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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The End of 2014

And I thought 2013 was hard year!
On New Year's Day 2014 I wrote this on my blog: 
What will 2014 bring?  We do not know the answer to that question right now...but I'm confident that joy and sorrow will meet and that love will cover all things. 
Truer words could not have been written as the year now comes to an end. When 2013 ended, I was glad to turn the page on a new year. My mom's death had been so tough and I was looking forward to a new year without the stress of her declining health. Of course, who knew that just 4 months into this year my dad's health would take a fatal turn and we would lose him as well.  Those were difficult days provoking the deepest grief I have ever experienced. And while the searing pain of his passing has subsided, I do miss him every single day and wish he were still among us. But that is not to be and so I continue to find ways to cherish the memories of my very fine parents and savor the good times we did indeed share.
And who knew that 2014 would mark the end of 16.5 years of ministry at Immanuel International? Certainly not us. But now, we've preached our last message, (listen here if interested), cleaned out our offices, and have ended our pastoral responsibilities.
We are soon taking one last bucket list trip to Morocco and then will sort out our apartment in preparation for our flight to Los Angeles on January 29, 2015. We are looking forward to life in the desert and seeing what adventure awaits us!
While change and loss are marks of this year, love and joy have certainly played a huge role as well. I don't look back on 2014 with negative feelings but rather feel a unique depth of meaning in the events that have unfolded. All of the change has been totally unexpected and yet, through it all, we've felt loved, supported, surrounded and peaceful. Of course, not every day has been marked by these emotions...anger, disappointment, frustration and anxiety have played a role as well and yet...we are feeling at peace with the road ahead. Saying good-bye to our church and life here is very painful and filled with the deepest kind of emotion and yet...we anticipate the future with great excitement and wonder as well. 
One of the great joys of these last weeks has been time spent with dear friends who love us! We've been to so many different gatherings with such a broad range of people that we are just savoring these moments. Here's a glimpse of some of the ways we've been enjoying our loved ones here in Stockholm:
The wonderful Filipino community and a few others at Immanuel!
My dear Swiss friend Madeleine...gorgeous afternoon.
These photos are small representations of the depth and breadth of relationship and friendship that has been ours to treasure all of these years. We will miss meeting people from all walks of life and having our lives enriched by these encounters. But these relationships are deeply buried into the tapestry of our lives and will not quickly fade. 
The Downey kids...the wonderful family we have spent Christmas Eve with for several years now.
Lalit and Sujata Kumar...our Indian brother and sister!

The Bhat boys and Ellie! We've known these boys for a long time
and have confirmed them both!
These kids are among the hundreds of kids that we've enjoyed through the years at Immanuel. We spent this day remembering all of the crazy times we've shared, especially during the summer with our Wacky Wednesday programs! What joy to have youth in our lives! We look forward to the ways in which we will get involved in kids lives in the future.
Terri Bhat along with Georgie and Gaby Carlson, who we love like our own!
Fabulous Swedish coffee mug from the Carlson girls.

The richness of being part of a diverse community is a gift that we wish all could experience.
We shared a beautiful afternoon with the Eritrean community from Immanue and walked away with these gorgeous gifts of traditional dress.

To cross lines that are usually seen as barriers and then to see what joy there is in being with those who are different than you is one of the greatest gifts we take from our years here at Immanuel. It's hard to say good-bye but we are also grateful for all the years we were given. Who would've thunk that when we signed that 3 year contract in April of 1998 that it would be the end of 2014 when we finally said good-bye? Certainly not me.
Now we have a new year to look forward that is an absolute mystery to us! I am looking forward to living in California again for the first time since 1989. I'm thrilled that Doug is happy to be a California transplant and while we'll miss the joy and ease of traveling in Europe, we do look forward to tasting our home culture once again and visiting the vast landscape that the USA offers. It will be quite interesting to experience what it's like to return to the USA after all these years of living abroad. I'm confident that there will be moments of relief and joy mixed in with moments of loss and feelings of being completely overwhelmed. I anticipate feeling quite at home in some ways and like a complete stranger in others. I know that our years of living in Sweden have shaped us in ways that we can't yet give expression to and yet...I'm grateful for it all...the hard times, the good times, the times of laughter and the times filled with tears. Isn't that what living life is all about anyway? Opening ourselves up to the full range of emotions and experiences that God intends for us.
So, as we end 2014 and prepare to celebrate our final New Year's in Stockholm...we wish all of our loved ones, both near and afar, a great start to a new year. May your year be filled with love and peace, no matter what may unfold.  2014 has certainly been full of both for us.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 21

