In a year marked by COVID-19 and other worldwide struggles, we asked several staff members and regular contributors of Christianity Today to share a few things they are thankful for in 2021.
Kara Bettis, CT associate features editor
The verse that has been swirling in my head over the second half of 2021 is Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” I am grateful for the ways that I have witnessed God’s sovereignty in my life this year.
We did not plan for a lockdown, for sickness and death, or for churches and workplaces to halt in-person gatherings. But he knew. I did not plan for the upheavals—both joyous and painful, personal and communal—that I’ve experienced in 2021. But he knew.
My past year was marked by milestones: entering a new decade and graduating with a master’s degree in theology. But among those landmark events, I’m thankful for the divine in-between moments: snowy hikes, a half-dozen weddings, watching my best friend’s baby grow, gospel conversations, baptisms. Life goes on; we can only sit in the paradoxical beauty and discomfort of the already and not yet.
Matt Reynolds, CT’s books editor
In the past, when I’ve pondered the “What are you most grateful for?” question around the Thanksgiving table, I’ve sometimes found myself stumped, either because my brain freezes in the moment or because it’s tough to pick just one blessing among many. No such trouble this year. When you welcome your first child into the world, your contribution to any gratitude exercise comes pretty neatly gift-wrapped.
There’s just so much to praise God for as baby Ezra rounds the three-month mark. For starters, he’s alive, healthy, and happy, despite his parents’ stumbling and bumbling.
And speaking of those parents, they’re holding up awfully well, all things considered. Thinking back to those first few sleep-deprived days—when the prospect of juggling the rigors of childcare and the workaday world seemed daunting, to say the least—I marvel at how immeasurably brighter our outlook has gotten. Whenever I get a load of our little one wiggling around on his changing table, batting at his plastic sloth toy, or drifting off to dreamland in his whale-themed PJs, my heart swells with joy. With this particular knitting-in-the-womb project, I can’t help thinking God’s outdone himself!
Kelli B. Trujillo, CT’s projects editor
There is much I am profoundly grateful for when I look back over the past year, including the opportunity to work on CT’s special projects, the bittersweet joy of sending my oldest child off to college for the first time, and God’s sustenance of our small church plant during the challenges of the pandemic. Several rounds of quarantining at home also reminded me how thankful I am for life’s simple pleasures like good books, board games, the family dog, and laughter.
One specific thing I’m especially grateful for is the opportunity I’ve had this past year to be part of a master naturalist program through my state’s Department of Natural Resources. It’s been awesome to observe and learn deeply about a myriad of Earth’s living things, from click beetles to double-crested cormorants, from wetland Great Blue Lobelia blooms to towering tulip poplars. What an ongoing joy it is to delve into God’s Second Book. In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom his world rejoices.”
Jay Kim, CT contributor, teaching pastor at WestGate Church
I have much to be thankful for this past year, but because of the specific season I’m in, I’m especially thankful for the church leaders who’ve gone before me. In January 2022, I will be transitioning into the lead pastor role at WestGate Church in Silicon Valley. I owe everything to Christ, but I owe much to my predecessor Steve Clifford and his wife, Dana, who’ve both been my greatest allies, advocates, and cheerleaders throughout this process. I’m in awe of their generosity and humility in what has been undoubtedly a season of grief and loss. Sadly, such selflessness is rare in transitions like these. But Steve and Dana both have offered me a vision of what genuine kingdom-mindedness can look like. I hope to embody and express even a fraction of their depth and maturity in the years to come.
Hannah Anderson, CT contributor, author of Humble Roots
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8).
My husband teases me that the way to get my full, undivided attention is to put a “Manager Special” sticker on his shirt. He’s not wrong. Usually brightly colored, these tags signal a drastic price reduction on products that a store needs to sell quickly, and over the years, they’ve been a source of God’s provision for us—especially in lean times.
But God’s also used “Manager Specials” to reveal his generosity, inviting us into experiences and tastes we’d never naturally pursue. We’ve tasted cheeses from faraway places, enjoyed the beauty of overstocked bouquets, and once even sampled caviar because I couldn’t resist the 90 percent off sticker.
But here’s the thing about “Manager Specials”: You don’t get to choose what’s on offer. You have to enter the store with curiosity, flexibility, and openness; but if you do, you also might leave with unexpected goodness.
