Each year right after Thanksgiving, Dennis brings down all the boxes of Christmas decorations from the attic so that I can decorate the house for the holiday season. I open them up and immediately get a good look at the state of my mind when I was putting everything away 11 months earlier.
Sometimes, all the decorations are carefully stowed away, with an obvious effort to preserve our keepsakes and make things easier on myself the next time I take them out. This tells me that I was feeling calm and in control of things at the tail end of the previous year.
Other years, the decorations look like they’ve been tossed into their boxes from across the room. The Christmas tree lights are hopelessly tangled. The Santa hand towels have food stains on them. The snow globes are rolling around the bottom of the box, begging to be shattered. This indicates I was at the end of my damn rope. Care to guess what the decorations looked like when I opened the boxes this year? Let’s just say it’s a miracle any of them are still intact, and leave it at that.
Looking back, I can understand why. This time last year, Dennis’s father in California was quickly going downhill and Dennis was spending hours on the phone with doctors and therapists and hospital administrators and nursing home directors, trying to come up with solutions. On top of that, his new boss had made it very clear from day one that he was not a fan of my husband. In an effort to save his job, Dennis spent much of last year doing everything in his power to win his boss over, but nothing seemed to work. Things had gotten so bad, in fact, that every time Dennis called me from the newsroom, I’d get a knot of anxiety in my stomach, wondering if he was calling to tell me he’d been fired.
As worried as I was about Dennis losing his job, I was even more concerned about his health — The stress of fighting what felt like a losing battle and worrying about his father at the same time was taking its toll. His blood pressure had skyrocketed, and even prescription medication wasn’t helping.
At night, I prayed for Dennis’s health and for his father’s health — but I couldn’t make myself ask God to save Dennis’s job. As much as I appreciated the security of a steady paycheck, I wasn’t convinced it was worth enduring a toxic work environment and potentially serious health issues. Several times, I urged Dennis to quit, but he felt too much of a responsibility to our family to give up. And so I prayed simply that our family would be able to trust God, no matter what happened.
As most of you know, that trust was soon put to the test (and if you don’t, this will catch you up). But many have asked what’s happened since that time. Like every other reporter and anchor in town, Dennis had signed a ‘non-compete’ as part of his contract, which meant that even though he was fired, he’s had to wait six months before he could even consider taking another on-air job here in Nashville. That non-compete will expire in January. In the meantime, he’s been making videos for Rackley Roofing, a commercial roofing company with such a stellar reputation, they’ve literally never lost a customer. It has been a perfect fit for Dennis and we feel very fortunate that Curtis Sutton at Rackley Roofing reached out to Dennis after he lost his job.
Meanwhile, I decided to take advantage of Dennis’s suddenly flexible schedule and pursue travel writing in earnest. My family travel posts on this blog have done surprisingly well and I’ve loved the challenge of writing them– not to mention the trips themselves! Within a few weeks, I had several jobs lined up and we were off on a series of roadtrips. I wondered as our calendar filled up if we’d enjoy traveling together on a regular basis as much as we thought we would — Luckily, the kids have loved our adventures and we never feel closer as a family than we do when we’re on the road.
This is the Facebook version of our lives– the photos of our travels, the funny stories, the videos Dennis has produced– but while it’s all true, of course it’s not all of the truth. The last six months have been far from easy. Dennis has had to work through the feelings that come with losing a job after 23 years of employment at the same time that he processed his grief over losing his father. We’ve also had to learn how to work from home together after 15 years of Dennis going to work every day — We’re close, but being together 24/7 can sometimes be a little too close for comfort! We’re also learning to live with income uncertainty, another issue we’ve never faced before in our marriage. And of course, all of this seems minor considering the state of our nation right now. It’s a dark and divided time and I feel serious anxiety when I think about the chaos of the months to come.
Still, I’ve been reminded this year like never before of what it means to feel truly grateful — Grateful for our family, both immediate and extended. Grateful for our health. Grateful that Dennis is no longer in an unhealthy work environment and grateful he’s had time to rest and reflect and spend lots of time with all of us. I’m especially grateful for the thousands of people who have taken the time to write to Dennis and call and e-mail and stop by with cookies and wine – And I’m grateful for our travel opportunities — We’ve had too many once-in-a-lifetime experiences over the last six months to count, with more to come in the new year.
I’m choosing not to focus on the uncertainties of our situation, because, after all, nothing is certain for any of us. Instead, I’m focusing on something we didn’t have much of last year and now have in abundance:
This Christmas, our home is filled to overflowing with hope, and hope makes all the difference. I have hope now for our future, hope that we’ll have even more adventures and that Dennis will find fulfillment in whatever new career he chooses. I have hope that our children will flourish and our family will grow even closer. I even have hope for our country — hope that we as a nation will grow tired of all the hate and divisiveness and collectively choose to show love and compassion to one another in a way that we never have before.
Fueled by this hope, I am putting away our Christmas decorations with care this year. The Santa towels are clean and folded, the snowglobes are snugly wrapped in tissue paper. I can’t know what 2017 will bring, but I do know it will feel good to open these boxes next December and see evidence of my state of mind at the end of one of the most turbulent years of our lives.
Here’s to a hope-filled New Year for you, too. We are so grateful to have each one of you in our lives.