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Monday, September 19, 2016

My Landscaping Man

Doug has this wonderful design gene. I have no idea where it comes from although he has mentioned that in another life, he would've loved to have been a golf course architect. He has a truly uncanny ability to look at something and re-design it in his head and then make it happen. He did this with the interior of our home, which is spectacular in my humble opinion and now he's at it with the outside of our home.
Photo not taken today. It's not that cloudy!
Our current property is blessed with lovely yard space. Because we sit at the end of a cul-de-sac, our property is pie-shaped which is awesome because the front side is nicely shaped without being a huge space, but the back opens into a lovely wide expanse. The patio is really great and once the weather cools will become a major outdoor living area. After 17 years in Sweden where we lived for the warmish days of summer when we could be outside, it is still a little weird for me to be longing for cooler days in order to be outside more! But I digress. The back yard also has 5 mature fruit trees, 3 pink grapefruit and a lemon and a lime tree. Unfortunately, one of the grapefruit trees died so we had to hack it down.
All of the trees are surrounded by brick and concrete which is fine until you want to remove it. Doug has done the back breaking work of digging out the square that surrounded the dead tree.
It has been fun to watch this transformation take shape today.
The front yard has a lovely sitting area but it was largely blocked by this giant yucca tree. And the pile of rocks and cacti behind the sitting area were not set out in a very appealing manner.
The new view, sans Yucca
Additionally, the big rock pile by the front door was also a little random and the plants around the house were also just sort of scattered about.
Re-located cacti and rocks creating a much more beautiful desert garden
Doug had the great idea of building a dry rock "creek" from the beside the front door that will go all the way down to the end of the driveway. We do have the most beautiful stones so it will be a great way to display them more tastefully.
The start of the dry rock creek
The front of the house looks so much better. 
So the major work in the front yard, included re-locating the large yucca plant that blocked our view, knocking down the stone piles, re-locating various cacti and large rocks, and moving one small palm back against the house.
So you may be asking, "Where is that large Yucca plant?" It's in the corner of our backyard! And it looks great.
The Yucca tree fills in that space beautifully. It looks so much better.

In addition to moving the large yucca tree to the back corner, backyard work included re-locating all of the rose bushes so that they are alongside of the house. 

Hauling away large portions of the concrete that Doug dug out. Horrible work, really. And transplanting formerly potted cacti into the ground to round out the desert garden.
 I am amazed at how much work they've gotten done. Fortunately, it's not too hot today (91F/33C) and there has been cloud cover so they haven't totally wilted. I've been documenting their work, providing beverages and lunch, along with some translation skills as Martin's English isn't totally up to speed. My Spanish stinks but I can still understand what he needs most of the time.
Doug is an eager learner and a great worker when he gets a bee in his bonnet. Most of the time it works to my advantage, but sometimes it drives me absolutely crazy. The phrase that I often fear most is, "Jodi, I have an idea." That man is full of ideas, albeit, mostly great ones. Best of all we haven't had to spend money on new materials yet. We will buy some new plants but mostly we've been able to move the rocks around the garden and transplant the plants in spaces that look so much better. I'm totally thrilled with how this is shaping up. Of course, we miss this little lawn ornament most of all. Sigh. Stay tuned for more developments from my landscaping man.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Adventures in Church Hunting

