A Harvest of Great Joy – 2021 In Review

If 2020 was sowing in famine, 2021 was reaping a harvest of great joy. But joy isn’t always what it seems. Here’s my 2021 in Review.

A harvest of great joy - 2021 in review
Me, my dog, and my beautiful daughter from earlier in the year

Can you believe another year has already come and gone? So many things have happened this year that it feels to me like it’s been one very long day.

I guess most people think that 2020 was the worst year ever – Netflix even put out a special entitled “Death to 2020“. Looking around it would seem that the same feelings may be around for many people around 2021. But for me, if last year was about sowing in famine, this year is certainly about reaping a harvest of great joy.

Joy is an interesting thing though – more on that as we go through the year.

If you’re new to the blog, I always try to do a review of the year that was, looking at global, local, and a lot of personal events as well as I reflect on the year, and hopefully give my readers a chance to do the same.

And 2021 was all over the shop. Check out some of the big things that made headlines this year that you may have forgotten about, I sure did:

  • Donald Trump had his social media accounts disabled for his perceived contribution to the Capitol Riots
  • Joe Biden is President
  • Larry King died – what a legacy!
  • Kim and Kanye got divorced after 7 years of marriage, after 30000 tabloid articles thinking this would happen at some point
  • COVID vaccines became widespread in many countries, to very mixed reactions
  • The Suez Canal was completely blocked by the ship Ever Given, throwing global trade into disarray
  • Prince Phillip passed away

Most of these seem so long ago, don’t they?

The great bane of our time has still been messing with many people’s plans in the form of COVID-19, which unfortunately has become COVID-20, COVID-21, and looks like we’re in for a round of COVID-22 as well to an extent. Beta, Delta, and Omicron were names we had drilled into our skulls several times a day 7 days a week. I must admit I called the new variant Unicron initially for a while, and hopefully Optimus and the Autobots can stop its spread (although spoilers from 1986 not Optimus lawl).

Vaccines became more widespread this year which was well received initially, followed by a slew of government mandates through the US, Europe, Asia, and here in Australia which have been much less well received. Side effects, conspiracies, and various mandates being strengthened and relaxed across the globe like a yo-yo has resulted in more instability in some ways than the previous year. Everyone’s got a pretty passionate view on this by now – I got double vaxxed and wrote more about why here (which almost got as many readers on a post earlier this year on sex scenes).

While there’s been a mixed bag of headlines, it’s been a great year for entertainment. You have Dune and Spiderman tailing out the year (both of which I haven’t seen yet and am mega keen), the capstone to the Daniel Craig Bond series, and a whole slew of games like Metroid Dread and Halo Infinite.

We were late to the party but got the sudden urge to watch all of Parks and Recreation this year. You may already know how much I love The Office as well as even shows like Space Force, and Parks and Rec was just what the doctor ordered through some of the big stressful times this year. Can’t believe I didn’t watch it earlier!

While I didn’t play anything super new this year, I got a lot of remakes and familiar entries like Spyro, Crash NSane Trilogy, Crash 4, and Sonic Colours Ultimate, as well as really fun games like Hades and a mod to an old favourite of mine in Project Raptor War Commanders for C&C Generals Zero Hour from my top 10. Now if we can just get that Chrono Cross remake… still what I consider the best game ever made.

It’s been a huge year personally as well. No doubt the biggest year of my life so far. I was initially trying to write the biggest change this year towards the end but its so all consuming it ended up factoring into every other area and that was… becoming a dad! Not just a dog dad, but now also a human dad. Our first child was born this year, a little girl with boundless personality and bright eyed wonder. Literally our harvest of great joy, but more on that as we go along.

Children’s singer Dan Warlow told us when we bumped into him in our first week as parents that having a child is like having a little meteorite hit your life, and nothing is ever the same again. He was so right. It changes and has changed everything.

When most people have asked me how it’s going, I say it’s been the best and worst thing in my life at the moment. The best because – wow, she’s amazing. Growing well, brings so much joy to others, learning something new every day, and to her, everything is amazing. The worst because broken sleep makes everything more difficult, and it’s a lot of work on the top of all the other work you’re already doing.

I learned a whole lot of parenting stuff in the months leading up and even now still learning more, absolutely saved by 10 Of My Favourite Baby Products As A New-ish Dad (So Far). It’s actually a really great time to be a parent – the entertainment is scientifically and psychologically education perfection, you can YouTube any problem, you can get essentials like formula delivered in less than half an hour (literally did that after 9pm the night we got back from hospital), what we know about nutrition and risk mitigation is so profound now, and there’s so many amazing experiences for kids to do. We took our daughter to the Christmas lights in the Brisbane CBD a few days ago and she absolutely lit up. Was a moment I will never forget.

