When Nothing Else Could Help

Amanda Greene photo for the Bitter Southerner. Join their cause here.

Maybe 2019 wasn’t so bad after all.

There seems to be a collective sense that it’s better for us to write off the year 2019–put it in the file, put the file in the cabinet, shut the drawer, lock the thing up, turn out the lights, go home. Too much strife, too much difficulty, too much suffering.

I get it. This hasn’t been the easiest year. Aside from the general angst about the state of the world, it’s been a tough year personally. We lost my step-mother, Mary, quite unexpectedly in March. A big part of our family’s life has changed as a result. There have been dark, difficult, aching times since.

Yesterday started at the dentist’s office, continued to the tire shop (new shoes for my MDX, which cost roughly twice as much as my first car), but immediately got better when Kel and I took the kiddos to Hickory for some play time at the mall and Chuck E. Cheese. (Thanks to Mimi and Poppy for the gift cards!) We picked up a couple of things we needed and came home to an unseasonably warm afternoon. The kids played outside in the back yard, Kel worked on supper, and I sat out on the deck, the setting sun warm, the air still.

It’s easy these days to focus on the negative. Darkness can wash in and swamp us up to our knees in thick mire, and it won’t be long before your shoulders ache from hunching over to stare at it. I aspire to be an optimist, and honestly this year it felt difficult to find a steady source of cheer.

Looking over the deck railing yesterday, though, as our kids ran about, laughing, as daylight faded, it occurred to me that this year could never be a write-off. They’ve grown and accomplished too much for me to ever pass over this year as if it were a freakshow anomaly. How dare I.

Last New Year’s Day, in full anticipation of the 365 days to come, I pecked out my list of resolutions on my grandfather’s typewriter. I kept the original stuck to our upstairs fridge with a magnet, where throughout the year it peeked out at me from behind pictures, calendars, field trip reminders, and the other fridge detritus. Here at the end, I’m surprised by how well I kept up.

  • Pray deeply. I won’t linger here, but in the face of deeply sorrowful things, prayer sustained me well this year.
  • Feed the birds. I’ve written about the birds before, but this year, I took a lot of comfort in tending the little bird feeder outside the kitchen window. It’s odd how this became a sort of catharsis.
  • Make good grades. Not to brag, but I’ve kept a 4.0 in grad school. Surely this will jinx it.
  • Read books. So much of my reading time has been eaten up by work and grad school, but I’ve still gotten through a handful of good books. And the kids and I have knocked out several chapter books in our before-bedtime reading.
  • Write every week. Okay, I didn’t write here every week. I did, of course, write something every day, just not here. And there were plenty of times I wrote here but didn’t publicly share it.
  • Work crosswords. I try to do the NY Times daily Mini Crossword. And occasionally I do the Sunday (local) paper crossword. It’s good exercise.
  • Save money. Yeah, well, paying for grad school and a Grand Wagoneer impulse buy put the kibosh on that.
  • Quit Facebook. I so wish to delete my account. I’ve come so close. I didn’t quit entirely, but I did curtail my screen time on Facebook pretty dramatically.
  • Go to the mountains. This was sort of a sneaky one, because Kel and I had already started planning our trip to Colorado. I wanted something easy to check off.
  • Rest. I needed more. I didn’t quite get enough.

It helped to have these resolutions nearby throughout the year, and honestly I did better than I expected–and certainly better than I have before. It’s like that annual Google video, where they reveal the “Year in Search,” and they show you the zeitgeist reel that has you teary-eyed by the end: once you sit down and think about it, there was so much good to celebrate along the way.

If 2019 was as much of a grindstone as it often felt like, something had to sustain me throughout it all. And I feel like love did that. I have a postcard on my desk at home of an old-school marquee sign, the sort with the blinking arrow on top, with the simple inscription “LOVE LIFTED ME.” It’s from an old hymn, one that is surely familiar to you if you’ve ever stepped foot in a southern Baptist church, and it’s a good refrain for how I’ve made it through the year.

Through grief, through pain, through difficult times, the love that’s shared with me–from God, from Kelly, our children, our family, our friends, and even love shared between others, whose magnitude jumps the boundaries–has lifted me back up on my feet, tapped me on the rear, and sent me going again.

Kel stepped out on the deck last night and watched the kids with me, both of us in awe of the evening. We could feel it then–a love that drives back the looming night, or at least wraps us in a blanket till morning.

Happy New Year, friends.



Mrs. Wooten’s Wagoneer


We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet


  1. Amanda Billings

    This was so meaningful and true for so many of us. 2019 definitely had challenges, but never in my wildest dreams could a year have more positives than this one did. Living in a smaller city, in a house with my husband near family sounds like a perfect end to the year to me. Best wishes to you and yours! I’ll always remember the wisdom you’ve passed along over the years.

    • James D. Hogan

      It’s always wonderful to hear from you, Amanda! Cheers to you, and Happy 2020.

  2. Gloria Hager

    Thank you.

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