Opening our gifts: 2018 year-in-review
They come home one by one. First Leah, from Indiana Wesleyan University. Then Chloe, from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Next comes Jared, flying home from Austin, Texas. And then Seth and Maddie make the trek from Grand Rapids. The past couple of years, I've made a little display by way of Facebook posts of these, my best gifts, as they arrive on the days before Christmas.
My heart is full as we all sit down on Christmas morning to open our gifts. It has been a "winning" year in some respects, and so we start with the annual matching group gift: t-shirts from our winning teams. Jared's alma mater, Notre Dame, went 12-0 on the regular season (we won't talk about the Cotton Bowl). Our kids' high school, Edwardsburg's football team won the Michigan State Championship in Division 4 for the first time in school history. And even Maddie's High School, Unity Christian (in Hudsonville, MI), won the state championship for Division 5! Yes, there were many victories this past year.
But we lost something very special this year as well, and there is an ache in my heart this Christmas morning. Although my home and heart are full, I can't help thinking of the emptiness in the hearts of our dear friends. One week before Christmas, 27-year-old Morgan Bolt, died after a 4-year battle with cancer. He was a friend to our boys growing up, and their family and ours have been close for a very long time. Our hearts are broken for his young wife Christina, his parents, Marv and Linda, and his siblings, extended family and friends.
The next gifts everyone pulls out of their bags are Morgan's books. He left the gift of himself through his writing, as he published two books just prior to his death. We all pause for a moment as we remember Morgan and all he meant to us. His memory lives on in our hearts, and though we celebrate Christmas with love and laughter, there will be many thoughts of Morgan and prayers for his family, intermingling our joy and sadness.
As is our tradition, we open our gifts youngest to oldest, one at time. This way, the unwrapping is savored for a couple of hours, and each giver is able to enjoy the getter's response...be it surprise, laughter, or total over-the-top excitement!
Normally we'd start with Chloe, but her boyfriend Caleb (who's five months younger) joins us this year and takes over the #1 spot, much to Chloe's chagrin. Caleb loves adventure, and so he receives a daypack for hiking and a blanket to use when sleeping outside (or inside) in his hammock. He is enamored with the personalized calendar and nice wristwatch Chloe gives him, and I smile as I think how time keeps ticking on for the two of them. Although separated by miles, they have kept their relationship going for over a year and a half. Only time will tell what their future holds.
Chloe has picked up on Caleb's sense of adventure as well. Going to school in Minnesota, though difficult for our homebody during her first year, now feels much more like home during this, her sophomore year. She loves singing in choir, hanging with friends, working at the library, and, oh yeah...studying (she's double majoring in Math and the Classics). Chloe's big Christmas gift is a large purple suitcase to match the medium one she got last year. Now she's all set for her big travel plans. She will spend the month of January in Greece (for three weeks) as she studies Greek Art and Archeology, and then explores Paris (for one week) just for fun. Then if all goes as planned, in 2020, she hopes to study abroad for her spring semester.
Next up is Leah, who turned 21 in June. (Taking the family out for dinner got one-drink-more expensive this year!) Leah's gifts, like Chloe's, also look toward her future. She opens a ton of piano method books she can use in teaching piano students, as well as kids' handbells and "boom-whackers" she can use in music therapy. She's completed her first semester of practicum (working with senior citizens) and so far, loves her chosen profession. Now in her 4th year of college (2nd at IWU), it looks like she'll need at least one more to get in all of her requirements. She's not too sad about that, as she loves IWU and the friends she's made there.
It's Seth's turn, and it's nice to see many of his presents this year are accessories and lights for his new bike (an early birthday gift to himself), as he's picked up the biking bug from his parents. He's feeling more energetic and healthy, finding new bike paths around Grand Rapids, and joining us for another "Ride for Hospice" this past fall. In nice weather, Seth is often found biking to work at his job with Rose Pest Solutions (awarded one of Michigan's top workplaces for 2018 by the Detroit Free Press). If we ever have problems with bedbugs, at least we know "who we're gonna' call!"
We move on up to Maddie next. Her gifts seem to center around two themes: kitchen gadgets and stress relievers. Maddie enjoys cooking when she has time, but with an hour commute back and forth to her teaching job in Kalamazoo (at Paramount Charter Academy), she is always on the lookout for new Instant Pot recipes. It has been a stressful year at her school, as it began with lots of staff turnover. Hopefully Maddie's new yoga mat and blocks, as well as essential oils, will help her find some relief after long days and weeks with some challenging special needs students. Of course Gibson and Cody, their dog-children, also bring much joy to this "Dog-Mom" and "DogFather."
