the best surprises of 2014

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If you looked at my resolutions from the beginning of the year, you’d think I’d failed miserably. I haven’t dropped a single pound, published an article, healed that relationship, finished reading the Old Testament, figured out why I’m making videos or even done a very good job at keeping up with friends. Most of the things I hoped would happen, simply didn’t.

But so many things I never dreamed of blazed and shimmered into our lives. 2014 was a spectacular year filled with new friends, unexpected opportunities, laughing until my sides hurt, more than a thousand cupcakes and glitter all over my floor.

My annual list of surprises has become a gratitude journal of sorts, but with a twist. Our  monthly gratitude poster on the fridge tends to be filled with the same things: food, the cat, Mommy (with a heart around it)…whereas an end of the year list of surprises recognizes the serendipity of life, the endless possibilities, the belief that good things will continue to happen.

Sometimes I get stuck thinking there’s nothing good around the bend. But my past lists remind me– life is full of surprises. We can plan and work and prepare, but if we’re constantly staring at the asphalt on the highway, we might miss the flock of birds, the field of wildflowers, the face of the person next to us.

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And so, without further introduction and in no particular order, our best surprises of 2014…

1. Molly Polly Woggles Doodle Dog. Seriously, can you believe we got a dog? We certainly surprised a lot of our friends and ourselves by joining the ranks of dog owners. It’s like a new and secret world opened up to us: talking to fellow dog owners at the park, wandering the aisles of PetSmart for new toys and various leashes, learning how to clean up pee stains off any surface and how to make a dog vomit after ingesting chocolate (1 TBS. hydrogen peroxide mixed in water. Repeat once if necessary.)

Admittedly, we’ve had days we considered selling her in the classifieds. But she’s so affectionate, funny and like a real life stuffed animal, we’ve all grown to love her.

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2. Yes, I know some people complain about spending three days hiking, camping and using outhouses, but I begged to go along on our stake’s Pioneer Trek. I felt like angels walked with me as I photographed and filmed our youth. Unfettered by any particular responsibility, I wandered from group to group learning names, trading jokes, receiving hugs. Now I just need to find a way to get invited next time around…

East Millcreek North Pioneer Trek 2014– Come Follow Me from Michelle Lehnardt on Vimeo.


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3. Gabe the Airsoft King. It took Ben and Stefan years to talk me into our first airsoft gun. I HATE guns. Despise them. If Erik took up hunting or wanted a gun for home security it would seriously jeopardize our marriage. But I’d like to bear my testimony of airsoft wars– quite possibly the best activity for 10-14 year old boys. Let’s look at the benefits: it’s an organized activity with clear set rules, they play outdoors running for hours, airsoft wars unite boys who have nothing else in common, they learn diplomacy and simple courtesy when settling disputes.

Early this year, after bemoaning his lack of friends, Gabe began organizing airsoft wars every Friday afternoon. He invites kids at school, they gather at our house and usually go to the Garffs for the actual game where they race through their enormous yard and Amy Garff spoils them all with chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate on cold days, popsicles when it’s warm. They have a President, VP, etc. and a Treasurer who collects $5 annually for ammunition. Kids who’ve been bullied, left out, made fun of are all equal under safety goggles and the rules of combat.

4. Perhaps Ben studying in Jerusalem wasn’t completely a surprise since Ben did apply in 2013. But he went back and forth about 273 times: should I spend the money? should I take the time? Within days of arriving in Jerusalem his answer was a resounding ‘YES!’ He traveled, and prayed and swam and gained an enormous respect for both Jewish and Palestinian cultures. As Ben says, “If you think the conflict in Israel is simple, you don’t know enough about it.”


5. Maybe Ben’s Jerusalem friends will visit since we now have a guest room in the basement. We’ve lived in this enormous house for a decade and had nowhere decent for guests to stay. In the past, we’ve relegated our friends to the basement where they slept on cots and later beds from my mom’s house and had to wait until the boys went to school to go upstairs and shower. For years, we’ve stood in the unfinished basement and pondered how we’d transform it into a guest suite: we’d take electrician classes at Home Depot, master the art of drywall, set our own tile… Wisely, we hired a contractor this fall. They finished the room at 6:30 p.m. the day after Christmas and my sister’s family arrived at 8:30 p.m. (I hadn’t quite finished mopping, they had to help us move the beds, there’s still no mirror in the bathroom…) But now, we have a beautiful suite for guests. My sister and her family leave tomorrow and beautiful Abby White moves in on Sunday. Gaining Abby as an adopted daughter, sister has certainly been one of the best surprises of 2014.

