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Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Next Big Thing

So, where to start?  I guess I'll jump right in.  Tomorrow, Monday, 27 May, at 10.00 a.m. I will be having a total hysterectomy.  (removal of uterus and ovaries.)  This is the 3rd date I've had it scheduled since March so it's about time for it to happen.  Last December, after a series of Drs. appointment for various issues, the reality set in that having this surgery would be the best road for me.  I was quite relieved that the decision to have surgery was finally made and I began to look forward to life on the other side of the procedure!  But a mix-up with the hospital caused the March date to not work out and the events that unfolded in my mom's life and death caused us to move the April date.  Now, it's the end of May and time to get it done.  While I'm not exactly looking forward to it, I am still very much looking forward to being on the other side of the surgery.
In addition to some physical factors that have contributed to my needing this done, there are two risks factors for ovarian cancer that I carry: The fact that my mom's cancer was ovarian and the reality that I've been infertile.  These two things in tandem with one another raise my risk factor for developing the cancer to a higher place.  In fact, ever since my mom's cancer was diagnosed, I have felt that getting my ovaries removed would be a good thing, but here in Sweden, the decision to do something like that preemptively was not a popular one.  Eventually, other factors and a second opinion from another Dr. led me to believe that now was the time.
Some women grieve over this surgery.  I'm having the opposite reaction, at least pre-surgery.  I have always had a fairly frustrating relationship with my reproductive organs since they never reproduced anything.  Any problems I've had in that area has only added insult to injury when it came to never being able to have children.  It always felt very unfair to have these problems when the stupid organs never worked anyway!  So, for me, now physically removing these organs from my body just feels freeing.  It will actually be medically impossible to conceive a child and that makes me feel a little bit more normal.  Maybe you cannot understand this but for me, it has just felt like a release from some of the pain I have felt from being an infertile woman.  I definitely do not want to conceive a child at this point so there is no real loss on that front.  I anticipate feeling much better after the recovery period and look forward to that new day.  The remaining scar will likely always remind me of my mom, who was so devastated to have cancer, fought it so valiantly and eventually had to give into its destructive force.  But I will see my scar as an inspiration that will always honor her fight.  She really wanted me to have the surgery so I go into this with great peace.
The recovery is long and somewhat difficult.  I've never had major surgery before.  I've never spent a night in the hospital before.  I cannot remember when I last had general anesthesia...probably when I was 24 and got my tonsils out!  But, I am confident of the care I will receive here in the able hands of my wonderful Swedish Dr. and I love the little private hospital where this will all take place.
The beautiful non-hospitalish hospital where I will have my surgery and spend a few days in the coming week.  
It is a hospital called Sofia Hemmet and is kind of like a boutique hospital!  Much smaller with fewer patients and procedures taking place.  My Dr.'s name is also Sofia and Sofia in the Bible means wisdom so I feel surrounded by a wise choice and wise folks who will care for me.  Plus so many people are surrounding me with prayer that I just feel confident and at peace that all will be well.
This means that I will be off work for at least 3 weeks, perhaps longer.  My husband remains Mr. Faithful to the end.  We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary over the weekend even though our anniversary isn't until Tuesday.  But Tuesday we will be upholding the "in sickness and in health" portion of our vows.  He's been a champion throughout these difficult months and I could not be more grateful for his abiding companionship in my life.
So I'm happy for you to pray for us over the next week and look forward to checking in with you, post op and sans organs!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Church At Its Best

I was very much looking forward to being back with our congregation yesterday after a month long absence.  I truly love our church and yesterday they proved themselves to be the essence of Christian Community once again.  I knew that hugs and encouragements and warmth awaited me upon my return.  I knew that so many people from our church community had been praying for me and were entering into the sorrow I felt over losing my mother in profound and meaningful ways.  But I was not prepared for the amount of love and care that was showered upon me.
