New Year in letters

I didn't blog, since I haven't had internet, but I did write a couple letters to friends on my computer. Thought I'd share those.

Dear ______,
I can’t believe that another year has come and gone. What amazing twists and turns life has taken this past year, eh? I spent this New Year’s Eve in a nearly vacant house that my family owns in I. We head back to their home in W on Monday, but the kids wanted to see their friends back in N (where they lived for a couple of years), and Mom is going to take the opportunity of having me around to help her get the house ready for sale. Last year, I helped her recaulk and paint the master bedroom, and it looks pretty darn good if I say so myself. Of course, I am partial, since it’s grey paint... lol.
We were going to go to my aunt’s house to “ring in the new year”, but she wasn’t home, so I made supper and we sat around and read most of the evening away. I picked up a book about the Amish that was really good- I’m going to keep it and re-read it for sure. I got a book on the history of the Amish that Mom started reading, and it sounds quite fascinating. I’m also in the middle of the Count of Monte Cristo, but I find it rather dry for the most part (I’m really not terribly interested in the personal lives of the aristocracy of any time period). However, it’s a challenge I’ve undertaken, and I want to finish it before I leave. I’m 782 pages in, with 583 to go. I did the first portion in about a week, and I have a little under two weeks left here, so I’m pretty confident I can do it. However, I’ll be busier these next 2 weeks than I was the first week (I’ve done pretty much... nothing. How lame, right?), so I’m glad that I have less to go now.
After I finished my book, I wandered in to where K was watching Wall-E on my computer, and after a while Mom brought in the wine glasses and Martinelli’s, since we were falling asleep. So, we brought in the new year watching a Pixar movie and drinking  sparkling apple cider out of fancy glasses on my makeshift bed of blankets. It was memorable :) The neighbors on the corner set off fireworks at midnight, and practically the whole neighborhood poured out of their houses to watch. It was funny!
So... how did you bring in the new year? Sleeping? ;)
We threw a surprise birthday party for my dad the other day-- his birthday is the 29th--and it was a super sweet success. You might not think that’s a big deal, but my dad (step-dad, technically) is a super smart, super observant, kinda suspicious kinda guy. I mean, he’s got top-secret military clearance. He used to do special ops type stuff, and he tells me stories about being tailed by spies for crying out loud. Not an easy guy to fool. However... ^_^ we got him. A sherriff’s dept. guy from the airport he works at was having a birthday party at this bar and grill on R’s bday, so we pretended that us kids were going out to get some last minute stuff for a family birthday party that night. Unbeknownst to him, we picked up his birthday cake and went to the Stoneyard (the restaurant place) where we had reserved tables, and decorated them all camouflage. Jr. and J (my two youngest siblings) blew up the balloons while I took care of the table staging. K (the next one down in age from me) and her bf got lost on the way there, so they showed up after everything was done and decorated. (So much for GPS.)
So, while we’re doing all this, Mom (who had enlisted the aide of R’s co-worker M in her battle of persuasion) convinces R to kill the time before our “party” by going to this other guy’s party at the Stoneyard. He deigned to make an appearance, and it wasn’t until he actually reached the decorated table that all the puzzle pieces clicked together for him, and he was like, “Wait... this is for me!” just as we jumped up and yelled “Surprise!!” 
Keep in mind that this is all my Mom’s scheming. We brainstormed together, but it was mostly her idea. She’s really good at making things special. I can only hope to live up to her reputation.
Christmas itself was good, too. My family knows me and my penchant for cool, unique, crazy things, but they also recognize my desire for practicality, which means that I got some really interesting presents! For instance, my brother got me a set of ceramic measuring cups that are painted like Russian nesting dolls (matroyshka), and they actually nest inside each other to save space! Super cool. My mom got a set of salt and pepper shakers that are shaped like magic wands, so that when you want to season your food, you just wave a magic wand over it! Isn’t that awesome?! C wasn’t too thrilled when I was describing them... maybe it’s the whole “magic” thing... But I think they’re cute. We’ve been using them at every meal, and they work pretty well.
