Christmas dinner, we needed to start practising for our care home visit the next morning. Once again, Christmas songs came out and sounds of singing and instrumental music filled the apartment. It was way beyond little E.'s bed time so H. tried to put her to sleep in the next room but as there was so much noise and interesing sounds coming from the living room, she just didn't fall asleep. H. came back with her as putting her to sleep didn't seem to be working out so E. could closely observe different instruments being played. The piano was cool, the flute also, but the violin seemed to top everything else. When I played the violin, she just stared at the instrument for a long time with her eyes like saucers, occasionally making funny faces. I think she's hooked. The violin it will be! :)

Third. On Sunday morning we went to give a little Christmas concert in a care home not far from where my dad now lives. We sang and played and dad shared the Word. It wasn't a long concert, just a little longer than half an hour. But it filled my heart with the kind of satisfaction neither Christmas dinner not presents could fill. It was good to go out and make someone else's Christmas a little brighter. Even the weather helped us - we had had no sunshine for almost two weeks, but just as we were playing and singing, the sun came out and made the little care home communal room light up. The elderly people who came to hear us were very grateful, both for the songs as well as for the sunshine. So were we.

The magic of music did it again.


Has anyone seen the Christmas feeling on the run? No? Sigh. Me neither.

It just doesn't seem to be around this year. I suspect there are two main reasons for it. One is very simple - we still don't have snow. December without snow looks like late October in Estonia. Christmases need to be white in this part of the world - and they usually are. Only the few couple of years we have had problems with it, as far as I can remember. Even the Christmas lights don't help that much when it's dark and damp outside.

It was only for a couple of hours yesterday evening that the true Christmas feeling took over. We went to hear Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's Christmas concert with my dad and there, in the windowless concert hall, it did begin to feel a lot like Christmas. They sang Christmas songs with their angelic voices and everyone's spirit seemed to be lifted. But it was strange to step outside after the concert and face the rainy weather again.

But the second reason is more complex. It has to do with my dad having moved from Pärnu to Türi. I will go and visit him there for the first time tomorrow but it hardly feels like going home for Christmas. The concept of home has lost some of its meaning and as Christmas is so closely connected with (going) home, my Christmases have lost some of its essence. It's not overtly tragic, we still get together and share food and presents, and we'll go sing in a care home on Sunday morning just to make Christmas a little bit more about other people and less about ourselves. But the thrill of going home is lost.

But at the same time I'm getting more and more excited about the new year. Again, I'm not quite sure where the reason lies but I'm really looking forward to 2017. It will be filled with a good amount of teaching and traveling, and a terrible amount of working. But there is hope and expectation in my heart. Good things are yet to happen!


Today it's three years since my mum passed away. It was a day just as windy and damp as today. In some way, not much has changed, on the other hand, plenty has changed. I've long since realised that both life goes on and death goes on. This will never change. I will always have to live with her death and with the longing (which sometimes is rather intense) for the touch of a mother's hand. But the pain has lessened a great deal. I no longer cry myself to sleep. I can talk about her without getting emotional. I can go to the cemetery and leave it, knowing that there is still so much life to be lived and loved and experienced. And with the pain slowly decreasing some other emotions have a chance to grow stronger - the gratitude and the sheer astonishment and the sense of undeserved luck sometimes wash over me like a wave. I had the most wonderful, the smartest and the kindest woman as my mother for 28 years. That's no small thing. That's huge.


I was too eager to write about my Booker Prize last week. I should have waited a little longer - because the book count is up to 36 now. And I suspect the top 5 would have been slightly different too because Wild Swans was such an inspirational and emotional read - it would have made it to the top list. There probably wasn't an evening during the past two weeks when I didn't read the book. 660 pages just melted away somehow. For any history lovers - Wild Swans is the book for you!


I was invited to a school this week. I don't have good memories from my school years, especially my high school years, so I haven't really been interested in visiting one. But a teenage girl from my church invited me, she's taking a religious study class and they're going through the biggest world religions there. They got to Christianity now and she asked me whether I would come and speak about it to her classmates. Phew, that's a big one, I thought. I'm sort of scared of teenagers, to be honest. I teach grown-ups, people who are studying not because they have to but because they want to (I know it's not always as simple as that lol but in principle it should be), people who don't have to report to their teachers and parents about how they're doing. Would I know how to speak to teenagers? Because, you know, it's kind of a decade and plus years since I was one myself. But on the other hand, you don't turn down these kind of invites either. In the end of a day, someone will have to tell them about Christianity and maybe I would do it, using slightly simpler words that someone else. So I took the challenge. I paced back and forth in my kitcen that morning, trying to practice my "Christianity talk" in my head. And then I went.

