I know that so many people have lost loved ones, their jobs, even their sanity. It has been an extremely challenging year, and I want to acknowledge people’s losses.

As a single mom, life hasn’t been easy for me either. Back inIn the challenge is the growth March, I had a root canal, something went wrong, and I had to go to three dentists as it wasn’t done properly the first time. Now it’s still hurting, and they’ve told me it’s a jaw problem! The TMJ specialist isn’t working at the moment because of COVID, so I’m living with the pain. I am also a hairdresser, and we have been closed since the second lockdown here in Melbourne, and my income has been affected.

Nevertheless, what I have come to know through daily learning is that in the challenge is the growth. It is through the difficult times that the inner work I do creates a stronger, better me. We are in this world to give and to grow. Often, it’s when we stop focusing on what we can get that we see this truth.

It’s easy to smile and be happy when life is smooth, and we need those smooth times too, but that’s not the fullness of life. I know because life has been up and down for me, and I have learned the most from my challenging times—and 2020 has certainly brought its fair share of challenges.

So first I like to think of what I need to be grateful for:

I would like to thank G‑d that I became the proud grandmother of two beautiful grandsons in 2020. And it’s been as amazing as everyone told me it would be.

Thank G‑d, I also married off my second daughter two days before the first lockdown started. Actually, the wedding was moved ahead two days, thanks to a warning that everything would be locked down. I’m so grateful that we listened! The fact that we were all there—father, mother and siblings—is a blessing that we can only now truly appreciate.

But there is a deeper reason why 2020 has been my best year yet. I have always wanted to change my life. I have been on that road for a while, desiring a deeper appreciation for life, more profound conversations, stronger friendships and to surround myself with growth-minded people. I wanted my life to be less about chasing the money, glitz and glamour, and more about self-development.

With the coming of COVID-19, G‑d presented me with that opportunity. There have been fewer distractions, less travel, less outside work—and more inside work. With that, G‑d gave me ample opportunity to work on myself. Podcasts with Torah lessons; they are all there for the taking at the click of a button. I have never learned so much in my life! I’ve also never walked so much in my life, having meaningful conversations with people I admire, love and respect. A lot of the fluff has gone, and what remains is real and raw, and has deepened my connection to G‑d, friends and family.

For all that I am grateful. When hard days come (and trust me, they do), I know it is a test from G‑d, and I do my praying and listen to an uplifting talk. I also play some music and call a friend. When I stay committed, devoted and patient (things that are challenging for me), I get to a place of serenity in the realization that this is G‑d’s world and His plan.

There’s a story I love that really gives perspective. In 18th-century Europe, there were two brothers: Reb Zushe and Reb Elimelech. They would pretend to be poor wanderers, using the opportunity to inspire and share the light of Torah with the simple folk they met along the way.

Once they were rounded up with other beggars and thrown into jail. Reb Elimelech was very upset because he couldn’t pray in the jail cell since there was a pail of waste in the room.

His brother, Reb Zushe, calmed him, explaining that the same G‑d that wants you to connect to Him through prayer now wants you to connect to Him without it.

Overcome with joy at this thought, the brothers started to dance. They danced so intensely that everyone in the cell joined in. The warden, hearing all the commotion, walked in to see what was all this joy about and barked, “Why are you wretched prisoners so happy?!”

One of the prisoners pointed to the pail. Not wanting theWe are always in a relationship with G‑d prisoners to have such joy, the warden promptly removed it. And now, Reb Elimelech was able to pray.

This is the essence of Judaism. We are always in a relationship with G‑d even when we are in a psychological dungeon (like during COVID or any other time). There is a bucket of waste around us, but we are empowered to live and love fully in the way G‑d is asking of us in that specific situation. Our connection is able to grow with the tools He gives us at any time and place, even if sometimes we have to dig deep and be creative because it’s not the way we’ve done things in the past.

So for now, I’m going to try to turn to G‑d with gratefulness, thankfulness and joy. Thank G‑d, I have a roof over my head, enough food, and inspiration galore. I have my health, sanity (most of the time anyway) and the opportunity to thank G‑d for all that and more.

I’m hoping that G‑d will say, in turn, “I see you’re happy. Well, now, I’m going to make you even happier!” Because G‑d loves us, and loves to shower us with blessings and all good things.