When we woke up on Sunday morning, we made sure that everyone got up and dressed for church.This was going to be Rev. Kirk’s final sermon and we wanted to make certain the pews were full when he gave it.Dad had told the others that he expected to see them there as well, and we hoped the other congregants would do the same.
It had snowed overnight and there was a fair accumulation of the white stuff on the roads, so everyone drove a little slower on the way to church.I was a little surprised when we got there because Rev. Kirk was greeting the congregants by himself and Rev. Belec was nowhere in sight.Rev. Kirk thanked us for coming before we went inside, and then we split up into groups and headed to our Sunday school classes.
When we met up for the church service later, we all sat together as a family and we filled nearly half of the pews on one side of the church.I noticed Rev. Belec was sitting in the front pew on the other side of the aisle and he was alone again, but eventually a few other people sat down at the other end of the pew, since the other seats were full.They just didn’t sit very close to Rev. Belec.
There was a tremendous turnout today and there were probably 250 people filling the pews, a fine tribute to Rev. Kirk and what he’d done for the church and the community.Once everyone had entered and moved to a pew, Rev. Kirk walked up the center aisle and took his place behind the pulpit.He waited to be certain that everyone had taken a seat, and as soon as the congregation had quieted down, he began to speak.
“While chatting with many of you over the past week, I was mildly chagrined that not everyone understood the message I was trying to deliver last Sunday, so I will attempt to clarify my stance today.I will begin by reading Hebrews 8:10-13.‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old.Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.’I will try to make this a little clearer for you.
“What Jesus is saying is that the first covenant, which was made with Moses in the Old Testament, has been replaced by a new covenant, the one that Jesus gave us.As I read to you last week, he gave us two new commandments that we were to live by, and I shall repeat them for you now, in case you’ve forgotten.In Matthew 22: 34-40 ‘Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
“To boil it down, we now have two commandments to guide our lives.The first is to love God completely, and the second is the Golden Rule.He wants you to love others as you want to be loved, and to treat them as you wish to be treated.I shall add to this another statement Jesus made in order to show what he meant by this.
“In John 8:3-7 there is a perfect example.‘And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery in the very act.Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned, but what sayest thou?This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.So, when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said unto them.He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’
“It doesn’t end there, however, and Jesus waits to see what happens after he’d spoken.In John 8:8-11 it states: ‘And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none by the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are thine accusers?Hath no man condemned thee?She said, No man, Lord.And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee, go, and sin no more.’
“This shows that what Jesus is saying is the laws of Moses, which would have condemned her to be stoned for adultery, are no longer the laws that should be followed.To put it in terms of the Old West, there’s a new sheriff in town and he’s enforcing the laws as he sees fit and deems appropriate. It’s as simple as that, but some of you either forgot his message or failed to notice what he was saying prior to today.
“The Old Testament is still important to people of the Jewish faith and they still adhere to it, but much of what is written there is no longer meant to control the lives of Christians.The Old Testament should be studied for its historical and biblical importance and what it brought to Christianity, but Jesus has delivered a new message that we are to live by.
“This doesn’t mean the Ten Commandments no longer apply, but now they are incorporated in the two Commandments that Jesus gave us.The first four of the original Ten Commandments are now covered by the first Commandment Jesus gave us, and the remainder of the Ten Commandments are covered by Jesus’ second commandment, or the Golden Rule.Let me clarify that last part.
“You should not murder others, as stated in the Sixth Commandment given to Moses, because you wouldn’t want others to murder you.You don’t have relations with another’s spouse, as stated in the Seventh Commandment, because you wouldn’t want anyone else to have relations with your spouse.You don’t steal from others, the Eighth Commandment, because you wouldn’t want them to steal from you.And so forth for the remaining Commandments given to Moses.Jesus just boiled them down to one Commandment and stated it in simpler terms.
“The harsh punishments given for breaking the Commandments are no longer required as well.We don’t stone people for committing adultery or chop off a person’s hand if they’re caught stealing.Jesus gave us a different way and it is up to him to either save the person or to condemn them for eternity.This is God’s law, although man can establish his own set of laws, but those are not the laws of the church and should not guide how we operate.Nor do they have anything to do with your salvation.”
Rev. Kirk then paused briefly as he looked from face-to-face in front of him, including Rev. Belec’s face, and after he’d studied everyone’s reaction, he continued.
“I think you would all agree that accepting the Lord as your Savior is what’s important.For as it states in John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’But how can we expect others to accept Jesus as their Savior and let him into their heart if we exclude certain people, or groups of people, from our churches?We must show them the power of Jesus’ love and treat them as we wish to be treated, so they’ll also choose to be saved.I hope I’ve made my position perfectly clear, and now I need each of you to tell me something.”
