The wonder of it all is that God would come to us. God came on this day! And, God has shown up often throughout this year. I am grateful!
The year started with the passing of my precious step-father, Red. Red died on Epiphany day, January 6. He had been sick for some time, and as we reflected on his final weeks before his death, we realize the wondrous gift he offered to all who he loved. Red was given the opportunity to say 'good-bye' in powerful ways. He made space to be with so many people who came to see him in his final days, and he used these moments to call out and name the gifts of those around him. It was a thin place when we were in his presence and he told us all good-bye. We'll celebrate his life again at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January where he will be memorialized at a service there.
Mom's life has changed in many ways this year - not just because of Red's death but because of so many other changes. She closed her store, The Berry Patch. Her second term of being mayor of the city of Lamar ended, too. She is wondering what the next chapter will hold, and I simply keep telling her that she has too many gifts to stay idle.
Craig and I were able to spend Thanksgiving with my dad and grandparents. It was Craig's first trip to Missouri, and I am so glad we were able to go. We were able to drive through the campus of my college, visit my favorite Missouri winery, and spend quality time on the farm. We laughed a ton with Dad, and it was wonderful. Grandma and Grandpa still actively farm in their 80s, and they are a picture of what it means to work hard. I am so grateful for them.
Dana and Kayla are doing well in Denver. Dana has just resigned her current job and starts a new position as the director of a new childcare center in January. Kayla is a busy high-school freshman, and we pray she continues to find the right community of individuals who will nurture her remarkable gifts. High school is such a hard time!
We celebrated Craig's 40th birthday in September with a trip to Italy. I was playing on the Internet in the spring and discovered round trip flights to Rome for $470. It was a deal too good to pass up, so we booked it! We enjoyed three nights in Florence and three nights in Rome. The trip was spiritual, relaxing, insightful and fun. I am so glad we were able to go. And, the trip was paid for by weddings that I worked this year - seven total - including that of Craig's brother in San Diego and another dear friend from Mount Vernon Place who was married in May in California.
The church continues to be a place of joy and delight, a place where I am able to see and discover God at work in so many ways. I realize time and again what a precious gift God gave to me when God called me to be a pastor. I truly cannot imagine doing anything else.
After four years of negotiations, meetings, and tears, the property redevelopment at Mount Vernon Place finally ended in October when we dedicated the new ministry space. It is wondrous space - space that is connected to the historic church building by a four-story glass atrium. We have great classrooms, an incredible kitchen, and a sun-drenched fellowship hall. I love my new office - truly a pastor's study - and the fifth office space I have occupied in less than five years at Mount Vernon Place. I sure hope I get to stay a while!
Our congregation continues to grow in beautiful and diverse ways. In October, we voted to become a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, adding our name to the list of United Methodist Churches who believe that all people, particularly GLBT people, are welcome within our churches. As I look at the congregation I serve, I cannot imagine any church telling so many of our people that they are not welcome. As I examine our Book of Discipline, I also realize we have a long way to go in terms of being a denomination that embodies justice and equality for all people. I'll continue to work passionately for change in our church. I yearn for the day when my gay brothers and lesbian sisters are afforded all of the opportunities I have been afforded as a heterosexual woman including the gifts of ordination and marriage.
God captured my attention in a powerful way this year. Upon moving to Virginia, my ride into the church started much earlier in the day and took me on a different route. When I lived in DC I did not have to see the victims of prostitution standing the street a few minutes before 7:00 in the morning. I have counted as many as 22 people ending their working night, and my heart has been ripped in two more than once. Through the passion and commitment of our church members, Mount Vernon Place was led to partner with an organization called Courtney's House. The mission of Courtney's House is to get girls who are 11 to 18 off the streets, out of pimp control and into a safe environment. My eyes and my mind have been awakened and stunned time and again, and I am so grateful that Courtney's House is both a ministry partner and a building partner occupying space in the church. There is so much work to do around this issue, and I have learned that many of the women I see are not women but girls, and not people who have chosen their vocation but people who have been victimized into it. There is so much justice to be done.
Craig and I continue to enjoy the gift of marriage. He is the right balance for my life - as I live to work and he works to live. I know that when he starts asking about my need to be at the church so often that it is time to step back and assess just how much time I am spending there. He makes me laugh - even giggle at times. He holds me accountable, and he makes me a better person constantly as he asks why I am often in such a big hurry.
Emmanuel has come. God is with us. Imagine - imagine a God who took on flesh to be with us - a God who relentlessly pursues us, a God who desires so much to be in relationship with us, walking alongside of us. This God has come. As we finish one year and begin a new year, I pray that this God will enter your life in a powerful way - in a way that makes you and me realize that nothing will ever be the same again.