The Annual Riley Family Christmas Letter 2016
It’s been six years since I’ve begun the tradition of writing a Christmas letter. To be honest, I’m not really sure why or how this even all started, but this year, of all years, I’ve had some writer’s block around this, until the end. It’s funny, but maybe this year it’s just meant to be after all. I’ve been starting and stopping this thing for a few weeks now, and it wasn’t until two nights ago this all kind of came together. This won’t show up in the Christmas Card. I’ll just put it here, and maybe, somehow, those Christmas Cards will magically mail themselves this year.
In 2013 I spent my first Christmas as a single dad. Since 1996 I hadn’t been alone, and suddenly, my world was turned upside down and everything seemed pretty crazy. I tried to do my best for the kids. We went to the same Christmas Pageant we attended every year, and the same Chinese Restaurant after the same Christmas Eve Service. I signed presents from Santa and Dad and did the best I could cooking that crazy, over-glazed ham. I got creative with the money I didn’t have and the bills I couldn’t pay, and did what seemed to be just enough to make it feel like Christmas in our house. We made Christmas more about the birth of Jesus than we ever had before, but it all felt different, just so very different.
I remember feeling very small that year. Overworked by my job in retail management, and stretched far too thin at home. “Like butter scraped over too much bread”. I also remember wondering if Joseph felt the same way, if maybe he was dealing with problems with his reputation and folks who didn’t understand why he was making some of the choices he felt like he had to make. No matter what happened it didn’t stop Joseph from giving every fiber of his being to be there for Mary. I didn’t like how I felt that year. It was kind of like always wearing a shirt that fit too tight. I wasn’t quite suffocating, but I wasn’t able to breathe so easily. I don’t think I felt like I belonged anywhere anymore. I felt incomplete.
Two thousand years ago Mary and Joseph trekked through the hills outside of Bethlehem in the rainy season, finally arriving in town. For all of her dreams of those first moments with her baby boy, she probably never imagined they would be like this. Joseph probably felt a little humbled and maybe even a little like a failure as a dad. Wasn’t he supposed to be able to provide everything for his family? I wonder what he dreamed the birth of his son would be like.
But Joseph and Mary did see something that first night with Jesus, didn’t they? And the shepherds, these rugged outcasts who lived in the wild, these men chosen by God Almighty to experience His very own Heavenly Host, as angels descended from the sky singing joyful proclamations of the Messiah’s birth. God Himself chose these men, and Joseph and Mary, to be the ones, the very first, to celebrate the birth of his very own son, the Son of God. Each one of them mattered to God. Each one of them was made complete…by seeing Jesus as who he really was.
This is your story, too, my friends. Each one of you, no matter what darkness you may have seen or have done, you are each made complete in Jesus. To any and all of my friends who are divorced or just feel alone this Christmas, I truly want…no…not want…I am praying you will see you are just like the rest of us, incomplete without Jesus. I am truly sorry for you have endured, and Christmas maybe doesn’t help so much, but it should. It should make you feel new, and the scriptures tell us his light shines in you!
“Because the God who said Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)
Thank you for reading this part of my Christmas letter this year. I have always told the story of our family’s year with this work, and I won’t be forgotten this Christmas. I just felt it was important to share my heart with you all, and know I am praying for many of you, my friends, tonight.
2016 was pretty adventurous, to say the least, and in fact, that may be the word of the year. At the end of February, Melanie and I landed on the Island of Culebra, about seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. We had an amazing week, starting with Melanie riding as the copilot on the flight over the ocean! We swam with sea turtles, and we saw this massive ray swim under us. We ate at Zaco’s Taco’s and hung out on the greatest beach I’ve ever seen, Flamenco Beach. This week was a huge week for me in finishing reading two very inspiring books then I turning a big corner in the writing of my next book “Colossal”. We hiked, experienced the island, and spent time just hanging out together. It was a very good vacation, and much needed.
