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UNWRAPPING THE UNEXPECTED GIFTS OF 2020

Jaime Hlavin joins the blog once again today as we celebrate Christmas with you. Enjoy ~ John

During my freshman year in college, I took a humanities class that covered various pieces of art and music. My favorite part of that semester-long class was the time we spent studying George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Just something about it really resonated with me – I bought a CD of the entire performance for car stereo of my shiny bright, blue Dodge Neon and listened to it regularly during my commute to and from Wayne State University.

Nearly everyone has heard bits and pieces from this famous oratorio – the Hallelujah Chorus being probably the most popular. But ever since that class, I have wanted to attend a live Christmas performance of Messiah. Not just a chorus or two sung by a church choir or a scaled-down version of the instrumental concert. I wanted to sit in an ornate auditorium filled with classically trained singers and an orchestra to fully absorb the entire 3-hour performance of The. Entire. Thing.

But I just never really got around to it. I’d dropped hints it here and there over the years to my loved ones, but alas, it never came to pass.  That probably has a little something to do with that 3-hour duration I mentioned.

And life got busier. December became the absolute worst month to attempt to squeeze one more thing into. The hustle and bustle of all the Christmas “things” – church events and services, school concerts, office parties, family gatherings and year end work-related things – made the idea of adding one more thing to the calendar a little bit overwhelming.

Then 2020 happened. The entire year has been a scaled down version of everything we’ve ever known. Everything seems a little less grand this Christmas. In the simplicity of it all, I had some extra time on my hands during the day. I’m working from home now and my kids are doing remote school, so I schedule my work hours a little bit less conventionally. And I had an idea. We had spent nearly a year doing pretty much everything online, why not watch the performance of my favorite musical composition? So, one afternoon, I Googled “live performances of Handel’s Messiah” and found last year’s nearly 3-hour performance from the Sydney Opera House. I whipped up batch of hot cocoa, turned on all my Christmas lights, snuggled under a blanket and streamed the performance (loudly) to my big screen TV.

I was enthralled. And I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought to do this years ago. It took an “unprecedented” (ugh . . . I don’t ever want to use that word again) year to force me to this place. As tears streamed down my face during For Unto Us a Child is Born, I thought, “There have been little gifts given to me all along the way during 2020 and I was too blinded by what ‘wasn’t’ to see what ‘was.’”

So, I began to scroll through all the other unexpected gifts of 2020. My oldest daughter is sixteen and a junior in high school. I had been preparing myself for this year for quite a while. Kayla had big plans this year: A job. Her license. Lots of extracurriculars to bulk up “college applications.” Hours on end with her friends.

I was fully prepared for Junior Year to be the beginning of the end.

But again, 2020. I have had so much unexpected time with her. And it’s been delightful. She sneaks into my office in between her classes just to chat with me, has found endless ways to intentionally make me laugh (she understands my sense of humor better than anyone else), insists on family dinners each night (even cooking many of them herself), and likes to end her days by snuggling next to me on the couch watching our “bingeworthy” TV show of choice.

This Christmas season looks very different for us personally, as has the bulk of 2020. And my natural propensity would be to just chalk this year up as a wash and process the grief and sadness of the losses we’ve experienced. But these unexpected gifts are giving me pause. After discovering the two mentioned above, I’ve stopped to reflect on the other ways 2020 has presented our family with good things – as small and silly as some may be.

I thank God for the slowness and sacredness of this season as it has given me the opportunity to peel back the layers of raw, unpleasant emotions in order to get a glimpse of these special little blessings. Are there circumstances, opportunities or special times that have occurred this year in the midst of hardship? Has God given you unexpected gifts in 2020 that you need to reflect on this Christmas season? As the year draws to an end and you begin to process it, may I encourage you to dig deep to find these blessings. Make a list and ponder those things either alone or with someone who will celebrate with you! I know we will.

We’re rooting and praying for you! Merry Christmas!

Jaime

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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