2017 in the rear view mirror

This was a strange and difficult year in the life of the world. For good or for ill, I think we’ll remember 2017 in the history of the world. (I mean, assuming there is a history to be written and that the triumvirate of Trump/Putin/Kim Jong Il doesn’t end our species in a blast of radiation.) (These are the kinds of caveats 2017 has felt like it’s all about.) It’s been a terrifying and uncertain year for many in the wider world – especially immigrants, people of color, non-CIS folk, or anyone with pre-existing health conditions. But in the life of my family, it’s actually been an excellent year, despite the background fear, anxiety and attendance at protests.

Here are the big things that went on in my family this year.

Lastours

We went to Europe.
This was the kind of trip you fantasize about and remember your whole life. We spent time in Barcelona wandering the narrow alleys, we took the train to Carcassonne. We ate cassoulet in the cooling evening in the shadow of an impenetrable fortress built on Roman walls. We found a local guide who brought us to the fastness of Lastours and guided us across the narrow chasm into the ancient, tiny town of Minerve which we’d visited last in a fantastic Cthulu game run by my husband. It was exceptional – the whole thing. The kids were great. The weather was hot hot hot. The history was amazing. I loved every minute of it.

Eclipse

The kids watched the eclipse.
As part of what must be one of the best summers of their lives, the kids did a cross country road trip with their grandparents and cousins and got to see an unobscured totality from the middle of Idaho. It was hard to fit it in between their weeks at Camp Wilmot (they want to go back for three weeks next summer!), tubing with friends, boating camp, and camping trips, but their sacrifices were duly noted. Truly, this summer was epic.

Our last night together

We said goodbye and hello to friends and neighbors.
Looking through my year in pictures, I was struck at how so many in the spring and early summer included our dear and loved neighbors. (I think we had about 12 goodbye parties.) And then how empty the spot felt in the summer. We miss you folks every day, and twice on Saturdays. But our new neighbors, while not the same, are pretty awesome in their own rights. It’s been a sort of generational shift in our little street. I can’t help but feel lucky to have not one, but two generations of awesome neighbors!

Our 17th anniversary

Adam and I had great years at work.
It was a very strong year, professionally. I had a huge (internal) project exceed all my expectations for success in March. It might be the most successful, amazing thing I’ve ever done at work. (And all the more so for being surprising in the process!) Adam made a huge difference in his job, and then was lucky enough to get a new role at a fantastic company where he’s getting to code more and learn a whole new programming language. In the waning hours of the year, I’ve also gotten great news about getting to transfer to a new team I’m super excited about within Alphabet. I do try to keep work and home life separate, but obviously work is a huge part of one’s actual life. For both of us, it’s been an intense year but with good results.

We hired a pastor
This was a huge part of my year. I spent so much time, effort, passion and energy on this search. I learned a lot. I prayed a lot. I felt a full range of human emotions. I got to know people very well. It’s not *quite* over yet, but we’re nearing the end. I’m very weary, so looking for how to recharge these batteries.

Dear friends on cold days

It was a Francophone year
In addition to our time in France, we also visited friends in Quebec City and took a lovely long weekend trip to New Orleans. One of these was very cold and one of them was very hot. Both of them were very fun.

Victorious Views!

I finally climbed Chocorua.
I’ve been passionately wanting to do this for a very long time, but it was a hard one to get done. This year was the year though! It was everything I’d been hoping. I had great company. I am not sure I’ve ever used my body that hard. The weather was excellent. The lodgings close and comfy. I loved it so much.

A few other highlights –
We worked with Fealty Design to create a family crest, which I have been LOVING. I think I managed to include it four times on this year’s Christmas cards.
We bought a new car
We practiced civic engagement, on both a local and larger level
I completed the two year project of listening to all of the Wheel of Time on audiobook
We went camping, but only twice. I’m still regretting bailing on the third time.
The children have both been thriving at school. It’s been an excellent year for both of them, with mental, physical and emotional health.

The end and the beginning

Settle down and get comfortable – this is a long tale.

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago
Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

I usually give something up for Lent that I’ll really miss and look forward to getting back on Easter. For a middle Protestant with no tradition of Lenten giving-up, that seems like a neat part of the tradition. It reinforces the hard waiting and the joyful return. (Although after the year I gave up coffee, Adam asked me never to do THAT again. I had to agree. There’s hard and there’s almost missing your tax return date because you can’t fathom doing taxes without coffee to help you.)

At a graduation party for a dear friend.
At a graduation party for a dear friend.

This year, though, I approach Easter with both joyful anticipation and great reluctance.

