Reflections on the Year with Dan and Becky Allender

It’s become an annual tradition for Dan and Becky Allender to reflect on their year on the podcast, and today, we get to hear their personal reflections on 2023.

They discuss the loss of dear friends this year, the fragility of life, the heartache of crises happening around the world, and the impact of disappointment on some of their personal plans and dreams.

In the midst of grief, they also express gratitude for the goodness they have experienced this year.

As we listen, themes of simplicity, aging, and the awareness of life’s brevity emerge. The Allenders discuss the need for kindness and grace in facing disappointment and the importance of not succumbing to fear, leaving us with hope as we look forward to the new year.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: Well, welcome to the end of the year, and one of the things that we have done a number of years is to reflect on some of the themes and some of the particular moments that have shaped the year to be what they have been. And some of what we’re inviting you to do is to do the very same. And usually that requires two things, time and a calendar, at least from my standpoint. I don’t remember a whole lot about the year until I begin to look at day-to-day week-to-week schedule. And I have a calendar in my phone and I have a calendar written. And those became the basis for what we’re going to do today and we recommend strongly. Now, I’ll also say that Rachael and Michael, were going to be with us in this, but I have the privilege of being with my beloved wife. So welcome Becky.

Becky: Thanks, Dan. It’s good to be here

Dan: And we’ll come back to the year for you. But let me just say to the audience, the reason that Michael and Rachael are not joining is because of the presence of their complex year, including the glory of their little one Evie, and the fact that between busyness schedule and Evie just not really wanting to be quiet while we did this, we’re now just the two that will be reflecting on the year. But I also say you’re somewhat compromised. You had surgery a few weeks ago and had to be intubated in the process. And your right vocal cord

Becky: Is compromised. So I never really know when it’s going to quit working and my vowels are very difficult to say, which is hard to do at a pharmacy with the last name Allender.

Dan: You told me you said, I never knew how hard it was to say that, and I’ve never been in a position of having my vocal chords compromised, so I can’t say it quite the same way you do, but we’ll just say between a very vocal Evie and between a somewhat compromised beloved wife, we will proceed with reflection on the year. And some ways I would say that’s a good beginning. As I think about what the year held, and again, our recommendation is start with themes before you step into the particularity. Though both of us sort of surrendered a period of time to kind of going through month by month by month, but what I did was I started looking at what themes seemed to show up a lot. And for both of us, we lost two very dear friends this year to death. So all to say death and fragility have been two themes that we both have seen a lot this year. And I’m wondering what have you done as you began to reflect on your calendar?

Becky: Well, before coming over here, I looked at Facebook briefly and it’s the anniversary of Bill’s death. And so that is another dear friend that is no longer with us here. And so yeah, there’s a lot of sorrow. There is a lot of ongoing sorrow. It’s not like a friend dies and you move forward without the sorrow. And also there’s been quite a few graduates from the Indiana years, two in particular who are both younger than us, spouses, and I’ve been in conversation with the wives, but it’s really unusually sad when people younger than us start to die. And yeah, it seems like we’ve had a lot of men in our lives die that we care for.

Dan: And I think as we begin to own, as I’ve said at least a number of times on the podcast, when Len, our dear friend, died this spring and a good friend said to me, well, you are in the dying season and in our seventies, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that we are having more and more of that reality. I think when we were younger, death was always a reality, but so much in the future so that any real thought about it just felt like some degree of self-absorption and morbidity. Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a daily, weekly, or even monthly, but with three very significant deaths. And then a reminder of the day being a memorial of a dear friend who died many years ago, there is a sense of having to reckon. And as you think about that theme for both of us particularly, and we both have been in conversation with the widows, but I think you have been as a woman in more conversation, where has that taken you?

Becky: Well, I think I also had a prayer partner die, Paulette, and another prayer partner a few years ago, Beatrice. And so we’re really aware of even the friends who come to our house on their journey of trying to stay alive. We’ve put a railing on our porch and it’s quite a new thing to have to add for a railing for friends. So I feel like we’re offering care to one another in this season as well as to the widows as well as just watching these valiant widows live beautifully forever changed. But it’s a blessing and it’s also humbling to see their faith grow and their love continue to love well for others.

Dan: Yeah, I think the two things that we’ve noted, I’ve noted and you have put words to as well, is that when you’re in the presence of those who are suffering deeply, there is no comfort that will take away their grief. But there is one thing that is honoring in the presence of that grief and that is to join. And I do think all of us know that to be true, but more often than not, we want to find some way to escape the sense of horror, the sense of loss, the sense of helplessness. But the railing is a good example. We acknowledged we have friends who come into our lives and into our home who don’t bear the physical stability that they once did. And frankly, we’re not bearing the same physical dexterity and stability that we need to own the fact that a railing really would be of help to those coming in and leaving that bear the reality of age. So I mean, when you said to me we need to have some kind of railing for our friends, and then you said, and for you as well.

