Tuesday, December 31, 2019


    Has it really been twenty years since the calendar rolled over from 1999 to 2000?  I remember as a kid thinking just how far off and futuristic the year 2000 sounded.  Then, when it finally got here, the big discussion was, what do you call the first decade of a new century?  I mean, "The 2000's" sounds like it should refer to an entire century, not a single decade.  "The Oughties"?  Who even uses "ought" for zero any more?  By the time you explain it to a teenager, you've forgotten what it was you were going to say about the decade.  And, before we figured out how to refer to that troublesome collective that stretched from 2000 to 2009, the decade ended and saved us the trouble of giving it a name. 

   But then the next one started, and we all more or less agreed that it could be called the "Twenty-teens." Never mind that it sounded more like a group of people in life's most attractive and annoying age grouping than a ten year period on the calendar, at least we had some consensus!  But the thing is, neither of these decades really felt like they were part of a whole new century to me.  I still found myself thinking, well, in twentieth century terms - despite the fact that not a single one of my current high school students this year was even born in the nineties.  No wonder they think I am old!

    But now here we are in the Twenties.  It's no longer a new century, it's old enough to vote and nearly old enough to (legally) drink now!  The Twenties . . . that just blows my mind.  My Dad, father-in-law, and mother-in-law were all born in the Nineteen-twenties - and now I will have to say it that way to avoid confusing my students.  Time, that crazy, elastic, all-consuming fire that burns our lives away so much faster than we want it to, has done its magic trick again.  The twenty-first century has come of age.  The decade that began a century ago was remembered as "The Roaring Twenties," with Prohibition, gangsters, Model T's, flappers, jazz, "moonshiners," the first movie stars, and the golden age of radio.  How will historians remember this new decade that dawns tonight?  Will it be the "Yelling Twenties"?  The "Snowflake Twenties?"  "The Trumpster Twenties?"  Or will history take one of its screaming left turns and leave this decade with a nickname that none of us can foresee tonight, as we sit here imbibing our beverage of choice and listening to the fireworks outside?  No one knows, but if this blog and I are still going a decade from now, feel free to check in and we'll discuss it!

   But it's customary on this occasion to look back as well as forward.  So I would like to say a few words in fond memory of our recently departed friend, 2019, and then perhaps drop in an unofficial obituary for the entire decade of the - say it with me now! - Twenty-teens. 

    The biggest thing I will remember about 2019 is that it was a year of difficult goodbyes.  In January my friend Randy Daw, the man who invited me on that marvelous 2016 trip to Israel (scroll back to the entries for March of that year to read all about it), died suddenly of complications from brain cancer.  Randy was a beloved pastor, a talented musician, and a joyful soul whose departure left a big hole in our community.  Then in April my sweet cat, Fortuna, the only cat I ever raised from the time he was a tiny kitten, had to be put to sleep after a run-in with a car left his digestive system paralyzed.  I never thought I would be as attached to any pet as I was to my dear "Tuna Kitty," and holding him while the vet administered that final injection was the hardest thing I have ever done.  In May, I bid hale and farewell to my boss, Steve Bowers, who left Greenville Christian School after 9 happy years to take on a new job at a small school in rural Kansas.  Steve was a wonderful leader during his tenure at GCS, and the easiest boss I have ever worked for.  More than that, he was and is my friend, and even though his successor, Mark Reisner, is doing a fine job, I do miss Steve's corny sense of humor and his willingness to laugh at my jokes no matter how dumb they were.

    The hardest goodbye came in June, when my sweet, godly mother, Laura Jean Smith, went to be with my Dad in heaven.  Mom had just turned 87 and had enjoyed good health for nearly all of her life.  She was diagnosed with cancer in January and given five to six months to live; the doctor's prognosis proved grimly accurate - but the silver lining on that cloud of sorrow was that the other part of the diagnosis also proved correct - Mom had little to no pain, right up to the end, and was able to get out and enjoy life with her four children right up to her final month.  Her eighty-seventh birthday party in May was attended by the whole family, and she enjoyed being with us all the more because she knew it would be our last celebration with her on this earth.

