Follow by Email

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in the Rear View Mirror

December 31, 2016. First time ringing in the new year on US soil since 1998. A little strange to be on the tail end of the time zones. Woke up to a photo of a friend in Sydney, Australia with fireworks going off. 2017 has begun in some parts of our world! As I write, I'm thinking of my friends in Stockholm and wishing them a happy new year. At 4.00pm it'll be London's turn. We're thinking about celebrating the new year with New Yorkers at 9.00pm and allowing ourselves to sleep through the first moments of the new year here in CA. Whatever way you are celebrating, I hope it's safe and joyous. 2016 has been a year of challenge and change. Here's my review of it all.
Our year began beautifully with a wonderful trip to the Amalfi Coast. Our base was Sorrento and while the weather wasn't quite as warm as we had hoped, we still had a great week soaking in the Italian way of life and eating! Highlights included the beautiful Epiphany celebration on January 6 in which the entire town took part, amazing food and gelato, a side trip to Pompeii and views of the sea that were truly breathtaking.
We continued our interim ministry in London and enjoyed the people in the church and the fun in the city. We managed to see more than 20 shows while there and took a wander through several of the great museums. We enjoyed side trips to Hastings and Rye on the southern coast, Salisbury and Stonehenge, the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon, Windsor and enjoyed a fun adventure in a canal boat with dear friends from Sweden that included a super fun day in Bath. I had the honor of speaking in Paris, France for the women of the American Church in Paris. Doug joined me for a couple of days after the retreat. Days in Paris do not disappoint.
I joined a women's running group and my huge accomplishment in 2016 was running a half marathon in Nice, France. It was an incredibly special journey taken with a group of women who were also new to running and it remains a favorite highlight of our year in London. I finally checked my spring trip to the Netherlands off my bucket list, saw the Keukenhof gardens with tulips and other flowers displayed in all their glory, visited the Corrie Ten Boom house in Haarlem, and visited the city of Delft. The fact that it was all shared with a dear Dutch family who we met our first year at Immanuel made it all the more special. It was a memorable trip to say the least.
We were privileged to attend one last International pastors conference in Geneva, Switzerland. We couldn't believe our luck that after 16 wonderful conferences with this group of colleagues, our 17th would be in a place we had never been. It was one of the very best we had attended in all the years that we gathered. The speaker and his wife touched our lives very deeply, the sights of Geneva were a real treat and a couple of days in the Alps topped it all off. It was a fabulous week with dear friends who we will miss being with in the years to come.
Soon it was time to leave London in the capable hands of their new pastor and return to our home in Desert Hot Springs. What joy to return to a finished house instead of jumping right into a renovation. The summer heat did melt us at times, but we still found time to golf a lot, work on the landscaping and sort through box after box that had been in the garage. It has really been a treat to settle into a home that is ours and not feel like we are just passing through. We really do love living here in the desert and are content to be here until a new challenge beckons us.
Unfortunately, 2016 has been a year of significant loss once again. We lost Doug's father last March. He had been declining significantly so it was not a big surprise, but even so, it's always such a shift in life when a parent passes. The other major loss of the year involved our beloved Tanner's passing last August. He had a very rough year in London, with one problem after another emerging. His immune system was compromised for some reason and he just couldn't get well. Tried as did, nothing got him back to full health and eventually it became clear that he was not going to get better. It was a very devastating time for us because he had been such a huge part of our lives, living in Sweden with us, moving back to the US, moving to the UK and finally moving back to the US with us. We had so hoped that he would be able to enjoy life in desert with us, but alas, he crossed the rainbow bridge instead. We still miss him every day and wonder when a new canine companion will come into view.
Of course, our first election back in the US in 20 years was rife with tension for us and we are still trying to get our hands around the new President. I'm deeply saddened by the reality of our country and can only hope and pray that our reputation abroad will not totally disintegrate and that the most vulnerable in our nation will not suffer too badly. The only thing that is certain is that this is a time of great uncertainty. The world continues to groan under the weight of global issues. We definitely need a lot of kindness and grace to see us through.
I recently became the recipient of a pastoral study grant that will allow me to return to Europe for a period of time to do some study around the topic of how the church can be a place of welcome to immigrants. The International churches in Europe have something to teach the US in this regard and I'm thankful that I've been given an opportunity to study this and write about.
The end of the year has been highlighted by visits from loved ones. Doug's mom and sister came for Thanksgiving and we loved having them here. A family from London spent a day and night with us, a friend from Sweden spent a day and night from us, and another family from London, with whom we spent New Year's Eve last year, are here in the desert with us this year. It's such a joy to renew these deep relationships with friends and family we treasure so much.
2017 is a year of uncertainty but not in all ways bad. Life is very different during this sabbatical time away from ministry but we are thankful for the time we have been given to rest and reflect until God reveals his next steps for us.
We really love being here and are not missing winter at all. We continue to enjoy the golf, hope to play a bit more tennis in the future and continue to adjust to a desert state of mind. It's really not all that hard.
In the midst of whatever challenge and joy surrounds you, my prayer for you and for me is that we will grow, deepen and strengthen our love for others and for God. Our world is a place that needs more grace and understanding and my faith beckons me to pursue that in whatever small ways I can. I hope the same will be true for you. My hope remains in that which is unseen, the hope that the light of Christ will shine brightly, the assurance that the darkness will not overcome it.
May there be loads of light in your new year. Thanks for reading. It's time to say good bye to 2016.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Nativity of our Lord

