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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Narrator: L was not, in fact, done, and she and God were not, in fact, through…

We’re closing in on three years since I sat in my vehicle, in my driveway in Indiana, and uttered these words to God, as I made the final decision to make the move to Boston:

“Fine God!  I will go do this thing, but if I lose my kids over this, I’m done, and we are through.”

2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year… maybe even a cesspool…

It is difficult for me to adequately express how devastating this year has been for me, primarily because even though it has been horrific, I know it has still been worse for others.  But I’m not a real fan of competing to determine whose pain is greatest, and I think it is vital to recognize grief and loss for what they are, regardless of quantifiable size.  So, if you’re reading this (and I guess you are), please understand that I fully recognize my own experience as nothing more or nothing less than merely that… my own… neither in direct nor indirect competition with your pain.

Confession: I was already over 2020 by late February.  Without divulging details, let it suffice to say that people who know and love me were already looking into my face, eight weeks into this mess, and saying things like, “I’m sorry.  I don’t know how you’re still standing.”  In another two weeks’ time, I would find myself staring through exhausted, blurred vision, waiting for my luggage to magically appear on an airport carousel, wondering if it had been incredibly stupid to pass through 8 cities via air, over 16 days, when reports of a deadly virus were emerging and growing by the hour.  Five days later, I threw in the towel on my youngest child’s indoor soccer season, even though some people thought I was being overly dramatic.  Two days after that, I stood in a pulpit, not knowing that it would be the last time for an undisclosed number of months, instructing people to distance themselves and to refrain from remembering their baptism… at least, with the water in the font.  I walked back into my house, I shut the door, and I proceeded to have zero contact with the outside world for the next 32 days.  On day 32, I had to make an emergency visit to the police station.  On day 55, a dear friend of mine sent me a package of handmade masks.  On day 68, I had enough guts to drive thru at Starbucks.  On day 70 I ventured out for an “elective” surgery that had fallen off the books, precisely because of the pandemic, but that my doctor was able to essentially sneak me in for, because the word elective is pretty widely used to describe things that are not really elective.  I stayed home again until day 107.  And it’s not that I got lazy after that, but it was a little easier to be creative during the summer months, and the curve was flattening here.  So… socially distanced trips to the beach… running, and running, and running… plenty of carry out and drive-thrus… orders to pick up outside the store… etc.  We also had to engage in some of the regular rhythms of life like yearly physicals and a trip to the ophthalmologist.  And then I stopped counting the days, because this became the new normal.

I’m a pretty big fan of New Year’s Eve, in a quiet, stay at home and eat appetizers and watch the ball drop with my family sort of way.  For years now, I have picked a word of the year, and I was so excited 366 days ago (remember, 2020 was a leap year, so we even got an extra day in this already unbearably long trip around the sun) when I chose “envision.”  Not only did this word represent what I hoped for in 2020, but I thought it rather clever, as well.  At this writing, 2020 is almost hindsight…  read that again, backwards…  and I feel as if “envision” was the most inappropriate word I could possibly have chosen.  “Survive” was more like it.  When I took this picture, I just didn’t know:

I didn’t know a lot of things, but I sure didn’t know this low quality, cell phone selfie type image was going to become one of my favorite moments of all time.  I didn’t know it was going to be a before/after marker.  I didn’t know I was going to revisit that ultimatum to God, this year, and I was going to have to make a decision about whether or not I meant it.  Was it a faith crisis?  An identity crisis?  I don’t know.  It didn’t feel like the deconstruction of my 20s or the reinvention of my 30s.  Instead, it was a more subtle question, posed largely to myself.  Am I going to do this thing called life with God or without God?  In the end, I decided with God is better.  Understated, I know.  It’s just that so much of this year has been melodramatic.  Maybe we all just need something steady.

Because I remain a hopeless random selfie taker (one year I even made a resolution to take less selfies, but it didn’t go well), in my quick photo flip through the year, I came across one from early September that I like a great deal (there are also countless terrible selfies that should just be deleted and a large number of sad ones).  I hope to greet the new year with the tenacity of this arbitrary shot, with the fire in my eyes and the fire in my bones it represents.  My word for 2021 is “RELENTLESS.”  Because somebody poked the bear, and I am in this to win it.

 
 
In no way do I wish to detract from the need for mourning over the loss, grief, and pain of 2020, but neither do I wish to rehash it all in a public forum.  Heaven knows I have sat with it in silence and solitude, and that is crushing enough.  I recognize that turning the page to a new calendar year is not a magical act, and I suspect that 2021 will carry with it both joy and sorrow, as most years do.  As is, perhaps, the greatest example of this, a dear friend of mine gave birth during this pandemic.  Over the course of our many texts, this year, I have sometimes exclaimed, “2020 sucked… except Joseph…”  Her response is always, “2020 mostly sucked.”  And then I laugh.  But this makes the point… there have been highlights…

And so, a highlight reel…

In 2020, I reached the halfway point of my Ph.D. program at Boston University.  I bought a vehicle.  His name is Fred.  I love him.  I ran several virtual 5Ks, including The Wizard Run (with Seth, Grace (via FaceTime), and Caleb) and the Donut Run (with Ian), as well as a 10K that only almost killed me.  I co-taught a preaching class in BU’s D.Min. program and a worship class in BU’s M.Div. program and facilitated a spiritual companioning group for mostly 1st year M.Div. students.  I enjoyed weekly trips to ENC and the ocean to visit Seth, who absolutely slayed his first semester there, and to write.  Many donuts, pizzas, coffees, and grocery runs were involved.  I celebrated my oldest three children beginning to make their way into the workforce (Seth at Amazon; Grace at Kroger, along with a variety of music related positions at Olivet and the most recent announcement of her commissioning to write an entire musical; Caleb at Dunkin’ Donuts).  I had the privilege of participating in the mostly virtual, but occasionally in-person, worship gatherings of South Walpole UMC, where Phil has navigated pastoring in a pandemic in incredible ways, and where Caleb, Ian, and Miah have served weekly as tech support, ushers, and acolytes.  I had a chapter published in the book, Open and Relational Leadership: Leading with Love, and have been asked to write again for an upcoming project.  I was asked to serve on the NRSVue review team.  I took on responsibilities as a co-chair for Wesleyan Liturgical Society and as the chair for Theology and Education with Wesleyan Theological Society.  Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology quietly flipped over 100,000 pageviews at some point.  I have had ample time to read fiction with Caleb, Ian, and Miah.  I have coached Caleb, Ian, and Miah, along with their teammates, at a number of virtual Bible Quizzing tournaments, where we have represented South Pole (locally) and the New England District, as we continue to be blessed to be a part of the ENC Field.  I have met with friends and colleagues (masked and socially distanced) in parking lots and at parks to celebrate new babies and completing semesters. I helped my parents to set up Zoom on their Kindle (this might be the biggest accomplishment yet).  I am still here.

It's a different kind of mining of joyful moments than ever before, to be sure, but if we dig deep, we can still find them.

My prayer for all of you is that the joy will outweigh the sorrow in 2021, but that even if it doesn’t, that there will be people to sit with you and to hold you and to love you well, because we still belong to each other.

With Much Love and Many Blessings,

L.

P.S.  If you haven’t already seen it, here is our belated Christmas greeting:

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