At the beginning of the first service, Doug put some lilies on the altar in memory of my mom Rose Ann.  It was moving and beautiful.  Between services I spoke with a number of people, some who gave me cards and flowers, others who offered a word of amazing support and love.  At the end of the second service, the entire board of our church came forward and asked me to join them.  They presented me with this amazing bouquet of flowers and shared a word of hope with me.  They expressed their deep care for me on the loss of my mother and assured me that I was not walking through this time alone, but that instead they would be by my side to journey with me.  It was such an outpouring of love and care.  I was overwhelmed, to say the least.
I lingered after the service, talking with people and sharing hugs.  So many people expressed their sorrow and but also their hope...that mom is indeed in a better place, whole once again.  So many in our church know deep and devastating loss and even so...the hope of heaven is so real to them.  What a blessing.
I wandered home, heavy laden with flowers and cards, warmly filled from a wonderful morning of worship and fellowship.  I was tired but content and eventually my mind wandered to what we would have for lunch and I was wishing that food would just magically appear on my table!  And then I opened the door to my apartment and my dreams were granted!  There stood the entire Executive Board of our church plus their families.  The delicious smell of food from around the world filled my senses and I could not believe that they had put this gathering together without my knowledge!  The first thing that the chair of our board said to me was this, "We want you to know that you have a family here in Stockholm who loves you and will walk with you through this time."  Many explained that in their culture, food would be brought for days...in India, a grieving family is not to cook for 11 days!  So they felt it only right that they come and provide a welcome home lunch for me and Doug.  
The food was fantastic....dishes from India and Pakistan which we love, spring salads, and Vida's legendary chicken from Ghana, fruit and desserts and breads.  Wow.  What a feast.  And we just enjoyed a plate of leftovers that was every bit as good!  It was the joyful feast of the people of God. What joy to have these dear people, our wonderful leadership at Immanuel, gathering in our home, to comfort me and Doug and bring love in tangible ways to our doorstep.  We enjoyed such a great afternoon together.  It was truly a beautiful welcome home.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Beautiful Welcome Home

All things considered, I had a good trip back across the pond.  It was a teary good-bye with my dear dad at the Palm Springs airport but bulk head seating on the flight to Dallas was a bonus.  Any extra room always helps especially when you are full of emotion and plane travel affords, well, zero privacy unless you are in first class, which, clearly, I was not.
A dear friend who used to live in Stockholm who now resides in Dallas met me at the airport and we were able to spend a precious hour getting caught on our lives.  What a bonus to spend time with her instead of sitting in the terminal.  An added bonus was the delicious American style burger I consumed while we chit-chatted.  I did ask for an upgrade but alas, the flight to London was packed so no chance of moving.  Thankfully I had an aisle seat that I was able to just kind of hunker into.  I watched a beautiful film, Quartet, which did make me cry a little, ate dinner and conked out.  Slept pretty good most of the way to London.  The London leg proved to be uneventful as well.   Doug loves British egg salad sandwiches so I went to an airport sandwich shop, bought two sandwiches, two bags of salt-vinegar crisps and took them home with me for our dinner.  
I was so exhausted by that time that I actually fell totally asleep at the gate in London.  A kind woman came and woke me as boarding was completing itself.  I would probably still be on that bench if she had not had the kindness to bring me to my senses!
The plane to Stockholm was huge and virtually empty so I had lots of space for myself.  Good thing because the combination of extreme tiredness and sadness overwhelmed me and I found myself boo-hooing quite a bit on the flight.  Eventually I did fall asleep again which is really the best way to pass time on the final leg home.  
Speaking of home...it was wonderful to be greeted by my big, lovely, crazy dog and my adorable, wonderful, sweet, kind, lovely husband as well!  Tears, hugs, and stories over egg salad sandwiches fit the bill nicely.  While my eyes were burning out of my head and utter exhaustion had come over me, because of the 9 hour time difference, my body was ready to start the day.  I slept quite fitfully and finally at 3.00 got up to watch a little TV.  Eventually I went back to sleep.  I did notice that it was getting light outside!  But the combination of grief, sadness, and tiredness kept me in bed until 2.00 p.m.!  Not sure that is a good thing but it felt great.  We'll see if I can get some better sleep tonight.
