Gary, Don't Miss It: "It's a Wonderful Life" – Christmas Season 2014

As we enter 2015, I take this opportunity to slow things down, look back, and savor all that was in life for Pat and me during this busy Christmas season of 2014. It shows me just how rich our life is these days! I am full of gratitude. In some ways, it feels like it marks a new chapter in our life together as we enter 2015.

Let me expand and bookend this Christmas season for reflection to the period between Thursday, December 11 and Saturday, January 24 – about six weeks time.

This period began with a Pathwork 3-day intensive at Sevenoaks Retreat Center near Charlottesville, Virginia – my spiritual home away from home. This is the third year for this program, which is led by my favorite Sevenoaks Pathwork teacher, Erena. Erena credits me for being the energy that got this program started and keeps it going. All I know is that what Erena offers, I want, and so my passion for this program is quite self-serving. I am so glad she is willing to give so much of herself in it AND that we have a dozen or so who participate in it with such commitment and enthusiasm.

Leading up to this intensive, I spent days developing what I call the Devotional Version of the Pathwork Lectures that she had assigned for the intensive. For preparing this Devotional Version of the Pathwork Lectures I’ve been nicknamed, “Gary, the Happy Monk.” Creating this version of the Pathwork Lectures feeds my passion for Life. It is a true labor of love that is woven into this six-week period of “life review” – taking up perhaps 50 hours of time during this Christmas season. This creative work with the Pathwork Lectures is truly foundational in my life.  In 2014 I created nearly 50 of these and have them available via links on my website.

On Monday (December 15), my having just returned from Sevenoaks, Pat and I had our regular Skype session with Sage and Anthony, our couples counselors in Toronto. These biweekly Skype sessions, begun in June 2012, open up so much in our relationship and in our own individual inner work. And like my work on the lectures, this couples work, along with our individual counseling sessions and our daily meditation and coffee-time-dialogs, grounds us.

On Saturday (December 20) Pat and I went to a one-day Winter Solstice Retreat led by Pastor Mary Laymon of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the church Pat and I have been going to since Easter. We have both come to love the truly pastoral energy and passion Mary puts into these programs, and this day there were about 15 of us working with her in the Thomas Retreat House of the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford – a perfect setting for such things, including a living room where we gathered in front of a warm fireplace.

Sunday (December 21, the last Sunday before Christmas) found us at St. Thomas where we are two of the three members on the co-leader team of the Adult Formation Class. Here we facilitate exploration of bible texts, with emphasis on applications to our lives. This is a bit new for Pat and me, not having been in church for 15 years and not having truly studied the bible during those years; but I find I am enjoying exploring the bible in freer and more open ways than I did in my earlier church life in the conservative Lutheran Church I grew up and participated in for the first 57 years of my life (I left in 1999). I had led bible classes for years in this earlier setting, but sense I was much more a Fundamentalist in my approach compared to today, now being a “Progressive Christian,” as Marcus Borg would say.

Wednesday, Christmas Eve, included a family Christmas Eve gathering with two of Pat’s three sisters and their families in Louisville. We were conscious that this was the first Christmas without Pat’s mom, who had passed away in November. I was also aware that I was now the oldest family member in the room, with another four of my generation, nine from the next generation, and eight from the youngest generation – twenty-two in all. The annual Christmas Eve menu in Louisville is a family tradition – chicken barbecue as the main dish, complemented by polish mistake, buffalo chicken dip, chicken-cheese-jalapeno dip, veggies with dip, and all graced with homemade candy and cookies, and adequate liquor to make the evening flow smoothly.

Pat and I drove back from Louisville in time to take in the 11:00 PM Christmas Eve Mass at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. It was our first visit to this church, and the first time we had gone to such a service since we’ve been together (now going on 12 years, having first met 16 years ago in 1999). With choirs, musicians, liturgical dancers, an engaging and welcoming pastor, and a full house, we drank in the experience. I was moved to tears by the choir – the sopranos caught me off guard, deeply moving. Though embarrassed, I allowed the tears to flow.

Christmas day, Thursday, opened with Pat’s and my regular several-hour meditation-coffee-time-sharing. In the early afternoon we visited Pat’s son Andy (42) and his family (Tina and 9-year-old son Henry). We enjoyed great family time and Tina’s traditional chicken cacciatori. Pat’s ex-husband joined us as well. It was a great family gathering on Christmas day.

John, Elizabeth, Logan and Liam

Friday, the day after Christmas, saw two family events. First was lunch at Padrino’s (a local Milford restaurant) with my son John (43) and his new wife Elizabeth along with John’s son Liam (12) and his ex-wife’s son Logan (16). Great family energy as the six of us sat around the table, joking and enjoying each other’s company.

Nancy, Todd, Ashley, Zeke, and friends

In the afternoon on Friday, Pat and I went to my daughter Nancy’s family in Ashville, Ohio, just south of Columbus.  This outing included Nancy (40) her husband Todd, daughter Ashley (18) (with boyfriend), and son Zeke (15) (with girlfriend). The eight of us went to Chipotle’s in Columbus for dinner and then to the Columbus Zoo with its festival of lights. Pat and I drove home and arrived around midnight – late for us. Again, it was a perfect time with family.

