2012 in Review {The 2012 Clark Christmas Letter}

 Stream of consciousness style. 

Bear with me. 

Feel free to skip my words and just look at some of 
my favorite family photos from the past 12 months.
Overall, a great year. 

Victory in some areas of usual yearly defeat so that felt great. 

Still and forever crazy in love with my Jack man. 
He makes me laugh every single day. 
He is a man of honor and integrity and his love for Jesus is an inspiration. 
An incredible father and husband and I don't take that for granted.

Our church (South Park Church) continues to be a weekly highlight and joy. We love the people we're doing life with -- it's a place of authenticity and growth and we love that God plopped us down at SPC back in 2001 after an internet search of "churches within a 5 mile radius". 
Who knew? 
God did. 

 Blessed beyond belief with the number of delightful girlfriends in my life, both local, national and international. 
Just a few of those many dear friends pictured below.

I feel unbelievably fortunate that God has given me so many incredible, quality gals to do life with. We laugh, we cry, we challenge, we listen, we care, and then we laugh and cry some more!

I was talking with another friend this past year and she is so desperately lonely for close girlfriends that know her and get her and understand her and my heart broke for her. I don't take deep, meaningful friendship for granted. 
So many walk this road all alone.
I have been reminded, throughout 2012, that I am not alone. 
And for that I thank God, almost daily. 
And I'm so not exaggerating.

 My word for 2012 was "gentle" {see these posts for my yearly 'words'... 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009} 
I do feel like I did grow in gentleness this year. 
Gentleness of tone with my kids was the main area I was looking to grow in. Still a ways to go, no doubt... 

Seeing the kids' little personalities continue to develop this year makes me smile somewhere deep within. Jackson is ALL about people. Loves his friends.
Is incredibly loyal. Is silly to his core. Loves to make people laugh.
Feels things INCREDIBLY deeply.
The boy has passion. I love that.

Maddie continues to have a deeply sensitive heart for others.
She would have random strangers around our table every
night of the week if we let her. Deep within her is the 
desire to make wrongs right. To see justice. To help.
She continues to notice those at school that go unnoticed by most.
Her highest compliments come from those random adults at
school that stop us in the hallway and tell us of Maddie's 
kindness with the special needs children. Sitting with them
at lunch. Playing with them at recess.

As for parenting in general, I hit a low in June. Just feeling like a failure as a mom, with kids arguing 24-7. As in TWENTY-FOUR-SEVEN
I truly was feeling lousy about the mom area of my life. 
But since then, things have improved (most days) 
and I feel like I'm at a much better place now than 6 months ago. 

 I think one of the hardest times of the year came in July when Jack's dad had taken a turn for the worse from his massive heart attack in September of 2011, and I really felt like I was having to say good-bye to him for the last time. 
He was accepted into Mayo Clinic up in MN so Jack and his sister drove him up there for the week to be tested and such, and the assumption was that he would probably stay there and undergo major surgery. 

And there was just a deep sadness in my heart 
as I backed out of Aunt Ruthie's driveway, 
with the kids in the back seat, 
waving goodbye to Dad Clark, 
feeling like somehow that might be the last time we'd see him. 

God has been so good to give us many more months with him, 
and he seems to be stabilizing a bit, 
so we are just thankful for every extra visit we get with him, 
realizing now, the severity of the heart attack. 

I know that for many the term father-in-law might be negative, 
but for me, 
my father-in-law has taken me in as his very own daughter 
and has loved on me and shown such generosity 
and kindness and love through the years. 
I feel very, very grateful to God that He gave me the gift 
of a healthy relationship with Jack's dad. 
I love him so. 

Let's see. What else? Well, my photography business just boomed the past six months and for that I'm feeling so fortunate. 
I get to do what I love. 
I can't even express the joy that part of my life has brought. 
It's a gift from God that I don't take for granted. 