There was a slight murmur from the congregation as we tried to figure out what he was planning to ask.I think some people might have even been holding their breath.
“I would like those of you who plan to continue attending this church to please raise your hand.”About 50 hands went into the air.“How many of you aren’t sure what you’re going to do yet?”A couple more hands went up.“How many of you are definitely planning on leaving this church and attending another church?”The remaining hands went into the air, including those of everyone in our family.“I’m saddened to see this, although I understand.I wish all of you the very best and I’ll keep you in my prayers.”
Now that he’d finished speaking, we sang the last hymn and he gave the final benediction, and then he stepped from behind the pulpit.He stopped momentarily as he passed the first row of pews and looked down at Rev. Belec.He didn’t say anything, but I think we could all read the disappointment on his face when he looked up again.After a short delay, he started moving forward again, but then one of the Deacons stood up, approached him, and spoke.
“Rev. Kirk, since you mentioned that you were going to be doing some traveling and visiting your family, we, the members of this congregation, chipped in to get you a going away gift.I now present you with a $1500.00 Visa gift card that you can use to purchase gasoline or pay for repairs if your car should happen to break down along the way.You can also use it to pay for meals for Mary and yourself while you’re on the road, or you can use it to do things with your grandchildren.It is our way of thanking you and showing our appreciation for your dedication and tireless service while you were our pastor.We shall all miss you, and we wish you the very best in your retirement.It was well earned.”
After Rev. Kirk thanked everyone for giving him this generous gift, he walked slowly down the center aisle and waved at everyone on either side as they clapped.He then took his place at the doorway so he could bid everyone a personal farewell, and once again Dad let us know that he wanted to go last.
It took a lot longer this week before the line dwindled down to just a few remaining, and then our family stood up and got in line as well.Dad wanted to go last again, and I held back so I could be next to him, because I wanted to hear what he would say to Rev. Kirk.
“Goodbye, my old friend, and I wish you all the best,” said Dad when he finally reached Rev. Kirk.“That was a dramatic way to make your departure and leave a lasting impression on your successor, but I fear your message fell upon deaf ears.”
“I’m afraid you might be right about that and I should find out shortly if that is the case. I believe Rev. Belec is waiting to speak with me in the office when I finish up here.”
“I hope he took note that only about one-fifth of the congregation intends to remain, so the donations will go down drastically as well.I’m sure the local Council won’t be any happier about this than his old Council was when something similar happened at his prior church.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s also true, but I imagine they’ll give him some time to settle in and try to right the ship first.If that doesn’t happen, though, he may find himself moving again.”
“Yes, but that might not solve the problem for the church. If we, and the others, are satisfied with the new church we’re attending, I doubt any of us will be returning, even if he’s not here.”
“It’s a shame and I hate for this to be my legacy as I’m leaving.”
“No, today was your legacy, and you saw how many people showed up to send you on your way.Next week, the empty church will be Rev. Belec’s legacy, not yours.Just go and enjoy yourself, and we hope the gift card will make your journey a little easier.”
“Oh, it definitely will, and I’ll remember each of you every time I use it.”
Dad and I then caught up with the rest of the family, and then we headed over to the diner.Our family took up one entire room, and Dad didn’t even have a chance to take his seat yet, when Cole spoke.
“Did you see that?Hardly anybody is going to be left at the church now that Rev. Kirk is leaving.”
“Yes, it’s a pity, but the new minister brought it upon himself.”
We stopped chatting briefly so we could give our orders to the servers, and then the conversation picked up again.
“Do you think the new guy got the message this time?” asked Brandon.“That sermon was definitely aimed at him again, just like the last one.”
“Yes, but I think Rev. Belec’s mind is made up and Rev. Kirk’s message rolled off of him like water off a duck’s back.”
“You’re probably right,” agreed Danny.
“But I was glad that Rev. Kirk cited his examples in gender-neutral language,” added Dad.
“What do you mean?” asked Joshie.
“When he referred to the Seventh Commandment, he didn’t say ‘you don’t have relations with another man’s wife’, but said instead he said, ‘you don’t have relations with another person’s spouse’.That would cover everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
“Oh, I see now,” confirmed Joshie.
“I’m also glad you told us about the special collection for Rev. Kirk, because I would have felt bad if I hadn’t contributed to it,” said Kevin.
“Yes, I think the congregation came through fairly well, since there are only about 100 families that make up the entire congregation.”
