January has come, and people have made (and likely broken), their resolutions for 2020.
I have seen on social media many people posting about how terrible 2019 was and how much they are looking forward to it being over. I’ve seen the hype over how bad the old year was and how great the next year is going to be.
That is what I see every year. People decrying the travesty of the year leaving and hoping that somehow, by the mere change of a calendar, the turning of a page, the new year will bring all of the good things. As if by magic, things are expected to change. Sure, we plan to change. We are going to eat better. Exercise more. Spend more time with family. Whatever it is. We plan to be better.
But then December rolls around and we find ourselves joining the social media hype about how awful this year was and how ready we are for the next.
I, for one, am exhausted by the circle of excitement, failure and giving up only to start all over next year.
So I began thinking back about last year. Was it really so bad, for me?
It certainly was a year. One I hope never to repeat.
As 2019 began, we took our annual mission trip to Mexico, again taking along our two oldest children. It was a good trip. As always, I grew a lot as a person just from the experience. It was really a good year. They all are. How can it not be good when you are sharing the love of Christ with people who are so kind and giving and hopeful and glad to see you?
But spring hit my world like a tornado. It was devastating in it’s destruction. Months of rumors and bad will, truths, half-truths and untruths shared about people I care about, by people I care about. Satan doing his thing trying to destroy the anointed of God. When will he ever learn? He can taunt us. He can cause us great pain. But he can never destroy us. When will we ever learn that?
As the tornadic storm ripped apart my church, scattering hearts like debris, two other heart tearing events pulled at my family.
The month of May opened with the destruction of the only church my kids (and I) had ever known, the devastation of their youth group. The spattering and scattering of their friends. And mine. And the night before the fatal blow was dealt to our hurting hearts, overwhelmed from months of anger and hurt that lead up to that final, fate-filled and fatal morning, we lost the patriarch of my husband’s family. His grandfather suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. As we sat in the hospital with his family, grieving and laughing over the good years and the memories and rejoicing over his reunion with his wife and other loved ones, the fateful morning drew ever closer. We dragged our exhausted, emotionally over done bodies out of bed after a couple hours of fitful sleep, knowing that this morning, just as we had said goodbye to our beloved Pappy the night before, we would be saying goodbye to our beloved church in just a few hours.
And as the fallout fell as fallout does, ash on the innocent, we finalized our preparations for the graduation party of not one, but two of our children. Our first two children to graduate and prepare to leave the nest lost their entire youth group support when their lives were changing in the biggest way of their young lives. Amidst the excitement and joy of their graduation (and my daughter’s 18th birthday) was the sad reality that they would not be sharing this moment with so many of the people who had shared all of their other moments.
But graduate they did!
And this momma almost made it through the ceremony without crying. Not really. But I sure did better than I thought I might!
Summer brought with it the excitement and adventure that comes with a trip you have planned for 5 years. Yes, after 5 years of trying to orchestrate and organize, our family finally had our vacation to The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park! It was such an amazing trip. I mean we did drive 12 people in a 12 person van for 2 weeks covering around 4000 miles and a lot of bathrooms. And not to brag too much, but none of the siblings came to blows, neither the ones I gave birth to nor the ones my Mother-In-Law gave birth to. Even the four year-old managed not to melt too much after 4 straight days in the car… Miracles do still happen.
Fall brought with it the second part of the big changes to my family as first my oldest daughter then my oldest son left home to start school. As homeschoolers, they had never spend much time away from me. Other than summer camp, they were with me for most hours of most days for their entire life. The youngest sister took it (almost) as hard as mommy. And just like that, I was no longer responsible for 7 children all day. Five seems like such a small number of children.
And as my oldest two children left for college, my youngest started Kindergarten, my third started high school and my fifth started junior high and youth group.
Winter saw the first signs of stability as 2019 settled its creaking bones by the fire, amply supplied with firewood from a summer and fall spent preparing for the inevitability of winter. The big kids settled into school and life away from home. The middles took up the slack of the two older kids, helping more around the house and with the littles. The littles got into the routine of their school and began to settle into the oddness of only having 5 kids at home.
The year ended better than it began, with all my babies and my sweetheart in my nest for nearly 3 weeks together, enjoying a slower pace and more restful Christmas season than we had in, well ever.
So as I reflected upon 2019 and wondered, was it really that bad? I answered myself with, “no”.
It was heart wrenching. Heart breaking. It was probably quite high on the list of “Hardest Years I’ve Ever Endured”. So many people I love suffered such great losses, my family included. It was a hard, hard year.
And yet I looked at the fruit around me as we watched movies and enjoyed each other’s company.
My kids are strong, man. They are strong. They are tough. They have grown. They were devastated by the loss of their youth group. And without an ounce of encouragement from me (because I honestly had none to give) they stepped out and stepped up. The two who graduated took initiative to help restore and rebuild their youth group in the short months they had left. My son organized a worship team for the youth. And continued, as always, to faithfully show up and serve on Sunday mornings. He was even offered an opportunity he had been patiently awaiting, to practice and eventually play with the worship team on Sunday mornings. He was thrown into an opportunity to lead and encourage and facilitate and he stepped up. My daughter. Oh that girl, she has a heart to love people. She loves the broken, hurt and unusual. She took this opportunity to love on and encourage new friends, and existing friends with a new closeness and acceptance. She jumped in to serve in the nursery and love on babies and give mommas a chance to worship. My middle kids? Yeah, they are strong, too. The jumped in to serve in nursery and preschool classes and boldly continued to go to their youth group, despite most of their friends leaving. Given a choice they even agreed that, though they missed their friends, this was their youth group and they would stay and help new kids feel welcomed. There were times that they were sad, but they took on the attitude of rebuilding and growing.
I wish I could say my children’s parents fared as well. The children were really a role model for us. We were both tired and hurt. Old wounds were freshly opened along with the new gashes. Perhaps our children were able to remember the strength with which we carried on years ago, when so much turmoil struck our church before. Perhaps that helped them hold on this time. Perhaps it weakened us and made the holding on that much harder and more painful.
But at the end of the year, looking back, I saw the strength my kids had gained. I saw that my husband and I had survived, battered and bruised. I saw new people stepping into my children’s lives and pouring love and encouragement out on them, often in ways never experienced before. I still grieved the lost. But the lost is not to be returned. But hope is to be restored.
So, while I know for some 2019 really was just a devastating year, I want to encourage us all to look at it afresh. Rather than jump on the annual bandwagon of decrying the old year and hoping that somehow the new one will be better, let’s look at what we have gained in this year of hurt and loss. What growth have we experienced? What sprouts do we see for the spring ahead that were planted by the scattered debris of the tornadoes of life?
As Christ followers, we know that though God does not send the storms of life to make us stronger, but He certainly does use all the enemies best efforts at destruction to make us more, better and bolder than ever before.
This pruning and growing is hard and painful and we never want to endure it. But perhaps, for just a few moments, we can each take a moment to look back at what things we are glad to put behind us and ask ourselves how we are using that, how God is using that, to prepare this year, this 2020 year, to be our best yet. So that as we end 2020, maybe we aren’t joining the social media hype about how bad the year was, because we aren’t relying on resolutions of improvement but rather are learning to look to God’s merciful and graceful improvements in our lives.