It’s almost the end of the year, and we’re entering that season of looking ahead and planning for new things. But because it’s 2020 we’re talking about, I can hardly look forward without first looking back to how we got here. Because at the end of 2019, when we were all making goals and resolutions and choosing words of the year for 2020, none of us could have imagined the actual year we got. Not in our wildest dreams.

As I think about my life as it was at the end of 2019, though, I see a lot of similarities to the me at the end of 2020. I was overwhelmed and struggling to accept my limitations. I was both too busy and overcommitted, and lonely and hoping for something more. Rather than continuing the same pace, often running headlong into the next thing, I wanted instead to take time to appreciate the place I already found myself. In fact, the phrase that kept coming to me again and again as I thought of 2020 was “here, now.”

I look back with irony to a January 17 Instagram post where I declared boldly: “This is my year to say no to busyness, and yes to just being here, now. To accept what’s right in front of me, and to not run from the things God is calling me to.⁠” Because that’s exactly the year I got, when I literally was not allowed to leave the four walls around me for most of the year. The pandemic hemmed us in, kept us from running, limited what we could do, and forced us to stay right here. At least for now.

At the same time, being hemmed in physically didn’t keep my thoughts and emotions from running around frantically, looking for an escape. While logistically I may have been forced to live out my word of the year, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually, I did not. If anything, 2020 was a year of more anxiety, more distraction, and more frustration than any I remember. 

And now that I find myself here, now, I wonder whether I can really accept what it is God has for me: on the inside as well as the outside?

While I’m contemplating a do-over on my 2020 word of the year, we don’t get a do-over of the year 2020 itself. For all the grief and turmoil it brought, we can’t erase it or pretend it never happened. Some of us might try, but then we’ll miss out on the blessings and the lessons that 2020 brought too, especially the ones we might not recognize until we’re looking at the year from a distance. 

In 2020, I met new friends, wrote for new publications, began working for a new client, and started attending a new church. Steve and I went camping for the first time together, and we hiked in 10 different state parks over the course of 12 months (and some of these we went to multiple times). In 2020 I also read 48 books, many by authors I’d never read before, and I became a board member of an organization that’s doing good work in our community. Perhaps most significantly, I turned 50 this year, ran a 10k to celebrate, and realized that I’m never too old to learn and grow.

Maybe that’s the biggest lesson of 2020: We have to take the bad with the good, even if that means giving our minds and spirits time to catch up with the realities we’re living in. We have to find our way toward joy even when the circumstances of our lives break our hearts over and over again. In some ways, it’s the same message I’ve been sharing over and over again on this blog all year.

And fittingly, it’s the exact message of Advent, when once again we find ourselves waiting for our Savior in circumstances from which we’d very much like to be saved. In many ways, 2020 has been an Advent kind of year: a year when hope has been the currency of our survival, and joy has shown up in the most unexpected places.

I love that in the church calendar, the season of Advent actually marks the new year. So while many of us are winding down one year and dreaming about what the next might hold, the body of Christ has already crossed that threshold. And while God certainly is in the business of doing new things in his church and for his people, he’s also calling us to do more of the same: more hope, more joy, and more love. And I’m here now for all of it.