2020 — A year which will live in infamy.

The year of the modern worldwide pandemic, the most troubling election cycle in modern history, economic struggles, continuous civil unrest and a devastating Christmas Day suicide bombing in Nashville, which has negatively affected many throughout the Tennessee Valley and southeastern United States, has several scratching their heads and others fearful of what else there is to uncover in connection with the incident.

In regards to 2020, many have hated, wished away, feared, wept over, grieved, cursed, rushed through and all but looked toward Heaven to curse God for it and wait for the stroke of lightning or fire and brimstone to fall as a result of the sinful and blasphemous act. (The last choice never being a wise one, nor one I would recommend).

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, as my wife and I were recovering from our bout with Covid-19, we re-watched Peter Jackson’s glorious film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for the umpteenth-dozen time. While viewing this cinematic pleasure, there was a line uttered in the first installment in the film series, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” during a conversation between Mr. Frodo Baggins and the powerful wizard formerly known as Gandalf the Grey, that has resonated with me since hearing it again.

In response to the negative events that were occurring around him as a result of being in possession of the “one ring to rule them all” that he and his eight companions were on a quest to Mordor to destroy in the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo makes the statement, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” In great wisdom, Gandalf replies, “So do I. And, so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Over the past year, I, like many of you, have deeply felt and often uttered the words of Baggins when experiencing and reflecting on what all 2020 has brought to our paths.

In 2020, I lost my father-in-law of just shy of two years, pastor for just shy of five years and friend and role model for numerous years, to cancer. I lost one of my three uncles to this dreaded disease a few months later. I lost a youth minister friend, who I had the pleasure of serving alongside for numerous years at a statewide church youth camp, to Covid-19. I lost one of the greatest, positive and loving friends I knew from my Bridgeforth Middle and Giles County High days to an automobile accident. Numerous close family and friends have been immensely sick or even hospitalized, fighting for their lives throughout the year due to Covid-19 and other illnesses that plagued them.

And, to top off the year, my wife and I, though having strictly followed all guidelines given by national, state and local health officials (when you are married to a health care professional, you get no choice in the matter), contracted the Covid-19 virus and were quarantined for approximately two weeks. My symptoms were much worse than my wife’s, like having a rough flu, although nowhere near as severe as many family and friends we know who have also battled this awful virus. We have been well blessed when it comes to what all we experienced with Covid-19, and the quickness of our recovery.

Through it all, I am learning lessons. Hard learned lessons, but lessons I am confident will serve me better in 2021 and the following years to come until Christ returns or calls me home. Lessons of resting, being still, relaxing, reflecting, listening, caring and being thankful. Lessons weaved into the wisdom of Gandalf’s response to Frodo.

If I am honest, I hate rest. My biggest fear my whole life has been wasting time. In my personal commandments, wasting the life you have been given is the utmost sin. I tend to be a person who loves being on the go and in the words of the Eagles, to “push it to the limit one more time.” I am the guy who wants to soak up every ounce of life. I never want to be guilty of being found doing nothing and living idly, as was instilled in me from an early age. I, like my father-in-law before me, tend to really hold to the words of Neil Young, “It is better to burn out than fade away.” I imagine, many of you reading this are much the same based on how our society has been known to work and move at a rapid and constant pace, never taking much time for rest, relaxation, meditation and enjoying the blessings of family, friends and the world around us.

However, in Genesis, we find that the infinite God of all creation took time to sit back and relax. Not because God was fatigued or even then needed to rest, but rather to reflect on creation and to set a precedent for creation. If this is true, then who am I, a finite being, to think I should not do the same? Rest, be still, relax, reflect, listen, care and be thankful.

I am learning that in rest, we value the life we are living and the blessings we, especially me, usually take for granted or simply miss.

My wife Hannah finds the pleasure of life in the simple things like the aroma of a good cup of coffee, the view of a starry night sky or the twinkle of Christmas lights, the savory taste of a home cooked meal or the smooth touch of a loving hand upon her shoulder leading to a relaxing massage. I, regretfully, have often bypassed the simple pleasures of life and remained malcontent because I am constantly looking for the next big thing.

But, Covid-19 caused that to halt for a little while, and I believe to teach me a lesson. It took my taste, smell, strength, stamina and the ability to just go and do as my soul desired. This virus stripped me of the simple pleasures I had so often taken for granted. Now again, I am by no means one who has been harshly affected by this awful virus. But with that said, losing parts of your five senses, your strength and stamina or your basic freedoms, really makes a person reflect upon the blessings of life you’ve easily taken for granted.

The biggest blessing I’ve realized how much I have taken for granted has been the people in life who care more about you than you often realize. The family and friends willing to check in on you and bring you what you need to get by. So often we view these ministers of blessings, mercies and grace in our lives as a means to an end goal of ours, inconveniences, headaches and bothers, or simply someone whom we have no regard for or assume will always be there.

The people, places, things, abilities, experiences and even senses in our lives are nothing short of divine blessing and intervention into our daily lives. While we each get a turn at bat to experience heartaches and pain, it is these divine blessings that help us to get by and make it through the tough times when we see no way.

While 2020 had its share of troubles for many throughout the world, I am hearing ripple conversations daily of people saying this year has rekindled a love for things like spending time with family, cooking, attending church, learning, reading, playing board games with family, eating out with friends at a local restaurant where everybody knows your name, meditating, praying, vacationing, crafting, exercising, drives through the country, soaking up nature, spending quiet time reflecting on blessings, listening to vinyl, etc.

I, too, have found myself rejuvenated for the things in life that matter and more willing to shrug off the weight of burdens that have easily tangled me up.

So, as we close the books on 2020, and turn a new page to a new year, I urge you to reflect upon the wisdom of Gandalf. Do not waste your life worrying with wishing away the bad stuff that has happened, is happening or will happen around you. We can wish all we want, but it is not up to us if it is our turn to experience heartache and pain in this life. We do not hold the power or control to decide that. But it is in our control as to what we will do with the time that is given us.

In the words of the late great John Lennon in his Christmas classic, “What have you done? Another year over and a new one has just begun.” What will you do with the time given you in 2021?

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