â€œRejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.â€ ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Dear Family and Friends,
This year, much like every year, was full of joys and trials. But, through it all, Lord has given us many reasons to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks!
January â€“ Jason continued a tradition that he started a couple of years ago at our church. At the beginning of each year, he preaches a special series of sermons for the purpose of â€œStrengthening Grace.â€ This year, he taught on some of the key elements of the church. It fit in so well with his ongoing series in the book of Acts. He has also been teaching a Sunday School class on the Doctrine of God, and leading our churchâ€™s monthly menâ€™s study. In addition to his preaching and teaching responsibilities, counseling, discipling, performing weddings, and developing new ministries and leadership have kept him more than a little busy! In order to keep up with everything (between church and a young, growing family), we had to make the hard decision to eliminate our midweek service this year. But, we are eagerly looking forward to its return this coming yearâ€¦along with a new childrenâ€™s program!
February â€“ Titus turned 4 on February 7th! We celebrated with a Monster Truck-themed party with a few of his friends from church. Superheroes, Transformers, and monster trucks are his newest obsessions. He often tells me that he wants to be a monster truck driver when he grows up. And, he has already promised us all a ride! He is in Kindergarten this year! He is still young, so, I know I should say that our plan is to go slow and keep it simpleâ€¦but, itâ€™s not. He is not having any of that. He loves school! I thought some of his first-day enthusiasm would have worn off by now, but he continues to amaze me with his eagerness and hard work each day. He asks for more work than I have planned. He is disappointed when his schoolwork is completed for the day. And he has been known to cry when I tell him that we donâ€™t do school on Saturdays. Reading is his favorite subject, and he loves practicing his new skill by sounding out everything he can get his hands (and eyes!) on! He has become very responsible, remembering and diligently doing his chores each morning. He loves his sisters, even if he does show it by alternating between terrorizing them and being their best buddy. Sometimes, it is easy to forget how young he really is, because he is growing up so fast!
March â€“ We celebrated Rachelâ€™s first birthday on March 23rd! I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever seen a one-year-old so into opening presents! She thoroughly enjoyed every single moment of her partyâ€¦just like she does everything. This girl has brought so much joy to our family this year with her sweet smiles and silly antics. She started walking shortly before her first birthday, and has recently mastered climbing the stairs! (Going down is still a bit of a work in progress!) She rarely sits still, but, when she does, she is a cuddle-bug. And, she gives the best hugs! She loves being outside, coloring, play dough, all things Minnie Mouse, and playing dolls with Hannah. She shares a room with her big sister, Rebekah, and it is so sweet to hear them talking and singing together before they go to sleep. Her vocabulary seems to grow each day. And, even after 4 kids, I still treasure each new each new word and sentence. She greets me each morning with a big smile and a loud â€œPeek-boo!â€ She rarely says yes. Instead, she always responds in the affirmative with an enthusiastic â€œSure!â€ But, I think my favorite is hearing her sweet prayers before bed and mealtimes. We look forward to seeing these simple prayers grow into a true faith and obedience in the years to come.
April â€“ At the beginning of the month, we had the privilege of having John and Janie Street out to speak at our churchâ€™s annual Bible Conference. They taught on â€œParenting for the Long Run.â€ As always, it was wonderful to see them, and sit under their wise, biblical teaching again.
Although we had to delay the celebration a few times, due to illness, we celebrated Hannahâ€™s 11th birthday this year! Of course, she handled the delays graciously, with a maturity far beyond her 11 years. She is our sweet, creative, dreamer. She loves to write stories, draw pictures, and make cards for her friends and siblings. She is in 6th grade this year, which I am told is considered â€œmiddle schoolâ€ here in Texas (but, that just sounds a little too much like junior high). Her favorite subject continues to be science (Zoology), because, in her words, â€œwe are finally studying land animals!â€ Her favorite land animals are horsesâ€¦which we will begin studying shortly after the new year. But, she has already checked out every book our library has on the topic of horse care and training, dreaming of someday getting one of her own! Her grandparents gave her a day of â€œhorse campâ€ for her birthday. She spent a Saturday at a local stable, where she got to ride and groom a real horse! Even cleaning the stalls could not make her enormous smile disappear! I think it was the highlight, not only of her year, but of her life! She has also joined a homeschool band, and is learning to play the flute. She seems to be a natural, and absolutely loves it! She is currently preparing for her first concert, which is coming up this week! She is a wonderful big sister, and continues to be a capable and willing helper. She cares for her siblings, and works hard at the many things she is asked to do around the house. But, her favorite place right now seems to be in the kitchen. She loves learning how to cook and bake! And, we all got to enjoy the results of her hard work when she made a delicious chocolate chip-pecan pie for Thanksgiving â€“ all on her own.
