2020 Resolved

If New Year’s resolutions are actual, binding commitments, then no, I would say I’m not inclined to make them.

To the extent the close of one year is a time of reflection on the 12 months just ended with thoughts on goals or what I could do better in the 12 months ahead, then yes, I almost always do that.

Even though it should go without saying, I have a weight loss goal for 2020. Twenty pounds.

I had a weight loss goal in 2017, and I met it and held steady for about 18 months. Then came a lot of disruption in 2018–moving, job change, lot of job-related events that ate into exercise time and put fattening food in front of me that I ate into. Plus, one of Bill’s ways of being supportive and encouraging as I settled in to the new job was to make sure a good meal was always waiting at dinner time. Next thing you know, 10 pounds has crept back on–just like that–and I can’t ignore it because I had almost everything I own altered to fit after losing much more than 10 pounds in 2017.

In about 20 pounds, I should have all of my closet available again, not just the “fat” clothes. Which is a pretty good motivator, since I refuse to buy bigger sizes.

So there, now you know. That’s my intention, too, since I’m sharing this goal as a means of accountability.

Similarly, I am resolving to swear less in 2020 and from now on. And now that I know that you know, that’s also a means of accountability. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t “cuss like a sailor,” but I don’t need to drop swear words in frustration–or not–with a frequency that is all too frequent. Swear words don’t mean I’m a bad person, or uncouth, and they certainly don’t mean I’m not a person of faith. But they don’t reflect well on any person, and their usage is probably confusing to others’ observations of someone who is supposed to be a person of faith. In me, they’re just a bad, weak habit to break.

Other goals:

Better time management and productivity at work. I’m not a time-waster and I tend to be fairly high-output, but I need to be more intentional about priorities and how I will keep those in mind as time-killing distractions arise.

Read more. At work, my time is spent reading, writing or in meetings. The kind of reading I do at work is not what I’m hoping to do more of. I probably didn’t read more than three books in 2019, and I intend to put the smart phone down and pick up books more often in 2020.

Increase hiking and walking mileage. I’m a pretty faithful 10,000-steps-a-day person already, so I’m starting from a decent threshold. But 10K-a-day is only about 4.5 miles for me, and if I can do better at the preceding two goals, I might be able combine them with this one and succeed in all three.

Such as, be more productive at work and better preserve after-hours time for fun, like listening to audiobooks while getting in more weekday mileage. My friend, Hank, has had a goal of hiking at least 50 miles a month ever since he retired almost eight years ago. For me to do that means averaging 12 miles hiked every weekend, since weekends are my only real opportunity except for holidays and days off. Once February rolls around, I’m gonna see if I can target at least 40 miles a month on average.

I’m also going to get back on the bike this year. I have a spinner bike for indoor training and I have a high-end road bike on which I once logged 3,000 miles a year–no, I’m not kidding–but I haven’t gotten onto either of them in at least two or three years. That changes this year. My goal is to be on my wheels as a participant in the October Cycle Sequatchie Century Ride. Century rides are 100 miles. I’ve done many before, and I want to do this one this year.

I can’t commit to a goal, but I do strongly hope that Bill and I may find a church home in Chattanooga sometime in 2020.

We were part of an incredible church family we loved in Knoxville for 20 years until a doctrinal issue led to a separation in the congregation in 2014. For the most part, the division was respectful disagreement, but the reality of it still was painful.

Yet we remained among a group of at least 100 we had been worshiping with since 1995, and that group added some fine new people we got to know and saw every week until we moved to Chattanooga in 2018. I never realized how special that group was before discovering the difficulty of finding a place here with the potential to mean as much. We’re still looking and have decided we’ll know when we find the place we’re supposed to be.

Finally, as always, I want to work on relationship with God and with people. I want to strengthen my prayer life and have it strengthen me in my effort toward effective and kind relationships with everybody.

Like a great mentor has often told me, when a coffee cup is bumped, what spills out is what’s inside it.

When life bumps me, I want what spills out to be the result of a prayer life that instills the fruits of the spirit.

 

 

Looking Back at 25

Bill and I met in 1993, when we both worked at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He in circulation, me in the newsroom. About 18 months later, we were married. I don’t know if–in the swirl of finding and buying a house, planning a wedding and a honeymoon–lots of marrying people imagine a future when that marriage will be decades old, but I didn’t.

