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September 2017

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Our annual family Christmas letter is about to go in the mail this afternoon.  If you are on our mailing list, it should be arriving within a few days.  If you aren't on our mailing list, here is the text of this year's letter:

The year is rapidly drawing to an end, the days are getting shorter, and the weather becoming colder. In the evening, the neighborhood transforms into a fantasyland of twinkling, colorful lights. Holiday music is being played in the stores and on the radio. The signs all point to the imminent arrival of the holiday season.

There probably no emotion more closely associated with the year-end holidays than Joy. We sing “Joy to the World”, and wish each other “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year”. The music and sounds of sleigh bells make us smile, and who doesn’t enjoy the smell of cookies baking? There is joy in gathering with family and friends to celebrate, sharing stories and food, exchanging gifts. And this joy is perhaps most obvious in the reactions of children when they wake up to see what presents wait for them under the tree.

While it would be hard to deny the role joy plays in the season, we sometimes overlook its power to heal. Isn’t this the lesson we learn from the Grinch? The Grinch, in his unhappiness, is deeply jealous of the Whos’ holiday joy. He does everything he can think of to steal their joy, but even when he has taken everything, the Whos remain joyful, singing together in the joy of the holiday.  In the end, this joy touches the Grinch, healing his unhappiness and allowing him to join the celebration.

There is no shortage of reasons why many people might not be inclined to say that this past year has been particularly joyful. You don’t have to look far to find people who are unhappy, angry, frustrated, or in pain. So many people are in need of the healing joy of the holidays. This year, our holiday wish to each and everyone of you is that the Joy of the holiday find a home in your hearts, and that we each make an effort to share that Joy with others, both during the holidays and throughout the year to come. May this Joy bring healing and peace to those who need it.

And in that spirit of joy, we wish every one of you a very Merry Christmas and an especially Happy New Year.  May the joy of the season bring comfort to you and your families, and may the New Year bring good fortune and many blessings to all.

Dearest Friends and Family,

Another year winds down and the holiday season is upon us once again.  We are surrounded by signs of the holidays - homes decorated with lights, decorated trees in windows, holiday music playing in the stores, and holiday parties at work.  In the midst of all this festive hustle and bustle, we like to pause and reflect on the season.

There is no doubt that gifts play an important role during the holidays.  Most children would probably suggest that the gifts are the best part of the celebration.  They can barely contain their anticipation as they see the beautifully wrapped presents waiting to be opened.  And that anticipation is only surpassed by their excitement when they finally can open their gifts.

As we get older, we find that we begin to derive more enjoyment from giving, rather than receiving, gifts.  There is a deep satisfaction in finding the perfect gift for someone and watching their reaction as they receive it.  And seeing the joy and enthusiasm of a child opening presents never fails to warm our hearts.

Gifts have always been a part of the Christmas story.  The wise men arrived from the East, bringing with them gifts fit for a king.  The story doesn’t tell us how Mary and Joseph reacted to these lavish gifts, but it isn’t hard to imagine how overwhelmed they would have felt receiving such unexpected presents.

While the giving and receiving of gifts can be fun and fulfilling, it can also be stressful.  We can feel obligated to buy gifts for some people, and we worry about how our gifts will be received.  This stress can distract us from the underlying lessons that the gift exchange should teach us.  Exchanging gifts during the holidays should be an exercise in kindness and goodwill, a gesture to show our appreciation for the important people in our lives.  A simple heartfelt gift can often bring more joy than all the latest gadgets or gizmos.

And the best gifts of all don’t even require any shopping.  The gifts of friendship, love, and support frequently have the most significant impact on people’s lives, and, best of all, can be shared over and over again, throughout the whole year.

As you and your loved ones celebrate the holidays, we hope that you find joy in all the gifts you give and receive.  May the holidays bring you and your loved ones the gifts of peace, joy, and love, and may you have a safe and healthy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

The Johns Family
I have been unusually productive this year, and have already finished this year's holiday letter.  Copies have been printed and will probably go in the mail by the end of the week (once we have updated the mailing list and addressed envelopes).  But for those who either are not on the mailing list, or simply are too impatient to wait for the mail to arrive, here is the content of this year's letter:

Another year draws to a close and soon we will be celebrating the year-end holidays again.  It has been another year filled with highs and lows, and we have fond memories of those who shared their joy with us and are deeply thankful for everyone who reached out to support us in our grief at the sudden passing of Sandy’s mother last winter and the death of her Aunt Laura Mae later in the year.  Through all the struggles, we look to this holiday season as a source of hope for a better year to come.

