And here is my promised special surprise...
As much as all the churches have helped me grow in my ministry and the understanding of my calling to serve the UMC with all that I have, there is one person to whom I owe the largest debt of gratitude - my wife, Debbie.
When I met Debbie I had no idea I was going to follow a call to ministry - a call that would lead us to move more frequently in our first 5 years of marriage than she did her entire life prior to meeting me.
All along the way Deb has been my biggest support and my quiet cheerleader. She has helped my get up when I didn't feel like getting up any more. She has kicked my butt when it needed to be kicked. And she has done it all with grace, patience, and humility.
When we first started dating at A&M, Deb was an accounting major and I was an engineering major. She finished her accounting degree, I changed my major twice before graduating with an economics degree. She didn't complain when I told her that I was feeling a call to ministry and that would mean 4 years in seminary. She didn't complain when I told her how the appointment process moved pastors around as needed. She didn't complain when I told her how much seminary was going to cost.
We moved to Dallas, I started working for First UMC, Plano, she worked for AT&T Wireless, and we started saving for Perkins. It was during this time that she learned to love the back of my head because that was about all she saw of it during my first three semesters in seminary - and I love her all the more for it.
During my last year in seminary we moved to Carrollton so that we would be closer to the church I was working for during that time. We also added Caitlyn to our family during our time in Carrollton, but not before I got my first appointment as a local pastor. Now that Debbie was enjoying seeing the front of my head again I was able to talk with her about how to grow new programs, how to be a better preacher, and how to properly feed a newborn (all of which I still need work on!).
Now that we are in Wichita Falls I am so thankful that she has journeyed with me during these last 9+ years. I am thankful for the ability to rely on your strength, wisdom, and courage as we have faced challenging days both personally and professionally.
I love your wit, even when it cuts my pride (perhaps especially then).
I love your zeal for clarity.
I love your incredible "mom powers" - how in the world do you keep up with Caitlyn everyday?
Deb, you are the one I love the most and the only villager that I want to spend the rest of my days with. Without you, there would be no elder to celebrate this year. If it takes a village to raise an elder, then you are the matriarch of that village!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!