A Christmas Letter ~ 2013

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“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Christmas. It’s that time of year when the end draws near and my contemplative nature kicks into high gear. I love to think back. It is always easier to see the past clearly than to view the future with ease. I’m not sure what it is about this time of year, perhaps it is the natural closing of one year’s chapter and the opening of another, but the season practically inspires retrospection. And so I look back.

There is that smile again. That boundless zeal for life. So many pictures capture Ellie’s enthusiasm. I just love that look. Our year started out with her first birthday. It is amazing how much a little person can grow and change in three hundred and sixty-five days. We thought that she would be walking by age one…but when spring rolled around and she still wasn’t walking the doctor picked up on her flat little feet and sent us off to a specialist. We were told not to worry, just to keep an eye on them as she grows; most toddlers have flat feet. I would’ve totally preferred not to have to see a specialist at all; but God has a way of testing our ability to trust Him time after time. Well, once she started walking it wasn’t long before she was running. She is such an outdoors child; the first day that we set up her swing set she was outside in the cold dark night testing it all out. She is such a climber, I call her my little monkey; her aunt takes her to gymnastics once a week and it has been so good for her! She is always talking about ” ‘nastics” and her “leotard”. As I said before, Ellie’s enthusiasm is an inspiration on the difficult days. And the meaning of her name has helped me to remember just Who the Lord is even in the midst of difficulty. God is my helper. 

I wish I didn’t have to gain a  whole new perspective on this truth about Him this year. The fact that so many would rather avoid and chose not to acknowledge is that life is not easy. I don’t mean to be all depressive and sad this season; I know for many it is a time to focus on the blessings and happiness. But really, life is not happy all of the time. If we never acknowledge the difficulties of life, how can we appreciate the positives? There are things that we walk through we would never chose for ourselves. But how else are we to learn Who He is unless life teaches us?

So I’ll admit. This year was hard for me. My school closed early this year as it faced large budget cuts; I spent the whole summer trying not to worry about not having a teaching job to go back to. I didn’t know for sure until August…so it was a long summer of attempting to avoid my anxieties and fears, which for me is not easy. My middle name should probably be Anxious. Klayton was back and forth between several jobs for the first part of the year, and even though that didn’t bother him it stressed me right out! I like consistency, I like security, and Klayton doesn’t seem to be bothered about either. He is much better at trusting His plan than I am. I had been planning on starting graduate school the summer of 2014; but for multiple reasons I’ve had to let go of that dream for now, which was very hard for me. And just when things seemed to calm down…they stopped. There are some things that I wish nobody ever had to live through. Watching a parent walk out of a marriage is one of those things. And so the theme of my life has become one that is lived in continual forgiveness, loving as He does, and resolving to not allow myself to become depressed by the brokenness that surrounds me. God is my helper. Through the situations you never want to be a part of. In dealing with the change and the unknown He is my helper. Constant in the trial and the change, this one thing remains- Your love never fails. So even in the midst of heartache, I chose to focus on the truth. No, this year has not been easy. Yes, I will hold fast to the truth that no matter what God’s love exists…and I will continue on in this knowledge. Acknowledging the difficulty makes remembering the positives so much sweeter.

I asked Klayton what his greatest and worst parts of the year were. On the top of his list were the two weeks we spent in Washington followed by finding out that Ellie wasn’t going to be an only child. He said that his worst were that he still works in the heat of summer and cold of winter; but that seems to be God’s choice for him for now. We truly had a busy year. It seems like even now we never really stop going…there is always something that needs doing, someone that needs helping, things that need fixing…but we hold the hope within our hearts that someday He will return and we will have all of eternity to rest in His goodness. For now, life goes on around us. Amidst the busyness there are always those days that come just when you need them. We took Ellie to the Ecotarium this summer and it was a nice little adventure. We also spent a day at the ocean, which Ellie greatly enjoyed. We spent time with friends and family, took a couple of camping trips, and enjoyed our beautiful yard (and all of the yard work that comes along with it). And while it doesn’t seem like any of these things are extraordinary or exciting, that is life for you. Sometimes it just is.

Amid all the trials, big and small, I am constantly amazed by the consistency of the Lord. He never promised us that life would be easy. I never thought that I would say this, but really, I am glad for the struggles, for the trials…because they cause growth and change. And while change is certainly not easy, the troubles of life shape and form us into the people that God wants us to be. Still, He continues to shape. This year I have learned more about the provision and love of God than I would have if we had never experienced any of the hard things. Though my attitude through it all has not been  perfect, and I haven’t always trusted as I should God has a way of taking our weaknesses and turning them into strength; and so through His strength we are perfected. Looking back. I can see the beauty now.

