How do we live when life feels like it is over? Where do we place/find our hope? How can I hope for something better when my surroundings and circumstances are anything but hopeful? What do we cling to when everything is falling apart?
If you’re anything like me, these questions or at least some version of them have fluttered around your head at some point in your life. These questions, for me especially in the last year, have been ever-present, lying just under the surface of every decision made, every action taken, and even every action and decision I have seen taken. And with these questions and wonderings, despite the wreckage of 2018, the hope of Christ has made its way into our hearts and home through the life that Christ has given us.
This past year has been nothing short of a whirlwind as it always is, and also one of the most transformative. As I look back, I am left awestruck at the care and love God has shown us. It is a powerful and wonderfully strange thing that what wrecks us most can bring about more life—true life—through Jesus and help us to appreciate the life we have and the life we have left to live. I have seen Him in the decisions my mom has made, the leadership and love of my mom through life and grief, the marriage of my Mom and Dave, the growth in maturity, love, care, and Christ-likeness of my siblings, how He has taken care of us materially, spiritually in our church, how He is restoring our souls, the way God has used the story of my family to touch the hearts of others, the rebuilding of hope in our lives, carrying me through this school year, apple chips (inside joke with Laney), and so so much more.
For the first time in forever (Frozen reference😉), I have begun to hope again, and not because I have some guarantee for a better, more prosperous, or comfortable life here on this side of heaven. I know, undeniably, that I and my family are found and held by the God of All Comfort, Restorer of Souls, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace who is unchanging, always true, whose ways and thoughts are higher, and loves us with a love that is unshakable, never-ending, and steadfast despite our sinful nature. He promises that what occurs here—good and bad—is a part, whether by design or redemption, of his glorious plan to restore the world and our souls, ridding the world of sin and death forever. So, as you move into the unknown of this New Year, I hope you will take time to remember as Olaf reminds us in the short at the end of Frozen 2: “And so, I live…and so do you”.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.”
Now onto the family updates…
Mom & Dave
Married on August 31 of this past year, Sara and Dave make a great team. Chances are that if you are reading this letter, you know, and love, how wonderful my mom is, and in this past year she has continued to be courageous, a loving and excellent friend, and a gentle leader in our family in grief and family decisions. She balances being a mother, serving church member, homeschool teacher, and her own health challenges with a gentle and godly grace that is absolutely stunning and endlessly impressive. As I have said it before, I will say it again—Christ in her shines brilliantly. He has enough Dad jokes to out-dad the daddest-dad that there ever was, and he has been a gift to my family in many ways—Dave is a loving caretaker of both my mom and siblings. He has an impressive, and (to me) an almost otherworldly ability to strike up conversations with strangers and a great servant’s heart. In addition, he is endlessly fun and energetic (except when watching Little House on the Prairie [energetic I mean]), qualities the family admires and enjoys daily.
Now twenty-one, almost twenty-two, is an extraordinary sister, friend, and employee. In fact, her supervisors at Marshalls even offered her a management position because they were/are so impressed with her work-ethic and attitude. She had to turn it down due to time and to her being equally as excellent and committed in her schoolwork, and I think I speak for all of my family in saying that we are all so proud of her. I am also always impressed by the courage and commitment of her endeavors to be a teacher. Hearing about her teaching plans, plans to connect with her students, and plans to ignite a love for learning in her students, is such a joyful experience as in that moment you can really envision what an amazing, incredible teacher she is going to be. She also has a fabulous sense of style in both clothing and décor that continues to travel up a level as time goes on (You can check out a recent photoshoot with her as the subject on both Josh and Mira’s Instagram)—she also has this impressive ability to always find the best deals and quality on these items with a mastery and agility that boggles my mind. Oh, and she got a 4.0 this semester 😊.
Leah is about to turn 20 and just finished up her sophomore year of the pre-dental hygiene program. She has applications into two schools to continue her education. Mom might be hoping for the one closest to home 😊 but really wants God’s best for her! She worked hard this semester and earned a 4.0! She has decided to take next semester off to focus on some self-care and other experiences before she heads into her Junior year. Leah enjoys the big blue chair in her closet for reading, moments of quiet and studying. She is always ahead of the game in serving others, helping with dinners and being content. We are all blessed by her creative juices too, in Christmas decorations, homemade Christmas gifts galore and in her amazing made up recipes! As her mom, I am always grateful to see her faith and love for the God who loves her more than I can continue to grow and mature. Leah has taken initiative in serving others at our church and has enjoyed the Women’s theology class there as well.