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6. Crossfit. Erik’s been a crossfit aficionado for ages, but this year Xander and Hans began to join him M-W-F. Without really intending to, they wear matching red shorts and super hero shirts to the gym, earning themselves the name “Team Lehnardt.” They’re impatient for Gabe to join them when he gets a little older.

7. Gabe did join the big boys and everyone else when hiking Mt. Timpanogus. I made a big deal about Mary making the climb, but it was Gabe’s first time too (he just kind of sauntered to the top without any fanfare). Climbing Timpanogus marks a hefty accomplishment at any age. Next year we’ll do it twice!

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8. Another hefty accomplishment? Hans’ perfect ACT score. Admittedly, I wasn’t very surprised. It’s his kindness and inclusiveness that amazes me.

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9. Hans and Xander are having an extraordinary year serving in student government– Hans as Men’s Association President and Xander as Sophomore Class President. I had no idea how much work student government achieves in our schools. The boys spend at least a dozen after school hours a week hanging posters, setting up for dances, arranging assemblies and activities and service projects. Xander really didn’t want to run for office but I told him it would be a once in a lifetime chance to work with Hans. They’re well known for their kindness to each other and their concern for everyone in the school.

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10. Happily, I was able to help with their campaigns by creating posters, videos and nearly 1000 cupcakes (I’m an expert mass baker now). I haven’t had many professional opportunities this year, but I’m grateful to use my skills for my family. I found myself relishing these days of motherhood– driving to lessons and recitals, delivering forgotten math papers and lunches to the school, editing essays, slicing apples, making cookies, running the loop with Gabe, enjoying long talks in the car, at the dinner table, everywhere…

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11.  When people ask Mary her favorite part about homeschooling, she answers, “Spending time with my mama.” Sure, I’m behind on almost everything else, but I’m savoring our time together and looking forward to homeschool ski days in January (another big surprise- I have a ski pass for the first time since I was in high school).

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12. My one great professional opportunity? Creating the video for On Loss and Living Onward, Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s breathtaking, heart wrenching book on grief. Interviewing, filming and editing the footage became a holy experience for me. I believe the video is an extraordinary tool for those who are grieving and those who want to mourn with them. It hasn’t been viewed as much as we’d hoped, but I’m still very proud of it.


On Loss and Living Onward by Melissa Dalton-Bradford from Michelle Lehnardt on Vimeo.

13. I’ll never forget when Hans was surprised by a room full of friends on his birthday, but ran across the room and jumped over the couch to hug his cousin Lizzy. As a little girl who envied my friends with close cousins, Hans and Lizzy’s friendship shines like a pure miracle.

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14. Since I’m right in between, I went to several 40th and 50th birthday parties this year. Happily, my friends are getting even better with age. Everyone talks about “it just gets worse as you get older” but I think they’re wrong. While some of my friends mourned turning forty, the fifty year olds celebrated their health, happiness, beloved friends and family. My fifty year old friends glow with confidence, exude love and acceptance and seem to have shed many of their insecurities. There are studies claiming 40 tends to be a low point in many people’s lives (and there are some very good reasons for that) but I love believing many of my best days lie ahead.

Now that I’ve reached the end of my list, I’m amazed at our full and rich and delicious year. I can scarcely imagine the marvels and wonders of 2015. Yes, I’ll still make goals and work toward them. But I also hope to recognize God’s hand, to drink in the beauty and wonder of life without worrying too much about what I accomplish. I hope to dance joyfully through my kitchen, laugh with friends, bring comfort to those who mourn. To live unshackled from how I think things should be, rather to unwrap each of God’s mercies with gratitude and delight.






December 28, 2014



  1. Kathleen W.

    January 2, 2015

    I just wanted to let you know that I truly enjoy reading your blog and seeing your wonderful photography. Looking forward to your posts in 2015 !

  2. Cath Arvy

    January 3, 2015

    What an amazing year! Isn’t reflection powerful? And I especially love the way you’ve embraced new things, let go of others. Great writing here. “To live unshackled from how I think things should be…” So wise. I continue to learn from you. Love you dear Michelle.

  3. Amara Bray

    January 4, 2015

    So thankful for that video. I feel like I’m continually trying to learn better how to “mourn with those that mourn”. It’s so difficult to get right down into the grief and stay there with someone, but sometimes I think it’s the only true service. Anyway, thank you again.

  4. Kim

    January 5, 2015

    Such a delightful recap of your year. You are amazingly talented. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. Stephanie

    January 6, 2015

    Lovely post, as usual.

  6. Kerri

    January 11, 2015

    I love the idea of celebrating surprises. Such a healthy way to review our year, especially since I also didn’t seem to manage to meet my resolutions.

    And I just now put it together that Ben was in Israel with my cousin Lauren Jackson. Small world!

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