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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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Personal

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 IrisI 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 CustardShe’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 work. It 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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My themes for 2016

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, at the beginning of each new year I think of three words that represent the growth I want to experience in the coming 12 months.

Putnam County bridges2015’s words were gratitude, power, and realism. I focused on them as best I could until June, when I lost my job. And then I had the most remarkable summer of my adult life, one that clarified my values, which had shifted on me in middle age while I wasn’t looking.

My 2015 words were no longer relevant. I had gained a whole new perspective on my life, and I spent the autumn exploring what that meant. I discovered that I don’t want to bear down so hard on myself anymore, as if there’s something elementally lacking, something fundamentally wrong in me that needs to be better. I finally see that I’m basically fine just as I am. From here on out, I’d rather enter my days peacefully and enjoy them for what they are, whatever they are.

And so I’m not even sure I need this annual exercise anymore. But it’s been so helpful in the past that I’m going to try it one more year and see how it goes.

Serenity — This kind of serenity, the kind where you accept life for what it is (emphasis mine):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

Presence — As part of that acceptance, I want to be fully present in whatever situation I find myself in. Not blocking it out, not denying its reality, not kicking up a storm trying to change what is is beyond my control. If I’m in a traffic jam, I want to just calmly let it be and wait for it to clear. If I’m in a bad job, I want to peacefully go to work each day and do the best work I can until I can find a better job.

Goalless — All I mean here is that I want to stop chasing after things, stop striving so hard. I don’t mean to drift aimlessly. But instead of constantly trying to shape my life and world to be exactly how I think they should be, I will point myself in directions that seem right or interesting and work diligently at whatever I find myself doing, but then let life unfold as it will. And then I will see what life has brought, and if needed, alter my direction. Moni Smith wrote a great post about just this idea recently; please go read it.

I’m not checking out on life. I’m just launching a rest-of-my-life initiative to not create my own stress anymore. Life brings enough of that on its own.

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Faith, Personal

My watchwords for 2015

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to have a set of words that represent the growth I want to experience in each new year. My 2014 words were anger, serenity, and faith. 

Share the roadThis is normally where I tell you how I did with all of my words. Unfortunately, the only word that really played was the first: anger. Hoo boy.

Not only do I not like to be angry, I’m not keen on any strong emotions. I find them to be overwhelming. I prefer an even keel.

But in 2014 I had plenty of reason to be angry. I’ll skip the frustrating details. But some things went on early in the year that had me beside myself with anger. Those challenges lasted into the summer and had residual effects the rest of the year.

Through this experience, I came to realize that I’ve spent my life trying to protect myself against strong feelings — ducking them, denying them, driving them away. Moreover, this has been a major source of my stress. Rather than feeling my feelings, making any changes necessary, and getting on with it, I just internalize and try to adjust my life and actions around the problem. I take on too much responsibility for others in exchange for not having to feel so angry. I am not processing unwelcome events in real-time and taking available appropriate steps to correct them.

I see this as a source of why I tend to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right in my life. I’m living in the wrong, rather than handling it so that I can enjoy the right.

It’s time to change all of that. Here are my 2015 watchwords:

  • Gratitude. The “attitude of gratitude” platitude makes me retch, and so I use this word with some trepidation. But I want to deliberately cultivate a focus on what is good in my life. There’s plenty. My cup overflows. It’s ridiculous. In 2015, I will pray gratitude to God for at least three good things that happened each day, and not pray anything else for myself. God knows my problems, knows what I need, and I will trust that. I will only thank him.
  • Power. I think I simply give up my personal power too much in the interest of keeping peace and not having to address what I feel. It’s time to step up, accept strong feelings, think through facts, and take concrete steps to address what I can.
  • Realism. There’s good and bad in life, and I want to take it as it comes — enjoy the good, do what I can to improve the bad, but accept it all.

2014 showed me I could feel strongly, set appropriate boundaries, and survive to tell about it. I’m doubling down in 2015 so I can access the good and the joy that abounds.

What might your 2015 watchwords be?


Here were my watchwords in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

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Faith, Personal

My watchwords for 2014

For the past two years, using an idea from blogger Amy Parmenter, I chose three words that represented the growth I wanted to achieve in each of those years. Last year my words were joy, because I wanted to cultivate greater joy in my life; freedom, because I wanted never to have to remain in a bad situation because I couldn’t afford to leave; and courage, which I felt would be necessary to focus on the first two watchwords.

Courage became the overarching theme for 2013 when I left a stable big-corporate job to join a startup company in a leadership role. And it has taken enormous courage and effort to meet that job’s stiff challenges.

Yellow bloomsHowever, working in this entrepreneurial setting has provided considerable freedom as I get to do things largely the way I see fit. And I did save a little money last year to help provide some financial freedom, but I still have more do to there.

I did not, however, materially increase my joy. If anything, I experienced less joy while I was trying to juggle the big job, parenting, and responsibilities with the Historic Michigan Road Association, while still making time for road trips, photography, and this blog.

Actually, I spent too much of 2013 upset over things that did not go the way I wanted and that I could not control. The ongoing stress of it sometimes made me ill. That I want to change this about myself reflects in these, my 2014 watchwords. I will use them as themes every day as I make decisions all year.

  • Anger – I don’t like to feel angry. So when something happens that makes me angry I tend to quickly and subconsciously set it aside and move on as if nothing is wrong. Sometimes, after enough such moments, some minor irritating thing will cause me to vent all the set-aside anger. I want to just let myself feel angry when things don’t go my way so that I keep a clean emotional slate.
  • Serenity – I want to cultivate greater serenity, the kind where you accept the things you can’t change, find courage to change the things you can, and seek the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Faith – It sure seems like turning to God is the right way to seek that wisdom that leads to serenity. I want to remember and trust that God is in control of the universe. When things don’t go my way, I want to trust God’s bigger plan. But also, I feel like my faith has stagnated over the past couple years as I’ve taken on so much responsibility. Maybe it’s a form of kicking at the goads. I want to rest in God more this year.

What three words might you choose as your focus for 2014?

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I don’t want to forget a lesson
in faith I learned in this story.

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