A 2020 Carol

Magic was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of its burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourners. Society all but signed it. And Christmas was a further complication for what was already, for many, the most confusing and devastating season in a recent history. The brightly lit trees, brass band carols and clippity-clop of reindeer were a desperately long reach from the current reality. Now, just hours from the start of a new year, even the optimistic were cautious to label 2021 as ‘their year’ or ‘the best year yet’.

Just over a year ago, we all blissfully went about our festive busyness – complaining about the weather and all manor of fickle issues. We had no idea as 2020 prepared to wipe its mucus-clogged nose slowly and painstakingly across the globe.

But yet as this year unfolded there were lessons three to be taught to me. Sure there were many but it was these that stuck, you see?

Disclaimer for those who need it – Let me be clear. I’m not foreign to varying degrees in which this year has effected people. Much like the virus, 2020 affected people in completely different ways. Pushing us all and stretching us all differently. And sure, in hindsight it may all be helpful when we look back on it, but for now the pain is still so very real – in the moment. This is only my story. It’s not better or worse than others, but it’s what I learned. Though dramatised for the purposes of this world renowned blog, with over one viewer a week, the lessons and truth behind it are very real.

You see, it all came by the presence of three ghosts. And by ghosts I mean (mostly) fictitious analogies to represent the lessons I would later learn. And nothing at all like a cheap rip of Charles Dickens masterpiece – A Muppet Christmas Carol.

And so it was that early 2020 continued as a normal year, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit my region that things started to sit uneasy. I imagine like so many, it seemed almost unimaginable that a pandemic would grind the world to a standstill. There was almost curiosity for something so unexpected. In fact, if it were not for the interruption (interruption and fear), it could have been the start of an incredible adventure.

The unusual and the unknown caused many of the advisors to British authority, along with those in the written and captured media, to capitalise and portray their own fears, amplifying them to the public. The end result: a complex mesh of reality, unfounded fear and guesswork. Inevitably a lockdown was called by just about every country across the globe to help contain the spread of the virus. Sacrifices were made by many, and in an unprecedented event – the world stopped.

Simple things like a double daily dog walk became suddenly a fineable offence. Two dog walks was simply excessive, according to the newfound law. But all was not lost when my first ghostly lesson arrived on one of my daily walk. The ghost of years past. My treasured dog, the late great Dommy. Appearing in floating form, above a winters path.
“Hello old friend.” He said
“Dommy? You can fly… and talk?”
“No. I can’t do either. I’m not even Dommy. I’m a plot point to your story to bring home a point about times passed.”
“Right, gotcha.” I nodded. “Do continue, I don’t know how long we’ll keep people’s attention.”
“Hear me well. I am the ghost of 2020 past. And the years before. The lessons and and wisdom that comes from the past. It’s all good stuff but don’t despair when things change. They may, at times change for what seems like to worse. But that’s just a matter of perspective and time. You will see. Just trust. It will all be ok.”
And like that, the ghost was gone and I was left standing on the frosty overgrown grass. For the sake of story, let’s pretend that I heeded this lesson and moved on. Though in reality, the lockdown was long and the lessons were slow learned.

The months rolled on. About 97 more of them, it seemed. Not having childcare whilst running three businesses and a home was hard for my wife and I. Sure there were people worse off, but that didn’t really make our life much easier. There were some lovely social messages out there to be seen. All speaking to the value of family time and the positives of such a unique time we were a part of. But I imagine that those posts were not parents and/or the primary care givers. Don’t misunderstand me. I love my girls and my wife more than anything in the world. But there comes a time when lockdown reality wears you down somewhat. The guilt of feeling exhausted but still having to be a “perfect parent cut deep. It was about that time I was emptying the bins and another ghost of 2020 presented himself. None other than Oscar the Grouch.
“Heyyy, I’m not Oscar the Grouch. I’m Olso the Grouch. The last thing you need is a royalties lawsuit.” He greened.
“Accurate. Wouldn’t a more current children’s character better suited this ghost?”
“I’m a dated Muppet and not a lovable snowman to protect you from a Disney copyright claim. And they haven’t made LEGO Paw Patrol yet so if you’re gonna illustrate this post – you’re stuck with me.”
“Noted. Thanks. Go on. Spill your wisdom.”
“Hear me well, I am the ghost of 2020 present. Do you think that your kids will remember the bad of this year? Take a look at them. Learn from their innocence and their energy for life. They don’t care that they are locked in. They just care that you’re here with them and they get to do life with you. Just keep going. You don’t need to worry about the past or the future – right now, in the moment is all you need to give into right now. It’s ok to feel guilty for lack of energy. But know that they don’t judge you. All you can do is your best, right here – right now”.
And like that the trash can lid slammed and all that was left was extremely poorly sorted recycling. There was nothing green about it.

