2021 Year In Review: God is Everywhere, Always

I write a blog post reflecting on my year every year. I have done this here in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Many years, these updates serve as a digital Christmas card. Some years these updates are a list of a ton of happy, sappy goodness in our lives. This year– life took a different turn.

In case you missed it, my dad died unexpectedly in February from Covid. This has shrouded my entire year in a fog of grief and heartache, thus making it hard to reflect on the year as a whole despite many good things happening as well. 

I’ve tried to come at this 2021 reflection a dozen times and until recently I haven’t quite known the right approach. It wasn’t until last week when I met with a wise, dear friend for coffee that a framework through which I could reminisce on all that 2021 has brought took shape. 

My friend, aptly named Mercy, was asking how I was doing coming upon the holidays and the one year mark of losing my dad. I shared with her a few of the issues I have been working through at counseling, including the trauma I still experience when I am in certain parts of my home and when I experience certain sensory details:

  • Like where I was awakened on the couch when my sister called to tell me Dad had to be rushed (back) to the hospital by ambulance, where I was standing when my brother called to tell me to come NOW that Dad was being intubated, where I was sitting when my mom called me to say that the doctors didn’t think Dad would recover from this, and where I was sitting on my bed when I told my dad goodbye over speakerphone, unconscious, in his hospital bed– all of these moments here at my house and not to mention the hundreds of other moments I spent in Chattanooga during the weeks Dad was sick and the weeks initially following his death.
  • Like when I see certain pieces of clothing from that time like the sweater I wore driving to Chattanooga the day Dad went into ICU, or the pajamas I bought when I knew I would be staying some extra days with my mom, or the coat I wore to the funeral home to help pick out arrangements that still had wadded up tissues in the pocket, or the dress and wrap I wore to my dad’s funeral and the overcoat I wore as I stood at his graveside on that chilly February afternoon. 
  • Like when I smell certain smells like the bath salts or essential oils I used at my mom’s house to try to fall asleep when my insides were literally churning with worry and sadness.
  • Like when I hear my mom’s phone ring tone that takes me back to the incredibly anxiety producing anticipation of hearing from my dad’s doctor. When Dad was in ICU my siblings and I would babysit her phone so she could get a nap or rest. When I hear her phone ring now I can feel my heart rate intensify and my blood pressure increase. 

I am thankful for my counselor who is continuing to help me process these sensory issues with trauma and memory. However, it wasn’t until my friend offered me another approach that I have begun to reconcile these moments and remember the Peace and Comfort that has been found in many moments of this terrible, beautiful year. 

Mercy simply asked me, Have you considered walking back through those memories and instead of letting fear and anxiety take over, have you asked God to lovingly show you where He was in those moments?” 

Until that moment, I had not considered this and upon further contemplation, I realized that this would be an incredibly cathartic and healing exercise. So for my 2021 end of the year reflection I want to offer up all of the places this year God has shown me where he was in my moments– the good ones and the painful ones. 

January:

We lost two other family members, but in hindsight, it was one of those funerals that would be my last hug from my dad. It would also be where I’d hear my dad speak at my aunt’s funeral and hear him speak words of trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God and his own assurance of his Eternal Hope. God was also with me in the kindness of the last text I received from my dad before he was intubated.

February:

God was with me in all of my travels back and forth to Chattanooga. I think I counted and at one point realized I was there 21/28 days that month. God kept me safe traveling, including driving in to Chattanooga under treacherous road conditions the day Dad passed away. 

God was kind to me to surround us all then (and in the months that have followed) with an INCREDIBLE group of family and friends who held us up when we couldn’t stand. God was with me that day in my bedroom when I screamed and cursed and nearly collapsed upon knowing the end was near for my Dad. He helped to comfort me through Ryan’s loving arms who held me, squeezed me tight, and let me fall into his chest and let me bury my face and tears there. He was there when we called our former pastors who prayed with us over the phone and mourned with us.

God was literally holding me as I stood in the sanctuary of my parents church, receiving guests, as it felt like my body floated above me watching the funeral from a distance, and as I took the stage to eulogize my dad on the day of his funeral. He stood beside my saying my final goodbyes when we lowered my dad’s casket into the cold, winter ground.

March: 

God has shown himself in the way he has provided care and counsel from therapy sessions with a trusted counselor. When I got back home to Fort Campbell, God has shown up through the drop in visits, the phone calls, text messages, and lunch dates with a handful of kind friends who have walked with me on this road of grief. God was beside me when our kids showed extra measures of love and grace to their grieving mama. God has granted us endurance as the many tasks my mom would begin to undertake as a new widow began to unfold.

April:

God proved faithful as I tried re-entry to church/chapel with many mixed feelings and emotions. He was and continues to be patient with me when I can’t even find the words to express my sorrow and don’t feel like there is a place in our worship service for my mourning. He has understood when I haven’t felt like going to church some weeks too.

God was cheering beside me on my dad’s birthday as literally hundreds of friends and family celebrated Dad with a fun “Donuts for Dewey” campaign. He walked with us through that day feeling buoyed by the love of others.

May:

God showed himself in the provision he made for my mom and our family with the sale of my parents’ apartments; a complex undertaking that my dad had actually set in motion last fall. God knew running these apartments was not in my mom’s wheelhouse and had a way to take that off her proverbial plate already in the works even before his death. An 18 year endeavor for my parents wrapped up with a nice, neat bow. 

June: 

God walked beside me on Father’s Day this year, my first without my dad. My first battling those conflicting emotions of loss for what is gone while living in the tension of what remains. God was also faithful to restore some joy to us all as we went on our first family vacation without Dad. We felt him there with us in some of the happy and sad moments. One such happy moment Ryan and I felt God was behind, was closing on the sale of our El Paso home that we’d owned for 10 years. Glory to God that’s off our plate now. 