In the same way, embracing God’s unexpected provision means relinquishing a level of control over what we think should happen in our lives, trusting that he knows what we need. But by letting go of our inclination to consume God’s grace, we open ourselves to receive it. And when we do, we might find ourselves receiving not just our daily bread but our brioche, croissants, and sourdough too.
Stefani McDade, CT associate editor
I know last year was a difficult year for many, but 2021 was far worse in my own world. I felt cast adrift in many ways—personally and professionally—for much of the year. In the midst of it all, my favorite verse was the simple assurance of Jesus, who said that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” These words calmed my spirit countless times, carrying me through dark days and fitful nights. When my sick heart tasted the bitter dregs of one too many hopes deferred, the Lord’s quiet mercy held me fast. That is truly what I am most grateful for.
But there were also bright spots and mundane gifts that brought joy to our home and delight to our lives. My husband and I got a new puppy named Theodore (meaning “gift of God”)—who finally began living up to his name once he stopped peeing in our home thrice an hour! My family from Canada is staying with us for the holidays, rekindling connections that have been long-distance for most of my adult life. And in the end, I find there’s nothing like fall weather to fill my soul with gratitude for simple things, like soup and sweaters.
Ed Gilbreath, CT’s vice president of strategic partnerships
This has been a hard year. Family struggles, health challenges, and a general sense of sadness over the state of the world have made 2021 unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. The headlines are relentless—conspiracy theories, anti-Asian hatred, Haiti, hurricanes, Afghanistan, January 6, CRT. And oh yeah, that pesky pandemic with its reliable supply of arguments and deaths. Like I said, it’s been a hard year.
Yet will I give thanks.
Even amid chaos and uncertainty, I long to praise God. He has reminded me that the sadness I’m experiencing now is there only because he has planted in our souls a yearning for something better. Something eternal and whole.
“May I never forget the good things he does for me,” said the psalmist (103:2, NLT). And I choose to echo that stubborn announcement of praise. May I never forget the freedom I have to worship the God who saved me. May I never forget the gift of being Dana’s husband and DeMara and Daniel’s dad. May I never forget the blessing of working with faithful women and men at a company where I have the privilege of creating content and convening conversations designed to bring God’s church together across its glaring divides.
There’s plenty to lament in 2021, and there will no doubt be even more in 2022. But amid the sadness, I’m going to do my best to choose gratitude over fear and remember all the good things he has done for us. May we never forget.
Michelle Ami Reyes, CT contributor, vice president and cofounder of Asian American Christian Collaborative (AACC)
When I reflect on this past year, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness. The year 2021 has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever endured, and without a doubt God has preserved my life amid much pain and suffering.
From navigating the stresses of a global pandemic, to skyrocketing anti-Asian racism and the murder of six Asian women on March 16 in Atlanta, to responding to a winter storm in Austin, Texas, this past February that left our community in crisis for weeks, my bones feel weary.
Yet God has sustained me. In the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:50, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” The word of God and the testimony of his church has given me breath in my lungs and life in my spirit to keep on keeping on. This Thanksgiving I cannot forget the heartache, but I can praise God for his faithfulness and for his mercy that is new each morning in the midst of the heartache.
Russell Moore, CT’s chair of theology
In a year in which I lost my father, I am grateful that he lived double the years of his age when he was told he wouldn’t survive the night, then the week, then the year, then the decade—until he outlasted his cardiologists and no one was left to tell him that anymore. I am grateful that the man who was determined not to die until he had raised his children was able to love and be loved by his grandchildren too.
In a year in which I lost my denomination, I am grateful for all the good people there who taught me for 50 years that “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And I am thankful for grace so amazing that I still believe that.
In a year in which so many lost their loved ones to plague, I am grateful to look around the Thanksgiving table at my wife and five sons, all of whom I love and hold a little closer now.
In a year when most of us lost community, I am grateful for two groups of friends who found ways to keep together, reading Four Quartets in Nashville or discussing books and bearing each other’s burdens over Zoom.
And I am grateful, in all this and more, that Frederick Buechner was right when he wrote, “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”
Derek Rishmawy, CT contributor, campus minister at UC Irvine
The apostle Paul says it’s the will of God for us to give thanks in “all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Last Thanksgiving, I wondered if I would have another with my father. I spent part of the day in the hospital with him and my mom, as he had still not recovered from an infection after a massive spinal surgery. He’d been in the hospital for two weeks already, had two surgeries to clean the wound that week, and had a third scheduled for the next day. It was a glum day, but during the coronavirus spike, it was a miracle the nurses let me in to visit at all. And so, I thanked the Lord.
