Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
Wow. It has been an amazing year, a momentous year, for our family. We began, on January 5th, with one wedding – our daughter Anna to her Shiloh, and ‘ended’ on September 27th, with another wedding – our oldest son Josiah to his Julia. True, September is not really near the end of the year, but these two events are certainly this year’s bookends. And then, as life does, so much more happened after and around those weddings. I shall try to be brief!
First, Anna’s wedding in January was fairy-tale-esque, intimate, beautiful and soggy – in her chosen garden setting on the one day of the month it chose to rain. After so many years of struggles for Anna, it was especially precious to be celebrating and rejoicing with her! They wanted it small, and there wasn’t a lot of fore-warning so not much extended family joined us. It was special to have Norbi’s mom join us from Hungary, her last US visit was in 2009. Aubrie’s mom Kyra was Anna’s Maid of Honor, and my sister did make it from Oregon. Plus Grandma Willson and some special CA family.
In February Norbert and I wrapped up our 20 months of living back in the US for a season. Almost two years was a long time to be gone from home, though we were blessed with two visits to Hungary within that time. We packed up the pooches and got out of the way, allowing newlyweds Anna and Shiloh to take over living in the building behind Grandma’s house in LA. It was a few months earlier than we had initially planned, but it was soon evident that God’s hand was over the timing.
It was in March that Norbi’s mom would get a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer near her thyroid. Anyu had been living in our home in Budapest while we were in the US, renting out her home in Szeged for extra income. With our earlier return there had been talk of her also returning home early, but then her cancer and it was providential that she could stay put and we could help her through her season of chemo. Her last treatment was in August, she is doing well, enjoying life and her new puppy. She moved back home to Szeged just recently in October. We are beyond thankful that we came home from the US early and were here with her.
April is when I (Rachel) also got a diagnosis, not as scary as cancer, but also life-changing. I have Insulin Resistance, which I’d never heard of until I knew I had it. I’m very thankful for my doctor here in Hungary, that she suggested dietary and lifestyle changes before trying medication. I began research, and in May would begin following the advice of Dr. Jason Fung in his amazing book, The Obesity Code. Also in April Norbi would host what they call ‘Coffee Break’, a weekend pastor’s retreat for Serbian pastors, held in Szeged.
Our spring and summer was spent mostly slow, finally back home, being here for Norbi’s mom, helping when she’d let us and discovering a new way of eating. Norbert joined me in ditching most carbs, sugars and processed ingredients as well as changing when we ate as we incorporated intermittent fasting into our lives. By the end of the summer both his mom and I were feeling much better than we had in the spring. In fact, I was feeling better than I had in many years, my worst symptoms gone by July, and then by the end of August I’d lost about fifty pounds. Norbert has lost his belly as well, plus once we were back home he re-installed his regular gym visits, he’s getting buff. Basically, after years of bad health choices from habit and stress, we are doing better health-wise than we have in most of our adult lives.
Also over the summer we had some memorable trips, we explored and enjoyed Vienna for really the first time over the long 4th of July weekend. And then in August we had our beloved annual week in Austria, attending the Refresh Europe Conference at Schloss Heroldeck in Millstatt. This year was extra special, as we got to also celebrate our 25th Engagement Anniversary while we were there, right back where it all began. We had a special meal at the fancy hotel restaurant, the garden of which Norbert proposed in so many years ago.
Joshua also came home briefly, arriving in Budapest a few days before the conference and traveling back and forth with us. He has happily remained in Norwich, UK, not far from Cambridge, still part of the same church community where he did his year internship. He’s working for the same US company as his dad, and enjoying life in England. He made it more official, as Brexit has threatened with so much uncertainty, so he applied and now has Pre-Settlement Residency Status, good for five years no matter the outcome of Brexit. He also went through the effort of transporting his hand-carved wood bow that had ended up in LA, and got himself a British phone plan – so, he seems pretty settled in his chosen home for now. I’m happy to have one kid in Europe!
Speaking of kids – newlyweds Anna and Shiloh surprised themselves and wanted to stay in LA, after much talk of possible moves. They’ve gotten settled with a nice community and support system through work and church and in August moved out of Grandma’s back building into a rented room just a few blocks away. They’re settling into new jobs, pursuing dreams, staying on their budget and doing so well. We’re so proud of them.
Through all these events, Siah and Julia were planning their wedding, both working and both finishing their education. Julia is a full-time student at CSUN, she graduates next year, studying Child Development. She’s also a butcher and deli worker at Sprouts Farmer’s Market grocery store, don’t mess with her, she knows knives! Siah has continued loving his job at Disneyland, he keeps making kids happy daily plus taking college courses online that Disney is paying for. He’s working toward his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, already having an Associate’s Degree in Broadcasting. I was thrilled to get to go along and help look at possible wedding venues before we left in February, so I got to enjoy a tiny bit of the planning – but the bulk was done by Julia and her dad Mike, and they did a phenomenal job.
