The start of a new year is a great time to tackle new projects and adopt new habits (or resolve to keep the ones that have been working for you). Over the years, I have tried different ways of making improvements and achieving goals. Finally, I am getting the hang of making meaningful changes.
Happily, I have been able to reclaim many of the habits beneficial to physical wellness. But I realize that I can’t just do one thing and think I’m done forever. Improving fitness and diet are lifelong processes. Also, some attempts may not be productive (like when I tried to adopt bulk cooking or when I purchased a software program to analyze recipes back in the early 1990s). Still, I can see now that these steps helped me move forward even if haltingly.
So, if a project or task doesn’t seem helpful, don’t let a failure discourage you; such steps still move you along in some way.
More recently, I have learned to take on a gargantuan project by taking one step at a time, learning and making adjustments as I went. A few years ago, I started leading the strategic planning process at my church. We are done now and implementing the plan. Getting there involved taking small steps consistently. Not all of these steps led us in a linear direction straight from start to finish. Getting started and moving forward were important as was seeking counsel when I got stuck along the way. Now, I can apply these lessons to other areas of my life and work.
I see the coming years as holding great possibility for transformation, not just for me but for my family, friends, and community. The exciting thing for me is the idea of expanding my community and helping others to form and expand their communities. Here’s what I have in store for this year:
Start a small group ministry at my church
Back in June, I felt a call to lead the small group ministry. At the time, I was starting the implementation of the strategic plan so the timing was awkward. Still, I had started to grow tired of the meetings and restless in my role.
I believe that small groups can have a transforming effect on individuals, groups, the church, and the community. Sure, such groups can be a source of comfort and support for their members. But they can also provide a space to challenge each other, share and begin to act on our dreams, and find encouragement to live the life that God is calling us to live.
I have struggled with decluttering for many years. Fortunately, my efforts have kept things in check. But I’d like to go for more of a minimalist lifestyle; that, and I’d like to be able to find things when I look for them. Again, I have had pockets of success but I am going for a whole-house declutter this year.
Notably, I have tried doing a bit at a time, the 10 or 15 minutes per day clean-up often recommended. This approach makes things worse because several piles emerge and then I can’t remember what has been organized and what needs work. A steady and more concentrated approach can remedy this problem.
I have already started my plan to implement this process. Contrary to popular advice, I will keep what I want to keep right now (whether it makes perfect sense to hold on to something) and revisit its usefulness at another time. On the one hand, I want to get rid of stuff; on the other hand, there are some things I use only once in a blue moon but are still worth having. This work is tedious but worth the time and effort.
Reposition financial assets
My goal is to continue diversifying our assets and position ourselves for the future.
I have made significant progress in this area already. Earlier this year, for example, we increased my husband’s contributions to his 401(k) and opted for the Roth designation. We are selling some of our holdings in a taxable account (that are concentrated in one particular stock) so that we can fund the Roth 401(k). Happily, the options within his company’s retirement plan include index funds so they are relatively cheap and we can match market returns. At the same time, we are moving money from a taxable account to a tax-advantaged account so that future diversification, growth, and income will not be taxable.
I’d also like to fund Roth IRAs but we have to be careful because when we sell the funds in the taxable account, our income increases to the point (possibly) that we are ineligible for a Roth IRA.
Whew — managing assets for total return including the tax implications can be complicated and take some thought as well as heavy doses of creativity. But just like decluttering, if I stick with the main ideas and keep refining my approach, I make progress. I’ve learned not to feel bad if I fall short of perfection. My aim is to do the best I can and enjoy the results that come.
Compete or participate in an epic athletic event
I am planning on doing the annual Bike to the Beach ride again this year (that’s about 250 miles in 3 days). But I’d like to add at least one more big event to my calendar.
Right now, my goal is to run a half-marathon in 2 hours or less. A couple of years ago, I completed one running an 11-minute mile; this time, I hope to go faster and am training at a quicker pace. However, I am not going to pick a target race. Instead, my mileage will slowly increase. When I can do 10 miles without a problem, then I will find a race. Half-marathons seems to be plentiful these days so finding one should be relatively easy.
I am also interested in doing another century bike ride and possibly either an open water swim or a triathlon that involves such a swim. My pool time is limited (okay nonexistent right now) and I am not sure what my schedule will look like in the coming months but I am still keeping those events in mind.
Make more time for friends
Like the other goals I’ve mentioned, I’ve already started to make more time to hang out with friends.
This process is twofold: 1) say “yes” more often when we receive invitations and 2) initiate opportunities to develop friendships.
I have gotten better at #1, partly because I have more free time now than when the kids were younger. Just the other day, my husband and I accepted an impromptu invitation from one of his friends to go to a UNC basketball game. We had to drive 3 hours (on top of another 3-hour trip earlier in the day) but it was worth the time. The next day, I went on a 30-mile bike ride and then had lunch with cycling friends; again, carving out the time was a stretch but worth the effort.
What I need to really improve on is inviting people to do things with me.
To a certain extent, all of my goals for this year play off of each other. My vision for the small groups ministry is to help people (and me!) cultivate deeper friendships. Some of these friendships will likely involve spending time with people on training runs, bike rides, and hikes in the woods. Meanwhile, a tidier house will make me less hesitant to invite people over at a moment’s notice.
When I make plans, I often think of this passage from the Book of James, Chapter 4, verses 13 through 17 (NIV version):
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Our responses to this message are usually to 1) ignore the words and make our plans anyway or 2) fail to make plans because we are uncertain of God’s plan for us. We may miss that we are called to take action and not taking action can be sinful.
Still, I can’t say I have heard a voice on high tell me that I should run a half-marathon or that I need to make more friends. However, I have had the chance to meet people and talk with them in a way that I believe honors God.
At my last 5K, I got to talk to someone who had recently taken up running but felt shunned by those he had met in the running community. He was a beginner runner who had been told he had terrible running form; however, he finished a hilly 3.1 miles in about 22 minutes and placed first in his age group. That morning, I was able to offer encouragement, reassure this beginner that he could find folks to run with, and be a friend, even if it was just for a few minutes while we waited for the awards ceremony. Since that time, I’ve noticed this person’s name in community race results so I can see that his running form hasn’t slowed him down.
As you can see, I am certain of a few things and not 100% sure of the others. That’s why I am open to just moving forward and let God transform my life.
Do you have plans for transformation this year? Can I help you with your goals?