There have already been so many more great experiences – loving her TV shows, when she started saying Mama and Dada (Dada is currently the favourite word, totally living it up while I can), standing upright (with help), bath time, the wonder she has on her face as we walk through our local reserve with all the trees and birds, seeing how well loved she is already by all our family and friends (so amazing), and undoubtedly how she truly is already the bringer of good news to so many people even before she’s learned to walk yet.

At the start of the year my wife and I took on full leadership of a life group (small group/home group/cell group/connect group) that we’d been supporting the last few years which has been really great. It’s always been a great group and what an awesome support network to be a part of – they received us as the new leaders without any hiccups or dramas and have been great supports to our new daughter as well. Everyone needs their regular support network and it’s been a true honour. I would recommend everyone finds their people because we’re not meant to be alone, and if you call yourself a person of faith but don’t believe in the faith community, I still maintain that you’re missing the point.

It’s been a real stretch being a new parent and doing this at the same time. I have run multiple types of these groups over the last 15 years but it’s never been a stretch like this before. Fortunately, the reward far outweights the stretch, and part of the harvest of great joy this year has been seeing the great growth in so many people.

I continue to get to serve in the welcome lounge at our church which is another volunteering opportunity I don’t take lightly. To help people find their fit and connection is one of the most rewarding endeavours in my life. Once again, something I’ve done in a variety of capacities for over a decade, but being a dad puts an extra… strain? on things. More on that strain later, because that’s probably true about everything.

There was also a key relationship in my life that was reconciled this year, and that’s been absolutely so great. It was always the little asterix that I would have loved to have seen fixed up even when things were great, and now they have been, it’s wonderful.

Walking The Shoreline is still going strong. It has just gone over 900,000 (!!!) visitors which is amazing. So glad that the things I write resonate with more people than I would’ve thought possible, and I love hearing from all over the world about how something you’ve read from me has struck a cord whether it was something about stopping your marriage from dying, whether or not you really want marry your best friend like you say you do, or even something nerdy like Recommending Dragon Ball GT. I’m so glad that you continue to support and enjoy what I put out, even if my posting has been a little less frequent given dad commitments (working on that!).

Our dog got super sick this year and was in hospital for 5 nights. It was really scary and has resulted in some permanent changes but she came out the other end and is still with us, running around and as spunky as ever. Very grateful for that. She’s 9 now but hoping for some more good years of joy with her around, especially with a little human sister to look out for now. You haven’t seen cute til you’ve seen our daughter and our dog interacting with each other. I love all my girls and living in my little House of Estrogen.

Our marriage has gone to a new level this year, in many ways better than its ever been. Putting in the hard work at the start especially really makes a big difference later on, because you have the foundation, the strength, and the approach for tackling all the big things that come up as the seasons change. We also have put up a little vision board for our growing family with some of the big mantras/creeds that we hold to as a couple and indeed as a family.

However, like almost every couple ever, parenthood puts a completely new pressure and spin on things.

If you know, you know – you’ve both had broken sleep, the kid/s are crying and won’t stop, the dog is also getting emotional, the stuff in the kitchen needs doing, there’s way too many people trying to come over for our energy level at the moment, big deadlines at work are looming and I need energy to do those, and how long has that rattling noise been happening?

It’s been the first time we’ve really fought or been loudly disagreeable with each other on seemingly small things, and like John Gottman points out, the number one thing that couples fight about is Nothing. Fortunately we’ve been quick to forgive and to recognise when it’s a real issue or when it’s just the lack of sleep or pure parent exhaustion, but we’ve been able to see how it can really take its toll.

I’ve quoted this one a million times this year, but Zig Ziglar was absolutely right in saying “Many marriages would be better if the husband and the wife clearly understood that they are on the same side“. Appreciate this one more than ever. If we’re too proud, we miss each other, and unfortunately it can be too easy for this to become a position for the rest of the relationship.

We heard from a counsellor friend about what happens in a lot of families is that dad will turn to his work and hobbies to avoid his feelings of neglect or the confrontation of being a new dad, and mum will turn all her energy to the baby. This leaves no space for each other.

As long as couples continue to turn towards each other rather than turning away, that makes all the difference. I was shocked as well to learn that marital satisfaction rates drop below the levels experienced by single people who are in a desperate/lonely state about it, and the number of divorces spike significantly after the first child.

Parenthood is a huge test of, well, everything. Your energy, your time, your focus, your sense of accomplishment, your finances and financial management strategies, your love for your partner, your maturity, your sexual satisfaction, your relationships with immediate and external family, your friendships, your dreams.