Becky: Yes, yes.

Dan: I was pissed. Just absolutely like I don’t need that. But there is something, and I think it is both honoring and a benefit to say there are seasons in life, and this year has been one where our frailty has opened the door to a level of honor of doing good and dependence, having to rely on one another and others that even though it is something that grinds, it also is something that frees. So it is a strange thing to say that in good ways, I do think death is an abomination. There’s no way to make it anything other than what it is, and it’s an obscenity. Yet there’s something within the ownership of the brevity of our lives that opens the door to another taste of what can be life itself.

Becky: And we continue to say this year after year, Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” And I think we might be using that every year as a pretty big part of our lives. I think we too have had an opportunity to go on a pilgrimage. And so our awareness of when we step through a threshold of our own home or someone else’s home or church, there’s a new awareness of how many more times will we have the opportunity to walk through this threshold. So I think we just have a more clear bent on heaven.

Dan: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I want you to go back to what degree your voice can hold. You said we went on a pilgrimage, we did a podcast on that with our dear friends who led this. But when you think thematically, what has opened up as a result of that notion of thresholds?

Becky: I just think the awareness, not only our days are numbered, our steps are numbered, and so the glory of a threshold, our own or the glory of the threshold going to church, there’s an intention that seems to have come as I’ve been aging with an awareness of gratitude.

Dan: Well, and to underscore, teach us to count our days, I go back to that phrase of we don’t do this naturally. Things that you do naturally you don’t need to be taught, but that which is a skill to be acquired requires some degree of discipline, teaching, the process of maturing and to actually count our days to be taught to count is in some ways being aware that as I pass through the door, a threshold, there’s a privilege of being able to enter a new world. But in that sense, you’re leaving an old world. And in that leaving of an old world, I think at least as I live, I don’t think of the privilege of getting into a car and driving to an appointment. I don’t think about the privilege of being able to take a walk. These are things we just do and come to assume that they are well… It’s just the way we live versus a gift. And I think that was one of the thematic structures we came away with from the experience of being on a pilgrimage where every new church, every new world we were experiencing, we stopped and prayed as to how to enter this new world. So I think that experience of the stopping, instead of just walking out the door, getting into the car and driving away, which I do, I’m going to still claim probably 95% of the time the presence of being able to go, wait a minute, I’m literally passing from one world to a new world. Do I take into account? Do I count my days by taking into account, I’m leaving one world, I’m entering the next. And in that loss, you’re leaving in some sense of the unknown and uncertain of entering. And that has been really helpful for me because loss has been such a significant part of what this year has held for us. But even in that, there is still an opening and a new door and a new way to engage. Now, I don’t say that lightly with regard to our dear friends who are now widows because it is a passing and the opening is one, and we have seen this, of just such heartache, such uncertainty, such fear. So it isn’t just, oh, something good is going to happen. It is that you do not know what the world ahead will ask, require and invite you to become. And yet in that there’s something very deeply. And so holding death and resurrection, I would say has been one of the, again, great themes of what this year has held.

Becky: And I think that we have the opportunity to, because of the threshold, the way we are thinking and trying to begin a new way of actually living, not just experience that we had in the summer, but that sense of slowing down and enjoying just glanced at a title of an article on the Atlantic. It talked about how social media and the internet, how people are so much afraid to waste time, cause there’s so many things to always do. And because of this surgery and because it was so, well, it’s where my throat, where you breathe, it was a very different surgery than I had expected. I’ve had broken bones and other surgeries before, but this was very different with your breath, what keeps you alive? And so I did slow down a lot. I didn’t have a choice, and part of it was I also felt better being still. And so you cared for me greatly during that time. But I haven’t forgotten the goodness of sitting and meditating on the word or meditating about all that Jesus has given us.