Tanner eventually got me out of bed as he needed a walk and truth be told, so did I.  My beautiful city did not disappoint as the day was warm, sunny and just lovely.  Everything is now coming into bloom so it was delightful to take in the flowers along the way.  Tanner wanted to roll and roll in the new grass.  He likes walking but he loves to sprawl out on the grass as well!  The outdoor café scene was in full tilt, the water sparkling like diamonds and it all made me feel great to be back.
One of the great highlights for me every spring are the blooming cherry trees in Kungsträdgården.  
Located in the heart of the city, it is just a thrill when these beautiful blossoms grace the city.  I was so happy that I hadn't missed this rite of spring!  Literally hundreds of people were gathered to take photos, sit on the grass or steps and soak in the spring!  For many of us, the cherry trees blooming ensures that we really have put winter to bed for another year.  
The line to get ice cream was miles long and the mood was joyful!
I came home to do a little grocery shopping and make some dinner.  The paradox continues...I'm thrilled to be home and I miss my other home.  My heart wanders to my dad and to my mom.  I share a memory with Doug, a thought will make me laugh and still there are tears.  I love being home with Doug and I look forward to going to church and reconnecting with friends.It is good to share my life with my loved ones in my beautiful city.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Celebration of Life for Rose Ann

The service to celebrate my mom's life was held yesterday afternoon in the church where she had worked for 23 years, counseling people through difficult times, and building up the women's ministry there.  The church looked beautiful.   Several bouquets has arrived before we had, and I especially touched to see the beautiful basket of flowers that the American Women's Club in Stockholm had sent.  What a lovely gesture of support and love from my world across the ocean.
It was a packed house and a real reflection of who my mom was.  It was hard to accept that she wasn't present in earthly form to share this wonderful time.  When it was over, I wanted to talk with her about it.  I must admit, it is still a bit surreal for me to get my hands around the reality of her being gone.  But such is the nature of grief and loss.  Still, I am comforted by the surrounding present of family and friends, both near and far, who walk beside us now.  I missed Doug so much yesterday and I know he missed us.  We spoke with him just prior to leaving for the church and I could see his longing to join us.  We had to accept that we just could not get all the moving parts in place in order for him to come.  The service was video taped so hopefully we will find time to sit down and enjoy it together upon my return to Sweden.
The pastor's beautiful message was centered on Psalm 118:17: "I will not die but live,  and will proclaim what the Lord has done."  Our hope does not rest in this earthly life but is fixed on the eternal place that God is busy preparing for each one of us.  He has welcomed my mother with open arms and I'm sure there is great rejoicing in heaven even as our tears fall.  Two other families who have lost children in their lives were present at the service and I assured them that mom was in heaven now, gathering all the kids who left earth prematurely, including my brother Bill, their kids and Doug's sister Debbie, loving them up, assuring them that all is well.  
The reception following the service was a beautiful array of food that the church provided.  Mom loved strawberries and someone had provided this beautiful centerpiece filled with chocolate dipped berries.  The reception gave us a chance to visit and reminisce about the special person that Rose Ann had been to each person gathered.  I loved seeing childhood friends who drove in from Orange County and was deeply surprised and touched when a former student from North Park, a young man who I had mentored and worked closely with while he was in college and then hired to assist me in campus ministry after he graduated showed up at the service.  He had taken the red eye from Chicago to LAX, drove to Palm Springs, got in at 4.00 a.m. on Friday and then was flying out Friday night at midnight to be back at work on Saturday.  It was a gesture of great love and friendship and I was grateful.  We were able to share a couple of hours together after the service before he had to make the trek back to LAX.  
