Before we left home we put a will into place and made plans for our children, in case anything happened to us while we were gone. Our "just in case" people were Brad and Marcia Coleman, who are still beloved friends of ours. When we went on this trip, we were still members of our old church, Memphis First Assembly of God. We went to Iceland on a mission trip and the plan originally had been that we would do some repair work on a retreat center the missionaries there used. God and a volcano had different plans, though. The missionaries who still live there and who we were going to help are Mike and Sheila Fitzgerald...they are some of the Lord's greatest people on this planet. They made an impact on me that trip that will last a lifetime. Here are things as I recall them one decade ago.
This picture above is what a lot of the terrain in the town we stayed in looked like. A lot of that is volcanic rock. And speaking of things that are volcanic, that is why our trip changed. There is a volcano there with a long name that I can't pronounce, but a few months before we left on the trip it started erupting. The name of it starts with an E and there are sixteen letters in the name, so Icelanders call it E15~here is its real name:
See what I mean? Sixteen characters long! Hence the E15.
It stopped erupting at some point and then it started again right before we left, about two weeks before. Because of that and because of its proximity to the retreat center we had planned to stay at, the entire course of the trip changed. And that is how I found myself on a four hour long ferry boat ride on the North Atlantic Ocean traveling to a little island called Vestmannaeyjar.
These three pictures above are the last day we spent in Iceland; our last stop of the trip was to The Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a body of water with healing powers, supposedly, and is warmed by lava flow and a nearby geothermal plant. We got to float in the beautiful water and I remember how warm it was like it was yesterday. You better believe I took some of the mud on the bottom of the lagoon and smeared it all over my arms and legs. People from all over the world are sent there for skin conditions so I wanted to take full advantage. I remember floating back in the water and looking up at the sky and thanking the Lord for allowing us to be a part of such an amazing trip. I remember praising Him for His majesty the entire length of the trip, because to see that country and the beauty that surrounds it is to see the hand of God. I remember thinking that day that would probably be the one and only chance I ever had to float in those murky blue waters.
All the guys tried picking up this rock and I'm pretty sure Toddley was the only one who succeeded. I love his smile in this picture.
This picture above is our plane flying over Greenland. How cool is that? I took this for my boys, because when we went they were all little and were fascinated by things like this. Also, how crazy is it that Greenland is ice and Iceland is green? I'd always heard that the names were that way to confuse the Vikings, but that's not true. Iceland was named that because when the first people settled there, there were iceburgs surrounding the island.
This beautiful family is the family that pastors the church we stayed at in Vestmannaeyjar. Gudni (sp?) is the man and pastor, Gudbjorg is his wife, and this is one of three children; "Karl" (we couldn't pronounce his real name) is the youngest and they have two daughters, one of whom is named Jenny (pronounced "Yenny"). Gudbjorg made my husband a beautiful sweater after we came back home; we returned ten years ago this week, and his sweater came in the fall of the same year. If you look at Gudni (right next to Toddley), you can see his weater, and Todd's is identical. What we ended up doing on this trip is going to Vestmannaeyjar and staying at the church that Gudni pastors. There was a place in the fellowship hall area of the church that was where the men slept~they put mattresses from the basement down on the floor and they all slept on comfy pallets. For the ladies, there was an apartment that was off the back of the church with its own separate entrance. It held us all nicely. All in all, nine of us went on the trip and with Mike and Sheila staying with us, it made eleven. Sheila is where I got the idea to thank the Lord first thing every morning; she would wake up and say, "Good morning, Lord! Thank You for this beautiful day!" To this day I do that and I think of her every single time.
This is Mike, in the picture above. That is a coffee place we stopped at the day we left Vestmannaeyjar and headed back to Reykjavik, where he and Sheila lived. (They may still live in the same apartment!) I remember the coffee being strong and good, which is just how I like it. I also remember being exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally on this particular day and we spent most of it either on the ferry back to the mainland or in a car driving from one place to another. I slept on the ferry and I slept almost the entire time in the car. I remember being sad at leaving Gudni, Gudbjorg and their family, and I missed my kids so much at this point that I physically ached.