“Are you counting us as one family?” asked Katie.
“No, I’m counting each of the married couples as a separate family.”
“I’m sure some of the other families didn’t have a lot of extra money to chip in for something like this,” added Dustin.“Quite a few folks around here are struggling.”
“Yes, they are, but I think everyone contributed something, since they knew if was for Rev. Kirk.”
“I suppose I’m one of those families,” stated Becky.“I gave them as much as I could, when you consider the time of the year.”
“Yes, his leaving right after Christmas made it tough, since many people had spent so much on presents,” confirmed Dad.
This time we stopped talking when our meals were delivered, but I think the others had said everything that they wanted to say.We merely enjoyed our meals before heading home.
As soon as we got back to the house, the younger kids began teasing Elliot, Noah, and Holly to take them tobogganing again, and once those three agreed, the kids cheered before racing off to change their clothes.When they returned, Danny offered them a warning.
“I hope you have all dressed warmly, because I don’t want the house to turn into a hospital ward filled with a bunch of sick kids.”
“Yeah, we have,” they all chirped back, and before long the house was empty, except for the adults.
Becky came to the house with us today, rather than having us drop her off on the ride back.She’s planning on staying with us until after dinner, and then someone will drive her home, although her son will be remaining.The kids stayed outside until nearly dinnertime, and they seemed more worn out this time when they returned.
“Man, it was harder walkin’ up the hill this time, since it snowed more,” gasped Hunter.
“But only until we finally packed down a trail,” stated Benny.
“But then it got slippery, so it was just as hard,” countered Kylie.
“Yeah, so we moved over to the side of the path and walked in the deep snow again,” added Revin.
“Was it worth it, or didn’t you enjoy it as much this time?” I asked.
“Yeah, it was still really fun, just harder this time,” answered Lucas.
After they changed and washed up, they watched TV until we called them out to eat, and when we finished the meal, we suggested they take it easy for the rest of the night.
“It’s too dark to go tobogganing again, so find something to do that will let you relax,” suggested Dion.
“Like doin’ what?” asked Tristan.
“I’m sure you can find a movie to watch, or I’ve got some old board games in my closet that you could play,” offered Dad.“I know you guys are more into computer games, but it wouldn’t hurt you to play the older games once in a while.”
“Yeah, they’re not too bad,” said Joshie.“We’ve played them before.”
“But we don’t know how to play them,” whined Hunter.
“Then one of us will sit with you and help you learn,” said Brandon.
“Ok, let’s do that then,” they relented.
I held TJ as I sat with Wyatt, Xander, Hayden, and Hunter as they played Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, and Dion helped Tristan, Revin, Lucas, and Kylie as they played Rack-O and Clue.Brandon worked with the last two groups and clarified the rules as they switched off playing The Game of Life and Monopoly.Megan, Holly, Jordan, Nicky, Noah, Ryan, Benny, and Joshie split up into groups of four to do this, while Elliot left to go spend time with Ian and his family.
That took care of the rest of the night, so when they finished playing those games, each one took a shower and went to bed.It actually worked out better than we could have hoped, so we’d have to thank Dad for his suggestion.
The next day the weather remained cold and it had snowed again overnight.The flurries continued throughout the day, so there was plenty of snow for the kids to go tobogganing.It kept them busy both before and after lunch, so the rest of us had time to focus on the meals and planning our New Year’s Eve celebration.
Dad had reserved the small banquet room at the Fountains for us, and he did it at the same time he reserved it for Xander and TJ’s adoption party.We were going to have dinner there, so all we had to do was to purchase some snacks and plan activities that we could do at home while we were waited for midnight.We’d also needed to buy party favors we could hand out as it got closer to the magical hour, so it looked as if we knew exactly what we needed to do.
Dion and I went shopping to pick up the items on our list while the kids were tobogganing, and Dad offered to watch TJ for us. When we got back to the house, we stored the items we’d just purchased in our bedroom so the kids wouldn’t get in them, because we were afraid they might devour the snacks early.
New Year’s Eve Day started out normally, and we let the kids go tobogganing until lunchtime, but after lunch we had the younger kids take a nap, so they’d be able to stay up and enjoy the festivities later.They started to argue with us about it at first, but after we explained why we were asking them to do this, they eventually gave in.I think some of the older kids may have also taken a nap.
Sammy, Andrew, and Graham showed up shortly after the kids went to take their naps, and they asked if they could spend the night with us so we could celebrate the New Year together. Of course, we agreed, and we told them that everyone else who lived locally was also going to attend, so we were going to have a fairly large crowd.
