Reflection on 2017

This year was terrible and disheartening in regards to politics. I spent a good chunk of 2017 disillusioned and unmoored from society. The US presidential election communicated to me that I am what the majority voted against (educated, liberal, wants to provide healthcare and education to people). That’s still there, though the depression from it has lessened.

I also spent the year doing a job I love, and making real progress in several areas of my life. So let’s talk about the good things, and what I can look forward to in 2018.

Jump to the tl;dr if you don’t have time to read all this, which is totally understandable.

Finances

Pie chart of our expenses in 2017 by merchant
Pie chart of our expenses in 2017 by merchant

Our largest expense this year was paying off my student loans. We’ll never have to do that again. That’s paid for and done. Over. Gone.

  • 23%: Student loan payoff
  • 21%: Tithe to the church
  • 20%: Home mortgage payment
  • 11%: Retirement investment
  • 3%: AT&T? Really? Well, they are our home internet, and we had our mobile phones through them until we switched to Project Fi, so I guess that’s believable… sheesh
  • 3%: Modern Springfield provides furniture delivery from IKEA. I had them delivering for both our home and Adaptavist’s downtown office, so that one isn’t surprising
  • 17%: Everything else

I’m mostly happy about the student loans being gone. I wonder what this chart will look like next year.

It didn’t feel like we had much money this year, despite having a higher income than we’ve ever had. That’s because we had debt I wanted to pay off, and I wanted to start saving for retirement. Every month, any extra cash we’ve had has been thrown at credit cards or medical debt. While we haven’t been able to save hardly anything in terms of cash in an account, our net worth is doing pretty alright.

Graph of net worth by month in 2017
Graph of net worth by month in 2017

Mint hasn’t updated yet, but I paid off our credit cards yesterday, so that little bit of red in December will be gone by January. I’m also going to cancel our Citibank / American Airlines credit card and replace it with an Amazon Prime credit card. No more annual fee, and we’ll get cash back towards all the stuff we get on Amazon.

So 2017 is quite the success story for us from the financial perspective. I started working full-time in January 2007, so almost 11 years ago, and have been very focused on paying off debt, investing in retirement, building up savings, and improving our net worth. This is a stark contrast from my last year working at the university; I joined Adaptavist in October 2014.

Graph of net worth by month in 2014
Graph of net worth by month in 2014

So yeah, less debt, more savings. Nice.

Next up in 2018, we’re replacing our dishwasher! But we’ve decided that, whenever we have large expenses like that, we’re going to save up more than we need. I’m not sure how much more… saving up two times more is unrealistic for large expenses. For instance, in 2019 or 2020 I’d like to replace our fence, and that’ll be $10,000, so saving up $20,000 before we do it is quite a stretch. But I don’t want to save up cash to do something, then spend 100% of our savings as soon as we hit the goal.

I don’t think we’ll reach the point of a proper emergency fund in 2018 (three months of expenses in a savings account), but we’re going to use the credit card a LOT less and try to only spend money that we have.

I’m also going to get a new gaming computer in 2018! Savings for that begins in January and continues through December. Since I’ll be building my own, I’ll likely start doing that before December, but it’ll take until near the end of the year to save up enough. I’m going to get a new desk at home as well; I have enjoyed my standing desk at the office so much that I want to get one at home.

We might also insulate some pipes and a wall in our home. That would be a big project, though probably not terribly expensive… just lots of effort and mess. One of our pipes has frozen two winters in a row, and I can feel condensation build-up on the wall where the pipe is at, which suggests it’s just a bare pipe running through a poorly insulated outer wall right now.

Church and Faith

I didn’t do much in 2017 related to the Church. That is to say, my amount of service went down. I was visiting prisoners for a while, but a new warden reduced the number of visitation days during the week and I couldn’t make it during the remaining days, so I stopped doing that. I’m not preaching at Vineyard anymore because I couldn’t do it frequently enough to practice and get good. It was frustrating to be criticized on my sermons but only get to preach 1-2 times a year, such that I couldn’t really improve. And I’ve been praying with people less too. Every Sunday morning, when people go up for prayer, I ask God if I should pray with them, and 99% of the time He says no. He has someone else to pray with them, or in some cases, He has told me to just worship and be in His presence.

I think it has been restful and healing for me, in a sense. 2017 has been an opportunity to reflect and just… rest. It’s like when you’re feeling under the weather, not terrible just low energy, and you lie in bed all day. You don’t do anything drastic like go to a doctor and get a prescription, or sweat out a fever or some other strenuous sign of healing. You just rest for a while, and then you feel better.

2018 will likely be more of the same. During Advent, I was reflecting on joy and how much I have struggled with the concept of joy for years. Advent was one of those times I was regularly invited to preach, and preaching about something I hadn’t experienced much of was a challenge. My youth didn’t provide many opportunities for joy or hope. To be honest, my approach to hope was less a positive expectation and more a desperate bloody-mindedness. I didn’t wait for a better life to be given to me, I took it.

(As an aside, and because blogs are actually terrible ways to communicate nuance and a comprehensive message, I’m not saying that what I have in this life is by my own works and will. Everything I have, God gave to me. It is by His grace alone that I live. But I also believe that faith without works is dead, and that God wants us to partner with Him, which is to say that we have to be open to opportunities and we have to trust in God and pursue those opportunities if we’re going to succeed.)

2017 was hard in many respects. Politically, it feels like our country is going backwards. April and I experienced miscarriage, and the message during Advent I heard about waiting left me weeping; I’ve been waiting to have kids for 22 years now, and working towards that goal, and it’s hard. Ending every month with no cash in the bank is hard, even though I know it’s because we’re paying off debt and saving up for retirement.