In our case, it seems 25 years later came a lot sooner than I could have imagined.

Just like all married couples, we got busy working our jobs, handling family matters and living our lives. The “busy” part–I think that’s the key to the years slipping up on you. On our anniversary this year, May 22, 2019, we counted 25 years gone by.

Bill taught me to appreciate baseball. I taught him to appreciate hiking. We both really love to travel, and we have thoroughly enjoyed doing a lot of that, often in pursuit of another of Major League Baseball’s 30 parks or another of the National Park Service’s 59 national parks.

While he plugged away at one employer throughout his life–the News Sentinel–until retiring in 2008, I pursued another opportunity in healthcare public relations, then another in higher ed communication, and the latest, where I am now at UT Chattanooga. Meantime, I also entered grad school and finished a master’s degree while working full time.

Karie (left), Kasie and I graduated in 2007. They from high school, me from UT.

That was one of the most-demanding goals I ever set, but I made it in 2007.

There have been births, weddings and funerals. Both of Bill’s parents, his brother and two of his three sisters have passed away since we’ve been married, and I have lost both of my beloved grandmothers.

Hiking with members of our beloved Knoxville church family.

We were part of an absolutely beloved church family for more than 20 years. Denominational policy changes led a majority of that group to form a new church that we were part of until we moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga in 2018.

Looky who made the Jumbotron for my UT System going-away party!

Oh yeah, and after living in the same house for the “first 24” years of our marriage, we sold it and bought one in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson.

Bill’s had three major surgeries and I’ve had two. Otherwise, we’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed good health. To help people survive leukemia–after we came to know friends who lost a baby girl to leukemia at 18 months old–we both got heavily involved for several years as bicyclists and fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Training, fundraising and long-distance bicycling in honor of leukemia patients still stand in my mind as the best and most important things I’ll ever do.

All in all, we’ve been fortunate to walk through life and the milestones it brings together, happily and within a cherished circle of family and friends.

Forty-four states, 22 MLB ballparks, 21 national parks, 18 foreign countries, thousands of miles on bicycles and hundreds of miles in hiking boots–we packed a lot into our first 25 years. They haven’t all been perfect, but mostly, they’ve been really good.

The Top 18 of 2018

‘Tis the season: As a year winds down, lists pile up.

Top-grossing movies: Topped in 2018 by “Black Panther” (Haven’t seen it).

Biggest food fads: Avocado gelato, anyone? (I’ll pass)

Best moments in sports: Way too subjective–forget that.

2018 has been a game-changer for me with a list of blessings way longer than I deserve, but I took ’em all and I’m still grateful for every day of every one. Besides the tendency to take stock as a year comes to an end, one of the reasons I find myself trying to count my blessings is one of my new year’s resolutions for 2019: Be grateful.

Grateful.

It’s a thought you may recognize,”In every thing give thanks…” from 1 Thessalonians 5:18. I have found it’s also a fact that gratitude can change your attitude, your perspective, your outlook.

I encourage you to join me in a renewed focus on gratitude for all things, those you may have hoped for and those you didn’t. Because one thing I’m grateful to have learned anew in the last few years is that there are lessons in every experience, good and bad, and I’m working on trying to be better at learning from all of them.

Gratitude also helps me with patience–never one of my strong suits. Such as, being grateful even in disappointment for whatever the plan is that made the disappointing outcome the right one…at that time.

To kick off a 2019 of gratitude, without further ado, here are the (roughly) 18 top moments of 2018 for which I’m most grateful. They’re also in no particular order because it would be impossible to rank them–all being so special and important to me.

New job, new opportunity, new work friends

UTC Day 1Bill and I moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga in June, when I began serving as the UTC assistant vice chancellor for marketing and communications. It’s been a great opportunity for me and I’ve joined a team that is talented but doesn’t take itself too seriously, that works hard but has fun doing it.

 

Sweet sendoffs

Before Bill and I left Knoxville, the nicest friends from my job and the nicest friends from everywhere else celebrated with us, made us feel cared about and sent us away with a lifetime’s worth of the warm fuzzies.

Sold a house, bought a house

IMG_0563

After months of hard work getting our Knoxville home of 24 years ready to go on the market, it sold the first day it was listed for sale.

