STATE OF STEPHEN 2019
I generally struggle to celebrate what was gone well. As soon as I complete one project, I immediately want to dive into the next one. By Sunday afternoon I am already thinking about next Sunday. However, this leads me to spend a lot of time and energy focusing on where I do not measure up, where I did not succeed, or what I need to learn, instead of stopping to appreciate how far I have come.
This year, I want to practice celebration. A lot has happened in 2019. I had some large goals in my life. Some I achieved and some I did not. I want to share my goals with you, my reasons for choosing them, whether I completed them, and some brief comments on the journey.
Goal 1: Host friends from outside the church more than 24 times in 2019.
- Experience the joy of friendship
- Practice and model hospitality to our children
- Strengthen healthy connections for our family with others.
Status: Completed (25 friends over)
Commentary: At the end of last year, I heard some statistics related to loneliness in the US. The average American only had someone else in their home 8 times a year. In discussing this with Olga, we decided we did not want this for our family. In particular, as we moved from Iowa to Canada, we needed to develop and sustain friendships outside of our local church for the health of our family. We had plenty of people from church in our home in 2019 (as well as family), but I wanted the goal to connect with our need for friendship. I thoroughly enjoyed completing this goal. We had game nights, impromptu dinners, friends stay the night, or just stop by for coffee. We reached the point where our kids kept asking “When are friends coming over again?” The most important part of this goal, we realized, was that it took work. Most of us do not have our lives structured easily for friendship once we leave school. We were proactive to invite people into our home and people were overwhelmingly receptive (though occasionally surprised). Our house was not always super clean and our kids’ toys were always all over the house when people arrived, but that did not matter. I learned that I cared about the state of cleanliness in the house far more than our guests usually did.
Goal 2: Do family devotions more than five times per week in 2019.
- Raise my children to love and trust the LORD.
- Grow in faith and obedience to Christ
- Model faith, scripture study, and wrestling with God’s Word.
Commentary: Having never grown up with family devotions, I have become increasingly convicted of their value for faith formation in the family. In particular, I do not want my children to see that faith is important to us on Sundays (or during the work day), but has no impact on the rest of our lives. Family devotions is one way of bringing the whole of our family daily before the LORD and to help them grow in faith. I really liked this goal, but found in challenging. Early in the year, our family was not used to this practice. The kids would squirm and be disruptive. I would get lazy and forget. There were definitely seasons where devotions happened 2-3 times a week at best. However, the more we did it, the better it became for all of us. We used “Teach Us To Pray”, which worked well with a family with small kids and frequent guests. I cannot say that we completed the goal as it is stated, since there were ebbs and flows to our family devotions, but by the end of the year, it has become an ingrained habit in our family meals, which was the real goal all along.
Goal 3: Finish the first draft of a daily devotion through the Heidelberg Catechism
- Help families pass the faith from one generation to the next.
- Serve the church through my theological gifts
- Disciple new believers into the Christian faith.
Status: Completed on November 26, 2019
Commentary: This was, by far, my most audacious goal of 2019. I had started thinking about creating something on the Heidelberg Catechism after our oldest daughter, Riah, was born. I wanted a way to teach my children the faith, knew that the catechism was designed for this, but had never seen it implemented in a home. When I could not find exactly what I was looking for, I committed to writing this book. Every Sunday would include a short devotion related to the Catechism and the other six days would be based on the scripture passages cited by the catechism. The devotions would average 265-275 words. Even though I had outlined the whole project, I had not comprehended the sheer size of it. 364 devotions at 265-275 words is a massive book. The first draft totals over 120,000 words and I wrote between 80 of it in this calendar year. In order to make progress, I had to break the project down into weekly and daily chunks, otherwise I was simply overwhelmed. Through this, I learned a lot about how pig dreams become possible when broken down into small, manageable steps. The next step will be editing and submitting to publishers, but after living daily with this project for over a year, I will need a break before I can get enough distance to do any meaningful work on it.
Goal 4: Take 3,000,000 steps in 2019.
- Healthier body will help with stress and happiness.
- More energy for the family
- Lord willing, more healthy years with my family
Status: Completed on December 18, 2019.
Commentary: 3,000,000 steps translates to 8,219 per day. For people who work on their feet or regularly exercise, this might not seem like a large number. However, for someone who sits and reads, sits and drives, then sits with people and talks most of the week, reaching this goal was a challenge. Even more daunting was being consistent about reaching my daily steps for an entire year. I got sick multiple times. I live in the frozen tundra of Ontario where we huddle inside most of the winter. I hate running. During the winter, I took to listening to audiobooks while doing laps in my living room. I memorized scripture at church while walking in circles around the sanctuary. Whatever it took to get a few extra steps. In the end, I hope I am healthier than I was at the beginning of the year, but even if I am not, I grew in personal perseverance through this goal.
