2009 – The Year In Review

As is my custom with a trip around the sun coming to an end, I feel compelled to sit and review exactly what it is that has happened in my life in the past year. I just read an old post from the end of last year on my Xanga, and I’m really not sure I could be in any different of a place now than I was (at least emerging from) last December. On the mend from a very rough few months in the latter half of 2008, I had almost nowhere to go but up, and up is precisely where things seem to have gone this year.

Of course, it was not perfect by any means, but the contentment I have found in my work at Lampo and my family of faith at Ethos have become the core of a great existence. To be a part of two counter-cultural missions is precisely what I find fulfilling in my life; what better way to spend days than combating the dark enslavement of debt that large corporations have been willing to hand to Americans or trying one’s best to show the love of Christ to a city in the face of an enemy who says life has no meaning? I am incredibly thankful for where God has put me, but I hope to be open to wherever he wants to use me in the coming year.

Taking a closer look at some of the finer details of 2009, the following highlights spring forth in memory:

  • The social flurry of the early months including Cabana, contra dancing, the “Den of Thieves” writing club, and art crawls
  • A beautiful new niece, Trevi
  • The worst Hilltops and Coffeeshops show ever in Columbia (but fun with Joe and Kyle)
  • Big projects at work including server migration, Mapster (a Flex-based mapping application), Town Hall for Hope, and the all new DaveRamsey.com
  • Setting up this blog
  • Training for and completing my first half marathon
  • Moving from an apartment to a duplex (and one step closer to a house)
  • Hanging out with different groups of friends for the summer, which involved some Wing Nights at Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Getting plugged into the setup team at Ethos and loving being able to serve in that capacity
  • Trip to North Carolina to visit great friends
  • Buying a scooter which I have yet to utilize…
  • Writing and recording some of the best songs we’ve ever written for Hilltops (“Black Box” and “Unsaid” come to mind)
  • Seeing August Burns Red, Emery, and UnderOath live in the fall
  • Pushing myself out of my comfort zone for serving others
  • Chipotle’s arrival in Nashville. (Yes it makes the list)
  • Going ├╝ber dork with some projects, including setting up a server at my house
  • The following great albums being released: “Constellations” by August Burns Red, “With Roots Above and Branches Below” by The Devil Wears Prada, “In Shallow Seas We Sail” by Emery, and “Beggars” by Thrice
  • Reading some interesting books: Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud, Love and Living by Thomas Merton, Your Love Path by Joe Beam, Pensees by Blaise Pascal, and Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller. There were others, but those are the ones that stick out
  • Learning through (or in spite of) mistakes

That is what I see as I look back, and although we have a tendency to idealize and romanticize the past, what a beautiful year it was. I hope and pray that you all will grow and prosper in the coming year as never before. Welcome, 2010.

Why Resolutions Fail

With the year coming to an end, many start to throw together resolutions. Of course, I have also taken part in this over the years with varying success (and no life-changing endings, I might add). When I started work at Lampo last year, I was somewhat intrigued that the leaders advocate setting “goals” for the new year and downplay the traditional resolutions. The distinction, as I have gleaned, is that resolutions are often nebulous and open-ended (ie: I’d like to lose some weight). Goals, on the other hand, are concrete and have a time component (ie: I’d like to lose ten pounds by June).

It is further advocated that goals should be made in the following categories: Physical, Intellectual, Social, Professional, Family, Financial, and Spiritual. Creating more fine-grained and concrete goals can certainly help with following through, but implicit within these guidelines is the theory that most people break resolutions because they don’t have a good target at which to aim. “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time,” as they say.

Last year I set something like 18 goals for myself within the various categories, all of which were concrete and time-constrained. Yet looking back, I only achieved about five of those – a pretty dismal success ratio. So if setting goals according to the suggested criteria didn’t immensely help me follow through, what caused the breakdown? The sheer number and time commitment surely played parts, but there were other aspects; the analytical side of me wanted to have a closer look. I noticed three other factors to consider when making goals for 2010, hopefully helping others to avoid the pitfalls I found when I set mine for 2009.

