Before I continue with the traditional letter, can we all just pause a moment and reflect on how early I got our Christmas cards and letter out this year?! Wonder of wonders…
This has been a big year for us in many ways. For one thing, we took several vacations in a single year. (A single vacation for us is BIG, more than one is… astounding.) We went to Massachusetts and toured a beautiful Shaker village, saw Plymouth Rock, toured Plymouth Plantation, and hopped aboard a replica of the Mayflower. Later in the summer, we went on a camping/ boating trip on the Cayuga-Seneca canal with the rest of the Newman clan. (Vacationing with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents is super fun. You should try it.) As proper homeschoolers, we made sure to learn about the Erie Canal, its’ locks, and its’ history before we went. The same is true of pilgrims, Indians and sea voyages. Science, geography and history…check, check, check!
This year, too, marked Matt’s and my 20th year of marriage. To celebrate, we headed to Watkin’s Glen for an overnight trip, just the two of us. We spent the day reminiscing and reflecting on the gift of these years and the fruit that has been produced out of it. As a nod to our honeymoon in Mexico, we ate at the El Rancho Mexican restaurant. The high point of our trip was to ride on a romantic sunset cruise aboard the schooner True Love. The True Love was featured in the film High Society with some of my favorite people: Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly…oh, it was going to be so romantic. And it would have been except that a massive lightning storm rolled in mere minutes before we were to set sail. And that, my friends, was very analogous to our marriage. We drove home through rumbles of thunder, flashes of lightning, bending, bowing trees and a barrage of raindrops…yet hand in hand, as we weather all storms.
There has been much fruit from these last 20 years but the plumpest, juiciest, and most beautiful of all are the six amazing children whom the Lord has given us. They add so much goodness to this world and so much pleasure to our lives.
Corynn (19) has gone through a stretching season this year… with some introspection, some doubts, some floundering and maybe a little bit of heartbreak mixed into the sweet pleasures and freedoms of (almost) adulthood. Just as fire purifies and dead, buried seeds bloom, Corynn has used those hard things to refine and blossom. When some might become discouraged or disgruntled, she has grown in grace and knowledge and goodness. One of my hopes for all of my children (and one of the motivations of home education) is that our children develop a deep love of learning… and Corynn has exceeded my expectations in this and many other things. She is a self-motivated autodidact who, though not going to college, is spending much of her free time studying and pursuing knowledge on her own- without shackling herself to thousands of dollars of debt to do so. She is well read, well rounded and can produce such beauty in mere moments with just a flick of a pen or swish of a paintbrush. I am so thankful for who she is and the exemplary example she is to the other children and to the world, revealing what teenagers could and should be like.
Andrew (16) has been stretching this year too. He now towers over even his excessively tall Mama. I know he likes it though because he rounds UP when people ask him how tall he is. 6’3-6’5, depending on the day. We’ll know for sure when we take him to get his physical for his driver’s permit. Either way, my little Andrew is not so little anymore. He has grown in other ways too this year- I have seen him mature into (almost) manhood right before my eyes. He is the guy who will cheerfully start fires for me without me having to ask, who carries heavy loads without a grumble, splits and brings in wood without a word, who sees a need and fills it. I am proud of how hard a worker he is and how considerate he is of other peoples’ needs. Sometimes he sits next to me in church, and I love to hear his deep voice singing along beside me; those are my favorite Sundays. Along with schoolwork and his mowing job, Andrew’s big project this year has been building himself a timber frame cabin in the woods. He is doing it alongside his Papa and with the help of Grandpa, Uncle John and Judah. The work will continue into next year but it is already looking mighty nice!
Adele’ (14) just had her birthday yesterday. She spent the day reading, playing games, going out on a sister date with Corynn and answering letters (she had received EIGHT things in the mail the day before… best birthday present ever!) That little snapshot perfectly describes who she is and what makes her tick. Games, letters, books, individual time… these are a few of her favorite things. Ever the introvert, she stretched herself this year by attending a book club with several other girls and has grown to love that time spent with friends. They recently attended a production of The Secret Garden together and, though it was nearing midnight when she arrived home, she was bouncing with happiness as she related the evening to me. Adele’ was able to go on her first road trip without our family this year too... accompanying our Pastor’s family to Southern PA to visit with friends. I’d say that she missed our family terribly but that would be a total lie. She loved every minute of that trip. She is a compassionate big sister to the Littles- I often find her reading stories to them or jumping with them on the trampoline. She wears her heart on her sleeve and feels deeply, whether joy or sadness… she and I have shared many tears as we had to say goodbye to our dog Ruby this year. I am glad to have her gentle heart in my life.
