Shady Acres Farm * 7484 Shawnee Road, Milford DE 19963 * Christmas, 2020
Dear Family and Friends,
The farmhouse at Shady Acres is quiet. It’s been quiet for much of this past year as we, like you, have adjusted, adapted, coped and lived out our lives in a world that is quite different from anything that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. Many of us are facing this season with heavy hearts, missing faces from our family circles that will never be there again, dealing with the absence of traditions that have lent meaning and life to our family’s heritage, and struggling to keep things as normal as possible for the people we love and who count on us. And, of course there is more: Financial concerns, health issues, quarantines, fear, unrest, uncertainties, misunderstandings, loneliness, and anger . . . so many things in a world gone so wrong.
It would be so easy for this Christmas letter to turn into a lament, and while I’m not saying there is no place for that, I’ve been thinking a lot about something in the familiar Christmas story in the Holy Bible:
“Fear not! For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be too all people,” the Angel said to the Shepherds on a Bethlehem night, 2000 years ago. “For unto you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the LORD!” (Luke 2:10, 11)
What wondrous news! The reality is that, in this year when we all have felt the need for some good news, there is this ageless, immutable, irrevocable, good news already in place. There is a Savior, a Redeemer, and it is Christ, the LORD. I believe this, and it has given hope & comfort & courage & peace.
Our family has had to weather some really tough times this year. For Daniel and I and our children, the biggest thing was the death of Daniel’s oldest sister, Lena. She was a beloved sister and aunt to her big biological family and a loyal friend to myriads more. In the days and weeks following her passing we discovered over and over again just how far her circles reached. She had that unique ability to make each person think they were her favorite, and the loss is inestimable. Grief is not a novelty in our family, but I cannot get used to the sudden gripping sadness that pops up at the strangest times since Lena is gone. The reminders are on every hand; jigsaw puzzles, mint tea, warm blankets, lilac candles – the list is as varied and unpredictable as she was. Some of the time, I can think that she’s just off traversing the country in her motor home and will be back, but then I remember that we won’t see her face again this side of Heaven, and there is a tightness in my throat that chokes me.
When the pandemic began, our offspringin’s united in urging (nay, ordering!) us to stay home. I had already decided to take Cecilia out of her day program at Easter Seals because of how compromised she is under normal circumstances, but I had done that hoping that maybe by mid-summer, she could return to her regular activities. Well, it’s mid-December and there are very few signs that she will be going back anytime soon. With very few breaks, we have been taking care of her 24/7 for over 9 months. It has greatly curtailed the usual activity and traffic at our home, and it hasn’t always been without angst, but for the most part, we have been at peace with this situation. “To everything there is a season . . .” and this is the season for serving in place.
Our out of state family extensions have all had a most eventful year. Raph and Gina sold their house in Sugarcreek and moved to Canton, Ohio, in August. The house is very well suited to their needs, and has quickly taken on the personality of their family. It’s just so right for them. The boys, Si, (11) Liam, (10) and Frankie (9) are settling into their new school and making friends, doing chores and involved in numerous extracurricular activities. Ellie, (3) is a bundle of energy and spunk. We did get to spend a week with the four children in early November while Raph and Gina had some time away (to Mexico, no less!) and it was delightful. Raph is still working in Sugarcreek, at nuCamp RV in Customer Service, and Regina works part time at First Federal Bank in Berlin. The boys finished the 2019-20 school year with remote learning in Sugarcreek, but the schools they attend in Canton have stayed open with restrictions and guidelines that appear to be working for now.
Lem and Jessica, in Washington, DC, with Stella (3) began looking for a new place to live just after the first of the year. What an incredible blessing it was that they could sell their house and find another very suitable place and get moved into the house before the pandemic prevented any such activity! Their new home is a town house in a quiet neighborhood, with room to spread out. This has been integral since both Lem and Jessica have had to work at their jobs from home, and Stella is also home all the time. Lem & Jessica are both still at their respective jobs – Lem now in his eight year as a psychotherapist with Alvord, Baker and Associates, and Jessica with the US Government Accountability Office in her fifth year as a research analyst. Rachel and Rob (mostly Rob) helped out with child care until October when Lem and Jess hired a nanny for Stella’s care. She seems to be perfect for the job, and we not only thank God for her, we pray for wisdom and courage and patience and strength for all three of them. Whew! This delightful Stella-girl is wonderfully enthusiastic and articulate beyond her years!