I know for many of my friends it was a hard year. 
Major health issues.
Loss of loved ones. 
Job losses.
Lonely, dark times in relationships. 
Doubt in God's presence and his goodness. 
Dreams shattered.
So in that regard, my heart felt broken as they walked those roads. 
When people you love are hurting you just want to take their hurts away 
and hurl those hurts into the ocean's deep. 

 We made a new family friend in 2012 
which has reminded us once again that 
the gift of being a family for others is 
indeed a rich way to spend our time and energy. 

2012 brought incredible travel opportunities. 
 Last winter Jack and I spent a week in Cozumel, 
which we affectionately refer to as 'our island.'
Scuba diving was unbelievable.
A renewed passion for sure. 
When you're 100 feet down and you see massive sea turtles and manta rays and every other imaginable sea creature you just can't help but think about how INCREDIBLY CREATIVE God is. 

I mean, come on. 

And, I pushed through some serious fears {like going down 100 feet and through caverns at 70-90 feet and falling over backwards off a boat and into the ocean full of scuba gear.} So that felt great to face and conquer those fears and know that I can do it. And then to reap the benefits of seeing the incredible underworld life really was worth facing each fear -- boy howdy, if that
wasn't a great lesson to learn. 
Have courage!

In April my dear friend Kristin and I flew to L.A. where I was reunited with loved ones from my stint in Indonesia. 
Jonny up and got married. He's one of those kids of mine (I was a teacher there for 3 years, for those new to the blog) whose family took me in and made me part of their own. 
He's like a little brother. 
And so Kristin, Barb, Ailie and I explored L.A. and Malibu and everywhere in between and witnessed an incredible wedding between Jonny and his beautiful bride, Nina.  

Truly one of my favorite long weekends of this year. And, what I really loved was that someone from my current world {Kristin} got to enter into my "other" life and sort of understand why those Indonesian relationships are so extremely precious to me. She got to know a piece of my heart that 
I don't often get to share. 
I love when my worlds collide. 
Most people don't. 
I do. 

Also got to spend a long weekend in Mississippi in June to celebrate my little cousin's marriage. 
Super fun weekend with treasured family.

Spent plenty of weekends up at the lake in Michigan over the summer, relaxing on the boat, eating out at Frona's Pantry and generally just lazying it up.

And then there's little Coco. 
Our sweet little Coco Puff, Coco Butters.  
Has she brought unexpected joy to me or what? 
Seriously, I really don't even like dogs and yet somehow she has single-handedly made me a lover of VERY SMALL canines. 

If I were being completely honest, I do think God brought all 1 pound 4 ounces of her into our lives to slow me down. 

You see, I tend to live life fast.
 And I think if I were being brutally honest, 
I'm finally weary of running around and getting this done and that done.
Sometimes I get the yearning to just sit and be. 

But that doesn't happen very often.

 And so with having a little creature to tend to, 
I naturally had to be home more this year, to let her out and, well, 
she was just little so I couldn't leave her alone. 
So it has been really good for me. 

No doubt I am forgetting other highlights from this year --- hello Cookie Weekend, and Thanksgiving and home to Canada for Christmas. And Cleary ran her first Marathon so that was fun to celebrate with her. Hello amazing!

Cousins from Texas came for a week during their Spring Break. 
We packed a wallop of fun into that week. 
Love them!

Rock Lake, Canada in August and Door County, Wisconsin in October need no introduction if you've hung around this blog for any amount of time.

Family and nature. 
Doesn't get any better.

Of course this was the year of the Chicago teacher's strike so that bought the kids and I an extra week vacation in Canada in September. 
Which we loved. 
{Of course, the kids are now going to school until the end of June and days of our Christmas vacation are disappearing, so that sucks. But we'll remember with fondness our extra 10 days of summer vacation in 2012!}

 Just a few weeks ago, my brother and I got to watch as Mum and Dad were sworn in as Canadian citizens. 

