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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.