With closing set for 30 days later, we had to find a place in Chattanooga that we could also close on in 30 days and get our belongings moved into by roughly the same time. That was the single-most stressful 30 days of my adult life, but it ended with us finding and moving into a new house that we love.

IMG_9974U2 in Nashville

Did I mention that during the most stressful 30 days of my life, we went ahead with longstanding plans to spend two nights in Nashville and sit in the two great seats we had to U2’s May concert in Bridgestone Arena?

We did. And it was the second time we got to see U2 in less than a year–in 2017 we saw them in June in Louisville for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album. In 2018, they had a whole new album of songs to perform in Nashville and as incredible a show to put on as they did in Louisville.

Dylan in Chattanooga: Just a Wink Away

DylanAs long as he keeps touring and I can afford the tickets, I’ll be smiling down front whenever Bob Dylan is playing. I’ve seen him several times and in multiple cities but, after moving to Chattanooga, 2018 brought my first date with him at the Tivoli Theatre.

I was on the second row and he was at the piano turning “Like A Rolling Stone” inside out when we made eye contact and he winked at me. Yes, it happened: Bob Dylan felt like winking, and he winked at me.

 

Met nice people, rode the Choo Choo

Rollins-Celebration-18

Shortly after I began the new job at UTC, the single-largest private gift in the University’s history–$40 million–was made official and was to the College of Business by one of its obviously most-successful alumni, Gary Rollins, and his wife, Kathleen. In September, they were the guests of honor for a day of festivities to thank and celebrate them for their generosity. Busy people like that always have tight schedules, but they were willing to sit with me for an interview that would make a feature in the UTC magazine, online and in video. They were kind, gracious and unassuming, and talking with them will always be a career highlight for me.

ChooChooYou don’t think UTC would be a university in the heart of Chattanooga and not have its own Choo Choo, do you? It does, and throughout football season, the Choo Choo rolls up and down parking lots and tailgating areas around the stadium, tunes (including the one for which it’s named) wafting from loudspeakers on the “train engine” and people in school colors handing out swag. Turns out, my new office is responsible for driving the train and sharing the swag. Which Bill and I got to do one Saturday in October as my colleague, Shawn Ryan, drove us between the cars and, unfortunately, over a “corn hole” game set. Can’t be playing when the train’s coming, kids–but no injuries were sustained in the destruction of the game set, which has since been replaced with its owner, by the way. Once Bill came out of his shell, he enjoyed the opportunity to socialize.

Celebrated Joe DiPietro’s retirement

I was there from “Day 1” on Jan. 3, 2011 for now-retired former UT President Joe DiPietro. Even though I had moved on by the time he announced his November 2018 retirement, I got to reunite with former co-workers, old friends and with Joe and his incomparable wife, Deb, at a really nice party to celebrate him and their move to be closer to children and grandchildren in Illinois. Bittersweet to see him step down, but the evening of catching up and seeing people I hadn’t seen in months but used to see every day was a highlight of the year.

My new friend on the Tennessee Supreme Court

IMG_7280Speaking of my old job, almost every year in January when the governor gives his State of the State address, I would join the UT president in traveling to Nashville for the speech. In 2018, riding along with us was–no kidding–Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee, who lives in Madisonville. She and I hadn’t met before that evening, and the travel time gave us opportunity to become acquainted. Justice Lee is remarkably gracious and a very interesting person to get to chat with. We have since found each other on social media, and it makes my day every time I get one of her thoughtful and kind acknowledgments there. I’m also looking forward to the next opportunity I have to spend time with her and hope to make that possible by engaging her in something she generously commits her time to: encouraging and enabling effective young people, especially young women students.

Knoxville News Sentinel Ladies Night

LadiesNightThe Knoxville News Sentinel is what brought me to Knoxville in 1992. It’s the place where I cut my teeth, professionally, when my career began as a reporter there. It’s also where I made some of my oldest and best friends, a sorority of  journalists. Today, 1992 is a long time ago in more ways than one–not least of which is what has happened to the print news business since then. Last January though, it was time for News Sentinel Ladies Night to bring us back together. I loved, loved, loved catching up with so many special women friends–part of what I always describe as the best people, “newspaper people.” My first editor, Jan Event; Margaret Bentlage, the photographer who covered and captured and traveled with me to Sweden and back on what was voted by AP the biggest story in Tennessee in 1997 (the Lillelid murders); Idonna Bryson, our office manager; Vivian Vega, the expert copy editor; the incomparable Georgiana Vines, who hosted us in her home; and a dozen or more other good, old friends. I’ll be back in Knoxville the next time there’s a Ladies Night.