Dan: And so count our days isn’t just the issue of being able to go. I know it’s limited. I think that’s where I used to stop with that. But to be able to count is to reckon and in reckoning, so much of what this year has held for me is not just death, but I think another theme that I began to look at through the year was disappointment. And again, compared to what others were suffering in the world, the levels of disappointment are excruciatingly minor, but they’re real. And I think that’s an important frame for any of us. And that is as you look at the suffering in Gaza and Israel, as you look at the suffering in Ukraine, as you look at the suffering literally in Niger and around the world, it becomes so severe that it is hard to reckon with your own heartache because the extremity of crisis, of trauma, seems to minimize virtually anything that one is going through. And yet that’s what I found myself having to say. I had massive loss with regard to so many dreams of fishing. Almost every major fishing event except for one, ended up being either canceled because of global warming, the heat of the water, or because of fires in the West. And the fact was there was something to be held in the realm of being able to say, my heart may not have that many years left to fish. And to then count the days in the face of disappointment knowing that a part of me is going, oh, give it up. That is not exactly one of the great sufferings of the universe. Yet, on the other hand, then beginning to note, why is your voice so contemptuous to your own desires being disappointed? And I’d also say in the midst of being able to engage a number of trips that had to be canceled, a number of trips that we did take, that the fishing really was so much less than what it had been in the past. I started noticing in some of my diary and some of my journals, there was an anticipation that I didn’t feel as angry in the disappointment as I thought I would be.

Becky: I know, you were really, really good about it. You could use the word mature. And I was aware, and I would speak to that because it was a loss for you, but in the sense of holding death and resurrection, I think we’re just holding things more lightly and not giving God demands.

Dan: I think that is what I would look at thematically as well, to be able to say, as ages there’s less and less and less, you’re bound to. Less and less that you in one sense have the dream of 10 years from now being able to do X, Y, or Z. There’s so much more uncertainty as to how many more years. So the reality of this may be one of the last trips I ever take to fish. How will I engage the joy, the pleasure, the honor, the privilege of being able to do this with a dear friend Steve Call? How will I enjoy if this is the last? So I think there is this again, deep, deep, deep bond to the intersection of death always opens the door to loss and grief. But the promise of the resurrection always creates an anticipation. It doesn’t mean without some degree of uncertainty and anxiety or without lived reality that there is some degree of dread, but can we hold both together? And that’s what I feel like as I’ve watched you through this process where again, we just had no clue that you were going through a major surgery. And I don’t know, we’re both kind of like, I mean…

Becky: It is true. We went to the pre-op appointment. We both listened. We thought we got it, but it did become a lot more intense than we thought it was, especially when they were wheeling me into what I thought was just a short little procedure. There were 10 medical personnel in the room. I’m like, oh, I wasn’t ready for this, which probably was the best way for me to enter surgery, not realizing the depth of it. But yeah, I think there’s so much about just the discernment of this new decade and we’ll say again, we’re in our seventies. In some ways I feel like this might be our best because we have so much gratitude and we have so much awareness of there’s less ahead than there has been. And so there’s more choice, a lot more choice to be grateful, to see all the blessings that we have around us.

Dan: And the category in that, for me thematically, has been simplicity. So many things are complex in our world in terms of the privileges we have also bear certain complications. And being involved at the Seattle School, being involved with the Allender Center, there is so much joy and privilege, but also so much uncertainty, financially, personnel plans for what the future holds, knowing that we’re not going to be working full-time every day for the next 20 years, we’re in succession planning. And that bears complexity. And then being able to come back to this question of what is the most simple yes my life can offer and be in the moments that I’m in? And that has been, I think, a real gift, which you have brought me back to, I would say hundreds of times. And even with your voice being compromised some days more so than others, we’ve actually had to be much more clear about what we talk about.

Becky: Oh, that’s really true. Because the words are limited daily for me, and you’ve been hard of hearing for 15 years or so, and now I’m saying, I’m looking at you. No, you come to me instead of me going to you. So there’s something jovial about it too. But something just so true that we are caring more and more for one another ourselves and our bodies, and we want to do it without fear.

Dan: And I think that is also where watching a dear, dear friend die over the last couple of weeks, after seven, eight months of countless surgeries, medical procedures, so many emergency room entrances, so much suffering physically, and then his beautiful and brilliant wife learning things about liver cancer that obviously most of us don’t have to engage fighting on his behalf, dealing with the medical system, dealing with the failures that are inhabiting every system, yet calling forth for honor and dignity and courage, and then to go, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go through that fight for life that ended surgically and his passing after he was given a new liver. All of that to say how easy it is to give yourself over to fear or to a form of apathy, a kind of like, I don’t want to think about it. I’m going to distract myself. And I think that’s another realm of disappointment I had to face. As I began to look at the year now, I have a lot of justifications for what I would say was about a six month loss of a kind of discipline, both physically and spiritually. I’ve mentioned I think a few times that I’m in the middle of writing a book with Steve Call and you and Lisa on trauma and marriage. And it has been just a life giving process. I think for us, at least, I’ll say for me, in terms of looking and engaging both our lives and our marriage with more integrity and more joy. Yet because of my sort of hyper-focused ADD, once I get into a project like that, a lot of things go by the wayside. And some of that has been related to health, exercise, eating. There’s just been a disappointing failure to not engage the things that I know create a stable foundation for me to be able to plunge myself into the work of writing this book. And so as I began to look at other, shall we say other emblems of what the year has held, being able to go, oh, you’re really out of shape. Oh, your eating has become not just indulgent but foolish. Oh, your time together, praying less your time in the scripture together, less, I mean…

Becky: Yeah, you’ve been busy writing a book, so you can’t, things can’t go according to what they were before. That took more time.

