Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Family & Friends,     

We love California. Living here is a gift from the Lord. One we never even knew we needed.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t breathe in the blue skies, sunshine, and 70degree temps and thank the good Lord that this is my home for this season of life. This year especially, I’m grateful for this daily blessing of beauty and serenity because a more truthful confession is this has been one of the hardest AND one of the best years of my life all in one. I’ve lived out both sides of the coin, moment by moment on some days. Some days and moments were heads up, and many days and moments were tails up, head buried. So when you read this letter, I pray you hear an honest voice and see an honest glimpse into the life of a family that at the end of the day, the end of the year, just loves Jesus and wants you to love Him too because His presence has taught me how to persevere with joy this year.

Perseverance. He gave this word to me in January in the middle of the study of Revelation in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  At the time, I figured it was just the word I needed in order to finish strong the study (not an easy book to study!), a word that reflected what was required of God’s people throughout the book of Revelation. Ah, but it has represented so much more. Through the comingling of joy and struggle, God is teaching me the unsurpassed beauty and treasure of perseverance.

Perseverance, endurance, stick-to-it-ness, steadfastness. Words our present culture respects from a distance, but no one gets too close, and most people try to pass them by. Those words have teeth. They hint at something hard and negative, sounds like work. Those words require a way of living that isn’t fast-paced, constantly changing, full of options and instantly microwavable results. No, these words produce a character quality in someone that makes them resilient and rooted and strong and beautiful.

Savannah got her first set of braces in January, and I watched her persevere all year with an amazing attitude and acceptance. The braces came off in November and her teeth are beautiful. I’ve watched her persevere in swimming, tennis, and gymnastics this year, along with developing her skills in the arts and her academics. (Learning Latin is not for the faint of heart! She is taking 3rd grade by storm!) My girl has more energy and more gumption for life than any child I’ve ever known. But the best news of all came in February when she openly prayed during our family devotion on the first day of Lent to receive Christ as her Savior. She chose to be baptized in my mom’s pool in July, surrounded by our GA family and friends, and I have watched Savannah persevere in her growth as a child of God ever since. She is nine years of joy!

I’ve watched Weston persevere in his walk with the Lord as well. He’s my cautious, intuitive thinker, and it’s been a joy to watch him grow in courage and determination this year, willing to commit and take more chances. Turning 7 in August, he was more than ready to begin first grade and has excelled. But watching him begin to fall in love with the game of soccer this fall was maybe my favorite thing. He works so hard! He doesn’t give up, and he takes correction, honestly always trying to improve. He scaled wall after wall of rock climbing courses at a gym at Thanksgiving, like a pro. We jokingly called him “Rock-boy,” to which he replied, “Call me Peter. His name means Rock.” We laughed, but my heart swelled because Weston’s name means Steadfast. He is more like Peter the apostle than he even knows. Watching my son persevere to overcome fears this year has been a gift.

Joey has persevered in his work and in his growth as a husband and father. I’ve watched him approach every change that came his way at work with grace, always acting with integrity in each situation, giving nothing but his best. I’ve watched him seek the Lord this year in a new way. I’ve seen him grow closer and stronger in his role as our family’s leader. After fifteen years of marriage, he is still persevering with me in marriage and seeking to pursue me, know me, see me. We began the year on the tails up side of the coin, but through the power and provision of our relationship with Jesus and our love and commitment to one another, we’ve been living the heads up side for most of the year. Joey’s perseverance in choosing Jesus, choosing us, every day, has been my greatest gift and highest high of this year.

The heads up moments have been simply amazing, dreams realized—God’s provision in completely taking care of buying back our not-well-made RV, traveling to San Francisco, driving the Pacific Coast Highway for Spring Break taking in the breathtaking majesty of mountains dropping into the vastness of the ocean, camping in Joshua Tree National Park in the middle of 20mph winds (so many stories!), visiting dear friends in Brazil over the summer, getting to see Iguaçu Falls while we were there (one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World!) which were simply mesmerizing, a last minute trip to Hawaii before school started back full of snorkeling with sea turtles and ogling over the uniqueness of our Creator’s design, co-leading a table of multi-generational women through the women’s ministry at our church, deepening my relationship with my now-sophomore girls in high school ministry, developing so many new friendships, lots of paddle surfing, and spending almost every weekend boogie boarding and watching sunsets by a fire on a beach with our dearest CA friends. These are some of my favorite memories ever, in my entire lifetime. So many amazing blessings. I have loved the heads up side of the coin this year.

The tails up moments have been learning to persevere in the mundane, the ordinary, and the seemingly insignificant routines of this stage of my life. The never-ending laundering, child-shuttling, grocery-shopping, meal-planning, homework completing, errand-running, need fulfilling stage of life where my identity seems to disappear into the titles of “mom” and “wife.” I love these titles. I’m blessed to have them. But they become only titles and not blessings when my life is not fully connected to my heavenly Father who breathes life and purpose into the mundane. Who has asked me this year to stay the course and live out everything I’ve ever proclaimed I believed in the ordinariness of my life, placing one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, being present, and daring me to find joy in it. He’s challenged me to be content being a nobody (in the eyes of the world) for Him. To live a faith filled, righteous life for the sole purpose of being noticed and praised and seen only by Him. This has been hard, but it has also produced an abiding joy I am still learning to define.

In the middle of these highs and lows, my dearest CA friends lost their eight-year-old son in a tragic accident. Savannah and Weston lost a playmate and friend, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Grief has colored the last six months of this year for me because I have come to love these friends and their family like my own. Choosing and desiring and loving being a part of their daily lives through the pain of this journey has taught me what perseverance means more than any other experience in my life.

Perseverance is not something you set out to accomplish or obtain. It is a natural byproduct of loving well. I love my friends deeply, so despite the pain from their lives that naturally ebbs into mine, I will persevere in that friendship. I love my children deeply, so despite the irritations and hurt we may cause each other, I will persevere in my role as their parent. I love my husband with all my heart, so despite the inevitable hardships our growing and changing lives will encounter, I will persevere in learning to be the helpmate God created me to be for him. I love my Jesus with all that I am, with my whole life, so despite the pain or discomfort that crashes into my life from tension with this world, I will persevere in my relationship with Him.

Perseverance is the natural byproduct of loving well. What a treasure!

So this Christmas season I challenge you also to persevere. Look around you and love well everyone and anyone the Lord has placed in your path. Follow Jesus’ example in Hebrews 12:1-3:

1Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us (you are NOT alone), let US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us RUN with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes ON JESUS, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (emphasis added mine)

Some of you need to believe you are not alone, some need to throw off weights and/or sin entangling your stride, some need to give yourself credit for loving well and fixing your eyes on Jesus, some need to despise shame and endure the cross God has given you to bear out of love for Jesus because Jesus doesn’t ask you to persevere through anything in life that He hasn’t already persevered and claimed victory over Himself! Learn to love well like Jesus. Recognize that somewhere in the middle of the process of enduring, there is JOY! The more years that pass, the more I believe that true joy cannot be experienced without deep struggle. So persevere because true joy is the reward, the prize, the gift.

May your love for Jesus produce perseverance in your life that brings glory to God and blessings uncountable to you and yours this coming year. Never give up on your pursuit of Christ because He will never give up His pursuit of you. He even came as far as heaven is to earth to humbly love us so unconditionally as to become One among us. Immanuel. God with us. Merry Christmas!

Grateful to be called His children,

Joey, Jennifer, Savannah, & Weston

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