My Thoughts on Christmas Letters, Alumni Magazines and My Tendency to Compare Myself (oh, and My New Year's Letter)

Photo cards from friends and family hang in our entry where we see them often.
I love getting Christmas cards and Christmas letters in the mail. It's so fun to get mail that you can actually hold in your hand and photos that you don't have to download. I enjoy seeing the photo cards, how big the kids have grown, how hair styles have changed, and telling my kids about the people in the pictures. I like sitting down with a cup of coffee, usually after Christmas has past, and re-reading (slower this time) the letters from old friends.

But if I'm honest, sometimes I wonder about the whole Christmas letter tradition. Trying to get a letter out on top of all the other Christmas activities seems to be a little much, which is probably why I haven't written a letter in a while. And I like getting the letters, I really do, but -- is it only me? -- I begin to think that our family is the only family that has any problems because everyone's letters are very impressive... Their kids are geniuses! superstars! supermodels! the next Mother Teresa or Billy Graham! They went to exotic places for vacation! They built their dream house! They got their dream job! They own their dream job!

I read these impressive letters and I am happy for them. Really, I am. But sometimes I get a little bit jealous. I admit it. It's the same reason that I throw away my college's Alumni Magazine without even reading it. I just don't want to read it and feel like I have wasted my education or feel like I haven't done anything with my life. I am fairly certain that I am not what they want to hold up as an example to high school recruits and potential donors. I know that I have "done something with my life" and haven't "wasted my education," but it's what I struggle with when all I see are success stories as the world, and my alma mater, defines them.

Comparing. It's so easy to do. If I want authenticity in my relationships, I need to let others be honest about their successes as well as their failures. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Without comparing myself to them.

I want to let others be successful without thinking I am a failure in comparison.

There. I said it. Sometimes I feel like a failure when others are successful. Sometimes it's hard to see how well people are doing when you don't feel like you are doing very well yourself. That's usually when I have to battle my inner condemner and get centered. This isn't something I'm proud of. I'm just being honest about something I struggle with.

I'm also fairly certain -- because I am somewhat aware of how we human beings work -- that behind every success story there is some amount of pain. And while it is acceptable to share the success stories in Alumni Magazines and Christmas Letters, it's not as socially acceptable to share the pain. It's vulnerable. And mass mailings are not always safe.

So, even as I hear my condemner telling me that they have what I want, my centered self reminds me to be thankful for what I have. Because I really do have a lot to be thankful for. Besides, the world's definition of success is not what I seek. Not really. And because of that, I can truly rejoice with those who rejoice without comparing myself and feeling like a failure. When my focus is on God, not my impressiveness (or lack thereof), I am able to be centered and authentic.

This reminds me of when Jesus told Peter how Peter would die and Peter looked at John and asked, "what about him?" Even Peter was prone to compare himself with others. In response, Jesus said, "if I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (John 21)

I can't compare myself to anyone. Not other alumni. Not artists, authors or bloggers. Not even my own family. If God wants them to remain until Jesus comes - or be super successful while I am super average -what is that to me? I just need to follow Jesus.

We haven't sent out a Christmas letter for a very long time.
I thought I'd write one, but then it became a New Year's letter. :)
This one is not going out in the mail with a Christmas stamp... It's for those of you who visit me here.
(I'd love it if you left a comment so that I know who you are.)

New Year's Eve, 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

I can't believe how fast 2012 came and went. I say that every year. Why is is so hard to believe?

John, Kaitlin and Sarah keep growing. I can't stop them. I wish I could because they keep growing out of their clothes and shoes, which is not good for our budget. (Although Kaitlin and I can now share clothes, so I don't have to buy clothes for myself anymore. I just need to make sure that I buy her clothes that I like...!) As of this writing, John is just a fraction of an inch shorter than I am. Not for long. And Sarah, my baby!, will soon be out of children's sizes.

The kids are doing well in school, all of them getting very good grades. They keep us busy running to and from different sports practices and games. John plays football (quarterback/safety), baseball (shortstop/pitcher) and Minecraft. Kaitlin plays volleyball (she aspires to get a scholarship at a school in Southern California!), Facetime and KROC. And Sarah plays softball, basketball, soccer and Moshi Monsters.

They are all showing a knack for creativity, too, which makes me happy. John has discovered a talent for photography and videography. Kaitlin loves all sorts of design, from fashion to interior to makeup and hair. Sarah is a talented artist as well as a creative writer. Her drawings decorate our house.

I really enjoy the ages that the kids are now. It's fun having middle schoolers in the house. I love laughing with our kids. They all have such a great sense of humor. I love talking to them about their (and our) issues. They all seem to tolerate each other pretty well. Although they can do the sibling rivalry thing pretty well, too.

JD continues to be the area director for FCA. He's seen much growth in the ministry and in the individuals he works with. Ministry can be tough because of the spiritual warfare. It takes a toll. You see some people come to Christ, others fall away.  It's sad when seeds fall on hard ground or when people get sucked away with busyness or love of things that won’t satisfy. Leadership can be lonely and challenging.  We are seeking God’s direction and clear vision. We trust Him for provision and guidance.

I'm working at a low income elderly apartment complex as property manager. It's not something that I ever saw myself doing (I always wanted to be at home with the kids and doing something creative), but I am thankful for the job. It's a way that God is providing for us. And I do enjoy being able to work with the elderly tenants there, honoring them.

Sometimes my heart aches over not being home when my kids get home from school - and honestly I was mad at God about it for a while. I am thankful, though, for the years that I was able to be at home with them and in ministry with my husband. Things don't look like what I thought I wanted them to look like. They rarely ever do. I'm learning to embrace things the way they are, even if they are not the way I wanted them to be.

JD and I celebrated our 18 year anniversary this past summer. We are so grateful for God's grace in our marriage and to our family. We feel like newlyweds in many ways as we learn to love each other better.

We've found a great church that we've been attending for over a year now. It is a church plant, so it began very small but is growing steadily. We like it because we feel like we have finally found a place here where we can be "real" without fear. The kids like it too, which is huge. So glad for that. For a place where we can grow and learn and enjoy and be real.

As 2012 draws to a close, I think about the beginning of 2012, when we prayed for a year of Jubilee. We wanted a jubilee, we needed a season of rejoicing. We prayed for a certain relief and release, but it did not come to pass in 2012. Still, we can look back on 2012 and rejoice in what God has done in our own hearts and minds. 2012 was a Jubilee year in our hearts.

I wish you a wonderful 2013.

Anne B.

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