Ah, Life… (Christmas Letter and 2010 Interactive Year in Review)

[When I first  started writing this, I didn’t like  it, because the boundaries between personal letter and public consumption were blurred.  Nobody on the internet should give a darn about my personal life.  But then I realized that I could highlight good friends and good causes on the internet, so it became an interactive year in review.  Now I like it a lot. Merry Christmas to all!!!]

I posted a description of the “five-million-things” I did the other day on Facebook, and my friend, Lynn Carman Bodden wrote back, “Ah, Life!”  That struck me as just the right title for my Christmas letter and year-in-review.

This year has been an incredible year of … life. Not good, not bad, just “life” and lots of it. Most years I can remember, I think back on and say “that was nice” or “here’s to 19.. or 20.. Last year s–ked!”. 2010 wasn’t like that. It truly was “the best of times and the worst of times” ( I swore I’d never use that line here, but it seemed to fit so well).

2010 will no doubt be remembered most as the year my mother (Donna Rae Zoller Bibeau) died — and my family came back. When my Mom died this year, my brother Scott really got on the ball and let people know about the service — including his ex-wife and his children! What a blessing it has been to reconnect with them.  My nephew Ryan, especially, and I had a few good heart-to-heart talks before he left for the West to pursue his future. He is a really good person and it’s good to have him back in my life.  My wife and I are particularly happy to have re-connected with my ex-sister-in-law, Marlene.  My two nieces are also all grown up and fun to have around. Of course, my brother and I have also re-connected somewhat and that’s a great thing. I like getting together with him and I respect him for keeping his head above water for all these years.  My cousin Joey was also at the service and I hope to really connect with him as well, when we get the chance.

While in Florida (for a lousy time watching Mom die) I got to further connect with my sister who really will be a  star you’ll all know about. For now, she the backbone of the music scene on the East and West coasts of Florida. A promoter, producer, singer, artist, etc, she really knows her stuff in a way that musicians do amongst themselves. I am sooo proud of her. Her band is “Beebs and Her Money Makers” and they’re online at www.reverbnation.com/beebsandhermoneymakers.  Of course, I got to spend time with my Dad as well, and talked about some deeper things this year than what kind of coffee he’d like. He’s a good man and not given anywhere near the credit he deserves for taking care of my mother for all those years.  In the “small world” category, my friend Leigh McCaffrey was mom’s pastor in the end and she was a great support.  Her partner Josephine does great photography, BTW. http://www.jacapozziellophotography.com I’m thrilled she’s back up north — in RI — now.

The summer was taken up mostly by “The Rock and Roll Prairie Tour” — a vacation to a Martin guitar factory in Pennsylvania and the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and all over the midwest (to Oklahoma and beyond!) to see the real places where the “Little House” books were. I felt the spirit of a million rockers in both my places and soaked in the essence of music history for my part, then got to watch my wife revel in her favorite mental space — her “happy place”, as it were.

Both of the above events were proceeded by an incredible, incredible birthday party as I turned 50 (arrgh!) years old! I gained an iPod out of the deal and filled it with all kinds of music. But the party was incredible — friends from near and far came to our house and my old soul was nourished by their presence. I am very, very blessed to have such good friends and  on that day I knew it even more.  Thank you to my wife, Michelle, for setting it up and our housemate Lisa for keeping it light.  50 is a little strange for me as I find myself living the life my peers did when they were 40. I feel like I’m at the top of my game with work, family, ministry, etc. but I’m aware that a took a few years detour to do some needed mental reconstruction from a rough childhood, so now I’m late to the party.  Still, better late than never.

In the category of “people who are on the top of their game early”, my friend Liz in Texas continues to amaze and astound me with her teaching career as she works toward a doctorate, and my friend Peter Allen from seminary just became “The Rev. Dr.” Peter Allen this year. Pete’s always been on the top of his game and I’ve always been jealous, though I know he works as hard as any pastor does.

My blog has been a wonderful outlet this year for any number of feelings about any number of things political, religious, psychological, and personal. Bob Cunningham has attempted to keep me honest this year there.  Also, there’s a guy in Pittsburgh I “met” via e-mail after blogging and having his blog send links to mine. His blog is called screaming weasel  http://screamingweasel.wordpress.com and he seems really nice I’m impressed by my friends who blog, support, argue, think about, react to, (and do other things) in the world of blogging. Other blogs out there: My friend Cathi’s blog (actually, she writes a LOT), my favorite is http://badquakerbible.blogspot.com and Liz writes one as well but I can’t find it right now.

My private practice seems to be in upswing mode lately, and I want to thank all my clients for that.  I have been at my agency job at River Valley Counseling for 6 years in January!!! — and received an award for 5 years this past month at our annual holiday gathering. Between these two jobs, I have been both blessed and exhausted (remember what I said at the beginning of this about it being a mixed year? This is where I think I spent the most time.)

In addition, I have continued to teach at Manchester Community College (www.mcc.commnet.edu)  in 2010. Instead of teaching Psych 101 (which I really enjoyed) , I have been teaching in the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Counselor sections.  Though I felt behind the eight-ball at first, class went well and was really enjoyable. I loved most, if not all, of my students.  Two in particular, Jim Classon and Shannon Strom, worked very briefly with me on a group for addicts. Each connected with one client and lives were changed. Neither of the clients they connected with has really had any serious problem since they appeared. Nice job, you two!  I go back to teaching in the beginning of 2011, this time on the “Biology of Addictions”.

