I know there are still a couple days left in the year, but those are bound to be busy days, so I decided to jump on this today in case I don't have another opportunity before 2014 happens.
This year! There is so much that comes to mind from this year. Perhaps because I'm a photographer, I remember 2013 in snapshots of time, like squares of memory in a quilt that has been slowly coming together over time.
Some of those squares have bright colors and fancy patterns and others are dull, worn and gray. But together, they are stitched together into a warm and beautiful cover, large enough to protect each of us in this family from the cold.
I'm not a quilter. I barely know how to replace a button when it falls off something. But the image of memories bound together is a striking picture in my mind. Besides, how many times this year did I want to hide under my covers until a tough day had passed this year? Quilts, blankets, woven cloth... clothes.
S left our family on June 1 to be on her own. I spent weeks picking up her clothing and washing it a load at a time. She barely took anything with her, but I wasn't ready to give what she'd left behind away. It's a good thing, because she asked to come home on October 19 and we brought her in the very next week in hopes that she had changed and gotten some of the answers she always sought. She was glad to have her winter wardrobe nearly intact.
However, after nearly two months back home, with just one week until Christmas Day, S left again. This time she left the house in the middle of the night. There were no hugs goodbye or well wishes or promises to keep in touch, she was just gone.
Truth be told, S has been gone for a long time. Having joined our family at age 8 and then officially sealing the deal when she was 11, meant that she took our family name and that we were blessed to struggle through the highs and lows with her over the next several years. In my mind, she always belonged -- my heart had room for her here for decades prior to her arrival. For her, though, she is a girl who is lost between worlds. Between families.
If she ever was part of our family with both feet in, it had to be those first couple years of homeschooling. She was 11 and 12 and things were fairly blissful considering the years leading up to that and what was to come. I remember those years quite fondly.
Her teen years were filled with struggle. She rebelled against us, as is natural for teenagers to do, but she seemed to almost rebel against herself most of the time. She would work so hard on things in her life and only begin to see the blessings, when she would self-sabotage and leave ruin in her wake, costing herself and those who loved her most so dearly.
But this post is not really about that. S's departure(s) this year is a big part of what steered our family's thoughts and time and priorities, but to say that was all that this year was about would not be true. For the most part, I believe, S had one foot out the door for years. She didn't want to fit here because that would mean blessing and goodness and for some reason, our girl doesn't believe she deserves that stuff.
However, the other six of us here should not and shall not be held hostage by the confusion and mess she knows to have left behind when both of her feet walked out our door.
When I look back at that mess called chaos and disruption, I see that our quilt was being sewn in the very trenches of this tragedy. Where one tragedy has occurred, a beautiful new creation has been coming together.
Our priorities have changed. Each member of this family has changed. We have matured. We have been further molded by the Potter's hands. Her mess has become our instruction. Her disruptions have become our motivation to grow and adapt.
We do not love our S any less -- in fact, I love her even more. She knows we are her safety net and she knows that she can be a part of this family if she chooses, but we will hold her accountable, too. For her, that may be why we are her safety net. While she may not like our boundaries, the child part of her needs them. But she is not ready to accept that and I understand. She's an adult now, too, so she needs to figure out some of her own boundaries.
So here we are with four other wonderful, amazing kids and they are really coming into their own this year. They all have proven to be stronger in mind and faith than I thought any one of them to be. They have learned to band together when we face difficulties (they're still regular siblings who argue, too). They are starting to realize who they are individually and not just as a member of this family.
It's exciting and terrifying to see this happening. But it's not only happening with them. This year has also been a huge growth year for both C and I and our marriage! We are nearly 22 years into this wedded bliss and still it stands. I'm 40 years old now and I'm finally starting to figure out who I am. Or more importantly, who I am not.
I am not a mother who gives up. I am not a person who loses all hope. I am not a person who will abandon her family in the worst of times. I am not a person who forgets her faith in a crisis.
I have my low moments. There have been many times when another person might have given up hope or turned their backs on God, but through our struggles this year, He has graciously shown me that I am not that person. Like Job in the Bible, the enemy may strike very close to home and still I will praise Jesus Christ till the end.
