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State of Wonder: 2021 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again! Time to dust off the lists of goals, dreams, and plans we made way back in January, when we were bright-eyed and optimistic about what lay ahead, and see how we fared.

My personal list of 21 things to do in 2021 has been taped to my office wall these 11 months, but after the first couple of weeks, I stopped seeing it anymore. You know how it is. But as the year turned and holidays approached and dates for moving into our new house loomed then shifted (over and over), I became aware of it again as I assessed my territory, inside and out.

And what I noticed in my latest sweep past the list, what made me pause to consider, is that despite me ignoring it, most of its goals have been accomplished. What made me decide to write about it when I do not have time, though, is that it seems like God did the vast majority of the accomplishing without me.

I’m not sure whether to be surprised, delighted, or mildly offended.

So grab a cup of whatever you like best, get cozy, and come with me on a small-scale tour of the goodness of God.

Oh! Before we get into checking things off (oh, how I do love that—where my Type 1s at?), I need to preface by saying that three things happened this year which majorly impacted how, when, and why some things were done and others not. Shockingly, none of them are covid-related.

  1. We bought a house.
  2. Mackenzie and I spent two months Stateside this summer.
  3. My friend Aimée invited me to join her in starting The Devoted Collective.

These happenings are integral to my 2021 story, and while I couldn’t possibly tell it in all its richness and interconnected glory in a single post, I hope you’re able to see and appreciate how God orchestrates things we don’t expect (or sometimes even want) in order to bring out the best in us and His Kingdom on earth.

And so equipped, let us without further ado apply ourselves to the annual End-of-Year Checking Off of Goals!

Family Goals (1/3/0)

Small green check mark Eat breakfast and dinner together: Win! With very rare exceptions, we did this every day. I admit it’s not that hard when you’re remote learning and working at home, but still. With this habit established, I know it makes us stronger as a family. Maybe we add in Scripture reading at dinner next year?

Small grey check mark Have family night once a month: This is the first thing disrupted by our jaunt to the US. We did well until about May, then tried to get back to it in September, but with school starting, Mack didn’t do well with movie-watching after 5pm, even on weekends, so we fell off it. Alas.

Small grey check mark Take a family vacation, just the three of us: This was originally the plan when we decided we’d had enough covid BS here in Canada. We figured everyone’s “work” is remote, America is opening up, let’s pack the car and go to Grandma’s for a couple months. But because the border was technically still closed and only two out of three of us have US passports, we actually had to leave my husband behind in a rat-hole motel in Windsor. It was…upsetting…to say the least. So while Mackenzie and I had a beautifully relaxing, mostly-restriction-free summer gallivanting around with my mom and spending quality time with family we rarely see, Lino was home alone for eight weeks. We talked regularly and shared videos and photos, but it was a pale shadow of the deeply restful family bonding experience we meant it to be. I will say, however, that God did what God do and used this time apart to do Big WorkTM in each of our lives, the fruit of which is still ripening these several months later. It’s amazing what clarity your spirit has when you change both location and responsibility levels for a time. So while we weren’t together for this “vacation,” it unified our family in ways that would not have been possible if we had been.

Small grey check mark Monthly Bible verses on the bathroom mirror: Much like family night, we did awesome with this until we left for the States, then couldn’t get back on the horse. But! While it was happening, Mack was starting to repeat and ask about the verses (I chose translations that would be easy for her to read), so this may stay on the list for next year.

Personal Goals (4/2/4)

Small green check mark Read 12 books: CRUSHED THIS. Mostly because of all the reading time I had while in the US. And because I like graphic novels. And I have made peace with counting audiobooks as “reading.” But still! Look at all these books (not pictured because it wouldn’t fit in the grid: Boundaries in Marriage).

Small grey check mark Go completely wheat-, dairy-, and sugar-free: Sugar stayed on the table, but cutting the wheat and dairy was actually pretty easy; I’d say I hit about about 90%. (Hey, I’m a baker and holidays are what they are.) Because adherence was high, I did notice a huge difference when I fell off the wagon, which confirms my suspicions that wheat and dairy are triggering my respiratory symptoms. I did also notice that when I consumed a lot of sugar, things were also worse; ditto with potatoes. So dietary experiments will continue, I expect. May also need to look into seeing a natro/homeopath.