Jane (left) and our family at Jane's 2014 Christmas Party

Saturday (December 27)  was another family special day and tradition. My ex-wife, Jane, hosted her annual family Christmas gathering that included our three kids (Sherri, John, and Nancy) and some of their family members – this included Sherri (45) (who lives in Fond du Lac, WI) and three of her four children: John (15), Elijah (11), and Sammy (9); son John (43) was there with Elizabeth, and John’s son Liam (12); and our youngest, Nancy, was there with Ashley and Zeke. Including Jane, Pat and me, that made thirteen in all. Jane had prepared unlimited amounts of food, and Pat and I contributed, as has been our tradition, four large pizzas. It was a great evening – the third time Pat and I have been included in Jane’s annual Christmas family gathering. We truly appreciate her invite!

Sherri with John, Elijah, and Sammy

The following week (December 28-January 1) I was laid up with a cold or mild flu. This didn’t keep us from our daily meditation and coffee time nor did it keep me from working diligently on the Pathwork lectures for the next session of the Pathwork Intensive coming up later in January. We went to bed at 9:00 PM on New Year’s Eve, and stayed home on New Year’s Day, recovering.

Friday evening, January 2, and all day Saturday January 3, I went to another retreat by Pastor Mary –her annual New Year’s Retreat. Again this was a group of 14 or so and was at the Thomas Retreat House at the Jesuit Spiritual Center. Pat had other plans over that weekend, but a neighbor went with me. At the retreat we were given the opportunity to review all of 2014 and then to look ahead at 2015. Once again I had appreciation for Pastor Mary’s facilitation and leadership skills, her boundless passion and her warm character – she is a true pastor.

Sunday (January 4) was again Adult Formation and Mass at St. Thomas. This first week of January was slower than Christmas week, but still included our daily meditation and coffee time, my Skype call with my Pathwork buddy Jenny, my weekly coffee time with brother Paul, and my monthly coffee dialog with a friend who is a political science scholar. Wednesday [January 8] both Pat and I had our individual counseling sessions – hers person to person, and mine via Skype.

On Sunday (January 11) we went to St. Thomas in the morning for Adult Formation and Mass, and then in the evening to the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer for a forum regarding physician assisted suicide – Death with Dignity, an interesting exploration. Twenty people participated.

On Monday (January 12) we had another Skype session with our couples counselors Sage and Anthony, and on Wednesday (January 14) Pat and I both drove to Sevenoaks Retreat Center and participated in the 3-day January session of the Pathwork intensive series that ran from Thursday evening through Sunday noon. This was a continuation of the December program with Erena, and it was the first time in years that Pat and I both participated in one of these intense Pathwork weekends together. I was delighted she could join me. The work was deep AND we shared the experience. And Pat intends to participate in future gatherings of this group.

After returning from Sevenoaks on Sunday, I had my Skype call with my Pathwork buddy Jenny on Monday, coffee with brother Paul on Tuesday. On Thursday evening (January 22), Pat and I participated with Andy (Pat’s son) and Tina, in a program on foster care at a Crossroads Church, foster care being something that Andy and Tina are considering. It was daunting to hear what is involved in foster care, and we were glad we could participate in this meeting in a family support role to Andy and Tina.

Friday (January 23) was a BIG day for Pat and me as we began our facilitation role with a six-couple group at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church – the church we had visited on Christmas Eve. It is called the St. Timothy Couples Spirituality Exploration Group. A Pathwork friend of mine works at the church and suggested to the pastor that Pat and I would be great for facilitating this work with couples. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and it seemed the group (12 people – 6 couples) did as well – we got enthusiastic feedback. This is a first for Pat and me to be together in a “solo” leadership role. And we love it!

To close this six-week Christmas cycle out, on Saturday (January 24) we brokered a first-time meeting of Pat’s son’s family and my son’s family – the six of us met at John and Elizabeth’s home, and included, with John’s son Liam,  Andy and Tina and their son Henry, and Pat and me. I had been a bit nervous about how this first gathering of our two families would go, but it exceeded anything we could have expected. The depth of conversation was inspiring as we all shared what inspired us and what challenged us in life these days.

Rich, though also a bit exhausting! We realize that these six weeks of the Christmas season Pat and I had over 60-hours of mediation and Coffee time discussions, I had spent 50 or more hours with the Pathwork lectures, creating the Devotional Version of 2 or 3 of them, and we each had individual counseling sessions as well as two couples counseling sessions.  We participated in four group activities that fed us (two Pathwork intensives with Erena and two retreats with Pastor Mary) — enjoying time with 30 fellow participants in all. We played leadership roles in the St. Thomas Adult Formation Class and in the St. Timothy Couples Spiritual Exploration Group — again including 30 participants in all. We add to this the many family engagements that involved nearly 40 relatives. In this reflection of our 2014 Christmas season we see truly that ours is a most Wonderful Life! And it involves over a hundred people in various ways! Pat and I bow in gratitude for our “new normal” going into 2015.

Shared in love, Gary