Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! Today I’m sharing our annual Christmas letter/Year-in-Review post – my very favorite post to write! Being both a sentimental person and one who just loves a good reason to make a new list of goals, New Year’s Eve/Day is one of my favorite holidays. I love looking back on the past year at the blessings and lessons that God gave us, and thinking about how to take what I have and what I’ve learned to grow even more in the next year. With that, here is our year in review: how God has blessed us, and what we’ve learned through events of the past year!
We started off the new year celebrating with our families in Iowa. After 3 weeks in the Midwest, we began the long drive back to our home in Tucson, Arizona. It was on that drive when we encountered some of the most stressful moments of our marriage – our good old 1998 Dodge Dakota truck broke down on us. TWICE. This resulted in missing out on some attractions we had planned to visit, unplanned hotel stays, a day stranded in Lamar, MO waiting for our truck to be fixed (for the first time), 4 combined hours by the side of the road watching traffic zoom by, and ended with being towed 250 miles because we were just ready to be home. All of this sounds like such a terrible experience for an already long and boring drive, right? Well, wrong…and also wrong. We actually love these long road trips and feel blessed that we have the option of driving everywhere. But through these intense moments of stress and uncertainty, God provided everything we needed. Within 2 hours each time, someone was there and able to take us where we needed to go. Both tow drivers allowed our darling puppy Charlotte to sit in the warm truck with us rather than in our truck in tow. When we were stuck in Lamar, MO, there were only 2 hotels in town, and the first one I called not only was available and affordable, but also dog friendly, AND they were understanding and let us hang out long past check-out time while waiting for our truck. The first repair shop wasn’t really even a legitimate business, just someone’s garage – but they took our truck anyway and fixed it up for us (and it worked for another [almost] 2 days full of driving!). And once we were home and this was over with, Curtis was able to repair the truck to sell, and we were able to make our first “big purchase” as a married couple – our new Jeep Patriot, Ghillie! As we drove back to Iowa this month and passed by those memorable spots, we recalled those desperate moments spent on the side of the road, and were grateful for how God protected and provided for us back then. And we are also extremely grateful for a car that works now. 😉
This spring was Curtis’ last semester at the University of Arizona. It was our favorite semester by far because he only had 2 days of classes every week, resulting in mid-week hikes and a 4 day weekend every week! We knew that we were incredibly spoiled by this and that life would change drastically after graduation, so we savored every single day together. When we weren’t out hiking and taking road trips around Southern AZ, we enjoyed doing puzzles and channeling our inner desires to be homesteaders by canning, dehydrating, and being resourceful with anything in our kitchen. While Curtis was in school, I was able to work for our pastor in Tucson doing online tasks for his website.
One of our favorite trips we took this year was our Utah Trip over Spring Break, which we called the “Gorgeous Gorges Trip.” We enjoyed seeing the beauty of God’s creation all around the National Parks of Southern Utah, and hiking 70 miles throughout the trip. Out of the 6 parks we hit, Zion blew us away the most! We absolutely loved our time living in the great Southwest and hope to return someday…but there are many other places we want to see first. 😉 Other highlights of the spring include hiking the Grand Canyon down and back in a day, and finding out we were going to become Uncle Curtis & Aunt Jessie in October!
Curtis graduated from the University of Arizona on May 14 with a double major in Physics and Astronomy, and a minor in Math. We had a great weekend celebrating with his family and friends. As soon as the celebrations were over, we were already in the final countdown of days left in Tucson. Curtis’ first orders with the Navy came in the nick of time, the day before we were to move out of our apartment. We packed away all but 2 tubs and some bags worth of our belongings into a Pod, then said goodbye to our friends and first home as we took off for the Midwest.
We arrived in Iowa in time to celebrate his brother Joel and my sister Joanna’s high school graduations and spend a little time with family. We then took off on our 2 year anniversary trip, just a little early to make up for not being together on the actual day. We spent a full week exploring Door County, Wisconsin, through hiking, letterboxing, kayaking, biking, and eating. It was a wonderfully relaxing week filled with togetherness, and we cherished every minute as the impending doom of separation loomed over us.