We did our best. We loved until we ran dry. And the lockdown did loosen. In fact, just enough to allow the virus rumours to spread in time for Christmas. But before all of that we got a breath of fresh air as childcare resumed and we were once again able to roam the streets freely without fear of police fines. But it was to be short-lived.

Sure enough, the rumours of Christmas poovid resurgence stirred fear among many and we were presented with: Lockdown 2 (tag line: let’s save Christmas). The shorter lockdown concluded but before I could hang the Christmas decorations a third and final ghost appeared. None other than 2020 PM Boris Johnson.
“Umm. Yes. Boris Johanson. Actually.”
“Legal safety?”
“Yes. No. Absolutely. Umm. Let me be…. absoLUTEly er clear. I am and alsoamNOT but definitelyam theghostof err 20 20 fUture.”
“I have SO many questions for you future Boris. What’s the ramifications of Brexit? Apparently we leave at the end of the month. Are we awesome now we’re out?”
“Ah yes. No. Well I can’t tell you that without offending half of your readers.”
“48.1 percent.”
“Yes. Yes. I digress. I must deliver the err plot point. So, letme tell YOU what I need to. You see I was a strong minded PM. AndIwon’t get into the err politics. But in times of pressure I listed to people who,” he signalled quotation marks, “knew the right thing to do.” He lowered his arms. “But, in truth, listening to voices – however legitimate they sound – can cost you. Unless you know what they say is completely true. They will dictate where you go and the future that unfolds. And let’s face it – you errrr deep down inside…. you know the voices to listen to. And the ones not to listen to. Listen to the right voices. Remember that. Oh and also, Stay Alert – Control the Virus – Save Lives.”
“Wasn’t that the one from the earlier in the year?”
“Oh right no, ah yes. I can’t keep up.”
And like that, he was gone. His ghost. The real Boris kept popping up every other day with revised restrictions and such.

The ghosts, three had come and gone. I was left with my lessons to percolate on. Truth be told I slowly began to act upon the words I had learned. Past: I stopped expecting the historic turn of events, and began to trust that everything would be ok. Present: I stopped striving to be the best parent and started being a parent that was present. Future: And I started to question the voices that spoke to me, I put them through the filter of truth as best I could.

And I prepared to write a story about the lessons. But the story hadn’t finished yet. They were but sub-lessons to the bigger revelation of 2020. One that only became fully clear in the last few weeks before New Years’ Eve.

It was just a few sleeps before the Christmas Day we had planned for, as our final hurrah in an otherwise difficult year. Suddenly – crisis. There was one final twist in the tale. Not another ghost but an SMS. A notification of an event in recent time, which left one of family potentially exposed to poovid. My heart stopped. While the chance of contagion was slim, we had no choice but to legally self-isolate our child for ten days. Dashed hopes of a wider family get together as Christmas was ripped from under us in 2020’s final attempt to brand itself as the worst year ever. What had been a strong attempt to hold myself together suddenly started to unravel. The pieces started to fall from what was still essentially a solid structure.