But I also feel like I have come to understand joy and contentment better this year. I am truly hopeful, not just determined and motivated. I am content. I have trusted God in years past, but I feel like I moved to a new level of trust this year. The hard things aren’t as hard as they would have been a few years ago because I have confidence that God is in our corner. He hasn’t changed, I have. And the more I learn about that, the greater my joy because I can see how He has sheltered and provided for me, both materially and emotionally.

2018 will likely be continuing to grow in that area. I don’t think I’m “there” yet, but I think I’m getting there. I look forward to seeing where “there” is and what God calls me to next.

I will be starting one new service thing, which is doing some volunteer work at Campbell Elementary school as part of our church. I don’t know what that’ll look like quite yet, but I hope to start in January/February.

Work

Adaptavist continues to be awesome. I’m still Head of Learning and Development, but in December my group was moved out of Operations and over to Products. My business model better aligns with Products, which has more of an investment focus: you build the thing, then sell the thing, whereas in Operations/Services, you have to get the business then hire the people to deliver the work. Adaptavist Learn is a product, and we’re going to be better able to invest in it as a product now. So that’s pretty exciting.

From left to right: Krista Parker, Ryan Spilken, Matthew Stublefield, Neil Penny, Renee Brown
Adaptavist Learning & Development – December 2017

My current team is traveling to Springfield the second week of January so we can experiment with a new method of course development and try to write an entire course in one week. Then, two new people are joining my team later in January, which is huge. We haven’t hired anyone into L&D since March 2017. I’m hoping we’ll actually hire a couple more people sometime between February and March 2018.

In 2018, I’m looking forward to completing the foundational set of features for Learn, rounding out our course library so we have everything covered that I originally set out to cover, and making some huge improvements to our product documentation.

Health

I have already written extensively about my new dedication to the Keto diet. I surprised my dad recently when I told him that this isn’t just a temporary change to lose weight, but a lifestyle change. I’m in this for the long-haul.

A helpful quote I read recently: what matters isn’t what you eat between Christmas and New Years, but what you eat between New Years and Christmas. I definitely cheated some over Christmas… the first couple of days were OK and I was able to resist, but my mother-in-law’s biscuits and my father-in-law’s chocolate chip cookies were just too much. I couldn’t handle it. And then, when we came home, I had some french fries from Chik-Fil-A, followed by Chinese food for dinner.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 220

Still the same weight I was pre-Christmas, and I’m down 3 pounds since my last blog post after London (18 days ago). Not bad.

I have some additional health goals for January, and the rest of 2018, but I don’t want to write about them. Instead, I’m just going to do them. I’ll tell you all about them later.

Looking forward to 2018

Three years ago, in October 2014, I joined Adaptavist.

Two years ago, in December of 2015, I finished my master’s degree. I still can’t believe I did a master’s. I literally marvel at that on a weekly basis.

Last year, in 2016, I concluded one of my most successful projects at Adaptavist, and then was named Head of Learning and Development.

And in 2017, I paid off debt, began saving for retirement, rested and healed spiritually and emotionally, and finally began losing weight and getting physically healthier.

2018 looks to be better still. We’ll save up some money, make some improvements to our home, get healthier, and be joyful. I expect great things from 2018. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

Sermon archive

I’ve finally put the sermons that I have preached at Springfield Vineyard on this site. I’m using the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, almost exclusively because it provides a media enclosure for the audio file (so you can just click “play” instead of clicking a hyperlink or downloading the file), and I have set the date for each sermon post as the date on which it was delivered. It’s not ideal–the podcast “category” is its own separate thing, so sermons don’t show up in the Categories widget, and I had to use the podcasting widget and style it a bit–but it will do for now.

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Stop drawing lines between Jesus and people

Part of Tim’s sermon on Sunday was about identifying the lines drawn in our community and then working to either cross those lines or erase them. We have a lot of lines in Springfield: political, socioeconomic, north side vs. south side, education, etc. And because we live so close to these lines, it’s sometimes hard for us to even see they exist. We stop noticing the homeless, or impoverished, or under-educated. We stop caring.

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There’s no such thing as a Golden Age

What does it mean when a church fails? It doesn’t matter the cause… maybe it ran out of money, or out of people, or likely both; maybe the pastor was corrupt, or the people were corrupt, or both; maybe the building was destroyed in an earthquake and the people moved away. Whatever, it failed. The church fell. What does that mean?

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Like visiting your Home Church

I didn’t grow up Christian, but for those who did, the experience of leaving home and eventually returning to visit, including a Sunday morning spent in your home church, is probably familiar. For most everyone I know, they left home to go to college, so in theory they became more educated, and along the way they generally became less conservative, began to enjoy a different style of worship, and generally identified less and less with their home church. Returning brings a mix of emotions, from peace and security that carried over to childhood, to trepidation and anxiety about being accepted after having changed so much, and maybe some frustration or bitterness that the home church hasn’t changed. It’s a weird combination of joy and fear and nostalgia.

That’s what I felt last night listening to the Mixtapes last night at Patton Alley. That music was my safe space when I was in junior high and high school, and the alternative and punk rock of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s gave me permission to stop caring what other people thought, to become my own person, and choose the type of life I wanted to live. Listening to a lot of my old favourite songs last night, none of which I had heard performed live before (and the band was awesome and did a fantastic job), was my version of visiting the home church. The nostalgia brought a mix of peace and joy mixed with sadness and loss.

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Divisions in the Springfield Church

I probably don’t follow local politics as closely as I ought. I met the council member who represented my zone of the city once. I will occasionally hear about stuff that the city council is discussing, and I vote regularly, but I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of the city. If the city had low blood pressure and an arrhythmic heart, I might not notice for a while.

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