Judah (12) is enthusiastic, boisterous, energetic, and helpful. He is easily pleased with small things like camping in the woods or a trip to Hiram’s (a local army surplus store). Before his birthday this year, we could no longer say “Act your age, not your shoe size” because… both were 11! He recently joined a Trail Life division in our community and their meetings make every Wednesday seem like a fresh dream come true for him. He loves farming and longs for the time when we can again have a milk cow and pigs. (Unfortunately, our “farm” now consists of cats and a few barren cows.) He learned to drive the tractor this year and he became our chief mower of grass. One of my greatest joys in life is hearing music in our home and Judah is often the one making it. He still sings a beautiful soprano (but I bet this will be the last year I will be able to say that) and he sings out, loud and proud. Judah also loves to play the piano, and not only does he bring music to our home but he even occasionally plays a song or two in church. Judah can be found wearing grungy camo or muck boots during the week but come Sunday, he turns himself into quite the dapper fellow, often wearing a suit, vest, and tie to church. His Christmas wishlist this year included cufflinks.
Ineke (6) is such a loveable girl, we have to fight off even the wildlife from loving her. This spring, after the Littles were put to bed, a bat was caught flying about in our house. We caught the bat, released it and thought nothing more about it until the morning, when Ineke had two perfect little bite marks and pools of dried blood on her upper lip. To be bit by a bat is an unusual thing…to be “kissed” by a bat, quite extraordinary! She had to go through a series of painful rabies shots over the next few weeks but she took it like a champ and with her usual dose of good humor. She spent the hours at the hospital awaiting shots by listening to storybooks I had brought along, practicing reading and taking funny faced selfies on my phone. This is her first year of “formal” homeschooling, her most favorite past time these days is to roller skate on our porch and she draws at least a handful of pictures each and every day. She positively sparkles when she talks; she prays for poor, cold, sick or lonely people; and she loves to make people laugh, though the most funny things she says are often unintentional. Ineke had a cough recently and after being frustrated by coughing so much in bed, climbed out of her bunk saying, “I am going to sleep on the floor…there is too much coughing going on in my bed.” What am I going to do with her?! What would I do without her?
Moses (3) is my sweet, big Hoss of a boy. At only three years old, he wears size 6/7 clothes and size 13 shoes. He continues wandering into my room in the early morning for snuggles and as much as I hate abrupt awakenings at 3 or 4am, I love that fat little hand that cradles my head and that little voice that asks “Will you snuggle with me, Mama?” even more. It’s a conundrum. This year, Moses has developed a deep love of stories. Indeed, it is only for stories and books that he will keep still. He tells me about his “dreams” every morning, which are always suspiciously the same as every other dream (and usually involve coyotes, deer or bears) but his wide-eyed, suspenseful storytelling makes me look forward to it anyway. He will often come to me throughout the day, holding up an invisible peacock or deer for me to admire, saying he shot it for supper. Moses continues to teach me that God’s provision, mercies and watch care are constant. I remember singing with my Mother when I was young, a song about how God has time for sparrows who fall and time for the wandering child who calls. That song was made manifest as we visited friends this summer- when two-year-old Moses wandered away from the other playing children, toddled through the woods and neighboring fields and was found over a mile away at the bend of an intersection on a road. Flashing police cars were at the scene when he was eventually found, a lifetime later, and when he was found unharmed, it was only then that I fell to my knees and breathed air again. God was so good to us that day, reminding us that Moses is His child first and foremost and too, by mercifully giving him back to us for a bit.
And that brings me to another baby Boy, mercifully given to this lost and despairing world. A boy with fat little hands and wide-eyed stories, just like any other little boy yet- also, magically, mysteriously, most excellently not just a boy, not only a boy, but GOD, made flesh. A Boy who dreamed and prepared for snake crushing as a child- and grew up to do just that. A joy to His mother and Joy to the world.
May this Christmas we remember well and rejoice in the good gift of Jesus, the conquering Babe. May we see with clear eyes what He has done for us in His coming and might that knowledge change who we are, as His people. Not just this Christmas but throughout the year.
May we see Jesus in the faces of all people, knowing we are made in His image. May we, like Him, be protectors of the lowly. May we use our strength wisely and well, may we bring down the exalted and lift up the humble, may we fill the hungry with good things, may we extend mercy and perform good deeds… all because Jesus has shown us how.
His kingdom come, His will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. Might He use us, and all of our days, to that end.
Merry Christmas and thanks be to God!
(And Matt, Corynn, Andrew, Adele’, Judah, Ineke and Moses!!)