Before imploding in a pit of despair, our Christmas star fell from atop the tree and a shining light shone in its stead. A like a voice to the hear the light called me out.
“Ghosts and wishes, stories and illusions. You know the one that matters most.”
No words from me. I simply felt broken.
“The past, the present and the future. One thing remains constant. The lessons, all wise, are not the thing that brands 2020.”
“You see yourself as broken. You’re not alone. The country, the world feels the same. You may have lost your concept of Christmas, but many lost much more. Regardless, there is one who sees your re-assembled self. There’s beauty to come from the brokenness. No single person has broken the same way but the healer is here for each and every piece.”
“More than that, the patience and love to achieve this re-assembly comes from the same person who has remained constant throughout. If only you remember.”
“Remember how real the spiritual side is. Some call it magic, others karma. Physical reality can only go so far. And once you accept the unseen, there is one that surpasses it all. Stars point to him, the wise seek him, and the broken find their mending in him.”
The star faded. The light remained.
I’d like to say that really happened and the reality shone that quickly. But it didn’t happen that quickly, but it did come.

The light was right. My perspective had shifted to the circumstances and not the magic that was truly at work. Society all but discredits the magic I talk about and certainly no longer relies on it. But a few still do. And to those that do, there is someone that protects, heals and provides.

You don’t need to know me to know I’m not talking about the magic that comes from wands, spells and sorcery but instead the existence, presence and power of Jesus. The mention of his name offends more than 48.1% of readers but yet – He is the only constant in this story, and indeed the reality of 2020. Somewhere along the way of 2020, the realities of the days had blinded me to where my help truly comes from. There was no denying from my part as I looked back across the year, that help had not only been evident but it had been actively fighting for me.

As I look back on the times we were locked down, I see the hand of provision in times that there should have been none. Financial and physical. We never went without – even when we should have, on paper, been lost without a penny to spare. Instead we managed to pay off nearly 25% of our debts when we should have been diving further into debt.

Circumstances and anxiety should have been driven back to my depressed and sluggish state. But it didn’t. This year I became stronger and more optimistic towards the next season than I ever thought possible. My routines and results are better than any new years’ resolution could have hoped.

When I think about the relationships between my wife, negativity and fear should have driven us to depression and bitterness but instead bonded us closer and more in love than ever. Constant attachment to our kids should have made us resentful towards them but instead has opened up our hearts to them even further.

Our businesses should have folded or been unable to cope with new restrictions, but instead, taking each step at a time – they have been blessed and provided for. While they look entirely different going into 2021, they have all evolved into stable and future-proof provisions for us and our employees.

My perspective has slowly started to change towards others. My lack of patience and compassion should only have increased this year with fights over toilet rolls, incompetent government advisors and even street social distancing. But instead, for the first time ever, I’m starting to understand we are all broken and have our stories to tell.

The Christmas that I perceived to be ruined turned out to be amazing. While it wasn’t a usual one, it was full of video chats with family, the most and best food we had ever had. Presents and gifts lasted so much longer as family kindly arranged for them to be delivered, staggering them over a few days. The kids loved it, as each day there were new gifts and they had time to play and enjoy them. They didn’t even realise that they were being self-isolated.

And finally, the biggest fear that had been broadcasted across 2020 – our health. When I think about the health concerns across our region and the ‘danger’ we were at times in, we went almost the entire year completely healthy, fitter and stronger than ever going into 2021. Even the last blast from the 2020 freight train could not penetrate our family as we hid strong beneath the wings of a God far above any sickness or pandemic.

Some might argue that this is a fickle and feeble understanding of the world we live in, that all these things might have happened anyway. But to me, there are too many coincidences for it to have been anything but Jesus making a way where there wasn’t one. To those who accept the magic – it’s more real than ever. Sure this story is fictional, but the reality of the lessons are completely true and based on the experiences that came out of 2020 for me. And all the lessons and stories, facts and fiction that came of this year- there is one person that has been constant throughout. Like a foundation to a building or a spine to a body. He runs throughout it all. As I look back today, I can’t explain how we got here. I don’t know the minutia of the journey and the things He did behind the scenes but my life is and continues to be a branded trademark of His faithfulness.

And my biggest lesson of them all? Just to trust and know that Jesus is, and will always be, in control.

Though my circumstances change, Jesus’ circumstances do not. God bless us, every one. And if we let him, I believe he will

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heaven, heaven and home,
When, when Jesus is my portion,
My constant Friend is He;
Oh, oh-oh, his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watched, watched it over me.

– Hymn written 1905