As long as January isn’t quite over, then I think there’s still time enough for letting January be a time of reflection and resolutions. Without further ado, here’s my review of 2011 – in the format of a Christmas letter (which we did not send out this year).
THE (un-sent) NELSON 2011 CHRISTMAS LETTER
What a year for the Nelson family, full of headlines and milestones as we completed our first year with our twin daughters, Lucia and Alethia, and became increasingly rooted in Norfolk, Virginia, at Trinity Presbyterian Church. A few of these, in chronological order:
- Lucia and Alethia learn how to roll over
- Heather returns to work as a part-time counselor at Trinity Presbyterian Church after an 8 month maternity leave
- Seth turns 30 (without the fanfare Heather sought to give him, his request)
- Reverend Seth Nelson baptizes his daughters, Lucia Elizabeth and Alethia Sarah
- Lucia and Alethia begin solid foods – pureed peas and bananas are the favorites
- Trinity Presbyterian Church votes as a congregation to promote Seth to “Associate Pastor”
- Davis Family Kiawah Week 2011 introduces the twins to the beach; their favorite activity: eating sand
- Lucia and Alethia learn how to crawl
- Seth and Heather baby-proof their home, finally giving in and moving all valuables up a few shelves and moving toys into the living room
- Seth and the other assistant pastor at Trinity “hold down the fort” while our senior minister takes an 8-week sabbatical during July and August
- Seth and Heather celebrate their 5th anniversary with a brief overnight getaway to the Chesapeake Bay, while Hurricane Irene makes its way toward Norfolk
- The Nelson family evacuates Norfolk for Aunt Maryann and Uncle Glenn’s house in Raleigh, NC, as Hurricane Irene is predicted to make a direct impact
- Their home and neighborhood are spared; however their 11-year-old car breaks down – they purchase a newer one with much needed extra space
- Lucia and Alethia turn one with a ladybug birthday party; Lucia loves her cake – Alethia does not
- Alethia takes her first steps and begins walking
- Heather returns to Wheaton College for her 10 year reunion – leaving the girls (and Seth) for the first weekend since their birth
- Lucia takes her first steps and begins walking
- Alethia and Lucia begin talking – favorite words are “ball,” “dog,” “baby,” “bath,” and “door”
- The Nelsons travel to New Jersey for the girls’ first Christmas with Grandma & Grandpa Nelson; then they travel to South Carolina for New Year’s with Gigi & Pops
This captures the events of our year – and what a year! – yet falls far short of describing the fullness of our days. How I (Heather) am learning how to embrace my new calling of full-time mom without losing my sanity (which involves lots of prayer to a God who is always near, many great friends with similarly aged children, “Mrs. Becky” who watches the girls biweekly, a husband who takes my calls and rescues me when I’m really desperate, weekly women’s Bible study and baby music class). How Seth’s gifts continue to be grown and developed through his responsibilities training teachers, developing Sunday school curriculum, leading community group ministry and our missions team. How we are both learning the how’s and why’s of disciplining infants-turning-into-toddlers whose wills are exerting themselves strongly. The books we have been enjoying this year: The Help, One Thousand Gifts, Loving the Little Years, The Foundations Trilogy, East of Eden, among many others. One thing the girls are already showing is a shared love for books and “reading” like their two bookworm parents. They will often sit and just flip through board books for 10-15 minutes at a time (an eternity for 15-month-olds!). Then there’s the growing delight in Lucia and Alethia as their personalities continue to emerge, like Lucia who giggles often, waves to strangers while shopping and gives a “cheesy smile” upon request and Alethia who calls every stuffed animal “baby,” stays close to mommy in new situations and enjoys learning new skills like walking backwards (her latest greatest).
Although it’s an often quoted cliché, we are finding it to be quite true for this stage of our lives: the days are long, but the years are short. We find it hard to believe how big our girls are, increasingly thankful that these 5 week premature babies eat sooo much and are in 50th – 70th percentile for weight and 90th – 98th percentile for height. It is a gift to watch them grow and to be their parents. And it is a gift to be in a community, both locally and long distance, of ones who love us and them so much. Thank you for being part of this community!