Pictured below is sweet, sweet Sheila. My sons all got to meet this couple when they came here about five years ago. They were at our old church and went to a friend's house afterward, so we went over there and got to catch up. While they were here they found out Graham and Drew were going on their first mission trip the next spring and donated $100 to each of their funds. That's just the kind of people they are; they're giving and they love missions.
Above are the guys: left to right is Toddley, Eddie, Mike, Danny Thompson (Eddie's dad), Darwin, Curtis and Gudni. The camera I used for the trip wasn't mine, the one we had brought broke on the plane. The Thompsons let us use their camera since that was our first time there. While I was using it, at some point in the week the setting got changed and it made all the pictures really light. I could never figure out what happened and couldn't figure out how to change it back and neither could anyone else.
Below are the ladies!
Left to right are: Jeannie, Sheila, Cassie, Carolyn Thompson (Eddie's sweet mom) and me.
The pictures above are ones I took while still on Vestmannaeyjar. Years ago, back in the sixties I believe, a volcano erupted there that destroyed a lot of the island. Needless to say, people had to leave and couldn't go back for quite some time. When it was safe once again, people started returning, but when we were there a decade ago, you could walk the whole island in a couple of hours and the population was only around four hundred. Most Icelanders believe they're all going to Heaven because of how good they are. In Iceland, the church belongs to the state, meaning that people like me who sing in choir get a salary. We were there to encourage and to help build relationships between the people on the island and Gudni and Gudbjorg. We put on a carnival of sorts for their kids and we passed out videos that were illustrated versions of the Bible in Icelandic. We kept calling the videos "Jesus videos"~I don't know why, but that sticks out in my mind.
Above is where the president of Iceland lives, in Reykjavik. It's crazy to think how easy it is there to access the president's home! I thought it was beautiful. Reykjavik is where Mike and Sheila live and where we toured the first two or three days of our trip.
From there we took the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar and stayed there for five or six days, then we traveled back to Reykjavik for two more days. We spent the remaining two or three days in Reykjavik and coming home we spent one night in Boston, Massachusetts, where I was convinced that the plane was going to land in the ocean. (The airport is right on the water!)
The two pictures above are also in Reykjavik, on the day we arrived. I also love lighthouses and took the picture to show my dad who also loves them. The wind was fierce, as is evidenced by the way my hair looks.
Below is where we stayed our first night or two.
Mike runs a radio station in Iceland called Lindin Radio, which are what the two pictures above represent. We went to visit the studio and this is the part where the team threw me under the bus and made me do a radio interview, because everyone else refused. The guy beside me is Eddie, who was head over the trip and the men's ministry of our old church.
(This picture above is one of my favorite pictures of all time~Todd and Eddie loved messing around.)
One thing he said over and over on this trip that I still remember is to live with no regrets. He encouraged us never to say no to anything, and I'd say I was off to a great start, because this was all on our first day. Maybe the second day~the first day we landed we ate and then slept, then ate again and then went to bed at the bed and breakfast we stayed at while in Reykjavik. Anyway, for the interview, Mike asked us to tell a little about ourselves and the reason why we were there visiting. It was very natural, thanks to Mike and his wonderful interviewing skills. While we talked, we would pause and he would translate for us.
This picture of Toddley and me is when we first boarded the ferry that would take us from the mainland to Vestmannaeyjar. This is when I realized I'd not outgrown being seasick and no matter the amount of cold air in my face, nothing could stop me from being ill. The ocean was TERRIBLY rough that day and the four hour long ferry boat ride consisted of Sheila (the missionary wife), Cassie (a young lady on the trip with us) and me in a dormitory style room at the bottom of the boat with all of us laying flat on our backs. I'll never forget how sick I was and how poor Sheila was peeling off layers of clothing as she made her way down to the depths of the boat.
