The Best Surprises of 2020

Oh this is always a tricky post to write, but has there ever been a year we needed it more? It’s so easy to toss away the whole year and yet every year holds blessings and surprises.

I’ve always had trouble publishing these lists because they make our life look too good. Here’s the truth (and you know this) behind every happy surprise lies a lot of work, disappointment, pain and plain old deciding to have a good attitude. Still, if we don’t recognize the joy, what is life? I’m extending an invitation to create your own list, even in a year of pandemics, depression, disappointments, loneliness, fear, earthquakes, breakups, storms and uncertainty, there is so much beauty.

Usually, I state this list was made in no particular order (and the rest of the list really isn’t), but this year, our number one is most definitely:

  1. Fritz Benjamin Lehnardt, June 10th, 2020. What would we have done without Fritzie this year? I simply don’t know. Yes, it was a terrifying time to be pregnant and to give birth. And the pandemic made Sammie’s last six months as the State Communication Director for Governor Herbert incredibly taxing (16 hour work days for a new mom are no fun). Yet, caring for Fritzie and doting on him and celebrating every teensy milestone absolutely made our year. I’ve raised a family who LOVES babies and we’ve savored every moment with Fritzie.

2. Elder Gabe going to Berlin! The day Gabe opened his mission call to Berlin, Germany last March feels like YEARS ago. We’ve been on a roller coaster of changed plans, mixed emotions, paperwork, fervent prayers, quarantines and last minute flights ever since. On December 29th, 2020, he arrived in his very first area in Braunschweig, Germany. It’s a miracle.

3. Stefan and Heather moving home. We thought this would be the year we’d scarcely see Stefan and Heather. They’d be in Boston, then San Diego for the summer and back to Boston for Stefan’s final year at Harvard Law. And yet, they’ve been here, in our basement, here for ALL of it. And I’ll be eternally grateful. And while they missed so many opportunities, they’ve been here for so many things that really matter. AND the stars aligned in just the right way for

4, Stef and Heather’s first home. It’s a sweet little 100 year old duplex they bought with Erik and me. When they bought it, only one side was livable so they’ve been very cleverly renting out the good side on AirBnb (which has been flourishing during the pandemic), while they fixed up the decrepit half (a great adventure for everyone). They moved in at the beginning of December and we miss them, but it’s pretty exciting all around.

5. Within hours of BYU announcing their shutdown in March, Hansie moved back home. It’s always a pleasure to have Hans around, and while he’s certainly clocked many miles between home and Provo this year, we love his cheerful presence.

6. And while Mary imagined a year of high school dances and performances and adventures with friends, she realized nothing life is guaranteed and Mary decided to graduate early. She took online classes all summer, took the ACT three times, filled out her college applications and will graduate in June without having a senior year, or a junior year, or even much of a sophomore year…and she also started a podcast and a website and ran swim school and a photography business and started teaching guitar, so although she’ll probably never go to prom, she’s doing OK.

7. Erik working from home. Oh I know this isn’t anything unique. Millions abandoned corporate offices for the safety of home and the comfort of sweats on Zoom meetings. We’re extraordinarily grateful for Erik’s work which was uninterrupted (though certainly changed by the pandemic). His office decided to remain online and Erik’s trading in suit pants for sweats for the long term. Erik doesn’t really appreciate me saying this, but I was worried about having him home ALL the time (I like to be alone) and honestly, it’s been a pleasure. I think making the transition to working at home along with millions of others created the best circumstance. And Erik’s worked hard to be pleasant and helpful, cheerful and undemanding. If anyone in our family deserves a prize for weathering this year well, it’s Erik.

8. Xander thrived. Quarantine changed Xander’s life very little. He still lived at home, his classes moved online and, well, Xander loves home. His enthusiasm for all hiking, games, pickle ball, puzzles, mountain biking, swimming, cooking, all forms of home improvement and adventure inspired everyone. Almost always the first to awake, he’s always in the kitchen, always ready for fun and perpetually annoyed with everyone else’s need of sleep. After a short stint at Home Depot, he’s settled into ACT and math tutoring (and he’s an amazing tutor). Our little cheapskate bought a 3D printer this year AND learned how to use it (if you have a budding engineer, I can’t recommend this printer enough). The only other time Xander will spend money is on darling Madi; you might have been surprised to see

9. Madi in our Christmas card photo. When quarantine struck and everyone formed their small bubble, Madi was included from day one. No one debated (and trust me, we debated quarantine bubbles in every form!). When we took family photos the night before Gabe left on his mission, we didn’t even think of a photo without Madi. And I imagine she’ll be in the photo next year, and the next…