This date has always been significant for me because it was my parents anniversary.
My beloved parents alongside of my dear grandparents.
I remember how they would take time during this busy season to celebrate the years with one another. Amazingly, the couple they became very close friends with after they moved to California shared the same date so they made a habit of celebrating together. Today would've been 57 years for mom and dad, but instead it's the first anniversary they will spend together in heaven.
December 21, 1957
I remember last year worrying about my dad, wondering how he was going to handle his first anniversary and Christmas without my mom. One of the things that gives me greater peace about the fact that they are both now gone from this earth is that my dad does not have to struggle to live without his beloved spouse. He was giving living life as a widower a brave shot but he did not enjoy it. So this year as this date rolls around, I feel the joy of a life well-lived and I celebrate the satisfaction of a marriage that was treasured. They were a great couple. Not without their differences nor their disagreements but they truly understood one another and allowed one another to be themselves in spite of what might've bugged them or what they might've wanted to be different. They got behind one another and gave each other their full support. The football guys would all say that Mrs. Moon was an integral part of their formation right alongside of Coach Moon. I feel very grateful that I have such warm memories of their life together.
Could they have been any cooler?
Doug and I watched When Harry Met Sally again last night for the first time in many, many years. It is such a great movie and the humor is not lost on us that I can, at times, be a bit like Sally! While I have loved this film from the first moment I saw it way back in 1989 this time around the little vignettes of the couples that they use to transition between the time frames were especially meaningful to me. I just loved watching these older couples interact with one another and it made me wonder what Doug and I would be like 30 years from now, if we are given that many more years of life. Doug and I had a rather circuitous route to the altar, facing many, many obstacles on the road to saying "I do" so I feel very grateful that 20 years ago we were able to take the plunge.
I wore my mom's wedding dress when we got married.
He is truly the love of my life, my best friend, the one who really gets me and lets me be me. He's often said that I'm a bit high maintenance and I've never denied that. But my most common response is simply that it's a good thing he likes maintaining me since he gets a lot of opportunities to do so.
So here's to long and celebrated love. Mom and Dad...I hope you can enjoy a heavenly toast today. You are in my heart and I'm grateful that you don't have to figure out life without the other anymore.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Some Last Things