More than the gifts, though, it was nice to just be around my family. God is really doing an amazing work in them, healing them. The kids don’t argue and fight anywhere near as much as they used to, and that makes visiting home infinitely more enjoyable. There’s still conflict, yeah, and my family’s not exactly skilled in healthy conflict resolution, but... I see changes. I really do. And that excites me. Mom doesn’t, because she’s with the family all the time, you know? But I only get to see them once or twice a year, so the gaps make the changes pretty visible. Julia claims she doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure about that... she has a soft heart. All the kids, actually, seem to be in the atheistic mindset, but they acknowledge and respect my love for God, and my desire for the family to have an active spiritual life.
The other day, J said something, and I misheard her. I thought she said “Laaaaame,” but she said something else. So as I was going back and forth with her on what she actually said, K jumps in with, “J! You can’t lie to C... That’s like lying to God!” Can you believe that?! I busted up laughing- I think it’s totally hilarious. However, I also see it as an indicator of how the kids perceive me, which is interesting. The farther along I am in my journey with God, the better we get along, it seems. I told them last week, all three of them, “I love you no matter what. It doesn’t matter what you do or say, or even whether you like it or not, I’m going to love you... and there’s nothing you can do about it! I may not appreciate or approve of your decisions, but I will love you, even if I mess up and don’t always show it.” I hope they believe it, because it’s the truth. God’s teaching me about love, and I confess that I don’t really understand it or know how to practically apply it, but I love my family passionately. And I always will.
God is teaching me about a lot of things... the past couple books I’ve read (excepting the Count of Monte Cristo) have helped to begin crystallizing in my mind and heart what I’ve been getting bits and pieces of for years and years... Simplicity. Generosity. Living a free, unencumbered, service-oriented life.
I read this book called Kisses from Katie, about a girl named Kate who gave up her life as an upper-middle class Tennessee girl, turned her back on college and a career, and broke up with the love of her life, all to follow God’s promptings to move to Uganda and help the poverty stricken areas there. God, through “Auntie Katie”, is putting food in the bellies of children who have never known consistent meals in their entire life. He and she are sending children to school so that they can have a hope and a future, not be trapped in the same cycle of poverty and ignorance that is grinding the life out of their parents and families. God, through her, is healing broken bodies ravaged by disease and neglect and starvation. God is showing his love in a practical way, through her little white hands, and she is telling people about Jesus’ love-- and they begin to understand what that means, because they actually see it in their lives. The kicker? She’s my age. And she has now adopted 13 beautiful little girls. That’s what God has asked her to do... and I think it’s fantastic. (Not that everyone should move to Uganda and adopt orphans and refugees, of course!)
I think that one of the beautifully captivating things is that she left luxury and comfort to live a hard life, to have little, to be nothing, so to speak... and it has filled her with so much joy and gratitude and love for Christ. She and her girls, they are happy with little, and what they have, they share. It’s not even a question. They just give, and God gives to them, and they keep giving, and it’s a beautiful, unbroken cycle. I want that to be my reality. Alas, I find that I am incredibly selfish, and that is not my reality... yet. But I want it to be.
I read that book on the plane, and I was lit with a fire and a passion that I was sure would never go out! And then... I hung out with my family for a week. My siblings, pretty much all they do is watch movies and play video games. And I rarely watch movies back home, so I tend to watch movies like crazy when I’m with my family. Otherwise, how do we spend time together? Plus, my family speaks in movie quotes a ton. It’s kind of just who we are. We’ve always done that. So I watch the movies... and I have realized... “garbage in, garbage out”. I really need to be careful what I put into my brain, because now I have all this “well, it’s not so bad, really” stuff floating around in my head, and all these swear words that want to pop out of my mouth in regular conversation, and all that junk has smothered the fire. Just like that. One week was all it took. Can you believe it? I mean, I had the best of intentions, but... *sigh* Don’t get me wrong-- I’m better than I used to be. I see improvement (because I’ve been doing this whole “visiting the folks for Christmas” thing for several years in a row, now, so I can compare and contrast), but I also see room for improvement. A lot of room for improvement. God help me.
