Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Christmas Letter 2011

2011 Donnelson Family Christmas Letter

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Matthew 22:36-40

"If we could only remember that God loves me, and I have an opportunity to love others as he loves me, not in big things, but in small things with great love, then Norway (or wherever we live) becomes a nest of love. --Mother Theresa, 1979 Nobel Lecture

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12

Jesus was 33 when he died on the cross and rose again.  That’s my age too.  Of course when I realized that, I began to compare myself with the Creator and Savior of the world, wondering at how much he accomplished in His short earthly life with just a few years of active ministry.  Then I realized that wasn’t my job in life: to try to be as spectacular or influential as Jesus.  Instead, my work is to love Him in the best ways I can and to use my life to point gently to Him.  In November 2010 my in-laws gave me the wonderful gift of a camera for my birthday.  Since then, its shutter has clicked 27,166 times.  Probably half of those images were not worth keeping, but they are a reflection of the joy that a camera can give.  It has allowed me and my family to more carefully notice the beauty of God’s creation and of the simple moments.  There have been many times that the kids have said, “Mom! You have to see this, it’s so beautiful!  Take a picture!”  Oftentimes I just look and appreciate the moment with the kids.  Other times, the camera comes out to attempt to convey even just a bit of the experience to the viewer.  

Because of our more careful attention to God’s creation, we have become more curious and fascinated as a family in the design and order of it all.  I think about the things Brandon and I do for the kids and one another: work, prepare food, organize rubble, hug, tuck in, talk and so much more.  These things are not great things or things that will begin a worldwide movement.  They may not be always done in the most cheerful frame of mind.  They are, however, things done out of the great love we have for them and for their Maker.  Our greatest hope is that the love we share with them will be realized as a reflection of God’s sweet care for them and that they in turn will want to share it with the people in their lives.  So in that vein, I share with you the small things we have tried to do with great love this year and more importantly, the things God has done in His great love for us.

Just a few days after Christmas, our new puppy got hit by a car and lost his leg.  I have never understood the affection people have for their pets until that moment.  After being turned away by 3 vets, another doctor took Koa in for an emergency amputation, giving him a blood transfusion from an employee’s dog and nursing him carefully back to health.  Before the accident, Koa was my dog: my running buddy.  Afterwards, he and I shared a special connection because I was no longer able to run due to an injury that still keeps me walking today.  More importantly, he began to belong to our whole family and even our community.  Our friend Jeanette teamed up with friends to raise money to pay for his vet bills and Brandon runs daily on our property with him.  He never ceases to evoke tender words from anyone who is greeted by his licking tongue and whip-like wagging tail.  He’s our little miracle, having drawn our family and community closer together.

We’ve spent lots of time taking kids to various activities all year.  Isaac played basketball and wowed us with his long stride and quick running.  He’s a senior red belt in taekwondo and will be testing for black belt in 2012.  Eva is a red belt in taekwondo and has quite the impressive high kick.  She has played volleyball on two different teams this year.  We’ve seen both of them develop confidence and discipline through these sports.  Levi played basketball with his great uncle Wayne as coach last year and is in taekwondo.  He does everything with outstanding speed and enthusiasm.  Saraiah took a ballet and tap class last year and has just completed a dance and acrobatics class.  Her favorite part of course is posing, wearing the recital costumes and teaching us all how to do cool moves, especially her newly learned cartwheel.

All 3 big kids are active in 4H this year in order to make use of all the animals we have.  Eva and Levi showed goats at Stanwood fair last year, with Eva earning the top exhibitor belt buckle and Levi looking effortless, like he’d been showing goats since he was a babe.  For the first time this year, Eva showed her goats at the Evergreen State fair, staying on the grounds for a week with her ever patient and amazing 4H leader.  She won high awards for her fleeces and showmanship surprising herself a little I think.  We all know how she cares for those animals, so it didn’t surprise us.  We were given 2 alpacas this summer, so Isaac and Eva will show them next summer.  We’ve bred one of the pygora goats and Levi will show her while Saraiah and Maia show the babies in the tiny tots class.  We sold 3 of our goats in order to buy Joy, a Nigerian Dwarf milk goat, who we milked last year.  She still has yet to be bred this year, but we are hopeful.  We might milk the pygora!  

Brandon and I began the year with a large shift in our financial thinking after going through the Dave Ramsey financial peace university class in February.  We’ve been budgeting since then, have paid off several very old debts, have paid off our credit cards without incurring new debt, bought health and dental insurance (ouch) and are slowly chipping away faithfully at our mountain of debt.  It feels good to be united in our finances and we pray that we’ll be able to be consistent for the sake of our family.  

