The year of our Lord 2020 was a doozy and I’m sure I speak for most when I say that I am ready to see it leave. There is also a nudge from the spirit within that reminds me that 2020 isn’t a lost cause. Suffering is a side effect of this broken world that we endure. Lament is a spiritual practice that reminds us of God’s goodness. It’s like the movie “Inside Out.” You can’t know true joy without sadness.
At the end of each year, usually between Christmas and New Years I take a day and peruse through my journal. I read about my intentions for the year ahead, the scriptures that spoke to my heart, the lessons I’ve learned and the growth throughout the year. This spiritual practice of reflecting reminds me of God’s goodness, His provision and His presence.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the good, isn’t it?
But instead of being consumed with the question of “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” what if we asked God “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN FROM THIS?” The following is a list of 12 things I have learned in 2020, one thing for each month, and what I hope to take into the new year.
Here are 12 things I have learned this year…what’s yours? (Let me know in the comments below!)
#1) “NEW” affects everyone differently.
Isaiah 43:19 “Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” This was the verse I felt God imprint on my heart leading up to this new year. I was anticipating newness in mine and my family’s life as we welcomed the newest player #3 to our family. I begrudgingly expected the challenges ahead of me, but it was interesting to witness how our immediate circle of family adjusted to the change differently. It was a rough couple months, but it was an experience that forced our family bond to grow stronger in grace together.
#2) The most important place you can be is where your feet are.
“Look, the whole family is back together again” my son Lewis said with a sigh of relief. After a long weekend of being apart our new family of 5 was reunited. Holy Spirit has a way of reminding me of what’s most important. When my mind wanted to sneak away and worry about the details of my to-do list, I was confronted with the fact that in this moment of rest and healing the most important thing to focus my attention was on my people.
#3) Self Care is crucial in uncertainty.
March was riddled with uncertainty and cancellations and shut downs and death. We stared into the face of fear each and every day. It was traumatic (and still is if I’m being honest). So when the cognitive dissonance was too much, we found ways to cope. Two of my favorite things: my foot massager and HelloFresh! One brought small moments of stillness and stress relief and the other streamlined our process of getting food on the table. This is not a paid advertisement for HelloFresh, we legit love them and still get boxes delivered every other week! Check them out!
#4) (Quarantine) life needs structure
April was when it hit home that we would be in this for the long haul. Despite the sleep deprivation I was already experiencing with a new baby, now I was expected to facilitate learning at home for both boys. We had wonderful teachers that put together the lesson plans and zoom calls, but I was responsible for making sure the kids got their work done. It was a mad house. Schedules were our friend. It gave all of us structure and set our expectations for the day. Did it prevent melt downs? No, I had my fair share of them, but it did give us a sense of normalcy. A feeling we desperately needed.
#5) Quarantine Birthdays are not a lost cause.
I really like celebrating my birthday. I enjoy a delicious meal prepared at a favorite restaurant. I enjoy the recognition and the treats and just being with the ones I love. When the month of May rolled around, my birthday month, and Quarantine life was still a reality, I was disappointed. Then I realized with a little research, and the perks of modern technology we could still celebrate my birthday after all! Some highlights: “sharing” a French 75 (my fave cocktail) with my sister in Florida, fine dining experience of SOTTO in the comfort of home, online shopping, local coffee, and the ugliest caramel cake I’ve ever made (see first picture)…which was perfect for 2020!
#6) Listening and empathy builds bridges.
Soul weariness set in for me around the month of June. Life simply did not look the same. My anxiety was easily triggered by the news, by politics, by coronavirus updates, you name it, I was a ticking time bomb of emotions. Then I was confronted with systemic racism and it shattered the way I perceived our broken world. Around this time I heard the phrase “Death precedes new life.” This death of what I once known lead me to such deep grief and reflection. I was at a loss for words, which ended up being the best place to start. I decided to listen instead. I read books about white supremacy and privilege. I read books highlighting the history of complicity in racism. I read stories of the black experience and listened to podcasts that highlighted voices of people with different beliefs, ethnicities and experiences than what I have come to known. While I admit now, I am still learning, there is one thing I do know: life is more complicated than I thought and my experience does not encompass everyone’s life experience. It’s time to build bridges laced with empathy so we can learn, understand and grow alongside each other. Diversity leads to unity!
#7) No matter how old I get. No matter where I roam. The beach seems to be the place that grants rest for my heart and soul.
Thanks to the encouragement of my husband we decided to go on two family vacations because frankly this would be the most fun we would have all summer. One vacation, we traveled to OBX, NC with our young family of 5 which took us easily 13+ hours, but we made it. I’ll never forget the first night we walked to the beach and sat on the shore watching the waves roll in. My heart felt peace. True unadulterated peace. The peace we like to say “surpasses all understanding.” I felt at home and at rest even if the heat index felt like “Hell’s front porch.”
