Seven years ago, Andrew and I were engaged over Christmas. Andrew told me then that he wanted us to be one of those families that sends out pictures and Christmas letters every year to family and friends. I noted this, amidst finals and wedding planning, and promptly forgot it until the following December. Pictures seemed silly with just us and our cat. Our first Christmas passed without sending cards and subsequently each Christmas thereafter has passed without cards, let alone photos and letters. But here I am, sending you a recent photo (whose credit belongs to my sister Jennifer) AND this Christmas letter. Forgive me if it is long. I am making up for lost years.
I was recently discussing Christmas letters with some women from my church. We were all lamenting how they have a tendency to show only the pretty stuff, by which I mean all the good things, the highlights. They paint our lives as if they are free from suffering, pain, and mistakes. I have received such Christmas letters in the past and I understand that it is easier to share the happy stuff and the good news. Who wants a letter full of depressing tid-bits? But if the Christmas letter serves as the only touch point over the course of years, it does seem that sharing a little more genuinely is in order. We all had examples of friends whose lives were always picture perfect, and then suddenly a last name changed, or someone was no longer mentioned - without a hint of explanation.
So my picture is not perfect. None of my children are looking at the camera, but this kinda typifies our life. There are five people in our house. There are five people making messes. There are five people’s interests and preferences bumping up against each other. Not to mention five peoples voices, three of which really do not see any value in speaking quietly. One lesson from the children - if it is worth saying, say it loudly!
2010 was a difficult year for us in some ways, and a tremendously rewarding year in other ways. We have had three different addresses this year. They were not all moves up, either. The moving was stressful in itself. Andrew has lost two jobs and juggled 4 others. He was faithful to work evenings doing janitorial work, actually winning “employee of the month” in May. We have been humbled and nearly broken. Moving into our current home, we had no dishwasher, no laundry machines, no money for laundromats, and a huge task of purging as we had to squish belongings for a space more than twice this size into this little house with virtually no storage. I struggled greatly in an attempt to be content in such a circumstance (remember what I mentioned above about five people making messes).
Alongside those struggles have come rich rewards. We have been forced to think critically about our priorities. This means we choose to have a piano instead of a TV. It means we have fewer dishes so that I can use the kitchen more, and no dishwasher so there is room for a kitchen table. It means we spend our after-the-kids-go-to-bed hours talking instead of watching movies. We have been forced to learn to live together well, or at least, much better. There is not room for grand temper-tantrums, nor grudges. We have been forced to de-clutter and get organized (though this is an ongoing process). There is simply no room to keep “someday projects.” I either have to do them, or pass them along. This has forced me into action and decision. We live more simply and more purposefully. Additionally, we have learned to be loved by our community. This has been extremely humbling, but it has also been a potent reminder of how remarkable it is to be offered grace. Our church and friends have come alongside us, generously providing a temporary space from which to transition into finding a smaller home, relief from some financial burdens, and a great working washer and dryer (which may have saved my sanity and health). We are so excited for the day when we can give back in the manner in which we have received.
The night Andrew was awarded employee of the month, another momentous journey began. He met with the Chorus Director of the Eugene Opera to see if he could recommend a voice instructor for Andrew with the hope of someday being able to sing in the opera. The chorus director himself took Andrew on as a student immediately and prepared him to audition formally in July for the Eugene Opera. His audition went well and he has performed in several small promotional events with the first “real” opera taking place over this New Year. Andrew is in the chorus with a small solo. This has been an amazing experience for our family. Andrew is more at peace than ever now that he has returned to his first passion, singing. We have every indication that with continued hard work, Andrew should have no problem pursuing a full-time career as an opera vocalist. Though for now, he is a carpenter by day, and chorister by night.
After many years of mistakes and failures at a career level, it feels wonderful to have a taste of success. We have wondered, if, perhaps, God had to make everything else Andrew touched (in regard to career) fail in order to bring him back to what he was made to do (of course, those failures were all valuable life lessons that I think will allow him to pursue music with a fervor and purity that he would not have been capable of 20 years ago). Another life lesson from this year: Trust God’s story for your life - even in the dark places.
Looking ahead to 2011 we are anticipating being in one place long enough to plant a garden and perhaps add some chickens to the backyard. I am looking forward to Andrew having stable work and adjusting to his opera schedule in a way that allows me to turn my attention to some writing projects that have been on the back burner for a long time. Both boys will continue studying violin and our house will remain filled with music-making and homeschooling adventures. I also know 2011 is bound to bring with it unforeseen challenges and mistakes, for this is life. I pray that we all give each other the gift of grace to share in both the joys and the sorrows that will inevitably come our way.
Merry Christmas! May the rest of your holiday season be filled with hope. May we have hope for the marvelous possibilities of a new year, as well as have hope for the day Peace on Earth really does come, when all the sorrows and failures of our lives will be removed and redeemed.
Andrew, Marianne, Søren, Elliot, and Penelope