The Christmas story is, fundamentally, a story of hope, a reminder that great things can have the most unlikely origins.  Who would have predicted that a poor child, born far from home, with only a manger to sleep in, would fundamentally change the world?  He transcended his humble origins by challenging us to heed his call to love and serve one another, and his legacy is forever imprinted on the world.

It isn’t hard to find reasons to lose hope in our world today.  One only has to turn on the news or read a newspaper to see that the world is full of strife and struggle.  But Christmas reminds us that change can come from unexpected places.  We need to hold onto hope, allow it to become a motivational force, driving us to work to make the world a better place, one small act of kindness at a time.  It isn’t always easy to hold onto this hope.  It can be so easy to give in to the temptation of cynicism.  But when we choose to hope, a choice that often requires courage in view of the darkness in the world, then we just might find the strength to let the light of our hope shine forth into the world.

When we reach out to each other in kindness, we share our strength, our courage, our hope, making it easier for others to join us in being hopeful.  This sharing could lead to a cascade of hope, pushing back the darkness.  Each act of kindness holds the potential to inspire many more, as hope take root and the kindness is paid forward.  At at each step, the world becomes an ever so slightly better place.

As you celebrate the holiday season with your family and friends, we invite you to make a choice to be hopeful and to share that hope with others.  None of us can change the world alone, but together we can share the load and the world can be a better place.  May each of you have a Merry and Hope- filled Christmas and a very Happy New Year, filled with blessings.
This year's Christmas letters are printed and should be in the mail in the next day or two. For those of you who aren't on our mailing list (or simply don't want to wait for the mail to arrive), here's what we wrote this year:

Dearest Family and Friends,

With the holiday season upon us once again, we once again want to share some thoughts with you about Christmas. We often hear about the “magic of Christmas,” but what, exactly, does that mean? If witches and wizards are associated with any holiday, it would be Halloween. And it doesn’t seem like the illusions performed by the magicians of the entertainment industry have any meaningful connection to Christmas. Clearly, we seem to mean something very different.

We find the magic of the Christmas season in the beauty of the decorations. We light our homes with colorful lights and decorate them with holly and evergreens, bells and bows. No other holiday seems to inspire quite the same beauty as Christmas.

The sounds of Christmas also convey some of the magic of the season. There is both beauty and comfort in the carols, whether we prefer the classic arrangements or enjoy new versions. The voices of children visiting Santa, and the sounds of their excitement as they open their gifts. All of these sounds are part of the season, contributing to its magic.

And we can’t forget the scents we associate with Christmas. Whether it is the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree or gingerbread fresh from the oven, for each of us there are smells that transport us back to Christmas in an instant.

Christmas is also a time for gathering with friends and family, of sharing our love for one another. This is another part of the magic of the season. It gives us a reason to step outside our normal routines and make time for each other, to remember those who are important in our lives.

But perhaps the most powerful magic of Christmas is found in our memories. It is in our memories of previous Christmases that we feel the magic most strongly. Christmas memories remind us of joy and love and generosity, and help us to remember the good in life.

We hope that each of you finds your own Christmas magic this season and throughout the New Year to come. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Our holiday letter will be going out in the mail soon, but since many of my readers here are not on our mailing list, I'm continuing my tradition of sharing our seasonal thoughts here as well.

Another year draws to a close, and as we prepare to celebrate the holidays, we find ourselves surrounded by the many and varied images of the season. Among the many enduring images of Christmas is the appearance of the angels to proclaim “Peace on Earth”. We often hear Christmas referred to as a time of joy and happiness, yet according to the angels, this is meant to be a time of peace. But what does this mean?

Clearly, the Christmas message hasn’t brought an end to violence and conflict in the world. We only need to watch the news or read a newspaper to feel overwhelmed by the evident lack of peace in the world today. Even in our own lives, we often find conflict with those around us, even those closest to us, those we love.

So how, then, are we to understand the angelic proclamation? With so much conflict around us, what difference can we make? While the contribution of any individual to the cause of peace might seem to be insignificant, the cumulative impact if all of us were to strive diligently for peace might just change the world. If we are mindful and choose forgiveness over anger and kindness over impatience in our daily lives, we can begin to reduce conflict one interaction at a time. It doesn’t require mighty gestures or grand actions.