It's Christmas Eve. In fact, it's past 9.00 p.m. on Christmas Eve in Sweden so that means most families there and in other parts of Europe are well into their festivities.
Clergy holding the nativity. A piece of our caroler collection
For us, it's the first Christmas in 25 years that we haven't been working.
An Immanuel Christmas program from a long time ago...a favorite child of mine spreading the good news of great joy!
We'll spend this evening with some other retired pastor friends, attend the mega-church in town where we can be anonymous and enjoy a big production with good music and head back to their place for a nice meal. We've had visits from friends this week, one family from London, one friend from Stockholm who lives in the US now, and we anticipate some more company next week. I hurt my back earlier this week. Feels like a bad muscle strain but it has definitely cramped my style. Makes me glad I'm not putting on a Christmas Day buffet for 100 people! As awesome as those memories are, it's also quite OK that we're onto something new here. It's chilly in the desert and with lots of rain this week, it means our mountains are coated in a glorious layer of snow. The sun is shining brightly today and so my buddy Jen and I started the day in the hot tub. Some of the new things this time around are truly welcome.
The one thing that doesn't change is that Christians all over the world tonight and tomorrow will gather to enter the mystery of the incarnation once again and rejoice that the Light came into the world and that the darkness did not overcome it. Most of us feel that this is more timely than ever this year, when the political climate has led us to feel a great deal of despair rather than hope. And yet, here we are, on Christmas eve, ready to approach the manger with awe and wonder because of the way that God made himself so approachable to us when he sent his son Jesus to come into this world as a tiny little baby to lead us to hope and peace. The road to peace and hope is often very long, and yet, I feel sustained by my faith in something greater than the what the world offers.
Sweden: Orrefors crystal
Sorrento, Italy: Outdoor rendering
Throughout our travels across this vast world, one constant has remained the same...the nativity has a place in the church's story. The various renderings of this age old story always catch my eye with beauty and joy. And so today, as await with hope, joy, peace and love, our celebrations of the arrival of the Christ child once again, I leave you with these gorgeous views of the nativities from across our globe.

