My personal life was a mess. I had been married to Bryan for a decade and a half and had three
children with him. Nobody knew it, but our marriage was in trouble. I had always been a roller
coaster, and it nauseated me now more than ever.
Of course, there had been some redeeming moments along the way, but my recollection is that I
lived in constant instability and uncertainty. Financially, the most worry-free years were spent in
Japan where we lived for six years as self-supporting missionaries. Truth be told, I did the most
“supporting” of us because I had been offered a full-time university teaching post, which I was
thrilled to accept. The job was a perfect match to my academic training. It was a dream come
I was very happy to work at the university and engage with the people at our local church, but
my marriage was increasingly problematic. Because we were missionaries, it seemed impossible
to do anything other than keep up appearances for the sake of the congregants and new converts.
I literally felt the burden of carrying what felt like a cross — sacrificing my own emotional
well-being to protect the reputation of Christ! After all, he was supposed to be able to change
everything and make life beautiful. Why, then, did I feel so defeated at home?
After six years and two children later, it was time to return to the US to continue with our
education. We settled in Anderson, Indiana, where his seminary was located. My university was
just a 30-minute drive away.
Our almost two and a half year old son was accepted into a daycare right across the street from
our apartment. It was a concrete blessing since we only had one car so we could walk him there.
The baby was only nine months old and I had not managed to find a safe place for her while we
were busy. The night before I was to get myself to Muncie to start my studies and to teach
classes, we were still without a babysitter. Worried and upset, I went to the grocery store late in
the evening to get something and started chatting with a lovely elderly lady at the meat counter.
During the conversation she learned of my dilemma and, miracle of all miracles, she offered to
babysit Amarja in her own home. The next morning when we went to her house, I was surprised
to see that she even had a crib there – she had looked after some other baby earlier. Nell became
my baby girl’s constant, loving and sweet caregiver for over a year.
Some days the goal I had chosen for myself seemed completely unattainable: too much to do and
no time to sleep – ever. I was overwhelmed but applied my Finnish sisu to push forward. I did not
believe in giving up. And, I loved my studies and the teaching job at Ball State University. It
energized me, so it was possible to go home and take care of the family and do my homework
however long into the night it took.
The Chocolate House
But the story of my marital misery continued. I felt oppressed and insecure. He could not
understand why I should be feeling insecure. I knew why. I couldn’t trust him to keep his
promises, small or big. He wanted better paying jobs in the ministry, for example, but they never
materialized. If they did, it was only for a while, and we had to pick up and move once again.
He was angry because he felt unappreciated. From my perspective, however, he was simply lazy.
He expected to land a well-paid position without doing the work that it would require. For
example, when he needed to create a Sunday morning bulletin for church, he started it on Sunday
morning and often didn’t get it done unless I went to help him. His frequent explanation was that
he just didn’t get “a round-to-it”. The round-to-it was forever missing.
After years of witnessing the unhealthy and self-destructive patterns of his behavior, I was
indeed feeling very insecure. We seldom had money. I was embarrassed to go to the grocery
store with my WIC coupons. I also felt rather alone in the caring of the children. I was studying
and teaching for my Ph.D. full-time and had to drive in all kinds of Indiana weather to get to my
school. Once my third child was born, I was forced to take her with me to daycare because her
father in his small parish was always too busy. Little Hanna would throw up coming and going. I
felt so sorry for her. And myself. The resentment kept building up.
We had been in Indiana for six years, and I was at my wits’ end. Since we were pastoring in a
small country church, there was no one for me to go to for help and advice. We were the couple
people looked up to. We were the shining example of a Christian marriage. Nobody knew what
went on inside the parsonage walls although the yelling should have been loud enough to be
heard on the other side of the vast cornfields! I needed someone who would listen to me without
Praying for change once again and looking for an opportunity to make it happen, I was thrilled to
be offered a job in Portland, Oregon. Out of 94 applicants, I was chosen to be the director in a
program that was exactly what I wanted. We made the long move from Indiana to Oregon, full of
hope that this might be the time and place when our life would improve for the better. Portland
was a city where I could breathe again. It was like living in Europe. People weren’t
small-minded nor did they hover over you or your life decisions. I was working full-time,
finishing my dissertation, and caring for three children while Bryan kept changing jobs (he was
fired from eight within three months). The red flags were waving more violently than ever
In Portland I found the support I had been needing. My colleague Steve and his wife quickly
became close friends. I could go to their house and plop on their couch with nothing expected of
me. I was listened to, loved and accepted just as I was. It was a safe place for me and the
The Chocolate House
children. In this loving context I was finally able to examine my home situation with brutal
honesty and careful objectivity.