With our official last day of work now just 2 weeks away, there are many things that we are doing for the "last time." I have to admit however that rather than being focused on how sad I am that I won't be doing this again, I am truly seeking to simply be in the moment, take everything in and enjoy these activities to the fullest one last time. I am not gone yet and I refuse to live in a place where all I think about is NOT being here instead of focusing on BEING here, which is where I am!
I hosted my final Book Club White Elephant Party last Monday night. It was ever enjoyable with loads of silliness. I scored a super good gift however: A pink pig, which Tanner loves. The robust oink that it makes is a special bonus.
Wednesday during the staff fika time, the personnel of Immanuel took a moment to say farewell to us. As is tradition, someone wrote a song about us and the staff sang it. It was touching and cute. To the tune of Frosty the Snowman it began, "Jodi and Douglas..." I was a bit teary a points. They also gave us some lovely Orrefors crystal candle holders and a couple of coffee mugs to encourage us to continue to light candles and have fika. And in classic Swedish tradition, handed me an enormous bouquet of cut Amaryllis. They are absolutely stunning and I'm so thrilled I can enjoy them throughout this season!
Wednesday night we attended a concert at Immanuel that the Hotel Birger Jarl puts on. It was a cool mix of traditional and funky with loads of instruments that included a harmonica, string quartet, mandolin, and various items for percussion. It was a great time!
Although Lucia is traditionally on December 13, when it falls on a Saturday, companies and schools hold their pageants the day before. Early on Friday I walked over to Immanuel and was greeted by the amazing choir of Adolf Fredrik's music school and the glowing candle light of Lucia. Such beauty. 
Then I zipped out to Ikea for a few items and lo and behold, even Ikea was hosting a Lucia concert for their employees! Fun to get in it on a few songs and another Lucia tåg as it is called. (Tåg is train.)
Finally, last night we hosted our annual youth Christmas party. It was filled with fun and laughter. I made my signature hot apple cider and had brownie sundaes for dessert...two fan favorites with this crowd! I discovered I only have one more brownie mix in my cupboard...good timing. Will be so weird when I can just go to the store and get one no longer needing to stock up on them and haul them across the pond!
The kids in our youth groups through the years have always held a special place in our hearts. We love having them and will miss a house filled with the noise and joy of teenagers.
I went to bed last night savoring the joy of a week filled with things that I have loved but will now no longer participate in in quite the same way. While certain things tug at my heart strings, I am so grateful for all the years we've had that mostly I'm just happy to know that these things will be a part of my life, if only in my heart, forever. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

I kept up my tradition of creating my own holiday in Stockholm by taking Thursday off and spending the day focused on Thanksgiving. This is the one day of the year when being in sync with what's happening in the US means a lot to me. So while it's a normal work day and we can't eat until evening, it's well worth the effort to have Thanksgiving dinner on the actual Thanksgiving day! That this will be our last celebrated in Stockholm perhaps made the whole occasion that much special. While I will miss the memorable gatherings we have shared around our dining room table, I won't miss worrying about finding all of the ingredients to make the meal in the way I like it! Fortunately a friend went to the US in October so brought back a cache of goodies including corn bread mix from Trader Joe's, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, and pumpkin pie filling. I farmed out the pies but supplied the pumpkin! I also won't miss paying a staggering $4.00 a pound for my turkey! I did dig through the very small freezer compartment at my local grocery store to find the biggest one...4.6 kilos or just tipping in at 10 pounds! Small as it was, it was tasty in the end!
I had a blast decorating the table this year. A friend and one of the guests invited for dinner had receive the center cloth from her mom and it provided the base inspiration for all that followed. I was very happy how it all turned out and it proved to be a beautiful setting for a memorable meal.
Around our table this year we had a family from India (joke was that we had real Indians at our Thanksgiving!) who had never experienced the American Thanksgiving tradition or food before, a woman from Ghana, a Swiss/American couple and one of their kids, and one other American along with me and Doug. The gathered group are all quite close to one another having shared in each other's lives in significant and heartfelt ways through the years.
The food was delicious, if I say so myself! My roasted sweet potatoes in a maple/cayenne glaze were a big hit. In the end, we had plenty of food and even a lot of leftovers!
In keeping with the Thankfulness theme, as people came in, each drew a name. Later in the evening, we had the Thanksgiving round where we each shared one thing that we were thankful for about the person whose name we had drawn. It was a special time, filled with laughter and tears. There was an abiding sense of family around our table that night. We finished off the evening while watching an incredible video of Ed Dobson, a pastor in the US whose journey is now laced with his struggle with ALS. See his story here.  At last, over pies, we enjoyed our annual Thanksgiving day quiz.
I was tired when my Thanksgiving day ended but full, content and overflowing with joy. I missed my folks throughout the day. I missed talking to my mom about the food and showing her the table. The gravy always gave me angst and I must say, my mom would be proud of how I've now mastered it! I I missed talking to my dad about the food and football. But there was certain comfort in knowing that my dad wasn't having to struggle through another holiday season without my mom.
Our church family has been just The heartfelt sentiment expressed around that table that night was one of deep connection and appreciation for all who shared in our tradition together.
I will miss my family at Immanuel International as we transition back to the US in January. But the depth of thanks I feel for having shared these years with them will never fade. I guess that makes me the most thankful of all. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Bright Evening in Gray November

