2021 – A Very Good Year

I feel like I’ve been sprinting since 2021 began, and it’s only looking back that I realize I was running a marathon this whole time. You can’t sprint a marathon.


But we all kind of have been anyway, haven’t we? It’s not just me. Whether it’s been dashing towards the ever-moving pandemic finish line or trying to keep up with the pace of this new world and our own changing personal circumstances as the result of it (tell me your life is the same as it was when the year began and I’ll show you the liar in the room), it’s been hard to keep up. Here at the end of the year, I’m not feeling so fleet-footed anymore.


(I’m moving on from this running metaphor now. I’m out of synonyms, first of all, and second of all I’m tired. We’re all tired. Let’s slow it down and talk about walking instead.)


It’s been a good year, hasn’t it? Not entirely, and maybe not even mostly. Maybe this is your worst year ever. But there have been good things, because there are always are.


Always.


I have seen people reaching deeper this year. Within themselves, within their relationships, within their faith. Calamity and uncertainty are so important. They are the test or correction we pass through to remove the fogginess and make our path clear.


A clear path is so, so important. The promise of a path is that you’ll get where you’re going, so long as you stay on it. Speed is unimportant. No need to run. Stay on the path and you’ll get there, no matter what may come.
It’s so easy to stray from the path when we are unbothered. When we walk the path with ease, we may think the way unimportant, as though it is our very footsteps that define the landscape, and not the carefully cultivated direction in which we are headed.


The mistake easily made, then, is to wander. To blaze our own trail as though any path will do so long as we are the ones who walk it. To think ourselves the source of our fortune or grace, to not recognize the already-been-there trailblazers and helping hands of friends, family, co-workers, systems, history. God.


Ever change your walk? I don’t mean “in life” or “with God,” I mean literally change the way you walk? I’ve done it consciously about 5 or 6 times, each time to temporary, embarrassing effect.


I don’t remember the specifics, but there have been a handful of times in my life when I was feel really, really full of myself. Maybe a girl I liked smiled at me or I won tickets to a concert on the radio or…I dunno. The reasons are forgotten, but I can remember these few times when I was feeling pretty cool and decided my walk should reflect that.
So, I held my head a little higher and sauntered about with a bit more… Crud, “more” nothing. I sauntered, okay? I don’t normally saunter.


And, every time I have ever done this I have tripped. I have stubbed my toe on a crack in the sidewalk, I have rolled my ankle coming off a step, I have banged by head on a low-hanging tree branch. Every time. It’s pathological.


I stopped trying to change my walk years ago because the lesson was finally learned. Well, a twofold lesson:


1. I am not cool.


2. I am not the builder of the path.


I have seen people succeed wildly by thinking the path unimportant and straying from it. That can happen. Some people can walk all cool like and not trip and fall down, but they can doom themselves just the same if they mistake the path as an inconsequential thing or something they control and then walk where they please. Success can be such a test in that way. In many ways, it’s the ultimate test.


This is why this year–this cruddy year full of disappointments, unfairness, injustice, and that dude down the street whose dog keeps crapping on your lawn–THIS year, is good. It is good to get knocked down into the dirt. To get down eye level with the path, search for it, and get back on.


This year, I think, is our opportunity for examination. For looking down at our feet and assessing where we are in relation to the path. Are we on it? Or far from it?

That’s the ultimate good all this bad can do. That, I would submit, is precisely how God works in our lives. He knocks us down sometimes to allow us to build back up properly. He hits us smack in the face with a low-hanging tree branch to help us to stumble back onto the path.


My own personal examinations this year have been difficult. I have become acutely aware in recent months of how inconsiderate I can be. How bullheaded. How unaware of what seem to me to be innocuous, unimportant moments of distraction or dismissiveness that affect those I care about and rely on most. I’m old enough now that I’ve removed a lot of guile from my being, but within all my good intentions, I have not always necessarily been intentionAL. It’s a hard lesson, and a nuanced one at that. But crucial.


So, I’m glad for 2021. It’a been a good year. And look, I know that my 2021 has been probably better than most–it’s not even in the Top 10 of my worst years–but I know from a bad year, and I can also tell you this: your best year and your worst year can be the same year.


And if not the literal best, then something adjacent to that. All this bad can work for good. It can help you stay on or get back to the path.


Think about that. Think about the math of that. Even the bad can be good? If I were the devil, that would really piss me off.

