In which I write about 2020 even though I don’t feel like it, favorite books of the year, 2021 TBR list, a new release, and my One Word.

New Year’s Day, 2021.

Outside, ice pelts the window and slicks the sidewalks, and the gray skies wrap my little world with a gloomy sort of comfort as I sit on my bed with my pup and my brand new calendar/planner.

The ambivalence of looking back over the unimaginable past year causes a wrench in my gut I’ve grown accustomed to…an ache of dread, my whole body overwhelmed with the lactic acid build-up of a year of bracing myself for whatever hell is looming around the next corner.

When my husband and youngest son and I watched the ball drop in Times Square last night, the relief felt strange and temporary. After all this time spent emotionally—even physically—hunkering down against the 2020 tsunami, I’m finding it difficult to straighten myself enough to look up, let alone ahead.

One of my all time favorite books is Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner. In the chapter on grief, Lauren describes the Jewish tradition of praising God in the midst of grief and mourning, even and especially when you don’t feel like it. By continuing to speak truths about God’s goodness and faithfulness, we eventually come around to feeling that goodness and faithfulness again.

Today, I don’t feel like celebrating. I don’t feel like writing my annual turn-of-the-year blog post. My soul is just plain raw from being a healthcare worker in the midst of this pandemic, from the normal, everyday effects of this pandemic, from the heart-rending social unrest in our country, and from a few other significant and personal losses of 2020. And yet, my head knows God has been so good and merciful to me and my family through it all.

So I’m writing this blog today anyway.

I may not be steadfast, but my God is.

First off, my favorite reads of 2020.

Frustratingly, I fell far short of my 75 book goal for 2020. I read over 90 in 2019, so I thought 75 was modest and obtainable. But I only got around to 41. Even then, I regret that I didn’t even really like most of the ones I read. Maybe in another year I would have liked some of them better, but I doubt it. Picking up books in 2020 felt like picking chocolates out of a Whitman’s Sampler box and getting all the nasty ones.

They weren’t all bad, though. Seven stood out to me:

1. Cutting for Stones, by Verghese: This one actually made it to my all-time favorites list. Just so beautifully written and engaging and thought-provoking; even life changing.

2. The Dutch House, by Patchett: Beautiful, descriptive prose, and set in Brooklyn, NY, which I had the chance to visit on the verge of the pandemic. Loved the story. Love that city.

3. A Time For Mercy, by Grisham: Pure entertainment, consistent with his earlier and better work. Also, the return of Jake Brigance. how can you not love a book that makes you picture Matthew McConaughey as the protagonist the whole time you’re reading?

4. The Guest List, by Foley: Again, pure entertainment. A great mystery that kept me guessing. It’s rare that I find a book I can’t put down, and this was one for sure.

5. Such a Fun Age, by Reid: A solid story and enthralling plot that spoke convictingly to the societal, racial issues of today without being preachy. Loved it.

6. House Calls and Hitching Posts, by Hoover: A heartwarming read when I needed my heart to be warmed. The true stories of a doctor to the Amish that reminded me all over again why I love being a nurse.

7. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Robinson. In a year in which book sellers bombarded us with must-read books on race (many of them very angry and not even written by POC), I found this one to be at once convicting, honest, and inspiring, because it really helped me see what life is like for POC. Robinson made me feel like she was talking to me as a friend, and at the end of the day, that is the kind of language that will help heal our nation.

These seven were definitely great reads.

I’m looking forward to more and better books in 2021…

…and here is my stack of priority reads on my bedside table. Strout, Robinson, and Kingsolver are three of my all time favorite authors, not to mention inspirations behind my writing.

I am continuing to read more books on race, and the parts I’ve read of Memorial Drive and I’m Still Here are really, really good so far. There are also a couple of nature books and books for research for a new novel I’m beginning to write.

This stack of books alone is good reason for me to look forward to 2021.

New book release!

What I’m most excited about is the release of THIS book in early June, 2021: 40 Days of Hope for Healthcare Heroes! I literally cried my way through writing this book of devotionals in the height of the pandemic this summer. It is a prayer and an offering to every health care worker I have ever had the privilege to work alongside, and I cannot wait until it hits the shelves! (Available for pre-order now from your favorite book seller!)

And finally, my One Word for 2021.

I enjoy the tradition of choosing a word as a sort of umbrella of conviction and inspiration for my year. For a long while I didn’t feel like I’d be able to identify one, but then RESTORE jumped out at me and I am clinging to it.

What better word for 2021, after all? The weariness is multifaceted for all of us, isn’t it? We long for restoration for our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our souls.

The best part of this word is that it just so happens to be the theme of my all-time favorite Bible verses, Joel 2:25:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm…”

Years ago I went through a dark time and planted a locust tree in our back yard as a way to remind me of this verse. Skinny and sparse at the time, it now provides shade across our entire patio, allowing us to sit outside in the heat of the summer.

