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Our Christmas Letter - 2011

Heart Of My Heart wrote our Christmas letter with a little input from me. Those in our families who get hardcopies in the mail will have the benefit of some nice pictures.  Most of the pics are displayed somewhere (I think) in this blog.  Enjoy!

             Christmas 2011

“Shall I write a Christmas letter this year?” I asked My Beloved during one of our frequent companionable silences.  “Sure,” he said, looking up over his reading glasses.  “It’ll have a lot of stuff in it.”  And he went back to reading.

And by stuff, we mean events that happened boom boom BOOM.  As you may recall, when last we communicated en masse (at Christmas), My Beloved was finishing up his first full semester at Virginia Theological Seminary as a postulant for (God Willing and the People Consenting) Holy Orders.  That time (looking back) was somewhat tumultuous with emotions and choices and decisions and expectations running amok.  Our letter detailed how full his life was with Greek and then classes in Old and New Testament and church history and …lots and lots of other stuff.  I was still working for the government.  We were younger and life was so much simpler…

Last year, had we sent a missive,

you would have heard about how My Beloved, oh so handsome AND smart, managed to do very well in his studies in the first year AND the second year.  You would have heard how he found a “field education site” with a fabulous preacher, where he has been working as an intern for the past year and a half.  You would have heard how he did NOT think classes got easier in the second year, but how he learned better how to handle class loads.  But we didn’t send a Christmas epistle last year.  Last year, we got older and life got more complicated.

And now, oh best beloveds, we are BOTH fulltime in school at Virginia Theological Seminary. 

Okay, that’s probably way more dramatic than it needed to be, but it IS what is driving our lives now and it IS what both of us know we are supposed to be doing!

Rest assured, My Beloved is the only one on the (God Willing and the People Consenting) ordination track.  I am taking classes because I was getting incredibly envious of his opportunity to be in class with such amazing professors and talk about such important issues with such amazing classmates, and then (yes, really, there IS a Santa Claus) the US Government offered me a buyout to retire.  I formally left government service after 33 ½ years in October 2010.  And here I am (in Hebrew, that isהִנֵּנִי) a student taking most of the same courses that the Masters of Divinity students do, but tailoring my studies to get a Master of Arts in Biblical Interpretation.  I. Love. It. All.

Among the many other things that happened last year was first my dad was diagnosed with cancer, then his brother.  My uncle died in December.  My father and mother got up here to see him while he was still good, still very much “with us.”  But it was very, very hard for everyone.  Meanwhile, Daddy’s cancer looked to be “gone” after his first surgery, but it is melanoma and that little sucker has showed up again and again.  By this spring, his health was questionable.

I relate these details because, you see, miracles need to be told.  One of our nieces, engaged and scheduled to be married in October, decided that having Daddy at her wedding was more important than having the October date and site.  With Her Beloved’s consent, she moved everything to Florida, to the country club about a mile from my folks’ place.  Yes, you can plan and put on a gorgeous wedding in about 6 weeks.  Dress, dresses, tuxes, family, friends, flowers, dinner and all.  Her grandfather underwent a wonderfully miraculous turnaround so that he was not only present at the wedding, he officiated the entire wedding ceremony for them.  His usual bubbly self.  They were thrilled.  The wedding was gorgeous. (And the flowers were gorgeous—my amazing sister did them with help from a bunch of us!)  The event was a highlight.

            God is exceedingly good.  Daddy’s cancer was dormant for a while and my parents have been okay.  We have to see how this next part goes.  I started full time at VTS in August term.  We are now both at semester break, very grateful for the time we’ve had and very aware of how time passes.

            One of the benefits of being in seminary together is our opportunity to worship together on a regular basis.  We recognize this being “pew people” as a couple will change, but we delight in our (mostly) daily practice.  This is a huge gift.

            Our other spiritual practices continue—some of them just because we are studying God’s word and God’s people.  We continue those of long practice as well, so both of us use our warm, wise, wonderful spiritual directors to keep us grounded when seminary studies—or other things—make our world spin out of control.

            Some special moments from the school year include My Beloved’s work as a sacristan, transitioning the school chapel space from a very temporary location put in place last year following the chapel’s destruction by fire (are you beginning to see why no Christmas letter went out?).  We are now worshipping in the old auditorium, which was built up to a level room and transformed to a lovely, wide open space with free standing altar and moveable chairs.  The mission windows from the old chapel are hung across the windows, reminding us of how change moves us from one place to another, yet the Gospel remains our mission.

            My Beloved also got to study under former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, while I bonded with Phoebe Griswold in a women’s prayer group.  We love being able to take advantage of experience, wisdom and wonderful personalities.  VTS has no shortage of all three!

            It has been a FULL year, needless to say.  My Beloved’s work at his field ed parish has been very rewarding—he got to preach on Good Friday (among other days), sing the Exsultet on Holy Saturday and teach numerous Bible studies.   During the summer, he interned at a different parish in Virginia, where he served fulltime during the week, as well as on Sundays.  He got to preach in the Pentagon Chapel, which was a thrill.  And he attended an ecumenical weekly clericus breakfast where he heard the “real deal” about being clergy! Nevertheless, he discovered a calling to parish ministry in a way he hadn’t really felt before.

            My Beloved also underwent the latter part of the “gauntlet” that is being called to the priesthood.  He met with the Committee on Priesthood in November and then, a week later, with the Standing Committee of the Diocese. (These committees are part of the Diocesan “government.”)  He made it through both “examinations.”  He should be meeting with the Bishop early in the new year, before our Diocese has its council meeting.

            My Beloved's family has had its share (more than!) of excitement also.  While we haven’t had as many chances to be together as recently, we believe most everyone is doing well, now, all four generations of them.  We welcomed another grandniece into our lives just this month.  We devoutly pray we get to enjoy another  family reunion at least once next year, given expected festivities coming up!

            In other news, our wonderful, enormous in personality and size Bassett Hound, Mulligan, developed cancer and left us in May.  Our puppy (oh, yeah, more news from last year—after Gibbs died, we got a puppy who looks so much like him we considered naming him Gibbs.  We didn’t -- we named him Lazarus) was pretty lonely, because he is young and energetic and needs to have a buddy.  So in June, we found a little girl puppy, seven months old.  Her name is Gili—pronounced ghillie.  It means, “My joy, my happiness” in Hebrew.  Lazarus means “God is my help.” In Hebrew.  Are we in seminary or what?

            So now we have two black lab mixes, who are ten months apart and they LOVE each other.  They are exceedingly physical when they are playing, and exceedingly lazy together too.  They are great dogs and we are blessed.  That said, the little one is a jumper and so we have a new six foot fence that really isn’t high enough to keep her in FOR SURE.  She has springs in her hind legs… 

            I did get to take one of my great friends to Rome in January—we ate, wandered, took thousands of photos, ate more, took a cooking class, ate more, walked more, and loved Rome.  For spring break, I took My Beloved to London and we learned how pubs work, how the tube works, how the buses work and what we liked to do together there.  We spent one day in Canterbury.  It was a very short trip and deserves many more.  Our other trips were for various weddings along the southeastern coast of the US.

            The other part of our year that has meaning for us has been not just family but friends.  Our loved ones have had “events,” as have we.  While with me in Rome, my friend learned her mother went into the hospital.  She came out and lasted to her 80thbirthday before her body wore out completely. Other old friends, like my uncle, gave up this earthly fight and left us yet still too soon.  A wonderful friend died unexpectedly in November. Even when the loss is not unexpected, we find ourselves all holding on to our loved ones even more tightly.  As noted, My Beloved and I attended destination weddings where we saw how important “showing up” can be.  We can say we went to lovely weddings, but even more and even lovelier funerals.  And that says a lot about our faith and our community (and maybe, just maybe, a little bit about our age!).

            So here we are.  Christmas is underway and we are heading into another year where we might be called away or might be called to stay.  We’re trying very hard NOT to have expectations, because we know that if you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans.  But we do know that the Lord will provide, because we know that God does not ask of us any more than God asks God’s self.  (Yes, we are in seminary.)

            Where we will write from next year, we do not know.  Who will we write about?  We do not know.  What will our grades be? We do not know. (We do have a modicum of control over that last part…)

            But, God Willing and the People Consenting, My Beloved, will be ordained to the diaconate in June (2 or 9, not yet identified) and to the priesthood on 15 December. (Yes, the diocese has told us the date of the priesting, but not the date when HE will be ordained deacon.)

            And before we get there, we have the General Ordination Exams (aka God’s Own Exams) to be taken.  Please, please pray for all the takers of these exams from 3-7 January—all seniors seeking ordination in seminaries around the country take them. And then we have the first wedding of 2012 the afternoon of 7 January and many, many more happy occasions to anticipate.

            This next year holds many questions and many promises.  We pray that we feel God’s presence through all of it, and live graciously and gratefully into the future.  May you all do the same.

Love:  us