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.
We're in southern Italy, in a breezy villa a short walk from the beach. The beach, embracing a wide expanse of blue-green sea, stretches the 3 km between the tiny seaside village of San Marco and the larger coastal town of Santa Marie. Perched directly above us is the historic village of Castellbate, clinging to the mountainside. It's quintessential Italy, at least the Italy I've imagined all my life.
These next 2 weeks are the holiday part of my sabbatical. I've put aside my writing for 16 days to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, foods, and sun of Italy and France.
And I love it all – with one exception: the driving. Or, more to the point, the drivers. I have witnessed – up close and personal – some of the most insane, dangerous, and aggressive drivers I've ever seen (and I've been to Thailand, India, Argentina, Bolivia, Kenya – you get the idea: I'm no stranger to madcap drivers). Yesterday, a crazed Italian tried several times to force me off the road for the offense of driving too slow – and I was doing 10km over the limit, just to try to get him off my tail. He was driving a new SUV Volvo – maybe a hundred grand vehicle – but was willing to smash it up, it seemed, just to make a point. What's more, after he got by me, he kept pulling over to the side so that I would pass him and he could repeat his reckless antics. I was feeling my inner Hulk awakening.
Wales has slowed me down. I have come to savor taking my time. And now Italy's roads want to force me back into my pattern of rushing. I am resisting with everything in me, but it is unnerving to be in a place where it's actually dangerous to drive the speed limit: you risk, literally, being run down.
And the guy in the Volvo was not even running late – his road warrior antics must have delayed him 10 minutes. That's the thing about being in a hurry: it's usually, literally, pointless. It's a soul condition, not a condition of lateness.
Just before my encounter with the Highway madman, we were having dinner in the picturesque city of Sorrento after an unforgettable day on the Island of Capri. I was thinking about the 3 hour drive home, and was anxious to get going, so asked the waiter for the bill even before my daughters were finished their meal.
"My friend," he said. "Slow down. You're on holiday. Relax."
Great advice. I just wish it applied to the roads here. In that at least, while in Rome I plan not to do as the Romans.