During the early winter, I was so weary, tired and fed up that I requested “time out”. I needed
him, once and for all, to go do his homework on himself which included his ability to support
himself. At this point I had no illusions of him being able to provide for us. Throughout the
years, I had been going to counseling and learned there that I had weak boundaries. I needed the
bravery to address the hippo in my living room instead of trying to keep it placated. He needed to
find his own ghosts and deal with them. I was adamant there had to be some concrete verifiable
changes in his life before I could allow him in ours again. The deal we made was that if he could
not produce rent money by a certain date, he needed to leave and go find a place of his own. He
agreed. When I confronted him about the issue on that fateful day, he seemed to have forgotten
the promise. He threw himself on the floor in front of our small children, howling loudly, and
begging them to pray for their mother’s heart to soften towards him. I literally commanded him
to get up and behave like a man. I was furious. He stood up to his full height and stared me down
like a bear. “You can’t do this to me,” he yelled. Without a hint of fear, with gritted teeth I
exclaimed, “Watch me!” I was ready to call the cops. Bryan called his local cousins who wisely
advised him to do what he was told. He left with the door slamming behind him only to have the
children help him move his things the next day. Pathetic.
We now lived in the same apartment complex separated only by a parking lot. This arrangement
was unsustainable and undesirable. For the time being, he had secured himself a new job as a
security guard at the complex, carrying a master key to each apartment, mine included. I could
tell he had been there when we were gone because some of my treasures went missing. I had to
move away and put physical distance between us. But where could I go? The homes in the
surrounding area were expensive, and I could afford nothing around there. I felt it was important
not to upset the children’s world any more than necessary. They needed to remain in the same
school which they liked and where their friends were. I was certain of this.
In my quiet time, I was inspired by the story of the biblical Joshua. He marched around the walls
of Jericho seven times until its walls finally fell down for him to take possession of it. Well, then,
I needed to do the same if I was to exercise my faith.That is exactly what I did. I marched around
the children’s school seven times when school was not in session. I didn’t want to get arrested for
stalking kids. Then I both cruised and walked the surrounding neighborhood time and time again,
looking for some sign of home. I really wanted a home to rent right there.
One day, a chocolate brown home caught my attention. Its garage door was open and I was
surprised to see it was empty. Someone was moving in or out. I knocked on the door. An elderly
man opened it. He seemed surprised to see me standing there. I said hello with my friendlist
smile and asked him if the house was for rent. He looked at me curiously and said, “Yes, but —
The Chocolate House
not quite yet”. He invited me in. The furniture was mostly gone. He sat down on his lounge chair
and told me that his wife had recently passed away and that he himself needed to move out. He
was waiting for some kind of nudge to do so. It was hard leaving the home which the two of
them had shared. I then told my story to him, and his face lit up. A huge relief flashed across his
face. ”Yes, you should move in and I should move out”, he declared. He got up and called the
landlord and told him what he had just told me: he was leaving but the next renter was already
here, and right then he put me on the phone. The landlord and I agreed on this unusual
arrangement and sealed the deal. The most wonderful detail about the chocolate house was that
the rent was the same as the apartment we had been living in! On top of it all, the kids would get
a fenced-in backyard and I would get a garage! Faith and sisu combined had worked! I felt cared
for and blessed.
Within days, my friends helped us to make the move into our new home. For the first time in my
life, I was able to decorate my new home my own way. For years, I had been told I had poor
taste because I didn’t appreciate my husband’s love for antiques and his peculiar” German style”
of decorating. With my mom who had flown from Europe to help me, I ran straight to some thrift
stores and, within my meager budget, found wonderful little objects and decorations to make our
chocolate house cozy and comfortable. What made our move even more perfect was the
“bluebird of happiness”, which frequented our backyard. For us the bird was a symbol of
happiness, freedom, and safety. We had been living in a metaphorical, overcrowded bird’s nest
where the papa bird failed to feed and protect the little ones; he was selfishly taking way too
much space, expecting empathy for his constant problems, and erupting like a volcano when
least expected. It was time for that big bird to learn to fly for himself.
In Portland, in the chocolate house, at work and at church, I had found the freedom to be
completely honest with myself and others about my marriage and life in general. In order to heal
my broken heart, I needed to be vulnerable enough to let the gunk out to replace it with fertile
soil. I recognized I had given up my responsibility for my own life by expecting God to fix it.