I like to write. I write a lot, actually. I write in lots of places from scraps of paper around the house, emails and messages to friends, occasional blog posts, social media posts from both my personal and professional accounts, articles, books and parts of books, and on the whiteboard in my downstairs hallway. As much as I like to write, I hate to write two things: Christmas letters and New Year’s Resolutions.
I never really know what to tell people about the previous year, especially this year. With no travel for conferences or speaking or pilgrimages and the world retreating to the walls of our homes, I think I am not alone in saying that I feel like I accomplished less this year. You might have seen that funny Facebook post that is supposed to be photos of all the places a person traveled this year but it looks like a series of gray images that failed to load. It feels like the whole year failed to load and we sat back and watched the swirling loading image spin endlessly while we waited for life to begin.
This is not really accurate because there was a lot of life that happened in the last year, a shocking amount of life. I think it does the “past us” an injustice to fail to recognize that just because it wasn’t a cute series of Instagrammable moments. I can’t know for sure what you were doing but I know that I was treading water and trying to check in on my loved ones (my husband, my kids, my extended family, my parishioners, and just everyone) because I wanted to know that they were still out there, fighting and not drowning. Not drowning is not a measurable thing. I can’t say I have x number of this or y number of that. All I can say is that I am here and so are most all of the people I was checking in on.
I know people who really, really struggled this last year and it was all virus-related even if they did not actually test positive at any time. We live in a world broken by sin and its effects radiated outward through time and space. Right now, we all live in a world broken by the effects of something else that also reaches out, like sin, and we all suffered. Understanding what that means in terms of my yearly reflections is hard.
Usually, I encourage people to post on my social media and tell me about something that they were proud of themselves for accomplishing. I do this because new year’s resolutions are often hurtful and focus on the broken pieces of ourselves and not on what we have actually accomplished. This year, I felt like accomplishments are hard to think about in my own life and rather than think too hard on that, I asked people to tell me about something joyful. I noticed a couple of things. Firstly, I noticed that I failed to see what I accomplished because I didn’t bother to think about it. Secondly, I noticed that significantly fewer people commented than usual. It could be an algorithm thing. It could be that people were less interested in my social media at that time. It could be that people just weren’t interested in me. It also could be that people are having a hard time thinking about joyful things. It is a really hard time to reflect on, to feel out. It’s like running our hands over the swollen bumps and bruises of a year that took a bad beating.
The amazing publicist at Ancient Faith, Melinda Johnson, asked content providers to give her a couple of sentences about their year for the annual Christmas letter. I was not really happy about it because I didn’t think I had anything to say but it was ultimately a good thing. It made me realize that I do have an accomplishment because I managed to keep my head above water and toss out love and support like lifeboats in every direction possible.
My goal this year has been a small one, a manageable one, but it really was to keep telling people that I love them and that we are gonna make it through. That’s it. I wanted to tell people that they mattered, that their feelings were real, that they are worth loving, that they need to be patient with themselves, and that I am still out there and loving them hard despite the fact that we are separated by miles. I just felt like if I could let one person know they were loved, then I would have done at least one good thing this year.
I cannot measure that goal or quantify it or pull it out and show it to you. It is not an accomplishment in the same way that an award or a finished manuscript or some shiny object which demonstrates concretely some abstract win. This year, I only have the abstract because the concrete has escaped me. I think that’s okay because the normal measures of any year are not applicable to this year because this year is unlike any of my whole life. All I can say is that I did try. I tried a lot. Sometimes I tried more and though I sometimes tried less, the success of this year is to be found in the fact that I tried.
What did I actually try to do? A lot, now that I think about it. This year, I took a lot of walks. This year, I ate a lot of food. Sometimes it was a struggle bus based on whatever was available but I ate. This year, I told more people “I love you” on a daily basis than I think I ever have. This year, I totally impulse-bought another cow and I freaking love Octavia so much. This year, I let my kids’ school look a lot more like novels and boardgames and long walks in the woods. This year, I watched over the internet as a book that I worked on cooperatively took shape and ended up being EXACTLY what the world needed because we all need a retreat and can’t have one. I wrote deeply emotionally and exposed my vulnerability more fully in my farm memoir than I imagined possible. This year, I remotely worked on a conference that was a remote conference and a ton of women showed up and we accomplished some real connection in a virtual world.
This year, I can only say that I tried. I tried pretty hard. This year, I accomplished so little but that ended up being a lot of work and it was worth every minute of it. This year was good.