The Best Surprises of 2017

Looking back at the best surprises of the year has become one of our favorite traditions. I often feel drained and discouraged by then end of the year (too many late nights, sugar overdoses, so many failed resolutions!), yet I’m always overwhelmed with gratitude after making this list. Days/weeks/months rarely show any progress in our lives, but when you look back over an entire year, there are always surprises and delights. Some are trivial, others profound, but each one made our year better. And if 2017 wasn’t good to you, just wait. There are always wonders just out of sight.

As always, nothing on this list can be things we planned or knew would happen. As always, I will be breaking that rule.In no particular order whatsover:

  1. Hans arrived home from Madagascar, safe and sound with no parasites and no sign of plague. We’re still amazed by his good health. And we’re genuinely astonished on a daily basis by Hansie’s straight-to-the-core goodness. He may be the nicest person we’ve ever known.
  2. Welcome Home Hans! from Michelle Lehnardt on Vimeo.
  3.  And in the same vein, Xander’s mission call to Montreal, Canada speaking Mandarin surprised us all. In retrospect, it seems like such a perfect place for him, but none of us guessed it ahead of time. He’s happily stationed in Montreal, making jokes about his lack of fluency and loving the Chinese people, food, culture. Both his companions have been native Mandarin speakers so he’s learning from the best.
  4. Top three movies/books/albums/songs of the year (this is just to prove I’m not going in any order of importance): Wonder Woman, Wonder and Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Oathbringer, The War that Saved My Life, The Hiding Place (the last two were not published this year, but everyone in the family read or reread them); favorite albums– Reputation by Taylor Swift, The Click by AJR and The Human Condition by Jon Bellion. Favorite songs– Feel it Still by Portugal the Man, Almost Like Praying by Lin-Manuel Miranda and every single song by Ben Rector.
  5. Our home turned into circus training grounds. We went from two unicyclists to three, casual juggling to a three ring circus where Xander, Gabe and Mary unicycle and juggle balls, rings, pins, oranges, toilet plungers and anything else that isn’t nailed to the floor. Gabe even started a Circus Club at Skyline and has been teaching his skills to kids all over the neighborhood. Still not buying flaming juggling swords. Sorry.
  6. This year brought so many visitors and houseguests and amazing new people in our lives. You know who you are. It’s nice to have friends. So, thanks.
  7. After adventures with the LSAT and a delightful month where various law schools offered him scholarships and incentives, Ben committed to the S.J. Quinney Law School at University of Utah. He LOVES devouring massive amount of information, studying with friends, complaining about tests and sharing his newfound knowledge. And now Stefan’s applying for law schools. We’ve already purchased our handbook of 101 Lawyer Jokes, but feel free to share any new wisecracks with us.
  8. For the last several years, Erik’s managed a duplex by the University of Utah which he rents out to 8-12 students at a time. The list of headaches associated with this rental are long and bizarre (bed bugs, hoarders, drunks, insane neighbors, oh my) and he’s been trying to sell it for the last two years. One day when he was dealing with yet another problem, Erik struck up a conversation with people walking past his duplex (Erik talks to EVERYONE, all the time– the more tattoos, the longer he chats). Turns out the strangers were a realtor and an investor looking at another property on the street. “Well, if you’re looking to buy, come and take a look at my duplex.” Erik said. One week later, Erik sold the duplex, deposited a nice profit in the bank and forever proved to his kids the value of talking to every person you see.
  9. Hey, I knew Gabe had it in him, but his singing/acting/dancing abilities astonished the entire school/neighborhood/community in The Little Mermaid last March. This fall, he participated in the ensemble of two plays (which was completely crazy) and developed even more skills.
  10. Shy little Miss Mary not only survived her first year of junior high, but was elected as a Student Body Officer and snagged the role of Nala in the play (coming in March 2018).
  11. We may have busted a few buttons when Governor Herbert appointed Sammie as his press secretary. Public Communications Officer if you want the new politically correct term. But press secretary sounds so cool. She’s dealt with everything from pardoning the Thanksgiving Turkey to a Presidential visit (where the White House gifted her a box of Hershey’s kisses for all her work planning the event. Seems like a strange gift, yes?)
  12. Not only did Stefan and Heather surprise us by working/taking university classes in Tallinn, Estonia this summer, they surprised themselves even more by how much they loved Estonia and the other Baltic States. They also made forays into Finland and Russia, made new friends, ate well, learned ten thousand new things and saw sunshine at least twice.
  13. Straight from Estonia, Stefan and Heather met the rest of us in Amsterdam (we like to call it Amsterdarn). The first trip with our entire family in 7.5 years, our days in the Netherlands surpassed all our expectations. I promise I’ll write all about it soon.
  14. OK, I’ve whined about my writing already. But on the very last day of the year, TODAY parents put up a Facebook post naming “How to Ruin Your Relationship With Your Teenager” as the top post of the year (and the ACT/SAT post ranked up there too). Honestly though, your kind comments and emails have meant more to me than any ranking. So I’ll keep writing.
  15. I helped found two very different (and yet similar) organizations this year– Mormon Women For Ethical Government and Blue Bicycle Travel . Both seek to increase understanding and eliminate barriers. After building their website, I’ve mostly stepped back from MWEG. Thanks to my running/writing buddy Shelah, we formed a not-for-profit venture called Blue Bicycle Travel and we’re taking a group of teenagers to London and Paris this summer. Shelah’s a French teacher at our junior high and I’m a history nut. We both think introducing teens to European culture, food, history and adventure sounds like the best way to spend ten days this summer. And in case you’re worried it won’t be fun, keep in mind Erik and Hans are joining us as chaperones too. Come with us!

