It’s already January 3, so perhaps it’s a little late for a farewell to the previous year, but I was with family and limiting my time online over the holidays. Today I am back in the office for the first day of 2018, easing (ha) into the rhythms of work and worship yet again, and reflecting back on the last year.
Last Epiphany, a friend offered me a “star word” to guide my year. The randomly assigned word that came to me was open-hearted. It was an interesting time for me to receive that word, in the midst of the final stages of the search and call process, when I knew I would likely be transitioning to a new position or location or both. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be open-hearted as I said goodbye, or how getting to know a new congregation would be different if I approached them from vulnerability and heart rather than strength and will. But I felt ready for this word, or at least wanting to be ready for this word.
A year ago today, my dog, Laila, went to the vet for a biopsy (thanks, Facebook) of what we thought was a large, inoperable mass surrounding her trachea. I was as prepared as I could be for the prognosis; he had already told me we probably had a month, maybe two. Before they sedated her for the procedure, the doctor felt around her throat where he had felt the mass and confirmed it on an X-ray just before Christmas. It was gone. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary there. Another X-ray confirmed it: she was fine. We’ve had two more scares this year, one with a sudden bout of some kind of extreme digestive nastiness, and another with severe vertigo that rendered her unable to stand or eat for a couple of days. She’s well into fourteen years, so the vets routinely remind me that there are limits to what they can do for her if she gets sick or injured now. She’s a little more wobbly than she was a year ago, but the indomitable Laila goes on, even after a 1,700 mile holiday road trip to the harsh, subzero climes of Minnesota. She surprised me again and again in 2017.
In 2017 I marched, protested, participated in vigils, advocated at City Council meetings and in state legislators’ offices, campaigned, wrote letters, made calls, and argued mostly fruitlessly on social media. I also shut off the news for weeks at a time in exhaustion and grief, and then came back, and tried to talk with my congregations about persevering and hoping in this world when the bad news comes at you like a pressure washer.
I went to Philadelphia on my last mission trip with the youth group of the First Reformed Church of Schenectady, knowing it was my last one but not being entirely certain of what was to come. I said a rather teary goodbye to a congregation and colleagues with whom I am grateful to have served for nine years, to a city I have loved and invested myself in, and to a group of friends and acquaintances who have made up the texture of my life for nearly a decade. I loaded up my things in a moving truck – two, technically, counting the emergency last minute U-Haul I had to get when the movers couldn’t fit everything into the original container – and towed my car to Ohio. I hung a menu covered in signatures from 20 North Broadway Tavern on the wall of my new apartment overlooking a downtown Cincinnati park, unloaded way too many books onto the shelves of my new office, and became the pastor of a wonderful new church. Walter Brueggemann gave the charge at my installation, causing me to fangirl as I have never fangirled before.
I met a bazillion new people, most of whose names I remember. I made friends. I ate in an absurd number of restaurants, posted too many pictures of food on Facebook, and finally bought a really good frying pan.
I watched the Red Wings miss the playoffs for the first time after their 25 year streak.
I turned 40. I went to Scotland and drank some fantastic whisky and ate a metric ton of seafood and felt my soul laid bare in the way that only Scotland does to me. I aged out of the Young Clergy Women Project that I helped found, and saw them change their name and logo and move forward – as they should – without me, and I felt more about it than I expected, sadness and gratitude and pride all mixed up.
I officiated and greatly celebrated a couple of really fabulous weddings: Annie and Nikki Reilly, and David Chalk and David Bockerstette.
I cried more than I have cried collectively over the last twenty years. I cried in joy, rage, grief, hope, and every combination of emotions possible. Text messages and movies and the music in church set me off regularly. People who insist on talking about their dog dying or reminding me that mine soon will – forget about it. I cried when two of my dear friends became mothers this fall, and goodness knows I’ve never cried over babies before. I cried when so many iconic cultural figures died. I definitely cried at how awful the Red Wings were. Apparently this is who I am now, this person who weeps openly at every little provocation.
And I also laugh, a lot. I laugh at Laila as she forgets her age and bounds around the apartment or charges down the sidewalk, insisting on a longer walk. I laugh with my congregation, who so love to find joy in worship and fellowship and even meetings with each other. I laugh at the bizarre things that happen on the streets of my new city, usually aloud, startling the people around me. I laugh at myself, often because I am always crying.
Politically and culturally, 2017 was such a terrible year, with bigots, Nazis, and abusers running rampant and tweeting from the White House every time I turned around. As I stumble into 2018, having accomplished none of the things I hoped to do during vacation and feeling utterly unprepared, I realize how exhausted I still am from basically uprooting my entire life over the last eight months. And yet, there is goodness in this year. There is growth. There is change, not just in circumstance but in substance.
A new year has begun (arbitrary calendar markings, blah blah blah), and on Sunday I will pass out new star words to my congregation and take one myself. Some of them, I’m sure, will be forgotten almost immediately. There’s no magic to these words. But I do hope that some of them will be guides through 2018 as “open-hearted” was for my 2017, a year that sent me home, as the wise men went, by a different way.