The Lack of Difference Between Patience and Faith

I’ve come to believe that patience is more than just a feature (or, as I once regarded it, a bug) of faith. It’s pretty much synonymous.

I can’t think of any past exercise of my faith that was not also a sweaty, when-will-this-be-over-and-how-has-it-only-been-60-seconds workout of my patience. Sometimes, the wait is brief. But not usually, and however long the question is the same: can we wait upon the Lord? Do we have what it takes to endure his better timing?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially this year. 2020 feels like I’m back in college. I know it’s going to end, and I know this pandemic/studying constantly thing is going to end, but it doesn’t feel like it most of the time and I’m not sure the reward at the end will be worth it.

But it was and it will be. My college degree reaped great rewards and my life settled into a groove afterwards that was never again so frenetic and busy and packed. We will all get our groove back, I’m certain of it. Even while it doesn’t always FEEL like it.

(The groove may be slightly worn and the needle might skip a bit, but that’s okay. It would be weird if we returned to an old record only to find it shiny and new. Maybe we’ll discover a new hidden track we didn’t know was there before.)

And I say all this while acknowledging that 2020 hasn’t been THAT bad for me and mine. Have we been quarantining for over 240 days thus far* in what sometimes feels like a futile and disrespected effort to do our part to minimize the effects of this virus and keep it away from ourselves and Cami? Yes. But, the upshot? Not one of us has been sick since February. Not even a sniffle.

Have we suffered disappointments, job and opportunity loss, and distance from family and friends? Yes. But, the upshot? Other opportunities have come our way (there’s the matter of a little movie I’m putting together, among other things) and we have found joy in being together in new ways. See: Erin’s amazing ability to celebrate every ten (now twenty) days.

Has there been death? Yes. And there is nothing not tragic about that. While I am grateful that we have not been personally so affected, I am saddened, just like all of you, that so many have been lost.

With the announcement of vaccines this week and a return to purple status, a little bit of light seems to be shining between the rocks of the 2020 cave-in, showing us hope and also how much of the collapse we still have to clear to make our way out. The time for patience/faith is not yet over. And that’s okay.

Every good thing I have ever received has been on a time delay. Never when I wanted it, always when I needed it. I believe all things can be for a higher purpose, even the very worst things. But only if we do not with our bitterness shut down that possibility.
I say none of this as a minimization of suffering, only as an argument in favor of faith; in favor of having the patience that we will get to that point of understanding if we so choose.

That’s my prayer: that 2020 is not a pothole to dodge on the way to the next thing, but ultimately a hard-yet-enlightening detour we can be glad we took to fully appreciate the better sights ahead.

*Minus, for me, the two weeks I spent in The Chosen set bubble of tight COVID restrictions and precautions.

How to Survive a Family During a Pandemic

It’s not just this virus. Literally anything that happens to us, good or bad, either draws us more closely together or rips us apart. A pandemic like COVID-19, of course, draws us together no matter what. We quarantine. We lockdown. We huddle together in a bubble held together by, in some cases, nothing more than proximity. The question isn’t just whether we can survive the virus, it’s whether or not we can survive each other.

Are we a family of ships passing in the night, or is there a love still there that can be rekindled by a whole lot of togetherness?

I want to make two things clear up front before I dive into this:

  1. I’m the writer in the family or you’d be hearing from my wife, Erin, right now. The following is all down to her. Her ideas, her initiatives, her glue holding us all together.
  2. All of this requires effort. I know it’s easier to be lazy during a pandemic, but that way lies madness. Family is work. Family during a pandemic is a little more work. No way around it.

Okay. Here it is. The following is what the Heasley family has been doing the past four months to survive each other during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Your mileage may vary.

CELEBRATIONS

When so many things are going wrong, you’ve got to elevate the good. We will take any excuse to celebrate. And I mean, ANY. Yes, we’ve done things like in-home celebrations of birthdays and our eldest daughter graduating from high school and an in-home prom with the help of John Krasinski, but we’ve also come up with a completely made up reason…

The pandemic itself. Starting on Day 50 and every ten days since, we’ve put together themed celebrations just to say to ourselves, “Hey, we’re doing this, we’re staying in as much as we can, we’re masking up, we’re avoiding anyone who doesn’t live in this home, and we’re doing our part. Let’s celebrate that.”