Barcelona, Spain: The Nativity carvings outside of La Sagrada Familia &
The Wise Men at La Sagrada Familia

Italy: Nativities dot the Amalfi coast around every corner

On Epiphany, a huge processional takes place through Sorrento culminating with the visit from the Magi.
The Wise Men and Holy Family pause to enjoy
the fireworks on Epiphany
Italy: Even the baker took his craft to new heights with his bread nativity
Sri Lanka: A beautiful batik that was a gift from a church member in Stockholm
Bethlehem, Palestine:
The spot that commemorates the place where Jesus is said to have been born
Palestine: Olive wood nativity that graces our home
I've had other nativities through the years, one from Ecuador that I treasured but since it was made from bread dough, it disintegrated through our various moves. I suppose I will always be curious to see how the nativity shows up in the various places we travel because one thing is for sure...wherever Christ's birth is celebrated, art depicting this holy event will surely follow.
A cute US rendition
Wherever you are, however you celebrate, may the mystery and joy of the incarnation surround you with love, joy, peace and hope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

And Now For Something Completely Different: Holiday Lights Edition

As mentioned, it has been delightful and surprising to encounter traditional cold weather Christmas spirit thriving here in the desert. We've had chilly overnight and morning temperatures, enough to wear long pants and put on a second layer and light fires in the fireplace so all in all, enjoying a cozy feel at least one or two times a day. Granted, the other day, we had the fire going before our little gathering and we had to open the door for awhile as it got too hot inside. These are the contrasts that we continue to find charming and bring a smile to our faces.
But we are most impressed with the light displays that people across the Coachella Valley are committed to. I guess it's quite a bit easier to build an elaborate outdoor display that takes about 2 months to complete when you aren't contending with sub-zero temperatures and have loads and loads of sunshine day after day. Here in the desert there are two light installations that have gained a following. The first is the delightful street known as Candy Cane Lane. Every house on this winter wonderland street is decorated with adorable and cute installations. We were amazed as we drove down the street at the creative and beautiful displays that unfolded before us. I have even heard that when people buy a house on this street, they must agree to decorate their own house. Kind of an amazing community spirit project. Nice that everyone does it because it really is lovely. 
One of my favorite was the big motor home with Santa driving!Of course, there were lots of traditional decorations and nods to pop culture with Frozen characters and Minions, and Santa in his sleigh with reindeer.
Loved the little penguin that popped up and down out of the igloo. But amidst the traditional, there were some displays that added desert flair, like these three wise men arriving to the manger on ATV's. 
As if that wasn't dazzling enough, our next stop was RoboLights, a display that has actually been on the news because there were city ordinances questioning the safety of the display. The owner ultimately won and we're glad. This display is like none we've ever seen and likely will never see again. 
The largeness of the scale of the display hits you right away. Then pathways unfold before you as you attempt to soak in all that is going on around you. The 'bones' of the display are permanent structures that the owner has welded together out of all manner of trash. Old carnival rides, mannequins, and toilets, are just a mere sampling of what you will find as you wander through this bizarre and wonderful display. For instance, atop the yellow structure is an old Jack-in-the-Box head. This sleigh is being driven by a rabbit and pulled by an old truck. And here, a shark carrying a candy cane in his mouth flies overhead. This rendering of Mary and Joseph holding a baby Jesus that was simply a pile of junk welded together caught my eye. My cousin, Mike, took this hilarious shot of me getting a blow dry under an vintage salon hair dryer. We even had some Robo skiers. And golfers. And here was a traditional Santa, except he's driving a tank. Hmmm, how does that fit in with the Peace on Earth theme of the season? The grounds are lovely and expansive. The big beautiful trees were wrapped in a hundreds of lights and reflecting off the ponds that surrounded several of them. Various and sundry castles dotted the landscape and changing lights gave us a new look every few minutes. There were many scary clowns that were not exactly kid friendly. Clearly my favorite of all was the reindeer pulled sleigh made out of toilets!
Each deer had a great expression on its face. Doug sat down to the organ and played a bit. It was fully functioning organ even if the organist wasn't. A lovely trellised walkway filled with light kept things bright. Soon it was time to say good-bye to RoboLights. I will definitely be back. It's clearly a lifetime labor of love on the part of the owner. He only asks for $5.00 donation, but it's truly a donation. All are welcome. If you are in the Coachella Valley, I strongly encourage you to get over to see this!Our happy group selfie basking in the glow of the holiday lights. Doug was particularly illuminated at this point. And the moon itself was putting on a pretty great light show of its own. Christmas in the desert. It's shaping up to be pretty darn festive after all.