After the camera crew left, it was Holy Week, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about anything aside from church and doing the final hospital and homebound visits before my departure. I left a lot of instructions for the deacons and the secretary and also for the pastors who would be subbing for me on Sundays. We had services on Thursday and Friday and on Sunday we had a wonderful Easter morning complete with an Easter egg hunt for the children, breakfast, and decorating a cross outside with fresh flowers. I was relieved when church was over that day – exhilarated, actually. I hadn’t taken a Sunday off in over six months. I knew I needed a break and I was so grateful that I would soon be getting one.

I didn’t know what to expect in the weeks to come but I knew whatever it was, it would be a different time, an alternate circumstance to the one in which I had been living. I needed that so badly. I think stepping apart from one’s own life for a time is valuable in so many ways – especially when one is starting to feel stale and stagnant. I love my work and my family and my church deeply, I have been given so much that is so good – I will not tolerate myself seeing any of it as stale or stagnant. My most heartfelt prayer in those days was that being away from my life for a while would give me fresh eyes and a renewed heart again.

In the final days before I left, the boys stayed home from school so we could be together. We went to the zoo in Fort Worth and I got to meet up with a friend who came to visit from Wisconsin. I figured out the last-minute things I needed to get. I found myself worrying a lot about little things – like how much my hair would grow while I was in Norway and if I would ever have the chance to color it there. My natural hair color is very gray and I knew within a few weeks I would have a distinct line visible on my head where the brownish red lowlights stopped and the natural gray came in. I invested in a hat that I thought I might wear at some point to cover it all up. I brought it to Norway and back and then gave it away – it was an ugly hat. I never wore it.

The morning I left, my sons and I played baseball out in the yard for a while. They took turns asking if I really had to go. I kept saying I would probably be back very soon – just a few weeks. I said if I was gone longer, I would just have to stay to the very end so I could win the prize for them and then they could come to Norway, too. They seemed somewhat satisfied with that answer. We drove to the airport, stopping on the way to have lunch in Hillsboro. I felt so excited and sad at the same time. I never for even a moment considered not going, but I knew my heart was going to burst right in two when I had to say goodbye to my boys. I had envisioned our parting many times and had thought about how I would try my best to be cheerful and upbeat so that they would hopefully not take it all so hard. When we finally stopped at the airport and got out my luggage and it was time to part, however, I was distinctly and unashamedly crying. They clung to me and it was all terribly sad. Still, as I hugged them and Chad and then watched them drive away, I felt pretty good – because I knew that now I had already completed the most difficult challenge I would face in this whole Alt for Norge experience. Next, I just had to go have some fun.

Published by Ruth E. Hetland

Ruth E. Hetland is the pastor of Saint Peter's Lutheran Church of Audubon, Minnesota. She is a mom, wife, skeptic, and Alt for Norge (Norwegian reality show) participant. She has served as a pastor in three other congregations prior to Saint Peter's: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Newstead in Akron, New York, First Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Our Savior's Lutheran Church at Norse of Clifton, Texas. She has been published in The Lutheran magazine, Christ in Our Home, the Word in Season, the Upper Room, Sundays and Seasons, and several other worship resources. Her most recent book is "Writing With a View of the Graveyard: Loss, Life, and Unruly Grace;" (2018). This devotional with photographs of rural churches is available in black and white on Amazon and in full-color by contacting Ruth at ruthehetland@gmail.com; Ruth's first book, a preaching resource, "The Power of Place and Story in Preaching," was published in 2012 and is available on Amazon. Ruth can be contacted at ruthehetland@gmail.com.

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