At eighteen years old is also an excellent employee and driver and friend and brother. He is currently working at Publix, and if you were to ask him how he likes it he would probably say, “It was work” but, unsurprisingly, he is well-liked and impresses his supervisors. I am taken aback daily at how much he has grown in wisdom and stature in the past year. He continues to baffle us with his amazing astrophotography and photography and with his casual use of the words “Hydrogen alpha rays” and “asi294mc” (check out his Instagram @josh_vanh). We love him dearly for the loving, kind, good older brother that he is and will likely always be (Something most evident in his interactions with Abby). Another part of him that has been especially evident to me this year is his ability to see, articulate, and courageously seek what is true as well as outing the ridiculous and inefficient. This aspect is so deeply ingrained in him. He carries it into his relationships, work, and even conversations with flat-earth-believing strangers. We are so proud of him, and I know my Dad would be proud too.
You know that awe-like, hold-your-breathe kind of feeling you get when you see the sun rise, or a flower bloom, or I am out of ideas but something magnificent or amazing? That is how I feel when I reflect on how much Mira has blossomed this past year. She has been so brave, so kind, so loving, so creative, and such a good friend. It is absolutely stunning. She has gone further in her art-making this year, and everything she makes is wonderful and beautiful. For my present this Christmas, she painted on a record from the thrift store. How cool and creative is that? She is currently enrolled in guitar lessons, and, as her roommate, it is a joy to hear her practice and continue to grow in her skills. Oh, and she skateboards too! Academically, she is incredible and responsible as well, and I am sure her teachers and family could go on for days giving examples of just how great she really is. I am so thankful to have her as a sister—and for our conversations—late-night or otherwise. (Instagram @merianphotos)
Ellie Jelly (She said it’s okay if I still call her that )
Ellie Jelly, Ellie Jelly, Ellie Jelly, (sorry, but I feel like I have to use this nickname as much as possible before she gets too old) has been such a lovely, sweet, loving companion in most every activity this year. She is a wonderful friend (Melody will back me up), and has a silly side that will give you a serious case of the giggle fritz. Still a beautiful ballerina, Ellie (Jelly) continues to dance with such a gorgeous grace and joy. Oh, and she has started playing the ukulele along with the piano and has expressed an interest in songwriting. I can’t wait to see what she will make, and, from a completely unbiased perspective, I think she might be famous someday. She is getting so tall as well! We can now officially share shoes and clothing!?! I’m not panicking, you’re panicking *Sobs*. Just kidding. Seriously though, Ellie Jelly is growing way too fast, but I love seeing her grow. This year, she has grown in maturity, her love for Jesus, and in love for her friends and family. It is truly a beautiful thing to see.
Daniel has such a fun, active, and tender and loving personality that has really stood out to me this year in his relationships with family and with friends. He has recently made some great friends, an answer to prayer, right in our neighborhood that he is very thankful for. Impressively, he has completed a Spartan race this year, trudging through mud, climbing over obstacles and even intends to do another Terrain Race in March along with Ellie, Laney, Mom, and Dave. He’s such a smart, cool guy. This year, he played another season of flag football, and he did it well—something our neighbor, Mr. Adamczyk, and his grandparents will readily agree with, and the fact that he has grown about 3 feet helps with this I’m sure.
Laney continues to be her spunky, sweet, silly self that we all love and adore. She, like Ellie, continues to be a beautiful ballerina. Helaena has grown so much in the past year as well, and she is losing her teeth as fast as she is growing, although one of her baby front teeth refuses to make way for her adult teeth. As her older sister who would very much like every part of her to stay the same, I applaud this tooth for its tenacity. You can often find her peacefully playing with her Spirit Riding Free dolls and horses all. I had the opportunity to pack a lunch and go for a picnic and walk with just her a few months ago and cannot quite put into words how delightful of a companion she is. She also has such a servant’s heart, and has often offered to get things for me or help me with various tasks. Thoughtful in her insights, creative in her play and imagination, and sweet and considerate in helping others, Laney is such a lovely little girl, and I look forward to seeing her grow more in the next year (sort of).
While no longer a ballerina, she has only gotten cuter. She has grown so much in the past year, and is always making us laugh with her adorable and hilarious new phrases she has learned. Just this morning, she sweetly asked me if she could have some “wine” (sparkling grape juice) with her mac and cheese for lunch. We all love her so so much. Don’t let her shy attitude fool you at first meeting, she has enough opinions and words to fill a swimming pool and an incredibly sharp mind. I am constantly surprised and thankful, especially with regard to my Dad, as to the detail with which she remembers things. Her love for fashion and impeccable fashion sense have also continued to grow. She often gives me tips and opinions about my clothing choice, it’s so adorable. She continues to never forget to give me a hug, kiss, and say goodbye before I leave anywhere.