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:
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.