One year later, we’re planning our son Constantine’s first Thanksgiving dinner. He will be four months old, and we plan to dress him as a turkey. He’ll sit—or really, be held—at the table with my dad, after whom we named him. I am not sure which has more hair at this point, but I do know it will be a grace to see them both seated there together, each follicle on both of their heads accounted for by our heavenly Father. And I will thank the Lord again.
Michael Cosper, CT’s director of podcasting
My dad’s favorite restaurant was a hibachi grill at a strip mall near his house. When he and Mom walked in the door, the hosts greeted them by name and took them to the table where Dad’s favorite chef cooked. He’d fry rice and toss shrimp while Dad gave him a detailed rundown of the family’s news: good grades for grandkids, promotions at work, embarrassing medical details, and the antics of neurotic dogs.
We lost Dad suddenly in March, marking the year with tremendous grief. At his memorial, the chef from the hibachi grill showed up. He knew our family’s names, our kids’ names, and our stories. He told us how proud Dad was of us and how grateful he was to have known my father.
The year 2021 has been tumultuous for many, including our family. At each crossroads and challenge, I’ve wished Dad was here. But I’ve also imagined him telling stories about us at the hibachi table while a volcano made of onions shot flames toward the ceiling.
More than ever, I realize what a gift a good dad is, and for 2021, that gift—even in his absence—is the source of my deepest gratitude.
Morgan Lee, CT’s global media manager
One September morning this year, I craned my neck and attempted to take in Michelangelo’s masterpiece: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Renaissance genius completed the work in 1512, only several decades removed from Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, a tool that catalyzed widespread text literacy. Prior to that, many knew the story of salvation solely through stained glass and frescoes. But it wouldn’t have been fair to consider them illiterate.
On the contrary, many read nature—that is, they could derive meaning from an atoll’s reflection in the clouds, a wind arriving at a particular time of year, the swirl of the current in a recurring spot. In fact, making meaning from these details brought the Polynesians to Hawaii.
Much of our literacy of the natural world was supplanted first by the printed page and then by the digital one. But I’m grateful to now live in a place where many notice microclimates, learn the names of fern species, and know every Hawaiian word for rain. I’m grateful for a surfing instructor who stressed to an incredulous me that you could learn to read the ocean. I’m grateful for my new home, which was also my ancestors’. And I’m grateful that literacy can be staring at how the sunlight hits the foam and the wakes and determining if this my next wave.
Susan Mettes, CT associate editor
Each day, my toddler invites me to look at the moon, the birds, and the wawa (water). His mind gets blown by starfish and hermit crabs. I sometimes come across him sitting quietly on the floor, inspecting a flower from the garden, and then he turns to me and holds it out like a trophy. Each thing he names is like an announcement of thanksgiving.
I experienced so much upheaval in 2021 that I scored a home run on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. And I know that’s true not just for me. Our whole society is shaken. So, many of the things I thank God for this year have to do with being spared worse: a vaccine for a pandemic, fellowship in my grief, and a new home when we had to leave the old one on the other side of the world. The water running in the house again. The mail arriving after months on odyssey. That the wreck wasn’t worse.
But I realize that while these things might seem weighty, I still need—and receive—one of Job’s lessons in a sweet, soft child’s voice: Look to God’s creation for perspective. Perspective leads us disciples to give thanks to God for the things we have and not just the things we escaped. I, too, am thankful for the moon, the birds, the flowers, a baby’s laughter, the color green. These are, no matter what, very good things. And I’m thankful my attention is so often directed their way.
Jeremy Weber, CT’s global director
While I pride myself on knowing spelling, grammar, and style guides as well as any veteran journalist, I’m thankful to have a sharp new critic of my Spanish right at home: my five-year-old son. We are raising our kids bilingually, and it’s been rewarding this year to see him already correct my conjugations while bittersweet to already struggle to keep up in his chats with my wife and her Latino family. (Just don’t tell him that Octonauts and his other kids’ shows have English versions!)
I’m even more thankful for the dozens of bilingual believers worldwide who have sacrificially enabled us to turn a March 2020 pandemic experiment into a multilingual publishing initiative now with 800-plus translations across 10 languages, reaching 2.5 million readers and counting. I’ve long loved how CT circulates Christian wisdom across tribe and nation, and I feel honored to play a role in better connecting the body of Christ across tongues.
