It’s the end of 2022, and I was reflecting on my very full and exciting year. Where do I begin?
Let’s start with my family. My wife is a hospice nurse who helps many people die with peace and dignity. She has a career of purpose, and I regularly try to encourage her. She recently moved to a triage role where she has a home office and helps people via phone. She works long shifts late into the night, and I try to sit in her office and talk with her when I can to help make the time go by easier. I don’t know if it really helps, but I like keeping her company. She now has a family member who got a terrible diagnosis and will be going into hospice down the road. It breaks my heart for her and her family – my family – and I am trying to support her as she walks down this brutal and painful road. Suffice it to say; I’m very proud of her.
Next, let me tell you about my three remarkable children. My youngest finished high school in 2022 and started college close to home in the Fall. She’s studying tele-production and wants to be behind the camera. Like me, she’s an artist. She’s been thriving and found a whole new group of friends whom I see on occasion and take out to eat or host in our home to watch movies. My daughter is an activist with a compassionate heart. She’s been active on Instagram about social justice, LGBTQIA+: matters, and women’s rights. Not only that, she has been to several rallies and protests (like for the women of Iran) in downtown Charlotte and even made the news playing percussion and singing a song at a rally. I’m beyond proud of her.
My middle child, my son, is a college sophomore and lives in an apartment with three of his friends. He leads worship at a church college group on Wednesday nights and plays guitar, which I taught him, so to say I’m proud is an understatement. He has a very tough academic load, but he continues to make the President’s List and excel, even in his Russian class. Next Fall, he’ll be overseas taking classes in a Russian-speaking country, so I’m just thankful to have him relatively close, just 3 hours away, and treasure the breaks and holidays when he gets to come home. My son chose to double major in International Studies and Religious Studies. Being that I was a worship major and minored in Religion, and have spent nearly three decades serving the church, I love that he chose to study something so meaningful as Religion, and I feel that his faith will be made stronger through the experience.
My oldest daughter is a senior in college and will graduate in the Spring of 2023. She’s a Bio-Chemistry major with a minor in Physics, so you know I don’t understand anything she does. I’m just cheering for her to cure cancer as she has worked in a lab the last two years and will continue to after she graduates, as she’s applying to grad schools to work on her Ph.D. She also makes the President’s List and will graduate with honors. She lives in an apartment with her best friend and has been involved in a small group and now college ministry throughout her four years away from home. She also is a musician and plays flute in the concert band at her university. She has a servant’s heart and volunteers often. She’s volunteered since high school, and I admire her. Where I resonate with her the most is that she’s very driven and ambitious. I’m wired the same way and cheer her on when she stretches herself and strives for excellence.
My gospel (good news) is that I text my three kids daily and tell them I love them and am proud of them. If I’m up early, I encourage them to have a great day. I tell them I miss them and can’t wait to see them again. No matter what, they know they are dearly loved, and I’m so proud of them. I remind them of their identity – that they’re a dearly beloved child of God. I also try to encourage my wife and surprise her with gifts to show her I was thinking of her. She’s much better at writing handwritten notes, but I know how to shop. My family is my pride and joy. I’m not perfect, but I love fiercely. I look forward to spending the rest of 2022 with them, as my kids are home on Christmas break.
Regarding the family I grew up with, my Dad died in 1997. My Mom remarried years later, and I have a kind and interesting Stepdad. We had lunch recently and shared stories of our year. I look forward to getting together with them again over the holidays and exchanging Christmas gifts. I said some kind words about my Mom in my last book and in my new book coming out next year. I thank God for their prayers for me and my family daily.
My sister’s oldest kid, my nephew, graduated high school and went to college this year. He’s the same age as my youngest child. We went to his graduation party and caught up with their family. My nephew is a Quarterback on the football team at his college, which is not too far away from where I live. He had a teammate die this year, and I checked in on him and told him I was praying for him and there for him. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, much less someone so young. Needless to say, I’m so proud of my nephew and my sister and brother-in-law for how they raised such sweet, kind, and smart kids.
My brother lives in the same city my son goes to college. Earlier this year, my wife and I visited my son and had dinner with my brother and his wife. We shared stories of growing up and laughed way too much. My brother is experiencing some rough stuff with having long Covid. It broke my heart to hear of some of what he struggles with. I continue to pray for his health and healing.
The rest of 2022 has been a blur. I run my own business, which has been very fulfilling this year. I am in the process of starting a new business and a few new initiatives. It’s a very exciting time as an entrepreneur. I also wrote my fifth book on the power of kindness, which will come out in the Spring of 2023. I can’t wait for you to read it.
We were able to give financially to some great churches, pastors, missionaries, charities, and special things like LifeBoxes, Water Mission, and St. Jude Hospital. I’ve always said that hospitality and generosity are two sides of the same coin. I was taught to be generous, and I have tried to model that for my kids. I hope they carry it forward.