Here’s what that’s looked like so far:

Day 50 – Family Sock Hop

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Day 60 – Mocktail Night

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Day 70 – Family Fun Run

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Day 80 – 80’s Movie Festival

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Day 90 – Water Day (New trampoline with sprinklers and water balloons/guns)

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Day 100 – Service to Others and Ice Cream Sunday

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Day 110 – Blanket Fort Day

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Day 120 – Spa Day

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Day 130 – Christmas in July

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Day 140 – International Night (Trivia and food from around the world)

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Consequently, marking time during the pandemic has gone from a depressing thing to an exciting thing. Yeah, it’s a lot of work for us (again, mostly Erin), but for our kids they’re going to look back on this time as difficult, yes, but also special. Exciting, even.

I mean, everybody got presents during Christmas in July. Our kids should be LOVING this. And they do.

ONE HOUR CLEANINGS

Every day. Every day except Sunday we get together as a family and clean for one hour, at 11 AM. Four out of five of the people who live here are able to participate, which means that our house is getting four hours of cleaning every day.

Within two weeks we had cleaned literally everything in the house. Spring cleaning the likes of which we have NEVER done before. Now, it’s just upkeep. Really easy stuff. We even folded in a repaint of the bathroom over the course of a week because there’s just less to do now.

Look, my family HATES cleaning. I don’t think we even started cleaning the house in a significant way until around Day 100 because we hate it so much, but it has made a HUGE difference. We are in this space ALL THE TIME, and having it clean just FEELS good. Plus, no one gets mad at anyone else because their stuff is somewhere it shouldn’t be because know that 11 AM the next day it’ll get picked up.

Or fed to the dogs. I don’t make the rules.

ROUTINE

Speaking of doing things every day, a routine is essential for a time like this. The days can easily get away from you, you can lose track of time, and you can be so unproductive if you don’t have your routines in place. Besides the cleaning, we also get up by 9:30 AM each morning (why wake up any earlier when you don’t go anywhere?), eat dinner together as a family every night around 6 PM, read scriptures and pray together as a family at 7:45 PM, and the parents take over the TV at 8 PM. Because we paid for it.

Simple stuff, but it keeps our clocks in order and gives structure.

BREAK THE ROUTINE

If the routine is wearing you down, it’s not doing its job. Take breaks! Just the other day, Erin woke up and said “I can’t clean today.” So, we didn’t! And we didn’t the next day, either. Or the day after that (mostly because that day was Sunday). But today? We were right back on it. Breaking the routine is just as important as keeping the routine. So, break it.

But then get right back on it.

ICE CREAM

Sometimes, you need ice cream. That’s it. That’s the tip.

(But don’t overdo it.)

GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE

Don’t be in each other’s business all the time. We got both Animal Crossing and Minecraft for our Nintendo Switch for our youngest. She hasn’t seen a friend since March and it’s her major form of entertainment and socialization, sadly, but more importantly it keeps her in a private space at a time of her life when she can kind of talk your ear off.

Best way to not get on each other’s nerves? Don’t be in the same space all the time. Respect the need for privacy.

DON’T OBSESS OVER THE NEWS

The job of the news is to inform, and the most essential information is always going to be bad news. There’s a lot of bad news right now, and a lot of disagreement about what is and is not true about that bad news. You can drive yourself mad trying to sort through it all, and everyone I know who lives on a steady diet of news (TV, in particular) is pretty sure the world is going to end, like, tomorrow.

That’s not a super healthy place to be, but if that’s the place you insist on being, don’t take your family there with you. Not everyone wants to go. We talk about current events in our house, but we don’t dwell and we are conscious of who is in the room and what age they are. There’s only so much we can control, but controlling our home environment? Well, that’s all up to us.

FIND GOD

This isn’t going to resonate with everyone who reads this, but find God in all this. He is, I assure you, there. I’m not super old, but I’m not super young either. I’ve been through some stuff, and I’m telling you that even in the darkest of times–ESPECIALLY then–God is there. He cares about you. He loves you. (Yes, he’s allowing all this to happen, but that’s for a purpose that would take a whole other blog to cover (or, y’know, a movie I wrote). )

He’s in the kindness of strangers. He’s in the smile of those you pass by. He’s in the hug of a child and a meal shared. He’s on the other end of the line when you pray. I have felt tremendous comfort through all of this, and, I would argue, my wife has been tremendously inspired through all this by the Spirit of God. We are constantly, constantly looking to Him, and because of that we know peace.

And because we know peace, the Heasley family is more than just surviving each other during this forced togetherness. I daresay we love each all the more.