Red X Have a real date night twice a month: I want to say we tried, but to be honest, we didn’t. We’re still working on prioritising our relationship, but between flipping in and out of lockdowns, accidentally separate vacations, then the stress and rush of renovations on the house, we only got in a scant handful of date nights this year. Alas.

Small grey check mark Have sex once a week: While we didn’t get out much, eventually Mackenzie did go to school, and Lino and I were able to, uh, capitalise on his work-from-home status. Our track record was pretty good until the summer when I ended up in the States without him, then the stress of renos has been miserable on both our libidos. However, we have had lots of conversations about our intimate life, which we weren’t doing before, and now both of us are more determined (and motivated) to enjoy one another, which we haven’t in a long time, honestly. Progress!

Small green check mark Red X Pay down $16,000 in debt: This actually happened! But the way we did it was cheating a bit. When we bought the house, part of the loan was for renovations, and we used part of that to clear our line of credit (making space for many, many visits to Home Depot). So, we took out a monstrous amount of debt in purchasing a home, buuuuut we also paid off double our goal for the year. Accounting is fun.

Small green check mark Visit my US family: When I added this to the list at the start of the year, I had no idea how it could work at a time the world seemed so scary and locked down. When school went fully remote, we decided there was no reason not to leave town since no one had to be anywhere. When we got in the car, we knew it was possible Lino couldn’t go as a non-American but had every confidence God would give us favour and let him in. They didn’t. And it was exactly as traumatic and heartbreaking as you can imagine it would be, having to turn around at the border, drive to a seedy motel, unpack half the car, leave behind a member of your family for someone else to collect, then go on without them, knowing it will be months before you see them again.

But God knew exactly what He was doing. Because it was in that moment, as Mackenzie and I cried through the boundary between Canada and the US, that I realized what a deep work God had done in my marriage: For perhaps the first time since we’ve been married, I was sad to be away without him. I’d always looked forward to it, fiercely independent even when I should have been tightly intertwined with the one my soul is bonded to. But God has been working on me (and him) in the dark, unseen corners of my heart, and He chose this moment to reveal how much He’s changed me (and us). Our time with my mom and American family was amazing and much-needed—my relationship with my grandmothers, siblings, and father needed more than a week of whirlwind vacation—and I know God did and is doing wonderful things with seeds sown there. But I am convinced that all the heartache and separation was worth it for that single revelation as I drove across the bridge that I love my husband more than I thought I did.

Red X Better self-care: shower twice a week, floss daily: As nasty as this is, I must admit I didn’t get this one down. I don’t sweat or smell much, especially when confined to the house, so showering rarely seems necessary unless I’ve been working in the new house or gone to the gym (which is much spottier than I’d like; they’re making so much money off me not going). And no one likes flossing. My pattern is more like “shower once a week, floss a couple times.” Ugh.

Red X Schedule four friend dates a month: This got nerfed because it was a goal set with the bright-eyed optimism of 2021 being the end of covid (and then summering in Missouri). I did connect with friends more this year, which is amazing, but there was little intentional hangout time. I could have made it work with technology, buuuuuuut I have to admit I hate video chats. It’s just not the same. But! I did have success with Marco Polo, so perhaps more of that ahead.

Small green check mark Make “the Russian cake”: UNQUALIFIED SUCCESS. I have a dear friend that makes this absolutely bonkers 12-layer burnt-honey cream cake for very special occasions, and I’ve always wanted to do it with her once. Pandemic life being what it is, we couldn’t, so I decided to dive in and do it solo as my birthday cake. I had to buy equipment! (If a metal bowl and offset spatula can be referred to as such.) It was time-consuming yet zenlike and perhaps the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. I was sick with cold symptoms for three days after but it was worth it. 10/10, will make again.

Ministry/Business Goals (5/1/1)

Small green check mark Complete the “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” class: Finally. I wrapped my last session 18 months after starting, which is totally unreasonable for a 15-hour class broken into 30 segments. So many times I thought I should “let it go” and “release it”—fancy spiritual terms for giving up—because having it over my head weighed on me, but it was just too damn interesting. I learned so much. I can’t recommend Bible Project enough; you cannot get a more accessible and thorough bible education for free. I’m currently pondering which class to tackle next. 15 weeks on Jonah or Genesis 1-11? Decisions, decisions.

Small green check mark Read the New Testament in 30 days: Another study tool I highly recommend is the 30 day shred. There’s a full-Bible version (which I did two years ago), and a New Testament version, which a few intrepid souls did with me on YouVersion leading up to Easter. It’s is a ride, I tell you what, but it’s so fascinating what you pick up on as you plow through. Give it a whirl!

