Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2008 Family Photo Collage

Christmas Letter 2008--Insanely LONG

Donnelson Family Christmas Letter 2008

"Count Your blessings, count them ton by ton!"
Dearest Friends and Family,

    We had a wonderful service at our church on Thanksgiving Eve, and our pastor asked people to share what they were thankful for.  An older lady stood up and reminded us of the saying "Count your blessings, Count them one by one," and then she talked of how, if we are careful to notice, we can count our blessings TON by TON!  I sat there and began to recount the ways God has worked in our lives confirming to me how much He cares for each second of our lives.  I decided I'd like to take you all on a trip down the road our family has recently traveled.
    Let's start with Christmas Eve 2007!  I woke up that morning and decided to use my dollar store pregnancy test.  There were two lines!  I had to double check, so I went to Safeway and got the "better" kind, and yes, it confirmed that we were expecting our fifth child!   Brandon and I were both excited to be expecting the child who'd complete our family.  I soon had lots of queasiness, which actually worried me, as our miscarried pregnancy was the only one in which I had ever felt significantly sick.  When I passed the 12 week mark, I breathed a sigh of relief and made official announcements, though we hadn't been able to resist, and had told most everyone we knew, asking them to pray that this baby would continue to grow healthy and strong.  Prayers were answered!  The pregnacy was easy and beautiful. My tummy measured small, which was another reason for prayer and concern and Maia was born small, but healthy!  In the weeks leading up to her birth I suffered from insomnia, panic and anxiety that I could not control, but those were relieved as Brandon, my dear friends Josie and Wendy,  my mom and wonderful sis in law Emma prayed me through her birth.  Maia's delivery was safe, beautiful, and the first one at home. God knew she was done baking, because her placenta had a dead spot and may have begun to soon fail.  Her cord was around her neck several times, but wasn't tight and caused no harm!
    Maia is a beautiful little baby, now more than double her tiny 6lb 13 oz birth weight.  Everyone loves her.  I think Saraiah loves her most of all.  Rod and Diane, my in-laws, witnessed this when the watched Saraiah hug Maia in her usual oops-Saraiah-you're-smashing-the-baby sort of way. They saw Saraiah's big brown eyes roll back in the joy of it all.  She was in heaven.  This was reassuring to me, because I am constantly needing to be aware of where Saraiah is in relation to Maia because she can't keep her hands away.  Saraiah has taken her loss of the baby status in the family a little hardly, so I am careful to spend time each day with her. Her favorite thing is for me to write out all the letters and numbers.  She then circles each one and asks me to relate them all to the people who are precious to her.  She is a beautiful girl who charms anyone she meets with her adorable laugh and soulful eyes.  She makes me smile even when she's covered with flour, permanent marker or Llama spit (our llama spat in her hair not long after Maia was born. I don't know why).
 Not only did our family increase, but so did our tiny farm.  Eva's goat had an easy delivery of twin baby girl goats on the day an ultrasound confirmed that the newest human addition to our family would also be a girl!   She was excited to help a cute little white kid be born, and then a few minutes later we had a beautiful brown one.  They are appropriately called Cinnamon and Sugar.  These goats later had a brush with death at the fair after eating something bad.  We prayed lots that day, and they made it.  Eva shows her huge capacity for love in the way she cares daily for these goats, as well as helping me daily with the human kids! She's ten now, and it's hard to believe that in 8 years she'll be an official adult.  Saraiah made the big switch to Eva's room from mom's.  Eva loves having her sleep in her room and works hard to keep her entertained with crafts and stories until she's drowsy.  Eva is naturally a leader in her quiet way, and it's good to see her grow as she steps up to the new responsibilities she has. She perseveres. This is a character trait that she growing it into a huge strength as she does tasks that seem too big--like shucking ALL of our corn from the garden herself and sewing a poncho all on her own.  Her current loves are knitting, sewing, and being the narrator in any play she is in.  ( you get the most lines and you don't have to memorize them!)