The oldest of the kids, Jared's turn is next. His siblings encourage relaxation and past-times with gifts of new juggling balls and a video game. His real passion though, continues to be his work (at Accenture) and entrepreneurial dreams. His new wood-working hobby allowed him to "gift" each of us with a sweet little wooden succulent pot. Still a professed minimalist, his list this Christmas focuses on quality, not quantity. A nice pair of pants, and some new red shoes round out his gifts. Just like his shoes, Jared's own gifts and dreams stand out and we can't wait to see where they bring him!
I guess I'm next. I already feel blessed, just having all my kids home and together under my roof. But they insist on giving me more gifts, and so I oblige and unwrap my treasures: A headlight, taillight and helmet lights for keeping me safe on my bicycle. A curling iron and sweater shaver for keeping me looking good. A new stadium blanket for keeping me warm at Eddies and Notre Dame football games. And with my writing taking on a bigger role in my life this year (through an online writing class with my writer-friend Callie Feyen), two new books on writing for keeping me encouraged on this new venture. Looks like I'm all set for another year!
And finally, Tom, the "pater familias." Again, more bike lights (I see a pattern here). (Note: We were both temporarily blinded when we pushed the button on our new taillights while looking at them, so I guess those cars will see us!) Biking is still Tom's main passion, both outdoors in spring, summer and fall; and indoors when the daylight is too short. His new cadence meter and a subscription to Zwift will help him stay motivated as he bikes through a virtual world in the basement this winter. While he continues to deal with nerve issues in his hand and fingers from his elbow injury over a year ago, we are thankful that the elbow is working just fine and hasn't stopped him from riding. Tom's gifts of Notre Dame shirts (three this year!) show his support for his employer (and excitement at the success of their football team!), and tickets to ND hockey and women's B-ball will feed his sports-loving passion for awhile.
The gifts have been opened, and the only thing left under the tree is a sleepy Migizi (our 3-year-old cat). Our little dog, Jolie, now 12 years old, is also exhausted and resting at my feet. The kids are all spending the night up at Seth and Maddie's house, so our nest is temporarily empty again, allowing me this time to recall and reflect on our holiday and our year.
If we could count our blessings in miles, we would be blessed beyond measure! I don't know how many miles we traveled, but Tom and I were on the go much of the year. We checked out Jared's new digs in Austin in February (the girls each had a chance to visit him there as well, and had a great time with their big bro). In April, we celebrated our 30th anniversary with an amazing trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Later that month we drove to Omaha, where we witnessed the marriage of Korynne (Morgan's sister) to her Seth. In July, we did our usual two weeks in Minnesota with many of my family. In August, we celebrated our 35-year reunion with Tom's college roommates (the Beta 4 gang) at a beach house on Emerald Island, North Carolina.
October brought us to Nashville to celebrate the wedding of my niece, Emily, to Adam. In November, Seth and Maddie joined us for a weekend trip to Corning (New York), where we visited the Bolt family, made some memories, and sadly, said our good-byes to Morgan. In addition there have been many quick jaunts to St. Olaf and Indiana Wesleyan to help the girls move or see their choir concerts, and to Lafayette and DeMotte to see our parents and siblings.
Our families are doing well overall, and we continue to count them as some of our greatest gifts. We are so thankful that my brother Jon has made a complete recovery after his ruptured brain aneurysm in July, a huge scare for my family. My parents continue to deal with the effects of aging and my mom's Alzheimer's, but are still able to stay in their home with the addition of some in-home help. Tom's mom also continues to manage in her own home, with the help of Tom's siblings who all live nearby.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention all of you, our family and friends, among our Christmas blessings. Your presence in our lives...be it through Christmas photos, cards, or letters; texts, phone calls, emails, Facebook, or visits; or just being there to say "good morning" to us at work, or "peace to you" at church...these are most certainly a few of our favorite things.
As I ponder all the new "things" we got for Christmas, as well as the many experiences we had over the year, and the love we share with family and friends, I am reminded of the words Morgan left for us before his passing:
“So go, live fully. Have more experiences than things...Go take a risk. Go live, really live. Life is shorter than we think, and we have no guarantees. Live well and love everyone, without exception.”
The love we have to give is only a dim reflection of the greatest gift of Love that came down from heaven to earth on that first Christmas night. May you experience His love, peace, joy and comfort during this holiday season and throughout the New Year.
With love from all of us,
Tom, Linda, Jared, Seth & Maddie, Leah and Chloe
Note: If you'd like, you can read more about our year and some of our adventures (in detail), through my previous posts on this blog. Did you miss last year's review? You can find it here!