The blog is back


When you are as excited as I was about living and working in Europe, you tend to underestimate the size of the challenge.

Emotions can and often do trump logic.

But moving is difficult. Even moving, as I once did, from one Midwestern state to another was very, very difficult. I was excited about that move too and thought it would be no problem. As soon as the house was sold, I figured everything else would quickly fall into place. I was wrong about that, as I have been about a lot of things in my life.

And then, two years ago, I made the decision to move across an ocean. Not from Illinois to Michigan this time, but from the U.S. to Europe, to a tiny country called Switzerland, with its beautiful scenery and quaint villages and of course cheese. I had been to Europe. I knew people there. I have an adventurous spirit. So, once again, I thought, “No problem.”

But moving from one place to another, one country to another, is – may I use this word a third time? – difficult. Frankly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I should say at this point that I thought I was following God’s call in my life. But of course all pastors say that. Pastors say a lot of things, and they can justify just about any decision or behavior, maybe you’ve noticed, by using a lot of clever religious language. “God placed this call on my heart” is always a good one. “God decided to have his way with me” is another one I like. We pastors are good at making every decision seem like part of God’s eternal plan. It’s a required course at seminary.

Here’s the thing, though: I still believe this was God’s call in my life. Have never been more certain, as a matter of fact. But somewhere I got the idea that God’s call in my life would be to something better or easier – like a nicer climate, or a higher salary, or a better job description. I must have missed all of the biblical fine print about taking up one’s cross.

Not long ago a member of my church’s youth group said to me, “I thought following Jesus would make life easier.” Let me tell you, kid: I used to think that too. A lot of people do. And then we’re surprised when following turns out to be a lot harder than we ever imagined.

Switzerland usually ranks at the top of the list of countries for expats. It also ranks right up there on the “happiest” places to live in the world. If you’re going to move or be transferred somewhere, you could do a lot worse than Switzerland. I heard presidential candidate Bobby Jindal say in the last Republican debate that “the left is trying to turn the American dream into the European nightmare.” These words sound strange to anyone living here. Swiss life is hardly a nightmare. A lot of expats I know have decided to stay.

I suppose that what makes the move so difficult is leaving behind everything that is familiar. I forgot how utterly immersed I was in American culture. And then to find myself suddenly in a brand-new culture, as splendid as it is, in spite of what Bobby Jindal thinks, is a lot harder than I imagined it would be. Looking back I realize that the first year was exhausting – emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. I was starting a new job, for one thing, and even though people here welcomed me with open arms, starting a new job is nearly always demanding and stressful.

And then there was learning a new language. If I were five years old, I’m pretty sure I would be a fluent German speaker by now, but I am a bit older than five, and learning a language is tough, especially for Americans who think that English is God’s mother tongue. I still struggle with it.

Even going to the grocery store was a challenge at the beginning. Going to any kind of store required careful planning. Setting up the cable TV box (with instructions in German, French, and Italian) took the better part of an afternoon.

The list goes on and on. Every day there was something. I stopped writing this blog six months ago at least in part because I needed time to focus on living, settling in, finding my way.

I wrote a book last summer mostly to make sense of this country and of my new church. (Though the manuscript was submitted last week, the publication date has been set for the fall of next year.) I write, as many people do, to sort out my thoughts, to figure out what I really think, and I hoped that a book about serving a multicultural, international church with almost mind-boggling diversity would help me to understand what in the world I was doing here. Mostly it did. I was proud of the result.

So, the blog is back, which is another way of saying I am far more comfortable now in my new home, my new country. I can get around easily on trains and trams. I have carried on entire conversations in banks and restaurants and even at the salon where I get my hair cut in a language that is still new and strange to me. I am not nearly as tired at the end of the day.

But I will never again underestimate the degree of difficulty in moving.

(Photo: I took that on a Saturday morning hike a few weeks ago. It’s further evidence, I believe, of the “European nightmare.”)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


35 Responses to The blog is back

  1. carelsteensma November 4, 2015 at 4:44 am #

    Very happy to see the Blog coming back! Missed reading your well writen and often amusing “musings”!

  2. Pamela Stephany November 4, 2015 at 4:45 am #

    Am very happy to have you back with your blog because I so very much enjoy it. It is a very small (downright tiny) community of ex-pats around the world that understand your experience. Well done! Best to you and family.

  3. Jodi November 4, 2015 at 5:22 am #

    Yes! It will be good to share your continued journey.

  4. Dennis Ulmer November 4, 2015 at 5:30 am #

    Hi Doug,

    I’m glad that the blog is back. Great picture too! I am looking forward to reading more posts, and your book next fall. Best wishes to you and your family as you continue on in your journey in a foreign land and continuing to face the challenges that it brings.

  5. Jeff Powell November 4, 2015 at 6:15 am #

    Hi Doug:
    I am glad that your blog is back and that you finished your book. I am keen to read it. Wishing you all the best as the adventure continues. Hope that you can visit us in December.

  6. Judy Blumenthal November 4, 2015 at 6:46 am #

    How very happy l was this morning to see your Blog.
    Missed reading about your adventures and your thoughts. Settling in, in a new home is difficult, settling in, in a new country, church, and home is a major feat. Glad you are doing well! Give my regards to Susan. Miss you both!