I was able to be a good friend to those close to me. My best friend, for thirty years, went through a tough season being accused of something he didn’t do. I was able to support him, encourage him, remind him who he was, and pray for him. He came through his trial by fire, and I’m so happy for him.
My second-best friend is my pastor. He and his wife not only had Covid during the pandemic, but his wife has long Covid and is experiencing something like early dementia. Her brain has shrunk, and she’s not the same as pre-Covid. She had to stop driving and can’t really work anymore. With the pressures of running a church, a non-profit, and the demands of a church plant with many needy people, I try to be a fun friend to my pastor and do life-giving stuff that’s not draining.
This year we started doing Taco Tuesday. My wife works on Tuesday nights, so I and my pastor and his wife will go to their favorite Mexican restaurant, where I treat them to dinner. We take our time eating and talking for a couple of hours. Nothing church-related – no pressure or demands, just fun. Often, we will go see a movie after we eat at a nearby theater. He was there for me in a tough season, and I’m trying my best to be there for him in his tough season.
Another local friend of mine came to terms with his alcoholism this year and spent thirty days in rehab at Onsite. I’ve been to Onsite, and it’s wonderful. I highly recommend checking it out. I heard about it from Bob Goff, Donald Miller, and Carlos Whitaker. When my friend returned from Onsite, I took him to lunch and listened to his thoughts and reflections. You’ll find I break bread with a lot of people. Most of my meetings involve food. Recently, we had dinner together, and he was telling me about how he goes to AA meetings every morning, and his sponsor has been sober for 38 years. I said that’s incredible! We get together regularly and talk about our families and dream up business ideas together. He’s a great business owner.
My pastor and my local business owner friend are both Republicans and voted for Trump. So did most of the family I grew up with – and that’s okay. I’m not a Republican and don’t like Trump. My in-laws are Democrats. I get along with both sides of my family. I will not burn a bridge or ruin a relationship over politics. When I get together with my friends or family, we simply talk about everything and anything besides politics. They know where I stand. I don’t need to bring it up.
The part of 2022 that nobody sees is what’s special to me. We love to host and have had several house guests in this season of empty nesting. We had two gay friends stay with us – one for a weekend and one for two months. They are dear friends, and it was a pleasure to host them.
We also had a homeless man stay with us for six months. He was the third recovering addict to live with my family for multiple months. Most of his stay was when my youngest daughter was still in high school. It was a challenging season and didn’t end as well as the previous two people to live with my family did, but we know God saw that we sincerely gave the man everything and tried to help him get on his feet. We wish him well as he lives in a different state now.
Some other special memories of 2022 were having my transgender nieces stay with us in our home – one for a weekend and one for two weeks. They are beautiful souls who have been in my life for a long time. I love them and love spending time with them and seeing them grow up.
Another special memory was when my youngest daughter brought one of her best friends by one day, who is a transgender man. It was his birthday, and I asked him if he was doing anything special with his parents to celebrate. He said, “No, we don’t have any plans.” I said, “We can’t have that. I’m taking you to dinner! Pick any place you want to go.” He asked if he could invite his twin brother to come since it was his birthday, too, and I said, “Sure. The more, the merrier.” I offered to take them to my favorite restaurant in town, but they opted for their favorite restaurant, which I was happy to oblige.
After dinner, he and his twin brother returned to our home to talk and share stories. While we were talking in the den, my wife (unbeknownst to them) baked them a birthday cake. She decorated it and put some candles on top. They were blown away. We sang “Happy Birthday” to them, and they blew out the candles and devoured the cake. They were so happy, and it made my heart so happy. They took whatever cake was left over to their home, and I was so glad we gave them the opportunity to celebrate their birthday.
Friends, as I reflect on this past year, I guess the biggest takeaway that I’ve said for years is that proximity breeds intimacy. The more you spend time with different people, the more you find you have in common with them, and you learn to love and appreciate them for who they are.
Whether it be a homeless man, a person of a different ethnicity, a gay or transgender friend, a person of a different political party, or anything you want to fill in the blank, the thing I know to be true is that they are not an issue to argue over or a subhuman being. They are a child of the Living God, and he loves them dearly. Therefore, I love them dearly as made in the image of God.
I’m not perfect in any way. I have my faults and issues and regrets. However, my family knows I love them, and they know I love people – all kinds of people. They know I don’t judge and that the gospel, the good news, is available to all. You see, I believe we need to not only preach the gospel of Jesus but “be” the gospel – the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. We should be good news to a hurting and broken world. Life is tough. We can display love and kindness and make the world a better place.
My 2022 was an incredible year, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of all that God did in my heart and life and how grateful I am for another year. I look forward with anticipation and expectation to the new year and can’t wait to see what it holds. I’m praying that God would do exceedingly more than I can ask or imagine in my and my family’s life, and I pray the same for you, my friend. Thanks for reading.
*Copyright 2022. Greg Atkinson. Written by Greg, not AI.