The year 2020 was incredibly difficult, wasn’t it? With many pastors and churches struggling to survive, in the face of mounting frustration, heartbreak, and loss. Personally, relationally, and financially.
A wise person once said, “With everything lost, there’s always something to be gained.”
So, in spite of all the challenging and painful things brought by the global pandemic, have you experienced any good things that you can celebrate and thank God for?
Welcome to episode 9 of the More Than a Pastor Show, where I share my list of 10 Good Things from 2020.
2020: Good Riddance...or Thank You?
If you’re on Facebook, you might have seen some of the memes describing the year 2020…from dumpster fire to poop emoji to a 1-star rating.
No doubt, many people across the world couldn’t wait for 2020 to end, and a hopefully brighter new year to begin.
But what if 2020 wasn’t all bad, and there were some bright spots, or even some blessings, that we don’t want to see come to an end? That we’d love to see continue into the new year?
As hard as 2020 was for you and your family…are there things that you wouldn’t have traded, because it would mean missing out on blessings you ended up receiving?
A Year I Wouldn't Have Asked For...Or Traded
Twenty years ago, in the year 2000, my wife and I had a year just like that!
We wouldn’t have asked for or volunteered for what we experienced that year. But in the end, we wouldn’t have traded it if it meant missing out on the amazing blessings we received, and the way God worked in and through us that year….
You see, in June of 2000, my wife and I had been married 8 years. We had two boys ages 3 -1/2 and 1-½, and we were expecting our third child in July.
We had been experiencing some things with our 3-½ year old that we didn’t quite know what to do with. He would have little fits or tantrums at times – and these were out of the ordinary for him. Sometimes he’d lay on the floor and arch his back up, and flail about.
We figured something must be wrong, so we took him to the doctor on several occasions over a couple of months – and even the emergency department at the children’s hospital. But they could not find anything wrong with him. Maybe it’s acid reflux, one of them said.
At some point, after a number of tests including an EEG, we asked our doctor about doing a CT scan of his head.
We’ll never forget that day.
I took our son to the hospital for the CT scan since my wife was 8-1/2 months pregnant and couldn’t be in the Radiology department.
I brought a few things to read during the hour or so of the scan. When it was over, one of the staff brought me back to be with my son, and said we should wait a few minutes for them to review the scan.
Those few minutes kept adding up. We waited, and waited. Our son was really ready to get out of there, and so was I.
Then a doctor came into the room. She said she wanted to admit our son to the hospital immediately.
She explained that all the problems he had been experiencing were because of a brain tumor, about the size of a small orange, located in his cerebellum. The doctor said it needed to be removed right away.
So then I had to call my wife, who is wondering why in the world we hadn’t come home yet. And tell her to sit down, since she’s 8-1/2 months pregnant. And inform her that our son has a brain tumor and needs to have surgery right away.
We can still remember the numbness of that day. The questions. The fears.
Later that day we would learn that a top neurosurgeon was about to leave town for vacation, but could work us into his schedule to do our son’s surgery the very next day.
So that evening before the surgery, while our son underwent a pre-op MRI, we met with the neurosurgeon, who explained how the surgery would go, and prepared us for all the things that might happen afterward.
The good news, he said, was that this type of tumor – Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma – is a “good” kind of tumor for kids to have. It is typically benign, and if you can remove it all, there’s a very low chance that it would grow back.
The bad news, was that anytime you do surgery on the brain, particularly in the cerebellum, there are risks:
- He could die
- He could be paralyzed – temporarily or permanently
- He could lose motor functionality – temporarily or permanently
- He could have balance problems
- He could have vision issues
- Etc., Etc.
In that moment, we were so heartbroken for our son – for the pain he’d been experiencing that he couldn’t, at his age, describe for us, the thoughts that we should we have done more, sooner, to find out what was wrong with him, and the concern that his life may never be the same following the surgery.
But we were also blessed with an amazing sense of peace from God – that we were going to be alright. Whether the surgery was a success or not. No matter what would happen to our son. We would be alright. God would be with us in these moments and carry us through.
The surgery ended up taking about 10 hours. In the waiting room, we were surrounded by dozens of friends and family who came to be with us and pray for us. He came through just fine, but we discovered that he’d need to have a second surgery in a couple of weeks, because the doctors felt they didn’t get enough of the tumor the first time.
So, after five weeks in the hospital, two surgeries, and many weeks of physical and occupational therapy, our son was as good as new.
One night, as I was with our son in his hospital room, I began to ask God the question everyone asks…
“Why God, did you allow this to happen?”
“Why did our son have a tumor?”
“Was it something I did?”
In my Bible reading that night, I came to John chapter 9, where Jesus is walking with his disciples and they encounter a man who had been born blind.
Turns out that people asked the question, “Why?” back then too. And the disciples asked whose fault it was that the man was born blind. Did he sin? Or his parents?
Jesus replied that there was no one to blame here. These things happen. And when they happen, they are opportunities for God’s power to be displayed in our lives.
The man wouldn’t have asked to have been born blind. But if he hadn’t been blind, he may not have ever had a powerful, life-changing encounter with the Christ who would heal him.
