What an eventful year for our family! We have seen the Lord work in our lives in more ways than we can count! There has been LOTS of change for each of us, and through it all, God has provided everything we needed... even if it hasn't always been exactly what we WANTED.
In March, we moved to Champaign-Urbana, IL to start Redeemer Church. For many reasons, one of our main concerns as we considered planting a church was having a team to labor alongside us. The Lord not only provided a team, but He gave us a FANTASTIC group of people with whom we could join efforts and just walk through life. We give thanks to God on a daily basis for these people!
We bought our first house in March. Because of the state of the economy, we were able to buy a home that is not only big enough for us, but it has allowed us to host quite a few guests. I had been wondering if we would ever use as many bath towels as we had accumulated... and the answer is that indeed, we would! How exciting to not only have more space but to be able to share it with others! As if that wasn't enough, we have amazing neighbors who have been such a blessing to us as we've gotten settled!
Our move from Louisville to Urbana has brought so many blessings, but it has also been challenging. One of the hardest days I had was the day that Ladan finally mustered up the courage to go introduce himself to some kids down the street, and they told him that they were having a private party and would have to play "later". He cried. A lot. He just wanted his friends from Louisville. Then I cried with him. It was so hard to watch him go through this! There are tons of kids in our neighborhood, but it seems that their schedules are so packed with school and extracurriculars that they are very rarely available to play. We prayed together and thanked God for being here with us. A few weeks later, it was the birthday of one of his super-great friends back in Louisville. So we opened his window, he stuck his head out, and he screamed "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DANIEL!" at the top of his lungs... and then wondered how long it would be before Daniel could hear the message.
One thing that both our kids have learned through this transition is that your friends do not all have to be exactly like you. You can have friends who are your age, but you can also have dear friends who are VERY different in age, stage of life, gifting, financial status, etc. It didn't take long before the boys started cheering when they heard that our friends were coming over--our adult friends. And they called them their friends too. The Lord had provided friends for them, but only a few of them were their age. It definitely didn't look like what they had expected or originally hoped for, but they love these people more than they had expected or originally hoped for! They still talk regularly about their friends in Louisville, but it's with less heartache and more anticipation as they look forward to when they might get to see them again.
Later in the year we started homeschooling Ladan and joined a homeschool co-op in town. On Thursday mornings, they go for their kindergarten and toddler classes and get to hang out with lots of kids their own ages. This has also been a fantastic opportunity for me to meet some other women in town and seems to have been very helpful as we make connections with people and resources here. I have been very encouraged by the ladies I've met!
Chet graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in May with his Master of Divinity degree. What an accomplishment!!! Seminary was a learning experience for all of us, not just for Chet. We will be forever grateful to the Lord for the training, discipleship, and genuine care that we experienced during our time in Louisville at Southern and especially at Clifton Baptist Church!
When we left Louisville, Chet also got to QUIT WORKING AT UPS!!!!!!! Can you join me in saying WOOOOOHOOOO!?! He did take a part-time job at the YMCA here, and his hours cause him to miss a bit of sleep. However, he thoroughly enjoys the people he works with and all of the members who come in to exercise. He has the early-morning shift, so he has been able to enjoy seeing all the "regulars" of the older generations. They are really fun and give him plenty of opportunities to show off pictures of the kids!
August 6 was the day that hot pink stars went flashing all around us as Claire Ellise made her entry into the world! Oh my goodness! What a blessing this little girl has been to our family! There's something pretty amazing about seeing a daddy with his little girl. And there's something equally amazing about watching two little boys love on their baby sister! Ladan and Gabe to this day cannot walk past Claire without giving her at least one hug and kiss. They call her "sweetie", tell her she's cute, and run to her when she cries. They protect her. They thank God for her when they pray at night. They adore her... even when she throws up all over them. They LOVE her! And I love her! Did I mention that hot pink is pretty great?
Ladan turned 5 in June. He learned to read fairly well by then and has gotten better and better throughout the year. Last week he sounded out the words "Appomattox" and "Manassas" in his reader about the Civil War. What fun to see his face light up when he read them correctly! He's also becoming quite the mathematician. Homeschooling is a little bit chaotic somedays, but I'm so thankful that we made the decision to educate him this way this year. Not only is he learning all kinds of things, but Gabe is benefiting as well. Ladan is a servant at heart and is a life-saver to me! He's still a sports fanatic and dreams about the day when he can play football and baseball on real teams.
Gabe turned 3 in September. This kid has some spunk! He has been aptly described as "exuberant". To date, I don't think there's ever been a time when we've wondered how he has felt about something. He has been through his fair share of changes this year. In addition to everything mentioned above, Gabe moved to a big bed, learned to use the potty, moved into a room with Ladan, and gave up his place as the baby of the family. We're still working on getting him to give up the pacifier when he sleeps. One thing at a time. He's learned his letters and their sounds and is beginning to be able to determine what letter words begin with. He gets really excited about the small things and greets me every morning with the sweetest "Hi, Mom-mom!" you've ever heard. A couple weeks ago, he was playing on the floor with Claire sweetly saying, "Jesus loves Claire!" He is persistent in almost every way... when he's trying something new, when he wants something, and when he's disobeying. He'll probably grow up to be some sort of Washington lobbyist or something. That is, if we can break his persistence to disobey and help him maintain it in the other areas. May the Lord be merciful to help us!
Planting a church has definitely been an adventure for us! Throughout the 9 1/2 months we've been here, we have been challenged in ways that we never expected. Our marriage has been stretched. We have been stretched as parents. We have taken on roles we may never have otherwise chosen, and we're learning new things all the time.
Mostly, we have learned so many new applications of the Gospel that we can't possibly count them. We have been challenged to extend and receive grace more freely and more deeply. The fact that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross covers our many sins is more and more precious to us daily. It is our only purpose for being here, and it's our motivation to keep going. It has changed and continues to transform us, and our prayer is that the Lord will somehow use us to share the richness of His mercy and love with others... and that there will be many who BELIEVE!
As we reflect on this year, it is clear that we were not alone. Our heavenly Father was with us every step of the way providing everything we needed. Through growth, joy, excitement, trial, conflict, restoration, disappointment, accomplishment and transition, we have been SO BLESSED! The Lord is our strength and our song indeed!