It's really good to find that stuff out about about myself. I mean, when times are good, it's easy to say that I'll never abandon my faith, but without walking through the valley of the shadow of death, how do we know for sure that we will not? Now I do. Though I may bend under the weight of the wind and rain, I will not break; for my strength comes from the Lord.
H is soon to be 14 and he has grown enormous amounts this past year. Last measurement had him at 5'5" (two inches taller than I am!) and in size 10-1/2 men's shoes. He is an active member both in his church youth group, but also in the library's Teen Advisory Group, where he is being trained as a leader. He was the Assistant Coach on his former flag-football team this year and he has really stepped up as the oldest kid in the house to be of assistance to his dad and me. He had the opportunity to fly by himself to California to visit family last September, following a youth retreat and a week at church camp this summer.
Z will be 12 in a couple months and he stands at 5'1" now, with size 11 men's shoes. He started attending youth group this year and spent time volunteering in the summer at a senior care home nearby. He played flag-football in the spring and preferred playing defense, but had an emotional end to the season when he learned his coach would not be coming back for another year. He doesn't know what sport he wants to try next. His biggest thrills are still found on his bike or anything with wheels. This year, I have been most impressed by his dedication to his younger brother in helping him practice reading daily. He can be an excellent teacher like his dad sometimes. Z is an eager helper for his dad, who teaches him a great many "how to be a man" skills and loves to pump the gas into my Sequoia when I need a refill.
J just recently turned nine. She grew nearly as many inches as H did this past year and now towers over her younger brother by half a foot or so. She's growing up in so many ways, I can hardly believe she was the tiny infant I once held in my arms. She now shops for shoes in the women's aisle (size 5)! A major achievement for her has been sleeping in her own room regularly, by herself. I know for some, it seems about time! but it was all in God's timing. I am glad we never really forced the issue because she has the easiest relationship with her dad and me of all the kids. She is mature and confident about a great many things. She holds her own with her brothers with Legos or at the skate park (using her scooter), but happily plays beauty shop or tea parties with her dolls or O, when she can convince him to join her. She still takes dance lessons -- jazz -- and is often chosen to demonstrate technique for the other dancers, but she said to me the other day, "Maybe dance isn't what God wants me to do all my life ... I think I want to try tennis lessons." So we may make a change for her in the coming season. I'm glad she's interested in trying many things.
O turned nine just two days ago. I looked back at old pictures of him over the years and was surprised to see just how much he's changed in appearance over the years. He's always been cute, but now he's verging on handsome! Ha. He's still one of our most laid back kids in times of transition or travel, but he can flip that attitude on a dime when we least expect it. And watch out! He is very smart and learns quickly, as long as the subject matter is something he wants to learn. After being diagnosed this year with ADHD and ODD, he sat for an hour dissecting owl pellets at the Explora! Museum in Albuquerque and even then, I had to drag him away to give other children a turn. Where reading is concerned though, he hasn't decided he needs it enough yet. I guess when you're the youngest of five, there is always someone willing to tell you the words you want to know. He'll get there, though. I love his energy and his great hugs and cuddles.
Maybe C will want to do a year-end guest post, so I won't blather on about him except to say that he is still an amazing father and husband and is dedicated to his team at work. He never ceases to amaze me with his ability to lead, teach and love.
As a family, we were able to do some traveling this year. In the winter, I visited family in California; in the spring we all visited Phoenix, AZ; in the summer the six of us went up to Southern Colorado for a week and got to try white water rafting; in the autumn, C and I got to vacation in San Diego, CA (while H was in Northern CA) and I traveled to New Hampshire to pick up S and to see dear friends and now we are ending the year with another trip to Arizona to see our good friends there. There were many, many day trips all year long as well.
Life and homeschool continue to be documented almost daily in my Instagram account (click on the camera icon on the right) and otherwise, we are excited to see what 2014 has in store for us!
If I don't write again till after our trip, I wanted to bid you a blessed new year! Thank you for coming by to read.