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 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.
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.