The ride was worth being seasick for, because the two pictures above show what we saw the minute we stepped outside of the ferry. Those blue waters are the most beautiful I've seen to this day, and near this little cove is where Keiko (or the Free Willy whale) came from and lived out his last days. How cool is that?! Remember this cave when I mention it again in a few minutes.
The pictures above are what the sky looks like at eleven p.m. during the summer months. We took a walk around the church that we stayed in (pictured right above with the cross) and were amazed at the light. The sun literally never sets in their summer. It looks like dusk, but that's all. It'll barely dip down and then come right back up and I learned that when it's light out I don't grow tired. It was magical. I got very little sleep on the trip, needless to say, which is why I felt like a zombie for a solid two weeks upon our return.
I'll never forget this once in a lifetime trip. Something neat that happened was that someone paid for us to take a midnight cruise around the island. I'll never forget being out on that boat and being rocked gently by the calm sea as we moored into that cave I mentioned above and listening as Karl pulled out a trumpet and started playing Amazing Grace. It was a moment in time in which I could almost physically feel the very presence of God. I don't say that lightly; I had a moment with the Lord in that cave at two something in the morning while I was there and I've never forgotten it even to this day. I remember having to turn around and face away from people as I tried to compose myself; tears were falling freely and silently down my face, one right after the other.
Another interesting thing that happened after the cave experience was that someone asked me to sing in the morning service and I agreed to sing a solo. I do sing, but I NEVER want to sing solos. Living in light of what Eddie recommended though, I didn't want to leave there with regrets and agreed to sing. I didn't know what to sing though, because they all spoke Icelandic. I asked the pastor and his wife what their thoughts were and asked if they would understand and know the song, Amazing Grace that Karl had played on his trumpet. Gudni said most of them wouldn't know it, but at his urging, that's what I went with. The church had a small band to play music and that was the accompaniment I needed. I remember singing out on that first note and being so nervous, but as usual the more I sang the more comfortable I became. I invited people to sing with me once they caught on and I had asked the people on the trip with me to sing along with me. During the song, a lady started crying at some point and though I wondered about that, I just kept on singing. At the end of the service and as we were eating lunch afterward, I asked Gudni about her tears. He told me that her husband had died a few years ago and that he had known that song and loved to listen to it; and she told Gudni that as I sang that day, she felt peace overwhelm her for the first time since his death years earlier.
Needless to say that after I heard that, I couldn't even eat lunch. I was overwhelmed as well, right in that moment, because who was I, that God was so mindful of me, to use me as a willing vessel to bring peace to that dear woman's troubled heart? I will never know that answer and I'm okay with that.
I know that while I was on that trip, my first mission trip, I poured everything out for the Lord. I know because of that and because of the mindset He gave me, that He used all of us to encourage and to speak life and refreshment into those sweet and precious people. I would love to go back someday; I don't know if that'll happen or not, but once again I am reminded of something I am so thankful for: that when I breathe my last breath here on this earth, my life won't be ending~it'll just be beginning. I know that when I die, I will go to Heaven. Anyone will, if you're a believer and follower of Jesus. I know that even if I never see these people again here on earth while I'm alive that I will see them again someday in Heaven. How sweet is that? Jesus is just wonderful like that, Friends. Do you know Him?
If not, consider reaching out; I'd love to talk to you more about Him and how you can have a relationship with Him.
If all of this seems disjointed it's because my blog kept messing up as I wrote this and kept deleting pictures when I moved them around. You can find out more about our trip if you go to the search bar in one of the upper corners of my blog~just type in "Iceland" and everything I've ever written about it will come up. If some of the details in this post are different than the original, forgive me; I am ten years older and tried to write it as best I remembered. I am human though, and may have gotten some of this wrong.
If you're still here reading, wow! Thanks for sticking around. I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip~I know I had fun remembering. Love to all.