It’s still hard to believe that January 1st existed in 2020! I’m thinking we will most likely end up defining this chaotic year by so much of what started in its third month. But long before COVID-19 entered the United States, we all celebrated as the clock struck midnight, entering in a new year and a new decade with it. 2020 just sounded fancy and fun, didn’t it? Before we knew the madness it would hold?
At the beginning of each year, starting in 2016, I’ve chosen a word to cling to for the 365-day stretch ahead. It’s worked as a guidepost and an encouragement. It helps me focus in on strengthening myself in mind, body, and soul, and provides clarity when I’m feeling stuck.
The word I chose for 2020 was Grace.
Looking back at the words I’ve picked in the past, most have been verbs. I am a very action-oriented person and can’t imagine my life without a to-do list. But towards the end of 2019 I had the privilege of reading Emily Ley’s book “Grace Not Perfection”. The subtitle to the book is “Embracing simplicity, celebrating joy”. After graduating college, starting my full-time digital marketing job, and getting engaged in 2019, I was already in the mood to celebrate joy but not necessarily ready to give myself grace. I felt like my life was just starting on an exciting new chapter! But God knew what I needed to hear. And God knew all the newfound stillness this year would hold, no need for an action to guide me but rather a divine virtue.
This book brought to my mind so many important truths. It reminded me that it’s not worth it to chase the perfect if it means sacrificing the good, that we don’t need to be everything to everyone, and that there is so much joy to be found in slowing down and savoring the season you’re in. Even in a pandemic, it turns out.
As the year is nearing its close, here are the main ways Grace has manifested in my 2020.
“When God strips us all the things that make us feel safe and secure, He gives us a story far better than we could have written for ourselves.” – Grace Not Perfection
We learn what grace truly is from our Heavenly Father, who bestows it upon us daily. Grace is unmerited favor. And the ability to have grace in our lives starts with knowing who it comes from at the start.
Looking back on this year for me, I have a boatload of events that happened in my life that have the Lord’s handwriting all over it, both big and small. There’s no way they should have turned out the way they did. This is a global pandemic, after all! Aren’t we all supposed to be miserable, suffering, and afraid? Isn’t that the “norm” for 2020? But God does not live in and of the world. He reigns above it.
This year was full of suffering in its own way too, don’t get me wrong. I will not sugarcoat the sadness and mourning that came with saying goodbye to the wedding Jarod and I had planned, scrambling to find something safer for all involved, telling our friends they were no longer invited to our wedding ceremony, and living with a silent dread considering the health and safety of even the smaller amount of people at our now outdoor wedding celebration. June, July, and August were strange as I struggled to know what I was even supposed to feel.
But God is good. And our wedding day was a gorgeously sunny summer day, filled with a million little touches where He showed up and triumphed over my anxiety and my fears. Joy entered in that day and we were able to celebrate our love knowing God brought it all together the way He always knew it would be. It blows my mind.
And our house?! Back in January, Jarod and I knew we wanted to buy a house before we got married, for me to live in before the wedding day and then for him to join me in after. I didn’t need to have new housing until April, so we weren’t planning on seriously looking until February or March. But of course, the planner in me wanted to meet with our realtor in January, so we did! We sat down at a coffee shop on a cold Saturday as we got to know each other. There, she explained to us how she was helping to sell a home privately within her real estate agency for a family who was planning on moving but not until….. April. The house looked amazing but we didn’t know if it was too good to be true. It was the first home we toured and both Jarod and I felt it deep in our bones: we loved this house. Our amazing realtor, trying to help us know all our options, showed us a few other homes available in the area, but none of them compared. We just knew.
The timing ended up working out that we did all the paperwork in February, closed on March 7, and then got the keys a month later. The day we closed was one of the last we were able to be anywhere without a mask on. We got to tour the house with the homeowners before they moved out, an awesome couple who put in an incredible amount of work to update it. The day I finally moved in in April, there was a note left by the family with a prayer for us: “May this space be a place where God’s spirit dwells richly. May He bless you in abundance in this next season of life.” It’s safe to say there were tears in my eyes that day! For many reasons! To have a home to call ours as “Stay at Home” orders began all over the country was a true blessing.