On June 13, we shared our last hugs and kisses for the summer before Curtis boarded a plane for Rhode Island to begin his training with the Navy. I may have thought that that day was the hardest one ever, but as it turned out, the days following it were pretty rough as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do without him. I was INCREDIBLY blessed by my family throughout the entire summer as they let me come back and live with them, and by Curtis’ family for helping keep me occupied. I went into this with a long list of to-do’s that included TV shows to binge watch on Netflix, but as it turned out, I never even had time for that! I traveled quite a bit – going to South Dakota with my family for a week and touring the Black Hills region, visiting Michigan with Curtis’ family for family reunions, and separate visits to see both sets of my grandparents and one trip to help move my brother back to college. When I wasn’t traveling, I was either working on my pastor’s website, helping my Mother-in-Law with painting sets for my old church’s Theater Camp, making up for lost time with my family, or making 80 unique cards to send to Curtis. Whew! It was a busy summer, but somehow even with all that, the days seemed to drag by and my countdown for the day I would be reunited with my husband went way too slow!
Curtis, on the other hand, was in Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, going through the intense training to become an Officer and a gentleman. He told me it was the hardest thing he’s ever done, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but I was impressed as I read through his letters and emails that even through the hardest times, he always acknowledged it as a trial from God, and something he needed to go through to make him a stronger person – not just for the military, but as a man, a husband, and a Christian. He made it through each test and trial, one day at a time, and still managed to be a great husband to me in the process. It got gradually easier for us though, as communication went from nothing, to letters, to emails, to phone calls, and finally some Skyping. While being apart was undoubtedly the biggest struggle we faced this year, through it all we could see God at work, strengthening our marriage and holding us together.
September FINALLY came, and after 81 days of being apart, we were reunited in Rhode Island! I am ever so thankful that my dad and sister Gina made the big trip with me and Curtis’ family to go celebrate his graduation from OCS and commissioning as an Ensign in the US Navy. We couldn’t be more proud of him, for all he’s done and all he’s going to do! Besides the graduation festivities, we packed our long Labor Day weekend trip full with historical sites and other attractions in Newport, RI; Concord and Boston, MA; and Saratoga, NY.
After we made it back to Iowa, we turned around and packed up our Jeep for the next chapter in our Navy journey: back to Tucson, AZ for temporary duty until it was time for the next step. We took our sweet time getting back though, and spent 9 days slowly making our way through Colorado, without a clear plan of where we were going and what we were doing, just eager to have some adventures together. What we learned from this experience is that we actually prefer to have a plan and know where to go! Some highlights of this trip were discovering the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, randomly deciding to do a long drive around the West Elk Loop, finding an old resort that had been restored, and hiking to the highest elevation the 3 of us had been to: Mt. Sniktau, 13,234 ft above elevation! (It’s no 14er, but for being at sea level in RI earlier that week, it was pretty good!)
We made it back to Tucson, where we lived for the next 2 ½ months. Our good friend Mitch was kind enough to open his home to us for the time we were there. These months were both incredibly easy, yet also challenging for us – Curtis was “working” part time in an office, but never actually felt like he was doing much. We were both very anxious to move to our next home across the country, and have adventures in a state that was new to us. However, we were thankful to be back in the Southwest to celebrate different milestones in other people’s lives: our friends Mitch and Julianna, AND Austin and Seneca got engaged, we attended Austin & Seneca’s wedding, and we were able to meet our new niece, Grace Kathryn, who made her grand debut on October 18! She may not remember those times we spent with her in her first month-and-a-half of life, but we will always cherish them, and we look forward to watching her grow and hopefully making many more memories with her! Also while in AZ, we enjoyed hiking through Chiricahua National Monument, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, hosting our first Thanksgiving meal, and Curtis was able to throw Mitch a bachelor party, going sea fishing in San Diego!
After one last weekend with our friends and Curtis’ sister Lydia and Grace, we set off on our last grand journey for the year: driving from Arizona to South Carolina, with stops in Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan. (Because of his side trip to San Diego, Curtis is now able to say that he drove from coast to coast to coast between September and December!) Once again, we praise God for safe travels, a reliable vehicle, and a very special time with both of our families. And for some added blessings, He even provided a place for us to move into before Christmas, and we got all our stuff back after 7 months in storage! This Christmas looked a lot different than in years past, but we are so overwhelmed with joy and thanks for all God did in our lives in 2015. Through every high and ever low, in every season, He is faithful, and we praise Him for that!
And with that, I’d like to share the song that’s been on my mind for this past month. It’s a great old hymn called “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The lines that have stood out to me so much say “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.” I couldn’t think of a better way to sum up this year. We came into it with so many questions, fears, and requests, but God was with us and He showed us time and time again that He is faithful, He does not change, and He will meet all our needs.
 Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
[chorus] Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
 Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
 Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!