An Ode to the Wins and Setbacks of 2019
If you know me, you know I love tradition and can tie sentiment to anything. But this winter, we gave up some things – traditions, expectations, rituals, shopping adventures.
This season, working to get out of student loan debt has made a tremendous impact on our lifestyle; I especially felt it this season. The way we shopped, wrapped, and participated in the whole season is changing. Has changed.
You see, the deeper we go into this journey, the more I realized it’s not about the debt. It’s about my love for “stuff.” It’s our society’s constant message: you don’t have enough and you need this to be happy. It’s the constant, tortuous game of comparison and discontentment.
We blocked out that message of comparison shouted to our society. It might sound silly, but we made a choice to have a smaller Christmas to stay in budget. What we didn’t anticipate is that by choosing to engage in smaller ways, we would actually open a wider breadth in which to celebrate and be present with others.
We would actually prove to ourselves that we can love and serve well with little; we can live big moments with little things. But, it required some sacrifice. (Albeit little things to you, but these were initially hard for me to release):
We gave up matching Christmas PJs and got matching socks instead.
We chose 1 gift for each of our people because 2 would be out of budget (even though we really wanted to do more and look ahead to the day when we can be outrageously generous).
We made coffee at home before hitting the road, instead of buying Starbucks. We packed snacks instead of hitting a drive thru.
We received and displayed Christmas cards with joy instead of sending them (I LOVE snail mail!).
We shared presents in gift exchange games, and had to learn how to agree on gifts to contribute together.
We said NO to cat stockings (even though I love them so much).
We reused the same wonky tree, whose branches are still bent from the cat’s last year and only got more out of shape this year.
We only used decorations we had from previous years; absolutely zero new decor was purchased.
We sought ethical and local gifts, and chose to be okay with the small stack under the tree.
We made a choice to look at our Christmas, and enjoy it, even though it was small.
I should rewind. This theme of minimizing and simplifying, this mantra of defying the rules of American consumerism and consumption, has really been in the works this entire year. It’s not a switch I turned on December 1. Actually, these ideas began rooting within me before we ever flipped the calendar to 2019.
But I owe it to 2019 for all she’s done to serve this desire well. All she’s taught me. This year was simple and peaceful in our home. It was calm. It was small. It was decluttered.
The biggest decision we made this year was this: to stay.
We renewed the lease on our apartment for a second year. We hosted friends for dinner, and became members at a church we’ve fallen in love with over the last year and a half. We set our alarms every morning and showed up to the same office and workshop every day. We continued praying for family and friends, students and ministries. We had monthly supper clubs with our old college friends. We set goals every month to pay down that student loan bill.
We were just… here. Nothing big or mighty, special or particularly impressive. We were here, doing the faithful and often monotonous work of living the faith in the places we’ve been called.
And it is because of our commitment to small living this year, that I can say with total confidence that what has happened this year has been from the hand of God. We’ve done next to nothing, and certainly nothing of extreme impressiveness with own hands.
The wins of 2019, y’all. Wonderful wins.
After years of endless prayers and tears, my father came to Christ. Just weeks later, I witnessed he and my mom finally exchange hands in marriage. These are gifts I’ll treasure in my heart forever; these are gifts that most kids don’t get to witness – the choice of their father to follow his Heavenly Father and their parents’ wedding. Two marriages I will never forget. But God did it. What a win.
We watched healing and restoration ripple in relationships in my life. Obstacles and hurts, frustrations and burdens that once overtook my heart were stilled. Honestly, I can’t explain it. Forgiveness and love swept through our souls in ways I can’t make up.
I set a reading goal for the first time in my life, and not only met it, but surpassed it – 25/24 books read!
Travis and I both found wonderful favor with our bosses. He received bonuses and pay raises, and my position became a full-time gig.
I wrote more than I ever have. I started and continued a book, and set up this blog. When a friend found it, she said, “Wow, you’re so consistent.” I’m no where near where I want to be, but I’m practicing and I’m getting there; that’s a win.
Travis and I dove deeper into community with a small group of friends. We began serving at our church. Transitioning to a new church home is daunting work. I say this from a believer who actually wants it, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who are skeptical of church. But our roots grow deeper every day.
I prayed more than I have in my entire Christian walk. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I did it because I knew my soul needed it. I learned new tools and practices to prayer, and they helped me tremendously. Discipline is hard, but 2019 is the year I began deciding what I want to be disciplined in- something I want to do even when I don’t want to, you know? And prayer was on the list.
Travis and I made honest, tight monthly budgets. We made some cuts and sacrifices, but also gave grace, and we doubled our student loan repayment in this second year of marriage. We are now past the halfway mark of paying down our student loan debt, and are determined to be at $0 by the end of 2020.
I shouldn’t just give you the wins; 2019 certainly had setbacks too.
Not including the condition of politics in America, Twitter explosions, and outrageous headlines, some of my every days were hard too.
I lost friendships – as in, cut out, don’t-want-to-talk-to-ya-again, completely erased from memory. And I deeply feared losing others; I missed home and people. I struggled with comparson and the heavy weight that I never meet expectations. I felt anxious when the Lord was quiet because our lives were quiet. I feared that Travis and I are rats in a wheel, doing the same things in the same places we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. I dealt with other fears. I often didn’t feel like praying or reading.
2019 handed me some difficult challenges and losses, some of which I’m still recovering from. But woven intricately in it all, and above all, in 2019 I saw the kindness of God.
I saw his faithfulness. I saw him supply more when I lacked. He set a Spirit of empowerment and joy in me, refusing to be swayed by the craziness of our culture. He began working a boldness to live… differently.
It was in the works all year. But my simple, sweet, little Tennessee Christmas was pure evidence of all this work.
He beckoned me into his quiet presence and peace, assuring me that he is at work even when I’m not. Perhaps that is why I’m seeking a simple, quiet life right now. Maybe that’s why contentment and minimalism are tiny anthems plastered over my heart – because God knows that he is enough for me. And 2019 was a launching pad; how much more I have to go.
One day, older and wiser me is going to thank this younger me that we began this process of simplifying and allowing ourselves space to be present, while unashamedly combatting consumerism and comparison.
I’m still learning how to live “weird” unapologetically, but this season – this whole year – was a big step. It was simple and calm, and I’m beginning to think that sustainable and content living is truly possible. It’s not glamorous, but it’s beautiful.
So, if you had a small Christmas too, and gave up things you wanted for better fruit, welcome to the club. If you’re walking away from 2019 feeling like you accomplished absolutely nothing of extraordinary impressiveness, I’m walking with you.
I’m still here, relishing in it too.