My brother got married, y’all!

JackMost people who know us both know that my brother Jack is at least as much a favorite friend of mine as he is my younger brother. He’s been single virtually all of his adult life and, until he started dating Ms. Carrie Thompson about six years ago, he may have intended to stay single. This fall, though, he proposed to Carrie, so then the question was only one of how long the engagement might be. They answered that in one of the most-successful surprise weddings ever, on Dec. 1, when Bill and I were asked to come up for a party “to see their Christmas decorations.” Only my (and Jack’s) parents and hers were on hand for the civil ceremony in Jack’s living room. When Bill and I, among the first to arrive, walked in, Jack said they had a surprise to tell us about. Understatement of the year. Welcome to the family, Carrie!

Kasie’s pregnant

KasieSpeaking of family news, one of Bill’s twin granddaughters–both of whom I’ve known and been fortunate to have spent extensive time with since they were 4–is now expecting her first child. A boy, due May 31st.

We were there for her wedding to Donovan Lankford in March 2017, and they have been nothing but two peas in their happy little pod ever since they got married. Now, the pod is about to get a little bigger when Baby Boy Lankford arrives.

Foothills Parkway: Missing Link no more

One of the biggest news stories in East Tennessee for decades, in November the unfinished segment of the scenic Foothills Parkway through the Great Smoky Mountains was finally completed and opened to the public. This is a federally funded road project that, literally, has been on again, off again for decades. As a reporter in 1995, I even covered a press conference with Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser and Transportation Secretary Federico Peña in which both said the “missing link” would be built. They didn’t say it would take 23 years, but better late than never, I guess.

Bill and I took in the stunning drive over Thanksgiving weekend. If you’re ever in the area (near Walland, Tennessee), you should, too.

More from the Mountains

Much as I love me some Great Smoky Mountains, it’s no surprise that multiple of my best 2018 moments originated there.

43642991800_5169cf350e_oOvernight on LeConte: In October, we had the rare and exceptional experience that is hiking to and staying overnight on LeConte. The fact it doubled as a reunion with eight friends from where we attended church in Knoxville for many years made it even more special.

SnowWhite Christmas: OK, so it was December 22, but there was snow on the trail and it got deeper as we got higher when Hank and Margaret Dye and I hiked the Anthony Creek Trail from near Cades Cove. Snow is always iffy in Tennessee and there’s no guarantee of it showing up at Christmastime, but it was there that day, and so were we.

NY2018_18Kicked off 2018 the right way: If you know me well, you know my story of my beloved, late Granny who always held that “Whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll do all year long.” Though I know it’s just superstition, I can’t not try to follow her thinking on New Year’s Day, which is to try to have the best day possible to get the year off right.

On Jan. 1, my friend, Hank, rounded up a whole posse of folks to try to set up 2018 as a good year for hiking by leading us on brutally cold (highs in the teens) New Year’s Day 2018. I wouldn’t have had it any other way and, in fact, I’ll be doing the same New Year’s Day ritual again for Jan. 1, 2019.

With gratitude,

Happy New Year!

 

There, but for Grace…

What a beautiful Sunday afternoon in March–so many options for a great day.

I could go hiking, watch a sporting event outdoors, maybe do some yard work in the bright sunshine. A day like that, when it’s still technically winter, calls for making the most of it.

So, what did I choose? None of the above.

I made my first-ever visit to KARM, Knox Area Rescue Ministries. The visit–by a group of several of us from the church I attend–had been scheduled for weeks. IMG_8380 2Truth be told, I began the day somewhat regretting that I had committed to the KARM visit–only because I work long hours at my job and, at least at this time of year, warm and beautiful days off are hard to come by.

At KARM, the people served are called guests,” as a show of respect for the homeless and those struggling to keep from becoming homeless. The three guests I got to talk to made me realize I was meant to spend my afternoon with them.

IMG_8382 2Before I met them, our group of about 10 people got a complete tour of the facility. KARM not only serves about 1,000 meals daily and gives a few hundred men and women a safe place to get a good night’s sleep, the agency offers Christian worship services every evening and an array of training and classes almost every day.


“We believe that rescue begins when someone comes through our doors with all their brokenness on display.”–KARM


We learned the meaning of “toxic charity,” articulated in a book of the same name by Robert Lupton, which says, “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.”

IMG_8381 2As our guide explained, one way to think of the basis for KARM offering rescue, followed by attempts to remedy obstacles to self-sufficiency is that, “Nobody is so poor that they have nothing left to give.”

And, she added, “If you’re not willing to work within parameters, we can’t give you services. If someone is perfectly capable and chooses not to accept help, that’s different than being incapable.”

KARM works with each guest to identify needs and capabilities. A case manager is assigned to hold a guest accountable, to ensure medical appointments are kept, housing prospects are investigated, and training and other opportunities are maximized.


“Knox Area Rescue Ministries provides daily for those most vulnerable and desperate among us, first supplying rescue services of food and shelter, then healthy, supportive  relationships, and ultimately restoration, including job-training opportunities.”–KARM


Launch Point is the name of a four-week program of training on a range of topics to enable basic, successful functioning: social customs, legal obligations, financial responsibility, resume writing and more. Serenity is an 18-month alcohol and drug addiction recovery program.

IMG_8367 2The local Salvation Army headquarters is across the street, and those served by it and KARM congregate in the surrounding area. At the same time each Sunday afternoon, KARM staff roll up a metal gate covering the open-air window at a snack counter. Our group had brought pre-packaged snacks and bottled water to add to the cupboard, and several stepped up to the counter to distribute goods to the guests who approached.

We’d also been told it was OK to step outside and visit with those gathered–if we were comfortable doing so. It was clear to me that the distribution of snacks from the counter was well-staffed, so I ventured outside. I had a bit of trepidation about being able to discern those interested in conversation and about what I might say, so I asked God to help me.

I approached a man about my age and asked if I could join him. He was friendly and we began talking easily. He wasn’t from Knoxville, but is staying with family in the area and hoping to get his own place. He told me KARM is helping him with local housing and employment that he should qualify for as ex-military.

IMG_8358 2The next person I approached was probably in his 30s, I realized after he began speaking. I had guessed older from his appearance, which suggested a lot of mileage on some of life’s hard roads. He told me it was fine to sit with him, but conversation didn’t come easy. Not that he resisted, words just took a lot of effort. So we sat together at the concrete picnic table and mostly looked around us. We agreed the sunshine was nice but the breeze was a little sharp. I thanked him for letting me join him, wished him a good day, he nodded, and I moved on.

I walked up to a young woman, and she eagerly invited me to sit with her. She offered me some of her cheese crackers, and I told her I’d already had some. She was glad to talk and did so, readily. I learned about where she is from (out-of-state), about her family (some of whom are struggling as she is), and that she is well-informed on the nature and role of social services in Tennessee. I asked about her health, and she was candid about a serious mental illness: But, you know, if I just take my meds, it’s OK.


“Something miraculous happens in our own hearts when we serve the neediest among us. We see how fragile our own lives are. We recognize our total dependence on God, and His rich blessings in our lives. Our relationship with Him grows deeper and stronger than before, and He uses us to work miracles in the lives of others.”–KARM


A few minutes later, it was time to move on. As we went to pray and leave literal words of encouragement at each of the beds in the sleeping quarters, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the quantity–more than 350 single beds–of need, knowing KARM is not the only such facility in the area.

I kept thinking about the people I’d just met. I hoped things might get better for them, that life might cut them a break, that our conversation might be remembered fondly. I know I remember it fondly. Gratefully. Because KARM’s words above are true–confronted by the most extreme of need, I could not help realize how fortunate I am. That I haven’t been devastated by the fragility of life. That I haven’t been the victim of tragic circumstances or decisions.

Everywhere I looked, I kept thinking to myself, “There, but for the Grace of God go I.”

And ever since, I’ve been thinking about volunteering to teach in some of KARM’s classes. It seems like a good way to express gratitude.