Last Wednesday night at our weekly community group, our icebreaker conversation had us answering the question, “What word would you use to sum up your year in 2021?” My answer was instant and definitive: healing.
If 2020 left me rattled, 2021 shook me to my core. The early days of winter saw me emotionally ravaged past (what I thought would surely be) the point of no return. I was broken in body, mind, and spirit, unsure of how I could survive the next minute, let alone the rest of the year.
But here we are: it’s December, and I’m still alive. And not just surviving, but thriving. I still have a long journey ahead towards total and complete recovery, but the healing I experienced this year has proven God can and does work miracles. My emotional scars attest to the healing He has done within me, and the continued closing of gaping sores speaks to the ongoing work of our Divine Physician. My Healer has used the brokenness of this year to mold and teach me in ways that would not have occurred (or would have gone unnoticed) in a year with less pain.
My own spiritual metamorphosis, combined with yet another “unprecedented” (ugh!) year for our nation and the rest of the world in 2021, set the stage for a profound education in life, faith, parenthood, community, and introspection in 2021. The Kendra sitting here in my office writing this today feels almost unrecognizable from the woman who sat in this same chair a year ago, reflecting on 2020. From the outside the changes may be unnoticeable; my heart and mind know differently. I have grown, matured, changed, learned, relearned, and discovered how little I know in 2021.
At the start of the year, after emerging from the bizarreness that was our world in 2020 and from my own nervous breakdown last fall, I was feeling hopeful—a hope that was quickly dashed by shocking news events and, unrelated but concurrent, a resurgence of daily panic attacks, crippling depression, and relentless spiritual warfare. The simplest tasks felt insurmountable and I spent much of each day curled in a ball on the floor or in my bed, eyes swollen with tears, head aching for relief. I learned in those days the depths of emotional turmoil a person can withstand, the vicious measures the enemy will take in his efforts to destroy us, and the sheer horror of feeling like my mind and spirit were slipping away from me.
But within the abyss of that hellish season, my soul cracked open and Jesus entered in. I experienced His compassionate presence, comforting nearness, and gentle embrace; moments of bright clarity were sparse but sufficient to pierce the darkness and point me towards hope. New insights were forged inside the crucible of those dark days, and I was given wave upon wave of revelations about myself, my God, my past and my future, my world and my faith and my relationships. Old memories resurfaced, new understandings materialized. I doubted my own sanity, but in the doubting I was forced to seek out what I KNEW to be true, and I emerged with a stronger sense of my values, priorities, and beliefs. I gained a clear sense of what is important to me and what I could let go of, and I found the strength to unapologetically embrace my preferences.
Those bleak winter days were a time of hibernation for me. From within my emotional slumber I discovered the freedom that comes from paring down—of activities, of media, of external stimuli, of my own thoughts. I became aware of an unhealthy dependence on technology and learned how to step away from my phone and into the silence. I fell in love with all things analog: I took notes on paper, read hardcover books, and began wearing an old fashioned watch. I rediscovered my lifelong love for reading, for pen-and-paper journaling, and for nourishing my soul through the simple pleasures of candles and music and fuzzy slippers.
This predilection for traditional comforts coincided with an increasing frustration and disgust with current societal trends that had me pining for time-honored perspectives and vintage ways of life; I began to see how new ideas aren’t always the best ones, that there is value in traditional ideologies and principles, how I had gotten swept up in modernity and needed a reset. I stopped putting quite as much faith in the news and in the (often hypocritical) messages of popular authors/pastors/teachers/”experts” and instead began seeking out the seasoned wisdom of quieter voices, many who lived long before my time. I put more stock in concepts found in books and learned to question the things I heard about on the internet.
In February, the iciness within my mind and cynical heart was echoed in a Texas freeze that left our whole state in literal cold and darkness. Those days without power and water taught our family profound lessons about resourcefulness, winter living, the consequences of being ill-prepared, the downsides to an all-electric house, and how much we take for granted. Watching Luke bury our perishable food in the snow to keep it from spoiling, I learned to appreciate the perks that come from being married to an Eagle Scout, particularly one who is willing to sacrifice his own comfort for his family. And as we huddled together under piles of blankets, ate canned food in the light of a candle, and distracted ourselves through simple games, I realized our little five-some is much stronger than I’d given us credit for. I also learned of the kindness and generosity that exists within our neighborhood and beyond as friends and strangers offered assistance and encouragement; I saw how hard times really can bring out the best in people (but also the worst).
Our winter snows thawed quickly; my own soul’s thawing lagged behind, but as spring eased into summer I began to come back to life. I still have no name for what I experienced in the first third of this year, but I CAN name some takeaways from that time. I learned that sometimes, doing “all the right things” (therapy, journaling, spiritual practices) is enough to overcome a mental health crisis, and sometimes more is required—in my case, more meaning antidepressants that I believe saved my life. I became aware of how I’d been taking my health and my sanity for granted, and I emerged with a determination to pursue health and LIFE.
In my darkest days, I learned that people and products and services and even my own mind will let me down, and that only God is a worthy recipient of my trust—my hope MUST remain in Him. I learned to rely on Him for every breath, every thought, every step, and I found that the more time I spent with Him, the more I would long to be within His presence. Scripture memory, prayer, and mornings spent devouring God’s Word morphed from rituals to lifelines, and slowly I began to witness the spiritual fruit that comes from steadfast abiding in Christ. My heart softened, patience lengthened, harsh thoughts subsided. I grew more aware of my own sinfulness, but with that awareness came a deeper understanding of God’s capacity for forgiveness and grace. I caught glimpses of myself as God sees me, and even longer glimpses of others as He sees them—and my compassion and empathy for God’s children grew by leaps and bounds.