The rest of the year was like the circus dude getting shot out of a cannon. Max graduated from High School and before we knew it, he was leaving for Liberty University. His results in the classroom get better each year, and he continues to pursue his major in Cyber Security. We are very proud of the young man Max is and the example he is to the other children. Kaitlin spent the summer in the Bahamas serving kids, and will be forever impacted by her experience there. She is in the final months of her Senior year and continues to get very good grades at Exeter High School. Daniel, Josh and Summer were all baptized together this past summer, and we rejoiced in what Jesus continues to do in their lives! It was such an amazing moment and we were grateful for everyone who came to support them. Summer and Josh are in sixth grade at CMS, and Josh has really become quite the soccer player. He spent this year playing with the Exeter Hawks and his skills finally have started catching up to his natural talent. It’s been a blast to see him play. Summer has decided she loves to walk, and boy does she ever pound out the mileage. She walks anywhere from 2 to 5 miles in a day, and all of it right here looping around our little neighborhood. She is still loves a great story, but her new found love of art is taking over her world quickly. Her teachers and all of us are thrilled with her new found abilities and excited she has found something she loves. “Determined” Daniel wasn’t satisfied to stay on the same route as his big brother, and broke off to play youth tackle football this year for the Seahawks. And what a great year he had! His face lit up every time he talked about his teammates, the games and their practices. Daniel loves football and will continue to pursue this sport. Sammy is now six, and started first grade full time this year. We thought this transition might be tough on Sammy, but he jumped right in and has had an excellent experience right from the start of the school year and is enjoying the new found freedom of beginning to read!
One of my favorite moments of the year was our first vacation together as a family. As soon as school was out we were off on a new adventure to Ocean City, New Jersey. Our beach house was a few minutes walk from the boardwalk and a marvelous beach. We ate a Brown’s donuts, went for morning runs on the boardwalk, and laid around the house with no agenda! The kids cannot wait for a return trip, which we are already thinking about for this coming summer.
In our world of races, nothing was more exciting than watching Josh and Daniel finish their first 5k. Josh blew out expectations finishing just behind some of the top runners, and nine year old Daniel fought through a tough first part and finished with a big sprint at the end. Melanie and I ran two Ragnar Relays, first the Cape Cod Relay in May and then were part of an ultra racing team in September when we ran Reach the Beach here in New Hampshire. Both journeys had challenges of their own, and we are so grateful for our wonderful friends who went on this journey with us.
From Summer getting over going on giant Ferris Wheels. From Max pulling away in his black Honda heading off to college. From Sammy getting on a bus and going to his first full day of school. From Daniel running full speed onto the football field. From Kaitlin getting on a plane to the Bahamas and leaving America for the first time. From Josh paying great attention to his coaches and developing new skills on the soccer field. From Melanie sitting copilot on a flight where the pilot “kills the engine” to slow the plane to nail the landing. And from me leaving my final transition area running the final leg of 40.5 miles in the Reach the Beach Relay when I could barely walk to handoff point.
This year has created so many moments when we all had to find a little courage or to get over some fear so we could experience something new, something different. I don’t think we could do it if we weren’t on the same team and pulling for each other. And I know we couldn’t do it without the promises of God’s word.
”But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).
As the dad and mom, our children don’t always agree with or appreciate the decisions we make, but they know we love them and are doing our best to honor God with all of our lives. Jesus, more than any year, has blessed our family with his presence. He is definitely the focus of our Christmas and our celebration together this year as family. It is He who is at the core of our family and unifies us all together under his purposes, and through the teachings we read in the Bible.
It was small, the very first moments in Jesus’ life. God didn’t need to make it spectacular, because he already did. Jesus just being there was enough for the shepherds to leave their flocks, and wise men to travel from distant lands. Jesus is here with us, too, and it’s all the reason to celebrate this Christmas unlike any other. The peace, hope, and joy his birth has brought our world is the greatest story and the world still needs to hear it. All men and all women need to hear it, and to experience God’s love this Christmas. I hope you do, my friends. I hope you have discovered the real meaning of Christmas.
We love you,
The Riley Family