We haven't looked for a church together ever. When we married, Doug was pastor at Northbrook Covenant and so I attended there while chaplain of North Park University. During the few months between leaving Northbrook and moving to Sweden we enjoyed a season of visiting lots of different churches in the Chicago area since we had never had the chance to do so. Since then, except for the few months between Sweden and England, we've never been without a congregation. Now that we are settling back in CA without jobs as pastors, we are trying with earnest to find a church. It's not easy. This is probably the area where we are finding the most culture shock in being back. While there are numerous churches to choose from trying to find one with the qualities that we value is not easy. After spending so many rich years in the presence of a beautifully diverse population, the mostly monochrome congregations that we are encountering are rather bland. The churches we've visited have spanned the spectrum from very liberal with large populations of gay people to super conservative where crack pot comments about President Obama have been made from the pulpit, to ones that resemble a retirement community with plenty of blue and gray hairs dotting the congregation, and just about everything in between. Mostly churches have been friendly (the ones with the larger gay populations super welcoming and accepting) and welcoming without being too overbearing. The music has been all over the place. I recently told the dear couple that were our musicians when we left Immanuel that they have ruined me for life for worship music. They are so talented musically but also possess a rare instinct for what it means to truly lead people in music, not just perform. We loved working with them and they are dear friends to this day and we miss them terribly. We dream of being brought together for ministry once again someday.
The talented and amazing Ben and Anita Tatlow
They are called Salt of the Sound and you can check them out here.  ( I fully recommend that you go there, have a listen and download their music. They are truly wonderful, even if they've made it really hard for me to be unbiased about church music. Anyway...I suspect we'll keep at it but it may be awhile before we hit upon the congregation that feels like a place we could call our home church.
Last week we continued our journey through churches based on what we are finding online. Another shout out to those of you in church leadership: YOUR WEBSITE MATTERS! New people are looking for churches through the web and if you aren't up to speed, you will get passed over.
We ended up at The Rock church in Palm Desert last Sunday. Unsure of what to expect, we were intrigued that the lead pastor was Hispanic and associate African American. The lead pastor is also a skateboarder so we were a little curious. We arrived a few minutes late and walked into a darkened sanctuary that felt like a concert atmosphere. The music was so loud that at that moment I felt every bit my 55 years and more! I could hardly stand it! And speaking of stand, we had to stand for more than 30 minutes from the moment we walked in and found our chairs. As we came in, the ushers greeted us, and handed us a little cup asking if we wanted to take communion. Hmmm...this is different. But we're up for different.
Anyway...we didn't know any of the songs. We didn't enjoy all the standing. There was much cheering and arm raising, which is OK even if it's not my style. I appreciated that the band was very talented and all young people. And the congregation was very young and quite diverse. But the sermon was thin. I leaned over to Doug and said, "I feel like I'm at the campfire of a Jr. High camp getting ready to throw a stick on the fire to re-dedicate my life to Jesus." And when it came time to take the offering, well, the introductory remarks smacked a bit too much of a health and wealth gospel. "I give this money trusting that God will bless me and multiply it."
But the real memorable bit of the morning came with the communion 'liturgy' and I use that term loosely. The pastor gave an elementary explanation of what it means to partake in the Lord's supper and put too much emphasis on our being worthy as opposed to Christ making us worthy. Then when it came time to share, he asked us to remove the thin cellophane wrap from the top and lo and behold, there sat the wafer. After we took the wafer, we opened up the cup and sipped it down. All-in-one self-contained communion. Had never seen that before. Two thoughts...too much waste. Could be useful in situations where sanitation is a real issue.
We left before the service ended because the announcements were going on and on and we knew we weren't going to come back and we didn't want to stand for 15 more minutes as we sang the closing music that would probably be too loud for us anyway.
We both remarked that we're glad that people are drawn to this congregation and being nurtured in their Christian faith. Except for the health and wealth business, they seem to be do some good things in young peoples' lives. I wish them well but it's clear that The Rock will not become our spiritual home here in the desert. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembering 9/11

It was late afternoon in Sweden. I was home in bed because on September 10, 2001 Doug and I had made our first IVF attempt. A friend called to say that something terrible had happened in New York, Osama Bin Laden was probably involved and I should turn on CNN right away. My first reaction was disbelief...surely my friend was over-reacting. Minutes later, Doug came home from church and ran for the TV. Then it was a frenzy of getting a hold of family, wondering about friends in New York, and worrying about Chicago being the next target. Our Swedish colleagues in the office were nothing but amazingly supportive in their concern and compassion and the entire international community surrounded us with care and empathy. Of course, many members of our church had suffered far greater tragedies, and yet, even so, they understood the gravity of this moment for us.

On this day, my thoughts go immediately to a dear friend of ours who transferred from New York to Stockholm who was present in Manhattan the day of the attacks. It's a hard day for her. I recall the 10th anniversary in Stockholm. We took her out for a boat ride and reveled in the peace-filled beauty that are the Stockholm waterways. Close friends from the London church were also present in New York that day. And my cousins were in New Jersey during that time, considering heading to Manhattan for the day. In fact, my cousin took this photograph on 9/9...perhaps one of the last shots ever recorded of the island with the towers rising above. We know that today is not an easy day for them as the journey of getting back to CA after the attacks was fraught with challenges.

I'm sure many have thoughts that drift to those they know who were present and of course, the searing pain of loss for those who lost a loved one in the attacks makes this day complex.

