2020 …

How do you open a letter about 2020 and say something that hasn’t already been said a million times? It’s been a weird and wild year, at times wonderful and sometimes ridiculously hard. We’re guessing that’s been your experience too.

Visiting Powell Gardens with friends at the end of 2019. We’ll miss seeing them this Christmas.

When the year began, we had no idea what would come. Looking back now, seeing our friend David Wayne Reed’s show Goliath to start 2020 may have been a bit of preparation. His own stories are stranger/better than fiction and inspire faith that we can face what life throws at us and come out better on the other side.

But in early 2020, we were simply trying to keep up with what was life at the time. Work was busy for Jon and Kate. Ian was enjoying school and lego club, and Kate had begun helping with a winterguard program at his school in addition to volunteering as a reading mentor. Jon was wrapping up his time playing with Mr. Golden Sun and we tried to hang out with friends as much as possible.

We bought tickets at the last minute to see Pepperland by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Kansas City Ballet’s Swan Lake in February – very different from each other, but both were spectacular. At the end of the month, we hosted a house show with Little Spoon River and friends Nate Allen of Good Saint Nathaniel and Marty Hillard of Ebony Tusks. March brought the only performance of the school winterguard, which was incredibly fun for Kate to be a part of, along with Ebony Tusks and Elevator Division shows and dinners with friends.

It seemed almost excessive at the moment, but we ended up being grateful we spent a lot of time with people, music, and art we love. It turned out that we got to enjoy them all leading up to the world shutting down.

The rest of the spring is a blur. All three of us suddenly doing everything at home was rough. Jon had the impossible task of trying to guide teachers through suddenly working with special education students online. Kate’s job was busier than ever as nonprofits had to adjust all fundraising and communications efforts. After a welcome and smooth transition to a new school in the fall, Ian struggled with no longer being in person with friends and a teacher he appreciated. Two parents working full-time in jobs that needed attention didn’t often work well with a child at home who needed interaction and some assistance with distance learning.

We knew it was exhausting at the time, but are just realizing how difficult it was for each of us. And it has remained so to some extent. We’re all still at home, trying to navigate getting everything done for jobs while giving Ian what time we can. It’s better, but still not easy. And at this point, it’s how things will be for a while as jobs and school plan to keep everyone at home for now.

Our niece (Ian’s cousin) turned two this summer, and Kate’s brother and sister-in-law took some family pictures at the birthday party.

There was some breathing room over the summer as Jon had time off and was able to do a virtual summer school with Ian, but those months brought other things to wrestle with. We left our church. It was a couple of years in coming and for a range of concerns, but still heavy after being there a decade. We’ve got more questions than answers as we process events in our lives over those same years, yet we have faith and are slowly figuring out what to make of that. We saw racial and political issues in the country reach levels we’ve not experienced in our lifetime. While those things continue to push many further apart as people in power and their supporters fight to hold on to what they think they deserve, it’s brought a lot of important conversations. We’ve always talked with Ian about what we believe, how we want to live, and why. This year has made talks more detailed and frequent, especially as protests occurred near our home. Much of what has happened touches people and parts of the city we care about. We hope we can do our small part, and teach him to do his, to make this a better place.

And yet, in everything, there are reasons to be grateful. The three of us have valued a walkable neighborhood and wonderful outdoor spaces around the Kansas City area, particularly along the Missouri River. We’ve tried to support our favorite local restaurants and shops as much as we can and are glad they’re surviving so far. Occasional get-togethers with a few friends and regular visits with Jon’s dad and step-mom have been bright spots. In a search for something to do in place of soccer, Ian ended up taking a virtual ballet class and was surprised by how much he liked it. Kate’s loved seeing him try out dance and discover a new interest. Being an only child home with parents is tough, but we’re thankful for his creativity, curiosity, and love of legos as well as the technology for him to chat with friends.

School at home, never a dull moment.

We’re also very grateful for the schools we’re connected to and the thoughtfulness and immense amount of work done by leaders and staff. We already had a lot of respect for Jon’s principal and many of his co-workers and the teachers and administrators at Ian’s school, but they have been incredible throughout this year. It’s been encouraging to see them do everything they can for the kids they serve. We know 2020 has looked very different in various schools here and around the country (and the world), and we’re so thankful for where we are. Learning from home is far from ideal, but our schools are making the best of it.

As huge numbers of people go into the holiday season dealing with loss, we’re grateful we’ve been healthy and not endured the pain, suffering, and hardships forced on others. We’ve tried to be safe during the pandemic, partly out of our desire to take it seriously and do what we can to slow the spread and partly to be able to spend time with family who needs people to be careful. We’re glad we have jobs and schools that have made that possible. As insane as much of 2020 has been, we know people are facing much crazier circumstances than us and too many who’ve lost family, friends, jobs, and more. We’re praying that maybe something will start to shift and the needs of people will be more of a concern that drives action and change.

A last-minute birthday/anniversary selfie at home seems like the appropriate way to capture 2020.

We’re looking forward to Christmas. It’s a little bittersweet because we’ve not seen Kate’s parents in a year and don’t know when we will, but we’re ready for a few quiet days to fully stop and enjoy what we can and attempt to prepare for what may come next. This year we’ve gained a bit of clarity on ourselves, both good and bad, and learned we can hold some things loosely while more deeply understanding what is important and needed in our lives. We’re going into 2021 hoping to continue learning and finding the people to do it with.

In last year’s letter, we mentioned something Jon had written: “Maybe I should also, in humility, consider others more important than myself. Maybe I should try to love my neighbor as myself. It’s becoming pretty clear that love is the protest.” That thought shapes our hopes and prayers now even more than we could’ve imagined a year ago. We fail at showing love to each other and the people around us all the time, but we’re trying. And we’re praying that love takes root in hearts and our world in needed ways in the months ahead.

Wherever this finds you, whatever your 2020 looked like, we hope your Christmas is marked by peace and joy.

And we hope to see you in 2021,

The Smiths

Ian loved seeing bald eagles, swans, cranes and swirls of migrating geese at the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. We enjoyed a day with Jon’s dad and stepmom as they introduced us to this amazing spot.

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