The following is our annual Christmas letter.
If I were to summarize the year of 2009 in one word, I would have to say the word “peace” best describes it. For those of you who know our story, you might be really shocked by that word. Surely, after all of the events of this past year, “peace” would not be a word typically used. Honestly, though, it truly was God’s peace that brought us from a point of loss to gaining abundant blessings.
January was quite a month for us. After the holidays were over, we were left with a lot of emotions. We were certain that God’s calling was still on Todd’s life and certain that the time was drawing near for his return to youth ministry. Our biggest concern was where and when. That is, until the day Todd had to be laid off of work. I remember that week very clearly. Two days prior, I was at choir practice and a woman from our church handed me an envelope. She told me she didn’t know whom it was from. When I got home, to our surprise we found a $100 gift card for Kroger inside. Our first reaction was, “We don’t deserve this! There are so many people in the church who have lost jobs. They need it more than us.” Two days later, Todd came home with the news that after almost 15 years, his dad had to lay him off. We both knew God had provided even before we had a need. Shortly after that week, Todd and I were asked to travel down to Texas to interview at a church. Thinking this was God’s plan, we hopped on a plane and set off for College Station, Texas home of Texas A&M University. We loved the town and even more the pastor of the church. We returned to Michigan ready to pack up and head down. God had other plans though as the job was offered to another candidate.
As we struggled to grasp God’s path for us, we had to rely on trusting Him on a weekly basis. We received random cards in the mail from families in the church (some who didn’t even know us) with checks inside. God also provided a temporary job for Todd to help with on the side. He took up doing water restoration. The hours were very long at times, but the extra money helped us keep up with most of the bills and put food on the table. Overall, we had a sense of peace that God was going to continue to take care of us even when we didn’t know what form the help would come in.
After struggling for several months to get together enough money to pay our mortgage, we decided that it was time to put our home of almost 8 years on the market. It came, as no surprise to us that our home was now worth half of the value it was when we bought it. This meant we had to list it as a “short sale” and get bank approval for any offer that came in under the amount we owed. Shortly after it was listed, we had five offers to show the bank. We were excited and so thankful. Then came May.
In May, The River Church located near Cincinnati, Ohio called and asked us to come down for an interview. We were not sure what to expect and surprisingly came away from the interview with a lot of questions more than answers. We had been through that process so many times in the last 4 years and we were beginning to feel run down. We asked a lot of our close friends to pray with us, and a week later, we got encouraging news. Todd was the front-runner and the elders wanted to get a chance to meet our family. This was the first time our kids would be involved in an interview. It was exciting to watch our kids connect with other teens and children at the church and the process, though exhausting, left us feeling at ease and hopeful. Finally, in July, while on vacation in Manistee, Todd got the call asking him to take the youth pastor position.
We made plans to move at the beginning of August in hopes that our home sale would be finalized by then and also because the schools in Ohio would be starting up on the 25th of that month. The entire house was packed up and ready to go. Two weeks before we were scheduled to move, we got a call from our real estate office. They had just found out that the last of the five offers on our home had been withdrawn. We were devastated. The bank had taken so long to get the process in gear; all five potential buyers had decided to look elsewhere. With boxes everywhere, we began to once more show our home. It was frustrating, but again, within a very short period of time, we got another offer.
Our moving plans continued, and on August 10th we packed up everything we owned into our friend, Jim’s moving truck and headed down to Liberty Township, Ohio. The weather was crazy! Not only was it the hottest day we had had all summer, but we also lost power the night before and into the next morning. Then when we got near Dayton, we experienced torrential rainfall so hard that we could barely see the brake lights in front of us. At one point, lightning even stuck near us in the median! When we arrived at our rental home, we were greeted by a group of people from our new church. They were ready to pitch in and help us get the truck unloaded. Before we began taking anything out, Todd and I got our first tour of the home. You see we had never even seen the house in person. Some friends of ours who lived in the area looked it at and we confirmed the fact that they had very good taste as soon as we walked through it. Everything was emptied out of the truck, and Jim & Jeff (who also came down from Michigan to help us) headed back home.
Our first few weeks in Ohio were tiring for sure. I was determined to get the boxes unpacked and Todd wanted to get right into his new position. We were so blessed by the people at The River. They brought us meals, offered to help in anyway they could and some of the ladies even invited me out to coffee! Hannah made several friends almost immediately since she was now of youth group age. We even have a family from church living two doors down who has a daughter the same age! Caleb probably had the hardest time adjusting. He didn’t have any interest in meeting other kids, which was very unusual for him. He stayed inside and told us he would make friends when school started. Well, school started two weeks after we got here and both kids had the opportunity to go to separate schools for the first time.
Hannah now attends Liberty Junior School, and is in the 7th grade. She is still in band and plays the flute. She has really blossomed this year and I think junior high has been a great experience for her so far. Caleb attends Woodland Elementary and is in the 5th grade so he now gets to experience being one of the older kids in his school. He has a great teacher named Mr. Caulfield. He also has a teacher that assists him in reading, which has really made a big difference for him so far this year.
In addition to school, the kids both have new activities they have never experienced before. Hannah found a stable not too far away where she has horseback riding lessons. To help pay for the lessons, she also has been working at the stable cleaning out the stalls. She absolutely LOVES working with the horses and seems to really have a knack for it. Hannah also got FREE braces in November! I was checking out a website for a local Orthodontist because they were hiring office staff and I came across the contest on their home page. I decided to enter because Hannah was actually supposed to get braces back in April but was unable to because we couldn’t afford it. It was such a wonderful surprise when I got the call that Hannah had won!!!
Caleb is now an official Cub Scout and hopes to move up to Boy Scouts in the coming year. He has been on a few outings and is preparing to make his first pinewood derby car. He is hoping his grandpa in Michigan can give him some help. Caleb has also made several really good friends. They play together almost everyday and usually are upstairs playing some sort of video game. I think he is finally feeling at home now.
Todd has settled nicely into youth ministry down here and I have also embraced several ministries. I have been serving with Todd as a small group leader with the teens and youth band coordinator; as well as being involved with the music ministry and even getting several opportunities to lead worship. On top of that I am also working at The Children’s Place part time. We have all grown to love southern Ohio.
Though we still have obstacles in front of us, one being our home in MI that is now in the process of foreclosure unless another buyer comes forward, we are certain that God’s peace will get us through them. We are so excited as God’s plan continues to unfold and really can’t wait to see what 2010 holds for us!
Todd, Kim, Hannah and Caleb Porter