God Is Merciful: Reflections on 2020

I feel like I’m way out of sync. For me, 2020 was a year of unexpected blessing. Though some of what follows is probably in the category of self-indulgent (and boring) oversharing, I mostly mean it as an expression of thankfulness for undeserved mercies.

Work & Tech

In 2020, my work conditions improved a lot, as did the commute (home office!). At the same time, my work relationships—my connectedness to my peers—also improved, the reverse of what’s supposed to happen in a work-from-home dynamic.

I understand the “face to face is best,” bromide. It’s often true. In our case, our office already operated as a satellite of the main company facility pre-COVID, and all our involvement with company goings-on was remote. But it was awkward, low-tech., traditional remote. A single laptop and projector in one conference room connected with a similar set up out east. You couldn’t hear half the time. People laughed at jokes you missed. Meetings bred a sense of alienation rather than connection.

COVID pushed us all to Zoom and MS Teams and, just like that, we were interacting face to face. We could see and hear each person equally well—and be heard and seen equally well also. For us, Zoom meetings were a huge step forward in personal interaction.

Our leadership also encouraged us all to use person to person video calls via MS Teams instead of voice calls, and we mostly stopped talking to each other over the phone. So, in a year when the public health situation pushed everyone into physical-space cocoons, we came out of our mental and social cocoons. The number of colleagues I had face to face conversations with in 2020 easily doubled that of previous years.

There were some disturbing all-company Zoom calls. The combination of COVID economic impact and post-George Floyd police-funding impact had us all wondering how long we’d keep our jobs. (We work in law enforcement services.) Our big annual event went virtual and wasn’t the revenue-generating boon it usually is either, so some downsizing happened. Through it all, the organization proved itself resilient, adaptive, generous and compassionate. My own work got even busier and more interesting than it already was.

Though I “retired early” from pastoral ministry in 2013, and often miss it, I also love what I do now. I’ve long believed that we’re all called to steward our lives for the glory of God. This year, God made it easy for me to see how my work does that.

God is merciful, and I’m blessed.

Home & Hearth

2020 brought unexpected domestic benefits, too. My household of four is all adult now, and though it may be selfish of me, I’m glad that, for one more year, we were all mostly under one roof.

And we were under it kind of a lot!

Speaking of roofs, there were unexpected financial blessings in the year, and the roof is new! It was a thrill to finally get that done. We had long known we needed to refinance the house to fund some expensive long-term maintenance (e.g., roof). In God’s providence, we kept chickening out … until 2020, when interest rates pretty much hit bottom, and our property value hit a new high. So some things got fixed and upgraded, with more waiting for spring.

Likely, we have seasons of financial hardship yet to come, but not in 2020.

The fact that so many experienced income disaster in 2020 humbles me. I’ve felt the churning terror and despair and hope and faith that induces. And I know I don’t deserve prosperity one bit more than the many who are going without.

God is merciful, and I and my family are blessed.

Health

As I write, acetaminophen and Sudafed have temporarily banished my COVID-19 headache. That’s a self-diagnosis. Everybody in our house tested positive except me (negative twice!), but I got sick just like the rest. So far, we’ve all had the mild version of the illness. We know Who to thank. Some friends have died.

Our family health dramas aren’t special, except to us, but they illustrate a truth I need to verbalize.

My daughter got mysteriously sick in March, just as the first wave of COVID “lockdowns” were happening. Her symptoms didn’t match the disease well, other than the extreme fatigue. She experienced rapid weight loss, unrelenting thirst, and other frightening things. After worsening symptoms, a trip to ER, and hospitalization, they figured out she had Type 1 Diabetes (not to be confused with the far more common Type 2 Diabetes).

Realizing you’re going to be insulin-dependent the rest of your life, and that your overall life expectancy just got shorter, packs a punch. We also had to figure out quickly how insurance was going to figure in, get blood-sugar educated, and work it all into my daughter’s summer internship plans. My daughter had to get used to self-injecting, and she had a strong inhibition. For many, the subconscious screams, “No! We do not intentionally poke needles into ourselves!” There were some tough moments for all of us. Happily, self-injection is now as routine as clipping fingernails.

Three years ago, our family had no health insurance. My former employer had provided a health plan we couldn’t afford, but we also didn’t qualify for subsidized plans under Obamacare.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, but not beyond God’s, diabetes came to our family after our little company got bought by a bigger one and we acquired a health plan. It has turned out to be stunningly generous and easy to work with (by insurance company standards!).

Also this year, the “kids” both needed wisdom teeth extracted, and we discovered that the dental plan is better than I’d assumed as well.

Then there was cancer. In late November, I had a skin biopsy that tested positive for melanoma. A week or so later, I had an “excision” from my upper left arm, which now features an “interesting” scar. The cancer was early stage, and tests indicate they got all the nasty out. I hadn’t even noticed the mole that caught my doctor’s eye. I just casually mentioned during a routine checkup that I had a lot of that sort of thing and maybe it would be worth taking a look. Many would say I got lucky, but we know that’s not how it works, don’t we?

God is merciful, and I’m blessed.

SharperIron

2020 was going to be the year I handed the site off to some other person or group to take in a new direction. The eventfulness of the year ensured that I didn’t work on that much. So, for now, it’s status quo. We’ll see what 2021 brings.

My involvement with SharperIron continues to take my attention, reading, and thinking to places it would not otherwise go with any regularity. Though I wish I had more time to give to the project, to “do it right,” that’s been a problem since day one. I continue to be grateful for the ways it stretches me.

God is merciful, and I’m blessed.

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There are 4 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

This is informative and encouraging.  You are indeed blessed.

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It did my heart good to write it. It's easy to get focused on all that's wrong in our lives and in the world and in the church. All that stuff is still there, but taking time to be thankful and "count our blessings," isn't just proper. It's self-fortifying. It's healing.

Somehow, being thankful makes us stronger and wiser. It probably has to do with what Proverbs says about the fear of the Lord. It tends to orient everything else and put it in its rightful place--or at least closer to its rightful place. So the personal dividends are sometimes surprising...  we don't do it for the dividends, but they still happen.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

josh p's picture

Thanks Aaron this was an encouraging read. I got married this year and am blessed to now have a 2 year old son (my wife is a widow). I’ve also been asked to preach with more regularity at church which I absolutely love (preaching this Sunday!). Covid has been a challenge as for everyone but God is merciful even during trials.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Congrats on both the marriage (and family!) and preaching opportunities. There's always joy in doing what you know you're supposed to be doing.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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