This post comes to us from Jessica Sherwood:

The last two mornings I’ve drunk my coffee black. An ode of sorts to the precarious circumstances I find myself in over the past few weeks. For many, black coffee is a part of a daily routine. I’m more of a dollop of agave and a splash of oat milk type of girl. But on days when I feel uncertain, a bit numb, and an overall sense of emerging sadness, I drink my coffee black. It may sound strange to some, but something about the initial flavor of sweetness and hazelnut followed by a tingle of bitterness as I swallow brings me life. It reminds me to feel the complex flavors of my own life. 

I stared down at my boyfriend Ryan’s COVID-19 test, the results POSITIVE marked in bold. For a second, I thought if I looked at it for long enough, I would come to my senses and discover it was a mistake. We had planned to go out of town for the holidays to spend time with family in St. Louis and Dallas. I had spent the last several weeks dreaming of all things Christmas: the bright lights, my aunt’s festive cocktails, my uncle’s quick witted remarks, my nephew’s never-ending energy and thirst for life, and my sister’s celebration of the season’s magic. 

After such a stressful and overwhelming season between work and school, I felt like I needed a spark of excitement and joy to get me through my last semester of law school. I was dreaming of a trip to break up the monotony of continued caution, distanced relationships, and daily sameness that left me with a sense of ongoing fatigue. 

The day after the news, I slept in late and let tears hit my pillowcase. And yet in the midst of disappointment, I felt a strange undertone of delight that took me by surprise — a sweet joy that I could spend Christmas with Ryan for the very first time. I found myself in fits of laughter over my dog’s great dismay in being forced into a Santa sweater for the whole day. I savored drawn-out conversations with Ryan on the couch with hot apple cider in our hands and candles lit around us.

As I’ve had ten-plus days now of quarantine, I’ve had time to process and reflect, as many of us have. The space gave me an opportunity to feel both my sorrow and my joy. I used to think those two emotions were always in juxtaposition to one another, but this Christmas I’ve discovered how they can co-exist. 

In many ways, 2020 has been marked with the co-existence of hope and disappointment.

In July, I was met with deep grief when one of my closest friends in the world went through a painful divorce, pushing her to uproot her life. If you met her, you would find she is stunningly beautiful, vivaciously bold, and a force to be reckoned with. She’s spent the last several months sorting through the broken pieces to create something new. 

Yet just a couple months later, I was greeted with inexpressible joy when another close friend received her citizenship in the midst of the pandemic after fighting hard for almost fifteen years and being denied several times. 

In October, I experienced a great sense of loss when my college best friend lost her father in the battle against cancer and prepared to face her first Christmas without him. 

Last month, I celebrated with my sister and brother-in-law as they launched a new socially good business, with a portion of the proceeds supporting vulnerable women and children, with a specific focus on those who are at risk to human trafficking. In one of her poems, Mary Oliver writes:

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it […] We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins […] Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

2020 has been full of sorrow, disappointment, and anxiety for many of us. We are living in a global pandemic. The overwhelming response has been, “2021 HAS TO BE BETTER.” 

Because nothing could be worse than this year, right? As outwardly optimistic as I am, I find myself relating more to pessimistic thinking in the deep recesses of my mind. The reality is, maybe 2021 won’t be any better. Are we able to sit with that reality?

In 2020, our facial expressions have been masked, but it feels as though our emotions have been masked, too. I’m afraid to express joy because it may seem insensitive to someone who is in the midst of suffering. I’m scared to show sorrow because people so greatly need optimism and hope right now. So we remain hidden, numb, and distanced. 

My hope for 2021 is to take off my mask. Maybe not literally, but I want to do so metaphorically. I desire to be present for my full array of emotions, as well as for others’ seemingly conflicting feelings of hope and disappointment. I pray we can enter 2021 not with the mantra “2021 will be better,” but with honesty, courage, and unveiled faces.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).