One Simple Thing to Start 2017 Right
Celebrate what you want to see more of.
When I ran a marathon a few years ago, my friend Tim coached me because he knew I needed a plan to reach a specific time goal I had in the race. He sent me workouts in an Excel spreadsheet, and as part of my training, not only did I have to run, but I was supposed to fill in an additional box after the run that indicated how things had gone. We could then use this to track what things worked to set me up for a good run, and what things were working against my efforts toward my goals. Over the months, we could change and refine the plan to make sure I was doing more of what worked and less of what didn’t. In the end, the plan didn’t look exactly the same as it had at the beginning. Because of our simple tweaks along the way, it became a better plan, and it ultimately helped me accomplish a huge goal I’d set for myself.
We are all staring down the blank slate of 2017, and regardless of whether resolutions or goals are your thing, the end of a year is a natural opportunity to reflect on the 52 weeks that have just gone by. But this often comes with a dose of shame and guilt over past failures, and overwhelm at all of the ‘shoulds’ that you think you ought to strive for. Resolution setting can be difficult, aspirations can seem too lofty, and when I start to think of all that could be, I sometimes crumble under the pressure before I start. I know I am not alone.
So as we end the year, I want to offer one simple exercise that I hope will save you from the overwhelm and help you with an easy reset. Businessman Tom Peters says “Celebrate what you want to see more of,” and I say “Amen.” So here’s what we are going to do: look at what worked, and, if you want, look at what didn’t. It’s an easy way to prioritize what we can do more of in 2017, and what we might choose to put off, in order to reach whatever goals you may have for the year. I’ve made this worksheet that can help get you started.
When I work through something uncomplicated like this, it allows me to see things I did well: Protecting my morning time from phone calls and internet usage was a vital step in accomplishing more in my ‘job’ of homeschooling. Re-prioritizing a friendship after focusing for two years on a particularly difficult infant and toddler fed my soul and hers. I started consistently running again, which for me is a self-care milestone. My natural instinct has always been to write off my successes as unimportant, or as flukes, and then to either focus on failures or move quickly on to setting even bigger goals. But it’s so important to take a moment and celebrate those things that worked! It allows me to honor the work I did, and to realize that if all I do is more of that, then I’ll continue to make progress. Simple, right? It actually, really is. I promise.
On the download you will also find a column about what didn’t work. That’s an optional part of the exercise that may point you to things you want to cut out in 2017. It may also relieve you to know that your perceived “failures” can help you do better—because you know to cut them out!
I hope you find this exercise simple but helpful… and I would so appreciate it if you would share anything that you discover when you do it. Did it work for you? What are you celebrating? What will you do more of in 2017? Happy New Year!
Around the corner she came, her curls bouncing and her tutu announcing that Wyndy was here, at the finish line, a runner who had reached her goal. We yelled and cheered for her: her husband, my husband, mutual friends, and the others who were waiting for their own people to come down the stretch. It was October of 2012, and races were new and special for special for all of us. And while runners certainly cherish every finish line, no one did so more than Wyndy.
Wyndy’s sparkly personality drew me in from the beginning. A tiny thing, she nearly knocked me down to meet me in person after mutual friends had told us we’d have a lot to talk about—both picking up running later in life and sharing an equal enthusiasm for the sport, for people, and for God. I had my own difficulties with running—serious scoliosis has always been both a motivation and an obstacle for my athletic goals. But she was the true conqueror. Despite a congenital heart defect, for years she banged out miles and inspired me and others with her “Run. Lift. Core.” Facebook check-ins.
But Wyndy was about so much more than fitness. Fine fare, travel, social media—she used them all for good—to show others what a dedication to God and a genuine zest for living looked like on a daily basis. She used her love of food to serve others who needed a meal. She made time to see old friends when she traveled, and she regularly asked via Facebook, “How can I pray for you today?” She was the type who would do it, too—because she knew the power her Father holds, and wanted to tap into it on behalf of those in her circle who need it.
So when the heart defect suddenly worsened, when the doctors said, “It’s time,” she didn’t shy away from saying she was both scared and ready. Ready for the surgery, ready to go Home, or ready to stay and serve. As she was released from the hospital after open-heart surgery she remained her same plucky self. She posted a picture of her smiling big in the discharge area, publicly praising God for seeing her through. Smiling and ready to recover, she clearly looked forward to going back to life, post-crisis.