  7. Sue Brandon November 4, 2015 at 7:23 am #

    Welcome back Doug. Missed your writings.

  8. Catrina Hamilton November 4, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    All I can say is I’m so glad you’re back. I’m also happy you’ve finally settled into your new…um…what’s the word I’m looking for…country.

    • Sandy Steffen November 4, 2015 at 8:02 am #

      Glad you & your blog are back Doug!!! Sandy Steffen
      ( :

  9. Dorothy Kwan November 4, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    Glad to see your Blog again. And congratulations on ‘settling in and finding your way’ in Switzerland. It’s not easy in the beginning.

  10. Jeff Edwards November 4, 2015 at 8:40 am #

    I too am glad the blog is back, and your photo is a part of that, Doug.

  11. Mark Martillaro November 4, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    Going to forward this to my friend Dave Hughes who should be looking you up shortly. Glad you’re back pally!

  12. Cindy Boone November 4, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    I am another one who is so happy to see you back. I always looked forward to your blog and once again I will have something to look forward to. Welcome back

  13. Heidi Gagnon November 4, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you for the update! Hello to Susan:)

  14. blairblog1 November 4, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    Hi Doug- I was a Volunteer in Mission, in Berlin, after Seminary ( 1983-84)- interesting times & place…. and I had the choice then to ‘become German’, a real ex-pat. Obviously, I don’t didn’t do it.

    I haven’t had regrets about that, but often do think about what I would have lived through over there, as the ’80’s progressed & the Wall came down.

    Enjoy your time there. Who knows what world-changing events you will witness!

  15. Richard Davis November 4, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    It’s great to see you back on the blog line, Doug. You have a gift, and we all enjoy eavesdropping on your life. As you know, we understand and empathize as few others can. And, at the risk of indulging in God-talk, I do believe that the Almighty places in our hearts the desires for things He sees coming ahead of us. Why else would we dare tackle such challenges? All the more reason to be careful what we wish for. We might get it!

  16. Cerema FIscher November 4, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Repetitive, but so glad you are back! Look forward to your new book and the picture looks so tranquil! Missed you!

  17. Laurie Fuller November 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    I missed you Doug and really miss you at church. It’s just not the same, but I try. When I got this blog…and was first reading, I said YEA he is coming back, but No, I’m glad you are settling in and it is selfish of me to want you back when you know where God wants you to be and I know where God wants me to be too. Wonderful to have this back..take care and have a wonderful rest of your day!

  18. Marvin Hage November 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    Thanks for returning to the blogosphere. Marv

  19. Naree November 4, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

    thanks for bringing back the blog! It’s such interesting and enjoyable reading.

  20. Paul Burgess November 4, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    Well, I can’t offer any new insights beyond the ones that have already been given, but it’s fun to hear about (and sometimes SEE) my former neighbor, pastor, friend, … Well, hopefully not “former” friend!

    • Georgia Hamilton November 4, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

      Doug, I especially echo Richard’s comments—you have a gift that I’m so happy you are willing to share with the rest of us. And yes, the picture is stunning! My warmest regards to you and Susan.

  21. Hellen November 4, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    Welcome back Doug – please go on, it’s great reading your blog, keeps me smiling?. Thanks God for sending you over. Am glad you have settled in?

  22. bob sadowski November 4, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Missed your writings as well, seems very calm compared to the turmoil we still have at FPC. While moving on in some respects: complete renovation of Fellowship HAll, renovation of the Sanctuary we are still under the throes of ConnieGate and the Presbetary is making things very difficult for our church. Hope all is well with you and Susan and continue to adjust to your new life.

  23. Don Wagner November 4, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    So happy to see the blog is back. Can’t wait to read the book.
    Don Wagner

  24. Charles Scouten November 4, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    Happy to see your blog is back! It has been missed.

  25. Marianne Nestor November 4, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    So nice to hear from you again, treasured friend. Marianne N

  26. Bob Swanberg November 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    Yes, thanks for starting to blog again.

    • Phil Goodchild November 5, 2015 at 9:29 am #

      As a certain Chicago Bull once said, “I’m back.” Glad to see you in my In Box again, Doug. And working on that ex-pat gig myself.

      • Doug November 5, 2015 at 9:48 am #

        I almost referenced Michael Jordan, but figured most of my new readers wouldn’t know (or care) what he said. Still, I hope to come back and win three more championships, just like he did. Am very curious about your expat ideas. Would you use the contact submission form and let me know, Phil?

  27. Keith November 5, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    Welcome back. Missed the blog. Regards and best wishes.

  28. Joanne Everett November 5, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

    Doug, I love your honesty! Being an ex-pat is very stimulating because almost every moment of the day presents a new learning experience. I became a senior Peace Corps volunteer at age 55. I found my biggest challenge was to guard against seeing and judging every situation through my” American filter”. Sounds like you are doing a good job and monitor yourself VERY honestly. Continued happy trails to you and yours.

  29. Shelley November 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

    Glad to hear you are well Doug. A great teacher, God is. Please say hello to Susan for me.

  30. Bruce Fogerty November 8, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    Glad to have you back Doug. Quitting blogging sounds a bit like quitting Facebook. You wish you could do it, but really can’t. You can admit it. You are among friends.

  31. Kathy Bostrom November 9, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    So great to have you back – and especially to know that you are in a good place, literally and figuratively.