This caused mass confusion over Facebook for many of you, 
so I'll tell the entire story.
Mum and Dad, both Americans, met in Bible College in the 60s in Memphis, TN, and ended up going to Canada for Dad to teach in a Bible College. 

Lenny and I were born in Northern Ontario, and 
we lived up North until both of us went to the States for college.

Mum and Dad, however, never left. 

After 44 years in Canada they decided to 
make it legal and become Canadian citizens. 

Up until this point they have been 'landed immigrants.' Which basically has meant that they have every privilege as a Canadian citizen except the right to vote AND have a CB radio. 
(Seriously, isn't the CB radio part crazy? We laughed our silly heads off about that one. But it's true. Look it up. And for the record, Mum and Dad were rebels because they OWNED a CB radio as non-Canadian citizens. How dare they?)

I digress. 

Mum and Dad were under the assumption all these years that they were unable to become Canadian citizens unless they would give up their U.S. citizenship. 
And they were not willing to do that. 

Howeva, about a year and a half ago, they found out that indeed that wasn't true and they could keep their U.S. citizenship AND become Canadians. 

So, they began the process to become Canadians, which took a year and a half. 

On 12.12.12
they were sworn in, 
in French and English, 
as Canadian citizens. 

Not gonna lie, had tears in my eyes as they went through that very meaningful ceremony and I sang, with gusto, the Canadian National Anthem! 

Since becoming a Canadian, Mum has begun to spell words properly. 
Favor is now favour. 
Honor is now honour. 
She's finally getting it right after all these years. 
She has been making butter tarts like a mad woman.
She has been known to sing O Canada in her sleep.
And, "eh" has shown up in a fair number of her sentences since 
Now if we can get her to sign up for French classes at Western we'll be convinced she really wants to be Canadian.

 In February, Nicole (my dear childhood/lifelong friend)  
and her kids came for a hockey tournament. 
Their first time to our home. 
I loved showing her my Chicago world. 

{And who is THIS good-lookin' fam I ask?}
Boy do I love my Nicole. There's something rich about someone knowing your entire history. 
{Her parents and mine are best friends and I can't even begin to contain all the memories our families have made together over the decades. 
She is a sister. A dear, sweet sister.}

Someone learned to water ski this year. 
And somebody was uber proud of his boy.

And someone gained more confidence in her water skiing ability. 
I LOVE this picture of Maddie. Perhaps my favorite of her this year.

Our dear friend Hiyam did some dangerous travel this past year, so when she landed safely on American soil it was all we could do to contain our joy -- and relief. Here she is, seeing her daughter for the first time in a month  
(or maybe 5 weeks? I can't remember now.)
God heard our prayers. 
We had people literally praying around the clock, 
on the hour, 
for her safety. 
It was that dangerous.
And God answered our cries on her behalf.

He carried her through perilous roads and 
brought her back safely to her daughter and to us. 
She is precious to me. 

Both Madison and Jackson sang their first solos in December of 2012. 
Super proud of them both. 

Here's Maddie singing a Kwanza song. She sang with confidence and
did such a great job looking out into the crowd, making eye contact.
And that was Jackson as he began his singing, in German, of O Tannenbaum. He sang like an angel. Super proud of him, too.

I've been reminded, 
this year of 2012,
that while there are just huge quantities of evil and darkness all around, 

"Jesus is the Light of the world."
John 8:12

I hope and pray that your Christmas has been
meaningful and moving.

I also hope and pray that 2013 will be a year where each
of us grow one step closer to Jesus, wherever
we are on that faith continuum. 

I pray that the Light of the World
-- Jesus --
would intersect with your corner
of our world and meet your
deepest needs; healing past
hurts, comforting you in your losses,
causing you to sing for joy in your happy times. 

I have personally found that 
He alone gives Hope. 
He alone gives Life. 
Abundant life.
He alone is the 
Light of the world.  


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