Our family is God’s way of keeping us grounded.

Good friends are a gift we can never deserve.

True joy can only be discovered in Jesus.

And pain that hits us where we live, changes us the most.

Every year, a pile of Christmas cards fills my mailbox. Some with pictures. Some with letters. Some with both. Whether documented by a collage of photos or a page of words, all of them hold the same thing—a short summary of the year.

They sort of go like this:

Little Johnny won the Nobel prize for his reformation. On teacher/student relations at Alice Elementary.

Little Susie made first clarinet. The day after she began playing.

Little Timmy led varsity football to State. As both quarterback and receiver.

Little Megan danced lead in the Nutcracker. At age seven.

It seems no one else lives a mediocre life. They travel to exotic places, get along with their family members, walk in leadership positions, win awards, and cure leprosy on accident while inventing a new vaccine for bullying.

Taken alone, the Christmas Letter Vignette makes other people’s lives feel amazing. About halfway through their Highlights of the Year, I’m packing my carry-on, Googling the lowest last-minute airfares, and buying a ticket to wherever they live.

I’m moving in because the chances of my family even raising their heads high enough to see that bar carries the same odds as me being abducted by aliens on Friday the 13th after a blizzard in July.

Then I remember. What doesn’t get put in those letters are the struggles. The events that hit the hardest. The moments that brought life-altering decisions. The impact that forced the most personal change.

I find it interesting that we don’t share our struggles and our triumphs over them. Those stories would inspire instead of defeat. Those stories would bring hope instead of despair. As a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, I know I’ve failed. Now I want to know there is redemption.

Telling us Jesus loves us is one thing, showing us another.

So here’s our 2012 in a nutshell—the incredible, the defeating, and the mediocre.

Pat’s still with the same company that moved us here. Some days are good. Some days are not. Because people work in his office and people aren’t perfect. God uses others to sharpen our character flaws and some days Pat is sharpened more than others. Some days, I cut him deeper than his co-workers. His capacity for forgiveness astonishes me and I am grateful.

Kyle left for college in the fall. He loves his dorm, his new friends, and his chosen major—nursing. He dug deep this semester to earn a 3.007. Deeper than a few other students, who breezed by on a 4.0. But when he’s forty, working hard will have built him solid character and that may be what God is teaching him right now. I struggle with his absence. I struggle with his short visits home where he’s no longer a kid, but not quite an adult. We’re barely paying his tuition and if he can’t rally more scholarships in 2013, he won’t be going back.

Alek is the new man on campus—at least our campus. He’s growing into the role, often surprising me with the way his character is shaping. Some days the surprise makes my heart happy. Other days, the surprise nails me with what I’m lacking as a parent. He took over Kyle’s job teaching children “how not to drown” up at the local gym. I’m proud of him for earning a paycheck and choosing to support a child through Compassion International. I’m not so proud of myself for the amount of TV I let him watch and the caliber of video games I let him play.

Maddy just turned eleven. And she’s a girl. I could stop there and every woman reading this will sigh in remembrance and understand Maddy’s heart intimately. We all want to be beautiful and special and perfect. But at eleven, we don’t understand those things mean more etched on the inside of us then painted on the outside. She plays the piano, swims, and sings in the choir. She combs her hair when I remind her and her current claim to fame seems to be working the unmatched socks.

This year I’ve discovered little things really can kill you. Or at least bring you down when they decide to rally, form an army, and refuse retreat. The world doesn’t have to fall into a huge crisis to be crushing. That came as quite a shocker.

My word from 2012 is overwhelmed.

No, my book isn’t done yet, but I was lucky enough to earn some space in Wild at Heart this year with my short story Refugee. I’ve also discovered something successful authors have known for years. If I’m in the creative groove and producing, my family and friends aren’t loving the person I’ve become nor the time I’m not spending with them. When I’m falling in line with their expectations, I don’t get anything done.

My word for 2013 is balance. I have no idea where to search for something so elusive.

So, in response to my Highlights of the Year, please don’t unearth your Samsonite. Don’t transfer funds from savings to pay United for a one-way to DFW. In my world, the kids don’t always get along. The parents don’t either. Dinner is rarely on the table by Friday, let alone at six. The dogs, who are now thirteen, can’t always stumble outside to do their business and the cats sometimes just forget.

I’m satisfied with a peaceful day. But when that doesn’t happen, I chalk the kids’ skirmishes up to learning people skills. What works and what doesn’t. That could be a valuable lesson for the long run. As for the animals, I’m looking into senior living.

Next year, consider being vulnerable. Consider sharing your pain, yours losses and your wins. You never know what your words will do for another person.

My smallest New Year’s resolution? To floss every day and not just a week before I visit the dentist. My largest? To make my family feel as loved as they are.

What are yours?