State of Stephen 2021

It is that time of year again. The time where I share with you the goals I had for the past year and whether or not I actually achieved them. I was perhaps a bit too ambitious this year. 2020 went surprisingly well for my goals, so I figured since COVID would be done by spring 2021, I could set some big goals for the year. Not only was my read of the pandemic wildly naive, but I also set lots of goals that were not good for me in this season of life, with what I am enjoying, and the energy level I have right now. 

I am proud of what I actually accomplished this year, even though it does not match my stated goals. I published my first book, Our Only Comfort: Daily Devotions through the Heidelberg Catechism in April and I finished writing my second book, Rooted: Growing in Christ in a Rootless Age and have it set for publication next June. I spent a lot of time with family, read a lot of books, and did my best to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy. None of those are in my goals, but are huge wins for me this year. 

Goal: Write four hours per week for 13 weeks starting April 1, 2021

Status: Completed

I set this goal to get back into the habit of writing. I had finished the manuscript of Our Only Comfort back in October 2019 and had spent 2020 trying to get a book contract. I wanted to make (non-sermon) writing a regular rhythm in my life. I set aside regular time each week for writing. Early on I wrote some book reviews and blog posts, waiting for the next book idea to arrive. Then, just after Easter, the ideas for Rooted: Growing in Christ in a Rootless Age came together and I was able to outline quickly and use my regular writing time to finish the whole manuscript in about 4 months. I have since used that writing time for editing, but am looking forward to writing again as I turn my sights onto book three. This was perhaps one of my best habit goals of the year and has brought me a lot of joy. 

Goal: Take 9,000 steps/day, 6 days/week, for 13 weeks starting April 1, 2021

Status: Revised and Completed

I don’t remember what my original health goal was. I failed at it so horribly that I blocked it from my memory. The main problem was that I was adding something significant to my daily routine without cutting anything else out. It was a recipe for failure. I would either succeed at the goal and cut out something important in my life (time with family, rest, etc.) or I would fail at the goal. So at the end of March, I revised the goal to be simply an increase in my daily step goal (from 8000 to 9000). Olga and I already took a walk every evening, so this only meant occasionally increasing the length of our walk. 

Goal: Take the kids to the park once per week for 13 weeks, starting July 1, 2021.

Status: Completed 

This one was fairly simple to achieve for us. As a pastor, I work Sunday through Thursday and take Fridays and Saturdays off. We normally go to a coffee shop on Friday mornings as a family, but now we head to a park nearby to play afterwards. It has been good for kids (more outdoors, less screens) and also good for our relationships with them (more time playing with Mommy and Daddy). 

Goal: Go on a 2-3 days spiritual retreat in 2021

Status: Completed

Last year, I got a spiritual director and one of my rewards for that was to schedule a spiritual retreat. With COVID, I kept delaying because it was difficult to find venues that were opening and scheduling people. At the urging of my spiritual director, I kept this front and center this year and scheduled 3 day stay at a monastery in the Niagara region. I spent the time sleeping, praying, and reading. It was incredibly refreshing and I had a clear sense of God’s leading through that time. Olga remarked that she could not remember seeing me so rested as when I came back. I don’t know if I will go to the same place next time, but I am hoping to do a retreat again in 2022. 

Goal: Move toward greater congregational health at Bethel by creating intentional processes for healing and growth in maturity for the consistory and congregation as well as visit/call 150 times in 2021.

Status: Revised and completed

I had great plans for this year at church. I was confident COVID would be done by the end of Spring and we could move into the healing process as a church from the wounds we had endured and inflicted upon one another in this past year. So, things did not go according to plan. I did run an online workshop for our consistory on mission and discipleship, but all my plans for facilitating congregational healing came crashing into multiple lockdowns, vaccine debates, and lingering social isolation. Part of the original goal was for me to call or visit 150 people this year as a pastor, which I will accomplish before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. I have a couple scheduled phone calls tomorrow to get me over the 150 mark. I am proud of being able to connect so much with people in my church even when I have felt quite depleted. I know many of them appreciated the care as well. 

Goal: Write 8 stories for my kids in 2021

Status: Incomplete

My original writing goals for the year were fiction-related. However, editing Our Only Comfort and then writing and editing Rooted took over most of my writing energy and I never got back to these ideas. I still have a whole YA fantasy novel outlined and a series of Middle Grade short stories that I want to write for my family at some point. Perhaps I will get back to those in the next year. 

Goal: Games/Activities with twenty sets of people in 2021

Status: Completed, sort of

This is another goal that got shot to bits by COVID. I originally wanted to play board/card games with twenty different sets of people throughout the year, but we barely reached double digits. However, there were several sets of people that we play with quite regularly throughout the year, putting us well above 20 times for the year. Did I meet this goal? Depends on how you interpret it. 

Goal: translate Haggai, 1-3 John, and a section of Latin into English by December 31, 2021

Status: Not even started

This was perhaps my most ambitious and ridiculous goal for the year. I am a lover of classical languages and have long wanted to strengthen my language skills. I think I wanted to want this goal more than I actually wanted to do this goal this year. I thought having a set of translation projects would make this happen, but there simply was no time or passion. I do have plans for a longer latin translation project in the future, which I am excited about, but any future language work will either have to be connected directly to my preaching or my writing. I don’t have the time or energy at this stage of my life to make it its own separate project. I am a finite human creature, even when I don’t like it. 

Goal: Start four different small groups at Bethel in 2021.

Status: Incomplete

The original goal was six different groups. I managed two. I started a Youtube channel in early 2021 as a way of creating some small group materials for my church. At that time, we were limited to groups of 10 people outside of worship. I thought this would lead to a rise in small groups as people longed for community, but the Youtube video model worked fine for individual study but didn’t lead to a lot of small groups forming. I learned a lot in the process and we did create one 8-part study and I lead a book group through James K. A. Smith’s You are What You Love. Both went well, but I did not have the capacity to create as many small groups as I envisioned, especially with the conditions of COVID being what they were. 

Goal: Schedule 4 events to promote “Our Only Comfort” in 2021

Status: Incomplete

COVID again, but also my visa. I am currently in the process of becoming a permanent resident in Canada. At this point, my travel is restricted and the process is backed up due to all things COVID. Not being able to travel to the states, couple with the current restrictions meant that I never had a book signing or spoke at any events for the book. I still would love to do that at some point, but it simply did not work out this year. I was able to do two podcast interviews on the book. One is published and the other should be coming out at some point. 

As I said before, 2021 was a far better year than my goals would indicate. I have been blessed by my family, my work as a pastor, and even my vocation as a writer. God has been good and it turns out that his plans for my 2021 were different than my own. This year was far more exhausting than even 2020, but also more exciting. I look forward to what God has in planned for 2022. 

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