Saturday, January 01, 2005

Christmas 2004

Christmas 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

We greet you this Christmas with cheerful tidings. Another year has passed, the first snow has arrived and the days are short and cozy. Life is joyously full on Bentley Farm after a year of family gatherings and birthday parties, hay baling and John Deere driving, greeting new neighbors and bidding adieu to old friends. As we consider the memories of the past year—the peaceful walks through the woods at Thanksgiving, the determined Dutch Belted oxen pulling the bobsled through the freshly fallen snow in January, the triumphant thrill of surviving an overwhelming rainstorm the day of the surprise square dance for Sarah’s 21st birthday on the 21st of August—we find ourselves thankful for a year of grace. But what is it that especially warms our hearts as we celebrate this Advent season? Maybe it is the fun of Hannah driving the family behind the pasture to the evergreen forest for the selection of our Christmas tree. Perhaps it is the sweet aroma of the pine and the warmth from the woodstove as we string lights and decorate the house. Maybe it is the smiles we see as we sing carols at the Clinton Historical society at their December meeting. Perhaps it is the anticipation of the sweet, delicious cinnamon buns Mom bakes before we all awake on Christmas Day. We know that Christmas is coming because of these Yuletide treasures. But our hearts are full not only because Christ was born in a manger centuries ago, but because the living Christ may still be born within welcoming hearts today.

Our lives have been incredibly blessed this past year. Sarah continues to balance the pursuit of two Masters degrees at Binghamton University, the experience of teaching science to third graders at Benjamin Franklin elementary school, and the long ride home every other weekend to Bentley Farm. She has really enjoyed the interaction with the young kids she teaches. Sarah’s highlight of the year was the evening square dance on the front lawn of the farm house. The logistics for the party were daunting: Mom baked tons of food and went shopping in advance, the boys hung light bulbs from the barn to the house, mowed the lawn and cleared out the carriage house, and Dad arranged for the Walker family to come and provide the music. The biggest surprise of all was the weather. After a day of torrential rainfall, the sun came out a few hours before the dance and dried up the lawn. Sarah’s friends came from far and wide. Sarah had lots of fun and her heart was touched.

Isaac and I are a team. We continue to wake up every morning at 5:00, but in our old age we roll out of bed about 5:30. We joke that Isaac is going bald, but his hairline is just receding. Isaac and I get confused daily as twins at Dutchess Community College, where we both go to school. Isaac is a hard worker at whatever he does. He is excelling in his studies and carries a backpack that literally weighs 75 pounds. Isaac hopes to transfer to Cornell University to study agriculture next fall, and I have been accepted at Princeton where I plan to pursue civil engineering. During the summer, Isaac and I went to work on Bentley Farm plowing, planting and making hay. I was also able to accomplish my dream hike of climbing the tallest mountain in New York with Dad and Hannah. Unfortunately, Isaac was not able to join us because he was too busy working. Isaac will never be unemployed.

Luke, Hannah, Jacob, Rebecca and Caleb are my heroes. On a daily basis they hold down the fort at Bentley Farm. After their studies in the morning, they walk down the lane and work on projects of every kind. Luke and Hannah are the leaders. With their willing adjutants, they feed the animals and milk the cow every day. They have made friends with our new Bentley Farm neighbors. Luke has recently acquired a new flock of chickens. He is a young man of tremendous strength and courage exemplified in his refusal to let any obstacle prevent him from achieving his goals. Hannah owns a sweet pig named Rutabaga and playfully rides her everyday. Hannah is a bright young woman with many gifts and talents. This summer Hannah filmed a classic videotape of activities on Bentley Farm. It will provide great memories for years to come. Jacob and Rebecca showed their calves at the fair for the first time this year. Jacob had a real winner, with his calf receiving the title of Reserve Junior Champion. In the spring, Jacob had the opportunity with Mom to visit her family in Minnesota. Jacob has lots of spunk; he is an energetic individual always available to help and especially likes working with Dad. Two of Rebecca’s favorite things are to spend time with Sarah and giggle with her friends. Rebecca is a blossoming flower. She is amazingly friendly and cheerful everyday. Caleb learned how to swim this summer. He readily overcame his fears and realized how much he liked the water. Caleb is a studious boy whose reading skills are extraordinary. Both Jacob and Caleb really enjoy their new roommate, Uncle Mark, who has been volunteering at Ferncliff Nursing Home.

Mom and Dad are mentors, friends, and leaders to all of us kids. On a regular basis, I am taken aback by Mom’s love and care. Mom goes the extra mile every day. I always look forward to her great meals after a long day at school. But Mom is so much more than an excellent cook and exemplary role model, she is always there for me. She is interested in my life and enthusiastic about my future. Growing up, I saw Dad as a prototypical Atticus Finch—a country lawyer, compassionate father and big hearted hero—only without the glasses. Dad has accepted a new leadership role at the office but ironically now wears glasses—at least when he reads. One of Dad’s goals ever since he was young was to read the entire Bible in the King James Version. He bought new Bibles for each family member and now we are beginning to realize this vision. In June, Mom and Dad celebrated their silver anniversary, taking a long overdue week’s honeymoon to Acadia National Park.

This past Thanksgiving weekend, my uncle and I were walking home on the road after a long hike through the woods behind the farm. A car pulled over to the side of the road and a hunter sporting camouflage and a goatee walked over to us. I recognized him as an old timer and the three of us spent several minutes reminiscing about times gone past. His final comments were about the last election, prompting a further conversation between my uncle and me as he drove away. After we arrived home and started to load up the car for the town dump, our conversation led into a discussion about Christ’s statements, message and gospel. As I look back on the thoughts we shared with each other, I realize the hope that Christ offers to the world. Christ was born at a time of Roman rule in Israel, but he was not born as a king of the world. He chose a manger as the lowly place of his birth to signify his reign as the Prince of Peace. Politics are important, but they are also transient and often futile. Jesus offers us something more concrete and solid, a gift this Christmas that we can all accept, the gift that Isaiah foretold “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” Christ was born for the reason of communicating his love and gospel to a needy world, and to the extent we accept Him today we will have peace in our hearts.

Christmas Cheers, Nate Angell