The only bummer in the whole day was that the church's projection system went down and the words of the hymns could not be projected.  Mom picked great hymns: Because He Lives, Amazing Love, Day by Day and with Each Passing Moment, and Children of the Heavenly Father.  We ended the service with To God be the Glory which is what my mom's life mantra was all about.
I was privileged to share the tribute and while it was tough at times, it was a great honor and I really loved the opportunity to celebrate my mom in this special way.  Here is the text.

When Pastor Mike invited me to share today, he said, “Now Jodi, I want you to take as much time as you'd like to and share exactly what you want to.” I replied by saying, “Wow, Mike, that's a pretty dangerous invitation for a preacher!” But seriously, I am deeply honored to be able to stand here today and share some of my thoughts with you about Rose Ann or Mrs. Moon as many of you affectionately called her...wife, sister, aunt, friend, counselor and of course to me, mother.
Here's one of the more remarkable thoughts that I considered when I began to think about what I'd like to share. We knew a lot of folks from a variety of walks of life would be gathering for this celebration of her life. And as I considered the multi-facetted places from where people would be coming, I was struck with a profound truth. Each person here today probably at one time or another felt like they were perhaps the most special person on earth because of something mom had said to them or done for them. It seems likely to me that all of us here today have known that incredibly personal touch that only Rose Ann could render to another person. She could make you feel loved like no other. She could help you retain your shattered faith like no other. She could touch the hurt in your life like no other and somehow give you the strength and the courage to come through it all, a much better, deeper, well-adjusted person. I should know this. She did these things for me for 52 years.
But in addition to her being this amazingly caring person, Rose Ann was also a bundle of fun. I am so thankful that both my parents loved life and were into having fun! We loved to play games, tell jokes, have a good laugh together, or head out on adventures. We did not have a lot of money but through my parent's creative use of resources, we sure did have a blast together as a family. Dad worked at Disneyland, so we got to there for free, several times a week! We had general admission passes to Angel stadium so 2-4 times a week, we were at the ball park. We loved going to the beach and camping and fishing. Mom couldn't stand to sit still, unless of course, you put a fishing pole in her hand. Then she could sit for 12 hours in one spot hovering over the best little fishing hole in order to catch her limit for the day. When we fished in Sweden and failed to catch anything, all she did was give my husband a hard time for not having the right kind of bait! What a character that woman was at times! My parents hosted gatherings and we would hear them laughing with their friends late into the night. They dressed up for parties and school events. They were never afraid to make fools of themselves in order to create laughter and joy in their wake. What a great gift they've given me in this.
In some ways I envied my mom's lifestyle while I was growing up. I was fortunate to have her stay home and likewise, most of the other moms stayed at home too. Mom had a Tuesday morning Bible study with the women in the neighborhood. Friday mornings were bowling leagues to raise money for the football teams. Rosie's Buds was the legendary slow pitch softball team that enjoyed surprising success. Then there were the silly gatherings with her friends to weigh-in. A group of gals would get together weekly to drink coffee and solve the world's problems and to see how much weight they were gaining and losing. For every pound they gained, they put money in a jar. When they had gained enough weight, they took their husbands out to dinner! And speaking of dinner, my parents belonged to a dinner group with about 8 other couples for 40 years. For 40 years, this wonderful crew chose a country and tried to cook food from these exotic lands! Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was awful. Always it was a joyful feast among dear friends.
My mom was the consummate fan. There is no one who complained to the TV more than mom, about the Cubs, about the Angles, or about the Lakers. She never missed any of our games and I mean those of my brother, me and my dad. She missed one football game in my dad's entire career because she was in bed sick with the flu. When talking about it the next morning, I'm sure she still had opinions about the plays that were called. I'll never forget sitting with her in the stands at football games listening to her yell about why they didn't blitz more. She loved the game, she loved the players, she loved the coach more than anything else.