Since Xander was napping with Wyatt and the twins, I went to strip the sheets off of his bed and make it again for Sammy and Andrew, while Brandon went to do the same in another bedroom for Graham.They’d all brought an overnight bag with them, along with their suits for The Fountains, so they took them upstairs and got settled in.
When they came downstairs again, we all sat down and chatted for a while, and we quickly discovered that they wanted to know about one specific piece of information.“Did you decide what you’re going to do about the new minister at the church?” Graham asked.“We heard some of you talking about it at Christmas with Uncle Steve and Aunt Mary, so we were curious, because we used to go to that church too.”
“Yes, we’ve made our decision.We’re going to be switching churches,” answered Dad.“We’ll be attending the Presbyterian Church after the start of the new year, once Rev. Kirk has retired.”
“You should have heard Rev. Kirk’s last two sermons,” commented Elliot.“He tore Rev. Belec a new one, but he did it diplomatically.”
“By the way, Elliot,” Dad said to change the subject, “is Ian coming with you tonight?”
“Yes, I’m going to pick him up so he can eat with us at The Fountains, and then we’re going to head over to the Country Club and spend the rest of the night with his mom and dad.”
“That sounds very diplomatic.”
“Yeah, we did it that way cuz we’d get to choose off the menu with you guys.The Country Club members only have two choices for their meal, either prime rib or chicken.”
“That’s fine, as long as Ian’s parents aren’t upset.”
“Nah, they aren’t, and I checked to make sure it was ok with my dads too.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t mention it to me before this.”
“Sorry, Dad, it just slipped our minds,” said Danny.“There’s been a lot going on since we spoke with Elliot about it.”
“It’s not a problem. I was just a little surprised.”
“It will be nice to have so many celebrating with us,” added Pop.“I just wish Shannon and Nick could have also joined us, but I’ll call them at midnight and wish them a Happy New Year.”
“Yeah, wish them one from all of us,” replied Elliot.
When the kids woke up, we let them watch TV and do other things for a while, and then we gave them a snack to tide them over, because we’d be eating later than normal tonight.As soon as they finished their snack, we asked the kids to take their showers, because we’d have to take turns using the bathrooms, and once they’d all done that, we had them put on what they were going to wear.
When Dad saw his biological grandchildren, it suddenly dawned on him that they’d been planning to stay with us until New Year’s Eve all along, even before they cleared it with him and their parents.I say this because Jordan and Nicky were dressed in their suits, dress shirts, ties, and good shoes, and each of the girls was wearing a lovely formal dress, makeup, jewelry, and dress shoes.I wasn’t sure if we’d been played, or if we were just that easy to read.
Dad, Pop, Danny, Brandon, Dion, and I were all busy tying the ties for the boys who couldn’t do it for themselves, and fortunately, Holly was helping the girls with whatever they needed.Once we were all ready, we had to split up between several vehicles for a couple of reasons:Not only were there more of us, but we didn’t want to squeeze into the vehicles and end up with our clothes looking wrinkled when we arrived at the restaurant.
Dad and Pop also stopped to pick up Becky on the way, and as soon as we got to the restaurant, we were led back to the small, private dining room.It was decorated with strings of Christmas lights hung along the top of each wall, a couple of wreaths had been placed in strategic locations, and a fully decorated Christmas tree was in the far corner of the room.There was also a sprig of mistletoe hanging just inside the doorway, so those of us who spotted it stopped to give our spouse a kiss, and the others did the same when they realized the reason for our sudden show of affection.
The others began to arrive shortly after we got there, and before long Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, Aunt Sally, Richard, and Jesse had also joined us.Dustin and Katie, Cole and Beth, and Kevin and Vinnie weren’t far behind, so it appeared that everyone was accounted for.
After exchanging greetings and making small talk, we were seated and began looking at the menus.We had four servers taking our orders, and a cocktail waitress taking our drink orders, including the non-alcoholic drinks.During this time, Dad warned the drivers not to have more than one drink before the meal and one with dinner, so they wouldn’t have an accident or get pulled over for DUI on the way home.
The restaurant offered a couple of specials for the evening, and they even had a special for the kids as well, but we could also order off of the menu.Once we had placed our orders, our drinks and appetizers arrived first, along with the salads.We were just finishing those when the main courses were brought into the room.