July:

July was a month of intense anxiety as I feel like my grief turned a corner but still felt heavy and difficult to wield. In the moment it felt so hard to manage but in looking back, God was walking with me day by day and moment by moment. He was also there when my kids and I joined my mom at the annual Fort Myers Beach vacation with my dad’s siblings. Another time of healing and joy to be with family– together as we leaned on one another in a setting that used to involve my dad. 

August: 

God was present with me in August as Ryan and I celebrated a milestone anniversary (20 YEARS!!!) and again as I began a new job. My dad would have been the first to cheer me on in my new role at Austin Peay. God helped me to feel near to my dad when I got one of his watches with a new battery to wear and think of him. He was there on a day when I was feeling especially sad at school when a pen just like my dad used to use was left behind on my teaching podium.

September: 

I felt God’s presence in the changing of the seasons. I saw him in the trees, in the leaves, in the bright skies, and in the moments of looking up. I saw him in the clouds, out on walks by myself to process my emotions, and in all of the moments of watching my kids get into their school and sports routines. 

October:

I knew God was walking beside me in October as we were able to get away for Fall Break to take a few hikes and when our kids had some big moments/accolades at school. He reminded me that life is carrying on even when it feels sad and even when people you love are no longer with you to share in these moments. I knew I could trust him when some people I love were sick and they recovered. I was reminded that he is good when my mom, siblings, and I were all able to spend time together. It was another marker that we were moving toward healing. 

November: 

November brought Thanksgiving and with it one of the first major holidays without my Dad. The anticipation was difficult but the day was one to celebrate. The sting of missing my dad was lessened with family all being together and some healing remarks my brother made before our pre-meal prayer. My mom, brother, and sister were able to make another trip to the cemetery together. It’s difficult seeing you dad’s name and birth/death years on a headstone but God reminded me that my dad has a new body and that his spirit lives on in each of us.

December: 

As this year is winding down, it brought with it a huge milestone and celebration as Ryan reached his next Army rank and promoted to Major. God was there in those moments as he has been all along the past ten years of this military ministry journey. He is Emmanuel, God with us as we will celebrate in a few days at Christmas. 

+++++

Mercy simply asked me, Have you considered walking back through those memories and instead of letting fear and anxiety take over, have you asked God to lovingly show you where He was in those moments?” 

This year (and all the others) God has been in EVERY moment. He has met me in the stillness and quiet. He has met me in the noise and chaos. He has met me in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. He has shown himself in sermons, in quiet cups of coffee, in early mornings and late, sleepless nights. God has been present in my weeping and in my laughter. He has been with me as the seasons have changed.

God has shown up in my rest and in my restlessness. He has been near and present in the moments when I have been alone and the moments I’ve been surrounded by others. God has been at work in the hugs, snuggles, and encouragement from Ryan, Thomas, Mae, and Kate. He is in their smiles, in their jokes, in their help around the house. God has given me a husband whose strength, reasonableness, and patience has been offered when I haven’t had much of my own to rely on. He’s given me three children whose tenderness, light, and joy has been offered when mine was in short supply.

God has been present in daily phone calls and texts with my mom and siblings. He has been there through my extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, wonderful in-laws (Ron and Becky), sisters and brothers in law (Lindsey, Craig, Julie, and Chad), through their kind words, generous gestures, and their presence. God has been there through my parents’ church family who has loved us like only the family of God knows how.

God has shown up on my porch regularly with sweet deliveries of gifts. He’s been in my mailbox in cards and letters. He’s been in the details of thoughtful texts and Instagram messages from friends near and far– especially those who have shared a kind word or “How really are you?” messages. He’s been in the details of long phone calls with dear ones who have walked this same grief road who have offered listening ears, words of encouragement, and messages of hope.

He has been in the monthly meet ups for lunch with friends who are asking and helping me to wrestle with the hard questions like, “How are your feelings and your theology matching up?” God has been with me in the availability of a huge network of friends who have prayed with me, counseled me, met with me for coffee, conversations, and tears. I have not been alone for one single second of this year as God’s presence has been so felt. He has covered me, just like the song my dad used to sing at his church.

God has been present in the grace and kindness of understanding employers. He has shown up on campus and through the kindnesses of students. He’s been faithful to show up in the pages of his Word every Thursday at OCF and in the prayers for and with me from other Believers. God has been with me on long, lonely drives. He has been with me on walks in my neighborhood, in songs of worship, in sermons, and in my kitchen when I have cried. He’s spoken up in my journal and comforted me with truth and understanding.

He’s been there communing at the table with me at mealtimes. He’s walked the aisles of the supermarket with me. He’s met me in the counseling office and on errands all around town. I’ve felt his goodness and his presence in changing leaves, in the beauty of flowers, in the affection of our pets, in the flame of candles burning, in the darkness of morning rituals, in the slowing down of evening routines. He’s been there by the water, in rainbows, in sunrises and sunsets, in bird-songs, in stormy skies, at the beach, in the mountains, and in his protection and provision through tornadoes.

God has shown himself in the pages of books I’ve read, and in the characters of shows and movies I’ve watched. He’s brought me down from panic attacks and brought me up from the valley of the shadow of death. He has held me near and loved me well. He is the only reason I haven’t absolutely imploded and collapsed in absolute despair this year. He has been and continues to be the source of my strength and my hope. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and for that I am so very grateful.

He is God with us, Emmanuel. God is everywhere, always.

2 thoughts on “2021 Year In Review: God is Everywhere, Always

  1. Karen says:

    Once again you have expressed my feelings. I love you Claire and continue to pray for comfort and healing for your heart. .. and mine. ❤️

    Like

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