Follow by Email

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thinking

This is not a blog about why I'm glad the health care bill passed, although I am. These are a very random group of thoughts that have been spurred on by some thoughts related to all of the rhetoric I've seen, mainly on Facebook, surrounding this moment. People are angry. People are thrilled. Americans are a divisive group. What saddens me is that people think President Obama created the divide. I watch with some level of amusement how conservatives are just about ready to lose their mind right now knowing how I felt during the 8 years of the Bush administration, pretty much ready to lose my mind for the entire 8 years. I cried twice after Presidential elections...once when Bush was re-elected and then again when Obama was elected. Tears of sorrow, tears of joy. But I remember distinctly feeling very doomed the day Bush got re-elected. I really felt it would be disastrous and that this would not bode well for America's future. In my opinion, I was right. The wars, the torture, the sinking economy, our soiled reputation around the world...I'm sorry, I blame Bush. But what really strikes me is how little my own life was affected. My world changed very little except that a bit more anti-American sentiment was felt around me here in Stockholm. But generally speaking, for all my angst and tears about Bush getting re-elected, my life didn't suffer hardly at all.
I guess I'm thinking about this because so many of the people who are really angry about this health care bill aren't even going to be affected that greatly. We'll have to wait and see but I seriously doubt that "life as we know it" as privileged, decent income earning Americans is over. Most will continue to get really good care from really good doctors and in the end, won't really suffer much at all. I raise this because everyone who is mad about what Obama is doing will get over it. I survived Bush and those who hate Obama will survive his presidency and it is doubtful that most will see a real change in their day to day circumstances while he's president. But perhaps some poor people will be helped and I hope that in the end, we can all at least feel good about that.
I totally get that people have differing philosophies of governance. What's hardest for me to understand however is the vitriolic nature of the discourse. And Christians are not able to rise above this. The name calling is especially unhelpful. I've been called a commie/socialist in this debate. Others have said I've simply become too Swedish. If you've thought that, do you get how offensive that is? As if becoming Swedish is some great character flaw.
First off, most Americans don't even understand communism or socialism and they don't understand Sweden's social contract and they think that we're standing in bread lines or unable to see doctors or living in a desolate wasteland of horribleness. If you look around my blog, I think you'll see pretty quickly that we're enjoying a pretty great life. So even if you are mad about Obama's health care bill, at least stop calling him a socialist and referring to Europe in a derisive manner. The systems in Europe are different and they are working and they have not created societies of want or need or neglect. That would be America. (Sweden is by no means perfect. Wait time is an issue here but cost and access for all is not. And wait time can be skirted in emergencies. It's funny to me that one of America's values is wait time. We are also an impatient lot. I get that when you need care and you have to wait, it's no fun. But think about all the folks in this world who wait forever and never get any kind of care.) I'm just trying to get some perspective on how privileged I am because I realize that I live a much higher standard of life with many choices and numerous opportunities and that for most in our world, they don't.
The fact that there are so many poor people living in America with no means to get their basic life needs met, to me, is shameful for our nation. We say we don't want the Government interfering with our lives and yet clearly, we're unable to take care of this on our own, because we are not doing so.
One of the things that people seem really up in arms about are the new requirements for health insurance. We have requirements and minimums in our auto insurance laws, what's the difference? Why do we have seat belt laws and helmet laws? Or are those of you against the health care bill opposed to those as well? It's to protect the collective public and to seek to create a safer, more hospitable environment for all. Sadly, this sense of collectively caring for one another has gone woefully by the wayside in the US. And this is not socialism by the way. It's plain and simple caring about your neighborhood. It's one of the things I love about Sweden...people don't mind giving back a little more in order to create a greater good for all.
Again, I respect that others have a differing view of how to get things done or the role of the government in our lives, but I'm tired of the insurance companies having so much sway over what people can and can't do. I have yet to hear from a conservative what should be done to ensure care for those in need, to reduce the power and costs of the insurance companies, to enable people to sustain care even in chronic or previous contracted illness situations. Caps and exclusions are sinful and wrong. I'm happy to see them become illegal.
But I guess my question is this: Now that this is law, what's our responsibility as citizens? And for those opposed, are you the least bit moved by the care that might be extended to those less privileged than you? Or are you mainly concerned about the costs to your own bottom line or are you nervous about the government meddling in your daily affairs? Again...I seriously doubt that anyone with privilege and money in our society will have to change their lifestyle one bit as these health care provisions unfold.
Look, I know if you are on the other side of the coin from me, this is making you mad. Believe me, I know how you feel when I read conservative blogs. And I'm not making a case by case point about this health care law per se, I'm just trying to understand how we move forward. What's killing me are the conservatives who felt that Bush came under so much "unfair" criticism and yet now they launch their vitriol in a no holds barred manner. It's fine to criticize and disagree, but enough with the myths and fear-mongering. This is not a socialist plan, Europe is not the devil, and honestly, you will survive. I survived the Bush years with little impact to my day to day lifestyle. I feel badly about the collective hurt I feel his administration did and for now, we're in a wait and see moment with the Obama administration. But I have to say, the benefits to the poor and less privileged in our society will far greater outweigh the ways in which those of us with money and privilege will be negatively affected. And to me, that matters a great deal.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Week 8: Transition back to Sweden