You see, the week AFTER Easter will be the last week that my pastor will be my pastor. Rod, and his lovely wife, have been a more-than-weekly part of my life since the day I became an adult. With my history, I more or less know what month that happened. In August of 2000 – two months after I graduated – I married Adam. I was 21. He brought me home to a lovely, sunlit apartment in Roslindale that I had not seen before I crossed its threshold with the 23 year old I’d only had a few hours to call “husband”. We only spent a few hours in the apartment before we took a flight out of Logan to Greece, where we’d honeymoon. When we returned on a Saturday a week or so later, we were tired. Now I am Presbyterian. I was born in the mission field to missionary Presbyterian parents. I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church by a fire-speaking pastor on an equitorial Sunday. I have attended Presbyterian Churches my whole life. My summer camps that weren’t orchestral were Presbyterian. My sister, brother, mother, father and I are all ordained Presbyterian elders/deacons (actually I’m the only one)/ministers. So while I was LITERALLY in the honeymoon phase of my marriage, I wanted to start the married habit of attending church with my beloved new husband. And I wanted a Presbyterian church. But they are few and hard to find in New England, so that groggy Sunday after we landed I took the path of least resistance and we went to the Presbyterian Church 20 miles away that had been near Adam’s LAST apartment.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.
A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

I settled into the pews, fresh in my matronness and ring sparkly on my left finger, and the sermon was GOOD. And we were warmly welcomed. And there was a coffee hour in the finest of Presbyterian traditions. And it felt very right. And so the next week I also forgot to look up a closer church. And the week after.

We have attended that church through three different houses in three different towns. We have taught Sunday School and confirmation there. We have baptized our sons there. We have made life-long friends. We have taken solemn vows to love and teach the vibrant rainbow-line of squirmy children on the stairs at word for children. We have buried friends, and comforted the grieving. It is our church, our home, our family.

At Grey's baptism
At Grey’s baptism

For the fourteen years that span my adult life, there has been one person standing in that pulpit – Rod. That pulpit-relationship is where it begins, of course. Rod is one of the finest preachers I have had the chance to listen to. (And remember, I have attended services every week of my life.) He finds that difficult line between offering a challenge that makes me think differently, and sometimes change how I behave, but without go so far to challenge that in fear or recoil I stop listening. His sermons are academic enough to keep me interested, but relevant enough to speak to my heart as well as my mind.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.
This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

But the relationship – the friendship – goes far past the pulpit. Rod, his wife (who prefers her privacy) and I have shared dinner together. We’ve played music together. (He plays a mean piano – you should try to lure it out of him.) We’ve caroled together and sung rousing renditions of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to folks whose illness or debility means they have trouble leaving their homes. We’ve done skits together. We’ve attended countless committee meetings. We’ve sung hymns through late nights in long Presbytery meetings which have decided small steps in the question of whether the Presbyterian Church would be one that welcomes all people.

When the time came for me to give birth to my second child, Adam and I were in a bind. We have no family in New England. Michael was terribly sick with the lingering aftereffects of cancer – he would die only a few months later – and Laureen could not come to us. My parents were working and tied down in Seattle. We were only just coming to know our neighbors. Who would stay with Grey while I delivered our second son? A friend got the first call and overnight shift, but on the second shift, we called Rod. He came and stayed with Grey – a familiar and friendly presence. He even did the dishes. With both my sons, he was the first to come and visit the new life in the hospital room. Friends who saw the pictures asked, “Is that your dad?” No, it’s my pastor.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.
Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

So as I count up to Easter, with joy, I also count down to farewell, with very mixed feelings. I will miss Rod and his wife very, very much. In our church, when a pastor leaves, it is a real leave-taking. He will never lead another service from that pulpit, or chair another committee meeting. They are moving – not so far away that we’ll NEVER see them, but far enough that it will be rare.

On Maundy Thursday, Thane took communion with us for the first time. I finagled it so I could kneel before him to serve it. But then I also served Rod, who had blessed our cup and our bread. Then he turned and served me. And I was breathless with tears at the sacrament – a first and a last so close together.

Rod at word for children
Rod at word for children

Rod and his wife go forward to a new stage of their lives. I have told them that I’m a little jealous. They have finished with the stages of “should” and “ought” and “supposed to” and “had better”. They are now in the only stage of life where your labors are determined by what you would do, what you are called to do, what you want to do – and what you can do. A part of me feels like a parent with a graduating high school senior. I send them away from me and will miss them horribly, but would not wish them back to their old roles. The time for moving on is here.

So, Rod and Cathy, go into the world in peace and continue the service. What does our God ask of us but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God? May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all: today, tomorrow and always.

Benediction
Benediction

For any who have also loved Rod, we’ll be giving him a rousing BPC farewell with a huge International Dinner at 6 pm on Saturday, April 26 2014. The next day, Sunday April 27th, will be his final service with us and will be followed by a massive coffee hour I’m hosting. So come.