Hindsight 2020: Our Year in Review

Amidst all the chaos of 2020, the Shinn family has been thriving and growing. It hasn’t been the easiest year, but it’s been good.

We began the year in Reedley, Calif. Andrew was teaching in the School of Business at Fresno Pacific University and at Fresno State and working on a Doctorate at the Ecole de Management in Grenoble, France; Lisa was teaching and coaching homeschool parents for Inspire Schools; Liam and Clara were training for year-round swim; Clara and Caleb were riding horses each week; Caleb was beginning homeschool; and Joshua was attending Chapter One preschool. On January 1, we expected each of things to be true at the end of the year. December 31 has rolled around, and none of these realities persist.

2020 has seen a double transformation of both our lives and the world around us, and the two have intertwined in interesting, disappointing, and sometimes marvelous ways.

On February 19, Andrew received a job offer to join the US State Department as a Foreign Service Officer (a diplomat). He’d been in the application process since 2013 but wasn’t sure if the opportunity would ever materialize. We had about 5 weeks to be in Washington DC for training. This set off a mad scramble to tie up all our loose ends and move. His colleagues graciouslystepped in to cover the courses he was teaching, Lisa made arrangements to finish her school year remotely, and the children wound up all their activities. We left California on March 18, heading east. Halfway across the country, we received word that the job offer was on hold indefinitely because of the Corona virus. With our lives fully concluded, we decided not to turn back. We kept driving east.

Before arriving in Virginia, we connected with a colleague whose parents very graciously offered us a place to live in Winchester, VA. For the second time this year, our lives and choices were made possible by someone else’s grace.

We hunkered down in a lovely 3-story townhouse near the West Virginia border. While the world around us entered a state of suspended animation due to the pandemic, we continued to grow and thrive. Our children saw fireflies for the first time. We visited and played on Civil War battlefields. We meditated and learned how to do yoga. We played A LOT of frisbee. Though the circumstance was driven by threat and tragedy, we lived out months of hope and wonder.

The State Department eventually figured out how to onboard new employees virtually, and Andrew was sworn into service as a diplomat on May 26. The new career began, as much of our lives this year would be spent, on Zoom. After the first virtual A-100 orientation, we received our assignment to Beijing, China!

Lisa finished her job at Inspire Schools at the end of June. She’s been blessed by all her relationships there, and she was able to be a blessing to many people.

At the beginning of July, we moved to a comfortable, spacious apartment in Arlington, VA. It was our first time living in an urban high-rise and everyone adapted nicely to the change. Liam and Clara resumed year-round swim training and Andrew started Chinese language studies.

Though many things are closed due to the pandemic, we’ve had the chance to visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the National Museum of American History, the Civil War battlefields at Balls’s Bluff, Gettysburg, and Manassas, the National Arboretum, the National Zoo in Washington DC, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the settlement at Jamestown, VA and Colonial Williamsburg, VA. Williamsburg has been a special highlight this year, and we’ve returned several times with friends and on our own.

Because Andrew’s learning is done remotely, we decided to go to Boston for the month of October. We rented a house and began afternoon and weekend forays to historical sites and favorite restaurants from the years that Andrew and Lisa lived in Boston. We experienced lighthouses and fall colors, and the kids can no longer say that they’ve never been to Boston in the fall. The day before we left Boston, we enjoyed a large Halloween snowstorm.

Back in Virginia, we’re experiencing our first colder winter. Along with everything else this year, it’s a chance to grow our resilience and adaptability.

In November, Andrew passed Stage 1 of his doctoral program and received a certificate of research in management sciences. He’s decided to halt his doctoral studies, perhaps resuming at a later time.

As December winds down, we continue preparing to move to Beijing in 2021. With all the change that we’ve witnessed in 2020, we hold loosely to our vision of the future.

Andrew will be a consular officer in Beijing and anticipates moving into economic diplomacy in the future.

Lisa will be holding our family together through the move and adjustment to China.

Liam (age 14) is continuing to swim and will probably surpass Andrew in height soon. He loves to read fantasy novels and play video games. This year he’s done online writing and math classes and studied the Civil War with Clara. He loves to sleep, has got a wicked sense of humor, and is very helpful around the house.

Clara (age 12) also loves reading and video games. She’s recently discovered Jane Austin novels and really enjoys cats. She’s kept in touch with a few friends in Reedley and is making new friends in our foreign service community. She has really shown a talent for and enjoyment of writing this year. She now has a blog at www.whereclaragoes.com.

Caleb (age 6) is irrepressibly creative. His greatest joy this year has been crafting and making things. He uses anything he can get his hands on to create. He’s learning to read, and has loved The Swiss Family Robinson, which Lisa is reading to him and Joshua.

Joshua (age 4) has spent most of the year naked. The kid doesn’t like clothes, which has been just fine for this year. He has enjoyed playing (with clothes on) at the assortment of wonderful parks near our apartment in Arlington. He loves running and shouting and is displaying a quick intelligence.

Friends, we finish this year living by grace; that of both God and other people. Though we have grieved pain and loss, we’ve also experienced beauty, adventure, and connection. Each of your stories intertwines with ours, and we feel so fortunate to walk alongside you.  We don’t know what 2021 holds, but we expect that reality to persist.