In what has become a birthday tradition, I like to start my “personal New Year” by reviewing my priorities. The annual exercise helps me stay focused so various types of clutter – material, mental or spiritual – don’t crowd out what really matters.
This birthday, however, found me in a “dark night of the soul” kind of mood – trying to make sense of and recuperate from a period of upheaval and loss that started even before the pandemic.
In 2019, I was hospitalized three times – once in ICU. Meanwhile, my mother was placed in hospice care in the spring and passed away in the fall. I remember actually looking forward to 2020, which I assumed couldn’t possibly be as much of a ring-tailed monster as 2019 …
COVID-19 has upended our lives in ways I’m just now beginning to completely absorb. Pete was hospitalized twice – for a week in 2020 and then for two very scary weeks in 2021. I’ve lost what feels like an unbearably long string of loved ones from various causes – at least a dozen family members and close friends, a much-admired mentor, my spiritual director, and even one of my beloved cats.
As the endless pandemic rages on in our community, I’ve struggled to establish new routines and ward off exhaustion and depression. I’m ready to turn a corner!!
So this year, I devoted my birthday weekend to prayer and reflection – sort of a personal retreat. Only instead of isolating myself in the house, I spent as much time as possible outdoors, including a trip to Jubilee Farm, where I walked their prayer labyrinth for the first time.
I’ve decided the overall priorities I identified in previous years are still important to me, so they will remain the same for now – my personal relationship with God, self-care, family and friends, our home, my writing, service to others, elimination of backlog tasks, and serenity/gratitude.
For each priority, I’ve set a long-term goal, evaluated my progress for the past year, and created an intention for the coming year.
Priority: Relationship with God
Long-term goal: Develop a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my core values should be and live accordingly.
Progress/changes this past year: In my grief and anger at God over the loss of so many loved ones, I allowed my daily meditation sessions to go by the wayside for several months. Pete and I did make progress in other areas, however. After a year’s hiatus following the death of our previous spiritual director, we began working with someone new. We’ve also spent more time outdoors – mostly in our backyard and walking around the neighborhood – where nature’s majesty reassures me of God’s continued presence.
Intention for the coming year: I want to resume the meditation sessions that have been a vital part of my daily routine for more than a quarter century. I’m also working with my new spiritual director to address my grief issues and find a way to move forward from the disruption wreaked by the pandemic.
Long-term goal: Stay healthy for as long as possible and help my husband do the same.
Progress/changes this past year: I must admit my healthy eating plan flew out the window for much of the year, and by spring, my cholesterol had gotten sky high again. During the height of the pandemic, especially before the vaccine became available to us, I was skimping on all but emergency medical care. This past year I was fortunately able to resume routine dental and eye care and regular visits with my primary care provider, and I completed a round of physical therapy for chronic pain issues.
Intention for the coming year: Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit – pandemic or no pandemic – and I seriously need to get back on track with my healthy eating plan. And keep going on those walks with Pete.
Priority: Family and friends
Long-term goal: Keep in contact and nurture good relationships with the people I love and care about.
Progress/changes this past year: During the spring and summer, we finally got to visit face-to-face with family and friends for the first time in a couple of years – outdoors and mostly in our backyard. We’ve also continued to get together via Zoom and FaceTime.
Intention for the coming year: More and more, I’m confronted with the reality that I’m not always going to have my loved ones with me. Hopefully we’ll be able to do more in-person gatherings, especially outdoor activities. But now that we’ve learned the technology, I’d like to continue the Zoom and FaceTime visits as well. With family and close friends scattered all over the U.S. and in three different countries, staying connected was a challenge even before the pandemic. Why limit visits with far-away loved ones to once every five or ten years?
Priority: Our home
Long-term goal: Maintain our home as a sanctuary for ourselves, our family and our friends.
Progress/changes this past year: We had extensive landscaping work done in the spring and I planted lots of new native perennials. I’ve found gardening to be especially therapeutic, and the yard is looking beautiful! The inside of the house stays mostly presentable after I deep-cleaned it from attic to basement last year just before my birthday.
Intention for the coming year: Now that our house and yard are looking spiffy, the trick will be keeping them that way. I would like to commit to one hour each weekday for maintenance cleaning. I want to continue adding native plants to our flower beds and turn the yard into one big pollinator paradise. And hang some more pictures on our walls.
Priority: My writing
Long-term goal: Write articles, essays, blog entries and at least one book.
Progress/changes this past year: I kept up with my blog and got some more book excerpts written. Writing and photography have also turned out to be therapeutic. Doing blog posts every other week is working out well. I post often enough to keep readers engaged, but spread out the posts enough so I don’t feel pressured.
Intention for the coming year: I’d like to commit at least one hour per weekday to my writing. I want to re-design my blog a bit to make it more user-friendly, and start working on an overall book outline, now that I have several excerpts written and have a better idea of where I want to go with the book.
Priority: Service to others
Long-term goal: Use a portion of my time, money and talent to help others and create positive change in the world.
Progress/changes this past year: At this point, Pete and i have definitely gotten re-involved in the community despite COVID. We began facilitating “Sundays@6” – an adult faith formation group at our church conducted via Zoom – which has proven to be quite successful. I continued to serve on our congregation’s community service committee and have committed to helping keep their micro food pantry stocked. We became Dominican Associates (who assist, among other things, with the Dominican Sisters’ social justice activities) and we plan to get involved in their anti-racism and environmental efforts.
Intention for the coming year: I plan to continue these activities. I’m content to maintain the “status quo” here, since it’s important that I not allow my schedule to get overloaded the way it constantly was prior to the pandemic.
Long-term goal: Eliminate clutter and backlog tasks that drain my energy, render my life more chaotic than it needs to be, and distract me from achieving my long-term goals.
Progress/changes this past year: Pete and I finally set up a donor-advised fund with our local community foundation. The fund, created in honor of our parents, will make small grants to local charitable organizations and provide scholarships for needy/underserved students at our local community college. We’d been talking about doing this for years, so I’m pleased.
Intention for the coming year: I’d like to commit to completing a couple more backlog tasks I listed as goals for last year. The first one: Getting together with Thrivent Financial to help us find some socially responsible investment opportunities. The second one: Getting solar panels on our roof. Let’s see if I can actually get them done this coming year!
Long-term goal: Achieve serenity by practicing mindfulness and finding at least one thing each day to be grateful for.
Progress/changes this past year: To be honest, I haven’t felt a lot of serenity in quite some time. I’ve been discussing my grieving process with my spiritual director, and she’s encouraged me to take whatever time I need to mourn my losses. I’ve discovered it is possible to feel gratitude and grief simultaneously – I certainly feel gratitude for the lives of the loved ones I’ve lost, which is one reason the grief is so strong! Pete and I are finally taking walks. We need to keep this up.
Intention for the coming year: My spiritual director has suggested doing something to honor my lost loved ones. Pete and I have established the above-mentioned donor-advised fund with our local community foundation in honor of our parents. I planted a Rose of Sharon tree in memory of Little Oley Cat and scattered his ashes under it. I want to find ways to honor those others whose lives I’m grateful for as well, including those I’m lucky enough to still have with me. I’ve also started to experience some spiritual healing through gardening and taking walks with Pete.
As much as anything in the coming year, I’ve decided I need healing and hope. Fortunately, I have a wonderful new spiritual director and some great support from my family, friends and spiritual community to help me on this journey. For this, I am grateful.
I also have a favorite prayer I can recite whenever the need arises: