Year Of New Beginnings

What kind of year was 2019? Every year I check the security cameras to see if I’m growing or if I’m dying. I mean, was there a recurring theme or random chaos? After all, hindsight is 20/20 going into 2020.

The last four months of 2018 burned me out completely. I was struggling to find a solution. Meditation (meh). Music that was clinically proven to calm (a half-measure). Contemplative spirituality, which I’m still not sure what that is exactly. Stepping out of ministries and doing less in others (which worked). I tried whatever worked short of becoming a hippie.

My life was just out of whack. I was disconnected from God, which didn’t help matters at all. It took a prayer from Kathy, a prayer pastor at church, to help me realize what was clogging up the pipes.

It was my unforgiving heart and that had to be dealt with. With that gone, my peace returned, even if I was still tired, and that was an improvement.

Things at work started going downhill around this time with new technology, and that was a steep learning curve. There was also drama in and out of management and people were just acting like children together.

Including me.

A lot of overtime, too. I tend to hate it. The difference is, we signed up for a cruise, so all overtime was earmarked “boat money.” That makes it easier to deal with, just picturing the sunny Carribean sky and water.

green coconut trees near body of water

Photo by Maria Isabella Bernotti on

At the end of February, Casey and I stepped down from our first ministry, Sparkle and Shine. We’d led it for five years, alone or with a team, cleaning up between services. It was bittersweet and a load off our shoulders.

We were always having to leave class early. Since I taught that class, that created a conflict of interest. We left it in the hands of one of the most dependable people I’d ever served with and her husband.

It did feel weird the first time we got to church at 10 am rather than 9:15 am. It felt like we were so late. And then leaving at 1 pm felt like skipping class as a kid.

Soon after, I was asked to preach a sermon for the Deaf Church when we had Saturday night class after service. I never thought I would see the day. It’s a lesson of what God can do with unlikely people.

I am a writer, not a speaker. Slowly though, over the years, I’m speaking from the front. I still prefer being behind the scenes but have grown more comfortable with standing up in front of people.

The night finally arrived that I was going to preach. Through the technical difficulties, a lot of laughing at our collective inexperience, my preaching, and Sheri, a Deaf Church co-leader/teacher, running the slides, I reflected on the fact that I was standing in the place one of my mentors had over a year ago.

It was beautiful and humbling.

At the same time, I was convinced to walk, run, maybe even crawl while leaving a trail of tears for 3.1 miles. The church was hosting a 5K for Project Rescue, a non-profit that rescues girls and women from sexual slavery. Our best friends, Russ and Kee, had signed up already, and I was thinking of going to support them. Not to run it.

Sheri, though, wanted the group to do it. I thought if I’m going to be in a race, I’m going to compete. Turning on the “Eye of the Tiger”, I channeled my inner Rocky and started training. Just not to punch people…anymore. Just run and look cool.


A subtle side effect of running was my stress levels dropped. I was redlining on Welltory, an app that measures stress, energy, and productivity. Now it was much less.

For those keeping score, the proven stress busters in my case are sabbath rest, running, and not stretching myself too thin.

At work, I learned that we were going to do more with less. Sales were down, overtime was up, and there was less profit. My job was changing with more manual labor and some of my duties were going to the other supervisor.

That’s the plan, at least. But everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth, according to Mike Tyson’s old trainer.

Let’s see how my stress relievers handle that.

Race day arrived with a chilly wind coming off the river. Many people were regretting their shorts. The night before was filled with gratuitous and unnecessary carb-loading. We really just wanted an excuse to pig out at Olive Garden.55783784_2982834871730441_3292370458501971968_o

For all my trash-talking to my friend Russ, he whipped me while holding back to keep pace with his wife.

Hold on while a little salt is sprinkled on that wound.

At first, I passed them, running over a half mile before I had to stop. There’s a tap on my right shoulder. Kee passed on the right, Russ on the left. Soon they were out of sight.

A 50-year-old man passed me. More people.

I saw them one more time before the finish, when they were coming back from the halfway point. They were cheering for me when I finished, and we cheered everyone after that.

I was 9th in my age bracket. I limped off into the sunset in pride. When I got home, I sat with a heating pad on my flaming shins.


In April was when I saw the storm on the horizon at work. The business wasn’t going to be the same. The competition was on the playing field, and they were fast, agile, and good.

I had to remind myself of the 23rd Psalm to quell my nervousness. We also took a faith step by increasing the percentage we tithe to the church.

I also started a fat loss program of mostly running and diet. My weight was creeping up. It doesn’t hurt that I developed a love for running.

June brought my sabbatical. Previously they’ve been for burnout. This time was more a preventative measure (2019 gets the award for most improved in fighting exhaustion). Also to reevaluate some things.

At this time, there had been a lot of steady and heavy rain across a few states. The Arkansas River was rising rapidly. The week before, we hiked the trail by the river, and it was brown, fast, and uncomfortably close to the path.

There was also an uncomfortable conversation about my hesitating to adopt. I wasn’t sure I could love a strange child like my own.

Adoption is biblical; theologically, every Christian is an adopted child of the King, of God. There are lots of good arguments for it, and I was tired of hearing them.

I was either not ready or didn’t want to. My reasoning or rationalizing, I wasn’t sure which.

Within a week, most of the trail was underwater.

Pastor Rod asked the Mayor of North Little Rock what the church could do. The Mayor said if anything came up, that would require the small army Pastor Rod could muster, he would let him know.

The next day, he had something. Filling sandbags. After church, we ate, and Casey wanted to shop, but those sandbags wouldn’t leave my mind. They sat at the forefront of my mind while she browsed.

It’s my sabbatical; I don’t want to burnout.
They need help.
It’s too far.
A quick check of Google Maps showed me that it was about 10 minutes away. I left her in the store and went to fill sandbags.

It did help to see a lot of familiar faces there as I looked over an expanse of water. The 800river was a mile away when it’s not swelling the banks, and the water was still rising into this neighborhood. We were on dry ground when we were lining houses with sandbags, and it was underwater when we left.
Nick of time.

The kids that were there helped with the tension from the worried homeowners and volunteers. It was a game to them. One little girl assured me she was strong enough to carry those bags, and by golly, she did.

The local news was there filming. Ryk plugged Celebrate Recovery when they interviewed him. I was in the B Roll-the background footage. This would be the third time my face was in the media. The first was when I worked with the Libertarian Party, the second was my arrest, and this time was me being altruistic.

I eventually did go back and get my wife. Leave her in a store, and she is as happy as I am in a bookstore or library.

My required reading for the sabbatical was The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero. I spent a lot of time in the chapter about the dark night of the soul when you hit a wall and don’t feel God anymore. I thought about when I hit my wall, and when I suspect others hit their walls. When you break through it, you find God was always there, like the sun on a cloudy day.

At the end of June was the family vacation. A road trip to Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore. We were all anticipating this.

We met up in Oklahoma and took off across the plains. Kansas is cold and windy, like sticking your head out of the window while driving down the road. A lot of windmills, with Don Quixote nowhere to be seen.

Colorado is so open that the cows I saw were much further away than I expected. Maybe the topography? I got a great picture of a line of storm clouds rolling in.

On the northeastern side of Denver, we stopped at a hotel. Pot smoke hung in the air since it was made legal. Luckily we didn’t get a contact high. Woodstock in Colorado.

The next day, we crossed into the mountains and right into snow in June. Southern flatlanders like us didn’t expect it or prepare properly for it. We stopped at a roadside bathroom, and the wind cut through us and what we laughingly thought of as warm clothes.


Wyoming was even more beautiful. Snow-capped mountains were reaching over 11,000 feet into the sky. Pronghorns were scattered all over the place, and we traveled across the Shoshone Indian Reservation.

Then we hit the Bridger-Teton mountain range. Absolutely gorgeous. We saw our first grizzly bear and what I later called idiot tourists who were fifty yards away. Later I would be an idiot tourist. Pot meet kettle.


I made sure to bring western fiction that was based in the area we were in, so my old favorite books could really come to life. No intellectual reading this trip; as much as I love it, this was to rest my brain.

Every day we were exploring a different area. Like Old Faithful. We saw bison, mule deer, oversized rodents, and I planned to put it all on my Vance’s Musings blog (here if you want to see all the pictures).

My brothers and sisters-in-law were hiking every day.

A recurring thought on that trip was God is an artist. Genesis 1 and Job 38-39 ran through my mind.

One evening we were almost to camp, and I’m looking out the window towards the burned-out forest, thinking about making the same loop Joey, Lillian, and Miranda and John made that morning.
That’s when I spotted a massive grizzly.
“Bear! Bear! Big Bear!” I shouted.

My father-in-law stops, and I grab and drop my binoculars because this foolishness will have to happen fast. I bolt from the truck, leaving the door open in case I have to run back.

Because I’m “thinking” it through.

Silently running (I hope) to where my brother-in-law, Dustin, and my mother-in-law, Georgia, are. They were in the vehicle behind us.

65830412_3216802951666964_5985693425612095488_nWe’re shooting pictures, video when Casey runs up. I do shots with her camera. It’s better than mine.