Longevity is a word that comes to mind. In addition to the family members present today, my peers from the high school teams my dad coached are present. Players who were my babysitters are here today. Friends from Orange County, where my folks lived for 24 years are here today and now the communities of Mission Lakes and Palm Springs, which represent the last 24 years are also present. School and church were always at the centerpiece of what we were about. I guess it's not that surprising then that first I was a teacher and a coach and now I am a minister.
One year after my brother died and my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I began blogging about our life and experiences in Stockholm, Sweden. These entries have been a bit of a life journal for me and I'm so thankful to have them as a record of our life. On mom's 78th birthday, which is May 7th by the way, back in 2008, I felt compelled to share deeply about the kind of person she was as she had survived a very tough year and was showing the deep mettle of her will to live and strong personality during those early years with cancer. They are just as appropriate today as they were then. I wrote: My mom is a fun-loving person. Often, if not always, the life of the party. People just flock around her. I have never met a friend of hers who hasn't just gushed about what an amazing person Rose Ann is. Sometimes it's embarrassing, maybe even a little annoying. I mean, there were small flaws in there somewhere. But the world in which Rose Ann inhabits is a world that sees only her generous spirit, her kind compassion, her strong and trustworthy leadership, her deep love for humanity and God. It's flattering and wonderful to see how well-loved your mom is.
My mom is one of the greatest athletes ever. She would easily have been a pro something, or an Olympic softball player but she lived during the wrong era for female athletes. I remember when we were kids getting a game of baseball, football or basketball together in the neighborhood. My brother and I would wander into the group and all of our friends would ask, "Is your mom going to play. If she is, we get her." It's kind of a bummer when you're 10 and your mom gets picked for a team before you do! When I was in college she played pick-up basketball with my friends and sank a lot of shots and always beat us at horse. When I turned 40, she was 70, and we played Laser Tag and she won. I think she got sympathy passes from everyone. They all felt bad shooting at an older lady! She and my dad would play two men in doubles tennis and consistently win. She'd beat the guys in golf with her crushingly long drives and amazing scrambling short game around the green. She broke a friend's nose while playing park league softball. You get the picture. She was a stud athlete.
She also had the highest pain threshold of anyone I've ever known, which became evident during the tough times of fighting back the cancer. When explaining this to others I just said, "Yeah, she's a tough cookie. She pulled her own tooth once because it was bugging her. Didn't even flinch." In the meantime, my dad and I were passed out on the floor because the mere thought of it had caused us to faint.
In 2009, her birthday entry read like this: Last summer we were told that mom's cancer was beyond healing. The Dr. promised to help her have a quality of life that was decent but we certainly weren't planning for any big birthday celebrations down the road. At the end of February we were surprised with the amazing news that she was in fact in remission..."a medical impossibility." But that's what's so great about my mom. She didn't care what was medically impossible. She knew that her God could do anything. She trusted in the words of Luke 1:37: "For nothing shall be impossible with God." Eve her oncologist called it a miracle.
And finally, last year on May 7, I wrote this: This birthday feels pretty special because it was 5 years ago to the day that we got word that mom had ovarian cancer.  It is a miracle and a joy that she is still with us to celebrate one more year!  I am humbled and awed and feel really blessed.  She has fought hard and overcome many moments when we thought that death had her in its grip.  I admire her courage, heading back into chemotherapy this winter, after enjoying a season of remission.  It was tough.  She was sick, lost her hair, suffered from having no energy or zest for life and yet, when the results came back that the treatment was effective, she chose to continue on even though it made her feel so crummy. My mom is a special woman.  She has a joy that emanates from within, a real love of others and of God that is so clear from the first moment you meet her.  Most people who have known my mom think of her as a fun-loving, people-loving, God-loving gal.  And she really is all that.  She embraces people no matter their background.  She acts silly no matter her age.  She loves a good laugh.  She's a good sport and a great athlete. I love that about her.  If you've ever met either one of my parents, it is not so hard to see where I get my competitive instinct!
