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The global pandemic is far from over, but a flicker of light illuminates hope.

As a dark winter settles over the United States, COVID-19 rages. Confirmed cases and deaths rise at alarming rates.

Communities are shutting back down to combat the spreading virus. Individuals and businesses teeter on the brink of economic collapse. Some politicians seem to remain obstinate while the global community continues to suffer.

It would be easy to give in to the despair we all feel. However, after an excruciating and exhausting year, maybe we can give ourselves permission to hope.

In what felt like an early holiday gift this week, pharmaceutical companies announced promising results for potential vaccines that could begin distribution within months.

With multiple vaccines now offering exceptional results, real hope may be on the horizon.

We still remain cautious because if this year has taught us anything, it is that we need to hold on to a spoonful of cynicism. But, for the first time in a long time, I’ve decided to give myself permission to hope.

With this exciting news before us, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s writings.

Corresponding with Roman Christians, Paul offered, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

These are poignant words providing honest wisdom and eternal hope.

To some degree, we have all suffered during this pandemic. Some have suffered much more than others, but the pain and despair of this year mounted for everyone. As a global community, we truly suffered through the pandemic together.

Yet, amid all this suffering, we witnessed great character producing great resolve.

From frontline medical workers to clergy ministering from afar, men and women across the world stepped up to sacrifice and serve. We owe each of them a debt of gratitude. Their commitment, determination and remarkable efforts inspired us to keep going.

While we are not out of the woods yet, there is a great reason to hope. Therefore, as Thanksgiving looms around the corner, I want to mention several people and one item I am very thankful for during this year of pandemic.

First, I am thankful for my family.

Let me begin by saying I wish this year had never unfolded as it did, but something unimaginable resulted from it.

With a national shutdown in March, my two adult sons returned home. Never in our wildest imaginations did my wife and I think we would once again have so much time as a family. The nightly dinners and conversation were truly a gift.

Second, I am thankful for my work family.

Over the summer, Baptist Center for Ethics and Baptists Today merged to create Good Faith Media. The support and encouragement I have found working alongside such a great team provided the exact outlet I needed.

It is a true honor working with such talented and skilled co-workers committed to providing the best reflections and resources at the intersection of faith and culture through an inclusive Christian lens.

Third, I am thankful for all the young moms and dads.

Your ability to juggle so many important roles inspired us all. I cannot imagine the changes this pandemic brought upon you and your households. For making it thus far, you deserve a huge round of applause and possibly an adult beverage or two.

Fourth, I am thankful to the front-line medical workers.

Doctors, nurses and first responders bore the burden of the pandemic. They worked long hours, agonized over patients and treated everyone with dignity and respect. When history books are written about this year, these brave men and women will be set apart as genuine heroes.

Fifth, I am thankful for the clergy.

As a pastor for over 20 years, I cannot imagine what my colleagues’ worlds have been like over the last nine months.

Relationships are key to ministering to congregations. So, being unable to regularly embrace congregants had to be difficult. The births, weddings and funerals missed or altered had to be heartbreaking.

To all the pastors, rabbis, imams and other clerics, thank you for loving and ministering to us. You are valued and appreciated.

Sixth, I am thankful for journalists.

As the pandemic hit the United States earlier in the year, journalists helped relay its severity. Reporters asked thoughtful and insightful questions, making certain the public stayed well informed.

Even when certain government officials downplayed the virus, journalists kept digging to discover the truth and provide helpful information to combat it. A free press remains essential in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, especially during the most difficult days.

Seventh, I am thankful for Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci often reminded us to always follow the science, delineating between fact and conjecture. When others were driven by personal ambitions, Fauci was honest with the American people, often revealing uncomfortable truths.

Was he perfect? No. Was he honest? Yes. His wisdom and resolve guided citizens during some very dark days. The United States owes a great deal to him.

Eighth, I am thankful for comedians.

There were plenty of times when crying was the appropriate response, as sickness and death abound. However, through the tears, laughter could be heard.

Comedians provided just the right amount of escapism where we could laugh and cry at the same time. No greater show demonstrated this for my family than Apple TV’s “Ted Lasso.” If you have not watched it, I highly recommend it.

Ninth, I am thankful for scientists.

While faithful prayer and public policy helped during this pandemic, scientists have been working diligently to combat the virus. As we currently stand at the brink of a breakthrough and with light at the end of the tunnel, we all need to thank a scientist today.

Tenth, and finally, I am thankful for my faith.

While I have tried to keep a positive attitude over the last nine months, there were times when I wanted to crater.

Watching the excitement of college graduation and a study abroad opportunity collapse for my boys saddened me. Listening to families suffering loss and parents struggling to make it through the week hurt. Hearing friends who lost jobs felt terrible. Learning that my grandfather, mother and father were COVID-19 positive sent me spiraling downward.

Through it all though, my faith kept me moving forward.

With Thanksgiving being different this year (please, stay home and stay safe), let’s reflect on this last year to discover points of light during very dark days. While the dark winter descends upon us, we cling to hope.

Until this week, I did not give myself permission to hope. But now, with faith and science at my side, a slight spark seems to be igniting a bright future.

For everyone reading this today, I want to thank you. I’ll be taking the next two weeks off from writing, but I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me.

However we are acquainted, I appreciate our friendship and look forward to a day when we can share the same space again. Until then, give yourself permission to hope.

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