10. This is the year I thought I’d have 7 hours a day to myself, I’d create a thriving business, I’d write a book… At the end of this year, I’m most proud of managing all the emotional upheaval in my family. It’s been an extraordinary year to be a mother of six young adults and teens. Like so many, we’ve had disappointments and disagreements, depression and exhaustion and loneliness. I’ve navigated hundreds of crises small and large. Not perfectly, but calmly, with apologies and missteps and painful days and hours. No one else would notice it, or grant me a prize, but I’m grateful for all the mornings I got a little more sleep, read a few more scriptures, went on a hike, practiced all my coaching skills– I’ve never needed inner peace more. That said, I did create incredible Thrive groups this year. We laughed, we cried, we learned together and created lifelong friendships. I hope to create more groups this year and I’m now planning a MUCH better book. I was hired to create videos for various political groups and I’m extremely proud of those. If anyone knows how to turn my skills into a real job, please let me know.

11. Phew, #10 was a bit heavy. My apologies. Let me lighten it up with all the games we played this year. Coup, Code Names, Scum, Secret Hitler, Chess, Ticket to Ride. Oh we won’t miss the pandemic, but won’t we all miss so much time together?

12. Perhaps the best time together was home church and mountain church. Oh I know some were sad when churches closed, but we loved worshipping together, taking the sacrament at home, our lively discussions. Stefan suggested we take our church services to the mountains and for some of the loveliest weeks of the year, we walked and sang and talked of God in the mountains. I’ll never forget those Sundays. I count them among my fondest memories.

13. And just when we all started going back to church, Erik was called to the High Council of the Young Single Adult Stake. Which means we both get to attend the YSA Ward with Xander and Hans and Mary and it’s kind of a dream come true.

14. We’ve always loved hiking and cookouts and skiing in the mountains, but there’s never enough time, right? And yet this year we’ve truly enjoyed our darling little Millcreek Canyon. In past years, I ran and hiked in the canyons, until the snow made the paths unmanageable. And yet– they were always manageable. I simply needed to change my footwear and clothing. It’s like finding another set of rooms in your home— I’m almost ashamed of how little I visited the canyon in the winter before, but I’ll never make that mistake again.

15. Everything about the end of Gabe’s senior year and graduation was unexpected. He handled every disappointment with his customary good nature. Still, our high school managed a beautiful graduation (and they should continue the tradition).

16. Similarly, Gabe’s mission farewell was so different than his brothers’– a recorded talk at home, meeting friends in the driveway… And instead of six weeks at the Provo Missionary Training Center with hundreds of fellow missionaries– Home MTC. I’ve written about home MTC before (and I could write about it forever). Those weeks with Gabe were some of the sweetest rewards of my many years of mothering. And our unexpected trip to the Oakland Temple with Gabe was the best moment of all.

17. Gabe wasn’t the only one with a canceled graduation. Ben cleverly found a way to graduate early and earned an MBA and a law degree in 2020 (they sent him a tassel in the mail). Now to pass the bar…

18. While Ben raised the bar in our family, those of us at home lowered it in other ways. We’ve been snobs about video games and TV and social media and now we’ve embraced them all: Fortnite, TikTok, binging on Netflix, yep. And I feel great about it.

19. Heather learned she likes cats. Or at least one little Tilly kitty. For someone raised with dogs, the ease of adopting a new kitty is a surprise. Cats don’t need training or walking, you never need to get up at night with a kitten, they don’t need to be watched or monitored– you simply put out a tray of kitty litter and bowls of food and water. Sweet little Tilly cat charmed everyone in the house except for our older cat, Tesla. I imagined them becoming adorable kitty friends; sadly, they hate each other.

20. We all became more grateful. In a year like 2020, when nothing is guaranteed, when natural disasters and political unrest are the norm, when so many people have lost their lives and their jobs, we are so grateful for our home, our warm beds, our beautiful little canyon, each other. Who knows what 2021 will bring, but we have each other and we’ll muddle through.

January 1, 2021
January 21, 2021


1 Comment

  1. Adri Murdock

    January 4, 2021

    Thank you for this post. I had forgotten about your Best Surprises tradition and was inspired to write my own. Thank you for always offering such good ideas and sharing your family in such a joyful, real, hopeful way. I was so happy to get your beautiful Christmas card and can’t wait to hear about all the amazing things you do in 2021!

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