Last Thursday, August 26th, marked our fourth anniversary. (This picture was taken in May of this year.) What a four years it has been! We reminisced, celebrated, thanked God for the grace he’s provided for each season of our marriage so far. And joyfully looked ahead to what will be a markedly different season ahead of us when “Nelson, party of 2” becomes “Nelson, party of 4.” Highlights of the past four years:
- Both of us graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary, M.A. for me in May ’07; M.Div. for Seth in May ’09
- Worked together on staff during the first 2 years of a church plant, Cresheim Valley Church, which became like a second family for us
- Became godparents to my cousins Jillian & Logan
- Became aunt & uncle to my nephew, Caleb
- Moved from our 1-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia to a 2-bedroom apartment in historic Ghent in Norfolk, and then moved again into a 3-bedroom house to become first-time homeowners in June
- Between the two of us, we have worked 8 jobs (4 each … !) ranging from personal trainer to missions recruiter to church counselor & pastor (guess who was what?)
- Seth was ordained for pastoral ministry
- Traveled to Costa Rica, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, Charleston, D.C., Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Orleans. The one place we really wanted to get to was a trip to California to visit friends and see the West Coast … maybe for our 10th anniversary!!
And of course, the biggest highlight of our 4 years is becoming parents-to-be of two twin girls, due October 11th. We are so thankful that God has delayed their arrival long enough for us to get our house in order and moved in (even pictures are hung on our walls now), for us to celebrate our 4th anniversary (actually got to “go out” for breakfast – the first time since bed rest), and for us to continue to wrap our minds around the fact that we are going to be parents soon. We are eagerly awaiting their arrival, but quite content for them to stay growing and developing in utero for as long as possible.
Which brings us to today’s celebration of arriving at 34 weeks!! This is specifically what we have prayed for since the beginning of bed rest, and what so many of you have been praying for with us. We are praising him who always does “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Who knows? Maybe I’ll even have to be induced …
In my copious amounts of free time while on bed rest, I have been able to begin reading through my stack of books that I bought but never had time to read before now. Yesterday, I picked up from my shelf a relatively new book on marriage from one of my counseling professors, Paul Tripp, entitled “What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.” I’m a few chapters in, and I’m finding it to be a good reminder of the foundation marriage is meant to be built on: loving one another out of a love for God and a perspective of living in God’s kingdom (not mine). It’s the simple thoughts that can make a big difference. In this morning’s chapter, I was struck by two illustrations about the importance of daily choices to shape the overall course of a marriage: (1) you reap what you sow: “…there will be organic consistency between the seeds of words and actions that you plant in your marriage and the harvest of a certain quality of relationship that you will experience as you live with one another” and (2) the investment principle: “Every treasure you set your heart on and actively seek will give you some kind of return.” Both beg the question and day-to-day reflection on what sort of “harvest” I am sowing to in my marriage — or what sort of treasure am I investing in? Am I sowing words of kindness and love or of harsh criticism? Am I investing more in the “treasure” of my own kingdom (getting my own way – being demanding) or in God’s kingdom (seeking ways to love and serve and build up my husband)? Here is a good summary of why these are important things to consider DAILY in marriage:
The character of a marriage is not formed in one grand moment. Things in a marriage go bad progressively. Things become sweet and beautiful progressively. The development and deepening of the love in a marriage happens by things that are done daily; this is also true with the sad deterioration of a marriage. The problem is that we simply don’t pay attention, and because of this we allow ourselves to think, desire, say, and do things that we shouldn’t.
More thoughts I’m sure as I continue through this book. And I must say it’s a nice break from all the pregnancy & baby books I’ve been reading — probably a good balance, too, as we must keep in mind that our family is built first on faith in God, then on our love for each other … into which we invite our children to join. Marriage must remain a priority for Seth and me, which I know will be all the more difficult as we double our family size soon! But that’s truly what’s best not just for us, but it will be what’s best for our daughters as well. They will derive security from knowing that Mommy and Daddy love each other – through both good days and bad.
