Gratitude, 2020 Version


IF you read the title and thought something sarcastic or cynical, I get it.

I’ve seen hundreds of truly funny “If 2020 were a…” memes. I laugh. But I don’t share them. It’s enough work for me to remain hopeful.

This is the hardest year in my lifetime for the nation collectively to rejoice and give thanks. I wasn’t alive during the Great Depression (someone please convince my son Corin), but my dad was born the year it began. It impacted his life; therefore, it impacted my life. Dad hated throwing away things, I think largely because he grew up poor and without any extras. I hate throwing things away, too.* I heard his Depression tales.

So take this in for a second: Dad was born in 1929. That period of our history still impacts me today. That’s the kind of year we’re looking at in 2020. I’m not writing on gratitude to suggest, “Come on, it isn’t that bad!” I suspect we’ll be recovering from this year for generations. Today we’re at 260,000 deaths, with 2,216 losing their lives to this pandemic yesterday. I’m out of energy to convince people this is happening and my friend Paul has already addressed conspiracy theories. I’m not going to start a list of things for which I’m grateful until I first acknowledge how so many have suffered. I have a friend, younger than I am, who survived but may never walk again. We’re still praying for his recovery.

By this same token, I have very little cause to complain. I think I’ve given that response more this year than any other year of my life:

“How are you, Mike?”

“Well, compared with what other people are going through, I have it really good.”

Healthy self-care means we don’t deny or negate our own struggles because other people have it worse–I still have to monitor and nurture my mental health, probably more carefully now than usual (whatever “usual” was). God still cares about what we’re going through, even when others are going through worse. I firmly believe God never says “You think you have it bad!”–nor “I’ll give you something to cry about,” by the way. But I’m acutely aware of the suffering around me and it’s appropriate to keep my own difficulties in perspective. If we can’t have compassion on others unless/until we’re suffering the same thing, we’re in serious trouble.

I consider that more context than disclaimer. I am grateful, and though it sometimes takes a little longer to remember why–or to set aside my irritation so that I can remember–I need to meditate on these things. I need to share them. I need to hear the things for which you are grateful.

Our eldest, Rowan, completed EMT training and now works as a First Responder! We are wildly, button-bustingly proud of him. What a time to find a job and move out on his own! He’s doing it. He’s doing a great job, he’s exhausted from it, and I feel like a grown-up parent! The day I helped him move his bed into his place, I knew we’d entered a new chapter.

Now, of course, we’re praying for his protection because his job means he is exposed frequently, necessarily, and we will have a short visit on Thanksgiving but he is choosing not to eat with us. To protect us.

Did I mention proud?

I’ve made new friends this year. That looked unlikely and defied some odds. Mostly I have my book to thank for that, as well as social media. I’m continually conflicted about social media, its pitfalls and benefits, its dangers and how much it helps me…I think. But the connections I’ve made, with people like Irene and Adam, have made my life better. Some are local and some very long-distance. Some I hope to partner with in local ministry and justice work, others are peer-type fellow writers (okay, I’m still talking about Irene and Adam). At some point I decided I wanted to expand my circle/network, and you know what? There are some really cool people out there! I’m truly grateful for them and for the powerful work they’re doing.

This isn’t a post to talk about the nightmare of our national politics. I’ve lost some friends over this crisis and other relationships have been strained or damaged. I’m guessing you have, too. Thus, I’m all the more grateful for the friends who have persevered with me. Thanks to those who have endured my radical socialist ravings pursuit of pure justice and truth our disagreements. I know these aren’t superficial differences. I don’t really know how we rebuild and I’m not up for sweeping the problems under the rug. But I believe in God’s grace and in love that is stronger than death. So in spite of the massive chasm, I do remain hopeful.

Astoundingly, a few of these friendships have actually deepened during this time. One high school friend in particular has helped me find our deeper common bonds–being fathers, following Jesus, and our love of baseball and baseball cards. I won’t name names, but Daron knows who he is. I get a little teary just thinking about it, when I consider that we’re closer now in spite of the vast array of issues on which we differ. Again, to be clear, I’m not shutting up about my beliefs nor pulling back from advocating. I take gifts wherever God sends them.

Often being grateful requires picking out and focusing on the positives, rather than only seeing the negatives. Yep, Mom did teach me that. Here are three things I’ve seen from my writing:

People have let me know that reading my books has helped and encouraged them. Specifically, they’ve felt less alone and they’ve felt encouraged in their faith and in their spirit.

We’ve had some connection times with what I term “this funky community,” people (some spread out all over the country) who are seeking to answer these questions together “How do we resist and love? How do we seek justice while offering grace?” I’ve made new friends, been inspired, and I’ve gotten to introduce wonderful people I know to one another. I’m not a great organizer but I hope to enjoy more of these times.

A number of friends, maybe ten or more, have said, in various ways, “You know, I don’t really believe in Jesus, but the Jesus you talk about appeals to me” or “makes sense to me.”

Okay, one more. I’ve received tremendous encouragement and straight-up love from a squad of people, some of whom are my closest and most reliables, others who completely surprised me by jumping in to advocate for my books, buy them for friends and family, and generally boost my morale as a writer. You all are Rock Stars!! Thank you!

