Have you ever had one of those terrible, awful, no-good dreams where you are suddenly forced to do something you’ve never practiced in front of a very large audience? I’m sure it isn’t just me. I have a recurring nightmare in which I am expected to perform a dance solo or gymnastics routine in front of a stadium of people. Having never practiced such skills, this always ends in disaster—or, at least, it would if I did not shake myself into wakefulness first!
Well, that’s a bit how 2020 has felt—not just for me, but, I imagine, for anyone reading this.
Whenever I face a challenge that seems overwhelming, I try to think of it in creative ways. It makes the task or situation feel less dire, more imaginative and manageable. For example, when writing my master’s dissertation, I imagined I was sewing a very large quilt, taking it a small patch at a time and watching beauty come together out of mismatched scraps. (I should add that I have never successfully sewn a quilt…)
2020 presented far more challenges than anyone could have expected and I am under no delusion that 2021 will be suddenly sunshine and roses. Still, I am hopeful. (I think I’ve always been hopeful, even through tears and stress, seeing as hope is an occupational hazard of the Christian life.) Throughout the past year, I’ve often imagined my struggles in comic images. It’s helped me take things as they come, laughing and learning to roll with the punches even as I take seriously the sad situations of our world.
The phrase “stick the landing” became something of a motto as I have continually returned to my humorous nightmare as an analogy for this year as a whole. When I look back on 2020, I see it as a hilariously terrible gymnastics routine in which, miraculously (though not unscathed), I stick the landing. I have scoured the internet for a video of such a routine but have been tragically disappointed. I can imagine how funny it would be, though: someone as tall and inflexible as I flopping her way valiantly through an Olympic routine and, somehow, landing on her feet.
I may not have the practiced grace of a dancer or gymnast, but I see that a larger Grace has seen me through this year, providing for me in ways I did not initially notice—after all, hindsight is 2020! I’d like to take a moment now, actually, to look back on a few of those providential instances.
In January, a dear friend traveled with me to St. Andrew’s for my second term, ensuring that I made it there safe and sound and was not utterly alone in my stress and sorrow.
In February, I found new friendships in Scotland that provided steady companionship, and my best friend made plans to visit me at great personal expense.
In March, all such plans went out the window as the pandemic really kicked-off, but my amazing mom was there just in time to help me move home with 48-hours notice. The journey was hugely emotional, but I found kinship with other international students who were similarly displaced and anxious. Indeed, I am still friends with the law student who sat next to us on that trans-Atlantic flight, making those eleven hours much less agonizing and the weeks of quarantine much more enjoyable.
In April, everything felt as though it was crashing down, but studying Dante via Zoom was unexpectedly refreshing. There is nothing like reading powerful poetry with dear friends to revive one’s spirits!
May through August were a blur of paper-writing and trying to survive the summer heat. Still, reconnecting with local friends and inventing various social-distance hangouts made it better. Despite multiple changes of plans/jobs, I found full-time employment in my field and am so thankful to use my gifts and passions for the service of God and others.
In September, I received my master’s results and was thrilled to learn that I’d completed my MLitt “with distinction.” Teaching in-person and playing organ for live church services further bolstered my morale and I felt myself revived in so many ways.
October and November brought my usual autumnal restlessness as I began to think about my next steps. December, however, brought a peace of mind, reassuring me that I am where I am meant to be. After all, I am writing poetry often, playing organ for services every week, contributing to the music education of teenagers, and sharing my love for theology in seminars and devotions. Although apart from the academic paradise of St. Andrew’s, I am beginning to have my writing published in journals and magazines and to read for joy rather than grades. By God’s refining and guiding grace, I managed to “stick the landing.”
This year has brought a lot of heartache, anxiety, and contention in its wake, but I pray that you, my dear Reader and Friend, can look back and see some goodness in its wearisome months. 2021 will not be a sudden shift to peace and happiness; our world will still be broken. I hope, though, that we can enter the New Year together, committed to gratitude and growth.