Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Official Rutledge Family Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family:

It is time once again for the annual Christmas letter. We are in the process of moving to a more electronic format but I will continue to send a paper copy to those who have not yet fully bought in to the electronic world. I actually like the hard copy myself. I have all of our letters from years past along with all of the letters we have gotten from friends and family in a large three ring binder (actually, we have had to split them into two three ring binders). It has become an interesting sort of family journal tracking the highs and the lows each year.

If you have been reading my blog you know that this has not been an easy year in many ways and the last quarter of the year has been particularly difficult. I will refer you to other posts for details on that and will focus here on more of a year in review. In spite of the difficulties, we were still quite successful in making many happy memories. Some of the highlights include:

  • Strengthening relationships through our home school group; Daniel is somewhere between 3rd and 4th grade now and we are in our second year of more academic classes with our home school group. We meet three Fridays a month for about 6 months of the year. In 2010 he had classes on rockets, weapons, writing, biology, and literature. He also does history with a couple other families once a week and at home we focus on math, spelling and reading in addition to his home school group classes. All in all his education is coming along nicely and the relationships we are building with the other families in our group are priceless
  • Two gatherings with the Rutledge Family; In April we spent several days together in Florida at Burt's sister's place and in November we made our traditional trip to Nashville. It was wonderful to all be together. Daniel really enjoys his cousins!
  • While we were in Florida we also got to spend a little time with my dad & Jeanie.
  • More Michigan vacationing with my family; In May we spent a week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with my mom & Harold, my brother (Tim) and my niece, Leslie. We found a fabulous cabin to rent and really had a wonderful time. If you want to see pictures you can check them out at our Shutterfly share site.
  • Daniel had his first camp experience in July at Michigan Christian Youth Camp (MCYC) and he absolutely loved it. I really had not considered sending him yet but someone at church mentioned it in March and he said he wanted to so we did it and it worked out so well. We are thinking about doing one of the winter camp weekends in January or February.
  • We spent a fair amount of time in the summer attending weddings (and photographing a few as well) of former students. One of the highlights for Daniel and I was a trip to Kentucky / Virginia with some good friends for the wedding of Lydia & Mitch Ruter. They got married at Cumberland Gap and the whole trip was really a very special experience.
I know we did many other things but it just is not coming back to me right now and I really want to get this letter out. I pray that whatever your circumstance this Christmas you will find peace, joy and comfort and that you will make the most of every moment you have.

May the Lord bless you and keep you until we meet again!

Sunday, December 12 we had a big snow and my son, niece & nephew spent a couple hours enjoying the first snowfall of the season. It was pretty wicked by this point in the day and the kids were headed in from the cold.
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The next day Daniel continued to enjoy the snow. I love the view with the barn behind him!


I am not sure how to write my annual Christmas letter. The last two months have been filled with such pain that I cannot, in good conscience, write a shiny happy "oh everything is wonderful" letter because really, it's not. The lows of 2010 have felt lower than any I have known and yet there were highs also. If nothing else, I want my letter every year to be real and I am just not sure how to capture all of this. Perhaps this is a start ...

This year has been a tough one emotionally. In March Burt got an infection through his pic line and was hospitalized for 10 days or so (honestly, I don't remember ... I do my best to let go of any details like this that are necessary to retain). What I do remember is that it was horrendous and the scariest thing we have encountered during the entire course of this illness. He was running a fever around 105, completely lost touch with reality for 2 or 3 days and, whether it was rational or not, I really did not think he was going to make it for a couple of days.

And yet, in that, God made his presence known through two dear friends who basically did not leave my side for 3 days and countless others who either came by, brought food, or donated money to help cover unexpected expenses and make up for the salary that I lost when I had to drop a class. It was probably the worst experience of my life so far but God was still there and still good.

On November 9 my community suffered the tragic loss of a wonderful young man, father, husband and leader in the church when Jeremy King suffered cardiac arrest and died while hunting. Jeremy was a wonderful man and he was fiercely devoted to his wife and children. He served as the worship leader for the Rochester church of Christ and was the grounds supervisor at Rochester College. He and his wife, Veronica were students at Rochester nearly 10 years ago and Burt and I actually did some pre-marital counseling with them. The really were a wonderful couple. Veronica has been very open in sharing her grief. If you want to know more about her and her family, check out His loss hit the entire community like a Mack truck and has left a gaping hole.

And yet, his funeral on Saturday and worship service at Rochester on Sunday were among the most intensely spiritual experiences I have had. The presence of God was so strong in that room as hundreds of people gathered, still in shock, to grieve and celebrate Jeremy's life and offer support to Veronica and her kids. My words cannot adequately capture the moment but, through it all, God was there and He was still good. In the days that have followed, Veronica and the kids have been showered with blessings and Jeremy's life and sudden death have inspired many people to do more, appreciate what they have, and make the most of each moment.

Today, Burt is in Pennsylvania with his best friend from high school, Shane Cox, and his family. Shane is losing his battle with brain cancer. He was diagnosed in August of 2009 and fought hard but his journey is nearly over. His 14 year old daughter posted this on Facebook last night: "I'm never going to walk down the isle with daddy when I get married.He is dying maybe 2 more days.Tonite I read the whole book of Job to daddy because daddy is like Job.He NEVER doubts God.Daddy is so week he can't talk.As I was reading to him he squeezed my hand & looked at me.I will never forget the look he gave me.Hes the only father I have & no child should have to lose their father at our ages.I ♥ u daddy" I cannot wrap my mind around this pain. She is the oldest of 4.

Burt has had the opportunity to spend the last few days there with them and to talk some with Shane as well as spend time with the kids. When I say that Burt and Shane were best friends, I don't think that adequately captures the depth of their relationship. As is true of many of us, that adolescent transition time of high school was a bit rocky for Burt. He and Shane were closer than brothers. They did everything together and Shane's parents, Rick and Judy, were like second parents to him. Indeed, Burt and I only met because Rick, Judy, and Shane convinced him to leave sunny Florida and come to cold, frigid Michigan to a little place called Michigan Christian College after high school. Although we have not been in close contact over the years since then, Shane is very much part of the fabric of who we are. Burt has suffered loss through death before. His brother, Chris, died when they were kids and both of his parents have already passed on but this is so intense and so difficult.

And yet, God is present and He is still good. He has provided Burt with the stamina to be able to make three trips in the last 15 months to spend time with Shane and his family and to be a support. This has been as important for Burt as it has been for them. He has provided resources that have helped Burt to be able to process his grief over this in a more healthy way than he ever has before. Weeping may not be fun. Hurt does not feel good. But it is healthy and it is a part of life.

And so, in this 2010 holiday season, I am burdened with deep sadness and grief. And yet, I will move forward with more commitment to love those who are dear to me and to give the best that I have. How can I not when I have been given this time and others have not? I will grieve when it is time to grieve and I will dance when it is time to dance. I will do my best to be a living tribute and to be the hands and feet for those who are not able to be here now. I pray that my faith, and yours, will continue to be strengthened by the inspiration of people like Jeremy and Shane and by God's presence in the midst of such difficult times.