Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! A new year – a time for thinking back, thinking forward and contemplating where we are at present. So here’s a little update from us, perhaps in place of a Christmas letter.
The past year, for Ben and I, has been almost unbelievably ‘normal’ – fulfilling the expectations of the average British person’s year. Never something we thought we’d say at the end of any year…! We both have stable and semi-normal jobs; we rent a lovely maisonette in a very nice part of Gloucester, not far from a lovely little arboretum; we’re fairly heavily involved in church life (which we can almost see – and can certainly hear – from where we live); we have a happy marriage and nice little hobbies, and are still NOT expecting or planning children in the near future (clarified here in an attempt to stop folks from asking, again and again).
Some weeks (and months) over the past year have felt quite draining and almost purposeless – those weeks when one spends each day counting down the hours until one can get home and rest, and counting down the days until the weekend when one can recover from the stress and tiredness of the week and prepare to do the whole thing all over again. I suppose we haven’t yet got used to that full-time-working-life thing that normal British adults do. Will we get used to it? Must we? It does sometimes make life feel like it just goes on and on with no real purpose, like running on a hamster wheel, exhausted but still running…
Having said that, there have been some absolutely lovely moments in 2017. We had some great weekends away staying with friends – we visited Goodwick in Pembrokeshire for a weekend with a former-lecturer-friend and his lovely wife; a weekend in Duffield, Derbyshire, for a fantastic weekend with College friends; a weekend in Darlington visiting my wonderful grandparents; a weekend in Burgate, Hampshire, visiting some of my favourite Elim people – and others too. We’re blessed to know some really fab people. And we went on the most wonderful Church weekend away to the Forest of Dean with church friends in Spring – such a relaxing retreat, with beautiful gardens and fantastic food, and of course good company.
In 2017 we were blessed with some awesome holidays too… In Spring we were offered opportunity to stay in some friends’ flat in Cornwall for a long-weekend, and had a wonderful holiday there enjoying the beaches and exploring. Over Easter we had the joy of visiting a good friend in Israel for a week, who showed us the sights and generally gave us a fantastic time enjoying her company (and such good food!), and taking a little time away from ‘normal life’ to unwind and reflect. Then in Summer Ben’s best mate Tom got married to the lovely Rosa, so we had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Mexico for their first wedding – enjoying the wondrous hospitality of Rosa’s amazing family; followed by their UK wedding which was held in a Bishop Palace, where we had the privilege of staying with them over that weekend and other weekends since while they sort things out in the UK in preparation to move back to Japan later this year. 
Throughout 2017 Ben has learnt skills involved with management in addition to his ‘normal’ cafe skills, as he is now the deputy manager in a much more prominent way than he was at the start of the year. Finally now, this week, he’s been able to cut down to a 4-day working week (still 36 hours a week) which has been a huge relief after an exhausting end to 2017. He has continued playing and making music in his spare time and is a fantastic composer – with various music machines (synthesisers, drum pads etc) with which to record sounds and create new tracks. It would be wonderful if we could put a piano somewhere in the flat, but looks very unlikely due both to space limitations and neighbours. So, keyboard it is, which is still wonderful in itself.
Throughout 2017 I learnt more about conflict management and encouraging peacemaking between people, as it seemed to be needed almost constantly in my working life. There were some nicer moments, too, when people’s lives start to change for the better and people begin to make friends and gain confidence and pursue their dreams – playing a small part in those stories makes all the rest worthwhile. I was also glad to be able to cut down to a 4-day working week in 2017 after receiving two promotions throughout the year – having Fridays off has been a wonderful relief for me as the work is rather emotionally and mentally exhausting at times, constantly having to innovate and find ways forward; constantly on the lookout for hints and opportunities in communities and in people’s lives and mindsets, and pursuing those. So Friday became my Painting Day, which has provided a lovely opportunity to think and pray and process all that buzzes around in my mind during the week, while painting. It was nice to sell some paintings in 2017, and a fair bit of jewellery too; to launch Jewellery Of Love and see it take off a little in the lead-up to Christmas… Also in Summer The Art of Surrender was published and made available on Amazon in July, which was very exciting and a little strange. And I’m still playing the Celtic harp and enjoying it – though still can’t claim to be very good at it!
I wonder what 2018 will bring. We plan to visit Finland in Summer, but other than that perhaps only God knows… And we entrust this year, and every year, into His hands in the hope that He’ll do something with us: teach us, challenge us, use us. We’ll see what happens!
Happy New Year, once again, from us – may your 2018 be full of peace, good memories and amazing people.
Ben & Kat

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