I've been back in Sweden now for a little over a week but the jet lag and adjustment that comes with the transition back left me little energy to write. I feel the need to bring some closure to our wonderful time in the US. The final week ended up looking quite differently than we had expected as we had decided to re-route Doug so that he could accompany his parents on their driving journey back to Minnesota while I went ahead with our journey as planned. At 4.00 a.m. on March 10 Doug drove me to the Pensacola airport so that I could catch my 6.00 a.m. flight back to Chicago via Charlotte. It was quite strange saying good-bye after spending so much time together but we were also so thankful that Doug could change his plans in order to spend some quality time with his family before making the long journey back to Sweden. The plane was almost empty so I basically got on and dozed. I was scheduled for a long layover in Charlotte, North Carolina which is such a nice airport complete with rocking chairs and free WiFi so I wasn't too upset by it all, but when I saw that a flight to Chicago was leaving quite soon and would get me back to the city 2 hours earlier than planned I jumped at getting on board. I'll have to enjoy the pleasures of the Charlotte airport another day!
It was so nice to get back to Chicago early as I had some errands that I needed to attend to and it allowed me the chance to take a nap before leaving to meet some friends later that day. I was deeply blessed by the kind generosity of my friend Paul who gave me a key to his house so I could relax and also a key to his car so I could more easily get around. I found my way to a Trader Joe's in Chicago which is my favorite grocery store of all time. I have this bizarre fantasy of working there in retirement so when I walked in the store and saw a Now Hiring sign, I actually paused to consider the possibilities. Seeing that I was leaving for Sweden less than 24 hours from that moment, I realized that it was likely not quite the right timing! I picked up my flowers and wine and off I went. Still, the knowledge that a Trader Joe's exists quite close to one of my favorite areas of Chicago along with my personal flagship store in Palm Springs bring silly, meaningless joy to my heart.
That evening I enjoyed a wonderful coffee break with a friend who I have known for many years. We worked together on a church staff when I did my internship and through the years have managed to keep up with one another in spite of distances. She is a person with whom I feel very much myself and it was great to sit and chat in a cute little American eatery. From there I joined 3 families from our former church, with whom we have also managed to keep close ties and it was wonderful to laugh together and care for one another as we shared the ups and downs of life's journey together. Their kids have grown up while we've been away and it's fun to see that all have become reasonably responsible members of society!
My final morning in Chicago ended up being more hectic than I had hoped because I was, as usual, being a time optimist and trying to cram more activities than I really had time for into my time frame. Luggage is always a hassle when we return and I wonder why I always end up with 100 pounds of stuff to take back. The moment I am finally checked in and through security is when I finally start to calm down a little.
The final leg was very smooth and I realized that after 10 flights in 8 weeks, I had not endured one snag. No delays, no cancellations, nothing. What a blessing that was. On board, I was surrounded by a group of students from Western Illinois University which is in Macomb, Illinois. I know this fact because that is where I was born when my father was at WIU and I think the students were stunned and delighted to know that I knew their school that kind of sits in the middle of no where. They were on their way to Russia for a study trip and it is likely that for most of them the biggest trip they've ever taken was to Chicago. It was fun watching them settle in for the long haul. As for me, I was happy for the empty seat next to me and got ready to try and get some sleep.
And then before I knew it, I was landing in Stockholm and my friend Madeleine was there to pick me up and we walked in the door of my house and soon thereafter the woman who cares for Tanner walked in with him and I was home again.
Our house looked great, the dog was a wonderful welcoming committee, and it felt good to be back in my space again. I missed Doug as he was still on the road somewhere between Florida and Minnesota and I wouldn't be able to talk to him until much later that day, and that was only if I managed to stay awake late enough to catch him. So I unpacked, took a nap, went for a walk with Tanner through the snowy and icy streets of Stockholm, and ended the day by going to Book Club which was also a great way to re-enter my world here.
As it turned out, I was awake long enough to catch Doug just as they had pulled into his parent's house from their 3 day driving journey. It was great to sleep with his voice ringing in my ears and I was glad to know that he was safely back in Minnesota.
The 8 week journey was over and I was back home, thinking about work, and adjusting to a new time zone again. But I brought back with me the treasures of time well spent enjoying people I don't get to see much of, a renewed sense of love and understanding in my marriage, a joyful anticipation of joining our church family again, and a real sense that for now Stockholm is my home. The sabbatical is over but I believe the sabbath, the rest and the renewal is something that I will seek to continue to incorporate into my life on a more regular basis. Thanks for being part of this journey.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Week 7, Part 2: Pensacola Beach