I put on my big nerdy glasses and some lipstick and I went and stood in front of a bunch of teenagers and told them about Christians and why I'm one of them. I don't know what went on in their minds but I could see what went on on their faces. For almost 45 minutes they looked at me with their eyes wide open and steadily fixed on me. Not one of them fidgeted. And I switched on my lecturer's mode and told them everything I know about Christianity. Well, maybe not everything, but about the main things. And about my own lifestyle - why I rest one day each week (I simply wouldn't survive without a Sabbath, I told them), why I respect ten commandments, why I think making healthy lifestyle choices is important, why I think there's a calling and a passion in each of our lives planted in us by God. In the end of the class they asked really good and sharp questions, some of which I had a ready answer to, some of which I didn't have an answer to. And in the very end when the class was over, I was like, "Can I give you some life advice that doesn't have to do with this class? Read books, study hard, go study abroad, and always respect people who are different from you."

They clapped in the end of the class. Maybe I shouldn't be afraid of teenagers after all?

I thought about the impact one can have later when I left. And about the power of inventing oneself. They didn't know me before. Well, in a way, they still don't. They don't know what kind of **** I have to deal with in my own life. But all they needed to know and all they needed to see was a young woman with nerdy glasses and some lipstick who passionately believed in the message and lifestyle of Christianity. The word is out that Christians are mostly old people who don't have any hopes left for this life and this world, so they have to invent an imaginary world they can look forward to after they die. Don't buy into this lie, I told the teenagers, it's simply not true, and in a modest way I try to be the proof of this being a lie. I think they believed me.


One of my favourite blog posts to be written is the annual Booker Prize post about the best books I've come across and read this year - the feast of nerdiness. I am writing it early this year as there are still about three weeks left of 2016. But I will not add any new books to my reading list in December for the simple reason of having started a massive 660 page book yesterday which will last, I'm sure, way into the new year. It's Jung Chang's book Wild Swans that I'm currently reading - a monumental family story which really tells the history of China - a mysterious and troubled country - throughout the 20th century. Might sound boring but is actually breathtakingly interesting.

The other reason books are on my mind these days is that I've already received five books as an early Christmas present and it has made my heart very glad. I met up, very briefly, with K. last week who came from Newbold and brought me a book gift from Dr A. N. - four books, to be exact. I swallowed the first one of those just this past weekend - Simone Schwarz-Bart's novel The Bridge of Beyond which tells, in a very poetic way, a tale of slavery, happiness and misery and hope on the island of Guadeloupe, and about mighty women who carry the weight of the world on their broad shoulders. It made me tear up for a couple of times, it was so touching. Plus I met up with J. for some mentoring the other week and she too gave me a book as a Christmas gift. This one is waiting for its turn. So. Merry Christmas. :)

And this is the reading statistics - 35 books in 2016. I haven't counted the pages - maybe I should start doing it - but considering the size of the books I hardly think I've ever read more than I did this year. And here are my five favourite books out of these 35 in a random order.

1. Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Landfalls. It's the last book of his epic travel trilogy that describes his journey in the footsteps of a medieval Muslim traveler Ibn Battutah. The whole trilogy is a gem, it doesn't matter whether you are into travel books or not, these books are a pure pleasure. The language he uses, the historical knowledge behind everything, the descriptions and dialogues both serious and hilarious... Mackintosh-Smith masters writing on all levels. When I was nearing the end of the third book, I read slower and slower because I just didn't want the book and the journey to end. It was that good. And then, when the book finally did end, I went on Amazon to see what other books he's written and when I found only one more book (about his travels in Yemen) I sort of got mad. How dare you? How dare you write so little? Then I had to remind myself that those Battutah travels took him ten years, and then all the years he wrote this trilogy, phew, man, with those books he has already done and given more than many others do and give in their lifetime. So I calmed down and forgave him for writing so little.

2. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ. Sometimes you need to go back to the basics.

3. Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark. It is by far the best sermon collection I have ever read. This book came to me sometime in February, I think. I was going through a terrible time in my life at the time and I sort of cried my way through this book. I couldn't read more than one or two sermons each day, they were that good and that heavy. I read one and then I had to put down the book and let the message really sink in. And sometimes, when I had come across an especially good thought, I just had to share it with someone and so it was that I bombed J. with paragraphs and sentences from Buechner's sermons and he very kindly endured it and in the end put the book on his 'got to read it one day' list. I'm not sure how much I would enjoy if I heard these sermons preached in a pulpit though, I think Buechner is much more a writer rather than a preacher. They are for eyes more than for ears. You need to read those sermons. And then read again. Underline some paragraphs. Memorise some sentences. And you need to have this book on your book shelf. It is a real treasure, a book to go back to again and again. I'm glad this book found its way to me at the right moment, very glad indeed.

4. Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath. The SNDT of this book is extremely simple, really - what you consider an advantage may end up being a disadventage instead, and what you consider a disadvantage may and up being your advantage instead. Simple idea, simple stories all throughout this book. But it changed something deep inside me. As I read this acclaimed book (in the youth camp last summer), I started to think about my own life, my own advantages and my own disadvantages, the things life has thrown at me, things I think have the power to lift me up or put me down, and some things started to shift slowly. It doesn't happen often that a book does it. But this one did. I ended up reassessing quite a few things in my life. The biggest thing probably was my surprise when I realised that the combination of being a woman and being a pastor in the Adventist church - what a dreadful combination! - which I had always seen as a massive disadvantage I ended up seeing as one of my main strengths and advantages in life. There are some things in this combination that put me in a unique position and which I wouldn't change for anything. Thanks, Malcolm! What else could I say.

5. Annie Dillard, The Abundance. Every ordinary thing she writes about becomes extraordinary. There's awe everywhere. Bauty and grace. Meaning. If I were a writer, I'd like to write like her.


I went to Take 6's Christmas concert yesterday evening. It was an exciting experience on more than just one level.

Me and dad, we had to leave our conference's winter meeting early to make it back to Tallinn in time for the concert. We had spent the weekend in a resort centre in the middle of woods, sitting through a lot of long meetings and worship services, preaching, giving/hearing reports, and socialising. I was so absorbed in all of this, the concert came as if from a different universe. I did not even have time to change my clothes when we got to Tallinn so I sat in the concert hall with my jeans, in the middle of people wearing their best clothes and purses and jewellery. I realised the thing was a massive social event for the bold and beautiful of this city (or maybe even the country?). Musicians, politicians, all sorts of celebrities had made their way to the concert. And I sat there before the concert began, looking around me, and I realised that for me it was different. It wasn't a public event for me. It wasn't the main concert of Winter Jazz 2016. It wasn't just a place to enjoy good quality music. Or to be fashionable and let other see the best of my wardrobe. For me it was one more precious chance to look back and bring out the best of memories from my childhood and teenage years. Because non of these fancy people around me could have known that I have listen to Take 6's music so enormously much it has become a part of my being, the soundtrack of my life. They couldn't have known that for more than 15 years one of our family's Friday evening Sabbath tradition was to listen to Take 6's first album (I still do that on those extremely rare occasions I get to spend Friday evenings at my dad's). Or that I used to listen to Join the Band and So Cool albums obsessively as a teenager. Or that I would start listening to their Christmas albums as soon as the first snow arrived (which often was in the end of October - I remember brother K. being really upset with me and fed up with those albums lol). Or the occasion when I was in Newbold a few months after my mum had passed away and I was sitting in a car with J. and S. and would start weeping uncontrollably when they suddenly happened to play Grandma's Hands.

This was a personal thing last night. Every song was personal. Every memory.

One bad thing about knowing their music so well is that I also know their arrangements by heart. I sat and listened to them sing last night and I couldn't help but pick out all those places where they've changed the arrangement or missed the perfection of the harmony or just couldn't hit the highest notes any longer. They're old. They really are old. Their voices don't fit together any more the way they used to. They barely touch the songs from their first (and best) album - the album you need young voices for. But they are still brilliant and I admire them for what they're doing. They're still my heroes, less so musically but more so personally - for staying true to their passion and calling throughout all these decades.

