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My theme for 2020

I don’t like to dwell on it here, but the last three years have been incredibly difficult for my family. We’ve faced one crushing challenge after another.

The first of each year I think of a word, a theme, that represents the growth I want to achieve that year. My themes for the past two years have reflected a desire to get out on top of these difficulties. In 2018, I was going to build stability for my family. In 2019, I would seek renewal in my faith, my career, and my health. I was going to regain control of my life!

Yeah, that didn’t happen. At all. 2019 was the hardest of the last three years. I’ve written about the structural failure at a rental house we owned (here) and us eventually selling it as is (here), and how intensely stressful that was. I mentioned the death of my mother-in-law. I’ve not written, and won’t, about some of the serious life challenges some of our adult children have faced. Three of them live with us right now while they sort their lives. Meanwhile, both my wife and I started new jobs twice in 2019. I told the stories of mine here and here. The first came after being fired in 2018; the second came out of the blue. While it was a terrific career move, new jobs are always very stressful while you learn the ropes.

Clearly, I lack control. It’s driven me to drink, it’s messed with my sleep, and I’ve gained 15 pounds. In about March I threw up my hands and got a therapist, who’s gently helped me untie a knot of anger and resentment, and begin to find peace so I can move forward.

I admit that these problems have been bigger than me. My attempts to control them have failed. I’ve been upset most of the time for far too long, and I want that to end. It is for that reason that in 2020, my theme is equanimity.

Equanimity is a mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. It is admitting that I can’t always do something about unwelcome life events, but I can seek inner peace as they fall. That can be very hard in the face of a shock. But my inner state is ultimately the only thing I can control.

I want to be like a blade of grass. When the strong winds blow, the blade of grass lies back until it passes. Then it stands up straight again, and keeps on growing.

If you’re curious, you can look back at all the posts I wrote about my annual themes here.

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My theme for 2019

I’ve never had a theme for a year be so useless as last year’s was: stability. 2018 turned out to be incredibly hard, maybe the hardest of my life. My dad died. Our daughter-in-law died. We helped elderly parents transition to the home where they will live out their days. Several of our children had serious struggles. There were family squabbles. Work was brutal, needlessly so, culminating in me losing my job.

Meanwhile, my wife had her own life challenges, including a serious back injury, all while she and I are still fairly new in our marriage and are still trying to figure out how to blend our families and love each other. We frequently got it wrong.

It’s been too much.

We’re still grieving our losses and trying to make sense out of all that’s happened. But — dare I risk saying it? I’ve said it before and have been wrong — the worst is over.

Early spring crocus

It’s time for Margaret and I to get back to our core principles and values. To take good care of ourselves. To build our marriage as if it were brand new. To love our families.

It is time for me to renew myself. My faith, which is lagging. My career, which took it on the chin. My physical health, as I’m overweight, my digestion is bad, I sleep poorly, and my blood pressure has soared. My mental health, as the twin monsters of anxiety and depression are holding me back. My marriage, as the events of the last couple years have really been hard on us.

That’s why my 2019 theme is renewal.

I’m going renew my faith, first by spending time in my Bible every day this year. I have a great Bible that lays out the entire Scripture chronologically in 365 chunks. I’ve read through the Bible this way a few times before and I always find it incredibly rewarding and enriching. It’s been years; it’s time for me to do it again.

I’m also going to rededicate myself to my service in the church. I’m an elder in my congregation, a sort of lay leader. But I’ve not been able to fulfill most of my responsibilities there as our family’s challenges have been so consuming. I don’t think I’ll be able to give the church all of the time and effort I want to in 2019, but I expect to be able to give significantly more than I did in 2018.

I’m going to renew my health, in three key ways. First, I’m going to shed the 15 pounds I’ve put on, by limiting my calorie intake and taking long walks every day. I love to walk.

Second, I’m going to keep working toward best possible function through a chronic condition I live with. I changed to a functional medicine practitioner last year and she has already seriously moved the needle on my health. But there’s far more that needle needs to be moved and she and I need to seriously team up to make that happen.

Third, I’m going to stop relying on my nightly shot of bourbon to help me sleep. Through all this stress, sleep has been elusive. All the sleep aids my doctor prescribed had unacceptable side effects. My nightly shot of bourbon, which I’ve come to very much enjoy, works great. The trouble is that it sometimes becomes two, and once in a while three shots. It reduces the quality of my sleep, is a source of empty calories — and is potentially a slippery slope.

I’m going to renew my career, by getting busy learning the ropes in my new job, which starts Monday. It still stings that my last job ended the way it did. It hurts that my dream of startup glory had to die. But I know I’m fortunate as hell to have landed another role at comparable pay so quickly, and that I’ll learn a lot at this company.

