Looking Back: Making a Difference in 2012
Every morning as I get ready for the day, I ask God to help me to fulfill one of the promises made in the Advanced Course of Landmark Education that I took a few years back. I ask God to help me “make a difference at the different levels of world and self.” As I see it, making a difference is one way I can love my neighbor as I love myself. When I look back on 2012, I see three seasons of trying to make a difference in three distinct areas of my life. Perhaps you can judge whether I succeeded.
The year began for me, trying to make a difference in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Since 2010, I had felt an unshakable call from God to stand for Moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly, which happened to be convening in my hometown, Pittsburgh, PA, at the end of June. The Moderator presides at the Assembly and then is the face of the church for two years until the next GA convenes. Having published essays in The Advocate and The Huffington Post on being bisexual, I was the first out LGBT person to stand for Moderator of the PCUSA.
In December, 2011, my presbytery had elected me a Commissioner to the Assembly. This is the only requirement for being a candidate for Moderator, however, the custom is that candidates’ presbyteries endorse them for Moderator. So in January I was hard at work talking with friends in my very conservative presbytery, hoping that some of them would speak for me in the debate on an overture asking Pittsburgh Presbytery to endorse my stand for Moderator. None of them did. The presbytery voted “No.” So I submitted my own name to the national office. I was the first in living memory to stand unendorsed. God’s call felt that strong.
As far as I know myself, I was trying to make a difference in the PCUSA by inspiring people with a message of unity. I felt that this message, coming from the liberal side of the church—the perceived recent “winners” in the longstanding political strife over LGBT inclusion—was extremely important for our church family to hear. That’s how I made sense of this call to stand even as it made little sense to many in the church.
I created a website, traveled regularly to events across the church and was preparing for the election at the Assembly when—it turned out—any service at the General Assembly or beyond as Moderator came to an abrupt halt. My husband was walking down the aisle at the grocery store when a severe pain struck him in the back and arm. When nothing helped to make it better, we went to the Emergency Room. It was the first time my husband, an ER physician, had ever been admitted to the hospital as a patient. It took a few weeks to determine that he had a ruptured disc in his neck and a large growth on his thyroid that had to be removed.
My focus shifted to a different “level of world and self:” my husband and my covenant of love to be with him “in sickness and in health.” We did not know if the neck surgery would be successful or whether the growth on his thyroid would prove to be malignant. What I did know is that I needed to refocus my priorities, withdraw my candidacy for Moderator and resign as a Commissioner to the Assembly.
Over the next many weeks, as he endured the disc operation in May and the thyroid operation in June, I double checked the taking of medications, took him to myriad doctors’ appointments, soothed him—a physician who was used to taking charge in the hospital—and took up the many household chores he normally performs.
Because I did not have responsibilities at the Assembly and my husband was improving daily (there was no infection and the growth was benign), I was able to attend President Obama’s one visit to Pittsburgh during the campaign on the last full day of the PCUSA GA. Along with more that 6,000 others in 100 + degree heat, I was happy to hear first hand his campaign stump speech. I also gave my name to a Fellow assigned to a neighborhood adjoining mine. By the end of July, with my husband’s health returning to normal, I began phoning on Fridays and canvassing on Sunday afternoons for Barack Obama’s reelection. I was trying to make a difference at another level of the world.
I continued volunteering and in early September my supervising Organizer asked me to become the Neighborhood Team Leader, replacing our Fellow who had returned to school. I stepped up to this new assignment, which eventually led to my becoming the Staging Location Director for the crucial last days of the campaign. I became responsible for recruiting dozens of volunteers to phone and canvass on November 3 – 6, then supervising the Staging Location during the all important Get Out The Vote.
On Election Night, I dozed off after 1 am, in the last moments of President Obama’s acceptance speech, having risen at 5 am to be at my Staging Location before 6 am. I was that anxious to be certain that he had been elected to a second term. I am still processing the intensity of this campaign experience and of the march of events for me in 2012.
Is one of these levels of life (church, marriage, country/world) more important than the others? Only God knows. I expect we can say that I am more important to my husband than I was as one among thousands of Obama volunteers, or among five candidates for Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
For all of us, what we have done—the choices we made—in 2012 are written in the Book of Life. I believe, in due time, we will answer for it all with Jesus at our side. The meaning of it all will become clear.
Whether I made a difference at these different levels of the world is far from clear to me now. Perhaps you have some wisdom on it. My greatest prayer is that I learned from it all and perhaps, through my retelling of it here, you might learn from it as well.
And may we be blessed to make a loving difference at the different levels of world and self in the unknown year before us.
May the peace of Christ be always with you,
Reverend Janet Edwards