May â€“ Just before Rachelâ€™s birthday, we were thrilled to learn that we were expecting another little one to join our family in November, around Thanksgiving Day. But, sadly, we miscarried just before Motherâ€™s Day. My mom was very sweet to fly out here to help us as I recovered. And despite the circumstances, it was a special blessing to spend Motherâ€™s Day with her. At the end of May, some complications landed me in the emergency room. Although it was a difficult time, both physically and emotionally, and my recovery was slow, through it, the Lord used it to allow us to address some other health issues, and I am feeling better than I have in years!
June â€“ In addition to my health issues, we all spent about 2 months fighting what seemed like a never-ending cycle of illnesses. There were too many sleepless nights to count, mountains of laundry, multiple prescriptions, and several visits to the doctorâ€™s office and urgent care. It did endâ€¦eventually. And, we were even able to enjoy a visit with Veronicaâ€™s parents, sister, and our nephew/cousin. But, this time definitely made us all very thankful for our normally good health, and for the help and care of our church and family! People brought meals, cleaned our house, and watched sick children while we took others to the doctor. Jasonâ€™s dad even rescued Titus and me after we got stranded in a downpour and flooded streets on our way to (yet another) doctorâ€™s appointment!
July â€“ Everyone recovered in time to enjoy our first real vacation! Well, I guess it was really more of a â€œstay-cation,â€ since we didnâ€™t go anywhere. But, we rested, and visited the park and splash pad, and took care of a few projects around the house. It was perfect!
August â€“ Jason and I celebrated our 15th anniversary. The celebration really was quite simple. More than anything, it was an opportunity to reflect on, and thank the Lord for the life, the children, and the ministry that the Lord has given us so far.
September â€“ We started our 7th year of homeschooling! It has been quite the puzzle trying to figure out how to fit in all we want, and need to do each day. This year, I am teaching 6th grade, Kindergarten, and Pre-Schoolâ€¦while simultaneously trying to keep a 1-year-old (constructively!) entertained. At the same time, I am also trying to get everyone to weekly band practice (during naptime!), grocery shopping, keeping track of the giant stacks of library books we check out each week, potty training, feeding growing children 3 (or more!) times a day, and attempting to keep the resulting piles of laundry and dishes under control! My days, and hands, are definitely full! Some days, it miraculously all gets done. Other days are a little (or, a lot!) crazy. The good days are sweet reminders of graciously answered prayers. The chaotic ones are too, but, they are also vivid reminders of Godâ€™s patience with His children, and opportunities to rely on His grace and strength when my own is severely lacking.
October â€“ We celebrated Rebekahâ€™s 3rd birthday! I think her favorite present was the bouquet of balloons from her party. She sang about them for a week! This little girl loves music! She loves to sing, dance, and pretend to play all sorts of instruments (but especially the flute, like her big sister!). Rebekah is equal parts sweetness and spunk. She is very compassionate, and it just breaks her little heart to see anyone sad or hurt. She is always the first to offer a hug when one of her friends or siblings is upset. And, she is our family cheerleader, and can often be heard encouraging her brother or sisters (or mom and dad!) with a hearty â€œGood job!â€ when they finish a chore, or project. She has joined us for pre-school this year, and is having fun with her own lessons, as well as listening in on a few her brotherâ€™s and sisterâ€™s. But, since she doesnâ€™t like to sit still for too long, we are keeping things simple and fun for her this year. She would much rather be outside, â€œfwingingâ€ (swinging), climbing up the slide, going to the park, riding her scooter or tricycle, and catching lizards or butterflies.
November â€“ On Thanksgiving, we got to enjoy a visit with Jasonâ€™s aunt, uncle, and grandmother. And, Rachel got to meet her Great-Grammy! The 3 older kids helped make our Thanksgiving desserts! It was so fun to work alongside them, and to see their excitement to share the pies that they helped to make.
December â€“ This month has already been busy with school, band and choir practices, fellowship with friends, and fun preparations for Christmas â€“ at church and at home!
At times, this year has looked very different than what we would have liked. But, as we reflect on all that took place â€“ the sweet and happy moments, as well as the sad times â€“ it was a year marked by the grace, the mercy, and the providence of a sovereign, loving God. And, as a new year lies before us, we continue to rest and rejoice in the steadfast goodness and faithfulness of our Lord.
We pray that He would be the source of your joy and hope this Christmas, and in the year to come.
By His Grace,
Jason, Veronica, Hannah, Titus, Rebekah, & Rachel Whitley