I’m going to go away with Margaret once a quarter for a long weekend. We find it possible to talk about things on these breaks that we just don’t get to at home. We remind ourselves just how much we love each other’s company. 

We’ve already agreed that in 2019 we want to focus on our relationship and our home, making both happy and comfortable.

I’m tired, and I’m sad. I’ve earned these feelings; something would be wrong if I didn’t have them. But now I believe I have the time and emotional space to let them work their way through my system. I’m looking forward to renewed energy and happiness in 2019.

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My theme for 2018

2017 was a year of great transition for me and my family. I saw my youngest son graduate high school and go off to college. I sold my home and moved in with my new wife. And then a bunch of serious family difficulties piled upon us one right after the other. All of our parents, some of our children, and even each of Margaret and I found ourselves in distress and needing considerable time and attention. It threatened to bury us. For a while, all we were doing was whatever seemed best at the moment and hoping the rest wouldn’t crash into the wall. A little of it did, a lot of it didn’t, and the rest is still to be determined. So it was good and right that my theme for the year was family. Our family absolutely needed us.

NYC after dusk

It made for a messy 2017. Heh, that doesn’t begin to accurately describe it. Crazy. Overwhelming. Depressing. Maddening. Chaotic. It’s not been good for our young marriage and newly blended family.

Chicago

And so my theme for 2018 is more obvious to me than any previous year’s theme(s) have been. This year, it’s stability. Whatever I’ve got to do to help this family get onto a good track — to resolve challenges, to eliminate chaos, to provide firm footing — that’s what I’ve got to be about.

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My theme for 2017

When I wrote last year’s list of themes for my new year, I felt sure it would be the last one, that my annual setting of direction had run its course.

Autumn Iris

I think a lot about who I am versus who I want to be. Some might call it navel gazing, but self-analysis is core to who I am.

Yet I want to remain open to the road ahead so I can take the interesting turns as they come. And they always come! So I avoid new year’s resolutions and I don’t set hard goals. Instead, I set direction. And I follow it generally, always scanning the road ahead for opportunity or need to alter course.

My annual list of three watchwords or themes, a tradition for years in my life and as my first post each new year here at Down the Road, is the major way I’ve done that.

2016 was a remarkable year. I got married! If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I had a disastrous, destructive first marriage. It was best for all of us when it ended almost eleven years ago. In its wake, I focused on building a happy, healthy life as a single man and as a dad to my sons. I became content living essentially alone, and I could have continued it for the rest of my life. Yet I wondered if I could finally find love. I looked off and on for a few years and met some nice women, but finally decided that the search was more challenging than it was worth. So I quit looking. Just then, I met Margaret.

Frozen Custard

She’d been married before, too, and has four children. Between us, and including my stepson from my first marriage, we have seven! Remarriage generally means blending families. But the blessing of doing it at our age, about 50, is that our children are older. Our youngest just turned 16. Our oldest is 31.

Our empty nest is in sight! But for several good reasons involving our children, when we married it didn’t make sense for us to live under one roof right away.

It’s an unusual arrangement, and it has been hard. We knew it would be. Who wants to be married, yet not be able to connect in person every day? We’ve had to be very deliberate about creating face time with each other. Still, we’ve encountered challenges staying connected and coordinating our lives. Extra grace has been required.

But now a couple more of our children are near natural transition points and will not call our houses home for much longer. Them moving on will let us move toward living under one roof. We have decided that it will be her roof, at least until her youngest finishes high school in 2018. That means I’ll be listing my home for sale. There’s a fair amount of work to be done here first. With effort and luck, we’ll have it done by summer.

It’s going to be a big year. And it makes my 2017 theme clear: family. Just one theme, not my usual three. But this theme has three dimensions.

The first is care. My relationship with Margaret needs extra care while we continue to live apart, and when we eventually make the adjustments of sharing a home. And our children need parenting care to help them navigate their late teens and early 20s, and to move into their adult futures.

The second is workIt will take considerable work effort to ready my home for sale. We will spend a lot of our spare time at it through at least this summer. And all of the relationships in our family need us to be fully present and do the work to keep them healthy and happy.

The third is money. It will cost money to ready my home for sale, even though we will do the work ourselves. And two of our children are in college, and another starts this fall, and the youngest starts the fall after that. Neither of us has ever focused on maximizing our incomes, but we need to make career (and side-work) choices that let us pay for everything.

Margaret shares this theme with me. And as we play it out big changes will come to our lives — some of which we can see, and some we can’t.

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