Once again, it’s time for the annual Christmas letter to be written. However, this year it is just not feeling like Christmas at all, so I’m having a hard time getting our letter started. Instead of frigid temperatures, snow, school Christmas programs and all the other little things that make it feel like the holidays, we are celebrating in the Southern Hemisphere, which means hot weather, bright sunshine and swimming pools. We are home schooling and I’m not enough of a home school pro to put together any sort of program. Maybe next year…then again, maybe not! However, the one thing that is true no matter where we are is that this is a time to celebrate Immanuel, God with us. I think that has become my favorite name of Jesus because I need that constant reminder that He is here, even in a place that is unfamiliar and in circumstances that uncertain.
The first 6 months of 2011 were full of time spent with family and friends, trying to soak up as much time with loved ones as possible. We spent Christmas with my family in Washington. The only thing that would have made the time more perfect is if Danny and Soohee could have been there with us as well. Tyson and Jori loved playing with their cousins and spending lots of time with Papa and Gram. The first week of February saw us moving out of our house on Elm Avenue and into the Oak Tree Apartments. Grandma Willie just happened to be visiting us at the same time, and it was wonderful having her there as we made such a big transition. Grandma Karen and her friend Miss Heidi came to check out our new digs in March and Grandma was able to go on a field trip with Jori, which was a special treat for both of them. We spent Spring Break with Darin’s family in Minnesota. We were able to spend some time alone with each of his siblings and we also met up with some of Darin’s high school friends. We had a lot of fun from December to June, but we also had to say a lot of goodbyes, which were no fun at all. However, knowing that we weren’t going to be seeing our family and friends for a long while did make us treasure each moment we had together more than we have at any other time in our lives.
It is really hard to look back and sum up the first 6 months of 2011 when I think about where we are now. We tried to keep things as normal as possible for the kids, which meant getting them to school each day, setting up play dates with their friends, going out on special “dates”, digging snow tunnels and playing catch outside and paying attention to all the other little things that were so important to them. However, things weren’t really normal as we were busy moving to an apartment, sorting through all of our stuff trying to choose what to sell, store or take along to South Africa, trying to spend as much time as possible with our friends, and making sure that we were still giving 100% to commitments at work and church. Added into all of this were a myriad of emotions that seemed to change by the hour, especially for me! I’d find myself laughing with a friend one moment and then suddenly in tears. Those first 6 months of the year were both super fun as we packed in so many special things, but also super sad and stressful.
In mid-June, all of the packing and planning was done and we boarded a plane and headed to South Africa, and that is where we’ve been ever since. We have already packed in a lot of fun, including 3 wonderful weeks with my parents. We live in a game reserve and have the awesome privilege of being able to see some of God’s most amazing creatures up close and in the wild. We have renewed acquaintances from past visits to South Africa and have also made many new friends. There are many days where I cannot imagine ever living anywhere else because we are just so spoiled by the beauty of this country and its people. We are living on a continent that most people only dream of ever visiting and it is an amazing experience, yet it has also had its own share of sad and stressful moments. Tyson and Jori have days where they miss their friends back in Michigan and cry as they look through pictures and other little trinkets that remind them of the things that are now so far away. We have 2 new nieces and a nephew that we have never met and most likely, they’ll all be walking and talking by the time we do meet them. We hear about fun things that our friends back home are doing together and are struck again and again by how much we’re missing out on. Our business, which we thought would be up and running soon after our arrival in June is still neither up nor running 6 months later. We are home schooling our kids, which does have some positive elements, but it is also stressful and not something that I ever planned on doing and don’t feel qualified to do at all.
As we wrap up 2011 we truly have no idea what is in store for us in 2012. Will our business take off? Will we keep living out in Hammanskraal? Will our kids be able to attend school? Will we remain in South Africa? Sometimes when I focus so much on all the what ifs, I get overwhelmed and want nothing more than to turn back the clock about 6 months and never get on the plane that brought us here! Yet, I am realizing that with each of these questions, I have a choice. A choice to turn these things over and trust God or hold on to all the worries and fears and make myself miserable. It’s crazy how often I choose to be miserable, but I know that God is not finished with me and He is still just as close to our family right now as he was a year ago. Immanuel, God with us.
Quite a few people have asked for our mailing address recently, so I thought I’d just include it with this letter. There is a chance that whatever you choose to send us will not ever make it to us, so please keep that in mind and don’t mail anything valuable!
c/o The Hardings
PO Box 2642
If your family puts out an annual letter, we would LOVE to read it and we’d love to get your family picture as well. If you don’t want to risk mailing the letter, you can always email it to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are so blessed to have you in our lives. Merry Christmas!
Darin, Jonna, Tyson and Jori