A Real Christmas Letter: From Me
Dear Friends and Family,
Oops, was that offensive?
Oops, was that offensive?
This is too much.
Dear Friends and Family,
You will be receiving the above pictured card in the mail from me, unless I have lost your address and can't find it on whitepages.com, and you don't reply to my text or Facebook message. Or I don't have 49 cents to spend on you this year. In that case, you can see it above.
You may have seen the photos from this card posted on my social media. Don't let these photos fool you. My children may look angelic, but they're secretly extorting me for cartoons, snacks, and ruining me financially and emotionally.
In fact, while I was posting said photos on social media last night, Jake and Josh were in the other room wrestling. One of them may have jumped off a kitchen stool and shattered a glass ornament. The other one slipped on the wooden floor while dancing and added a seventh bump, scratch and bruise to his face. *Thank God for Photoshop*
While everyone was commenting on how adorable my boys looked in the photos, I was yelling at them to stay out of the office. When I say office, I mean 6x6 room in the back of the former garage where I sit and work on an 8-year-old laptop that no longer receives software updates because it is so obsolete.
While I posted their adorable photos, I also refused to help my husband with dinner duty, I asked people online about making a website (might want to consider a new laptop that successfully accesses the internet better than 80 percent of the time first), eh?
Oh sorry. We've gotten off track. This is supposed to be a Christmas letter. Holiday letter. Whatever. I frankly do not care what you want to call it or what you want to say to me in greeting at this time of year, unless it involves saying Merry Christmas and then slamming down the phone and hanging up on me like the HOM Furniture customer service agent did last year when I was trying to get them to stop delivering their catalog in my driveway every third morning, forcing me to rush out and grab it while those two angelic sons bickered in the car on our way to work/school/wherever we were going to get out of the house.
So Christmas letter. Holiday letter. Brag book. If the shoe fits ...
Receiving Christmas letters from family and friends was always one of my favorite December pastimes. When my brother and I got old enough, we'd sit on the couch together and read through every letter. My parents come from huge families, and my mom especially is a total extrovert, so the number of cards we received was legendary.
There were some great letters. We always read a few aloud, like the one where the kindergartener was already destined for Harvard and NASA, and they were thinking by the way he slurped up his applesauce that he was probably also going to be a famous singer.
There were the humble braggers: This year we were only able to take 17 vacations, as we were very busy. We spent four weeks in Morocco. The weather was fantastic and we pretended we didn't see the refugee boats departing for Europe, filled with terrified women and children fleeing ISIS, corruption, poverty and death. We did sample some delicious baklava sold by a child who lived on the street. He was so cute!
There were the creative wannabe writers: they'd write the letter starting each sentence with a letter of their last name. They'd write the letter in the voice of the family dog. They'd set the letter to music. These are possibly my favorites. I share a special kinship with those who just want to make the letter something more!
There are the people whose lives never change, who usually write in third-person as if they're a reporter giving banal data: Scott still works at Initech. Susan still works at Intertrode. Our dog is one year older and we still enjoy gardening. Our children are the exact same as they were last year. To keep it simple, we all wore matching outfits in our photo. Next year we are considering swapping photos of children and letters with another basic family, to see if anyone notices.
There are the people whose lives change too much. These people are annoying. You always have to get a new address for them. Eventually you give up. I am one of these people. I have had a different address almost every year for almost 15 years. Please do not give up on me. I am not sure if I am on whitepages.com. Please comment on this blog if you'd like my new address. I might feature your card and letter in upcoming blogs. Not really. But I will put it on my fridge.
So Christmas letters. The best. Here's ours for Christmas 2017.
Dear Friends and Family,
It has been another year. You may think you know what is going on in our lives because you follow us on social media. I am sorry to admit this, but my Facebook page is actually a highly curated, highly edited collection of the high points of my life. My actual life is much messier, much more uncertain, much more real, and much more dependent upon God's grace.
We started January 2017 still living in Orange County, CA, where I worked as a Pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, and Ben worked as an engineer in Irvine. We adored California and our lives there, but a few things were missing (1): We never saw Ben because he was ALWAYS commuting and sitting in traffic. (2) Our parents (and the kids' grandparents) were thousands of miles away. We kept thinking about the fact that they were getting older, and they wouldn't always so easily be able to come and see us. We wanted them to be a more regular presence in our lives, as much as we all enjoyed when we did get to spend time together in California. (3) We were not millionaires and therefore could not afford a house in Orange County.
While we were starting to realize the relevancy of these three facts, Ben was approached by two companies with opportunities to move to Minneapolis for engineering jobs. He tentatively went ahead with interviews, received two offers, and we made the tough decision to say goodbye to our life and friends in California. I just reread this and realized how simple and boring I made this all sound. It was none of that. Also I did not mention how INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL I am for Ben's job here. We've spent the last 15 years trying to be gainfully employed near our families. #finally
We spent about four months - wow, it felt a lot longer - desperately searching for a house in the Twin Cities. We had saved money for a down payment, but the mortgage rules were different in Minnesota, and we couldn't afford the same house we could in Orange County. Lesson learned: no matter how much money you have, it never feels like enough money. This is both a lesson and a warning.
We made an offer on a house and lost. In hindsight, that was a good thing. I wasted frequent flier miles checking out another house that looked better online. In the midst of all this, I had to tell our beloved church that we were preparing to move. I still remember the audible gasp when I shared this information at our first service. I left Messiah knowing what a uniquely well-suited congregation it was for me, knowing it would take a long time to find another church for our family. We are still waiting, and we still miss you. Leaving our church has been one of the most difficult and heart-wrenching parts of our year. Thank you for loving our family. And we will always love you and hope for many great things for Messiah in the future.
