I've never had a year with so many ups and downs. Good thing I've come to the conclusion which some would argue with that God is in control and I'm not. Otherwise, well, I might crumble sometimes. But I can look back and see where He still parts the waters.
Last winter, we were in the second half of a church start project in New Orleans. It was exciting, excruciating, hard, wonderful, terrible and all things wrapped into one package. We thought we knew where we were headed.
We did not.
My dear Mary, and our daughter Shanna and her kids Gabe and Gavin, went to New York in February, and Gavin danced in a national contest for perhaps the final time. They frolicked in a real wintery wonderland.
A month later, our lives changed again.
I was reminded of one of my favorite TV shows that you might never have heard of. It was a little Joss Whedon production called Firefly. Despite a real core of dedicated viewers, it was cancelled after one year.
It came back a few years later as a motion picture, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, called Serenity. I wonder what ever happened to Whedon? Oh, oh, yeah, those Avengers movies. From premature failure to overwhelming success. Perhaps there was a lesson there.
In March, the experiment was a part of, privileged to be a part of, was done. The New Church on South Carrollton, which was a holding name till we transitioned to a permanent new name for our church, went kaput. The powers that be pulled the plug. On July 1, the church we were part of went back to being Carrollton United Methodist Church, and we, the two pastors who did their best to co-exist for a year, were sent elsewhere..
Why? Too much money needed that wasn’t coming in versus too few people coming in who would or could give. Simple math.
Oh, we more than doubled attendance, converted to a contemporary style of worship that we believed more fit the community, developed a band, began a children's ministry, fixed a decrepit, leaking building, put in more equipment than the Saenger Theater enjoys, fed teachers up the street once a month, fed Tulane students on occasion, sent a team to feed St. Mark’s homeless community, planted a garden that actually produced food that we gave away to the community, washed dogs and handed out what I now know to be koozies (those things you wrap your, er, water around). We had 92 persons in worship on March 15, and we averaged 61 for the year we were there, after arriving at a church averaging 25.
On April 13, we lost our beloved terrier mix Logan after 15 years. She couldn't fight through some cancer that took her life but never her spirit.
But we moved again in July. And like it says in scripture, "For I know I the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
And lo and behold, God sent us (I still believe He plans a part in all this and doesn't just start the world spinning and sit back and eat popcorn and watch) to a place I had never heard of, Coushatta, La.
He sent us to two churches that I promise have more good folks, likable folks, in them than any two churches I've ever known (and I've loved plenty of people in the various churches we've been at -- and still do).
They stood by me when the evil pneumonia liked to have killed me in the fall right on into the winter. It began on August 26 and wasn't finished with me till December. I spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, a depressing awful things to do actually, and had two ambulance rides along the way. Breathing, I learned, is really important. Kidneys, yeah, they're important, too. Oh, and heart. Heart like a took on a new role, also. The role? Last outpost before Heaven.
But as the year ends, I know more about what it means to love God, even if I'm still after all these years such a broken creature. That means more than churches closing, near-death experiences, near-life experiences and more.
I can't wait to see what these churches are truly capable of if I can stay upright for two or three months in a row, with His
As the Bible tells me: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea..."
I wish for all of you this new year, 2016, that you rise on the wings of the dawn. Whatever comes, God has been there and is there and will always been there.