Yesterday we had the pleasure of being treated to an extraordinarily enjoyable Sunday evening. Dear friends invited us to attend a Swedish film titled En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron or in English, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. You can read about this award winning film here. It was a quirky, funny, serious, ironic reflection on life. Even though it was in Swedish, it was quite easy to keep up. The visuals were amazing and while it was a non-linear film in many respects, it was not hard to see what the director was trying to do. It was especially fun to see it with a Swede, who laughed a lot throughout the film. Listening to him laugh was half the fun!
After the film, they took us their favorite restaurant in town,  PA & Co. It's a tiny little neighborhood spot that serves great food and can be hard to get into it. Our friend knows the owner so he manages to get in at any time! On Sunday night it was quiet so we could relax and talk over great food. I ordered my favorite Swedish dish of all time, Beef Rydberg. Cubes of tender beef on a bed of onions, served with fried potatoes, horseradish, and sweet mustard. There's a raw egg yolk on the plate as well but admittedly, I leave it alone. It was the best Beef Rydberg I've ever had. I was so eager to dig in, that I skipped taking a photo!
For dessert, we all had the obligatory Gino, a dessert that this restaurant has made famous. A bed of strawberries, bananas, kiwi is covered with white chocolate shavings, broiled, then topped with a scoop of ice cream. WOW, is it good. I could've had 3 more!
While the food was great, the conversation was even better. We reflected on the film, church life, life in Sweden and began to grieve a little our ensuing separation. Our friend had also just been in California and he and his son stayed in our house so we talked about the desert and hope to welcome them out there before too long. Truly, it was a delightful evening.
Then we walked home and were treated to newly lit Christmas decorations that have been popping up all around town! What joy to see many new things added this year...It will be such fun now to wander through the city and enjoy all the decor and be warmed up by the extra light. I'm tempted to put my own lights up in my windows before Sunday, which is the first of Advent. We'll see if I can make it to the weekend!
Good film, good food, good friends. The perfect trifecta for a Sunday evening in November. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Big News & Big Changes For Us

Back in the spring of 1998, Doug and I signed a contract with Immanuel International to come and be their pastors for three years.
We were excited about the possibility of moving to Sweden, ministering to a multi-cultural community and dipping our toe in the European lifestyle for a few years while we were still young! But then the years started to fly by and all of the sudden, we'd been here a decade, and now 16+ years. At one point we finally decided that we were definitely staying in Stockholm, indefinitely.
And yet, I suppose in our hearts and in our minds we knew that at some point in time, another door would open and we would feel led to step through it into a new reality.
That time has come. After 16.5 years Doug and I are leaving Stockholm and Immanuel International. Tanner is going to become an American hund! So on the 28th of December we will share in our final worship service and on the 29th of January, we will board a plane, with Tanner loaded in the cargo hold, for one last hop across the pond. We plan to land in our home in Desert Hot Springs, CA and see where the winds of change will lead.
Why now? Lots of different things started aligning for us to consider that the timing might be right. Our move has absolutely nothing to do with our dear congregation. They have asked us to reconsider and stay which is lovely but of course, we did not make this decision lightly and feel that God has genuinely led us to make this move now. Of course, telling our congregation that we are indeed leaving has been one of the hardest things we've ever had to do but I've often said that every good decision usually involves a fair amount of pain. This decision is no exception to that reality and yet, while we will miss this congregation tremendously, we feel great peace in making this transition at this time.
We will take a short time of sabbatical to ponder what these years in Sweden and with the International church have meant to us. I have a deep need to continue to sort through everything that my parents' passing has meant in my life and we are both feeling that landing back in the US for a season will be good for us. I'm sure the reverse culture shock will be profound but we are also excited to see what it will be like to actually live in the United States of America once again. While there are many things we will miss, I will not miss the dark winters! Knowing that there will be many impressions and emotions with re-patriating, (a term I loathe by the way), I will continue to blog under a new blog title: Back Across the Pond. I'll keep ya posted on that.
For now, we are savoring every moment with people we love and places we enjoy. We are thrilled to have a final Advent and Christmas season with our congregation and thankful to have the month of January to pack up and sort through our home here.
Tanner has been to the vet to get his first ever rabies shot and obtain his pet passport! I am very excited to see how he adjusts to being a desert dog!
 We appreciate your prayers for us and our church as this significant event unfolds in our life. We remain humbled that God has given us the privilege of being the pastors at Immanuel International for all these years and look forward to what He has in store for us as this new season unfolds.

