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“Thank God it’s over,” the weary flight attendant declared, patting my shoulder as I passed her on the way to my seat. Her sentiment had the sound of finality and left no room for disagreement. I could hear similar observations echoing through the plane as I surveyed rows of unfamiliar faces made all the more anonymous by the masks now firmly ensconced in our social fabric.

Moving through airports as I made my way home on December 31, 2020, all those I encountered seemed to be limping toward midnight and 2021’s healing relief. The grim march toward the year’s end seemed dramatic and exhausting, as if our legs got more tired with each step. The travel scene only heightened my sense of collective anticipation as I moved among thousands seeking a destination. Many were just getting away: from home, from struggle, from anything to do with 2020.

Of course, nothing changed at 12:00am, January 1, 2021. The suffering of the months before did not disappear, nor have any of the remaining burdens magically lightened by virtue of the clock or calendar. The realities of our world are still there and we are still moving among them in the same skin we inhabited prior to 2021’s saving appearance.

Yet, there is power in the turn of our annual calendar. The demarcation between years represents a unique annual opportunity. The magic isn’t what it changes but what it represents: a beginning. January 1 is a starting point for whatever is next.

With the stroke of the clock’s hand, we can step toward something new and rewrite the tale that harrowed us minutes before. On some level, we get a “do over,” a chance to try again, take another approach, or reorient ourselves toward something better. The horizon in this new year looks promising and that brings hope. And hope is a powerful thing.

Intellectually, we know that nothing has changed. But spiritually, everything just changed. The clock has been reset and we have time again to pursue better. With new eyes and new hope, we can forge new habits, chase new dreams, and find new happiness on our way to something better. And we’re all thinking that almost anything is better than 2020.

Personally, I feel badly for 2020. It will forever be associated with some pretty rough waters but it wasn’t all bad. A lot can happen in 365 days and the span we call 2020 holds it all: drama, heartbreak, success, failure, life, death, progress, setback, hope, despair, and pretty much everything in between. It was a fascinating and frustrating year. It also brought its share of joy, even in the struggle.

Right now is a great time to do the thoughtful thinking that the annual calendar change brings. Look back for a few minutes and take stock: acknowledge what was lost but remember to count the blessings. Take a moment to remember what hurt, but also look for the lessons that made you stronger. Rough year or not, you survived and you grew.

Then, look forward. Whatever you concluded from 2020, orient yourself toward something far more for the new year. Aim for more love, more effort, more success, more interaction, more kindness, more determination, more optimism, more forgiveness, more peace, more learning, more sharing, more healthiness, and more hope. Write down the things that represent more and better for your life. Keep that list with you for the next 365 days and look at it every day.

Remember that the challenges remain. You will struggle in some fashion. You will still encounter loss and setback. You will find frustration and disappointment. You may experience pain and sorrow. In spite of it all, remember your More. Remember your Better. Seek them and see them through all the battles you encounter. Your best life is the one in which you find joy in the living regardless of the struggles. The joy is still there, you will just need to remind yourself.

Today, don’t thank God it’s over, thank Him that it’s just beginning.

I wish you and yours all the Peace, Joy, and Success you can possibly hope for in 2021.

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