Last December I remember sitting in a coffee shop and looking out across the street at a shop window. A sign caught my eye that read, “2020: You’re drunk. Go home.”

Well, it feels as though we could say the same about 2021. The light we are all longing to see at the end of the proverbial tunnel continues to escape us. And the cultural air still seems to carry plenty of hate, anger, disappointment and fatigue. Yet amid the rubble of the last two years, we still hope for better days.

One of my professors in graduate school memorably wrote that we human beings are “meaning-junkies.” In short, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we are always wanting to make sense of things. In our current cultural moment, I would argue, we are not only “meaning junkies,” we are “hope junkies.” We long for hope.

As I am always on the lookout for signs of hope here in Washington, I have been drawn to a restaurant named Farm 12 in Puyallup. For some Washingtonians, Puyallup signifies rural and small-town America. And while there is some truth to that, it also has a growing entrepreneurial (and foody) swagger. Farm 12 has put an exclamation mark to that with its cakes, cookies, pastries in the bakery and burgers, salmon and ribeye in the restaurant.

Yet, as amazing as the culinary experience is at Farm12, it has been the outward and community-focused energy that the restaurant has become known for that I find striking. During the dark days of the pandemic in 2020, Farm 12 began something called Cake Day. The restaurant chose Cake Day to be every Wednesday, when it would unveil a new cake flavor. It was a hit in the community. It was Farm 12’s way of saying to the community, “We see you. We know things are hard. You are not alone!”

After visiting the restaurant a few times, I noticed the building next door called Step By Step. Step By Step, I discovered, is a nonprofit organization that started Farm 12 to help mothers who are in incredibly difficult and often seemingly hopeless situations. For 24 years, Step By Step has come alongside at-risk mothers, helping them get back on their feet, and in doing so, has created a place for women to flourish when hope was out of sight. In rescuing women, families are rescued. The work of Step By Step is truly making a difference in families and breathing fresh life into communities.

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While there are myriad things in our world right now that can get us down or angry, I see Farm 12 and Step By Step as a lighthouse in the middle of a tempest. It tells me that although times are difficult, light can still overcome darkness.

Perhaps most moving about the work of Farm 12 and Step By Step is its instructive power. For me, I can’t help but look at what these organizations are doing and ask myself how I might be able to think more outwardly, beyond myself. I ask myself, “How can I make those around me feel that they are not alone — that they are seen?”

And what better time to think of this reality than at Christmastime. Although there is no holiday more commodified than Christmas, its religious history centers on the act of God giving himself to us. A gift for the world. Just that. It’s truly amazing that a message all the way from ancient Palestine still has the same kind of saving and hopeful power as what I’ve experienced in Puyallup. Generosity, hospitality and rescue have that kind of power. Those acts remind us that we are not alone. We are seen. We’ll make it through.