This past Christmas, my wife Laura and I arrived home from our church's Christmas celebration smiling ear to ear. Our kids were stoked it was Christmas. I had been able to take a few days off to just enjoy the family. The church just experience something special with 640 people in attendance (double our normal gathering). Our youngest son had just played the drums with our band to the cheers of many. Our hearts were just full of joy. We could hardly sleep because we were so happy and just enjoying one another and our God's great blessings. It made me think. What were the greatest moments of this past year for me personally. I don't mean accomplishments as I am not here to pat myself on the back. But what were those events where I was just blown away by the great God I know?
Number Eight: Riding 103 miles. I took up cycling this past Spring. I put in a lot of miles each week. That all culminated for me on Memorial Day 2012 when I rode my first Century ride. A bunch of men from the church decided to get together and go for a 30 mile ride. We had a great time. However, two of the men were also training for an Iron Man and were going to at least take another 35 mile lap. I decided to go with them to see how long I could last. It is amazing what you can do when you have people encouraging you along. I lasted pretty well even though it was the first 100 degree day of the year (or close). The last 12 miles or so were pretty rough for me. I started shivering toward the end and thought that it could get real bad. But my friends gave me some water and nutrition and I was good to go. I ended up riding about 3500 miles this past spring and summer. I am thankful for a year of having no back pain (a whole new story) and for the health God has given me, my wife and my kids.
Number Seven: Mumford and Sons with my wife. My wife and I love Mumford and Sons. We saw them in concert while they were on the rise. When the opportunity came to go see them again we jumped at the chance. We bought tickets to see them around Virginia Beach. My parents took our kids and we were off on a road trip. I felt like I was in college again! We were in the pit again. Up close and personal. I am thankful that Mumford introduce me to the banjo. We like to whip that thing out during worship at Stone's Throw and I'm pretty sure most of the congregation enjoys it! Who knew?
Number Six: Riding a bike with my oldest daughter and Washington D.C. with my Oldest Son. My daughter loves sports. She loves playing volleyball, riding horses, and can out run a bunch of people. For her birthday I was able to buy her a brand new Fuji road bike for kids. It finally arrived in the Fall and we began riding together. On the ride I asked her how she liked it and she responded with, "This is exhilarating! I can see why you love this!" I looked down at our speedometer and saw 18.5 mph! I said, "Yeah, it's great. Now slow down!" I had a flash of the future when I see us driving for the first time. My son wanted to take a trip to Washington D.C. He wanted to see the museum's and the monuments. So my wife and I and the two oldest kids took a trip to D.C. to experience the city on bikes. We had a great time riding around the City, checking out the monuments and enjoying the country that we live in and the freedom that we enjoy.
Number One: Serving as pastor during the celebration of Joseph Feeley's life. Joseph was a man I wish I had known better. He and his girlfriend had started attending Stone's Throw a while ago. I knew of him and I knew about his battle with cancer. I remember the first time I ever met Joseph. I had decided to offer prayer for anyone who wanted it during Communion and worship at church. I did not recognize Joe when he came up to me in line and asked to be prayed over. I asked him what specifically we were praying about and he said, "I have cancer." As we prayed, Joseph prayed along with me. We begged God to heal him of his cancer. While planning his funeral service with Joseph's family we heard that there would be many people and several colleges where Joseph attended school that would be broadcasting the service. There would be thousands listening and watching as we celebrated what God had done in Joseph's life. When we heard this news, his dad, one of the most encouraging men I have ever met (and funny too), looked at me with a ton of seriousness in his face and said, "You better bring your A-game." He only held the serious tone for a beat before his big smile broke through. It became a sort of inside joke between us. But as I have said before, Joseph made it easy for any pastor to bring their A-game during a service like this because Joseph lived out the Gospel. I would never say that this was a happy moment for me in the fullest sense of the word. But being allowed to share in Joseph's battle cry will be something I will never forget. I am thankful and praise God that I will get to know Joseph and others like him because I will spend eternity with the. 2012 will be the year that Joseph got a head start in heaven on the rest of those who know Jesus.
I don't know what 2013 will bring. I know that I have a lot of plans for my family, for the church in which I pastor and for my life. I also know that these plans don't mean squat. Most of the highlights of my year came as a surprise to me and were just another act of grace by God. I look forward most to be surprised by how deep God's grace really is this year.