Midweek we found ourselves back on an airplane once again. Our destination this time around was Pensacola Beach, Florida where Doug’s folks spend a couple of months each winter. What's there not to love about a place that has a water tower painted to look like a beach ball?! It was night when I arrived so I was eager to awake the next morning and experience first hand the marvelous beach surroundings that I knew awaited me. See Doug standing on the lovely terrace that overlooked the pool and beachfront?

It was wonderful to wake up to a living room that was flooded with light and wander out onto the terrace to enjoy my morning coffee seaside. One morning, Doug’s sister Beth, had a very early flight out, so we were all up at 4.30. I’m actually kind of glad I woke up so early because watching the sun come up was certainly an incredible way to start the day. In fact, even as I write this blog, I am perched on the balcony, enthralled by the bright yellow sun that is casting reds and oranges and pinks on the horizon and lighting up the beach with an incredible hue that is hard to describe. One of the more stunning visual features of this sunrise is the way in which the sun’s reflection creates a pathway of gold on the water. It appears as though you could simply walk right up to the sun if you just stepped on the sold gold pathway its beam seemingly created on the water top. It is such a treat to experience the rising and setting set over the ocean. The crashing waves of the gulf provide a peace-filled backdrop to the days that break with spectacular beauty and warmth. The blue of the water, the white of the sand, the pink and orange hues dancing off the water make this one of the prime spots in the world to watch the day begin. I just love the amazing color palette that emerges as the sun journeys towards high noon.Long walks along the beach, delicious seafood and the influence of southern cooking have certainly left me more than full. I wonder when the day will come when I won’t have a belly ache at the end of the day from eating too much! It is fun to try to new things and I’ve certainly
indulged on that front.I could live in a pink house on the sea shore.
Doug’s folks have spent two months for the past 15 years on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico here in Pensacola Beach. We were thrilled that our extended travel plans allowed for us to return after 12 years. Unfortunately, we received some difficult news regarding Doug’s sister, Debbie while here. The blessing, of course, is that in God’s providential wisdom he had gathered us here in Florida to get the news with Doug’s folks and thus be able to be a source of comfort and strength for one another. Debbie is facing a difficult fight against cancer that has invaded her lungs and the 2nd vertebrae. The silver lining of hope is twofold for us. First, we all believe in a healing God and we know that God’s loving kindness and mercy will follow each and every one of us, especially Debbie on this difficult journey. Second, she has been placed into the hands of an amazing oncologist and incredible team of physicians at the University of Minnesota which employs state of the art equipment and procedures to fight these kinds of cancers. The news has been difficult but Doug and I both feel so grateful that we could be here to share in these hard moments, face to face with his parents. Our hugs have been tighter, our prayers more fervent and we have encouraged one another to hold fast to the grace we know is ours through Jesus Christ.

I leave this beautiful spot in the south today. One more overnight in Chicago and then I’m on my way back to Stockholm. Doug has altered his plans to drive with his parents back to Minneapolis and then stay there with his family until the following Wednesday. We are grateful for the opportunity that he has to accompany his parents on their long journey home and to re-connect with his sister Debbie during the trying time.I am thankful that I am leaving some footprints on Pensacola Beach.
It’s hard to imagine that we are at the end of our great sabbatical travels. But we remain ever thankful for the joy of this journey and the sustenance we feel it has now given us for the road that unfolds with great uncertainty ahead. This we know…our love for one another has been strengthened, our love for God has been assured, our faith in the loving and gracious presence of Christ has never been more real. For these things, we truly give thanks.