I can totally get why so many dads in particular struggle with it. Not saying mums don’t struggle with becoming a parent – in many ways it seems worse – but I guess because I am a dad that’s the perspective I’m experiencing. In all my readings this year, there’s definitely a lot more resources, understanding and support for new mums than for new dads, and a lot of new dads simply explode.

Fatherhood is confronting, and it’s very difficult. I’m becoming convinced that if you’re not secure in yourself, fatherhood will wipe you out. Now that I’m there, I can totally see why so many men run away and hide in their work, their career, their hobbies or being out with the boys. It requires a secure and well established man to embrace fatherhood.

The hard truth is children do way better when dad takes it head on and sticks around. The stats from absolutely any group when dad isn’t around paint how powerful the love and presence of a father is to a child and to society.

And I think of how thousands to millions of older men who have said out loud or written in their memoirs how deep their regret is for missing their children growing up. These are the years we have to get it all sorted and be there, otherwise we join the sea of regret.

A scary thought is that the last verse of the whole Old Testament is that if the hearts of the fathers refuse to turn back towards the children, the whole nation is cursed. I’d rather be a part of blessing the nation I’m in instead by sticking it out and being present and available.

There are so many great resources and examples for parents as well. We don’t have to do it alone.

I think the hardest part about being a parent is that you always have to be on. Let’s say I finish work at 4pm one day, at 4:01pm, now I’m dad, and I’m on. As soon as you’re back from wherever you were, you’re on. From sleeping, you’re on. From resting a bit, you’re on. Got a minute to catch up? Probably not, you’re on. Even with a baby who sleeps amazingly well (seriously, check out my #1 in that list of baby products), it’s still a level of tired I’ve never had before.

The best piece of advice I got on this was from Dr Justin Coulson’s 21 Days To A Happier Family. He wrote a chapter on Me vs. We Time which says it’s just easier if you just accept that being a parent means it’s always We time now and give up on your idea of Me time. He was right in saying it’s more exhausting if you’re always sitting there waiting for your “Me” time to arrive – it builds resentment, frustration, and more exhaustion. Whereas if you just accept life is just this way from now on, it’s easier – he was right, and it’s much more enjoyable too.

I guess it could be very easy to spin my focus on the reverse, honed in on how hard it all is, but rather I want to say that it’s amazing and wonderful, and also a lot of hard work. It’s not one or the other – it’s both.

And so, about 2021, I have referenced a harvest of great joy. Because in a lot of ways, after a lot of really dark times in my life, a lot of pushing through, a lot of digging deep and seeking God and going without and enduring a lot, this year has been really marked with a lot of joy.

But joy doesn’t mean blissful wonder all the time. There is a lot of wonder, but it’s mixed with exhaustion, eye fatigue, headaches, high pressure, and the continued need to work hard.

I think joy just means I am more consumed with the generous blessings in my life than I am with the cost I have to pay to find or maintain them.

The attitude of gratitude continues to be the best way to enjoy life.

Life isn’t always perfect – it’s really good right now, but it hasn’t always been, and it will be hard again no doubt. In fact if I allowed myself I could get swallowed up in life’s current challenges. But there’s just too much to be grateful for.

And that’s actually been true of every season of my life. Even when I yearned for the days in the sun, even when I’ve struggled with mental health challenges, even when facing big challenges of forgiveness or supporting friends through relationships gone wrong, God has been good to me. Where would I be if it weren’t for the generous gifts of people, community, faith, healing, help, support, love and friendship my life has been surrounded with.

I wonder if you would say that your life represents a harvest of great joy this year? Or maybe you’ve been greatly affected by COVID-19 or its flow on effects and mandates, lost loved ones, gone through loss or grief, and it’s hard to see a way out. I would encourage you that if you don’t see it yet, that you continue to sow in famine as I had to last year careerwise and in some other ways.

If you keep sowing, if you keep looking after what you’ve been given, if you keep being faithful with every opportunity that comes your way or that you go out and make, eventually you will have to experience a harvest of great joy. That’s the guaranteed, inevitable byproduct of continued sowing and serving.

It might not be today, it might not be this week, it might not be this year, but your turn is coming. Maybe it’s already here and you’ve got so much work to do to keep on top of it all that you don’t even realise you’re living in the land of your dreams.

Let’s continue to support and encourage each other on this journey as we get there.

So, there was my 2021. I’m looking forward to 2022 for a lot of reasons. There’s a lot that will probably change in the new year and I’m looking at some big decisions already in the first few months of the year. I hope you can say the same.

How was your 2021?

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