Then I watch as the beast tore open logs for grubs as more people stopped to get pictures.

Daniel is freaking out, telling us to come back. Then the kids climb out of the car.
The bear turned towards the road.
We beat feet back to the vehicles. Good thing I had been running this year.

I’m at the truck watching through binoculars.
I can’t wait to tell John about this. He learned that there are over 6,000 of them in Yellowstone, and he was nervous.
When we show John the video, he gasped.
I grin, saying, “you walked through there this morning.”

It did change my plans a bit. I decided we’re not going through that area. I’ll stick to the river. Where bears also hang out…wait a minute.

The next day we hike, and I’m armed for the first time in 6 years. By that, I mean, I’m carrying a pistol on my hip. That’s something I’m unable to do in Arkansas now. It doesn’t feel that unusual at all.

I reflect on past me as opposed to me now, combined with the amalgamation of other people’s influence and experiences. Getting to the bottom of me, becoming me (if that makes any sense since it sounds like something Dr. Seuss would write). The processing and healing of trauma from my godson’s death over the years. Those six years feel like a lifetime ago.

We don’t see a bear, thankfully, but we do see a mama moose and her two calves. Hiking in those mountains was more like hunting. Even the herbivores are dangerous.

I would gladly trade this .45 Long Colt revolver for my .308 deer rifle. In Arkansas, I’m used to humans being the apex predator.


We weren’t done. We went south to Jenny Lake and Jackson Hole, where the Grand Tetons are. You can stand on one side of the lake, and it doesn’t seem that far across. It’s a mile across. I just sat and stared at the water running from the snowmelt into the lake till we left for Jackson Hole.

There we rode a ski tram to the top of a 10,410-foot mountain. The lovely 70-degree day turned into a wind-ripping 50 degrees. Everything looked small from up there as we could see for miles.

I didn’t think the mountains at home were going to impress me as much now.

The next day, we were leaving for Mount Rushmore. In South Dakota, there is little light pollution. I have been wanting and waiting to see the Milky Way in all its glory.

I finally get the chance. I pull up my binoculars and can see even more stars. I’m reminded of Psalm 147:4, “He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name.”

Just wow.

I tried to capture a picture. My brother-in-law had a better camera phone. Little jealous. Samsung beat my iPhone at that time.

The sabbatical was over and I had regained my sense of wonder and curiosity. A big problem with my Bible study was it felt like a duty. Now I was following my curiosity again, like when I first started following Jesus.

While I was recharged, work was as stressful as ever. Too much of it and not enough people, though we have never had a full crew since I’ve been a supervisor, except for one day. One magical day that we didn’t need to fill a spot with overtime.

I needed help, which meant I needed to read a book. Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Wilink and Leif Babin.

In a leadership position in two other areas, I had the pleasure of mentoring a new co-leader, and the disappointment of having to teach the importance of forgiveness to my class. One of the sad things about leadership is you can count on people to disappoint you as much as you will disappoint others.

The episode that occurred spawned a blog post and a class lesson. I tossed my schedule out to do it. From my experience with unforgiveness from last year, I knew how important this was.

One weekend in August, the church lost one person and kept another. Our Pastor was elected to a position that required him to move to Missouri. My co-teacher in class was leaving for Iowa for a new job.

I don’t like instability. Call me boring, but I prefer some sort of status quo. I had enough people leave when I was younger, it felt like.

Ultimately, Pastor Rod stayed. Every service had a standing ovation at the news. He’s loved dearly at the church.

We did say goodbye to Sheri. This was a move that we knew was coming, though I helped her pack, it was slightly under duress. She was a powerhouse in Reach Deaf Ministry’s leadership team.

Throughout the year, my love for running had grown. At first, it was to compete in a race. Later to lose weight, and now to compete in a race again in September, then eventually for fun.

This was a time of surgeries, though. A nephew was having heart surgery. My boss was out for surgery, along with a few others at work, cutting manpower down even more.

I half-jokingly wished I could have surgery so I could get out of work. Not a major one, but a minor one that needed three weeks or so for recovery. Maybe some light duty thrown in for seasoning.

Work was tightening its belt. I was doing supervisor duties even as a fill-in production supervisor, along with relieving one to two people 20 minutes at a time three times a night. Doing the same with fewer people. Very few positions didn’t fill two roles.

I was having to evaluate how I lead at work. I’m too lenient, but I didn’t want to micromanage. Order does have to be kept.

It was better here than for my mother-in-law. They shut her business down in Ohio after a change in state law. She still had a job, but she was moving back south. She would be a  lot easier to see (which later turned out to be a good and bad thing).

