Reflect, Rework, Renew

I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, since most of them have sounded punitive to me. For the past two years, though, my wife and I have undertaken a modified version of Gretchen Rubin’s practice of yearly commitments. Kathryn first did it in 2019 – a list of 19 things she wanted to do that year. We made our lists (10 individual items and 10 shared items) with good humor and optimism in early 2020, based in intentions like getting out together to the movies more, and developing deeper friendships by inviting people over to dinner. And then COVID-19 hit, and we became our own meme of “how I caused the pandemic.”

As I reflect on my 21 for 2021 list in this last week of the year, I have to confess that I feel disappointed by the things I tried and failed. I planned to make my own sourdough starter, but I failed on multiple attempts. I laid out an ambitious reading list of 21 books I already owned; I read (or started) about half of them. 

(Books I’m still hoping to finish circled. But seriously, it’s the 30th.)

And read 21 minutes a day? I guess I did, if you count newspaper articles on my iPad, but I really had books in mind. I had the idea of knitting a sweater for Kathryn, but due to pandemic restrictions on in-person shopping and a snafu with the yarn dyer, ended up spending too many dollars on the wrong color of yarn. 

As I grumbled to myself about all these things, I took a look at an Instagram post from the originator of the idea and learned that Gretchen Rubin herself did not get to all the things on her list. And as I look back over the year as a whole, I see that I read a lot of books I didn’t even know about when I made a list 12 months ago, and I baked many new things even without a sourdough success. 

Who did I think my list was for, anyway?

At the kitchen table the other day, Kathryn suggested we decide whether some things could be rolled over; the rest can be a page that we tear out of the metaphorical book and move on, she said. It’s good advice, and it grows out of the experience we have all shared over the past 22 months, adjusting to unexpected reality over and over again, reworking plans and then reworking them again.

What really helps our household keep it together are the habits we have developed and the structures we have put in place and maintained. As Rubin writes,

“Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. If we have habits that are good for us, we’re far more likely to be happier; if we have habits that are bad for us, we’ll find it tougher to be happy.” 

Doing a little knitting daily, writing down how I’m feeling so I’ll know, eating a breakfast that gives me the right kind of fuel, creating space for a daily devotional time with Kathryn, staying on track with work and personal tasks in my modified bullet journal, devising a meal plan for the week (including who is going to cook and when to get takeout), baking something from scratch on Saturdays — these are all habits that make me a better person, a better partner and parent, and a better coach. They are life-altering in the most ordinary ways. I renew my commitment to these, and even when I fail, I will keep coming back to them.

What’s working for you? How will you renew your commitments in 2022?

P.S. A friend sent me some dried sourdough starter, and I’m going to give it another try.

Advent, Call, Church Life, Ministry

Words of Assurance

On a frigid December 23rd, so cold my gas cap froze, I drove hours on Maine highways to a denominational meeting. Imagine scheduling a meeting for the 23rd! I was feeling pretty glum about my ministry in my first call; the small church I served had serious budget issues, and I felt like a failure. A much older pastor sat next to me and listened to my story at the lunch break. He offered a kind word; I wasn’t the only person responsible for the situation.

I hesitated to believe him.

I loved church, and I loved the church I served, but I started the drive home wondering whether I had misheard God’s call on my life. Did God really want me to be a pastor? Did I really want to be a pastor? And if that wasn’t who I was supposed to be, who was I?

Winter road leading into snow-covered trees with the following words: Did God really want me to be a pastor? Did I really want to be a pastor? And if that wasn't who I was supposed to be, who was I?

In this year – this second year – in which loss and frustration and disappointment have swirled together, many pastors have asked some version of these questions, and we are not the only people of faith wondering what God really wants for us and from us. Who are we supposed to be?

A recording by the choir at my home church was in the CD player that afternoon, a program of the music for Christmas Eve when I was still a seminarian and sang with them. As an organ piece ended, I heard the opening bars of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” I had loved processing with that large choir on Christmas Eve, experiencing the joy of being an alto who joined the sopranos for the descant on “Sing, choirs of angels.”

I began to sing with them. I couldn’t help myself.

We reached a verse sung a capella.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

In that question, I sang the answer to my questions. It didn’t balance the budget, but it consoled me, reminding who I was and whose I was. I could not trust it in the words of my colleague, but I could not deny it in the verse I had forgotten. Those words re-membered me; they put me back together.

May the coming days offer each of us such a numinous assurance. God who loves us is God-with-us.

Blue image with winter flowers and the following text: God who oves is is God-with-us.

(Choral nerds might like to know that it was the Willcocks’ Carols for Choirs arrangement.)

Reflectionary, UCC Daily Devotional

A Place for the Lord

“I won’t enter my house, won’t get into my bed. I won’t let my eyes close, won’t let my eyelids sleep, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the strong one of Jacob.” – Psalm 132:3-5 (Common English Bible)

Psalm 132 remembers David and his hope to build a temple. His journey to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem showed him both its awe-inspiring energy and the blessing of its presence. The ark represented the presence of the Lord, and David pictured a physical structure to honor and protect it. We read in the psalm the strength of his desire. He would not go home, or let himself rest, he said, until he could make that place.

We may tend to think of that “place for the Lord” as the church, a building set aside for particular activities of worship, and education, and perhaps care for the community. But in this chaotic and complicated pandemic season, when social distancing meant church was on a screen for many of us, we may have had to find some other dwelling place for God. Was it a corner of our minds? A room in our hearts? Did we find it in the work of our hands, or a fragment of song on our lips? Or did we search and remain unsatisfied?

David found himself distanced from his dream. To build the temple was not his work to do. He would pass the plans down to his son, Solomon. As we near the end of two years disrupted by the pandemic, we may identify with David’s longing. When will we connect with God? And how? And where?


Holy One, send word of where you are that we might find you. Amen.

Written for the United Church of Christ Daily Devotional.