In mid-September we arrived back in LA. Joshua followed us a day later from the UK. Our third day back I took a plane to Denver, met up with Kyra and Aubrie at the airport, turned around and flew back to LA with our sweet granddaughter. Kyra would follow ten days later to attend the wedding and take Aubrie home. Aubrie and I had a blast, and my heart was beyond full to see her, and see her joy at seeing me. It was this visit with Aurbieanne when we discussed, her and I, that she has lots of ‘Grandmas’ and it gets confusing. Several possibilities were considered, and Aubrie chose Nagyi. In Hungarian Grandmother is Nagymama, and Nagyi is a common shortening of it, similar to Grandma instead of Grandmother.
Back in LA we had all our family together, and we cherished the time. I got my only wish, for us to all have one day at Disneyland together, the Monday before the wedding. It was Magical. It was little Aubrie’s first visit, they arrived with her just before lunch and only stayed about 5 hours, but that was just enough magic for our girl. I fulfilled a dream and got her a bubble-blower, so we got to be the ones sharing bubbles with all those around us! And then it was Joshi and Anna’s first experience of Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars themed land and I’d saved my first time on the Smuggler’s Run ride to be with my kiddos – we flew the Millenium Falcon together, and oh, for life-long Star Wars nerds, it was SO much joy. We also got to bring my niece Emily in with us for the day; she, Norbi, Joshi and I were in the ‘all-day’ carload and we crammed an open-to-close day full of fun.
From Tuesday on guests began arriving. Unlike Anna and Shiloh’s small wedding in January, Siah and Julia’s would include lots of extended family, including my parents, one brother and niece from Maine, my sister and her boyfriend from Oregon (first time for the boyfriend to meet family – oh boy!!). It was also extra special for Siah to have my cousin Dan and his wife and daughter come from Minnesota, they were the ones Siah lived with for his last year of High School back in Colorado. Their daughter Alice is also exactly a year and one day older than Aubrie, and while they met as babies, this was their first time together that they really played, enjoyed each other, and we all hope will remember for a long time. The two darling girls sort of stole the show a few times at the wedding, oh they were too cute!
Josiah and Julia’s wedding was beautiful, and it was so much fun. I’ve not seen that much of my family dancing before, to witness 91 year old Grandma Willson dancing the jitterbug was a memory we’re all thrilled to have. So much laughter, so much fun, so much joy and celebration. Without the rain and threat of wet shoes, Aubrie also did much better as Flower Girl for her 2nd attempt – being 9 months older also helped.
The day after the wedding, we dropped the newer newlyweds off at the airport for their honeymoon, and then continued on to San Diego for the Memorial Service for my other Grandma, my mom’s mom, Grandma Frie (Brown). My aunt was able to schedule it around when so many of Grandma’s grandkids would already, rarely, be nearby and able to attend. It was emotional, to go from a wedding to a memorial, but was also a beautiful picture of Life.
And then the hugs goodbye began – first all the extended family departed. We squeezed in a short trip to Colorado for Aubrie’s 3rd birthday and then a few more family dinners with the four kids in LA before heading back home to Budapest. We had about a week to get over jetlag, and then began a full weekend-to-weekend stay in Szeged, hosting two retreats for Pastor’s Wives. We love doing these retreats and it’s a blessing to get to expand this year – we hosted one retreat for women from Hungary for the first time, followed by the Serbia ladies we’ve been doing for many years now.
We came back to Hugnary in mid-October, the retreats were the weekends of Nov. 8th and 15th, so it felt like suddenly we were facing the end of November, Thanksgiving and the start of Advent. Wow. It has been such a full, amazing year – with some scary bits, but mostly full of God’s sovereign grace and evidence of His Perfect Timing and care. We remain in awe watching answered prayers unfold, so many going back years. I still pinch myself often. We’re also taking advantage of some slower days, looking forward to a calm, Hungarian Christmas with just Joshi joining us. After two Christmases back in the US, we’re especially enjoying all the things we love about Advent in Hungary – the long four weeks of anticipation, the looking ahead to Jesus’ Birth. Not to mention the Christmas Markets, the many beloved foods, and the generally slower, less stressful attitude. We love Christmas in Hungary.
I can’t help but peek ahead to 2020, we’re pretty excited to gather all our kids here in Hungary, probably sometime in May. But first, first we’re breathing deep and rejoicing over 2019. We gained two new kids this year, that’s pretty remarkable, and we’re so very blessed. We came home again this year, that joy is bone deep, and we’re going to embrace it this Christmas. Emmanuel, Christ with us, that began at Christmas. His faithfulness is personal and powerful for us this year. Stones of remembrance were used once to help people remember the things God did for them. To cover all the aspects of 2019 I’d end up building a stone wall as they use in New England to mark boundaries! But this long, so very long, update – is one attempt of mine to record, remember, witness to others and ultimately, to rejoice over God’s Faithfulness. A dear friend gifted me some Butterfly candleholders last year, that had special significance as so many changes were happening in 2018. A stonewall is needed for 2019, maybe with some butterflies on it! Thank you Jesus!!
In many ways, I hope your 2019 was not quite as full as ours was – but if it was full of such good things, than I can only rejoice with you! And we wish you a 2020 even better than our 2019!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
Some final favorite pictures of the year: