16 Things I Learned in 2016

Over the last week, and then again today while on a run, I sorted through 2016 and whittled down a collection of lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve never been keen on setting resolutions, but in recent years I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my mistakes and efforted not to repeat them. I look critically at myself, at how I’ve behaved, at things I’ve said, and resolved, in a way, not to repeat them when they’ve not been helpful. I fail, of course, like we all do, but I endeavor to be better anyway.

2016 was a mostly good year for our family. Last night during dinner we went around naming the things we loved – from the boys turning 10 and 13, to Jeremy getting his first deer, to our anniversary trip to Key West and the unmatched experience at Lambeau Field. In 2016, I started teaching at the homeschool co-op, and I ran a relay race in April and got my 15th medal at a half marathon in December. I spent a long, pensive weekend at a monastery in July and had photo sessions in the double digits. Jeremy saved up his own money to buy an iPod, rode roller coasters with his brother at Hershey Park, and Jackson saw firsthand what it might be like to be a sports statistician.  Chuck has excelled in his job too, though I cannot disclose those details here. Just know that he continues to be amazing.

So yeah, 2016 was mostly very good. I am thankful, but I am also watchful. There are always areas in which to improve and grow. With that, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

No. 1 Parenting evolves. We have a teenager in the house now. A baby teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. We are now in constant negotiations with Jeremy over what we allow, what we don’t, what will benefit him, what won’t. Chuck and I talk regularly about how things are changing with our oldest son, comparing how it was when we were 13, comparing how it is with other teenagers we know. We are doing our best, I am sure, but long gone are the days of nap times and lessons about sharing.

No. 2 But it also stays the same. Regardless of the boys’ age and stage, the Miller House Rules are the same as ever: Family first, be kind to everyone, work hard, do your best, tell the truth. Obey Mom and Dad, and remember that privileges are earned, not freely given. There is nothing you can do to lose our love, but you will probably never know the WiFi password.

No. 3 Faith evolves. It is good to have your faith challenged, even when the process is painful and seemingly unending. Read books that challenge your ideas and be in conversation with others who believe differently than you. I have never lost my faith, but it has evolved a dozen times. Each time I’m stretched and twisted, and even when I’ve recoiled, I settle into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

No. 4 But God stays the same. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God sees me, hears me, knows me, and still loves me. If I know nothing else, then this must be enough.

No. 5 We are not promised time. Death is a curious, cruel thing, and when those we love pass on from this world, death seems to linger and take up space where it is not wanted. Several friends have lost parents, siblings, and children in the last few years, reminding me again and again that we are not promised a single moment beyond right now. When we live like we have endless time we deceive ourselves. Better to look at the truth of our mortality and make decisions accordingly. For example…

No. 6 Don’t waste time. Don’t waste time on bad television, bad company, and bad food. Read good books, and drink good coffee. Choose friendships that have reciprocal benefits and strive to keep those friendships thriving. Work hard and play harder. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of your spouse. Travel and exercise and get enough sleep. These things are time well spent.

No. 7 It’s okay to say no. The older I get, the more emboldened I feel to say no. Saying no means several things, such as “If I say yes, then I’m overcommitted and I can’t keep doing that anymore,” and “I don’t feel the way you do about this thing, so I need to say no,” and “This doesn’t align with my priorities, so I’m saying no.” Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a curmudgeon or that you’re selfish or that you think your time is more important than someone else’s. It just means you are careful with your time, that you don’t have endless talents and efforts to spread around thinly. Invest your whole self where you can, where you desire to, and say no to the rest. IT’S OKAY.

No. 8 My body is different now. For someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia for more than 20 years, this is a hard truth to swallow. I still run, lift, stretch, and sweat, and I am thankful that I can still do these things, but my body is not what it was even five years ago. It is more important than ever that I’m careful, watchful. It is essential that I eat well, that I rest when my body begs for it, that I remain thankful for all of my abilities, even though I’m not as fast as I want to be, as skinny as I want to be, as strong as I want to be. Health is a multi-faceted thing, and today, I am healthy.

No. 9 Yoga is amazing. Once I finally committed to a regular yoga practice and was over the hump of it being “too hard,” I fell in love. I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I am thankful for the online resources that afford me a variety of practices so I never get bored. I am also glad that I finally bought a mat. Yoga on a mat is better than yoga on carpet. But yoga on carpet is better than no yoga at all. You heard it here first.

No. 10 I don’t want to give up on being published. There is much to say on this matter, but this isn’t the place. I am still writing. I am still working. The dream is a plan. I covet your support.

No. 11 I love teaching. This is one of the surprising realizations of 2016. When I submitted an idea to teach creative writing at our homeschool co-op, it was done with grandiose ideas and a tiny bit of confidence. Now, a full semester later, heading into the next semester with two classes instead of one, I am pleased as punch to say that I love teaching. It’s an unexpected treasure to discover you enjoy something.