    Blue Bicycle Preview from Michelle Lehnardt on Vimeo

  16. After several one-time projects and months on a mentoring waiting list, we finally connected with a darling refugee family from Rwanda who we meet with each week. In the words of my wise friend, “Working with underpriviledged groups should not make us ‘feel grateful and lucky for what I have.’ That is the typical, and wrong, reaction.  Volunteering for underprivileged should make us feel angry in our souls for the situation that created their marginalization to begin with, and make us want to take action and do something about it.” Spending time with our Rwandan friends and hearing their stories DOES make us angry in our souls and want to take action, but honestly, it also makes us feel grateful and lucky. And I think that’s OK. If you’ve been on a waitlist for a family, send me an email. I can set you up. 
  17. When my sister Ruth rented an apartment for a YEAR for her family, we thought she might be overestimating how long a simple home remodel would take. In truth, the remodel took a year PLUS ten more months. Ruth’s family spent several months living in a tent in their backyard, showering at neighbor’s homes, cooking on a hot plate….thankfully, they live in San Diego so they never froze.You can imagine their gratitude and delight when they moved into their newly remodeled home in October. And you can imagine the joy when we all (minus Xander) gathered for Lizzy’s homecoming on New Year’s Eve. Lizzy arrived home from her 18 month mission in Bolivia, surprisingly healthy and just as adorable as ever. So much happiness. None of us will ever take a warm bed, washing machine or flush toilet for granted again. They still need decent WiFi, but they’re surviving nicely.

It’s an embarrassment of riches. I keep a daily gratitude journal; I try to be aware of the good things in my life. But when I look at everything beautiful in one year, I’m overcome with indebtedness. And I’m tempted to delete this post because it feels so braggy.

Please forgive my boasting– and try making your own list! You may be surprised at how many good things came your way this year. I’m praying you all have a joyous 2018.

December 28, 2017



  1. Jill

    January 4, 2018

    Email me too! And keep writing!!

  2. Jeanelle

    January 4, 2018

    don’t delete – and just accept the fact that you’re a pretty incredible person and so many of us admire you greatly! I’m going to listen to your favorite music because you always use the best songs to accompany your videos!! xoxo

  3. tracy

    January 5, 2018

    I adore you and yours. Happy New Year, my dearest. xoxo

  4. ellen patton

    January 24, 2018

    There is so much love in your family.

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