We are on the eve of leaving our rural hideaway in West Wales. We arrived on a dark night the last day of February, and prepare to depart just past the longest day of the year.
We've been here just shy of four months.
The trees were barren when we arrived. They are full now. The sheep were shaggy with winter-coats and nursing spindly lambs when we got here. They are shorn to the skin now, and the lambs are almost as big as their moms, and feed on grass.
Four months in a foreign land is a lifetime.
Four months in a foreign land is a blink.
It's unfolded slow as wonder and fast as astonishment. It plodded and ambled and seemed to never end, and then hurried and scurried and, abruptly, has. For the people back home, our four-month absence has barely registered. For us, it's marked an era.
I re-read this morning my first post from this place. I talked about sojourning – putting roots down in a new place long enough to learn some of its quirks and rhythms. I think that's happened. I've only picked up a thin handful of Welsh words, and those I mangle in the speaking. But I talk like a Brit: I call gasoline petrol, and a car trunk a boot, and anything I don't like rubbish. I calculate money in pounds. The landscape has altered me. The roads – such narrow, twisting affairs, where a traffic jam is a farmer herding his cattle from one field to the next – has slowed me down and opened my eyes. The hillsides have taught me a million shades of green. Bleating sheep has become my music.
It's all come to feel like home, and the people like family. We will miss it keenly.
In that first post, I talked about what we hoped to accomplish here – I wanted to write a novel; that is mostly done. Cheryl set out to finish two online theology courses; she just finished her last paper yesterday. Nicola was to complete her grade 11 course work; well, that's a work in progress.
And I wanted to change, in some indefinable way. I have and I haven't. I feel I've changed too much, and not enough. Four months here has been sheer gift, but not magic, and so I am still subject to bouts of anxiety, pettiness, anger, fretfulness – need I go on? Everywhere I went, there I was.
But one thing especially has grown brighter. I understand the power and beauty of blessing like never before. God's covenant with Abraham, which we inherit, is a covenant of blessing: God blesses Abraham in order to make him a blessing. The simplicity and potency of this are breathtaking. It gets better. "From the fullness of his grace," the Apostle John says about Jesus, "we have all received one blessing after another." Our lives are drenched with blessing. We have it in abundance. We have it to spare. This simple truth – we are blessed, and called to be a blessing – has the power to change everything: ourselves, our churches, our communities, our world.
Four months in Wales has helped me see that clearer than ever. We have basked in blessing – God's, our church's, the places we've seen, the people we've met.
We have received one blessing after another. We leave here, fully intending to pass it on.
Thank you, New Life Baptist, for blessing us with the gift of this sabbatical. Thank you, Stephen and Sulwen Evans, for blessing us with the gift of your home. Thank you, all our new friends in Wales, for blessing us with your robust welcome and bountiful hospitality.
To the good folks in the Cowichan Valley, see you soon. To the good folks in West Wales, hope to see you again.