The manager showed up while we were eating to say hello and ask if everything was all right, and when we agreed it was, he thanked us for our patronage and urged us to have a great time.He also told us there would be a small band playing out near the bar, and the music would be piped over the speaker system.He then showed Dad the switch where he could turn the speakers off and on, and Dad made sure the speakers were on so we could listen to the music as we ate.We thanked the manager and wished him a Happy New Year, and then he left to make his rounds with the other customers,
Xander didn’t appear as star struck about eating in the restaurant tonight and acted as if he’d done this many times before.When we finished eating, we had the choice of a crème de menthe or fruit parfait, which had blueberries on top and strawberries in the center layer.Either could be made with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, depending on your preference.They also had pudding parfaits for the kids that were made with either chocolate or butterscotch pudding, and once again, those could also be made using either vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Needless to say, we were all stuffed by the time we finished our meal, so many of us got up to dance so we could burn off some of the calories we’d just consumed.I noticed that Richard and Jesse were taking turns dancing with Aunt Sally, and the other older boys were taking turns dancing with Kylie, Megan, and Holly.The younger boys were also up dancing with each other, but not the slow dances, and Elliot and Ian stayed to have a couple of dances together before they left.Then, they said goodbye to everyone before heading over to the Country Club to meet up with Ian’s parents.
We stayed at the restaurant until 10:45, although we’d settled up the bill and left the tip earlier so we didn’t hold up the staff, and then everyone there followed us to the house.We were planning on putting out the snacks, but everyone was so full that we decided to save those for the following day.
At 11:30, Pop helped Dad open the champagne bottles and fill the glasses so each adult could have one to toast with at midnight.While they were doing that, Brandon and I were pouring glasses of flavored sparkling water for the boys, so they could use those to toast with.The glasses with the champagne were placed at the far end of the dining room table, while the sparkling water was arranged on the near end, so no one would get the wrong glass by ‘accident’.
While we were doing that, Danny and Dion were busy passing out party hats and noisemakers to everyone.They also turned on the TVs in the living room and family room and set them to the channel with the Times Square celebration, so we could watch the ball drop.
“Grandpa Josh, do you and Grandpa Jake have fireworks to set off this year?” asked Jordan.
“No, I’m sorry, but we didn’t get any of those this year.”
“That would have made this a lot better,” he groaned, and all of the other kids sided with him.
As it got closer to midnight, we had the adults gather in the living room and the younger group in the family room, and then we all counted down with the announcer to welcome in 2020.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” everyone shouted when the clock reached midnight, and then the house was filled with the sounds of the noisemakers and party poppers for the next few minutes.I was holding TJ, and although I tried to put a small pair of headphones that we no longer used over his ears to help deaden the noise a little, it didn’t help.His eyes snapped open and his body shook slightly when he heard the ruckus, and then he began to cry.I did my best to calm him down, but he’d been frightened too badly to be cooperative.I figured that since this only happened once a year, he’d eventually get used to it, but he wasn’t a happy camper at the moment.
The racket also set Dobby and Flash into a frenzy again and they began to bark and race from boy to boy to see if any of them had been hurt.They finally calmed down a bit as the celebration came to an end and they felt confident that nothing was actually amiss.
Now that we’d finished our initial celebration, we started going around the house and wishing each other a Happy New Year.Once we’d all made our rounds, Pop called Shannon’s cell phone and put his phone on speaker, so when Shannon answered we all screamed Happy New Year!Shannon put his phone on speaker and we all did it again for Nick’s benefit, and then Pop chatted with them while the rest of us continued milling about the house.
Around 12:45 Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, and Aunt Sally thanked us for the wonderful evening before they left, and shortly after that the others also began to leave.Once everyone else had gone, we sent the kids upstairs to get ready for bed, and while they were brushing their teeth and using the toilet, Dion and I put TJ to bed.As soon as he was tucked in, we went to tuck in the other boys and say goodnight.
“Thanks, cuz tonight was great and a lot of fun,” the twins told us.
“But it would have been better if we had fireworks,” complained Wyatt.
“Maybe next year,” Dion told him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever stayed up this late or did nothin’ like this before,” Xander said next. “It was really fun.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” replied Brandon.
“Tonight was really special,” Tristan said when we got to his room.
“Yeah, it was,” agreed Revin, “and I’m glad you let me and my mom do this with you.”
“We’re glad you both joined us too.Now, go to sleep and we’ll see you in the morning,” we replied.
When they closed their eyes, we turned off the light, left the room, and shut the door.It had been a fantastic evening, but it wasn’t over yet.I’m sure each of the couples had their own celebration planned for when the house quieted down and the kids were asleep, because I know Dion and I did.I even heard Elliot and Ian come in around 2:00, and since they were spending the night here, I was certain they also had some private celebrating in mind.