We made a last-dash trip to Minnesota at the end of March, during the middle of Lent, and on a wet, cold rainy day, we arrived for a showing at the house I'm sitting in today. There was already another offer on the table, so we had to increase our offer. In the end, we got the house. There's a huge tree in the back that is beautiful but also nearly killed us as a branch came down during a storm shortly after we moved in. The yard was a jungle containing not less than 10 dead animals that Ben has had to dispose of, using his newfound wilderness man skills, honed by the discovery of a rat living in our vehicle shortly before we moved away from California. We no longer have that vehicle. If you see a Black Subaru Forester on the streets of north Orange County, beware. We did kill the rat and detail the car, but I mean the rat never fully goes away ...
We've taken down a few trees and countless bushes in our new yard - the first yard we've ever had together. The front yard still has a massive hill full of rocks that needs to be demolished. Ben found out that despite his He-Man strength, wheelbarrowing 100-pound rocks to the back 400 times was somewhat unrealistic.
Inside the house we've killed four mice and even once found a live chipmunk we had to call pest control on. We've replaced dog-soiled carpet in the basement and dog-eaten blinds in the bedrooms. We've cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. We've painted. We have much more to do. Ben and me don't have a closet or heat or A/C in our bedroom. We're all sharing one tiny bathroom. And yet we are so grateful. We hosted Josh's second birthday here with family and new friends from his preschool. We've had family over for dinner from out of town. My brother has even stayed overnight. We love our neighborhood, the proximity to shops, restaurants, lakes, trails, and so many creative, interesting neighbors. Ben's 20-minute commute means I get to see him in the mornings, and he can be home before dinner - his stress from traffic has diminished, and we have even started playing sports like tennis again together. It's just like old times at Mizzou, except we're older and slower, and we have to find a babysitter.
The boys are getting older. I love watching them become close friends, seeing them hug each other as Jake walks into Pre-K, seeing Jake kiss Josh goodnight on the forehead, watching Jake read books to Josh, and Josh follow Jake wherever he goes.
Josh is learning to talk and say short phrases. He is in a phase of "I want to do everything myself," including opening and shutting every door, avoiding diaper changes at any cost, and bouncing up and down in his crib that we keep meaning to transition him out of into a bed. He has the biggest heart and comes up to all of us at random times during the day for hugs, always after he has previously gone after us with an equally big determination (aggression?) to do whatever he wants to do at that moment.
Jake is thriving at school (Pre-K for a few hours for 4 days/week). We always hear stories about everything that goes on in his class, and he still has the best memory I've ever encountered in a 5-year-old. Sometimes that great memory is annoying for parents. (Remember that time two years ago you promised me we'd go to Disney when I'm 6?) Jake is determined, which can also come across as relentless. He still occasionally misses his buddies from Messiah Preschool and loves to Skype with two of his friends. He hates going to bed at night and does not like to give Ben and me any time on our own. Luckily Grandma and Grandpa do lots of babysitting for date nights here and in Kansas City.
I guess there are a few things that are true about the boys that come through in the photos. They have the biggest, most truly joyful smiles. They love to laugh, and there's no one with a bigger belly laugh when you tell a lame joke - or talk about poop. They love each other. Josh looks up to Jake, and Jake longs to care for and protect his little brother. As a mom of two boys, that's all I could want.
That, and a little less wrestling.
As for Ben and me, we're hoping our decade of wanderlust has finally come to an end. After moves to Florida, Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago, Orange County, and finally Minnesota - we are worldly, filled with joy about our friends all over the country and the world, and we are also somewhat exhausted. It has been a lot of moving, a lot of starting over. We have always wanted adventures together, and God has continued to give us that. Our careers have both gone through transitions. We've paid a big price to follow our hearts and our dreams, and at times one of us has sacrificed for the other, supported the other. Right now Ben is carrying the financial load for our family, and I'm getting the chance to pursue my writing career in a really dedicated way, while also serving as the primary caregiver for our boys. I've always been a major feminist and proponent of working moms, but I've also always been a free spirit who felt called into a creative career. While I can't say I don't miss the familiarity, comfort and security of a regular pastoral call and paycheck - I also do truly feel that I am getting a chance to further define what God's calling is for me in my life.
Through all the transitions, all the changes, the diaper blowouts, the fights, the sleepless nights, the beaches of Southern California, the wineries of Northern California, the Vegas Strip, the MN North Shore, the Chicago skyline, the Florida Everglades and Everblades -- we are here, we are safe, we are healthy (though of course that always has room for improvement), we are happy, and we are together. Even through the tumult of leaving our church, and exploring various church options for me and for our family here, our family's faith has grown. I pray more now than perhaps I ever have, and really I've always been a big pray-er. I see God's guiding hand steadying me, steadying us, in a country and a time in history where disillusionment and deception reign.
I'll end this letter where I started it. I love social media, and I love reality TV, but part of what both those mediums do is distort what is real and what is fake. This Christmas, my love for you - my family and my friends - and even those who I don't know but who read this blog - my love is real. I believe in a real God. I believe there is a real Truth, and it can be told. I believe the truth is the only thing, as Jesus said, that can set us free. So here's my truth, for 2017. Thanks for reading.
Merry Christmas. Jesus is Lord.