And so now I must shift gears a bit because to speak of my mom and yet not to speak of my dad is impossible. My parents were married for 55 years and they still loved being married until the very end. Dad cared for mom with incredible grace and beauty. He never complained. He just did it. He was always so grateful for the ways she showed him support through the years and he felt it an honor to return the same for her. A couple of football players had shared some thoughts about my folks with me after the celebration of the 35th anniversary of my dad's 1st CIF championship last October. This one was extra special for me because it was my senior year at the same school I attended. Whatever sentiments these boys shared about how my father acted toward them, you can multiply that by the thousands and perhaps get a little bit closer to kind of love and loyalty he showed Rose Ann throughout their lives but especially during these years of fighting cancer. I want to share two excerpts from the mails I received because it sums up so well what an amazing team Coach and Mrs. Moon really were, not only to their children, but to countless young people in this world.
The first: “Jodi you must know how lucky you are to have two parents that genuinely love and care for anyone they come into contact with.  They have always spoken so highly of you and what you've accomplished.  They love you very very very much.  Ted had the ability to control young men in ways you couldn't imagine.  He'd be yelling at you in one minute and loving you the next.  Through it all he was very loyal to a fault to his players that gave it their all for him on the field. He taught us to never quit.  When the going got tough, the tough get going.  Everyone that I know of that has kept in contact with Ted applies those same principals in their personal and business life.
And from another: I was always moved by the way your dad talked about your mom. It was never disparaging, but always with love and respect. That spoke to me in an important way. As serious as he took winning, I saw in him that football was a tool, a means to teach us how to become men. The game was important… but it wasn’t the end.
No, the end is to live well and to love well, especially for the Lord. My mom did this with every fiber of her being. And while she fought valiantly and continually beat the odds of surviving, we all knew that the end was eventually going to come because every earthly life inevitably ends in death. The end was tough for me and my dad. But it was also such a sure sign that it was Rose Ann's time to go...go meet Jesus, go be reunited with my brother and her brothers and her parents, go dance on the streets of gold even though she never could dance very well! Go and get your new body. Leave the pain and the sorrow of this earthly bondage behind you and go receive the crown of righteousness that so deservedly awaits you.
In the final days of my mom's earthly life, these words from Luke 2:29-32 became especially meaningful to me:
Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel.” Mom reflected that light, the light of Christ, in remarkable and far reaching ways.
My mom was a faithful servant of our Lord. Even when most of us felt that she exuded the epitome of Christian love and walked closer to God than most folks ever will, I know that her prayer was for a deeper connection to God, a greater willingness to serve and obey and for an even wider capacity to love others with God's love. Her capacity to love and pour grace on others was beyond comprehension to most of us. And her ability to spread joy brought laughter to the world often. She was a true conduit of the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this was perhaps demonstrated most perfectly in her family, which she loved fiercely. Her commitment to my father, my brother, and of course me is hard to explain. She loved us all so deeply and we always knew that we had an amazing advocate in our corner when it came to my mom.
So as I bring my thoughts to a close, I do so with one request. The legacy of Rose Ann can live on if we will all seek to make a deeper connection with God, ask for a greater willingness to serve and obey, and pray for a bigger heart that we might all have a greater capacity to love others and pour grace into their lives. No one can replace Rose Ann. But if we all pick up just a bit of her legacy, her light, which was a pure reflection of the light of Christ, will continue to shine brightly and bring blessing to all who receive it.
So here's to you mom...to your faith, to your strength, to your toughness, to your will to live and your capacity to love, doing it all with a joy for life that is enviable. We will miss you terribly, we have loved you dearly, but we will always celebrate the amazing woman you were to each one of us. Amen.

Now today is a new day, a day that reminds us that we have to find our way forward without my mom nearby.  I'm so grateful for the love of my husband, his family, my dad, my extended family, friends near and far, through Facebook and other electronic means, flowers sent, cards and memorial gifts received, the prayers of the faithful and countless hugs and expressions of love and care.  Our lives will never be the same, but I stand firm on what does not change: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  And for this I remain ever thankful.