I have only been to New York city once in my life and it was in January of 2011.
I remember going to ground zero and seeing the construction site where the towers had fallen and where the memorial was being built. I look forward to returning one day soon and seeing the finished spot. I've heard it's beautiful and moving.

Today is my first 9/11 residing in the United States since the attacks. Of course, Facebook and media reports are flooded with remembrances and the church we attended today did a nice job of remembering the tragedy without vilifying the perpetrators. Prayers for peace were offered.

On the 10th anniversary, I had the responsibility of offering the pastoral prayer that morning in our church. I re-print here as I still believe it sums up what I still believe needs prayer.

Sadly, our troubled world is not much more peaceful. Terror still rises up. Misunderstandings between people cause conflicts and incredulously, powers still believe that the pathway to peace is through violence. I will always believe that violence begets violence and that oppression and aggression will always cause a loss of life. But I offer once again my thoughts and prayers from 5 years ago...I believed it then. I believe it now. Peace to those for whom today is an especially hard day. What follows is what I shared 5 years ago at Immanuel International.

Today as we enter into prayer, we do so mindful of the tragic terrorist attacks that unfolded 10 years ago in the United States of America. Perhaps you are unaware that 150 nations lost citizens in those attacks.  The global community felt the sadness and fear that these events unleashed and we desire to remember in prayer today those most deeply affected by these events.  We also acknowledge that many nations of our world suffer terrible atrocities that go unnoticed and uncared for.  We know that our world longs for peace yet feels mired in conflict.  So while we acknowledge the specific events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we lift up the themes of reconciliation, understanding, and peace making in our prayers today.  These words from the great hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness set the tone well as we turn our hearts to prayer:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth 
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! 
Let us pray.

Loving God,
It is indeed your great faithfulness that is stable in our unstable world.  Your grace, your unconditional love, your saving power never change, are always available, and consistently pursue us.  We acknowledge before you today that it is we Lord, who are weak and lacking in faithfulness.  We often allow our fears, our prejudices, and our weaknesses to shape our thinking and control our actions and we ask for your deep forgiveness, that we all might strive to be agents for peace and understanding in our world.  Lord, today we pray for those whose lives have been profoundly affected by acts of terror and greed, hurt by one who would desire to wield inappropriate power over other innocent human beings.  We pray particularly for those most deeply touched by the terrorist attacks in the US 10 years ago, asking you to be present in their loss, comforting in their pain, soothing of their fears.  Lord, we know that it was not only Americans who felt this loss, but also realize that many nations lost citizens and the world became a different place.  Wars have ensued, hatred between people groups has been fostered, protectionist instincts have been nurtured, fears have been established and so dear God today we ask that your love, your ability to heal, your power to reconcile reign in our world today.  Help each one of us Lord, to recognize where in our lives we are cultivating attitudes and actions that are displeasing to you and unfair to another human being, and empower us to take courageous and bold steps towards being a peacemaker, striving for reconciliation, seeking understanding.  God, may we be a people who see humanity as you do, each one beloved, regardless of race, religion, geographic home, economic situation and Lord, rather than focus on fierce nationalism that leads only to further separation, may we each take a step towards being a global community that fosters hope, understanding, care and above all peace.
     We pray for those who use terrorism as a means to accomplish their purposes.  Deep inside we know that anger and disappointment, fear and oppression drive these attitudes and so we do pray dear God, that somehow the light that is Christ will illuminate their pathway and lead them to a different way of expressing their opinion and pursuing action in our world.  Lord, we long for the eradication of evil in our world and know that it is your love and grace that accomplish that.  May we embrace and display both in our daily lives.
     Lord, you are a God who dearly loves humanity, the whole of humanity, and you long for us to live in harmony with one another, no matter our differences.  The similarity that we share is that we are, each one, a beloved creation, shaped and formed in your image. You are the author and perfector of perfect love and harmonious relationships.  You have called us to serve you and to obey you.  And so today we ask for healing where we have been injured.  For calm where anger drives us.  For an open mind when we are tempted to be small, for understanding where there is suspicion.  God, we pray for the safety of those who are most directly in harm’s way.  We pray for the nations of the world to seek understanding of one another rather than seeking for dominion over one another.  And today, we do remember in a special way, the United States of America as a nation, as people gather all over the world to remember the events of 10 years ago that injured so many and left a deep scar on the country. Lord, as we remember, may we look to the ways in which we can bring change, change that points people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the better way that he shows us how to live together.
     We pray all of these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Beach Bliss

