I know that many of you recently received our family's "Christmas" letter. I say that in quotation marks, because it was not sent out until after Christmas. That's me, right on top of things, never missing a beat, never walking in late, and most certainly, never sending my Christmas letters late. As a matter of fact, I was early, you see. An entire YEAR early! I am thinking I should just forget about Christmas cards or letters, call them New Year's letters, and stop feeling guilty about the entire thing.
Some of those Christmas/New Year's cards never got sent. Yes, that's right...a few are still sitting on my bookshelf waiting be sent. My intentions are good, but in all sincerity...it just Might. Not. Happen.
So, even though this is late (or early, depending on how you consider the situation,) I thought that perhaps the rest of you might like to read our Christmas letter. If you've already received this, you'll just have to ignore the following. Here it is:
Dear Family and Friends,
This letter is “take two.” Last night, I sat down and stayed up late as I wrote you a long, informative letter. For a final touch, I attempted to insert a picture. The entire thing crashed, and everything was lost. If it had not been two years since we'd sent Christmas letters, I would have scrapped the entire thing. As it is,we know that we have been delinquent friends...and we want you to know how much we love and value you....so I will try again. :)
It has been a whirlwind two years since we left Yale, Michigan. We moved southward to Southern Indiana in August, 2007. It was a hard transition, as at that time Jeff left the pastorate, we relocated close to aging parents (and picked up extra responsibilities), and we all left our church and friends of six years. We experienced five months of unemployment, bought a “fixer-upper” of a home (almost 2000 sq feet for $16,500) and a brand new baby girl, Mariam Annaliese joined our family that same year. (Third girl, eighth child.) We learned much about God and His love and faithfulness during those days. He tenderly guided us and led us, just as He promises.
Jeff has been working now for almost two years as a family counselor for a private social services agency. The hours are long and unpredictable, but it is good to see how God is able to use Jeff to help families rebuild their lives after abuse, drug use, and other circumstances that break families apart. Some of the counseling he does is pre-emptive, helping families learn to communicate better to keep from slipping into chaos. Jeff also bought another “fixer-upper” to work on to either sell or rent. The cost was $3,500. Unbelievable.
Our children continue to grow, as children tend to do. :) 2009 has certainly been a momentous year for us, with plenty of action to keep us from getting bored. A quick rundown on each child:
Mariam turned two in November. She is the sweetest most articulate two year old we've ever known. (And we've known lots of two year olds.) How utterly poor and grey would our lives be without our little Mariam. What if we'd not had this eighth child, who seemingly came at such an inconvenient time? During her pregnancy (during which we moved) she and I were diagnosed with a rare rh factor problem. Things were uncertain for a time, but she was born healthy and whole and beautiful, and now she is the absolute candle on our cake. Benjamin is almost four. He and Jeff share a birthday on Feb. 14th. Ben is smart, mechanical, energetic, loving, and always hungry. Fortunately, he seems to have outgrown his propensity to escape all locked doors. Samuel is five. He gave us a big scare back in September, when he hopped on a parked (not running) four-wheeler at my parent's very isolated farm in the Illinois hills. Even though the parking brake was set, the vehicle began to race down a very steep hill. It fell and flipped into a 6 foot ravine, and Samuel was flung off onto the sharp rocks at the bottom. Samuel's face was gashed and there was a large wound on the back of his head. He was awake, but groggy. He took a very lonely helicopter flight from a remote Illinois country hospital to a larger hospital in Evansville, Indiana. It was so difficult to leave him strapped to body board to fly alone, but the helicopter was too small for a parent to go with him. Jeff and I drove separate vehicles, he – taking care of our other children and I - trying desperately to get to our little son so that he would not be frightened at being alone. It was a long day, a long drive – but God's peace was present, and we again knew God was with us. Long story short, after all sorts of scans and care and stitches, Samuel was absolutely fine. He LITERALLY hopped out of the pediatric ICU after 24 hours, and he sports an adorable smirky scar on his left cheek. He has instructions to NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Josiah was kind, and gave us an easy year. He is seven, and doing normal things like practicing riding his bike and improving his reading. He's a loving boy, who would be happy to be left alone to play legos until it is time to eat. Julia is eleven, that magical age between child and teen. She is a readaholic, like every other family member before her. This fall, Julia had some testing done for digestive difficulties. She swallowed some cutting-edge technology in the form of a pill-sized camera, which recorded her digestive processes for 48 hours. The results showed lactose intolerance, something relatively easy to deal with. She is feeling much better than she has in years, simply by taking a pill that helps her body digest dairy products. Emily, 14, gave us her own little health scare this fall as well. Her doctor was alarmed at the size of some moles on her arms, and a biopsy was performed. We experienced a tense week while we awaited results, but thankfully everything came back benign. We did learn that Emily has extremely photo-reactive skin, so this is something she will need to protect against for her entire life. Otherwise, Emily continues to grow into a wonderful young lady. She loves to read, to write stories, to draw, and to play the piano. Nicholas is almost deserving of his own letter this year. In July, the week that he turned 15, he was attacked and mugged while he walked home from work. (Nick has a fairly active business going in which he mows yards, does lawnwork, painting, etc.) It was a totally random crime, committed by a young man we did not know. Nick looked pretty rough, with a horrible black eye and stitches on his temple, and one tooth was broken off. Nick was able to identify the young man a few days later, and an arrest was made. We experienced a lengthy educational process with our local law enforcement and judicial system throughout the fall and summer. Nick gave testimonies, a deposition, and waded through line-up photos. (There was a second man involved, who has never been caught.) The perpetrator is a 19 year old with a record of violent crime, who is also known to belong to a local gang. He has been in prison since July. The case has never gone to a jury court, so we assume that a plea bargain has been made. We hope to learn more in the coming year, and we pray for this young man as he has faced confinement. We want him to know the love and peace that Jesus can bring. Nick has handled this incident well, with bravery and a good attitude. He has taken six months of basic martial arts training, so knows how to handle himself should another situation arise. He continues to do well as a freshman in highschool (homeschooled) and still plays the piano, although guitar is his true love. Jacob will graduate from our homeschool this spring. He is 17. He has done so well, and we are so proud of him. It seems hard to believe that he is ready to wrap up his high school years, but since we still have three who need to learn to read and one to potty train, we do not feel ready to self-congratulate. :) Jake attended college part-time this year, and will do so again in the spring. It was a good experience for him. He plans to pursue a two-year degree in computer programming at one of our local colleges, and then perhaps transfer to a larger school. He scored in the 97th percentile on national college testing, so he did pretty well for himself. That certainly makes a home-schooled mom and dad feel pretty good. It kind of verifies our “Grand Experiment,” which is good, as we have had plenty of self-doubt and fears over the years. God has been gracious. :) Jake works part-time at our local library, loves “all things” computer, and enjoys photography. He's a great son and an excellent big brother.
And that encapsulates our year in a nutshell. Thank you for sticking with us. Thank you for loving us through the good days and the difficult days. As the years pass, we are more grateful than ever for the gift of friends and family.
God is good. Stay close to Him, rejoice in Him, always. We have enjoyed reading your letters, and look forward to hearing how God is working in you and through you in the coming year.
Emmanuel, God with us all.
Holly, for Jeff, Jake, Nick, Emily, Julia, Josiah, Samuel, Benjamin and Mariam