Dearest Family and Friends,
The Dill letter is going digital! There’s no real reason for this other than I didn’t feel like running out and printing letters and pictures, and instead ordered a custom photo card like every one else. However, I still like taking the time to reflect and share about our year, especially for those family and friends that we don’t get to talk to or see as often. Also, posting a digital versions means I can make the letter interactive with links to old posts and photos! So here goes…
Each year as I write our Christmas letter, I feel that God has outdone himself in love, blessings and generosity with our family. This year I write to you sitting next to our 5 week old baby boy, John-Paul, the greatest blessing of our marriage and by far the most important part of our year. But I’ll start back where we left off last Christmas:
Just at the end of 2013, Josh returned from deployment and we went and spent a long weekend on lake Bemidji. We also went back to Oregon to visit my family, and it was a beautiful trip. It was the first time Josh had been back to the good old PNW since we got married! The next couple months were filled with the both the joys and growing pains of reuniting…but mostly joy. I continued my job as the youth minister at Saint Michael’s, and Josh served as a volunteer alongside me. Josh’s transition back to Grand Forks AFB provided him with many new career challenges. He had some excellent mentors and some great airmen to work with and learn from, and I really believe his work experience set him up well for graduate studies. There’s so much value to having work experience that enriches and provides context to the academic life. For that, I know Josh is quite grateful.
I spent Valentine’s day weekend in Las Vegas celebrating the impending nuptials of my dear friend, Katie. A bunch of us girls had the pleasure of catching up, seeing some of the sites and catching a Cirque show. A few weeks after that trip we found out that we were pregnant (!!!!), and I began experiencing the symptoms of the first trimester. Man, that was rough! But now having John-Paul here, that all seems so distant and, of course, so worthwhile. In between work and resting my weary body, we mainly tried to soak up precious moments with our Grand Forks friends before filling our boxes for the move. Dinners and conversation were enjoyed with both Air Force friends and friends from Saint Michael’s.
In April, just before Easter, Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart came to our parish for our parish mission. I always love being with Mother, but this time was particularly special. As I wrapped up my time at Saint Michael’s, I felt bringing Mother to them was a kind of final parting gift, and a gift she certainly was! She truly blessed our parish community and priests with her deep love for Jesus and for the Holy Family. After she went back to Boston, I could just feel something different in the parish…that good things were coming. And just on a human level, Josh and I had so much joy just spending quality time and sharing meals with her!
In May we headed off to Pennsylvania to celebrate the marriage of our dear friends, Katie and Kevin Gearns. We enjoyed toasting to their love and reuniting with many friends from the Boston University Catholic Center. We’re so blessed that over the years the friendships from this community have lasted and grown – we’re always looking for a reason to get together! Weddings have been a great reason for all of us, and we’re hoping to also celebrate ordinations and perpetual vows in the upcoming years, as well!
After the wedding we went up to New Jersey and spent time with Josh’s Uncle Sepp, Aunt Susan and their three darling children. It was perfect timing because it just so happened that our little sister Katie was playing piano at Carnegie Hall with the Empire State Youth Orchestra. Being in NJ, we were able to ride the train into the city and meet up with family to watch her play. What a treat! I’m not a musician, so I can’t give you a technical review…but they were really great! We’re very proud that she’s a passionate and driven young woman. While in the city, I also got to see Aladdin thanks to my mother and father in law! We had a lovely time.
Then…finally! We got to go on the pilgrimage that Josh and I planned over the course of the previous nine months. I won’t go into too much detail here, because I wrote about the trip in previous posts. You can check out the post about the wedding, northeast travels, our journey to Rome and our first day in Rome here. the details for our second day in Rome can be found here. If you’d like to read about the rest of our stay in Italy and our time alone in Paris, click here. The second half of our trip we met up with a pilgrimage group and you can read about that and check out the photos here. What I’ll say for this letter is…wow. What a blessing to share this experience as husband and wife before welcoming our child into the world. The trip had its highs and lows, but was all very much guided by the Holy Spirit. For me, the highlights of the trip were the couple of days we spent in Paris on our own and then going to Lourdes at the very end of the trip. Another favorite was sitting in the Basilica of Saint Clare and praying before the San Domiano cross. Josh loved all things Rome, and in particular he enjoyed seeing the Sistine Chapel, The Colosseum, and hanging out with Mike Zimmerman! Also, French food…that was a favorite for the both of us!