Week 7: Chicago Fly-by

We landed late in Chicago and were met my good friend Paul. Paul was a student at the university where I was chaplain before we moved to Sweden and our friendship led to me hiring him as an assistant for campus ministries. His tenure at North Park far exceeded mine as he is now in his 13th year. He lives in a beautiful home in the neighborhood near the university and we love being in that place. We feasted on our favorite Chicago pizza that night…Lou Malnati’s and both Doug and I expressed how absolutely delicious the stuff is. There is, quite frankly, just nothing like it. The next morning, we met our good friend Alice for breakfast at the local Swedish joint. Alice is from our church in Stockholm and studying at the seminary this year. The restaurant holds a special place of meaning for us as it is where we were engaged 16 years ago. They also did our rehearsal dinner and all in all, we treasure this little place on the corner. Little did we know then that starting our journey towards marriage in a Swedish restaurant set us up to spend the bulk of our marital life thus far in Stockholm. That night we ventured downtown to have dinner with some dear friends who I first knew when I was an intern during seminary. Our friendship has continued to grow through the years and it’s always great to spend an evening talking about anything and everything. Our core memory takes us back to the time when both couples accompanied me on a mission trip to Virginia with a group of high school kids from our church. The project was rooted in home remodeling and amidst much laughter and certain tears, it was a week that changed our lives. One of the men gathered at the table pulled out a raggedy piece of paper that I had written in the summer of 1992. It was a list of all the kids who had participated in the summer project. Just reading through their names brought back floods of memories. The next morning I met a dear friend for breakfast while Doug connected with his former church secretary and her husband who literally think Doug sitteth on the right hand of God the father almighty. They are dear people.

Chicago holds a place of certain importance for me. Wandering around the old neighborhood, being back on campus, connecting with friends from my years studying and our early years of marriage all cause something very dear and deep to stir within my soul. A gorgeous departure from one of my favorite cities.

I am so thankful that we have the chance to dip our toe back into this wonderful place and re-connect with those with whom we share a very strong connection indeed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

week 6: I Love California!

We spent the final night of our road trip in Pasadena at my cousin's house. This is one of the views from his terrace.He and his wife Susan are wonderful people and we love to see them when we can. They have a lovely home with a beautiful terrace and an adorable dog named Sam with whom we both managed a few cuddles. We are missing Tanner these days and the canine love we received from Sam was a welcome bonus! I am feeling sad that I didn't take a picture of the dog!The view of downtown L.A. from their terrace.

We found our way back to Palm Springs for our last days in paradise. The weather was up and down...a bit stormy, a bit windy (really blew on the day we played golf), mixed in with gorgeous sunshine and beautiful evenings. We ate steak, we took walks, we went swimming, we played cards with my parents, we watched the Olympics, we ate other things, we slept by the pool, we got tan. Bliss.
A few days before we were scheduled to leave I could feel the coming "funk" in my belly. I told Doug that I was struggling with my usual "hate to leave California funk" and he simply replied by saying, "I know." I said, "Is it that obvious?" To which he lovingly said, "Jodi, I've watched this happen every year for many years now. It's OK. It's hard for me to leave too."Usually when we leave California we are finished with our vacation and thus beginning the long journey into night that takes us back across the Atlantic to Stockholm. As our departure from California neared, I realized that we weren't actually leaving the States yet, but instead we still had a brief stopover in Chicago to look forward to as well as a wonderful stay with Doug's parents in Pensacola, Florida. The thought of lingering by the sugary white sands of Pensacola Beach for a few days perked up my mood. Even so, it's always hard to say good-bye to my folks, especially when health concerns continue to be present.
Sadly, our last week in California we also got news that one of Doug's sister's is quite ill as well. I am not wanting to discuss this in specific detail on the blog at this time, but your prayers for all involved are appreciated. It is hard news to receive and definitely reminded us again of how fragile life really is. My mom continues to feel good but tests are indicating that something is going on that may not be positive. The great news is that she is not symptomatic and so we celebrate how she feels not what numbers say. I am so thankful that she is so much more herself than in the years when she was so sick and that so much joy and thanksgiving has been ours to share with both her and my dad. My dad also has some lingering health concerns that he needs to deal with and so we are kind of in a wait and see mode. Doug's sister is awaiting deeper diagnosis and protocol for treatment. We become acutely aware of our position of living in Sweden during these times of uncertainty. But we thank God for the fruitfulness of this wonderful sabbatical and the time of joy and thanksgiving we've been given.
Our final day in Palm Springs was absolutely gorgeous...the kind of day that reminds me of why in the world I long to live there someday. We sat by the pool until 4.00, ran a couple of last errands and then finally won 3 games of cribbage in a row against my parents after enduring getting beat 8 times in a row! We didn't even the score but redeemed what otherwise would've been the ultimate humiliation. In the grand scheme of life, card game outcomes don't matter very much, but what I treasure about these games is how we laugh, rag, celebrate, gloat, prod, and enjoy one another's company whilst playing!
On the day of our departure, we went out for breakfast and I had delicious cinnamon french toast that took me through the day! It was mild and sunny at the airport. Check-in was a snap and a lovely glass of Pinot Grigio helped to ease the tug at my heart strings. I barely even shed tears this time around.
I love my life in Sweden and I love California. How in the world I came to know and love climates and places that are so out of whack from one another is a great mystery but I feel the richer for having experienced both. Until next time...I love you mom and dad...I love you California. I'll miss you both.