In ministry, I’m still in the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org)  I haven’t preached much this year, but am very proud of my relationship with my in-care students. One of them, Char Corbett, got ordained recently at a tremendous service featuring a diversity of voices. The second one, Carrol Cyr, is coming into her own as we wrestle with the faith together. Having not forgotten my roots, however, I went back to Bridgeport twice this year to see Prophetess Gerry Claytor (www.claytorministry.com) . One of those trips was detailed here earlier (“A Great and Subtle Day with the Prophetess” July 7, 2010). The other was an exciting and fun-filled visit featuring my daughters as we went to see Mr. Obama speak. I continue to work at the Institute of Living (a psych facility in Hartford) once or twice a month and love it there as well as sit on the Committee on Ministry for the Central Association, http://www.ctconfucc.org (which has done some incredibly difficult work this year) and one more recent challenge I now head the Personnel Committee at South Church in New Britain, CT, a great church going through hard decisions — one more “mixed bag” in my life.

Family life goes well, with my wife and children getting older as well.  They are now a child, a pre-teen, and an adult in order of age, with all of the challenges that that brings to life, both good and bad.  Michelle teaches at Quinnipiac University (home of all those Quinnipiac polls — http://www.quinnipiac.edu) and did interim ministry for the American Baptist Churches of CT http://www.abcconn.org.  She’s also worked really hard (with our housemate Lisa Gustafsen) for the ABC camp “Camp Wightman”, near the Rhode Island border.  For all of our work, we seem to make more money, but have less left over — another sign the economy is still not quite right. It also doesn’t help that I helped end the life of three cars this year. It’s more fun to blame it on the President, though, so I’ll do what everyone else this year is doing.

In totally unrelated health news, I have apparently compressed my C5\C6 discs in my neck either before or after falling down a flight of stairs a few weeks ago.  I’m okay, but a little spooked by the whole thing.

Particularly thrilling to me this year was the return of Deering folk into my life via Facebook and life in general.  The Deering Camp and Conference Center in Deering, NH was a place that changed my life and the lives of so many others, turning out ministers and people of good will in numbers you can’t even imagine.  I got to profile the spiritual leader of the place, Gordon Sherman in my blog this year.  The organization he’d want me to highlight, I’m sure is PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (www.pflag.org).  Sue Tatem (also from Deering)  manages an incredible program for handicapped skiiers called Ability Plus at Mount Snow  www.abilityplus.org John Hudson serves in a Massachusetts church Here’s a link to a sermon of his: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/1776/07/rev_john_hudson.html.  Gary Ciocci, in addition to being a great rocker, started a Wilbraham Youth Group connection on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=80430719714 which brings back fond memories of the church I grew up in, its wonderful spirit and various trips to Deering. Peter Wells, my first Dean  at Deering is now the Area Conference Minister for Western Mass. In an article on line (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/01/church_marks_175th_birthday.html) Peter is quoted as saying , “Faith is always forward moving, not backward leaning”.  That’s why I got into ministry, because of people like him. And folks, this is just the shortlist! Also highlighted this year Camille Utterback, “genius” and artist, who I sent to Deering when I was her Youth Minister in Lynnfield, MA. She can be found at www.camilleutterback.com.

From the West Coast came the return to my life of my friend Craig Hames, who (with his wife Frances and son Van) is struggling with his fifth round of Cancer. My actor friend Ron Bottitta is becoming even more of a star.  He’s now in a play The Sunset Limited, news.wooeb.com/NewsStory.aspx?id=621688&cat=2 which is getting great reviews in the LA press.  And from my High School days, Tony Briand (my best friend and chemistry partner — he knew what he was doing) appeared out of nowhere onto my Facebook page. It was (and is) great to hear from him.

From Upstate New York (not totally buried in snow yet), came word of a get-together with old Youth Group kids there, as well.  I sooo wanted to attend but car troubles (lot of ’em) and busy-ness kept me away.  Cheers to Rebecca McCurdy, her brother Josh, Amy Christensen (now married with another last name) and all the Sloth family (who, except for Marilyn and Paul,  also have different last names now). All of them are wonderful people with kids of their own now. I love seeing them or hearing from them, but I also feel old since they’re having kids — did I mention a mixed-blessing year?) “Hi” to Val Perrins who would probably want me to mention the Troy Area Food Bank www.rfbneny.com

And through it all, my best friend Alan Bercovici, has remained my best friend, golfing partner, and Monday-Night-Football watcher and all-around-hard-working-good-guy. A shout out to him and his wife Deb, who came to my birthday party in the middle of this year that Al has heard all about.

I guess that’s all. NO DOUBT I MISSED SOMEBODY (Dawn, Derek, Emma, Rob,  Buehler? Anybody?). If I didn’t include you, I’ll fix it in the comments section later.

Talk at you later, in 2011, when Republicans will have to do something, not just complain about Obama…

Peace,

John

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