And we wouldn’t have asked for our toddler son to have a brain tumor. But if he hadn’t, we may not have experienced the amazing sense of peace that God gave us, the love and care expressed by our church family and friends, and Christ’s amazing healing power in our son’s life.
So while you and I wouldn’t have asked for the hardships and letdowns of 2020, haven’t they provided us all with some amazing opportunities to see God at work too? In ways we may not have experienced otherwise?
Today I want to share my list of 10 Good Things from 2020. 10 ways that I experienced God’s blessings in the midst of a challenging year. These are in no particular order.
10 Good Things from 2020
1. Created Clarity
In 2020 I was blessed with greater clarity on the “More Than a Pastor” message God has given me. I had time to slow down and work through my goals, dreams and passions, pray more about them, get coaching from others, create a vision, and plan my next steps.
2. Took Action on a Dream
This clarity led to action in finally launching this podcast and blog, which were dreams I’ve had for a long time. But now these dreams became part of the larger vision or calling that God has given me.
3. Enjoyed Family Time
In a typical year, my missions pastor role has me traveling internationally 8-10 weeks. But in 2020, I only had one international trip…and that was just to Mexico in February. Plus I flew to Orlando for the Exponential church multiplication conference in early March.
So I was home a lot more with my family in 2020. That brought with it some challenges, since our home is modest, and most of us were working or schooling at the same time, in close proximity to each other.
But I really enjoyed being home more, especially over the summer – which is always wonderful in Michigan.
4. Increased My Creativity
The challenges of 2020 got me thinking more creatively about how to do ministry…and I had opportunities to try out some new things.
When the stay at home orders began here in Michigan, our church sprung into action to help meet needs of people in our community who would be hurt the most by the loss of work and income. So we go to try some things we may not have done otherwise, and that put us in touch with organizations and other people in our community that we may not have otherwise connected with or served.
A few years ago I read a book called A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business Now.
In it, authors Mark Barden and Adam Morgan share how limitations, challenges and upheavals…instead of always being seen as negative, can be wonderful opportunities for us to explore new things we may never have considered otherwise.
Isn’t that one of the gifts that God gave us in 2020?
How about you – have you found yourself becoming more creative over the past year?
5. Had More Time Outside
I enjoyed being outside a LOT more in 2020 – for work and recreation.
Most nights after dinner and dish washing, my wife and I walk 3 in our neighborhood.
And because we have had “stay at home” and “work from home” orders in our state, I worked from home more. And on nice weather days, I worked outside front our porch or back deck, and I also worked from several local parks and even beach at Lake Michigan.
I really enjoy the great outdoors. And if there’s work I can do from outside – like reading, writing, thinking, making phone calls – I’d rather be out in the sun and warmth than stuck inside my windowless office. How about you?
6. Grew my Faith and Trust in God
As difficult as the year 2000 was, when our son experienced the brain tumor, two surgeries, weeks of therapy, and the birth of our third son right in the middle of it all, my wife and I treasure that year as a time when we grew so much in our faith and trust in God.
We experienced so many blessings that year from God and others. He provided financially in ways we never expected. From people we never expected. And it grew our dependence on Him.
2020 was the same for me – a year of pressing into God more, looking for where and how he was working, and joining into what he is doing so we can be a part of it.
7. Enjoyed Sabbath Rest
In some ways, 2020 allowed me to slow down a bit and enjoy more margin in my life – especially over the summer.
But in other ways, 2020 piled on more work and stress, in the spring when I was so involved in our church’s community outreach and care for people in need, and in the fall when I took on the role of interim children’s pastor.
So, in 2020 I was reminded of the importance of enjoying Sabbath rest, and making sure that seasons of extra work and stress are followed by seasons of extra rest and margin.
8. Connected with God More Outdoors
One of the ways I enjoy connecting with God is being in the outdoors…going for walks or hikes. Especially near a lake like Lake Michigan, or near the ocean.
And this year, because I enjoyed more time outside, I got to enjoy more time connecting with God in his creation.
I really enjoyed these moments of hiking and thinking and praying. Or sitting along the lake, reading and journaling.
And I definitely want to bring this with me into 2021, making sure I have more of those intimate times with God outside.
9. Increased My Global Kingdom Perspective
2020 was hard enough for those of us living in America, but it was especially hard for many of my friends and missions partners around the world, living in India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Mozambique, etc.
Many faced hard lockdowns which resulted in lost work and income, rising food prices, and increased daily struggles.
This got me praying more for friends and churches around the world, and looking for ways we could provide extra blessings to them to help lift the increased burdens they faced.
10. Grew My gratitude
2020 reminded me that every day is a gift. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
And it prompted me to think about what am I doing today to make a difference for someone else? And how am I doing at living up to the potential God has put inside of me?
What’s on Your List of 10 Good Things from 2020?
So, what about you? What would make your list of 10 good things from 2020?
And what blessings or lessons from 2020 would you like to carry forward into 2021?
I’d love to hear your response! Send me an email at [email protected] I may even share it on a future episode!
In the Next Episode…
New Years resolutions don’t work for most people, because they end up being more like wishes than goals with real actions to back them up.
So instead of making resolutions for 2021, in episode 10 of More Than a Pastor, I’ll show you how to ditch your new years resolutions, and focus on your One Thing in the new year…in your life, work, family, finances, and health.