Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013

Janet and I, with very grateful hearts, greet each one of you with that special joy which flows from that gloriously “impossible” event that took place some 2000 years ago in the City of Bethlehem.  Over the years many of you have graciously read our Christmas letter written at different times by our children Sarah, Nathaniel and finally Caleb.  The fullness of life finds us in a new season. It seems fitting that I should write to you this advent with a reflection on our thirty years of raising our children and to bring to a conclusion our annual family newsletter tradition. We look forward to staying in touch in other ways in the years to come.

The doors of the Bentley Farm home school have closed for now.  Caleb, our youngest, has joined his sister Rebecca at our local community college.  Jacob is very much enjoying his junior year at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Business.  Hannah and Eric, in Indiana, are happy expectant parents due in March with a son.  Luke and Abby had a wonderful wedding in August and now live, work and go to school in Rochester, NY.  Nathaniel and Meghan had our first big city wedding in September in NYC and then promptly relocated to the small hamlet of Irvington, NY.  Isaac, Allie and Isabella all were very proud this year when their cow was selected as Grand Champion Ayrshire at the Dutchess County Fair. Isabella is also very excited about the new member to be in their family. Sarah, Eliana and Adam welcomed Seth to their family during this very advent season.  Their family gave very generously of their time as they made multiple trips East so that Adam could fulfill his role as family pastor in officiating at the various weddings.   Janet and I continue living very full lives at the intersection of family, work, and community.

Times of change are often times of reflection.  Janet and I met each other when we were teenagers.  I was the hall resident in the Bundy dorm.  She was the incoming freshman.  We were a number, as they say, from the beginning. We took Introduction to the Bible together.  Our professor would always take great delight in reporting to the whole class whenever Janet did better on a test than I did.  I, of course, was proud of her for doing so.  During those early college years, Janet was often asked what she wanted to do after she graduated from college.  She would, without missing a beat, say that she looked forward to being a mother of twelve children.   This, as you might guess, was not the expected response in 1977. God did bless us with twelve children, eight of whom made it into this world.  And now as Janet and I watch them leave home, start their own families, and have their own children, we often speak about what we have learned along the pathways of life thus far.  The children have been, and still are, a source of tremendous joy. The Scriptures teach that children are a blessing from the Lord; blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.  We have experienced that blessing beyond all expectations.

God has provided for us in miraculous ways over the years:  the unexpected gift at a time of need; a helping hand during periods of struggles; and most importantly, friendships which have spanned the decades.  We have always had enough provision for the moment, for which we are extremely grateful. Many of you have played a role in supporting our family with your friendship, with your lending and helping hands, with your gifts of encouragement and support.  We are so thankful for each of you.

We have also been incredibly blessed by having others come join the family.  Some have come for dinner and a visit.  Others have stayed for months, a few for years.  Our visitors have been all ages and with many experiencing different trials of this life.  We have worked together, ate together, prayed together, sang together, read the scriptures together, and most importantly shared with each other this journey together. It is in living with others that we truly learn to know each other and ourselves.

In addition to the richness of human community, we have experienced as a family the fullness of the wider creation.  For us, it is our connection to Bentley Farm.  We have a commitment to this place—the fields, the brooks and springs, the woods, the hills, the wide open sky, and the mountains in the distance. But it is more than the physical space and its attributes, it is the place where we have experienced what it means to be fruitful—the hay we baled and put in the barn as a family, the cows we have milked, the eggs we collect from the chickens, the wool we shear from the sheep, the apples we have collected from the trees, and the bushels of vegetables that we gather every year from the gardens.  It is this place that has both sustained us and given us a sense of belonging and rootedness. However, Janet and I would not have experienced the fullness of our life together if it had not been for the person whose birth we celebrate, Jesus Christ.

Both of us, at different times, in different places, and under different circumstances had an encounter with our living God, through his Son.  For me it was during a very lonely time during the summer of 1985 when I met Jesus.  He was on the cross, the room was filled with light and power.  He spoke into my life and my struggles.  I literally heard His voice.  I was changed.  Janet's life changed dramatically on a wintry night in 1990.  She had given her all to bring our son Luke into this world, putting her own life at risk.  Luke was at death’s door. After leaving Luke in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Janet was driving North on the Taconic Parkway in the middle of a snow storm.  She laid Luke down at the feet of Jesus and Jesus picked Luke up.  Luke, born three months prematurely and hospitalized for months, miraculously turned a corner that night.  He was home with the rest of the family within weeks.  Janet experienced the gift of new life. Our marriage, our family, and this life that we live together is built on our relationship with this person whose name is Jesus Christ. Without Him our lives would look like Bedford Falls without George Bailey.

In Him, we have experienced a fullness of life that to this very day overwhelms us with a peace that passes all understanding, an inward joy and a sense of being in the presence of a love that is an overwhelming, extraordinary reality.  He is the good news, the great joy, and the reason not to fear. For He is still as near and alive as when the angel said to the shepherds of old, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)