Some of us must struggle to stay focused on choosing peace. Others come by these traits more naturally. Becky was one of those who instinctively chose to reach out to others with kindness. She routinely went out of her way to help others, to show kindness, and share love. She provided us with an example of how each of us can help make the message of the angels a reality in our lives. If we each were to be as open to each other as she was, the world would be much closer to embodying the peace proclaimed by the angels.

As we celebrate the holidays with our friends and family, we hope that everyone of us finds ways to spread some peace on earth and goodwill among men. May you each have a very Merry Christmas, and a bountiful New Year.

PS - This letter was written before the tragic events of Dec. 14 in Newtown, CT. Our heart go out to the families as they now face a holiday season overshadowed by the pain of their grief. There are no words that will fill the gaping hole they now have in their families. We hope that their tragedy can spur us all to work to ensure that such tragic violence never happens ever again. That would be the most fitting memorial to the innocent lives that were cut short last week.
Over the weekend, I finished writing the letter to include with this year's Christmas cards. Since most of my readers here probably aren't on our mailing list, I'm posting the letter here as well, since it really is addressed to you as well.

Once again the holiday season has arrived. A year ago, we wrote about treasuring every moment we have with our loved ones because we never know what the future holds. This is a lesson that we’ve been forced to confront again this autumn, with the losses of Andy’s grandmother in September, and more recently, the sudden loss of Sandy’s new step-father, Carl, in a car crash. In addition, one of Andy’s brothers was seriously ill and very nearly died, and Sandy’s mother suffered a number of injuries in the crash. Clearly, we can’t afford to take for granted that we will have a tomorrow with anyone.

But it is the memories of the times we’ve shared with our family and friends that continues to sustain us, even during the most difficult of times. We take great comfort in the joy we felt as Sandy’s mother got married in May, and knowing that she found great happiness with her new husband, even if they only had a few short months. We celebrate the long, full life of Andy’s grandmother, knowing that she had seen and done much during her life, and find comfort in knowing that she was fully ready for the end when it came.

So during this holiday season, we find ourselves reflecting on the memories of all the time we’ve spent with those we love, both those that are no longer with us and those we hope to spend time with again. These memories bring warmth to our hearts and smiles to our faces, and it is a great comfort to us that so many of these memories involve laughter and joy.

We hope that each of you likewise finds a similar comfort in the memories of time spent with those closest to you. Hopefully, you will find some time to reflect on the joy and happiness that you find in those you love. Treasure every one of these memories, even while making new ones. This is how we live in each other, even when we are separated, either by distance or by death.

May this holiday season find each of you safe and well, and may you each find bountiful blessings of peace, happiness and love in your lives, both during the holiday season and in the coming new year. We hope that we can build new memories with many of you in the days and weeks ahead, but even if we don’t have an opportunity to spend time with you, know that you are still near us in our memories and our heart.

May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Holiday letter

Dec. 7th, 2010 05:22 pm
resqgeek: (Christmas)
We are preparing our Christmas cards, and as usual, we will be including a letter in the cards when they go in the mail. This was probably the hardest holiday letter I've had to write, but we felt like we needed to send one out. For those of you who aren't on our mailing list, here's this year's letter:

As most of you probably have heard by now, 2010 has turned out to be a terribly difficult year for our family. On August 30, our younger daughter and sister, Becky, was killed after being struck by a car while riding her bike. The loss of her sparkling personality and love have left a huge hole in our lives, as we struggle to put together a new life without her.

For those that knew Becky, we hope that the memory of her energy, of her ever-present smile, and her readiness to share a hug will provide you with some measure of comfort, as it does for us. Because she was born on Valentine’s Day, Becky had a natural affinity for that holiday, but in so many ways, her personality also embodied the spirit of the Christmas holiday as well. She loved easily and fully, and was considerate of the needs and feelings of others. She often went out of her way to be kind to others, to make them feel included. There was no such thing as strangers in her world, just friends she hadn’t yet met. Her life was a model of how to love completely, and should stand as an example for each of us.

As we struggle to understand the tragedy that has overwhelmed our family, we have come to recognize the dangers of taking life for granted. None of us are promised tomorrow, so that it is important to make every effort to live our lives to the fullest each and every day. Be sure to treasure the moments you have with those that you love, as they happen. It is the memory of those special moments that will sustain us through the difficult times.

