Though there is a bit of Christmas baking still kickin' around, the tree is long since down, the stockings are put away and the University kids are back home, eagerly awaiting classes tomorrow (am I right Cam? Car?). I always look forward to their arrival and the little ones count down the days......and then the time comes for them to leave, and I'm okay with that too! As a parent of children ranging in age from almost 5 to 25, I have learned that it is great when they come and great when they go, too. They are where they need to be, doing what they need to do and I`m just fine with that.
We celebrated New Year's 2012 in Florida. Eleven of us left Boxing Day and for 2 days in 3 vehicles, made the journey to Kissimmee. We had decided we were not doing Disney, so there was time to enjoy our resort facilities, complete with ice cream sundaes, poolside. We all had a blast at the amusement park in Old Town where we had our pictures done "gangster style". Gatorland was a hit, particularly for Declan and Rhys who loved seeing and hearing about those ugly monsters. Meagan and I took the youngest three to the largest petting zoo EVER, complete with pony, wagon and train rides; Tess and Rhys even had a turn milking a real cow and they each got a stuffed toy when we left. Meagan, Alex and I enjoyed a day trip to St. Petersburg too. Fun was had by all. A few years ago we added to our Christmas tradition by taking time to stop and to encourage and speak into the lives of one another and our evenings were spent doing just that. I so look forward to these times and as the family grows, so does that time together and that, for me, is better than any gift I may unwrap.
January was relatively quiet, even in our house. We did celebrate with our friend and daughter-from-another-mother&father, Alex, when she made the decision to be baptized. Little did I know that her mom, Sandy, and brother, Aaron would follow her lead and be spontaneously baptized. It was a beautiful celebration of the decision each had made, and a beautiful memory for them to share together.
We celebrated Tess' birthday in February where dresses were the gift of the day, much to her delight and a week later, on February 11, Noah and Casey announced their engagement which meant TWO weddings for our family in 2012! We welcomed Buhle to our family when she and Ben married on July 27. If I had to describe their wedding ceremony in one word, it would be Holy. It was beautiful, she was beautiful, and he was beautiful. Okay, so two words! It was indeed a celebration of love: God's love for them, their love of him and for one another.
On September 15 Noah and Casey were married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony co-officiated by our dear Dan and Doug Stringer, Noah`s best friend`s father. Cam wasn`t able to join us as he was playing in a football game against Purdue, but Brad and I caught a bit of the game online while getting our wedding duds on. We ought to have won a "best dressed" award! Though the big guy wasn`t there in body, he was in spirit and Casey ensured that the green and white was well represented with the help and great photography skills of our nephew, James. The weddings were as beautiful, unique and individual as the people who were joined and spoke to the creativity of the One who knows each of them intimately.
Of course with two Allison weddings, there were a myriad of showers to attend in the spring and summer, and huge kudos to our Meagan who stood up in both weddings. Not only did she not miss a shower, but she played a role in organizing them as well as engagement parties. I may be a bit biased, but you`d go a long way to find anyone as selfless as this young woman; she was a huge support and encouragement not only to her future sisters, but also to her brothers as she truly celebrated with them. I'm quite sure she's got her wedding already planned. I recall several years ago someone telling me that Meagan, as the eldest, set the standard for those that followed, and indeed she has set a high one. She has the love and respect of not only her siblings and their spouses, but her parents and those fortunate enough to call her friend. She is a blessing.
Carleigh packed up and headed to Peterborough this fall to commence another chapter in her life. She is enjoying every aspect of University life and lives just a 10 minute bus ride to Campus. We knew that academics would not be an issue for her, and had encouraged her to make Peterborough home. She found a church on Campus her first Sunday in Peterborough, and has immersed herself in that community. She attends weekly "hub" gatherings and has made some great friends. She also has enjoyed spending time with James, Jen and the boys and we've appreciated the hospitality they've shown her. Carleigh has adapted very well and has certainly matured during her 3 plus months away, something we all noticed, but it is her spiritual growth that stands out most. The teenager who once struggled with what to say to encourage a sibling does no longer, and it was great to hear her encouraging her siblings. I'm very thankful for all God is doing in her.
Declan is 8 and has had a love of all things reptilian. In the Spring he adopted 4 baby, painted turtles that Brad found outside the house in Manotick. Alex set him up with an aquarium and all of the right "stuff". When someone came to the house, he'd take them to see his little turtles and tell them all they wanted to know, and didn't want to know, about painted turtles. Much to Declan's dismay, one of the turtles eventually got sick and died which caused our boy to question whether or not he was a good enough turtle parent. Ultimately he came to his own decision to release the remaining three, so it was with tears in his eyes he took his 'lil buddies to a nearby pond and with the owner's permission, released his friends. He was quiet about it for a long while, but has more recently started mentioning that he'd like another pet. "Maybe a lizard" or some such thing. Declan is an amazing mixture; bright, expressive and loving to those of his choosing; quiet, shy and reserved with newbies. I can't approach the child without him telling me he loves me and giving me a "Declan hug" which is somewhat reminiscent of big brother Ben's hugs when he was his age. Declan's most recent passion is art; he is a self-proclaimed artist. I'll let you know how that goes.