    Levi, now five, has been very interested in spiritual things lately, and seeing all the praying his dad was doing, decided he should pray too.  When I had a prolapsed uterus after Maia was born, he prayed for my  "uterus to go back in its right spot."  It did, though I was very skeptical because my recovery was much longer than with any of the other children.  He prayed for my bleeding to stop as well because I was concerned it was going so long, and of course it did.  He also decided he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart when I was sitting with Maia, only a few days old, on the recliner.  I don't even remember what led up to it, but it was so natural and good, that I don't think that matters.  Recent recurring prayers have been for grandma Vi to "not die" when she was extremely ill in and in a nursing home and for Uncle Matt to be safe  and "not die" in Iraq as he serves our country doing convoy patrols.  We saw grandma Vi be able to leave the nursing home and come home in a much better state, though not totally well, and saw Uncle Matt complete his first two convoy patrols safely.  The latest thing Levi is trying to grasp is that God sometimes says no or doesn't answer in the way we'd like.  He had prayed that God would make our world into the cartoon character Caillou's world, and that he could be Caillou.  He was dismayed to awake and find he was still in his own body and had to deal with daily struggles with siblings and chores.  I think he decided all was ok when he asked me to call him Caillou for the rest of the day, and I did!
      Isaac is growing into a responsible and wise young man. His mind is that of an engineer's and he knows how to work every piece of electronics in our house.  He picks up math easily, and understands science.  He builds lego creations with very intricate stories and purposes.  He loves Cub Scouts, and loves the fact that his daddy is one of his leaders now too.  He has often been so compliant and easygoing that I'm afraid I don't always give him the attention he deserves.  He struggled with this recently in the weeks surrounding his eighth  birthday and Thanksgiving.  Because I was so busy with our growing family and beginning the new homeschool year, it took me a while to notice this.  He needed desperately to see that I and others truly cared for him.  So one day I made certain to take him specially to Wal-Mart to spend his birthday money.  He immediately saw a remote control truck he had to have, and it was exactly $20...all of his money, which he counted carefully, then held tightly in his fist.  After much encouraging to buy something more practical, I finally decided to let him make his own decision.  He brought the truck to the check out and gave me his money.  He had lost one of his ten dollar bills.  I was devastated for him, and angry with myself for not helping him to take better care of his money.  I didn't reign in my emotions well and told him in a snippy voice that he had to take his toy back and get something for the $10 he had left, but that we could look for his money, though I knew it would be gone.  I knew he had to learn the lesson to take care of his money, and it would not be wise to bail him out, but I hated to do it.  Sadly, he chose a small lego set and returned to the cashier.  I suddenly realized that we could announce his loss on the loudspeaker, and maybe whoever picked it up could return it to him.  I figured this was a long shot, but it was worth it to try to appeal to the heart of people.  The cashier agreed to make the announcement, and it was soon announced that a boy lost his birthday $10 bill.  We waited to see if anyone might come up.  No one did.  We were about to pay for the lego set when a man walked up, found us, and gave us two $5 bills.  He said that he knew this wasn't Isaac's money, but he never had heard an announcement like ours, and that he knew the awful feeling of losing something special like that.  Both Isaac and I were flabbergasted.  Isaac grinned hugely, and we thanked the man profusely telling him that Isaac could now get the truck he wanted so badly!  He told Isaac to be sure to drive the wheels off that thing!  On the way home, Isaac was beaming and he said, "I can't stop thinking about that guy.  I just have joy inside of me!"  We talked about how even though he didn't really deserve the money because he lost it, he received grace and was able to get what he wanted anyway.   We talked about how God did that for us too.  Even though we deserved severe consequences for our sins, he sent Jesus to die for us to take them away!  Isaac was amazed that God could show he cared for him through a stranger's kindness, and he learned a deeper lesson of God's love that day too.  Since then, I've been more sure to give him the attention he needs, and I am bolstered by the knowledge that even though I hadn't probably cared for Isaac as best I could, God gave him hope, and that gave him joy.