Coming back from the pilgrimage, it was full speed ahead to get ready to move. At the last minute, I also decided to fly home to Oregon for a week to visit family. My mom threw my a beautiful baby shower in the backyard – a great excuse to catch up with old friends and to celebrate life! Being in my hometown is always a treat. With each passing year, and especially now that we have a little one, our appreciation and love for family grows. My heart longs to be back in the Pacific Northwest, but we still have 4 years of Air Force duties, prayer and job searching to do before that can become a possibility.
Upon returning to Grand Forks, my dear, sweet friends, Amanda and Christine, also threw me a baby shower! Truly, we were spoiled. It was a fun, little gathering! Also, we hired a new youth minister, and so I only worked part time to train him a bit and to work on our trip to Steubenville North. At the end of the month, we rounded up the youth and drove to the Twin Cities. Planning these trips can take a lot of work and anxiety! But it’s worth it. The students had a wonderful time, and it was such a blessing to have a few last moments with the girls I’d become close to…and to see them encounter the Lord in new ways. I had peace leaving my job at Saint Michael’s because I knew that I gave what I could give, and that I was leaving the youth in the hands that God chose for the new youth minister.
Moving is bitter-sweet. As you know from past letters, North Dakota weather and terrain…not my fave and I easily said “SEE YA” to that. However, leaving people you love and that you’ve spent several years with….that’s always tough. At the beginning of August, we had to say these hard goodbyes. I still can’t believe that our ND chapter has finished. Seems like yesterday Josh was telling me where his first Air Force assignment would be (that was before we were married!) and he asked me “Soooo…what are the top 5 states you would NOT want to live in?” Ha! It’s funny to look back on some of my very first posts. I remember so fondly our first tiny apartment and all those firsts we shared together. ND still would not be my #1 choice, but God makes good come from all things and he certainly blessed us in ND.
With that, we packed up the car and began our road trip to Pennsylvania so that Josh could start grad school at Penn State. (long story short, the AF is sending Josh to get his master so that he can teach engineering courses at AFIT. It’s a sweet gig!). On the way we stopped in Wisconsin, the UP of Michigan and in Detroit. In Detroit we got to see our dear friend Elise, and attend Josh’s cousin James’ and new wife Shannon’s wedding! They actually got married on my birthday (thanks for throwing me a huge party, guys!) and Josh had a little party for me in the hotel lobby that morning with some family. It was real sweet. And the wedding was BEAUTIFUL.
We arrived in Pennsylvania, and I knew right away that I’d like living here. PA is a gorgeous state and the town of State College is really nice. We got here five days before our household goods did, so we crashed on the floor of our new place. Eventually we got all settled in and Josh started school! I took it pretty easy – mostly did the unpacking. I also started volunteering at the Penn State Catholic Center, greeting visitors and answering phones. I’ve mostly taken it easy though to be honest. We enjoyed the last couple months of “Just Josh and Ashlie” before our baby arrived….My mom visited, we went to NY for another wonderful baby shower host by my mother-in-law, and mostly just enjoyed hanging out, really! Nothing crazy.
at 4am on November 4, I went into labor and early in the morning on November 5, our darling baby boy was born. You can read all about that special day here and here. Overall, the transition has been a smooth one…especially thanks to my mother, Heidi, when she visited and all the love and help she poured out on us. Having her here was really a gift. And speaking of gifts, John-Paul received the gift of Baptism on December 7!
And now here we are! Another year behind us, full of challenges, joys and memories. We give glory and praise to God for it all, and turn our face to 2015. Where will God lead us? What will He ask of us? What opportunities, trials and joys are to come? Who knows! But we know that Jesus in faithful, merciful and loving…and that no matter what is to come, He…the Word Incarnate, Emmanuel…is with us.
We hold you close in prayer. If there is anything in particular we can offer up in prayer for you, please let us know.
With the love of Christ,
Joshua, Ashlie and John-Paul