California is a beautiful place! What joy to be reminded of the beauty that I grew up as Doug and I spent a couple of days out of the desert heat and enjoyed the refreshment of the California coast.
I cannot remember the last time I spent time languishing in my beach chair on Newport Beach. My mind was filled with nostalgia as I remembered childhood beach days with the whole family followed by many, many summer days as a teenager spent in pursuit of the perfect tan!
I have to say that the water was surprisingly warm. I love to swim in the sea, bouncing around in the surf, making feeble attempts to catch a wave. My body surfing skills are not what they used to be! Equally enjoyable was sitting in my little beach chair, listening to the surf come in and out, watching skilled surfers enjoy the waves with an occasional wipe out. Miles and miles of beautiful sandy beach. After enjoying the privilege of traveling to so many different seasides, I had forgotten how special the beaches of my childhood really are.
We took a nice drive down the Balboa peninsula our first evening there. We were surprised to see the community of fishermen reeling in mackerel as fast as they could! The lit shoreline looked lovely after dark. 
We awoke to a typical morning fog so decided to do some exploring by car.
The S.S. Minnow, heading out for a 3 hour cruise.
 (Gilligan's island humor for non-Americans.)
We ventured down to Corona Del Mar, a stunningly beautiful beach area where cliffs, rock formations and tide pools are on offer. This is as beautiful a coastline as any I've seen, not to mention the multi-million dollar properties that graced the hillside surrounding the beach. It was such a joy to climb on the rocks, gaze out across the beach, listen to the surf crashing along the shoreline. Too bad we weren't there in the evening so we could build a fire in the fire rings, a favorite thing to do as a child.
At about 11.00 a.m. the morning mist burned off so we headed back to Newport to enjoy another afternoon on the beach. That evening, after dinner, we walked to the Newport Pier and enjoyed watching the setting sun over the Pacific. 
For our last day, we had made plans with some friends who live in Seal Beach, an area of the Southern CA coastline I have not spent much time. We first met Jeff and Alba when they were pastors of the American International Church in London, the same church where we spent the past year. They are still quite active in International church ministry and we've appreciated connecting with them through the years. 
After a seafood buffet lunch where there was more food than could be consumed in a life time, we took the Aqua Link over to Long Beach. For a mere $5.00 we were treated to a beautiful ferry ride across the Pacific. We even saw a dolphin! We landed in a beautiful area of Long Beach that has been "re-invented" with a lovely lighthouse and the Queen Mary ship highlighting the area. Always fun to wander around a seaside town. We stopped and enjoyed some refreshments before taking the ferry back to Seal Beach.
Our little beach getaway ended with a very fun evening at the retirement village where Jeff and Alba live. In the outdoor amphitheater, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, twin sons of the famed Ricky Nelson and grandsons of the iconic Ozzie Nelson were holding a tribute concert. It was great to be taken back to my early childhood, watching episodes of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, swooning over Ricky Nelson's adorably pretty looks and enjoying some decent old time music. It was delightful to watch the mostly retired crowd enjoy the nostalgia.
We were happy to skip over the traffic while driving back to the desert. We were home a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes later. I marvel at the climate and landscape diversity that all lies within 2 hours of the desert. I was reminded once again why I love so California so much...beach, mountains, and desert all within 100 miles of the other. Beauty abounds and I'm thankful we were able to soak it in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thanks for Understanding

