On the Side: December 2020
I Love You, George Bailey
by Carol Mason Shrader
We don’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas—it is always on our must-watch list, but I am pretty sure that is because it is my favorite and so the family tries to appease me. But trust me, if schedules are too busy, and we don’t get through our entire Christmas list, this is definitely the one that doesn’t get watched.
And I get it. I am a nervous wreck through most of the movie. One bad thing after another happening to George Bailey leaving him in despair and broken. Mary, his wife, trying desperately to lift his spirits to no avail. I weep through the entire thing.
Sweet mercy, if 2020 could be described in one Christmas movie this would be the one. George had his future planned before one catastrophe after another upends his plans. (Just a silent raise of hands if you had a plan or 20 upended this year?) His life still has beauty—falling in love with Mary, their wedding, the birth of their children. And yet, the hardships are so real and in abundance that he is pushed to the brink of despair.
2020 has presented with one hard thing after another. And to be honest, nine months into this pandemic, I have been feeling a level of despair that is not my norm. The weight of the worry for my sons with Cerebral Palsy, the inability to travel to see my family, the constant stress load my husband has to carry, finally just sat right down on me last week.
In the midst of this, I needed to write. I needed to find a way to encourage you, my sisters. But I was as devoid of motivation as George Bailey was of funds to save the Building and Loan.
I mentioned my lack of inspiration in a completely unrelated phone call with my friend, Robin. And because God and His timing are perfect—even in the midst of a pandemic—she asked if I wanted her to send an email eliciting response from some of our leaders about any positives they had found during this COVID season.
And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that watching these responses pour into my inbox made me feel like George Bailey when his friends and neighbors file into his home with offerings to help him save his business. I have cried reading every single response because of course you have found beauty in this season.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4,8, NIV).
Repeatedly in your messages I read that this season of challenges was also a season of family time. Martha Nziramasanga said she has savored time at home: “The lockdown in particular, gave me slow and intentional time at home with my children and months off from the usual business of life.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Avery Wolff who had moved out of her home for a renovation and had to squeeze her entire family into their temporary dwellings when the lockdown occurred: “So, we found ourselves literally tucked away in the woods just the seven of us and it was beautiful. We could have never orchestrated it or planned it and it was such an incredibly special time. I found myself wanting to bottle it all up and treasure it forever! I kept thinking of Mary and the verse, ‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19, NIV). It was such a gift of time! I will forever be grateful.”
Many of our sisters used the season to embrace technology that could link them with friends both far and near. Maggie Kowalski said, “How often do I think of a friend and wish I could see her and talk to her? Now, I just open my Marco Polo and start talking and sharing and connecting. My friend watches my video at her most convenient time and replies in her convenience. Marco Polo brings us into each other’s lives several times a week. Strangely, I feel more in touch with friends now more than ever. I used to rely on seeing friends to keep in touch and that meant weeks without contact. COVID has forced us to use the Marco Polo app and we comment frequently how much of a blessing it is.”
Maggie’s thoughts were echoed by Sandra Gibbs. Sandra said the pandemic has allowed women who had moved from their Pittsburgh chapter to continue meeting with them: “Even though last year was our first year meeting, God created such a strong foundation between us that we have held fast to supporting and meeting together via Zoom and since we are meeting over Zoom the women that had moved still meet with us! We all have such a longing to be back studying the Word together, which is a testament to how God has worked in our group.”
And my goodness this has also been a season for new puppies, homeschool adventures and family Bible studies! Allison Charnin said, “In this season of staying at home, we have been taking fake trips to far away countries. We eat their local specialties, learn about their customs and [do] fun activities. From making schnitzel and strudel to our own Olympics, it has been fun, and we’ve made great memories.”
Shelly Haugen said she and her girls—ages 17 and 21—have taken the time to do a Bible study together: “I have grown in my trust in the Lord in insecure and uncertain times. I’ve had extra time to spend in study and prayer.”
Though there has been stress with having our husbands on the frontlines, so many commented that there was joy in having husbands using telehealth and seeing patients from home. Brooke Fermin said being able to SEE her husband during his workday was a bonus!
And suddenly, I can remember the fun painting projects my girls and I have undertaken in the last nine months, the walks around the new neighborhood and the crazy intense family game nights at our kitchen table! I am bathed in memories of building a cross out of scrap wood for our yard at Easter and planting a little victory garden for the first time ever. There have been movie nights and Netflix-binge-watching with my grad student children who should be scattered across the country. And oh my goodness, there was a Zoom surprise birthday party with my friends around the globe!
And just like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, I am awash in the abundance of God’s blessings in spite of the current stressors of the world.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).
My sisters, I am praying you are reminded of the joys you have found this year. Some of you are entering a Christmas season with a missing loved one. The pandemic has taken more from you than seems fathomable. I am so sorry. Please know, we are praying for God to cover you in His perfect peace.
Oh Heavenly Father, help us as we look back on 2020 to see the ways in which you have provided. Help us see that you have carried us in our darkest days and brought joy when we felt devoid. Help us to remember that you have overcome the world.
And Father, as this pandemic is ongoing, and our husbands remain on the frontlines, please bathe us in your sustaining grace. Fill us up so that we can pour out onto others in patience, compassion, wisdom and your discerning grace.
You are a good and merciful God. Help us when we need to be reminded.
Merry Christmas, and God bless you all!
Carol Mason Shrader lives with her pediatric orthopedic surgeon hubby in Wilmington, Delaware where their home is currently overflowing with ZOOM in every corner due to their grown triplets home from grad school, and their high school freshman; three dogs; two Christmas trees; and a dozen or so boxes of Christmas cheer including a Santa holding popcorn and a copy of It’s a Wonderful Life. Carol does in fact believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.