Beauty and Affliction

(My bride Cherie has included below our annual Christmas letter on behalf of our little family out here in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies…)

There are only two things that pierce the human heart.
One is beauty. The other is affliction.
~Simone Weil

This quote hangs on a lilac-colored wall in Morgan’s childhood home in Pittsburgh. And these are the words that come to mind as I turn my heart to write to you all a bit about 2010 for our little family. I hear Joshua’s voice down the hallway as he plays Uno with his Grammy; I think of Morgan helping his brother Lance just a few miles away; and I bring to mind little Abigail in her purple footie-pajamas, asleep on a pallet in an upstairs bedroom; on behalf of our Colorado-Snyder family, I say good evening and hello and thank you for loving us!

Beauty

Morgan and I celebrated our new “anniversary” on July 4: two years of mental and emotional health and stability! Remembering our “Paradise Lost” in 2008, when we wondered if our little family could ever heal from the ravages of clinical depression, this second anniversary was truly cause to celebrate.

Joshua (6), our inquisitive, cuddly, confident, kung-fu-kicking, carnivorous, funny, perceptive, conversational, compassionate-little-buddy started kindergarten this fall and continues to be so “strong and courageous.” A highlight for him was an unforeseen dream-come-true of becoming a “Mutton Bustin’ Champion” at our Pikes Peak Rodeo and holding hands with Miss Rodeo Virginia.

Abigail (3), our perceptive, independent, bold, maternal, creative, melodic, adventurous, poised, precise, silly-little-princess came into her own this year. She enjoys taking care of her babies, hiking, making up songs, dancing, projects with Daddy and cuddling with Momma. She loves her grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins.

Morgan enjoyed a year of adventure and personal growth. Highlights for him include an epic bike tour with his brother, Parker, and several close friends climbing the Swiss and French Alps. He was also remarkably blessed to draw an archery tag for a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.  While the big ram eluded his best efforts, the shared camaraderie with two of his closest friends, and the many hours of agony and delight in the high country deepened his love for wilderness and all things untamed.   Morgan had the immense privilege of leading a retreat in June for world-changing men in their 30’s and has started to capture some of his reflections on paper. Also his gratitude is beyond words for the opportunity to continue to serve as part of the Wild at Heart leadership team: helping to see men recover their integrity and strength and be restored all around the globe.

In June we celebrated my brother’s wedding to beautiful Kristen in charming Charlevoix, Michigan. Cousins, aunts and uncles from all over shared a rambling 100-year-old Victorian home; children ran barefoot and free along the soft-sanded beaches; we all ate, drank and made-merry until late, bathed in the lingering summer light of the solstice. It was one of the most joyous weeks of my adult life, particularly poignant after some emotionally challenging years for both my brother and me. Watching my dad and his sister laugh with the sun setting behind them, I could almost hear my grandmother laughing along with them. Seeing their grandchildren now playing in the sand and giggling on a lake-side swing set, my heart throbbed with the beauty and richness of this mobile of life.

And finally, the beauty of this present moment: enjoying an unanticipated Thanksgiving celebration with beloved family in Pittsburgh. A total of 20 of us gathered around an elegant dining-room table, children dashing happily through the room in a game of chase as grown-ups linger. Suddenly, a phone rings; its Parker calling from Warsaw, Poland, announcing that he and Kasia are heading to the hospital for the birth of their first baby! A moment to pause, unite in love and gratitude, pray for beloveds across continents, cherish, remember and hope. More beauty and gratitude than one heart can contain.

Family. Friends. Spiritual, emotional, physical and relational daily bread. Meaningful work. Healing. Milestones. Children. Nature. It has been a beautiful year.

Affliction

It has also been a year of affliction; not so much this time under our little roof on Chokecherry, but for others whom we cherish and respect.

In January, the daddy of one of Abigail’s dearest preschool friends was killed in the earthquake in Haiti. Renee lost her best-friend, lover and husband; the boys lost their beloved Daddy; and the world lost a luminous, loving and brilliant man affectionately known as Captain Cranium (www.CraniumsArk.com). My mind freezes when I contemplate the devastating loss of David’s life alone; it is incomprehensible to multiply that loss by hundreds of thousands. For all those who have experienced the death of someone you hold dear this year, I close my eyes in this moment and send you our deepest sympathy, grief and compassion.

And this October, just one year after his joyous wedding, Morgan’s beloved youngest brother was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. Lance came through a harrowing surgery and is now undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. He is buoyant, hopeful and effusing love! The other evening as I sat with his wife, Francine, my heart exclaimed: here is one of the most beautiful women in the world!  Beautiful in her courage, hope, fidelity, grace and humor in the midst of a challenge none of us could have imagined that her 27 year old heart would face. To you, Francine and Lance, we dedicate this letter. And to our friends and family, if we come to mind in this coming year, would you take a moment to join us to pray for Lance’s restoration and that the inextinguishable Life of the world to come would reach down into this one more and more? Thank you. (more on this at IWouldRatherBeFlyfishing.com)

What shall we say of this life that is at moments so beautiful and at others, so excruciating?

A dear friend recently gave  Morgan a fresh definition of the word hope: “the anticipation of goodness to come.” Tonight, I am thinking of it as the assurance that through the mystery of the Incarnation, the Source of Love has secured for all time the authority and power to bring beauty and goodness out of whatever devastation this troubled life hurls at us. That Love has the final word, that ultimate Goodness is the promise, is not a justification for suffering; but it is the stunning reality that compels me on this night to lift my face toward Heaven and give thanks.

And so, from our grateful, breaking-and-being-healed hearts, we send you our gratitude for your presence in our lives: and we wish you and yours fresh anticipation of true Goodness to come.

Remaining yours,

Cherie, Morgan, Joshua and Abigail Snyder