    Last year Brandon took a step of faith and created his amazing goal completion program called Gone Vertical.  This was done as an act of obedience to a vision that both Brandon and I think was divinely inspired.  It's a simple, yet ingenious idea: you focus on three goals you'd like to attain.  They are entered into your GoneVertical.com account.  You get daily reminders via email or text to work on your task.  You check off your task each day you do it, and you watch your progress on a calendar.   Brandon uses it daily himself, and I have seen it change Brandon's life drastically for the better, enabling him to accomplish many things he just couldn't get to before.  You should check it out when you have time.  I know it has impacted the lives of others for the better, but mostly I see how it has impacted us and those around us.  Brandon is able to pray for the people and things he wants to pray for, and has seen God work miracles in many lives.  One example is Leo, a security guard where Brandon now works.  When Brandon met him, he was gruff and not used to anyone paying attention to him.  Brandon's cheerful smile and personal attention warmed him, and he told Brandon his wife was home dying and was already receiving hospice care.  Brandon promised to pray for her, and he actually did....Daily.  Then a beautiful thing happened.  God worked, and each time Brandon talked to Leo, he told him he was praying.  Amazingly, hospice left, because Leo's wife was getting better.  Leo was incredulous, but he told Brandon... "I think your prayers are working!"  If Gone Vertical helped Brandon pray for this one man and so increased his faith, and gave hime a little more time with his wife, that makes all the financial struggles worth while. 
    Looking back on the early part of this year, it's hard to believe we're where we are right now.  Our finances were not in the best shape because of the time Brandon had taken from a regular job in order to build Gone Vertical.  We decided that we needed to put our house on the market in early April and sell it rather quickly in order to avoid worse troubles.  I knew I had a lot to do to prepare.  A miracle arrived in the form of my dear friend Wendy.  She helped me pack all the things we didn't need away, and spent many nights painting our home into the wee hours of morning with me.  She brought me snacks and moral support when I felt pretty hopeless.  Brandon had been dealing with trials of panic attacks induced by asthma since an illness in November 2007.  He was focused on providing for our family while also working feverishly to make his vision a reality.  He knew he was on a timeline.  I reminded him of it a little too often.  Then, when everything was finally ready and the house prepared, we realized there was no way it could sell on the current market.  I was crushed and at my lowest point in a long time.  But it's in those times that you have to look up. And there was God, reminding me that He was in charge, and He hadn't forgotten me, and I was reminded how time and again, Brandon always came through and provided for our family.  And I knew that if I trusted Brandon to trust God, we'd be ok.  It is not a mistake that Brandon's name "popped" into his high school friend's head when he needed a contractor for a big programming job for Verizon.  This job offer came just as our other funds were nearly depleted.  The job has extended beyond its initial few months duration to a fairly permanent job.  The program Brandon built for the Northwest region of Verizon was so well received that it looks like it will be exended to the entire country.  It is a joy to see Brandon receive well-deserved praise for what he does.  His asthma and anxiety have also been greatly improved, though the struggle with them seemed endless as it dragged on all year.  He has been able to make time appear out of thin air to take us on vacations to Ocean Shores and the Olympic Peninsula.  He has been active in Cub Scouts.  He even arranged babysitting so I could join him in practicing in a community choir to sing Handel's Messiah at a recent Christmas concert.  It was beautiful to understand that heavenly music more intimately, and humbling to be driven to tears by the truth it tells  I had two favorite songs.  One was "Surely he hath borne our griefs."  It talked of all the grief and sorrow Jesus carried to the cross for us when he was beaten and bruised and died for our sins.  It is so beautiful and sad all at once, that it brought me to tears as we sang it at one of the rehearsals. The other song I loved was "Unto Us a Child is Born" telling about the prophecy of the Messiah.  Its lyrics come directly from the Isaiah 9:6.
    "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."  Isaiah 9:6
     As you travel the road this year brings you rememember that He cares for you and will carry your griefs.  He came to bring joy and peace, and to bring amazing grace.  This is my prayer for all of you, that you will be able to count your blessings ton by ton!

   Love and big hugs from all of us,
Angie (I'm 30 now!), Brandon (34), Eva (10), Isaac (8), Levi (5), Saraiah (2.5) and introducing Maia ( nearly 4 months)

Brandon's awesome goal completion program: www.GoneVertical.com
Angie's sporadically updated Blog: BarefootMommy.blogspot.com