The word gracias, Spanish for “thanks,” shares a Latin root with grace in English, and “unmerited divine favor” certainly describes how our translation teams have come together and held together. Regardless of the new quirks to navigate, like French punctuation rules or Russian basenames for SEO, I’ve never felt more connected to the global church and more thankful to be part of the family of God.
Tom Lin, CT contributor, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA
After nearly two years of mostly online ministry, I’m seeing a spiritual hunger in college students as they return to campus. Over 30 percent of students are agnostic or atheist or have no spiritual belief, but many are longing for something supernatural and are carrying their spiritual hunger in plain sight. Right now, on campuses all over the country, InterVarsity campus communities are welcoming new students into groups that worship, pray, and study the Bible together.
I’m so thankful for partnerships with Cru and other campus ministries. We launched the EveryCampus movement because we sensed God leading us to mobilize volunteers to pray for a student movement to be planted at every campus in the US by 2030. It’s so good to be on this mission together!
I’m most thankful for the powerful movement of the Spirit at work on college campuses. Like many of us, students perceive that the chaos and confusion in our world are not how God intended things to be. We’re praying with deep hope and expectancy for revival on campus—a season of breakthrough in word, deed, and power that ushers in a new normal of kingdom experience and fruitfulness.
Daniel Silliman, CT’s news editor
When I joined the welcome team at my church a few weeks ago, I was told to ask Liz how to do it. Liz, a longtime member, is the best at welcoming people to our little congregation in Johnson City, Tennessee.
So I asked her for her secret, and she said, “Well, I like weird people. And the weirder they are, the more I like them.”
Then she looked me full in the face and said, “I like you.”
I’m thankful for that.
I’m thankful for a church that knows me and welcomes me and accepts weird people with the proclamation of the gospel of the One who said, “Let all who are weary come unto me.” Jesus gives us rest, and in that there is space for grace—and space for a community of faith to include a journalist who too often spends weeks and even months deep in the details of abusive Christian leaders and the corrupt systems that protect them.
The church has borne a lot of grief this year. My grief and the grief I report on for CT have taken a place alongside death, depression, and addiction. We’ve come together, carrying the burdens of broken relationships, broken bodies, and a broken world, to hear again the declaration of the truth of the Resurrection and eat the bread of life.
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body,” Paul once wrote. “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow” (2 Cor. 4:10, 15).
But you can’t say all that when someone shows up to the early service, so I hold out a bulletin and say, like Liz taught me, “I like you.”
Heather Thompson Day, host of CT podcast Viral Jesus, associate professor at Andrews University
This year, I am thankful for people. With all that we have lost through COVID-19, I’ve had to be conscious of how many incredible people I get to cherish. I am so grateful for people who help me walk through bad days and who join in my joy during good ones.
In the past year, I have had women hold me up in prayer as if it was their full-time job. I’ve watched my children wake up and read their Bibles and my husband move across the country so I can be closer to my parents. I have come to my job totally exhausted and left renewed and energized because of the students who remind me why I do what I do.
I am in awe of a God who made us to be relational beings, and this year, more than anything, I am moved by the beauty of so many different people. I am grateful for friends, both online and in person, for family, for coworkers, and for students. I am grateful for authors and speakers I don’t even know who inspire me with their words to keep going.
I am thankful for relationships. I am grateful for people.
Andrea Palpant Dilley, CT’s online managing editor
One evening several weeks ago, I opened our front door to find a total stranger holding a box of hot food. Someone from our new church had set up a meal train after hearing about our flooded basement. Dirty dishes were piling up in our sink, our kids were using a bucket for a toilet, and my husband and I were laboring night and day to pump out sewage water.
As newcomers to Wheaton, that meal—and the many that came after—dropped us deep into Christian community right when we needed it most.
The plumbing debacle, however, was only one among many pain points over the last several months. The other crises in my life have been far worse and more personal than a flooded basement. And yet I’ve never been more grateful than I am now. I’m finally doing what I should have been doing all along: giving thanks for my daily bread.
Every single day that goes by without drama is a day I thank God for. And even when trauma hits, I’m grateful then too. I know God is with me. And God’s people are with me, standing on my front porch and handing off my actual daily bread. For today or any day, that is enough.