So then I read this book about the Amish today, and I was impressed by how similar are the principles that they live by. A flame was again kindled within me, and this time I’m going to guard it much more diligently.
The message I keep getting over and over again is: simplicity. Have what you need, use what you have, and don’t get caught up in clutter. Give of yourself and your resources freely-- don’t bother counting a cost, because you can’t put a price on it. Forgive. Love as Jesus loved.
It’s so desirable. I want it. I always knew I wanted to be Amish! LOL
Truly, though, it’s the principles of Jesus’ life that I see mirrored in these two books, and I feel an answering tug within me. I want that practical Christianity that makes an impact in the world around me. I want that peace that living in total surrender to God and his ways brings. Yup. I want to be a Christian. Does that sound funny?
I have this fear that I’m going to end up settling, living a “small” life, one without lasting impact or meaning. But I think that if one lives the way God is calling each one of us to- the same way that he called Jesus to live- that you cannot live a “small” life. Mundane? Perhaps. Odds are I probably won’t end up in an orphanage in Uganda, or serving street people in Honduras, or helping to rehabilitate child prostitutes in Thailand. I may. I may not. The particulars differ with each person, but the important thing is surrender.
And I wonder, _____, I really wonder... what is God calling you to? Where is he calling you? I’ve thought about that sometimes- I wonder what your life is going to look like, now that you’ve given it to God. Seriously, what an adventure, right?! Sure, you may not be David Livingston the Second, but I know for a fact that you have quite a few talents and admirable personality traits. (Actually, David Livingston wasn’t necessarily a very personable guy... but oh, he was zealous! And stubborn. lol) I think that God can use you in a deep, meaningful way. I don’t know what that will look like, but I feel that you are meant for more than average... even if “more than average” doesn’t look like much to the watching world. (After all, Jesus never owned a house, did he?)
Well, another epistle from C... I’m sorry, I just have a lot to say. I like to tell stories. But, apparently, I’m not the only one like me out there! A couple of my friends from Bible college texted me tonight to tell me that the lady they’re staying with in Las Vegas (they’re doing a practicum there) is my long-lost mother, because she “resembles you physically (esp. when she was younger, of course), has a similar personality, loves tie dye, etc. etc.” They want me to visit very badly, which actually works out perfectly, since Vegas makes a great stopping point on the drive down to Yuma, and then I won’t have to do the whole 24 hours straight. I know I can, but it’s safer if I don’t.
I ought to sign my name and be done with this letter. Mom and I are going to work on the house tomorrow, so I’ll need to be up bright and early to make breakfast. (It’s so cute-- she says I eat better than the family does! So she really enjoys my visits, for more reasons than one. K’s very excited, because I’m making her favorite soup for supper tomorrow night- potato leek. Yum!)
I hope this letter finds you well and in good health. Your dog should have had her puppies by now, yes? I’d like a picture, if you wouldn’t mind... (Another thing I’ve realized being home... is that I want a dog!! My family has 2 border collie mixes, and they’re the best thing ever. Since my base of operations is pretty much my car, I don’t exactly have room for one right now, though. It’s a dream for the future. But count yourself lucky, my friend. A dog for a companion is a priceless treasure-- and you have 3!)
Happy New Year!
Take care.
P.S.- I finished the Count of Monte Cristo! Mom didn’t really want to work on the house today, after all, so I just did a little bit, mostly read the morning away. I, uh... had to “cheat” a little... that is, I skipped several hundred pages of useless banter and frivolous intrigue. I’m glad I did, or else I might have lost heart in the middle of the book. Come to find out... this is perhaps the one and only time that I like the movie better than the book!

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