We began another cycle of GriefShare. Every time we have it I notice some personal growth. When we introduced ourselves, it had been saying I lost my godson however many years ago. Then last year I could say “in an accident in my home.”

I did again, which led to one of the people attending to later ask me in private how exactly he died… and I could tell him. What happened, the after-effects, the PTSD, court–all of it. It was a huge step.

Kee coaxed her husband and me into running a 5K with her. The Every Soul Matters one. I was already training for another that was two weeks after that one. They’re friends, so it wasn’t a hard choice, primarily being hosted by one of our church campuses.

I hadn’t planned to push it since I’d ran what I called Hell Week, long distances in 90+ temps.

70091306_2517621661610210_8763226699803394048_oWhen the race started, I was even with them, with Joey-one of the fastest at church in sight.

It didn’t last long. I couldn’t see him anymore. Russ was ahead, and Kee behind me. I looked at my FitBit and was running 10 seconds from my race pace goal.

The new plan was to maintain that pace. As I got to the finish line, I noticed the race clock was still under a half hour. This would be a personal best.

Joey congratulated me. Russ was a puddle on the ground as I sat beside him.

Russ was the first place. I was second in our bracket. Kee was second in hers. My final time was a second under 30 minutes.

Two weeks later, and it’s the day of the race I trained for, The Great Pumpkin Run. I took off faster than I’d run before. Then I have begun to slow. People passed me. A lady pushing a stroller zipped by.

I looked at my FitBit to see I was running faster than my goal pace. That day I beat my goal and set71197966_3470267819653808_3920474619127005184_o another personal best, beating the one from two weeks ago. I placed 3rd in my age group.

I have to say, I love the RunKeeper training programs.

My legs dead, and me close to it, I went home to sleep. Now I’ll run for health and fun and see how far I can go until the next race, that is.

Then, a few days later, I began the most eventful week ever.

I leave for Tennessee to watch a vendor for work. It’s supposed to be simple, something I have done before. Except I’m not more than a couple of miles from home when I see a car that’s weaving all over the road. I back off a little as the weaving got terrible enough; they almost ran someone off the road. I pray for the safety of all they may hit and them.

I also pray for a cop to see it.

I wonder if I call 911 for a weaving driver or the regular number-which I don’t know.

That’s when I see the car cross the lane with no correction whatsoever. As it hits the ditch, I’m grabbing my phone, yelling, “Siri, dial 911!”

The car ramps the culvert, snapping a power pole, and spins, coming to a dusty stop. By then, I’ve pulled into the gas station across the street and run over with another guy who saw it while I’m talking to 911.

The car is beat to hell, windshield cracked, more glass is broken. Tire broke off. Headlight fell out.

In it is a woman older than my mom? No seatbelt. Bleeding from her head. Airbag went off. Skin ripped off from parts of her arm.

I’m looking for a mailbox so I can give an exact location to dispatch while the man talks to her.

Months earlier, I recertified for CPR at work. I search my mind for the right CPR for this. They didn’t cover car wrecks. Except, she’s conscious.

I’m doing what I’m supposed to be, calling someone who is qualified.

Then a lady (who used to be a nurse) ran up with her daughter and took over. She told her daughter to get her brother who was an off-duty firefighter.

I’d gotten off the phone and been given another, who’s also on 911 because they can’t hear the dispatcher.

The brother arrives.

Then the firefighters.

Then a Lonoke County Deputy arrives. I wonder if I met him 6 years ago during my godson’s accident. Weird thought, I know.

Then the ambulance was there.

I was told to stick around because I saw it. I expected that. (A brief moment I wondered if I would be arrested. A stupid thought. This is different from my godson, but the same.)

I watch them pull the lady out and put her on the stretcher. A chunk of meat ripped off her leg. While they wheel her away, she complains they’re killing her head. I can’t imagine what that feels like compared to everywhere else on her.

It’s pretty cut and dried. I give my statement to a State Trooper and leave, decompressing on my drive into Tennessee.

The next day, after a late night at our vendor doing quality control, I was trying to nap.

My wife, Casey, calls me, crying. I think something happened to my dog because she’s signing, “Ready?”
“What happened to my dog?” I don’t know why I was thinking something happened to my dog.

It’s a positive pregnancy test. A cheap test. 7ee54d957f5de07c47d42a8376a2294b
In shock, I tell her to do it again.
“This will mess up the cruise,” she says.
Pfft. Priorities. Babies over the Love Like You Mean It Cruise.

I pray this one is the one that makes it. I’ll keep the cruise just in case because I’m pessimistic. The last two didn’t stick.