Because I felt such unity with God during my “dark time,” I feared that healing of spirit would bring distance from the Lord, but the opposite was true. As I healed, His presence was less bodily palpable but nonetheless apparent in the ways He continued to direct my thoughts and actions. I was no longer grasping for God in desperation, but comfortably nestled within His embrace, cooperating with Him in my own spiritual growth. I became aware of how my spirit was affected by outside sources and reluctantly said goodbye to content (movies, shows, podcasts, books) that was not spiritually edifying. . . and slowly my taste for such things has diminished; I have tasted the goodness of art that reflects God’s beauty and truth, and unedifying content has begun to lose its appeal. This fall has been a time for renewing my mind. I’ve invited God to speak truth to my heart, and He has exposed many lies I was believing. I have become enamored by a pursuit for truth that always points me back to Jesus.
So much of my year has been focused on spiritual growth and renewal, but I would be remiss to neglect the less “esoteric” learning that has taken place for me in 2021. My children have been key teachers for me this year, as I’ve learned about them and from them. Kali and Sully have continued to teach me about finding joy in the smallest things, about patience and the value of slowing down, and about the marvelous development of a tiny human into a not-so-tiny person with skills and preferences and adorable traits. They’ve taught me again and again that having twins is just the BEST, that there is something impossibly cute about TWO toddlers’ antics, and that parenting twins gets harder and easier and will probably get harder again, but it’s all worth it—MORE than worth it. So far, their toddlerhood has also confirmed a few things Charleston taught me—that the crawling stage is the hardest, that their learning to walk and then to talk are total game changers, and that actual toys are totally overrated.
Witnessing the twins’ lightning milestones is the most remarkable and also the most gut-wrenching part of parenthood; I’m learning a little more each day how to let go of their baby years and embrace their aging process. But just because I’m learning how to do it doesn’t make it pleasant or easy. (Speaking of the pains of aging, that goes for them AND for me—I’m embracing these wrinkles and grey hairs, but I still haven’t learned to love them.)
The second half of this year has required me to learn a whole new set of parenting skills as I figure out how to mother three kids (and not just one child and two babies). I’m learning how to navigate sibling squabbles, balance the unique needs of each child, know when to step in and when it’s better to step back, and identify which activities I am capable of handling on my own with all three kids in tow. I’m discovering strength and skills I never thought I had, and uncovering painful weaknesses and areas where I simply can’t do this mom thing alone.
This year, I learned that six is a really tough age marked by growing paints (physical AND emotional), friend wounds, attitude adjustments, and lots and lots of questions. I’m still trying to learn WHO Charleston is, even as he’s working this out for himself. Together we are navigating discipline, schooling, independence, and working within the parameters of his unique giftings and challenges. This year Charleston allowed me to experience firsthand the joys that come from some bigger kid milestones: teaching my child to read, introducing him to some of my own childhood hobbies (hello, Adventures in Odyssey!) and—best of all—leading my own flesh and blood into a personal relationship with Jesus. Now, I’m getting to experience what it is like to be my son’s mom AND his sister in Christ.
In 2021, Luke and I have been learning how to support one another in hard times AND good times. We are figuring out how to grow together as we each grow separately; that our relationship (and what each of us needs and/or can offer) is fluid; and that the dance required of us as parents and as spouses looks different each day. Most importantly, we are learning the importance of communicating (honestly, but in love) throughout each transition. We’re learning how hard it can be to carve out time for one another in a home full of busy kids, and we’ve reaped the benefits of leaving the television turned off and sitting down for face-to-face conversation once the kids are in bed.
This year as we all emerged from quarantines and canceled activities, I have begun to relearn what it looks like to be a friend and a contributing member to flourishing spiritual communities. I’m recognizing that despite being an introvert, I NEED people in my life, and going more than a few days without spending time with other adults simply isn’t healthy for me. I’m once again experiencing the growth that comes from participating in a Bible study and in one-on-one relationship. These friendships and communities are teaching me how to open up, how to ask for help, how to share myself and be a safe place for others to do the same. I am learning (maybe for the first time) that relationship is more blessing than burden.
When we opened our home to a backyard Bible camp this summer, I learned that it takes courage to invite and participate in this form of hospitality, and that it is absolutely worth it. I still have so much to learn in this area, and a lot of ego to let go of, but for once I’m excited and not terrified to refine these skills.
Moving beyond my own personal experiences and into the world at large, I learned more in 2021 than I would have liked—about political shenanigans and media bias, supply chains and inflation, transmissible diseases and the limitations of science, brokenness in the church and in our nation and in all of humanity . . . . and how the world that is emerging (or trying to emerge) from a global pandemic is vastly different than the world we knew in February of 2020. I’ve learned to see the woundedness and trauma underlying every conversation, to expect the unexpected in people around me, and that every one of us is a jumble of contradictions and inconsistencies. I’ve learned to hold plans and people loosely, even as I cling tighter to values, truth, and my own core clan of loved ones.
2021 was my year of Wonder, and God answered my prayer for an awakening of my heart to wonder this year. My healing and learning over the past twelve months were inspired by a quest to find wonder all around me, and this wonder informed every moment of my journey. In the restoration of my spirit, the quieting of my mind, the healing of my soul, and the expanding of my heart—God was present, and it was wondrous.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for a mind that has the capacity to learn and for guiding me in wisdom, healing, and growth this year. Thank you for your steady presence, your infinite wisdom, your boundless compassion, and your creative working of all things to accomplish good for my life. I give you praise and glory for each lesson you taught me in 2021, and I ask that you continue to teach me and transform me in the year ahead.
**Thanks to my talented friend Shanyn of Shay Wills Photography for these lovely family photos!**