No. 12 I do not value my skills as much as I should, and I’m primarily referencing photography. I am the queen of underpricing and overdelivering. Oh, how I wish I could set rates that reflect what I provide! If the money didn’t matter, I’d do it all for free. But the money does matter, so it’s something I need to fix. If any of these are actual resolutions, then this is one.

No. 13 Personal relationships are more important than politics. More surprising that Donald Trump’s presidential win was the splitting and fracturing of personal relationships in the brutal aftermath. While my family is still in tact, I know families and friendships that aren’t. It grieves me deeply, and while some may argue “principles over people,” I believe the greatest principle is to love one another. After all, when we are struggling, we don’t call Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We call our people. So yeah, don’t break up with your people.

No. 14 My husband really loves me. If you know us in real life, then you are shaking your head. Silly girl, of course he loves you! This isn’t a realization I came to suddenly, nor did it only materialize this year. We have more than 20 years in the books, which means I’ve been on the receiving end of many gifts, gestures, and many more I love yous. Still, there’ve been a dozen times in 2016 alone where I saw my husband as more than a spouse. We really are friends. Best friends. We love being together. As introverts, we love our time alone, but when we’re ready for conversation, we often choose each other. We love to travel together, to daydream and make plans. I am immensely grateful.

No. 15 Teaching my boys to serve is worthwhile. Regular volunteer work is as important as school. Maybe more important. Do it, do it, do it.

No. 16 No matter what happens in 2017, life is good as long as we choose to find the good. We do well to remember that.

A Game of Hope and Fear

I wish I could be one of those sorts who is endlessly positive, overflowing with optimism and possibility. Annoyingly so.

Alas, that’s not me, not even close. It’s only when the calendar turns from one year to the next that I get of solid whiff of that glorious mindset, a brief taste of believing this could be my year.

And then the melancholy returns, the doubts and discouragements, the little whispers of worry that remind me that I carry a heavy family trait, described best by something my grandma said once: “I guess I’m just turned that way.” Like her, I get sucked into my own irrational space of worry and resignation. I get blue and defeatist. Every New Year’s Eve is game of table tennis – hitting the ball back and forth over the net that separates hope and fear.

It makes for a dizzy night even when champagne isn’t involved.

This morning is no different. I settled on the orange couch in my office to read and simultaneously wondered if the stars will align for me this year professionally. Will I find an agent? Will the novel ever leave my computer? Should I even start on a second book? Has this all been a waste of a dream?

I hit the ball.

Of course it’s not a waste! Think of all I’ve learned! Think of what I’ve already accomplished – a graduate degree and a 135,000-word novel that a handful of people find enjoyable. I’ve come to appreciate fiction in a new way entirely and reignited my love of storytelling! So much as already been gained, you silly girl!

I hit the ball again.

But what if it was all for nothing? Going back to journalism feels like going backward. My heart isn’t in it anymore. That was then and this is now. I want to write fiction yet I expect a slew of rejection letters this year. How does one remain hopeful with those sort of odds? Why bother?

I hit the ball again.

Because it’s worth it. All of it. The process, the hope, the disappointment, the pick-yourself-up-and-try-again attitude… THIS IS LIFE. Doing what I love makes life worthwhile. And so what about odds? I hate math anyway.

I hit the ball again.

And every time someone asks me how it’s going, I’ll have to tell them nothing is happening. I’m right where I was a year ago, working on this piddly little project that I love so dearly and every day it goes unnoticed makes me want to apologize to my characters for letting them down.

I hit the ball again.

I didn’t let them down at all. I heard them and did what they asked. They came alive because of me, and whether or not anyone else meets them is not in my hands. Besides:

on the other side of fear

And so it goes, and so it will be.

Our coming year will be much more than what comes in the mail for me. Jeremy will turn 12, Jackson will turn 9, and Chuck and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage (19 years together in total). We’ll forge ahead with our wonderful life and be grateful for the blessings seen and unseen. We will triumph and fail and learn from it all. I pray the same for you.

CHEERS to you in the new year, my friend, and may your dreams be big enough to scare you. xoxo

Flu

By the time I tried to pray the flu away, it was too late. Fever struck Friday night and it stayed for four days, along with chills, aches, and the lot. (On the plus side, coughing this much has been an excellent ab workout.)

Chuck quarantined me to the bedroom where I proceeded to sleep and lay like a slug, half-watching bad movies all day long.

And then suddenly it was 2013. Hurrah.

Yesterday was the first day that I felt somewhat human, so in my menial strength I swept and mopped the kitchen floor. A task that I could usually do in my sleep wore me out entirely. I crashed back into bed immediately after.

And now, as I type, I have a 99.7 temperature. Just when I thought I was at the end of it…

So Happy New Year, readers! I hope you all had a wonderful ringing-in of 2013 with lots of smooches from loved ones.

Kisses on NYE

Farewell 2010.

You were brutal at times and you stretched me thin, but you managed to squeak out a few good memories. Thank you kindly for the life lessons. (Particularly the ones about letting go, holding my tongue and surrendering the fantasy of my boys having good aim at the toilet. I know now it’ll never happen.)

2011, let’s do this.