Soon enough we'll be back across the pond. For now, I'm savoring all that has kept us on this side of that pond for as long as it has.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Lovely Lunch

Yesterday I was treated to a delightful lunch with a young woman from church whose adorable baby we baptized a couple of weeks ago. The weather in Stockholm has been the typically dreadful November blah with loads of gray sky, no sunshine, and wet, icky conditions. It has not been particularly cold and we've nary seen a snowflake, which would actually brighten things up a bit. So when she suggested we head to Ulriksdal Slott Tradgård café, I was thrilled. I had only been here one other time and was eager to try it again. In order to get to the café, you have to walk through their nursery and greenhouse, which is loaded with gorgeous plants and lit with bright, sunlight simulating light! My senses were awakened in this garden of Eden-like place!
The lunch buffet itself is gorgeous. All vegetarian, all organic, you can eat to your heart's delight with minimal guilt! Deliciously prepared salads, veggie dishes, pasta rolls, thick and creamy carrot soup, and homemade breads were all on offer and I enjoyed every last taste!
The company was delightful as well. Little Henrik slept most of the time until near the end of our time when he woke up, curious to take in all that happening around him!
It was indeed a lovely lunch and a great way to brighten the dreary landscape that surrounds us right now. Thank you Julie! I would totally recommend a visit to Ulriksdal Slott Café if for no other reason than to simply bask in the beauty of the floral displays. But it would be a shame to miss the café so take time to eat something as well!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Casa Batlló and Barceloneta

Just when you think you've seen it all, you decide to go to Casa Batlló on your last day and are blown away one more time. Gaudí designed this gorgeous city apartment for this prominent family and I want to live there! You are automatically given the audio guide with your entrance and it's well worth it. Gaudí's amazing design sense and vision for something completely different really comes through. One room after another dazzles the senses with his use of curve, color and imagination. Gaudí managed to combine functionality with beauty and whimsy along every passageway! The tour takes you up to the rooftop where, of course, incredible views await you! 
The outer facade is also filled with great imagination with the balconies looking like the masks of carnival! This was a fabulous way to start our last day in Barcelona.
The other interesting public art was this giant cat that stood across from our hotel. I found it especially wonderful as it a work of a famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, whose work I have enjoyed since I lived in Colombia many, many years ago.
From there, we headed to the beach to soak up what would surely be the last warmth of the year for us. We walked down to the beach area from our hotel. This towering statue of Christopher Columbus pointing to the new world welcomed us to the beach area. It was hot and sunny! The sandy shores were a welcome respite from city sightseeing. Elaborate sand sculptures dotted the shoreline and many locals thought that the beach would be a good way to spend this last Sunday in October! The water was still warm enough to swim in so we both took a plunge. It was a super way to enjoy our last afternoon in this spectacular town. 
And then the day was done and our holiday was over. But I'm quite certain this won't be the last time I visit this enchanting, wonderful city.