In many ways, I will gladly say, "Good-by and good riddance!" to 2011. There are several reasons for this:
- I hope to say good-by to 2011's catastrophic drought here in Texas. It's affected my community in horrendous ways. I hope and pray for all of my members and friends who have had their herds decimated by lack of water and lack of grass. It will be quite some time before they recover, but I pray for a speedy one.
- I hope to say good-by to the numerous health issues that have plagued members of my congregation. Every once in a while you get into a string of such things. The worst I have experienced is 14 deaths during the 7 weeks of Lent in my first congregation. The run of severe illness and surgery has been comparable in 2011. Stroke, heart surgeries, a child suffering a heart attack, cancer, and the like. This streak needs to come to an end and fast.
- Recent rains have enabled many counties to lift their burn bans, but I am hoping to say good-by to the conditions that led to the nasty wildfires across the state. People responded generously and greatly to this situation, but rebuilding is still months away. I hope folks don't have to watch their neighbors' homes burn again.
- I hope to say good-by to a bit of depression brought on by all of those things above. Walking with people through these issues was tough. It dragged me down quite a bit at times. I wondered time and again when the next shoe would drop. Sometimes when you lose your focus of the big picture like I did during these times, it wears on you greatly.
- It was great watching my kids thrive in school. They are all doing very well in their respective studies.
- It was fantastic watching my wife enter the work force--if only for a couple of days a week. She loves teaching Spanish to preschoolers, and she is absolutely thriving at doing her job. She is enthusiastic and is having a blast doing so.
- My congregation inspires me. After a down year in giving, they responded tremendously this year. People were very generous, and that worry was greatly alleviated for me. Oh, but that was not all. They used much of their excess revenue to support rebuilding efforts of fire damage in the state to the tune of $10,000. Not bad for a country church.
- The folks of the congregation supported one another greatly with all of the illness as well. They rallied around those who were sick and suffering and supported them with prayers, attention, and money when needed. Watching them do such things took the edge off of my depression.
- Which brings me to a very important number 5, my own spiritual growth. Many times it is said that God does His best work when we are walking through the darkness. I will testify to such a thing as I did in my Christmas Eve sermon. Reconnecting to prayer, meditation, and the practice of the presence of Christ has brought me to a different level of peace, anxiety, and faithfulness. (As a rule, I'm not sure how long it will last, but I hope for quite some time.) I'm not sure such growth would have happened without going through all the hard stuff of this year.