Small green check mark Print publish four articles: I originally intended this to be a combo of Joyful Life Magazine entries and perhaps one or two other periodicals, but God had other plans. I did publish two pieces in JLM, an essay in Fall about taking God the long way ’round my personal growth and my very first published poem in Winter. But after joining Aimée to start Devoted Collective, I ended up writing an essay for Prayers for a Generation and four for the upcoming Genesis Bible Study (March 2022!), for a grand total of 7 pieces. Oh! And a selection of my JLM Instagram devos were also published in Everyday Joy Vol 3. Gosh.

Red X Compile my Psalms study into a devotional book: Yeah, this didn’t happen. I still want it to—I believe there is good stuff in there–but between pandemic dysphoria then hyper-busyness with travel, starting up a ministry, and renovating a house, something had to give. Maybe one day. (Note: In consolidating my online presence (see final point), my Psalms videos were deleted. Perhaps my goal for 2022 should be getting them on YouTube….)

Small green check mark Make $250 a month: In a move both delighting and surprising, my role as Managing Editor at Devoted Collective (and Timothy to Aimée‘s Paul) is paid–a humble sum for the hours but far more than my goal, which makes me teary with gratitude. Being in a startup ministry is much like being a professional creative: You pour your everything into it with the goal of sharing (B)eauty with the world, desiring to touch even just one person’s soul for good, and then pray your efforts somehow turn into tangible sustenance. I truly believe that one day, sooner than we think but perhaps later than we’d like, DC will easily support the work of dozens of people on staff and in creative roles. God has repeatedly shown us that He is steering the ship, which means we can trust both where we’re going and how.

Small grey check mark Create an online community: Coming early 2022…. Stay tuned.

Small green check mark Step back from social media: I’d been toying with this idea for quite a long time before putting it on the list. It seems quite the “cool” thing to do these days, raging against the social media machine and all its (increasingly-obvious) evils, but as someone who grew up online—I’ve had a MySpace, LiveJournal, a college-only Facebook, many a Geocities site—and has experienced such joy and connectedness through the internet, it is heartbreaking to think of exiting these spaces that now feel less like living rooms or kitchen tables and more like rallies, debates, and trials. Like watching your quaint, beloved hometown being bulldozed in slow motion to make way for a Walmart and an Amazon warehouse. But one of the great gifts of the pandemic has been perspective (for me, at least): subtle shifts in my priorities produced a realization that I don’t need or want most of what’s offered to me on social media anymore. There are other ways to create, bond, connect, and share with people online. There has to be. And so, despite the bitter sorrow I felt at doing it, this year I merged my Instagram accounts into one (find me here now) where I rarely post because I’m very busy with actually talking to people and making things; I also stripped down my Facebook account, stopping just shy of deleting it altogether because of online friends I cannot contact any other way. I have Twitter because I need school board updates (ugh); I’m exploring Discord; and I’m greatly looking forward to the Devoted Collective community spinning up soon—a space we can intentionally create to be whole and holy and wholesome. The way I wish it could be elsewhere.

And that’s 2021!

10 successes, 6 kindas, and 6 fails. Not terrible considering that I didn’t actually try very hard (which is something in itself as a recovering perfectionist control freak).

What I see most when I look back over the year and this list of ideas I had about what it should be is God’s closeness. In each one of these entries, He is near, holding my hand, directing my steps, comforting my sorrows, and celebrating my joys. Those three big things I mentioned at the start? I had zero clue they were coming down the pike. But He did. And He smiled as I woke up every day busying myself with my plans, nudging me here and there, preparing me for each phase of the year. He used every valley for my good and every mountaintop for His glory. I can’t take credit for any of it. And, for perhaps the first time in my life, I’m okay with that. At this stage, I’m much more interested in the adventure than accolades (although they’re still nice—I’m human, okay).

But enough about me! What about you?!

I would absolutely love to hear about what your 2021 has been. What happened? What didn’t? How have you seen God’s faithfulness? Where have you wondered where He is?

Share in the comments so we can gather around in celebration and comfort.

Here’s to 2021. It’s been A Year. But so has every other. Let’s look forward to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, not putting our hope in a change of status or stature or system but in the One who holds all years, for all time in the palm of His hand.

Now get out there and show 2022 how it’s done.

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