We all breathed a sigh of relief that her heart would heal, and our own hearts were stilled that our friend--this beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister and example would live to cook more, quilt more, and live more. And so when, four days later, she died suddenly at home, it was a particularly hard gut-punch.
A light has gone out. A gorgeous, bright, firecracker of a light is gone, and this loss is hard. Even in the far outer rings of friendship where I stand, it is hard. Though we all know where she is—with He who held her figurative and literal heart, this is the kind of death that reminds us all of how broken this world is.
For now, we somehow, in that way that only our great God could come up with, both weep and rejoice as we realize she got to go on first (Romans 12:15). But beyond that, in the coming days and weeks and months, no doubt we will feel the punch again and ask, “What would she have us do?” I suspect she would want us to live more, love more, serve more—like she did. But I think the more important question is—what would God have us to do?
And the wonderful thing, the true testament to her is this: because of her pursuit of Godliness-the answers are much the same. Take care of our soul and our body, knowing that one will live on eternally but the other is an important house while here on earth (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Help others with genuine, specific prayer (James 5:16) and also with physical service in times of need (Prov. 3:27). Enjoy the bounteous food God has given us and take in this marvelous world He created, all with a heart of gratitude (Col. 3:17). Love your people and steward the relationships we are given (Gal. 6:10). Be both ready to stay and serve in this hard, hard world, and be ready to go and be in the presence of God forever (James 1:12).
I’ll miss my spunky, tutu-ed runner friend, all curls and smiles and excitement at the finish line. So will so many other people, and how deeply. But in the race that matters, she got there first, and has gone on to the real reward. I have to celebrate that. I can’t let the sadness of death—hers or others—deter me from doing right. Now that she has gone on, I resolve again, as I have to every day, to keep going in the same direction. And I can’t wait to embrace her, as runners at the finish line do, when I get there too.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:7-8
The Christmas Conflict
The big tree, it is up. The gleaming, grown up, red and gold ornaments shine sophisticated from it’s branches. The remnants of my grandmother’s crocheted collection mix in, and I am happy. The little tree, it is up, too. All the construction paper strands and the clumsy gingerbread men hang on it’s slender frame. Christmas time has come.
I had visions, when we put Decorating Day on the calendar, of sweet family time. Of John Denver and the Muppets singing to us as we placed the globes on the tree and talked about our favorites. Perhaps hot chocolate, and a fire. We would have soup and crusty bread after, and put a happy memory in the books.
I did not anticipate a Target trip interruption after entire strands of lights gave up on us, or a cranky toddler who would much prefer Goldi and Bear over decorating, and a pre-teen who cannot be torn from her book to reminisce with me. Did not like sending the children to the kids tree to give their Dad time to hang the fragile ornaments without a toddler smashing them to bits, while I cut potatoes in a mad rush to get a new-to-me soup recipe started in time to eat before midnight. I did not like this, I did not like that, I wanted my vision back instead of this messy, grumpy reality.
When the chaos comes and the plans go awry, the choice comes on quick and demands our action: Call the night a failure and wallow in my self-pity that all was not hot-chocolate-and-Muppets merriment, having failed at a goal that only we know? Or keep our eyes on the true goal and realize these are their own memories in the making? I didn’t know this was the year we would finally replace the hesitant white lights. The year I would have enough post-baby energy to have two trees again. The year the big girls finally realized that the kid tree existed to separate their perfectly imperfect child creations from my shiny, shatterable orbs. (Sorry, kids.)
I managed, this time, to take a deep breath and choose the better part, throwing the vegetables in the pot still in time to help direct the decorating. We reminded the big girls of who made what and when, and allowed them to move some of their creations onto the coveted spots on the branches of the big tree. I took a moment to enjoy the toddler ringing a bell ornament as she waddled happily around the house telling us all about the newly-replaced Christmas lights. I sat during a quiet moment and enjoyed the sight of my husband peacefully relaxing, for a few moments, in the glow of the tree that he had done battle with just hours earlier.
And now… Christmas has come to our house, ready for more new and unforeseen memories. I’m sure there will be broken ornaments, squabbles and hurt feelings in the shadow of these trees. Yet their lights will also glow in the background of kindnesses, warmth, and love as we practice being better. Practice forgiveness for the wanted things that will not come, and gratitude for the little and big moments that, wanted or not, we need. Christmas has come.
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11