Yes, what a year it has been. Not an easy one, but as I said. That is life. Klayton and I both have jobs, we have a home that we love and work  hard for, we have family and friends who love us through our struggles, we have cars, and food to eat, the ability to take our daughter camping and on fun little trips… A perfect year? Absolutely not. But a good one even still. And perhaps the greatest part of the whole year is being able to experience it and live through it together, with our Ellie. Never would I have imagined just how your entire perspective on life changes when you become a parent. But seeing the world through the eyes of a child has been an immense gift. That smile of hers. It reminds us of the hope that God has promised us. And soon we will have two of those smiles to remind us every day of what really matters. Ellie is just catching on to the whole “brother” thing instead of “baby sister”. While Klayton was super excited to have another baby, I was not excited about being pregnant again. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids. But being pregnant with Ellie was not what I would call fun. This time though, was so much better, much to my relief. I was half as sick and half as depressed and anxious as I was the first time around. But with all of the heartburn and skin breakouts I just had a feeling that it wasn’t a girl this time…and I got my wish! Just about three months more and baby boy will be here. Now we just have to teach Ellie his name 😉

Perhaps it is partly the season, but reflecting on this past year I am impressed by the peace that has surrounded us even through the hard parts. And so, even in all of the struggles and trials I find myself resting in the peace that only He provides, this season, and every season. We pray that you too will know His joy and peace through the hope that only He provides.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a year abounding in hope through the Holy Spirit; with love,

Klayton, Alicia, Azrielle, and Baby K

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(Advent)ures of Christmas

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” 
– Benjamin Franklin

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Some say that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Others, the most stressful. To me, it is what you make it. Having an almost-two-year-old this year has certainly helped to make this season wonderful. While moments of stress certainly do occur when I’m trying to wrap presents and Ellie insists on adding her own bazillion pieces of tape, overall having a young child brings a certain joy to the season. You see the world through their eyes and are caught up inn the wonder, adventure, and excitement of it all. 

However, it is also a season of choice. The age old religious debate: to Santa Clause or not? I grew up “believing” in the Jolly Old Fellow. As a child, my extended family were all “believers” and so it was really inescapable. But Ellie is blessed with an extended family of those who believe in Him who began this yearly tradition with His lowly birth. And so, we decided not to encourage the whole Santa Clause story. In my opinion, this is easier! Not having to try to convince and keep convincing my child that this man in the North Pole is real is way less stressful than focusing on the Truth of this season. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means condemning any Christian who chooses to embrace Santa Clause with their children. My husband and I have simply chosen a different perspective. 

And it really has been quite an adventure.

During Thanksgiving I figured that if we were going to to this, we were going to do it right. It’s basically the only way my mind works. There is a right way and a wrong way and major anxious meltdown if things don’t go the “right” way. But anyways, that is a different story for a different time. So, luckily my mom had given use a great little curriculum of sorts to celebrate Advent. So we decided to go ahead and use it with Ellie. This Advent curriculum contained a story book and 12 ornaments for the tree. Each of the 12 lessons focuses on a name of God; which I always find to be so encouraging. I thought it might be a little bit over Ellie’s head, but hey, why not go a head and give it a try? Unfortunately, this awesome Adorenaments curriculum is no longer available through Family Life; we were so lucky to have my mom pass it on! 

So try we did. And she fell in love. The first ornament was the Baby Jesus…day after day she would run over to that Christmas tree and stand there and say “Hi Baby Jesus.” When she went to bed at night it was back to the tree for “Bye Baby Jesus, love you!” So we continued reading each devotional about the meaning of the names of God and how they relate to Christmas and Ellie would excitedly hang each ornament on the tree. Of course, who knows how much she is really taking in and understanding. But hearing your not-even-two-year-old talk about baby Jesus brings so much hope to your heart regarding their future relationship with Him. Besides, as an early childhood educator I believe firmly in the importance of early experience in shaping a child’s life. It is never too young to begin teaching, and you never know just what children are “catching” …until they spill all that they’ve been absorbing in a breathtaking display of their new-found knowledge. 

Through the eyes of a child…you feel that wonder and excitement to learn about the One who created you, that thirst; even at almost-two. Ellie practically begs to “read Christmas story, dad?!” every day. It’s beautiful. Instead of learning a story about someone who doesn’t exist and will let her down…she is learning about someone who is the Truth, who will never let her down, and holds her life in His hands. These are her first experiences grasping just who He is. And it’s beautiful to watch.

Not only does it melt your heart to see your nearly-two year old embracing Jesus and God and the Christmas story, but it has challenged my husband and I. It has always been important to us that Ellie grow up seeing what it means to be a Christian. But with both of us working full time, me in school, the demands of being homeowners…honestly we haven’t been the best example. Sure she sees us working through problems in positive ways, yeah we bring her to church, yes mom goes to women’s group, we live our examples at work and the list goes on. It is easy to justify the fact that we really don’t take much time to sit down and read God’s word. But the fact remains. This is an area in our relationship with Him that needs a bit of help. 

And this adventure with advent was apparently just what we needed. I wondered aloud the other day what we were going to do when Christmas was over and we had not Jesus story to read; perhaps we should look into getting another devotional to do with Ellie. And when Klayton told me that he had been thinking just that it was quite obvious that this was what God had been planning. So trusty Amazon yielded some great results; I found a book of five-minute devotionals and a one year book of devotions. Although if you think about it too much it seems a little sad that our toddler gave us the kick we needed to get into the habit of diving into God’s word, I suppose it could be worse. 

I hope that continuing to explore who God is with Ellie helps us to gain a new perspective of Him. Afterall, being a child is a theme throughout the New Testament: “Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). While these verses probably have some deep spiritual meaning, for me they are confirmation that we all could stand to be a little more like Ellie. So embrace that desire, embrace that excitement and wonder, and bounce up and down with excitement as you open your Bible in your adventures of knowing Him more. And Ellie, I pray that you never lose your excitement for “Baby Jesus”, and that your heart continues to be open to knowing and loving Him…through all of your life.