    November brought a different kind of goodbye, as my daughter Rebecca (the younger of the two by six minutes) walked down the aisle to marry her longtime sweetheart Joseph Reyes.  She moved with him to Fort Bliss in El Paso, where he serves our country as a young soldier.  So now our nest is half empty, and Rachel will be taking her own walk to matrimony in March.  I've heard about the "empty nest" for the last decade or so; it will finally be our time to experience it!

    But 2019 brought a lot of positive accomplishments and new challenges with it as well.  For the first time since I began writing in 2012, I finished a novel manuscript and was not offered a publication contract for it.  I get it; publishing is a business and my last release, THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, underperformed badly (despite being, IMO, one of the best stories I have ever written).  Undaunted, I decided to branch out and write a story in a completely different genre, set in a time period that I have long studied but never written about, the early nineteenth century.  As I write this, PRESIDENT HAMILTON: A NOVEL OF ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, is about three or four chapters short of completion, and has been a wonderfully fun project, taking me in directions I never intended to go.  2019 was also the year that I made my first ever visit to New York City, and returned to Washington DC for the first time since I was twelve years old. Both these milestones took place in a single journey, as I was a sponsor for the class of 2019's Senior Trip.  Gallivanting around the Big Apple with a crazy crew of 18-year-olds was one of the most fun things I've done in a long time, and it was also a chance to bond with a very special group of young men and young ladies one last time before seeing them venture out into the world.  Later that summer, Patty and I went on a trip to Galveston, TX together, and spent three wonderful days on the beach, enjoying the sun, the surf, and each other, delighted to be away from home together again.  2019 was also the first year in a long time that I not only did not pastor a church, but actually had no church responsibilities at all - no Sunday School class, no Praise Team, no VBS, or anything else.  However, after church-hopping for over a year, Patty and I both were looking for a place to settle, so in October we found a new church home, First Baptist Church in Campbell, Texas, and I have a funny feeling that a Sunday School class probably lies in my near future.  All in all, 2019 was a difficult year, but it was also a wonderful one.  Thanks for the memories, oh departed arbitrary time division!

     Now as I enter 2020, I want to also take a look back over the entire decade that began 10 years ago in 2010.  At that time I was still in my 40's and had two kids in high school; I had just accepted the pastorate of a small house church in Lone Oak, TX, and was supplementing my teaching income by raising goats and buying and selling Indian artifacts on eBay.  Over the next decade I would -

* Become a published author, writing six books and seeing five of them into print through a wonderful independent publisher, Electio Publishing.
* Get my lifetime teaching certificate from the Association of Christian Schools International, which means I will never have to worry about keeping track of CEU's (Continuing Education Units, the bane of every private school teacher's existence) again!
* Go through my first church split as a pastor, and also preside over my first-ever purchase of a new church building
* Find a ton of nice Indian artifacts, and also quit selling any of my personal finds (the good points are just too few and far between to give up!)
* See both my daughters graduate high school, enroll in college, start dating, get engaged, and see one of them get married
* Meet a lot of new friends and deepened my relationships with some of the old ones
* Speak at the funerals of both my Mom and my Dad
* Celebrate my 35th wedding anniversary
* Make a wonderful trip to Israel and visit dozens of sites mentioned in the Bible
* Go on two Senior Trips, one with my daughters' class to Disneyworld, and then the other one last spring, that I described above.
*  Go on a diet two years ago and drop nearly 50 pounds, and manage to keep most of that weight off!

   All in all, it's been a good year and a good decade in my life.  I am grateful for my wife, my family, my friends old and new, some close by and some far, far away.  I am blessed in more ways than I can count and vexed in only a few.  So as all of you ring in 2020, I hope the new year finds you at least as happy as it finds me!  Bring on the Twenties - we're ready!!!

   Oh, one more thing - since my last book underperformed a bit, maybe you'd like to help its sales rank by ordering a copy or three.  Here's the Amazon link; your support would be greatly appreciated (and it really is a fantastic story!!).


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