The year ahead

Last year at this time, it was hard to be optimistic or hopeful, whether personally or professionally. As I wrote last Sunday, our family was still reeling from the unexpected loss of my mother to COVID, the final straw in a year that had already seen so much family disruption. With my mother’s death, my wife and I were immediately thrown into the whirlwind of needing to clean out her apartment and either find homes for or dispose of her earthly belongings. Even now, at the beginning of yet another year, there still remain a few items to resolve.

My professional life (as a seminary professor) was also thrown into chaos by the pandemic. When the decision was made to close our seminary campus for reasons of health and safety, my colleagues and I were forced to transition all of our spring courses to an online format — with only two weeks notice. It was quite the adventure for those like myself who had never taught online before and were dedicated to doing it as well as possible. All of 2020 became a learning experience, and I was still making changes and adjustments as 2021 began.

But thankfully, some things changed for the better as 2021 progressed. My family and I got vaccinated, taking the edge off our concerns about the risk of infection. My wife and I were finally able to meet and interact with our adorable and spirited first grandchild, who by that time was nearly a year old. And though during the pandemic I had fallen into poor health habits that packed on twenty unnecessary pounds, I buckled down and got all of it back off again (the key: eat lots of vegetables, and get ruthless about white flour and sugar).

Perhaps most significantly, the seminary campus reopened this past fall. Regulations require that we mask up when we’re indoors, which has been personally challenging. For example, it’s harder with a mask to catch my breath as an active lecturer who paces back and forth; those dramatic pauses are sometimes necessary not just for rhetorical effect, but for oxygen. And as someone with significant hearing loss, it’s much harder for me to understand what my students are saying when I can’t read their lips! (No problem; just smile and nod.)

Even so, it’s been a joy to be back on campus. Not that I relish going back to my long Southern California commute! But being in the room with my students, hearing their stories, talking about life and vocation — it’s been a tangible reminder to me of why I do what I do.

And I say that as an introvert. A strong introvert.

. . .

The story of the descendants of Korah, which we explored in last Thursday’s post, teaches us that the future doesn’t have to be determined by the past. I hope that, overall, your 2021 was better than 2020, and that 2022 might be even better. Of course, there are never any guarantees; COVID will probably always be with us in some form, even if life returns to something resembling “normal” — whatever that is.

But life will always have its challenges, some severe. What matters is that we walk through each year with the God-given imagination to see our earthly todays in the light of God’s eternal tomorrow, a tomorrow in which wholeness wins over brokenness, triumph over tragedy.

This new year and every year before and after belongs to God. If we pay attention, if we can raise our heads above our troubles, we can always find moments of grace worth celebrating.