The whole chapter of Joel 2 speaks to how God redeems a time that seemed irredeemable and inescapable for Israel. Not only does He redeem, he pours out His love and grace and peace out on His people on the other side of that time.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t feel right now that any part of 2020 is redeemable. Maybe you feel like the doom and gloom of it are clawing at your heels in their attempt to cling and hijack their way into the new year.

But feelings are fleeting, friends.

Our God is faithful.

He will restore and redeem and renew.

So, happy new year, dear friends!

Praying peace and RESTORATION for each of you in 2021 and beyond!

How to Survive in the COVID-19 Wilderness, via More to Life

As a front line healthcare worker, I spend my days navigating the overwhelming isolation and fear of patients in the midst of this brutal pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 was bad enough the first time around. Now with hospitals full again and re-instituting no visitation policies, patients are faced anew with fighting their diseases alone, the warmth and touch of their loved ones reduced to a one-dimensional blur on hospital issued iPads.

We haven’t even had time to recover from the spring. 

The resurgence of isolation-related blame and anger, frustration and sheer exhaustion overshadow COVID-19 itself, and no wonder. God realized as soon as He created us that we needed companionship, and He knows we need it now. He knows we need to love and to be loved, and that so much of that occurs in the presence of others. We are withering emotionally and spiritually as insidious fear and emotional emptiness slowly but steadily drain joy from our hearts—again. 

How and where can we find hope? CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at More to Life Magazine.

A tale of two cities: a nurse in the midst of COVID

It was the best of times…

…buds on trees and people walking their dogs and riding their bikes and setting groceries on the stoops of shut ins and dads playing with their kids on front lawns on sunny spring days and seamstresses sewing masks and the camaraderie of nurses and doctors and RTs and PTs and OTs and techs and social workers, best of friends bracing for all we trained and live for. 

It was the worst of times…

…numbers tripling, front lines failing, ventilator rationing, health care workers dying, jobs disappearing, shelves emptying, spirits falling, and ice rinks converting to morgues.

It was the age of wisdom…

…people listening to experts, families staying at home and washing hands and honoring others and nodding at each other from across the street in the name of humaneness and humanity as scientists hunch over lab tables and doctors trial hope and administrators shuffle beds and recycle masks and try to do no harm to their very own.

It was the age of foolishness…

…sacrificing loved ones in the name of beaches and bikinis and sex and selfishness and helplessness and saying efforts are exaggerated and overblown and it’s all a farce and all partisan and parties like 1999 with utter disregard for life.

It was the epoch of belief…

…that a Sovereign is bigger than a disease, that a Savior is in the midst of our feverish terror, that waters recede and oceans part and stones eventually roll away.

It was the epoch of incredulity…

…that our invincible selves and invincible lives and invincible stocks and bank accounts and high falutin’ stuff means absolutely nothing after all in the face of an invisible monster.

It was the season of Light…

…candles still burning on birthday cakes, stars all the brighter in still, cool nights, porch lights beacons testifying to resilience surviving behind closed doors.

It was the season of Darkness…

…masks unable to hide the wide-eyed dread health care workers feel facing patient after patient gasping for air, lungs filling with fluid, kidneys failing, hearts clinging to life, praying for miracles, all the while praying they aren’t the next ones to get the virus and end up being the ones who are turned and cleaned and suctioned and assessed and treated in vain.

It was the spring of hope…

…daffodils blooming and hyacinths cheering on the arrival of green and growing life, nature blissful in ignorance and all the while eager in its pursuit of tomorrow. 

It was the winter of despair…

…nurses wearing trash bags and patients draped and dying and families watching from screens, only watching, via (face)time as their mothers and brothers and fathers and daughters lives slip away, alone, behind impermeable (im)personal protective equipment, no one to touch them, no one to hold them, no one to tell them it’s okay to go, the rest of us will carry on. Alone. But for the nurses. Who help them leave. 

We had everything before us…

…weddings and tournaments, graduations and bar mitzvahs, play dates and class projects and concerts, baptisms and golden anniversaries and last trips to the beach, and new jobs and new homes and all the reasons to live as though the world would never end.

We had nothing before us…

…no end in sight, no cures, no answers, no end to the rising numbers of patients, no slowing of fibrillating Wall Street and rising unemployment, no toilet paper, no rice, no bread, no break.

We were all going direct to Heaven…

…at least we hoped so, the ones who lay in ICUs with unwanted tubes breathing for them, and unwanted machines replacing their kidneys, and nurses and doctors and aides and hospital workers not quitting because we don’t quit and won’t quit and we never, ever quit.

We were all going direct the other way…

…the ones who blame and shame and hoard and elbow through restrictions because they deserve to and don’t care and don’t try to understand this is not a hoax even though it feels like a great big huge one, and even though we want more than anything, in the middle of the night, to wake up and be able to laugh at what a ridiculous nightmare, what a strange and ludicrous joke the brain is playing on us because this can’t possibly be real. 

Can it?

 

*Lines in bold from the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities