Thursday, November 19

Making Sense of 2020: Reflections on Learning Deeper Levels of Trust in God

Hello Again. 

I felt like I needed to say that seeing as it’s been 125 days since the last time I posted here. 

It is 2020 after all, a year when 125 days may have felt like an eternity or the blink of an eye depending on what has happened within them for you. 

Many of you have lost jobs, had to close businesses, are currently either home-schooling for the first time or managing a chaotic distance-learning schedule. Most of us are living quite differently than we’ve ever had to live before—wearing masks in public, hand sanitizing at every turn, trying to figure out church, ministry and business schedules in the context and confines of new and often changing state regulations. As I write this we were just told that all schools in our county are going remote on Monday, so my own girls will be coming back home to do school again. 

Add to all of this the landscape of a tumultuous election that still feels confusing, conflicting and unsettled. 

On one hand I remember the “normalcy” of life in January and February like it was yesterday.  On the other hand, when I think about the roller coaster ride that this year has been, with school closing and wondering if it would re-open, trying to discern which school option would be best for the fall, navigating summer vacation with cancelled camps and travel plans, planning birthday parties with sensitivities towards COVID and discerning what was “right” or “wrong”—when I think about all of that, it feels like this one year has been the length of 5 years, with a gazillion decisions, questions, confusions and uncertainties all packed into it.

Our year as a family has been full of plenty of love, joy and laughter, but it has also held a lot of unexpected surprises and challenges—things we could not have anticipated in January, when people were glibly chiding that this was going to be the “year of 2020 vision”—the time to go after goals and clarify intentions and vision for our lives. 

Honestly, that sounded fantastic way back then—this idea of renewing my vision, and really focusing in on some short and long term goals. As a family we were having discussions about moving to a new house, perhaps even to a new state. I was just starting to re-invest in my writing goals given that all three girls were now settled in school—after 12 years of committing to being home with the girls I had some more flexibility in my schedule and I was excited to see what God might have in store. 

Photo by Denise Karis on Unsplash
I had bought a new planner, and joined Flourish Writers for their yearlong writing academy. With the Flourish Writer tools in hand I was practicing setting 90-day goals and had a book I was going to finish by the end of this year. A book I had been thinking about writing for many, many years—2020 vision baby! This was going to be the year to write it! 

And then…

 The surprise of schools closing in March, turned into perpetual home schooling in April, May and June, which was all kind of fun at first.

We were thrilled to trade in the rush-rush of typical school mornings for leisurely breakfasts and schoolwork done in pajamas. We bought a new family computer so that everyone would have the appropriate work space for online assignments and zoom calls. We traveled by car to visit friends in Charlotte, N.C. on the whim of our own schedule, taking our work with us (fleeing the snow that was still falling in Buffalo in May!). 

When school was over, we made the most of unstructured summer days, like an unintentional throwback to summers of long ago that were filled with bike rides, roller skating, swimming in friend’s pools, long walks and bonfires in the backyard. I was honestly content with the slower pace of life for a time—I think many of us were—this forced nudge towards not needing to run around all the time…it seems that in some ways it was good for our souls. 

And it was. We did puzzles we wouldn’t have done, cooked meals we wouldn’t have cooked—Scott bought a smoker and has been smoking all manner of meat with all sorts of rubs and spices and sauces that he may not have had the time to focus on if he wasn’t working from home. 

I count all of those things as gifts…blessings…from this crazy year of 2020. 

But the year also handed us some unexpected challenges—this fall, October in particular, was an especially difficult month. I won’t get into all of the details here, but my grandmother passed away, which in and of itself was not unexpected—she was 91 and her health and been declining for some time, but her passing led to some difficult family dynamics that needed to be sorted through. 

Then, Scott found out that his company was being bought out and that his entire sales team (close to 100 guys across the country) will be laid off at the end of the year. 

In the middle of it all my health took a major chaotic turn in August—a situation that I’m just slowly healing from and coming out of now. The short story is that after a relatively slow withdrawal from a teeny tiny dose of an anti-depressant (such a small dose that every doctor I’ve talked to has said it couldn’t have even been effective) my body went into a total tailspin. 

I have filled an entire sheet of notebook paper with the symptoms I’ve experienced over the last three months: everything from frightening heart palpitations, to shortness of breath and nausea, muscle cramps, daily brain fog and spaciness that made it almost impossible to drive or leave the house at times (imagine how you might feel if you took 4 Sudafed), hypersensitivity to lights and noise, insomnia, internal shaking, fatigue, hypersensitivity to caffeine and supplements (I had to give up coffee!!!! Bah!), muscle weakness, itchy skin, tingles up and down my neck, and just generally ill feelings that kept me in bed. I had 4 EKG’s, 1 echocardiogram, close to a dozen doctor’s appointments, and 1 trip to the ER (and several more drives to the ER where I decided not to go in at the last minute) and dozens of blood tests done all to determine that there was nothing physically wrong with my body that was at least medically obvious. 

Yet, despite all of the "normal" test results, my sensitivity and fatigue were so bad that I was unable to watch movies with my kiddos for a time (because of the light and noise), had to leave several family gatherings early, couldn’t tolerate going to church on Sundays (again, the lights and the noise), and could hardly run errands, make meals, or do laundry on many days. 

I don’t say any of this for sympathy—honestly, I’d rather just keep it quiet and move on like everything has been completely fine. But, the reality is that it wasn’t fine for a few months and in that space of not fine so many of our friends and family members stopped up to offer support and prayed for me in ways I’ve never needed prayer before. At one point, when a friend from church asked what I needed, my heart, body and soul had just one answer—prayer. Prayer for wisdom, for healing, and for answers. 

I just want to say that I have felt those prayers profoundly, and have been incredibly grateful for everyone who has been praying for me. Those prayers and your heartfelt words of encouragement have been another gift of 2020 that I wouldn’t have experienced if not for the struggle and hardship that they came out of. 

I am thankful for the night my small group gathered around me in my friend Sarah’s living room to pray. The texts that came from friends and family to tell me that people were praying throughout the day. The morning that my friend Jodi invited me over to her house and we prayed prayers out loud from the book The Power of a Praying Woman—prayers over my body, mind and spirit. For the nights when I was in bed before Aubrey and she came in to pray over me, and the mornings when Scott called all the girls together to pray for me before they left for school. 

I will also never forget the prayer walks I took on days I felt strong enough to walk through our neighborhood—the same route I had been running for years and years, but suddenly didn’t have the strength to run (and many days I couldn't even walk half an hour without being out of breath or feeling weak). In retrospect I believe God allowed me to be slowed down, from running to slow walking- literally- to help me to see things I hadn't seen before. In that space of walking I listened to sermons and worship music and sometimes just praised God for the beauty that surrounded me in the glorious landscape that I was so used to running right by. 

Every prayer was a blessing and I believe they were essential to the amount of improvement I’m finally feeling. I'm still having some odd symptoms and some days are tougher than others, but our bodies are resilient and God is healing mine bit by bit. 

Here's the funny thing,  last December and into early January, when I was praying about a word for the year—a word to help guide and direct my thoughts and prayers, a word to help set my intentions and directions for 2020…the word I felt in my spirit over and over was…Renew. 

I was praying for renewal in my body and soul this year. Even though I wasn’t struggling with acute health issues at the time, I was feeling a general sense of fatigue. A weariness. A sense that I didn’t have the energy, physically or emotionally that I once had, or that I longed for in order to vibrantly take care of my family and pursue whatever else God has in store for me. I longed for God to renew that strength and vitality in my body and soul and I was ready to do whatever it took for that to happen. 

I’m not fully sure how I expected “renewal” to come about, but my expectations might have included hot cups of tea, long walks in the woods, quiet prayer times, baths, reading books and poetry I had been longing to read, spending more time with friends—you know, those nice self-care sorts of things that us moms can tend to not prioritize in our lives. 

That’s not exactly how the story has unfolded…

And yet…I believe, in that still small part of my soul where God speaks to me, that He is somehow bringing renewal through this upheaval. That through a set of circumstances I could not have expected, and through physical issues I would not have signed up for, that He is restoring and renewing me from the inside out. 

I plan to write more about my experience in upcoming blog posts—I have come to realize (through some online resources and Facebook groups) that there are thousands of people across the country struggling with the side effects and severe withdrawal symptoms of psychiatric medications. It is literally a silent epidemic that no one is talking about. 

I also plan to write more about the anxiety issues that prompted me to try the medication in the first place, and what I am learning about managing and dealing with the root causes of that anxiety. I’ve been silent about these things for a long time—I suppose because I was managing life for the most part and I didn’t want to make other people uncomfortable by talking about it. But, the reality is, millions of people across the country are suffering and struggling from varying levels of anxiety and depression and not talking about it doesn’t help anyone to move towards deeper places of freedom. So, I promise I’ll tell you my stories. 

In the meantime, I would encourage you to keep taking one step and one day at a time—if 2020 has taught me one thing it is that God provides for our needs, but that we need to rely on Him on a daily basis. Personally, I  thought I knew that already—that I was living in a way of trusting God fully in each and every day-- and then 2020 happened. A year when everything truly seemed to change DAILY: school, jobs, health, family dynamics—a year where there were strings of weeks when I had to learn to not even have expectations, but to fully surrender all circumstances, expected and unexpected to God, as things kept changing and unfolding. 

It's how we're supposed to be living all the time, right? But we (I) can tend to get into comfortable rhythms and routines and in that comfort we don't always rely on God the way we should. 

So if I had to pick just one thing that 2020 has taught me it’s that I need to FULLY SURRENDER EVERYTHING on a daily basis—in all of the ways that I am aware of and then pray that God reveals the many other ways that I’m so often not aware of. 

How about you? What has 2020 taught you? What have been the biggest gifts and most difficult challenges? What gifts have you discovered in the midst of your challenges? 

Apple Picking in October

Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page- I’d love to hear from you and other people would love to hear what you’ve learned as well. 

I promise to start writing here again and to share some honest life stories in the months to come. 

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