#8) It’s ok to be a beginner.
The moment we arrived home from vacation, the rhythm of our life picked up the pace. We had the usual hustle of back to school madness and preparation and I had taken on a new project I had been dreaming about for a long time. When you start something new you will not be an expert. Stop comparing your small beginnings to someone else’s middle. That is not an accurate depiction of your potential. True freedom is owning the title of “beginner” and moving forward into the unknown believing that no matter what, you will still grow in grace.
#9) Community and collaboration are the greatest gifts in growth.
I had the opportunity to write, edit and preach a sermon to our church congregation. Here’s the thing, I’ve NEVER done anything like that in my life. It was one of the most difficult writing processes I have ever experienced and I am convinced that if I had not the guidance, mentorship and sponsorship of my pastors and the encouragement of close friends I would not have been able to accomplish this dream of sharing the messages and stories God has given me. You know the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”? It’s true and I am forever thankful for the team that encouraged me and provided the opportunity to grow in this act of obedience.
#10) I don’t need more “stuff” to cultivate the feeling of home.
Since we’ve been spending a lot of time at home lately, I decided I should invest some time and energy into purging, reorganizing, and redecorating my home. That sentence in itself overwhelms me. I decided to start small and pick a room we’ve been living in a lot- the family room. When it comes to things of the home, I usually jump to the list of “stuff” I think I need to make it feel cozier. Two problems: I am trying to get rid of stuff and my budget can not afford to buy more stuff. Thank God for new voices in my life: The Nester and The Lazy Genius who shared with me that there is a better way. One such idea is using our God-given 5 senses as tools for each season to cultivate a sense of home, and also to name what matters to me in how I need my home to function for the season we are currently living in. Talk about brain buster. The only thing I did buy off of my “stuff list” was this little ZZ plant which I planted in a pottery mug I found in my house collecting dust. This happy little guy has grown over the past few months and it makes me happy to see progress made in times that feel stagnant.
#11) The image of God in me recognizes the image of God in you.
Whether we agree or disagree with each other, we are all created beings. And God loves His creation. I heard recently on one of my favorite podcasts (*cough* The Next RIght Thing by Emily P Freeman *cough*) that we need to be careful who we hate because it could be someone we love. Just because we disagree with someone’s beliefs, policies, research, lifestyle, you fill in the blank does not mean we have the right to erase their humanity. We are all created beings bearing the image of God, let’s start treating each other with that in mind.
#12) In the waiting, God is Sovereign
Isaiah 40:31 says,
“but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
Isn’t it funny how we perceive the passage of time? It has been 10 months since March happened, yet it feels like a lifetime. There was a time back in 2006, where God asked me to wait on Him for what felt like a lifetime. His ways felt unconventional and inconvenient. I questioned His existence and whether or not He truly cared about me. If He did, surely He wouldn’t leave me to suffer in the emotional wrestling match I battled each and every day. The valley was dark, but He was present.
I saw His face in the Wrangell Mountains on my walk to work.
I tasted His goodness in hot bowls of buffalo chili.
I was surrounded by the touch of His peace in the comfort of homes built by new friends and community.
I smelled the aroma of His presence in my morning cups of freshly brewed coffee.
I heard stories of His provision in testimonies and experiences shared.
These and many more instances revealed to me that God is good, and He is always working, creating and cultivating new.
In the waiting He renews our strength. He reminds us who He is and as His precious Created beings, He shows us our identity when we are rooted in Him alone.
Listen, this year has been traumatic for all of us, myself included. We are all waiting- on a vaccine, to reunite with loved ones, to experience justice, inauguration day, to take off our masks, to not fear anymore.
God knows that we are waiting.
We need to remember that He is always working and He is sovereign.
I have come to find that in times of waiting, He takes the opportunity to reveal and uproot things in me that don’t belong or are hindering me from becoming who He created me to be.
Could He possibly be doing the same for you?
I want to challenge you to think that through, as we come upon the precipice of a new year.
What is it that you need to God to uproot? What we root ourselves in will reveal itself through our words and actions and thoughts. Pay attention.
I am praying for you dear friend. I pray that you are encouraged by the hope we have in this new year. Because the truth of the matter is that as soon as the ball drops on New Years Eve and the clock strikes 2021, chances are our lives are going to look very much the same.
There will still be a pandemic.
There will still be uncertainty.
But despite all of that- there will still be hope!
I pray you take to heart these words my five year old prophetically shared with me this year:
“God can heal things, and He can build things and God loves us.”
Yes He does. Yes He will.
Praise be to God!
PS- I would love to know what you learned this year. Share with me in the comments below! Have a wonderful Holiday!