Recognizing and thanking God–and my peeps–for these things is a choice. I’m still aspiring as a writer and I can easily get discouraged that progress is slow and my head is sore from banging it into these walls. I can fixate on what isn’t–or isn’t yet–and miss what is, what God has done, how I am making progress and how I’m blessed.

That’s my bottom line for 2020: Yes, it is easy to miss the good things when we’re living through a crisis, or two, or ten. Yes, there is much about which I can justifiably complain. This year, more than other years, I must choose gratitude. But when I do, I can see it.

To repeat that, I didn’t see it and, as a result, choose gratitude. I am choosing to be grateful and, as a result, seeing my blessings, some of which I had completely overlooked.

Yes, I learned that from Mom, too.

*I’m not saying this is the only reason I’m thrifty…or a clutterbug. But it is a significant reason.

One thought on “Gratitude, 2020 Version

  1. Derek Murphy

    THE LORD BLESS you Mike, little i am not a writer, but i do write in response to THE WORD OF GOD, there are times when my heart is singing and the words are just flowing as i write, these are the times i know it is from GOD. Thankfulness is a choice we make, the right choice, as we focus upon THE TRUTH. This morning early i find myself reading Isaiah 63, and yesterday i read and then wrote this. Love changes everything, especially our perspective.

    For Zion’s sake – 26th Nov 2020

    Isaiah 62 v1 – 4
    For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
    Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.
    The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory.
    You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name.
    You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord,
    And a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
    You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
    But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord delights in you,
    And your land shall be married.

    D.M says – For whose sake does GOD say HE will do this?

    For Zion’s sake HE DOES THIS, for HIS PEOPLE’S sake, those of WHOM HE SAYS THIS – “They shall be called –
    Hephzibah -”My delight is in her.”
    Beulah – “Married”
    In considering this we are to know that, “not all Israel is Israel”, and therefore we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling”.
    Notice how GOD deals with HIS people in love, and the lengths HE goes to in order to set aside a people for HIMSELF.
    Consider this – “What will it take in order to get me into THE PLACE OF BLESSING.”

    “THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB HAS COME, and HIS BRIDE has made herself ready.”
    Can you imagine a bride waking up on her wedding day and just putting on the first thing that comes to hand.
    A bride who has given no thought to what she will wear on that day, because it’s not really a big deal.
    No of course not!!
    We have however lost sight of why the bride prepares herself and is helped to do so, it is that she might be presented to THE BRIDEGROOM.
    It is very interesting that the wedding meal is called “THE WEDDING BREAKFAST”, interesting that in that culture, the bride was taken to the bridegroom the night before “THE WEDDING BREAKFAST”

    There is meticulous preparation that goes into the meeting with THE BRIDEGROOM.
    And “THE WEDDING BREAKFAST” is then a celebration of this fact.
    Hephzibah -”My delight is in her.” Beulah – “Married”

    John Calvin
    1. On account of Zion I will not be silent.
    That sad captivity being at hand, which was almost to blot out the name of the whole nation, it was necessary to confirm and encourage believers by many words, that with strong and assured confidence they might rely on these promises under the burden of the cross.
    Here, therefore, the Prophet, discharging that office which had been entrusted to him, openly declares that he will not be slack in the performance of his duty, and will not cease to speak, till he encourage the hearts of believers by the hope of future salvation, that they may know and be fully convinced that God will be the deliverer of his Church.
    He too might have been dismayed by the unbelief of those people, and might have lost courage when he saw that matters were every day growing worse, and when he foresaw that terrible vengeance.
    But, notwithstanding so great difficulties, he will still persist in his duty, that all may know that neither the massacre of the people nor their unbelief can prevent God from executing his promises at the proper time.

    If we are IN CHRIST we are a new creation, we are a people married to THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
    Are you married?
    Some of us have been married for a long time; I can’t speak for you, but as I honestly look at myself in THE LIGHT OF SCRIPTURE I see how fickle i am.
    How fickle we all are in forgetting that first delight of being together, sharing things together, working together towards a future.
    Some of you had the privilege of being married from the outset IN CHRIST, to have GODLY parents around you, to warn against the dangers of self, to have the church admonish, to exhort, according to THE SCRIPTURES, to teach that only following hard after GOD, walking close to GOD IN CHRIST, can we ever even love those we have vowed to love in the way we ought to.
    O the ugliness of self, the deception of the fallen human heart, the devastation it causes, the fallout that is experienced because of it.
    How soon we can forget our marriage vows made before THE HOLY GOD, and then look at each other’s faults instead of looking unto JESUS THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF FAITH, how easily we allow ourselves to forget that we promised to care for one another.
    How the business of life takes over as we lose perspective on our life together.

    How we need to get back to basics, to what GOD says HIS CHURCH IS?

    v5 – 6
    For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you;
    And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

    I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night.
    You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes
    And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

    Pilgrim’s progress is a book every LOVER OF CHRIST should read once a year, part one to examine ourselves in the light of Scripture to make our election sure, and part two to remind us what THE CHURCH ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE in action as she heads towards and then GOES THROUGH THE GATES.

    v10 – 12
    Go through, go through the gates!
    Prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway!
    Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples!
    Indeed the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world:
    “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming;
    Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.’ ”
    And they shall call them The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord;
    And you shall be called Sought Out, a City Not Forsaken.

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