They also came to say hi to the audience and sign CDs after the concert. It was the first time I had seen them do that. So me and dad waited patiently until the bigger crowd was gone because I really had it on my heart to go and talk to them just a little. I also got their autographs but this means surprisingly little to me. (Oh, the teenage years are gone!) But what I really appreciated was the chance to actually tell them about this soundtrack of life's thing and about our Friday evening tradition. Their eyes went round and big and Alvin gave me a bear hug when he heard this. I couldn't speak for long because there were still people queuing up after me, there would have been more things I would have liked to say, but Alvin said, We'll continue this conversation when we meet again on the other side of Jordan. I agreed. And that really touched my heart. We share the same hope, and we share the same faith. We'll speak again.

It all felt a little bit like a farewell. I'm sure this was their last time in Estonia. I really don't think they would come back. And that's ok. I'll speak to them again on the other side. When Grandma's Hands song doesn't make me weep any more.


I don't travel much, for different reasons. First, I don't need to, secondly, I don't enjoy traveling alone (I have two very clear memories of moments when I promised myself solemnly never to go anywhere alone again - in Milan's old town and in Venice; I hated being in those marvelous places alone), and third, it's usually annoyingly expensive. But I have already three trips lined up for the next year. It's rather unusual. But what's more, each of these trips represent something that has real value and significance for me. So I am hoping these trips will clarify some things in my life, maybe even lead me to the right direction.

I'm going to Newbold again - now that's the only trip I can call 'annual'. I just have to breathe Newbold air at least once a year. My English friends - I'll be in Newbold and/or London on April 4th-11th. If you're around, do come say hello, I'd love it! My purpose of going, well, firstly, just to be around the places I used to be madly in love with. I still hold the view that these three Newbold years were the best ones of my life - carefree, grief-free, filled with wondrous theology and inspiring people to the brim. Most people have long since gone but The Lady and Dr A. N. are still there and that's a reason as good as any to go there. I need to sit in the library and use some books I can't get hold of here (in preparation of Newbold Licence teaching in Riga), I want to have the traditional exhibition-bookstore trip with Dr A. N. And I need to look into the possibility of doing my doctorate in Newbold (through Wales). It's just an idea but I need to look into this and talk to Newbold people. I'm not going to study there just yet but I need a clear picture how it would look like if I decided to go one day and do it full time. Phew, talking about clarifying one's life and future!

Secondly, it looks like I am going to leave Europe for the very first time in my life in the end of May. I might go to Lebanon for 1,5 weeks. The story behind it is rather long but to cut it short, I have ended up in a very bright group of people (mostly from the Baptist church) who are deeply concerned about the migration crisis and how the church could or should respond to it. There has been a lot of brain washing happening here in Estonia and people are hysterical about refugees coming here. So we have been thinking about what could be done. Someone suggested we visited some refugee camps and churches in the Middle East to see how Christians are coping there and what they are doing on a daily basis to help people who have escaped from the war zones. There are about two million refugees in Lebanon and some local Baptists have connections with Christians over there. As soon as they started talking about the possibility of going, I was like, Count me in! I'm so coming with you! And it looks like it really is going to happen. We are looking for different ways of funding this trip at the moment but if all goes well, I should be able to get a first-hand experience of refugee camps soon. And that, heavens, might be a life-changer for me. We'll see.

And then. About two weeks ago I received the official invite from the Division to speak at the youth congress in Valencia next August. I was starting to suspect the whole thing had been T.'s prank but now it really does look like it's going to happen. It's a 12 minute TED talk on a given topic (I'm not comfortable talking about the topic just yet) plus a workshop on homiletics that I'm expected to do there. 3000 youth. I've never spoken to such a crowd in my life and I am a bit uncertain how the whole thing will turn out but I'm willing to work hard on my talk and give it my best shot. Youth congresses are always so much fun so I'm hoping to make some great memories there. Good stuff!

It feels like good things & good places sometimes do come my way. The chances must be taken and memories made. Life needs to be lived. These will be the times I'll remember on my deathbed.


Paolo Nutini, Million Faces