Rhys, whom we lovingly refer to as "Eeyore" in his absence is the most sensitive of the youngest three. At times our boy seems to carry the weight of the world on his wee brow, particularly when his desire to play on an electronic device is met with a negative response. He enjoys theological discussions with his younger siblings and loves to pray.... and he is THE very best pray-er; our very own personal crying prophet! There have been days when I've tucked the youngest three in and not had words or desire to pray; in those times I've been blown away by the faith and simple trust of this kid. One can learn a thing or two from listening to the prayers of a child. Rhys gives THE best little-boy kisses, and Carleigh will attest to that. Where Declan is shy among strangers, Rhys loves people and will wave or say hi and talk with anyone. The boys are allowed one hour of xbox every third day and those guidelines have been great for Rhys. He does not need a calendar to tell him when THE day is. If you were to ask Ben, he likely wouldn't tell you that he's been beat by Rhys while playing xbox.
And then there's our Tess. She's our tom-boy princess who still refers to Declan and Rhys as "her boys". She is never wrong and therefore does not take discipline well and apologizing is a painful thing for her. VERY painful. She is bold and has been silly enough to take her father on (and the 5 eldest siblings gasp). She declares her love for almost every boy she meets, though I think Casey's brother Bruce and Thomas Stringer hold top spots there. We had a service repair guy in the house and when Tess saw him asked "who is that handsome man"? In 9 years, she's going to live with one of her sisters; they've been warned. She is eager to learn, which is odd for one who knows it all, and has many people fooled into thinking she is just the sweetest little thing.....I could tell you stories. Actually, she is the sweetest little thing, but she's got another side that is not going to be pushed around by anybody, and I will choose to be thankful for that and pray that she learns quickly and is not terribly hurt by her own strength.
Okay, so birthdays, engagements, weddings....there`s something else. Yes! Football Season! We eagerly await the arrival of football season every year, having forgotten the exhaustion of the year before. This past season we made weekend treks to Michigan, Ohio and Indiana where some combination of our family made it to all but one game. Though it wasn`t a winning year for our beloved Eagles, Cam had his best season yet as a starter on the Offensive Line and this proud Eagle fan and football mom would point out that this year was a much tougher schedule than last. We appreciate, very much, the tough role of a Coach and we also appreciate that Coach English does not just train his young men to play football, but he trains them to be men of character. Men who don't quit. Men who value and appreciate one another. It's difficult to lose, but we all know that there are great lessons that are only learned in the struggle. Declan, Rhys and Tess made it to several games and always enjoyed meeting the “big boys” when we’d head to the bus to see Cam following an away game. We enjoyed having our nephew James and his new bride Jen and their family join us as well as Dan and Gerry Courteau. People taking the time and making the trip to go to a game means a lot to Cam who only gets home a few weeks a year. Being parents to an NCAA football playing son has been....interesting; the culture is so different than anything we see on this side of the border, including hockey. A perk to going to all of these games is getting to know other parents, and though we don`t see one another off-season, I count some of these women among my friends.
There are a couple themes that have repeated themselves in my mind as I've been pondering what to share, and what not to share. One is "Fresh Start" and as I've shared, we've celebrated several fresh starts this year. I'm reminded that those of us who follow Christ have an opportunity at a fresh start every day. The second theme is "home". In July we moved from our rented home on the river back to "The Palace" and a "fresh start" there. Both of these have been common themes not only in this past year, but they've echoed throughout all of our years together as a family. We, like you I've no doubt, have known difficulty, but I have chosen to focus on the life celebrations we've shared as a family. It is far too easy for me to get stuck in the muck and mire of difficult circumstances, so I must remind myself of something a wise man said when answering how he had dealt with a particularly difficult chapter in his life. He shared this:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4:8 ESVOn December 13, Brad sent the family an email with the subject line "Fresh Start". As a family, we'd been discussing for some time a transition that would take us back to the place we'd once called home. Both Cam and Carleigh were born while we lived on Manitoulin; Carleigh was about 16 months old when we left the Island, Yellowknife bound. Brad and I had been in contact with friends and colleagues and had arranged housing; the only thing we hadn't nailed down was a timeline. We had planned a pre-Christmas visit to the Island and on December 14 we packed up Declan Rhys and Tess with the thought that following that trip we'd know more and would be in a position to finalize our plan. Well, we arrived and didn't return.
"After my 'history', home is not as much about a place you belong as people you belong to. I belong here," Cross Roads by William Paul Young
Many of you know our history; some do not, but when homes change for whatever the reason, it is the people who remain. It would have been great to say goodbye face to face; to have that last visit or that promised coffee....rather than lament what we will miss, we will choose to look at all that has transpired over the past 4 weeks, to be thankful and to think on "all that is worthy of praise". We have much to be thankful for; we are together, in a comfortable home where we are part of a community of people we know and have a history with. We know that though we've lived here before, we are not the same; we have brought with us all of the experiences, good and bad, and all of the lessons learned along the way and we're anticipating our fresh start and the adventure it is sure to bring.