Just google “2020 Christmas ornaments” and you will find a multitude of ornaments with grinch images, toilet paper rolls, masks and sayings like, “flatten the curve,” and “quarantine.” The majority of the ornaments this year highlight the lows of 2020. While this year certainly has been one for the books, at least for me, it hasn’t been all negative. In fact, when I think back over this year, it has been a year of challenges but in the midst of the challenge, there lies hope.
While I do not want to diminish anyone’s heartache that has come of this year, and I fully acknowledge that I have not experienced the depth of loss this year that others have, I do want to take some time to reflect on the good. What has happened across the world, as well as within the borders of our beautiful America has been nothing short of painful and depressing. Hearing stories of loss and grief and loneliness has kept me up at night. Seeing news headlines of racial injustice and political division has made my stomach churn. My heart has broken over other’s stories of desperation and sadness more than any other year. But in the quiet space of my mind, God has reminded me of the hope and joy that He brings.
This year for me, probably more than any other time in my life, has been a time of introspection. I have asked hard questions of myself, I have allowed myself to sit in the grief of what was, I have felt fear and anxiety rise, but in all of those moments, I have asked God to enter in with me. He has met me in each of those moments with grace, with truth and with abundant love.
I understand if you aren’t in a space right now to read this. If so, before you go, do me the honor of taking five minutes to reflect back on your year. If you’re like me, then remembering what you had for dinner last night is hard enough so pull out your phone and look through the monthly pictures. Write down, or at least think through what was hard about that month or that day, but also, what brought life during that time. You may only be able to list that an afternoon walk made you feel lighter, but there’s still value in naming the thing that brought you joy and hope, no matter how tiny and seemingly insignificant it was.
Jan Johnson says it well, “It’s not the experience that brings transformation, it’s our reflection upon our experience.” Take time. Schedule it in your day. Before we lunge into 2021 with such wishful thinking that life will return to normal, take time to notice the beautiful things that have come out of this year. Don’t let 2020 end without celebrating what you’ve lived through this year. 2020 has been a dusey, but unless you take time to look back and reflect, this year will amount only to a heap of bad memories that you want to forget. Ask yourself not only what brought you life, but what did you learn? How did you grow? What have you gained from this year that if it hadn’t of played out in this crazy way, you wouldn’t have learned that particular thing. What transformation within you took place in this historic year of 2020?
For those who are still with me, I will keep my reflection short and simple.
Lifelong friends are a gift that is rare. Treasure them. In February, just as the first cases of Covid 19 were hitting America, my two best friend’s and I went on a trip to Sedona, AZ. We live miles apart- one in California, one in Georgia and myself in Virginia. While it would be easy for us to drift apart, we make the choice and put forth the effort to maintain our relationship. It’s worth it. The amount of love that is shared between the three of us is deep. We’ve walked through so much life together over our almost 30 year friendship – joy, loss, tragedy, fear, new life – but what keeps us coming back to each other is that we are in each other’s corner. We will fight for the other, we will encourage the other, we will persevere for the other. God reminded me through our trip to never take for granted the rare gift of lifetime friendship. Whoever is in your corner, make the effort to tell them you love them today.
Look beyond your circle. I don’t often travel but in the beginning of 2020, I not only traveled to Arizona, but I also traveled with 11 others from my church to Suhag, Egypt to provide medical care for the underserved. Not only did we provide medical care, we provided soul care. We prayed over, laid hands on, listened to and medically treated thousands of Egyptians. When our journey began, the grip of Covid’s ugly hand was beginning to tighten on the US. In the week that we traveled, nations closed their borders, lockdowns began and the death toll started to take a startling uptick across the world. There was stress and uncertainty in the journey home, but even with that, my heart still swells thinking back on the joy that was found on that trip. It would have been easier to stay home, but I knew God wanted me to look beyond my circle. He wanted me to fall in love with the Egyptian people so that when I came back home, my heart would be soft towards people who are different from me. He wanted me to see beauty in the vast array of human color He put on this earth. And He wanted me to teach that to my children so that maybe as they grow, they will see people, who are all created in the image of God, treat each other with kindness and respect, not seeing our color as something that divides us but seeing human color as something to celebrate because God himself created each person uniquely, and that is beauty.
Be willing to adjust your expectations. Like so many families this year, I was thrust into schooling my children from home. As we saw how summer progressed and the likely chance that school would be virtual for them, my husband and I started discussing homeschool for the upcoming year. After a lot of prayer, I felt like God was asking me to homeschool my girls. So I stepped into that new role, not knowing anything but thinking I would be great and striving to be the absolute best homeschool mom ever! I would be fun and do all sorts of crafts to help them learn and highlight Christian heroes and be amazing all while juggling two young boys, still maintaining the house, getting dinner on the table every night, supporting my husband and continuing my role in my bible study. Well, well, well…I did not fare so hot!
One day I found myself on my knees crying out the Lord while tightness in my chest from the stress of it all got worse each day. “I’m giving this over to you, Lord, because I can’t do it!” And God in his infinite mercy, wisdom and love, met me in that moment and brought me to the place of realization that I needed to adjust my expectations. My ridiculous unrealistic expectation of myself was causing me to be a shell of who He had created me to be. So began the process of daily surrendering myself to Him and adjusting my expectations of what I could manage. The more I let go, the more the fun atmosphere of our home started to return. There was a lightness that came over me that only could be explained by Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This rest was fresh and praise God, it has been long lasting. All because I was willing to follow my Father’s lead and adjust my expectations.
Do something while it’s hot! My nature is to be a “doer.” I love bringing people together, especially if it has to do with good conversation and Jesus. But this year put a halt on all of the regular social events that I thrive on and left me feeling a void. I kept feeling the urge to “do” but wasn’t sure what. In talking with God about it, he reminded me of a sweet friend of mine who had started a short term virtual Bible study with a group of co-workers. Why not do the same? When I prayed about who to invite, God brought to mind my neighborhood. The people I wave to and say “hi” to while on a walk but people who I don’t really know. The Holy Spirit was prompting me to reach out and see if anyone would be willing. So before I could quiet the tug on my heart and move on to something else, I texted two women from the neighborhood. Immediately, they both were in. The group grew from there and so has our friendship and growth with Christ. My point is, when the Holy Spirit prompts you to do something, do it! Right then! Or else you will always find something else to do. He always has a better plan than you.
Ask yourself what you want. A little over a month ago, there was a restlessness in my soul that I knew well. It always arises when God is working in the mundane happenings of my daily rhythms. It is seemingly quiet in my relationship with God and yet God is always working. I was reading a book one day and all of the sudden, the puzzle pieces of what this year has been, started to be pieced together in my mind with one question that was posed in the book: What do you want? So in the presence of Jesus, I asked myself what I wanted and what came out was like the final piece being placed to create the full image of the puzzle. I wanted to write. And I wanted to write publicly. Yikes! Even now I have a hard time writing that down! Because this year left me with very little time to do anything that was my own, my personal writing that I had done frequently, stopped. But as the fall progressed and all that God had taught me over the year started to culminate, I started to write again and I realized that I am more fully myself and the woman God created me to be when I am writing. So here it is, my first public writing. My word for you is this- don’t be afraid to ask yourself what you want and trust that the Holy Spirit will open your heart and your eyes to it.
Instead of labeling 2020 as “the worst year ever,” label it as “a tough year that led me to grow.” But the shift in thinking won’t happen unless you take time to reflect. And when you reflect in the presence of Jesus, he will remind you of the joy that took place in the mundane and in the challenge. Joy in the present.
God, you’ve been good to me.