The grace of the Lord does not only extend to life events. He worked so much good in my soul this year. He continued to grow me, challenge me, and develop me. It’s my prayer that He will do the same in the year ahead, that God would continue to show me the path He’s laid before me and known since the beginning of time. Nothing is a plot twist to the Lord, even in 2020.
Grace Towards Others
“When we’re able to let the pieces fall where they will, we free our hands for better purposes.” – Grace Not Perfection
I graduated from college just last year, even though that feels like a lifetime ago. Up until college graduation day, me and my fellow graduates had been compared based on the same general criteria and had been following the same “path” in freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years. It was expected and relatable.
Now, new paths pop up everywhere in the lives of my friends: job opportunities, graduate school, getting married, starting families, moving back home and moving far, far away from home. We’re all doing different things. That identity shift can definitely be strange.
And while it’s odd and uncomfortable, it’s also really beautiful.
I get to appreciate what all my people are doing because I believe it’s what they’re being called to do. Of course there’s struggle on their path, but simply the fact that they’re pursuing it nonetheless makes me so happy and proud.
At the same time, I am proud of where I’m at and what I’m doing on my own path as well. Both can exist at the same time. And I know that God prepares each of us for what he’s placed in front of us. How cool is it that the Lord has designed us with such a range of life paths, experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives? I love seeing the Lord’s handiwork and how he values diversity.
This year has helped me to digest this truth and to understand the importance of supporting and encouraging my friends, even when all of their decisions or choices aren’t what I might choose or decide. There’s a place and time for calling out when you think a friend is disregarding their personal morals or values; yet mostly, people just need to feel loved.
With the insanity this year has brought, I was reminded of how important it is to simply love my friends in their season of life, in the very best way that I can.
Grace Towards Myself
“Give yourself grace to do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” – Grace Not Perfection
Ugh. This is the toughest one for me. Maybe you can relate? I find that many times I do not love myself well. If something goes poorly (or not to my “plan”), my natural response is to say not-so-nice things to myself. Especially these days where I often don’t leave my house, it can be the smallest of instances that bother me more deeply than they should. I could spill a drink across the dinner table, make a mistake in a work correspondence, or forget to set out something for dinner, and it feels like a BIG deal.
Am I healthy enough? Am I getting enough sleep? I should probably clean my kitchen more often. Why can’t this acne go away? Am I drinking enough water? Did I sanitize enough after that grocery store trip? Did I forget someone’s birthday? Did I say the wrong thing there?
Why am I so hard on myself?
This is why Emily Ley’s book was a nagging yet beautiful reminder all. year. LONG. Big life events happened, big emotions were managed, all in the middle of a global pandemic. It feels like the Lord had to stop my world in order for me to have space and time to learn how to be kind to myself.
Everyone is simply surviving this year. Many are struggling to meet life’s most basic needs. Part of how I started giving myself grace included giving thanks for the blessings in my life. Because the things I often nit-pick about myself? They are each tied to a blessing.
Am I healthy enough? I can move my body whenever I want to. My body is able to bike, run, jump, walk, and dance my heart out. Working out has become an incredible outlet for me this year. This is a gift.
Am I getting enough sleep? I have a bed to sleep in, in my own warm house, where I feel safe. This is a gift.
I should probably clean my kitchen more often. I have a kitchen, and I can buy food to cook with to feed me and my husband. We enjoy cooking and spending time together in the kitchen. We have more than we need. This is a gift.
I don’t think I need to go on to describe the benefits that come with expressing gratitude. Oh how it changes our mindsets. Oh how it makes the commercialism of this world and the unrealistic standards of our culture crumble. Embracing the goodness that exists in our everyday existence is so much better than striving for perfection. It really is. It brings so much more joy.
Another way I began giving myself more grace this year was by allowing myself to truly feel my feelings. I wrote a blog post on this topic this a few weeks ago, if you’re interested in learning more. In short, it means that whenever strong emotions rush in, I try to set aside time to acknowledge what I’m feeling, take deep breaths, and honor where my heart and head are at.
Giving myself grace is still an immense work in progress. It takes energy and intentionality. It happens in small moments where I pause in my irritable state and remember that I am only human, surrounded by both delight and darkness, flawed and yet striving to be a better person each day.
Thanks so much for reading through these lessons learned for the year! I think I’ve decided on my word for 2021… excited to share what I’ve landed on soon 😊
Let me know if you’ve picked a word to guide your 2021!