Rachel and Rob have been a big part of Stella’s life in this past year. “Uncle Rob” is one of her favorite people (along with “Auntie Rach”) and has spent countless hours keeping her occupied while her parents worked. When COVID hit DC, all hotels were shut down, so Rob’s Employer, Towne Parke, officially terminated their employees so that they could collect unemployment benefits. The months have dragged on, and Rob has now applied to go back to college beginning in February. We still pray for a job that will challenge and satisfy him, as well as allow him to pursue his Masters’ degree. He and Rachel have been in very close quarters these last nine months and they, too, are considering a move to a place where they won’t need to share a house with three other people. We see this as wise and healthy planning on their part. They have adapted and sacrificed and tried to protect their own space, but there comes a time when it’s a lot better to have your own kitchen, as well as a place to work that doesn’t oust your spouse from the tiny living space that is home. The particular idiosyncrasies of this pandemic have made both Rachel and Lem’s jobs extremely stressful as clients want things fixed and think that the therapists should be able to do something! Adults want to blame their parents, the schools, their children and if all else fails, the therapist. Earlier this year, Rachel said to me, “Mama, I have never been yelled at by my clients as much as I have this year!” That’s a sad commentary on the adults of this world. Shoving the blame never has helped much. Yelling hasn’t, either. In any case, our DC offspringin’s are hopeful that the year ahead will be easier.
Deborah has been in her Ambleside Cottage for almost two years. Her cat, Julius, has been there nearly a year and a half, and “Ju-Ju” has been a great companion for Deborah. He is old, but he is not a mean-spirited cat, and that is certainly a bonus. There has been an impressive amount of rain this year, and Deborah has had to fight with the rising water table presenting as water in her basement. This is extremely disconcerting to her, and she and her Dad, always partners in anything challenging or new or antique or perplexing, have cast about for solutions or reasons or anything that might bring this all to a screeching halt. So far there haven’t been any lasting solutions. It’s been a hard year for our Deborah-girl. She was one of the first Delaware cases of COVID, and she had it hard. Just as she was recovering, her Aunt Lena moved in for what was supposed to be the summer and early autumn. Deborah had built her house with her Aunt Lena in mind. She had a suite built that was especially suited to Lena’s dwarfism, and it was not only very accommodating, it was also beautiful. Deborah took great pains to have it inviting and warm and very private. Lena was only here 45 days before she died of (what they said was) an aggressive sarcoma. Though, as I said, we all feel this loss intensely, for Deborah, it has been profound. She’s still a Hospice nurse (now in her 11th year with Delaware Hospice). Grief and its many faces are no strangers to her. So, we pray for her, and we are thankful that she is doing very well again. She is just home from a quick trip to DC, then Ohio, then back to DC and then home, taking and bringing family Christmas to each of us since we cannot be together this year.
Jesse and Christina and Charis have been our “go to” resource over this last year. They have gotten groceries, picked up meds, lent their hands to work and moving projects and have been the best sports ever about it all. Jesse has been able to work from home during the pandemic, and things at Burris remain busy and full of changes even amidst the major disruptions around the country. Jesse joined his brother, Caleb in redoing their parents’ house after a fire did significant damage. Long hours in the heat of the summer and dark of night paid off. James and Karen, who were with Jesse and Christina for most of the renovation work, moved back home in late August. There were no expensive diversions this year for Jesse and Christina in the form of trips or purchases, but they, along with all of us, kept their heads, held onto their hearts, and are stronger for it. Charis finished her school year with remote learning, and started this year with remote, switched to Hybrid, but is currently back to remote until January 11th. She is a bright spot in our lives, often spending the night, and lending her helping hands to any of a number of projects. She loves to climb on Grandpa’s haybales, and spends many happy hours outside on the farm. It’s difficult to believe that she is already 11 years old, and taller than her Mama. (Incidentally, Charis took our Christmas picture this year).
Our church family has been an incredible source of support and diversion over this last year. We’ve done birthday parades/drive-byes for many of our members. We’ve been working to finance and install an elevator so that everyone can have access to the basement Gathering Place when we are back together again for meals and celebrations. We’ve added a missionary family to our budget that is going with MAF to Haiti. We’ve cooperated with each other in the guidelines and precautions issued by our governor even when our ideas about such differed greatly. We learned to live with Zoom services for everyone at first, and eventually for both those who could attend live services and those who felt more comfortable at home. We’ve had a significant death. This year has stretched us and blessed us and given us a sense of unity that is precious.
And so we count the blessings of this past year. It’s easy to want to enumerate the losses, to think of all the things that we can’t do – things that have even defined us as a couple, like company, food, our family home for Christmas, Daniel’s Christmas Village (not up this year), my writing, and more. As the days have passed, I’ve been impressed that I should be concentrating instead on what can be done instead of all the things that can’t. We can still bake and deliver cinnamon rolls for friends and neighbors. I can still make party mix and Hot Chocolate mix to give away. I could even write my Christmas letter (which I just did) and mail it even if it is late. We can still pray for the people we love and care about (which we also do).
Whatever your losses this year, may the Miracle of the Season, the Gift that was given to us as a baby, fill your aching and broken hearts with hope. May you realize that God walks with us in our sorrow. May you remember that He said that He has already borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). He loves you. He cares. He is here. He promised.
Merry Christmas! May we look at the coming year with Hopeful Hearts.
Daniel & Mary Ann