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  • Writer's pictureMaria Whittaker

Hello 2021

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.

I S A I A H 7 : 8

I lost a lot of things in 2020.

People. I lost several important people -- people whose lives marked me. I barely feel like I can speak of their loss because none of these people were close family members and I know the grief I experienced at their passing doesn’t compare to theirs. And yet, I did lose them, too. One was an older Christian man that my siblings and I considered our stand-in grandfather here on American soil as our real grandfather was across the sea, in Romania. He experienced a sudden heart attack and passed away. The second was a former missionary who toured America trying to find new missionaries for his mission group. After a struggle with cancer, he too passed away, rather suddenly. The third was a beloved church elder, someone who I can’t imagine my church functioning without and who, every time I think about him, I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that he is really gone. He was a standing figure in my life, someone who just always existed, since childhood; a model of faith and passion for the church and God. He contracted a very bad case of COVID and within weeks, passed away. And then there were people more distantly connected to me, and yet whose passing was not an easy thing to accept. A pastor from Romania whose daughters I know here. A friend’s father. Ravi Zacharias (and my trust of him).

Health. Comfort. I lost my health in the sense that I had a disc slip, press on my sciatic nerve, and give me chronic, sometimes debilitating, pain almost every single day of 2020. For months I could barely sit. For weeks, I spent my days lying down on the ground because couches and my bed were too soft and therefore too painful. Pain in 2020 was a constant, shadowy companion that gnawed at me and gave me no respite.

Safety. This one was an unexpected part of 2020, and yet I think most of us can identify with it. I lost my sense of safety. I grew up thinking of myself as privileged to live in America, the land of the free. As I got older and understood democracy and the safeties built into our government system by the Constitution, religious and ideological persecution became a distant reality that in my mind I would never experience in my homeland. And yet in 2020, this confidence was shaken as I saw the political turmoil that has existed in America for years being brought to a head by the outbreak of COVID. I saw news media outlets aggravate people’s conflict points and I saw people themselves mercilessly tearing each other apart on social media. I saw unity, respect for differing opinions, and self-scrutiny thrown out the window in exchange for partisanship, demonizing the other, and -- I don’t know, whatever the opposite of self-scrutiny is. A blatant inability to see that however correct your position may be, there is always something to improve or hear from the opposing side so as to gain a better understanding of the whole. I saw violence break out on the streets and I often went to bed with fear in my heart. Not only because of the changing political landscape of America, the rejection of its core values of freedom, but also because of COVID. I never knew if I’d wake up to hear that someone else I loved -- God forbid a family member -- had passed away.

Control. Right? Didn’t we all lose a sense of control? My life has been a lesson in letting go. As a person whose natural tendency is to seek as much control as possible and manipulate everything, God has been systematically taking things out of my hands and forcing me to face my fear of not being the one making the decision. As 2020 spun wildly, unpredictably out of control, I lost that last shred of belief that I could control anything. I understood my physical life, my health, my happiness, my safety and that of my family, my quality of life -- everything -- is completely and totally out of my control and in God’s hands.

I could go on and on, but in the interest of keeping this short, these are just a few of the things I lost in 2020.

And yet, for all the loss, 2020 has been to me one of the greatest gifts of a year that God has given me in my 27 years thus far.

In 2020, I became a mother, and not only a mother, but the mother of Emory Jane, the most beautiful and sweet little girl I could have imagined to be my daughter. When God takes away, it can be painful, but when He gives, He gives generously, abundantly, and extravagantly. Emory Jane is an extravagant gift from my loving Father, as well as the fulfillment of my lifelong desire to be a mom. In 2020, I gained a treasure.

In 2020, I learned to pray. You may not see that as a gift, but it is, and it is a priceless one. I wish I could fully explain what prayer is and what makes it so unspeakably important, and maybe I can write a future post about that but suffice to say that a life without prayer will not amount to much and my life so far has had precious little prayer to it. I don’t mind reading the Bible but prayer is hard; besides feeling awkward, the spiritual battle behind it drains me like nothing else. And yet I don’t think I could have gotten through 2020 without prayer -- God made it so to teach me that prayer is vitally important if I want to be spiritually healthy and be used by Him to help others gain spiritual health. In 2020, I learned that not only should I pray, I cannot do without it.

In 2020, I learned to trust. Sometimes, when I focus on what is going on in the world, I can once again be filled with fear but I can feel that I am different now, that I am able to focus on God and keep my heart at peace. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). I know whatever comes, He has ordained. 2020 never spun wildly out of God’s control; in fact, He planned and orchestrated this year as He has every other to build in us the image of Jesus Christ. Some of us may find ourselves farther from Him at this end of 2020, some closer. It is a gift that I find myself closer and I am grateful to know that He is completely in control at every moment, not only of the world, broadly, but of me, of mine, intimately and familialy -- that whatever happens to us is ordained by Him and I trust Him because I know His love and that He acts out of His love towards us. I know that I am always with Him and that whatever He will bring me to, He will bring me through. “You guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards You will receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24). I know that though the wicked prosper, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).

In many ways, 2020 was the year that broke me. A bad back that caused chronic, sometimes severe pain, lying on the ground for weeks, nausea for 5 months out of the year and lots of discomfort for the rest of my pregnancy, COVID, isolation and shutdowns, losses of dear ones, political unrest -- the list goes on and on and it was the perfect concoction of trials, ordained by the LORD, to break through some very rebellious aspects of my life. Though this post, to me, is much like a personal journal entry, to you, it’s really irrelevant what happens to me -- I’m saying these things to first of all glorify God for all that He has done and secondly, to encourage you. I hope I’m putting words to how some of you feel -- that God was good in 2020, that He was merciful. That we saw His protection, His provision, more of His perfection. That it could have been a hellish year, and yet it reminded us all of Heaven -- that this is not our home and that we are going to a better place, to a world governed by the righteous King of Kings who actually understands what truth and justice is and is actually motivated by the good of His people.

And as I enter 2021, I’m...well, I’m cautiously optimistic. Not really that politically things will get better. It’s looking quite bleak. I’m optimistic about a closer walk with God, greater faithfulness. He has demonstrated such undeserved faithfulness to me. I hope and pray, cautious of my own sinfulness, that I rise to the challenge of demonstrating greater faithfulness to Him. My life so far has been given to Him, but not fully. I’m not saying I’m fully devoted now; but now, I certainly want to be. I want to be more and more faithful every day and be found faithful when He comes. I want to stand firm, and I want all of us to do the same because we are all called with the same, high calling to be whole-hearted servants of the Most High God, found firm in our faith.

Hello 2021. It’s going to be a good year.

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