Most years, we try to express a message about the joy, hope, or love embodied in this holiday season. But this year, our holiday spirit is dampened by our sadness. As we move forward, striving to create new memories, it is impossible not to acknowledge our loss and the pain that it has left us with. We are strengthened by the incredible support of our community, friends, and family, and with their help, we hope to find comfort and peace.

We have created an online memorial to Becky, and invite everyone to visit it and share their stories and memories, as well as any favorite photos and videos from her life. Remember Becky and share her love by sharing her hugs. The Becky’s Hugs page is at:

We hope that you all have a joyful season of hope and love. May you all find peace and happiness in the new year.
Most of the Christmas cards have been mailed, and we've included a letter in the card again this year, expressing some of our thoughts on the season. For those of you who aren't on our mailing list, here's the content of the letter. We hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Dearest friends and family,

The days are growing shorter and colder, signaling the arrival of the end of another year. As always, we find ourselves busy, rushing between activities and preparing to celebrate the holidays. But in the midst of all this bustle, we try to find time to reflect on the reasons for the festivities.

With yet another film adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol in theaters, we'd like to share some thoughts about the message in this well known story. Rare is the person who doesn't know the story of Scrooge and his encounter with the Christmas ghosts. The story ends with Scrooge's conversion from selfish miser to generous participant in the holiday. In his conversion, Scrooge exemplifies the Season's message of love. This love is not passive, a mere expression of goodwill, but rather, it is a call to action. Christmas challenges us to demonstrate our love for each other by our actions.

We meet this challenge by trying to always act from compassion and charity. It is so easy to become wrapped up in our own lives, concerned with our own needs and concerns. But the holidays provide us with a chance to look beyond ourselves, to the needs of others. Our response can be as simple as running an errand for a neighbor, sending a heartfelt expression of sympathy to a friend during a time of loss, or setting a good example for our children. Each small gesture of goodwill demonstrates our love to others and helps to spread the holiday message.

It is easy to express our love for members of our family and for close friends. But demonstrating our love for strangers is more difficult. This is another lesson of Scrooge's conversion...Scrooge doesn't limit his new-found generosity to those closest to him. He also shares his plenty with others, as well. This challenge, to respond to the needs of strangers with charity and compassion, is both a difficult and a rewarding part of the message of the season.

We often hear people bemoaning the loss of a sense of community these days. In reaching out to others in need, we help build a sense of community. Each such demonstration of our love links us to others, joining us together. By following the example of the new Scrooge, we can make the world a better, friendlier place, one act of kindness at a time.

As you celebrate this holiday season, try to remember the lessons of Scrooge's conversion. Don't wait for a visit from the Christmas ghosts to learn the meaning of the holidays.
Its taken me almost three hours to compose, but I've finally got something I like. Here is the text of the letter that will be enclosed in my family's Christmas cards this year:

The holidays are rapidly approaching, and once again we find ourselves running out of time to prepare for the festivities. In the midst of the all theses preparations, its easy to overlook the meaning of the holiday. Christmas should be a celebration of peace and love, a message that remains as timely as ever.

We were reminded of this message last weekend, as we visited the “Hershey's Sweet Lights” holiday exhibit in Hershey, PA. As we drove past the numerous animated light displays, one, in particular, jumped out at us. Its message seemed to be exceptionally timely, and we snapped several pictures of the display. One of those pictures ended up on the front of our Holiday Cards.

“Celebrate our Differences” read the display. While this doesn't seem to be a traditional message for this season, it struck a chord with us. With all the strife in the world today, from the war on terrorism to the political mudslinging of the electoral process, it sometimes seems that we've forgotten the holiday message of love. Our differences have been used to drive wedges between various groups. This troubling trend immediately came to mind when we saw this display.

One of mankind's greatest gifts is our diversity. It is through our differences that we can reach beyond our individual experiences to gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our world. If we had no diversity, if we were all exactly the same, we would lose much of this ability, and we would be left with a much shallower understanding of our place in the world.

In order to benefit from this diversity, we must accept and celebrate it. We don't have to always agree with those who differ from us, we don't have to like them. But we must respect them, and we should listen to them, for we just might learn from them. If we all could share this respect for one another, despite our differences, then there just might be a chance that we could experience a little of the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” proclaimed by the angels on the first Christmas, so long ago.

May each of you have a joyous holiday season. We hope that everyone finds an opportunity to relax and to reflect on the spirit of the season. May you each find you own ways to celebrate our differences.

This is the picture mentioned in the letter:

Hershey Sweet Lights