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Monday, December 28, 2015

What I Should Have Written All Along...

Or, "When You Just Don't Want to Lie in the Christmas Letter"...

Dear Friends and Family,

2015 was the worst year we have ever had.  Over the past twelve months, I have begun so many conversations with the words, "We're having a rough time, right now..."  To be honest, at some point I started having less conversations, because I got so sick of saying those words.

Early in the year, we dealt with multiple people who were content to take shots at our family and our children, over... and over... and over again.  I cried a lot.  I cried a lot in public.  I hate that.  Eventually, I managed to throw up the thickest walls I could build and stopped crying, altogether, but that hasn't been too healthy, either.

In March, Phil and I came clean with each other about pretty much every frustration we have had in (then) almost 18 years of marriage.  This moment was precipitated by the realization that I had almost completely checked out on him, so there didn't seem to be much to lose.  We fought harder than we ever had for a couple of months, often well into the early morning hours.  Then we fought a little less hard for awhile, because we were exhausted, but we picked it up again from time to time, all the way through November.  There were days when neither one of us thought we would see our anniversary in August (it was super appropriate that year 18 marks the "porcelain anniversary", because there were quite a few days we would have liked to just flush...), but we did see that day.  There were still other days when we didn't think we would make it to the end of the year, but we're almost there.  I realize this paragraph sucks.  Let me make it a little bit better by saying that right now, as December draws to a close, we love each other as much as ever, neither one of us is going anywhere, and it looks like we might even be able to do life together better than before.  Does that make it worth it?  I don't know yet.

Vocationally, things weren't any better.  We muddled through seven months of service in an abusive employer/employee relationship, because walking away at any given time presented a threat to Phil's ordination (which did take place in July, oh look... there's a bright spot).  In the meantime, I applied for numerous positions, but nothing panned out.  In September, I faced the worst vocational rejection, ever, and thought I might just stop trying, but that's not really who I am, so another batch of resumes went out in mid-December.  Looks like everybody is currently closed for the holidays, though. 

Another phrase I've used a lot, this year, or at least I've used some variation of it, is, "Well, at least our kids are beautiful... wonderful... smart... amazing... still alive at the end of the day... whatever..."  And they are all of these things and more.  So there's that.

I wasn't going to write this letter.  Is there any question why?  But then someone sent us a letter, and I knew I had to do this...

In the midst of Christmas craziness, we received a beautiful handwritten note that said that the Scripture we included in our letter, last year, had inspired some very dear and beautiful relatives of ours to give generously (even more so than usual) to those in need.  This was overwhelming to me, to say the least.  It hit me hard, because I feel as if I have failed at almost everything this year, but even in the midst of that, God was using something I penned (well, cited) to bring about some good in the world, all year long.  If God can do that, I really can't avoid sharing our story.  Maybe there is even something redemptive about 2015.  Maybe I can live with it if that's true.

If I had sent a Christmas letter this year (and I did write one, but this one is better), I would have included this verse:

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze" (Isaiah 43:2, NIV).

In the last few weeks of 2015, I had been gearing up for kissing it good-bye and starting over.  I'm not even ready to get into all of the details of what happened next, but the truth is, we are still right in the middle of the waters and the fire.  I am far more afraid than I would like to be that 2016 is going to be another series of, "We're having a rough time, right now..." moments.  A well timed phone call or two could put that worry to rest, but even if it doesn't work out that way, it will be OK, because God is still with us.

I was thinking, just yesterday, about how we might not be certain of much of anything, but we have a roof over our heads (even if it is a small roof, and the rent just went up... again...), we have a refrigerator and freezer full of food, and the kids are always able to find socks (even if they don't match).  We have certainly been abundantly blessed in unexpected ways (see: did we manage to take a three week vacation to Florida in the midst of this mess), and God seems to come through even when we can't see how things could possibly turn out alright.  I'm going to hold on to that. 

I'm not going to lie.  I might hold on to it while listening to loud, angry music; screaming into my pillow; taking long walks; or kicking a kitchen stool or two (although I wouldn't highly recommend that, because it hurts).  But sometimes holding on is about all we can do.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention, at this point, that there has been a pretty good group of friends who have stepped in and held up our arms, even when they haven't really known it.  Some of them have been around for most of a lifetime, and others have caught us by surprise as people we didn't expect to have this kind of presence in our lives.  As often private people, it has sometimes been a challenge to remember which friends know which part of the story, but the sharing has been good.  I hope they stick around.

Before I finish this thing, there were a couple of quotes that caught my eye, this morning:

"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family." -Mother Teresa

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." - Mother Teresa

If we ever needed anything, right now, it's peace.  And that's it, for now, friends.  Life is hard.  God is near.


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