2011 has been a challenging year. In fact, that's putting it rather kindly. 2011 has been a difficult year. Now don't get me wrong -- that's not necessarily a bad thing.
I keep hoping that as I grow older that I will get more organized and the wisdom that comes with age will help me better control my environment. But instead, I find myself frustrated that as life flies by I am holding on for dear life with absolutely no sense of control. If I had thought ahead and was better organized, I might have sent out a Christmas card this year (my first ever). I was blessed by all the cards/letters/pictures that many of you sent to me. With every card I get, I think "some day I'll be as together as [insert your name here BUT ONLY if you sent me a Christmas card] and send one of these out."
So I failed again, but it's not too late to do something. Here is my last-ditch effort to put together a Christmas Card. I give to you the Barton Family Year in Review, with the seemingly-paradoxical subtitle "Smooth Sailing."
I am finishing this blog entry on December 28th, which happens to be our wedding anniversary. Today marks 15 years that Elly and I have been together as husband and wife. We hope to celebrate each other by having a romantic dinner at a posh Columbia venue. I can honestly say that I am proud of my wife for being more attractive, thinner, smarter, more creative and more loving than the day that I married her. It hasn't always been easy, but that's what has forced us to grow together. I love you Elly.
Elly never finished college as we decided to start our family and have her be a stay-at-home mom. But this year, she decided it was time to head back to school to get her degree. She has been a very dedicated student and is excited about obtaining a degree in nursing so that she can go to work once all of the kids are in school.
Back in January, Elly surprised me with a trip to San Francisco on my birthday. I had never been to California before. We did all of the typical tourist stuff (Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Muir Woods, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge) but probably enjoyed our drive down to the Monterey Peninsula the best. It was nice to get away even though it was only for 3 days.
Elly and I also got away for another quick trip in May when we went to Nashville to see Neal Morse in concert and meet up with John Elefante. I previously blogged about this trip here.
Serai turned 13 this month and is partially to blame for this being such a difficult year. I feel as if our family has been taken hostage by Serai's sports. Serai played on a competitive soccer team this fall which meant that most of our fall weekends were spent traveling to her games. While it is always fun to watch her play a sport that she loves, the constant travel took its toll on our family (I thought). As soon as soccer season ended, high school basketball began. Serai, despite only being 13 and an 8th grader, is playing on the varsity team at Christian Fellowship. She appears to have improved nicely from last season, though she still gripes about all the running she has to do in practice. Serai is an excellent student and Elly and I are grateful that we never have to get on to her about doing her homework. She is very self-motivated as far as that is concerned. She looks like a grown-up woman and I still have a hard time believing that I have a child who looks like that.
Marek is now 11 and is also a good student. Following in the steps of his older sister (and dad, for that matter), he is learning how to play the saxophone. Marek is almost always pleasant to be around as he has a great sense of humor and is usually happy. He loves to read. Earlier in the year he finished the Harry Potter series along with the Percy Jackson series. He is now enjoying other books along similar lines. Of course, most of his recreational time is spent playing games on the XBox.
Silas just turned 7 and is in 1st grade. Of all of my kids, he is the one that I most worry about in school. However, he has surprised both Elly and me with how well he is doing. Silas underwent a rather significant physical transformation when he decided to have his hair cut short. He went from having a blond, curly mop on his head:
Most of his friends didn't even recognize him after the haircut. Ariya assured us immediately afterwards that "his name is still Silas."
Silas is now a cub scout and the two of us are doing that together. While I enjoy spending this time with him, I find that hanging around a bunch of 1st grade boys (whenever he has his den and pack meetings) provides quite a challenge to my patience. Seven-year old boys are wild and I have found that I don't have quite the grace for other people's out-of-control children that I have for my own.
Ariya is 3 and is going to pre-school two days a week. She is about as cute as a little girl can be. She is also taking dance lessons and soccer lessons. While she loves both dance and soccer, she actually appears to have a lot more skill when it comes to soccer at this point. She really got into Christmas this year and that was fun to see. Elly is usually a nazi about taking the Christmas tree down as soon as possible after we have opened our presents on Christmas morning; however, Ariya's pleas to leave the tree up this year have melted her heart and it is still standing at this very moment. Here she is standing in front of the tree:
Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of the year has been dealing with Ariya's health. While we initially thought that she was suffering from severe allergies to gluten, we're not entirely sure that's what has been going on. She has very little appetite and is constantly complaining about stomach pain. She has improved since she has been on a completely gluten-free diet, but still has times when her stomach swells up and is in pain from constipation and intestinal inflammation. What concerns us so much is that we have no idea what it is that we are dealing with and no doctor has been very helpful or interested in determining what the problem is. This has been especially hard on Elly as she tends to worry about things a lot more than I do. She (Elly) frequently has dreams or intense feelings that Ariya has cancer or some other deadly disease that is going to take her from us.
This and That
In March, we spent our Spring Break at Disney World and had an amazing time as a family. I believe it was one of those trips that my kids will never forget. We laughed and enjoyed one another so much on that vacation and will probably always compare our future family vacations to this one.
As most of you know, my faith in God is of paramount importance to me. From my perspective, I've had a very challenging time in my spiritual life where I've gone from thinking about God all the time to the last three months where I've felt very dry and distant from him. It disappoints me that I'm in this apathetic state, yet I trust that His purposes are being fulfilled in some way that I'm not privy to. I will continue to trust God with my life, with the lives of my kids, with my marriage, with my job, with my overall time and place in this world. Since I believe that God is always at work in the lives of those who trust in Him, I guess things are probably going better than I think they are.
During this season when we reflect upon God coming to earth as a baby and on new beginnings, I am going to challenge myself to remember that His mercies are not only new each year, but every day I can have a fresh start being a precious child of God. Having this faith, I do believe that my life -- despite the stress, busy-ness, worries and disappointments that are always front-of-mind -- is going along just the way it should. Now that I consider all of this, I guess you could say what seemed like a tough year really was just smooth sailing.