(warning: what began as a short reflection on 2010 became a full-fledged brain dump – continue at your own risk)

2010 was a tough year for the Rieslands.

Not tough as in somebody got really sick or someone lost their job — I realize a lot of folks had those kinds of years, and I’m definitely grateful that we didn’t have anything tragic to overcome.

And I don’t mean tough as in bad either. It really was a wonderful year. Maybe our best yet.

I just mean tough. Hard. Stressful. Exhausting.

The first half of the year found Steph trying to take care of a very active one-year-old while finishing a very difficult pregnancy. And the latter half of the year has been six months of doing just a little better than treading water — trying not to be overcome by the responsibilities of raising a 2-year-old and an infant and still living a somewhat normal life.

And also trying to do all that on one income.

And also trying to do all that without just surviving — doing our best to enjoy this season.

Let me pause at this point and clarify: I’m not complaining. Not at all.

In fact: this year has gone at least as good as we hoped it would. Seriously…

We signed up for this with our eyes wide open. Like a runner at mile 18 of a marathon: he doesn’t regret his decision to run the race. He doesn’t want to quit (except for brief moments of self-doubt). And in a weird way, he is kind of enjoying it — he knows that it won’t be long before he crosses the finish line, and the race will have been worth it — and that motivates him. But if you ask him at mile 18, “How do you feel?”

Well, he’s not likely to sing his favorite piece from The Sound of Music.

And for us, this year was very much a marathon.

My routine has been:

  • wake up between 5 and 6
  • do freelance work until 8′ish
  • (maybe) have some time to read my Bible or meet someone for breakfast
  • work an 8-hour day
  • go home and help cook dinner, feed it to our son, eat it, and clean up
  • spend as much quality time with Josiah as I can before his 8:00 bedtime
  • bathe Josiah, read him his bedtime stories, and put him to bed
  • and then I have 8:30 until I pass out to spend time with my wife and my daughter

And Steph’s has been:

  • wake up and feed Josiah (which usually a battle because he doesn’t want to eat his breakfast, he wants to play)
  • feed Kharis
  • feed herself
  • play with Josiah
  • play with Kharis
  • keep their diapers clean
  • pick up around the house
  • make lunch
  • feed Josiah
  • feed Kharis
  • feed herself
  • read Josiah bedtime stories and put him down for a nap
  • put Kharis down for a nap
  • (maybe) take an hour for herself (nap, bathe, etc)
  • then basically repeat all of the above through bedtime

And these are ‘normal’ days.

Factor in that once a week our small group will be coming over, so the house has to be clean.

And once a week we try and have a date, which means the house has to be clean (for whoever is babysitting) and details like meals and baths need to be lined up.

And then there’s making time for the grandparents, keeping the bills paid, keeping the lawn mowed and gutters cleaned, building relationships with our neighbors, finding time to cultivate our relationship with God…

Like that marathon runner, there have been plenty of days where I basically just put one foot in front of the other. Forget taking in the scenery or noticing who else is running the race. Sometimes it feels like the only goal is: don’t quit.

At this point, our fellow parents will roll their eyes and say “join the club”, and those without kiddos will roll their eyes and say “well you signed up for this”.

And to both I say: Yep! Absolutely! I would not trade any part of our life right now for anything. I love everything about it!

I love coming home to a new craft on the fridge that Steph came up with for Josiah to do that day.

I love how Kharis will jump so hard in her bouncer that she can’t stop laughing.

I love how Josiah wants to be just like me… how he would rather go buy groceries with his daddy than watch any movie or do anything else.

I love seeing 20 people in my living room discussing the latest sermon at church.

I love how my parents’ faces light up when we bring the babies around.

The sacrifice doesn’t shake a stick to the reward.

But here’s my reflection on 2010 (seriously, this is it… Kharis is about to wake up, and I’m out of time to reflect!):

I see lots of t-shirts and bumper stickers that say “Life is good”, or “Blessed”.

We live in a culture that truly believes that life is supposed to be easy and painless. And whenever something difficult or painful happens, people FREAK OUT. We look at the grass on the other side of the fence, and wonder what life would be like over there.

We spend our whole lives chasing idols that we hope will make our lives less complicated and more enjoyable.

If I could just be married to THAT person.

If I could just sleep with THAT person.

If I could just attain THAT income… drive THAT car… get an audience with THAT leader… have THAT job… if I can just make it to NEXT year… maybe that will fix things…

Then maybe I can wear the “life is good” t-shirt without being a total fraud.

But here’s the truth: life is HARD

It most definitely has its moments, but mostly, life is really, really hard. Even in the good seasons when nobody is sick or out of work or addicted to drugs (see above).

Life is hard. But God is good.

God gives me grace to be a good husband when I don’t have the energy.

God gives me the grace to play baseball with my son when all I want is a nap.

God gives me the grace to pay my bills every month.

And God has created this story we’re living in where the earth is not our home. He has gone to prepare a place for us. He will come and take us to be with Him. And a day will come when our whole existence will be wrapped up in Him, and we will be able to say, on that day, “Life is good” and it will mean the exact same thing as “God is good”… and it will be true for every single second of all eternity.

And between now and then, and forever after, God is the hero.

I’m looking forward to more restful days in 2011 (please Lord!!!!). But I know I’ll realize new ways that I need God’s grace. I know that in my future, people I love will get sick and die… I will make mistakes…. people who I love and trust will hurt me….

There will be many days when “Life is good” will be nothing but a lie.

But “God is good” never, ever will.

2011 isn’t my savior.

I already have one.

*Three quick footnotes:

1) I know that your life is hard. It’s not pop-psychology — the Bible tells me that this world is broken and so is everything in it. So next time we talk, let’s not beat around the bush. It’s not complaining – it’s reminding each other how badly we need Jesus to restore everything.

2) If you live in denial about how badly you need a Savior by constantly trying to convince yourself that “life is good”, knock it off. Denial isn’t your only solution to deal with all the broken pieces in your life. Jesus wants to take them and build a beautiful mosaic. (And He makes sure that He is ALWAYS the hero.)

3) Did you have a similar 2010? Feeling exhausted? Take heart: life is full of seasons. As a pastor at our church encouraged me: “This will probably be the only time in your whole life that you are the father of a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old. Make it count.”