Goal 5: Go on “Date Night” with Olga once per quarter.
- Strengthen my marriage
- Joy of spending time with the one I love
- Intentional time to talk over food with Olga.
Status: Completed (4 in 2019).
Commentary: This was not a very risky goal, but it was an important one. At the start of 2019, our kids were still working through the transition to Canada and we did not have a regular babysitter, so we want to set a goal that would let us invest in our marriage, but also felt achievable. It was important to us that we continue to care well for each other as we also cared for three young kids and a new congregation. I am grateful for each of the dates we were able to have and would gladly do this again.
Goal 6: Read 12 novels in 2019.
- Grow in virtue by reading great novels
- Balance my reading diet between fiction and non-fiction
Status: Completed (14 novels in 2019).
Commentary: For the last six years, my reading has consisted of 75-85% non-fiction. I truly enjoy reading theology, history, and philosophy (among other things), but I was worried that neglecting fiction might allow my imagination to atrophy. So I committed to reading a novel a month to help balance out my reading. The majority of these novels came in the form of audiobooks, which was also intentional. As a perpetual student, I have gotten good a reading very quickly and picking up the ideas. This was never intentional, but happened naturally as I needed to read more books in a shorter period of time during research. However, I found that I started to read novels in the same way. Audiobooks (always listened to at 1x speed) forced me to slow down and listen more carefully. I hope by this process to retrain myself to read for depth, not just speed.
Goal 7: Have two conversations about faith with non-believers in 2019.
- Make disciples of all nations
- Model “Sharing Christ in Community” for Bethel
- Grow in confidence in the Christian faith and the power of the gospel.
Status: Not completed (1 conversation)
Commentary: This was a frustrating goal for me. I realized that my life is not structured anymore so that I find myself in regular conversation with unbelievers. These conversations did not just happen naturally for me. I work at a church and send my children to Christian school. I had to seek them out and I still did not make my goal (originally I wanted twelve conversations, then adjusted to two and still did not meet it). A couple times I tried to make uninitiated contact with a stranger and was shut down. I talked as regularly as possible with my neighbors, but always in passing. I read books, took notes, but still found it far more difficult than anticipated. As I reflect back on my efforts, I wonder if I made it far more complicated than it needed to be. Hopefully my struggles can be a form of encouragement to others, but perhaps we regularly overthink our efforts to share the gospel with others. We should be winsome and kind and mindful of the people we are speaking to, but we should also be bold, courageous, and passionate, trusting the Holy Spirit to work through our efforts, no matter how fantastic or feeble.
Goal 8: Make 52 pastoral visits to people/families from Bethel in 2019.
- Speak the truth of God’s Word into the particular lives of parishioners.
- Gain trust so I can lead people through change
- Increase my ability to see God’s work in the lives of others.
Status: Completed (72 visits in 2019)
Commentary: When 2019 started, I had only been at Bethel for 5 months and still did not know the names of most of the people. I had spent five years growing in relationship with people in Stout and had to start from scratch in this new context. This required intentional effort from me to both mourn not being with those I had grown to love, but also to reach out to new people who need a pastor.
Goal 9: Improve our backyard to include a garden, patio, and sandbox.
- Joy of kids playing in the sandbox
- Place to grow food for canning and freezing
- Place to host friends outside.
Commentary: Prior to moving to Brantford, Olga and I had lived in a parsonage. We had no rent or mortgage, no utilities, but also limited say over what and how the house could be changed. Simply put, it was our home, but we never owned it. When we moved to Canada, we purchased a house for the first time. I have learned so much in my first year as a home owner and invested a lot of time into our home. The house came with a 20’ above ground pool that filled most of the backyard. With three small children, we were concerned about drowning and not being able to let our kids play in the yard unsupervised. With help from family, we removed the pool, leaving a 20’ dirt circle in the yard. I took apart the platform that was used for the pool and built it into a workbench in the garage. I removed the steps going up to the platform and reattached them to go down to the yard. I built additional railing to bridge the gap of the narrower stairs. I used 450 paver stones to build a border and two raised beds. I laid 3100 lbs of flagstone by hand (mostly in the pouring rain on Holy Saturday). I used 1/2 yard of screenings to level all the flagstone, 1/2 yard of sand to fill the sandbox, and a 1/2 yard of dirt to fill the garden beds. I then used 60 lbs of chip stone to fill in the gaps between the flagstone. I built an attached pergola, resealed the deck, as well as sanded and stained the railing. It was an immense amount of work, but very satisfying to complete a project with my hands. I also sanded, painted, and stained a table and set of chairs for our kitchen, repaired some drywall, painted our bedroom, and assembled multiple pieces of furniture. It is amazing how many ideas I got for our home once it was a place we owned, a place we could invest in.
What goals did you have in 2019?
What can you celebrate as you look back at the year and see how far you have come?
What are you hoping to see in 2020?