  1. Work within your strengths – There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to grow in places where you are weak, but research has shown that people are more fulfilled and successful when they work in areas where they are naturally gifted. For example, I had a goal to write and record a worship album in 2009. It didn’t happen because that’s not the style of music that naturally flows from me (or more likely what I would have written wouldn’t have been received as songs to be sung in corporate services). There’s nothing wrong with that, but at the very least I set myself up for hours of painfully trying to write music that would pass in such a setting. So if you don’t enjoy writing, you may want to scratch that goal to work on a novel. There’s a lot of stuff that would be great to achieve, but greatness is most often achieved when working in your strengths.
  2. Set goals that are of consequence – Another goal I had was to learn how to play a new instrument. As someone who is not a professional musician, there is very little benefit in being able to play the violin in addition to guitar. The “cool” factor is really the only value. Yeah, it would be fun to add another instrument to my skill set, but ultimately it is of no consequence in life. This year I’ve stripped away goals that aren’t meaningful. Something need not be poignant to have meaning, however; running in a half marathon means nothing in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but the discipline and health benefits associated with it carry significance. So try to avoid goals that begin and end with “it would be cool to…” If they materialize along the way, that’s great, but I don’t plan on pursuing them at the expense of more noteworthy things.
  3. Leave room for God – As I sat and pondered everything I wanted to do with the past year then held it up next to what actually took place, I saw that God had led me into several things that weren’t in line with my goals. If I had been hardcore about it and always first asked the question “does this align with my goals?” before committing to anything, I would have missed out on some incredible things planned for me. “Sorry I can’t come. I have to go sit by myself and play scales on the violin. Gotta meet those goals.” So this year I am also trying to leave room for God to move me around and put me places I may not have imagined myself rather than solely laying out my year exactly the way I envision it and unwaveringly sticking to my plan. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

I hope there is something helpful in all this. It helps me just as much to sit and articulate thoughts. Enjoy the last few days of ’09

“Joy and Goodwill” Lyrics

We may take a little breather after all the stuff we published lately. The full Christmas 09 album can be grabbed directly here. It’s 6 songs, including one in the original German. It was a lot of fun to make, and we definitely challenged ourselves to get it done on a timeline. Anyway, here are the words to our last Christmas original which is track 5 on that work of art.

“Joy and Goodwill”

Traffic and long lines
A sign of the times
No chance to breathe
No gifts on Christmas Eve

Just another holiday
Where revelry is on display

Joy and goodwill are the tidings still
Peace from Heaven to man
Good news to all new-born in a stall
Peace from man to man

Meaning has been lost
Along with rising cost
Simple contentedness
A season made for rest

Joy and goodwill are the tidings still
Peace from Heaven to man
Good news to all new-born in a stall
Peace from man to man

The wonder is gone
We had when once young
With hastening speed
We made it…
The wonder is gone
We had when once young
With hastening speed
We made it
Just another holiday…

Joy and goodwill are the tidings still
Peace from Heaven to man
Good news to all new-born in a stall
Peace from man to man

And with that, the creative portion of the Yuletide is complete. Goodnight.

“Gather at the Fire” Lyrics

It’s been far too long since a blog post, but hopefully this will suffice. These are the lyrics to a Hilltops and Coffeeshops Christmas original.

“Gather at the Fire” by Hilltops & Coffeeshops

A thousand sparkling lights
Match the crisp clear night
O’er a plain of white
All the world seems right except in memory
Spice of evergreen
Recalls the manger scene
As the wassails steam
Cheer grows per diem in most hearts

Forget the crushing burdens of the year
Remember – hope is here
Gather at the fire
Admire the humble king
God has come to redeem

Jingling of bells
Sounds the come Noel
Stockings hung compel
Dismiss what befell since Christmas last
Carols fill the air
Cocoa melts all care
Candles tell prepare
For what angels declare

Forget the crushing burdens of the year
Remember – hope is here
Gather at the fire
Admire the humble king
God has come to redeem

Darkness, death, disaster have come
They will come again
But the Creator has loved
Enough to enter in
Heartbreak and despair have come (Be merry)
They will come again (Be merry)
But Christ the Healer has come (Be merry)
And He will come again (Be merry)

Forget the crushing burdens of the year
Remember – hope is here
Gather at the fire
Admire the humble king
God has come to redeem

So be merry (Be merry)

Music will be forthcoming soon. While this song matches our angle from last year of empathizing with those who can’t find the immediate joy of the season, we tried to take it a little deeper this time and not leave the listener hanging next to a guy with a broken heart. Ultimately there is a reason to hope despite all of the calamities and hurt that may have come since last we gathered ’round the fire and evergreen with family and friends; the Creator has loved enough to enter in. That is the essence of what has become an economic holiday. God has entered into our suffering with us. So be merry.