Dan: Yes. But I think one of the things that you have been so profoundly clear about is in facing disappointment, whether it be of dreams and desires and plans, or whether it be disappointment, even in your own sense of failure, can that be engaged without contempt? And so because a lot of this book is on the role of contempt in the midst of trauma, I think that has been for both of us, a rich vein to have entered to have a better sense of how we want to live in the presence of what is undoubtedly true for most people, levels of joy, but also levels of disappointment. So what have you told me with regard to the issues of contempt and kindness?

Becky: Well, I think we have been discussing it more because you’ve been writing about it. And I think my tendency is to be pretty hard on myself.

Dan: Oh, really…

Becky: Yes. Out of hand, I think. And so you’ve called attention to it because just kind of the way I’ve lived to find fault or to grade myself with punitive letters that was a C minus or D plus. And when you, on the other hand, mirror back, no, no, you did a good job. So it’s really causing me to think, do I really want to keep living with this contempt, this hard armor on to try and be stronger and more perfect. No, not at all. So yeah, your eyes have been on me more than I expected during this writing.

Dan: Well, I think, again, one of the privileges that we have had that I don’t think most people do, and that is in attempting to help others grow, we’ve had to do the hard work of looking where we don’t grow well. And that certainly for you and I has been kind of disrupting the power of the structure of how we both survived less than ideal worlds by other-centered contempt. And both of us have a good portion of contempt for each other, for ourselves when there is perceived or actual failure and all those realities, when you begin to put them under a proverbial microscope, begin to get a lot more clear. And then I think because days are short, it’s like, dammit, no, this is not what I want. Now. Death is real, our fragility in others even more. And yet there is strangely in the face of what we both put themes to of death, disappointment, it has actually been a fabulous year.

Becky: It has been good. Yes.

Dan: Given the fact that the two major themes for both of us have been fragility, death and to some degree disappointment, what again would you say is part of the reason there has been such goodness and joy this year?

Becky: I think it’s love. I think it’s how we’ve actually loved ourselves. Even though we’re contemptuous, we’ve also given ourselves grace and one another, and we have wonderful people in our lives who we love. Many that we don’t get to see, but we love them, carry them with us, our hearts.

Dan: I think that has been where the idea of how you hold people that you’re not with, and that can be, again, our dear friends in Colorado Springs, our dear friends in Washington D.C. , people who are alive and present, you can zoom with them as we do. You can make phone calls, text, but there’s something about their absence. And I think we feel that way with regard to, even though our children are near two of them and their families still the sense that we do not see them as often as we would wish, how we hold people within us, but those who have passed, how we hold them. When I think about Mike and his death, I’ve thought about Mike in conversations, things that I have spoken to him, things that he has returned. When I think about Lynn and our sailing trips with them, I have had so many memories, comments, just laughter, tears together and the holding of people and letting their presence be with you now.

Becky: Yes, yes. It’s so true. In one of my book clubs, we read Henri Nouwen’s The Beloved, and I think there was five points in the fifth point, was that your final gift to your family and friends is your death. And just as you were saying with Mike and with Lynn, their life and their death have gifted us and has caused us to love them more in a sense.

Dan: Yeah. And I would say as a result of seeing the love of Mike and Beth through that, it has been a holy heartache and a holy horror, but also something where we go, we want nothing less than that for us. I want you to fight for life if you are diagnosed with liver cancer as you would wish for me. And so to not give into fear, to not get distracted, but to let the heartache of life actually form us to become who we want to be in whatever final days, whatever final weeks, months, years, decades, one has, I think it’s again where if you are less afraid or not afraid of death and dying, the freedom is to then live in a way that honors the inevitability of what death will bring. So I can say it has been a good year with you, my love. I long for your voice to get strong and clear, but whatever you say in the year to come and however you say it, I believe your voice on my behalf and on behalf of all those who are privileged to be in a relationship with you, will be drawn to the Jesus that you love. And in that truly, it’s been a good year, and I will say, and I look forward to a new year with you.

Becky: Me too.