Second set of thoughts – or actually more of a recommendation. My little bro Bryan just started two for-fun blogs called best or worst, where you get to vote on what you think about his daily pick. So I will shamelessly promote them – check it out and cast your vote: Best or Worst Ride and The Best or Worst.
Bed rest update: today marks the fifth week of it. I’m still hanging in there – and the girls seem healthy. I’m now 30 weeks along, and I’m hopeful for more! Really thankful for friends and family who are taking such good care of us during this season.
One of the hardest parts of strict bed rest has to be Sunday mornings, when I can’t go to church but my husband (our assistant pastor) spends half of his day there (8:00 am – 12:30 or 1:00 pm). I don’t think I can remember a time when I couldn’t go to church for such a long stint of time. Yet I am thankful that our God is one who comes to us, so that we can worship him wherever we are and that I don’t miss out on his grace simply because I can’t attend church right now. I miss church – don’t get me wrong – and it is a source of rich grace to be able to go, but God knows (and has arranged) the particular seasons of my life. And so he will also arrange another way for me to experience church on Sundays. So with this unique season comes unique opportunities. I get to be my own “worship director”, and so I try to make Sundays different from the rest of the days.
The church bells around the corner regularly call me to worship when their hymns begin at 9:00 am (lasting until 9:30 am). That’s a nice start to the morning. Then I choose a sermon to listen to online from one of my favorites: our pastor, Jack Howell; Joe Novenson at Lookout Mountain Pres.; Ruffin Alphin at Westminster Pres. Church here in Suffolk; Bob Willetts at Grace Pres. Church here in Chesapeake; or Andy Lewis from the church I grew up in, Mitchell Road Pres. Church in Greenville, SC. It’s been great to listen to these sermons and be taught by God speaking through them. It’s been great to see how God’s led me exactly to the right sermon I’ve needed each week. And really there are too many good ones to choose from, so I’ll probably be adding another one as my “Sunday school.”
I listen to some favorite worship music and sing along [but this part I think I miss the most about not being able to physically be present for worship at Trinity Pres.], trying to focus on the words and make them my prayer.
Another way I am seeking to tangibly engage in worship on Sundays is by spending time reflecting on what I am thankful for and then communicating that to various people who have loved and served us in the past week. Truly the list seems too large to recount, and when I begin reflecting, I am aware of God’s gifts in the church and the way that he is sending the Church to me when I can’t go to church. Seth and I have been so overwhelmed by the many who have helped us. I won’t list them by name, but I do want to list a few of the acts of service I’m thankful for today:
- the friends who traveled from Philadelphia to spend last weekend with me and totally pampered me all weekend through their cooking, cleaning, creativity, laughter, and conversation
- friends from church who have brought us meals, visited me for lunch, ran errands for us, went grocery shopping for us, helped Seth paint our home (a seemingly never-ending project), and even cleaned our house … wow. we are overwhelmed!
- friends and family who continue to call or text to check in with me and see how we’re doing
- thoughtful and encouraging cards we’ve received in the mail
- two friends who threw their baby shower for me at our house – bringing everything with them, including serving dishes and utensils [since finding ours amidst the boxes could still be a bit dubious]
- my parents who have made the 14 hour roundtrip yet again to come and help us get settled in, paint the nursery, etc …
- and it goes without saying (but I should still say it!), my faithful and persevering husband who is not only assistant pastor, but also now home-repair project manager (a solo position now), chief chef, and home healthcare aide to a needy pregnant woman who can sometimes be cranky as well …
For all of these, and many many more, these verses Paul wrote to the Thessalonians come to mind: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
When Seth and I took a much needed break to just “get away” to Philadelphia’s own Fairmount Park, we came across these two statues. They were side by side, standing in tribute to two of the various callings that have built our nation. Since we were practicing being tourists in our own city on Saturday afternoon, we couldn’t resist a couple pictures. It really is quite an apt description of what each of us brings to our marriage! And how each of us relates to the world.