the best surprises of 2021

I went to lunch with two friends this summer and they told me they had an annual contest at the end of the year where they tried to decide who had the most failures, the biggest disappointments and least progress in their life. And I get it. Sometimes, you want to put all the hard things in a pile and say, “can you believe it?”

Feeling a little (or a lot) like Pollyanna, I told them about my annual best surprises list (trust me, they also heard a LOT about my failures and disappointments too). No matter how hard the year, there are delights and serendipities and the hand of God. The list always reveals an embarrassment of riches that both rekindle my gratitude and remind me there are joys and wonders in the year to come.

  • My children are happy and healthy and getting along. Raise your hand if you’ve had a severely depressed family member, serious health concerns, relationships in crisis. That’s everyone, right? At this moment, everyone is doing well and I hope I never take basic contentment for granted.
  • Not one, but two baby announcements! Heather and Stefan are expecting a baby boy January 15th, Sammie and Ben will welcome their second son in early April. We are all absolutely giddy and I’m eagerly preparing for my role as professional grandma.
  • Paris. We booked the tickets on December 12 of 2020 when the airline prices were ridiculously low. Over the next eight months as disaster after disaster struck, we nearly canceled the trip a dozen times. Through the hand of God, everything came together, our passports arrived on August 7th (the same day Hans took the MCAT) and even with the pandemic raging, Xander limping, and Fritzie in a cast, all 11 of us (missing sweet Gabe) flew to Paris on August 8th. We spent one magical, miraculous week in the city of light.
  • Graduations! Ben received and MBA and JD from the University of Utah, Stefan a JD from Harvard Law, Mary slipped out of a high school a year early and just last week Hans graduated with a BS in Human Development from BYU. Out of five graduations, we only attended one ceremony (Ben’s JD). Still, we had lots of cakes and celebration dinners at home.
  • Mary got into BYU and she loves it. We hoped she’d get in, she felt pretty confident, but there’s a fair amount of uncertainty when you send your 17 year old goes to college. Happily, she has wonderful roommates, challenging classes, a great job and she’s ready to tackle her second semester (and maybe actually start dating).
  • Xander & Madi got married! And it was the most beautiful, love-filled wedding that surely deserves it’s own blog post (I’ll get to it! I promise!).
  • Xander’s successful second surgery. Even at less than two weeks out, Xander’s doing much better than four months after his first surgery.
  • Bluey. If you haven’t had a chance to check out this adorable Australian animated show, you need to look it up right now. At 5-8 minutes per episode it’s the perfect pick-me-up. We watch it on Disney+.
  • Fritzie’s birthday party. I don’t know how they pulled it together, but somehow Ben and Sammie created the most magical 1st birthday party for Fritzie. The German-themed party included homemade pretzels, a hand-painted puppet theater, an amazing neighbor who just happened to be an expert yodeler, friends and family and a perfect summer evening.
  • U.S. Senate Campaign Manager. For some time, I’d prayed to work at a job that used my unique combination of talents (tech/creative/people). I certainly used every skill and gained dozens more as campaign manager. I’m proud of what we built; I met incredible people and gained many new friends. Ultimately, the 12-14 hour days were too much for my family and my health. I learned a lot about myself and ambition–maybe I’ll write more about that, maybe not.
  • Ben and Sammie bought a house! Even in this wild housing market they found a darling little house, on a tree lined street, near a park, halfway between both sets of grandparents. We all gathered to help them paint, repair, move and settle, and take Fritzie to the park to visit the trucks and slides.
  • Gabe found the bright side of Covid. For Gabe, Covid simply presents one great service opportunity. Someone forgot their mask on a German train? He’ll give them a spare. Food banks are running low? He’ll work to fill boxes. An old man is lonely and needs visitors? Gabe and his companion have nothing but time. As Gabe said, “I’m not here to debate or argue or even complain about the pandemic– I’m simply here to show Christlike love to everyone I meet.”
  • The Young Single Adults. Whenever I see yet another article criticizing young adults and/or mocking religion, I want to invite them to our YSA congregation. Every single week I witness kindness, humility, acceptance, compassion and the true love of Christ. The future is in good hands.
  • Friends. Truly, we should all be giddy at the beginning of the year just at the thought of all the new friends we will make in the next several months. I was gifted with so many new friends this year and treated with such kindness and gentleness by my friends of many years. Thank you to everyone who prayed for my family, who reached out with a text, email, phone calls and plates of cookies. Your kindness and your prayers were felt.

See? By the end, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And I can scarcely wait to see what 2022 brings. Sending you love and wishes for a very happy new year.

December 30, 2021



  1. Adri Murdock

    January 4, 2022

    I’ll be forever grateful that you introduced the yearly surprises list to me many years ago. It’s a most meaningful tradition for me, too. I just write it privately in my journal, but it is the best way to find gratitude and see the hand of God orchestrating so many good things, even amid the hard ones. Thank you, dear friend. You are an inspiration!

    And, that birthday party! 😍

  2. tracy

    January 4, 2022

    I smiled through this whole post. I love and miss you and wish you and yours the happiest of 2022. May our paths cross again soon.

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      January 11, 2022

      I’m so glad you said hello! Thanks for your kindness

  4. Angie

    January 7, 2022

    I am so glad you are blogging again! Your writing and photos are cheery and heart-warming and inspiring and just what we need!


      January 11, 2022

      Thank you! I’m so glad to hear that!

  5. Carla Welbourn

    January 7, 2022

    I have been reading your blog for years. Always inspired, always grateful for what you share. I’m glad I “checked in” tonight after a few months to find several blogs to catch up on. Sending best wishes and joy for the new year.


      January 11, 2022

      thanks for your kind words! I’m so grateful.

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