The outpouring of love, empathy, care, and compassion that has been expressed to us as regards the passing of our beloved dog Tanner has been of great comfort to us during these very sad days of adjusting to life without his presence in our lives.
I love this photo taken by friends visiting Stockholm. We often stood with Tanner looking out our window in Stockholm watching the world go by. 
Sometimes people who have never loved a pet have a hard time understanding the depth of grief that accompanies letting a furry friend go. In our case, those voices have not emerged and instead what has emerged is a beautiful chorus of understanding how much Tanner meant to us. For you see, to know Jodi and Doug was to know Tanner. His presence in our lives was big and bold.
There's Tanner, in the middle of the swimming hole with everyone else!
For much of his life, he weighed over 40 kilos (80 pounds) and at his largest he hit 45 kilos or about 100 pounds! And he was 100 pounds of energy, loving, curiosity and joy. Oh he could be annoying for sure, but mostly he was just super interested in anything and everything we did. He loved to eat and often stole food off the counter or table. He loved to swim and would bark and cry when we were out on the boat if we made him wait for one minute to jump in.
Tanner's 3 life jackets!
He loved anyone that came into his presence, exhibiting that wonderful confidence of a dog that thinks that the whole world exists for his good pleasure. Tanner just knew that anyone who met him would love him and pet him and potentially feed him. He was Immanuel International's mascot and many people who were uncomfortable or fearful of dogs "cut their dog loving teeth" on Tanner because even though he was giant, he was so lovable. Yes, to know Jodi and Doug was to know and eventually love Tanner.
Just last week, we had dinner with my cousin's best friend. He writes a funny review each week entitled Average Joe, grading various aspects of the public conversation. He only met Tanner once, the Wednesday before he died, and yet, he included him in this week's review. 
So many people talk of Tanner as being a dog that changed them. He was so present with us and formed a beautiful and unique part of our identity. To have that now ripped away is really hard and I guess that is what lies at the heart of losing a pet. It's never just a dog that passes. It's this living being that ties everything together, the one 'hobby' or interest that the entire household gets behind and shares together. People knew that if they wanted to enjoy time on our boat with us in Sweden, then they would have to figure out how to be close to Tanner, and yes, even a wet Tanner! They knew that if they rang our doorbell the first noise they would hear would be his bark. And then in true retriever fashion, he would get a toy in his mouth in order to help him cope with the excitement! 
Tanner's pig toy that I won at my book club's white elephant exchange.
I couldn't bear to get rid of it.
And they knew that if they came in and ignored him for a little while, he would eventually settle down enough for them to pet him without him jumping all over them. He was such a huge presence in our lives and it's that tremendous void that is hard to fill.
I believe that it was philosopher Blaise Pascal who spoke of the profundity of the presence of the absence and while he was perhaps referencing our need for God, the principle certainly applies to Tanner. Remember, God spelled backward is dog after all. Right now, there is nothing harder than coming into our empty house after being gone to nothingness. No click, click, click of nails on the wood floor, no wiggling labrador whose tail is going a mile a minute, no cuddle and longing to be loved by the one who loved us without condition for 11 years. That part is hard and will take a long time to get over. 
So I guess what has been very special and incredibly meaningful regarding the comments and notes and calls that have some our way is this deep understanding that losing Tanner is a really big deal for us. We love how many of you have used the term goofy when describing him. We love that so many of you have bold memories of Tanner! We've received so many lovely notes that there is no way I can respond to each one individually so just know that for each word sent and received, we have treasured it. We have enjoyed seeing the photos that many of you have posted that reflect your love of our beloved boy and as time goes on, the sting gets a little less and the joy emerges in the midst the lovely and funny memories that so many have with our pup. 
Tanner was an amazing comfort to us, especially as we watched beloved family members pass away. He would come and lick away my tears if he knew I was crying. He was such a good sport of letting me squeeze him and cuddle with him when I needed that extra layer of comfort. Doug and Tanner shared a nightly ritual of being on the bed, Tanner sprawled out on top of Doug, waiting to be given treats before the deep slumber and loud snoring would commence. The small, funny little things are the profound things we will miss the most. I know for sure that we loved Tanner and we loved the name Tanner. Tanner was the first thing that Doug and I ever named together and it took a long time to come up with this most perfect of names. We'll miss having his name on our lips and calling him our baby dog, Tanner bananer (the plural of banana in Swedish), hunden (the dog in Swedish), Nicky nyfiken, (curious George in Swedish), Mr. Tan Man, and our favorite of all, love bug. 
In many ways, it's a bit easier to be here in the desert without him than if we were still living in Stockholm. For while we have good memories of him in London, especially in our garden, at Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath, and fun memories of him during the renovation and riding the golf cart, sunning on the chaise lounges here in the desert, the bulk of our life with him was in Stockholm, on the boat, in the snow,
and walking through the city. It would be tough to maintain that lifestyle without him by our side experiencing it all. We had really hoped to create more memories here with him, especially when cooler weather hit, but that was not to be.  I am very thankful that he is not hurting anymore even though I wish he would never had gotten sick.
We will miss finding him sprawled out on our bed taking a nap and the many other places he found a comfy place to settle. 
I write today to say thanks for the compassionate empathy and to encourage all who know someone who loses a pet to walk gently with folks in their loss. It is usually more profound than one can imagine and leaves a giant void that often hard to fill. We will miss seeing our dear Tan Man on his bed in front of our fireplace and in all of the places in our hearts that he snuggled into. Thanks for being such a good, good boy.