It’s not a big faith moment for me.

Yet, I am also hopeful. Losing another will destroy Casey. It’ll wreck me. I was at the point where I’m almost totally apathetic to having kids. It’s been a constant stress point.

We’ll need to call the doc and get in ASAP if this next one is positive.
I have to work late, so I try to nap. It’s a very light nap.

My phone rings again. She’s taken 2 more tests. All positive. Yep, it’s time to schedule a doctor’s appointment.

Now I’m in a bit of a daze. I’m going to have to be careful not to make any mistakes.

I had to tell someone. So I told my sister, Christie. She’s been my first-to-know with the others. I like her more now that I don’t live with her.

Before I went to sleep that night, I talked to Casey about the idea of asking Russ and Kee to be godparents (after googling what a godparent does), especially considering I’m a godparent 2-3 times over. I didn’t know if I was qualified or not for it.

She was thinking about the exact same thing.

We began quietly telling people that had been praying with us about the baby for years. One grabbed me up in a bear hug. I’m glad he warned me. Another cried because she had found an old journal of hers that had the prayer in it. She prayed it again.

I smiled, “It was answered.”

While excited, on the one hand, I began doing what I do best, research. Costs, what we need, the whole thing.

This, while the plant’s future is in doubt. I sang Surrounded,

“It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You
This is how I fight my battles.”

It’s the whole song. At this point, there is nothing I can do. Just trust God to take care of it.

About two weeks later, Pastor Rod called the church to 40 days of prayer and fasting. We’re facing a spiritual war on so many fronts.

No such thing.

Especially after one of our church’s caught on fire. Our car was egged. There was a shooting by our new church. The spiritual war was heating up.

The weeks before our first doctor’s appointment, I’m thinking about every way I can save money. Downsizing. Coupons.

When I worry, I think about Matthew 6:25-34,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I remind myself of this a lot.

Then the kid’s religious education. College savings and putting money aside for their hobbies. My mind is awhirl.

Then there was the keeping what I jokingly called “the worst kept secret” a secret from our parents. We wanted to surprise them for Christmas as their gift.

With Casey’s mom and stepdad having moved back in the state, they wanted to meet up. We did, and it’s a wonder they didn’t figure it out.
But her mom was suspicious. Hopefully, my excuse quelled suspicion.

Later at a gymnastics meet with my mom, sister, and niece, someone said too much. Once again, I was stammering an excuse. My mom was suspicious.

It’s hard to hide stuff from your parents when you’re a dumb kid. It’s not much easier as a “clever” adult.

The first doctor’s appointment showed us a healthy baby with a 170bpm heartbeat. Squiggles was 80 right before we miscarried, so that was a big relief for us. Casey cried, and my eyes got wet.

The doctor called it perfect. The office cried happy tears. Casey has that effect on people. We can even still go on the cruise in February since the baby’s due date is on June 11.

Casey’s calling it a babymoon. With the baby though, we couldn’t do the excursions we wanted to…but we were out of money by then anyway.

My sister nicknamed the baby like she did Squiggles, from the ultrasound picture. This one she named Nemo.

We finally got time to ask Russ and Kee if they would be godparents. It had been busy since they returned from Europe for work and vacation. I lived vicariously through Kee’s posts on their travel blog Werdehausen Adventures.

Kee asked me about the job qualifications of godparent.
Good role models, our best friends, people we want to be involved in our kid’s life.

From there, life slowed down to a manageable pace as Christmas approached. The second doctor visit came and went. We’ll find out if Nemo is a boy or girl in January.

It’s hard not to tell everyone. Having to wait until we see our parents at Christmas. Still so very thankful for a healthy pregnancy after going through two miscarriages.

What underlying thread has weaved its way through the year? Maybe it’s new beginnings. A baby on the way is a world-changer. A new hobby along with the healing of past trauma.

It could be the extinguishing of burnout. 2018 and part of this year, I didn’t do any special events. I was drained. This year, I took off to volunteer two days at our winter carnival at church.

I was tired, but a good tired. Taking it all a day at a time, with family and friends that may as well be family beside me, walking by faith and not by sight.

Yeah, new beginnings. I don’t know what next year will bring, but this blog will reflect whatever it turns out to be. I hope to see you there.

5 thoughts on “Year Of New Beginnings

  1. What an overwhelming year! I can’t believe that (1) that all happened in 2019 and (2) that you somehow didn’t tell us about the car accident and calling 911!!! Here’s to 2020 and your pending parenthood! !!


  2. Pingback: A Decade of Blogging | A Ronin's Journey

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