Brandon has been working this year in real estate, which includes his whole family.  They work with banks to market and sell bank owned properties, which is a hugely busy business in this economy.  They are a great team.  Brandon and his brother work in the field managing the properties and keeping in close contact with the banks.  He has also been consistently waking early daily and doing programming work for several hours before going off to his day job.  He has built a panorama photo viewer prototype and has been earning extra income through his programming tutorials on his blogs and youtube accounts.  He’s been actively networking with other Google software developers and has attended many Google Techology User Group meetings.  One night he and some other developers made a photo watermarker app in one evening!  His latest project has been to put our Co-Op school’s Student Learning Plan form online so that parents can access and update their students’ information from anywhere.  He consistently confuses and amazes me, which is one of the reasons I love him so much.  

We all remember the terrible devastation the earthquake and Tsunami caused in Japan on March 11.  Eva and her friend Emma were especially moved to do something to help the people of Japan.  They were both enrolled in a class called “Building a Better World” at our co-op school.  Their assignment was to take on a project to help improve the world around them.  They chose to do a fundraiser for Japan, crocheting little amigurumi creatures and selling them, then sending the money to World Vision.  They worked nearly to the end of the school year creating things.  In the end, people donated nearly $1000 to the cause.  It is healing sometimes to have a tangible way to help when there is so much hurt.  Eva is 13 now and has decided to be a vegetarian.  Her caring for animals is so great that I think she just can’t bring herself to eat meat.  She has also learned of the impact of meat production on the environment and doesn’t really like meat, so I guess that helped her decision!

Isaac and Levi are overjoyed to have buddies who live on our street now.  When the house on our street was for sale, I remember praying that we’d have a family move in who was like us, and what did we get?  A lovely family with a 13 year old girl, a 10 year old boy and a 7 year old boy!  Wow!   And of course the boys are all equally obsessed with legos and video games, so life is good.  Eva has been playing volleyball with the neighbor gal and they enjoy each other immensely.  Maia and Saraiah, not to be left out, made some new buddies this year when I made a new friend, Julie, who’s even more interested in plants and knowlegable than I am about them.  She’s married to a computer programmer, just as I am and has 2 girls the same age as our little ones.  The girls all have the same spitfire adorable attitude and love each other.  

Isaac and Eva are both learning to play musical instruments from their inspiring band teacher at our co-op.  Isaac plays the saxophone and has been trying out reading music from other sources and sounding out songs on his own.  His ear amazes me.  Eva is playing clarinet and you can hear her playing in between workbooks during homeschool time.  They have blazed through their music book and will definitely be playing again next year.  Levi is in a percussion class and reminds the teacher of himself as a child with his deep interest for music and also his exuberance.  He’s learning to reign that in, but in the meantime can be found climbing everything in sight, whether it’s a cherry picker, a chicken coop or a plain old tree.  He charms everyone and makes friends within a few minutes of arriving anywhere.  

Isaac continues to be Maia’s faithful buddy, carrying her everywhere, making her food and generally being completely compassionate with her.  She needs this because she’s always got a very specific idea of how she wants life to go, and with my distracted brain, some extra attention is welcome.  Maia is a loving little girl, tenderly hugging everyone she trusts and cares for.  She and Saraiah are both quick to complement anyone they meet, even charming the check out lady at the airport in Hawaii by telling her they liked her purple earrings.  She turned from grumpy to joyful in a few seconds!  Saraiah is an artist and gift giver, constantly creating for everyone she meets.  Her art is beautiful and has made its way even to our walls.  Our favorite graffiti is a picture of a girl we have affectionately named “baleen girl.”  

And what’s Angie up to?  Hmm.  I’m the one with my eye always to the viewfinder of the camera, trying to interpret the amazing things I see.  I’m helping a friend teach a kids’ beginning photography class at our co-op school.  I’ve got an atrophied muscle in my leg that keeps my foot weak and me unable to run, so I have jumped full tilt into the photography obsession.  My dear friend Josie has been there for a long time with me already with our annual trips to take pictures in the tulip fields.  Now that we both have DSLR cameras, we have been able to hone our skills and shoot in manual.  We had the privilege of doing the photos for a wedding together.  She’s going to school for photography and I’m learning what I can from her and from books while I share my images and thoughts on my blog:  You can keep up with us there most easily.  My prayer group girls: Wendy, Jenny, Carly, Lisa, Josie and Julie are always my rock, grounding me and reminding me that God is indeed in charge and that we can bring everything to Him in prayer. I’m not only playing with cameras of course.  There’s the hard and good work of gardening, canning, laundry and housecleaning and of course homeschooling and being a personal chef, organizer (attempting) and comforter for the family.  

All of this is only done in the strength that comes from knowing we have a mighty and powerful God, the original giver of every good thing and the best example of true Love I’ve ever known.

Merry Christmas with love!
Angie, writing for Brandon, Eva (13) Isaac (11) Levi (8) Saraiah (5) Maia (3) and Koa the dog, the cat, the chickens, the alpacas, the llama and the goats.


  1. I forgot to tell you how much I LOVED your Christmas letter. I read it before we went to the lights of Christmas and I meant to tell you there. I LOVE your Christmas letter!!!

  2. Glad you loved it! I am mainly getting explanations that "It's so long!" from most!


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