As a planner by nature, January is sweeter than Christmas for me. Before the tree even goes up, I’m already pining about the new year and all its promise.

I completed my year-end analysis, looking back on the successes and mistakes of last year. I dumped my brain into a notebook, listing a ton of creative ideas for the coming year. Then I pruned it all down to just a handful as my focus for the year.

And that was all BEFORE the ball dropped! Look out 2017.

First of all, I chose a word of the year. This was an idea I once stole from my dear friend, the insanely creative and productive professional photographer, Tanja Butler-Melone. I implemented it for the first time in 2015 with the word “OPEN.” Last year, my word was “GIVE.”

This year, my word of the year is “STAY.”

Remember when I was sitting in Phyllis’s beautiful living room? As I listened intently to the work and strength of the five women gathered there, I was thinking maybe the word for this coming year might be “focus.” I’ve been dabbling with ideas for my next incarnation in the world of worship design/worship music leadership. Although I’m loving the process of discernment, the road ahead is still quite fuzzy, so the word “focus” seemed like it would help me…focus.

In late December, I heard the astoundingly true words of Pema Chodron at a worship service for which I was providing music. In fact, I heard them three times in one day at each of the three Sunday services. Pema wrote:

Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say “Stay!” “Come!” “Roll over!” and “Sit up!” but he will also be neurotic and confused. By contrast, training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure.

So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.

Simply revolutionary. No need to consider the myriad reactions or responses to any particular situation. In all experiences, just stay.

If you’ve been a fan for long, you know I have a daily meditation practice, the cornerstone of my spiritual life. I’ve heard this teaching, the teaching about “stay,” in a thousand times, only with other words: “When the mind wanders, no judgment. Just come back to the breath. When it wanders again, just come back.” I’ve practiced this 137 times in a single twenty-minute sit! You’d think Pema’s teaching would have been a big ol’ yawn for me, especially by the third go.

But, words matter. For some reason, it hit me anew. “Stay” feels different than “come back.”

Stay…as in stay here. Don’t run. Don’t leave. Even if it’s hard. Be here. Be still.

Stay…as in stay the course. Keep going. Be strong. Hang in there.

Stay…as in stay true. Observe reality without judgment. Respond to what is real.

Stay…as in stay on target. Don’t get distracted. Keep your goal in sight.

Stay…as in stay with. Be there. Alongside. Present.

Maybe I’m just not ready yet for a two-syllable word of the year, but as I’ve mulled around the word, let it swim in my dreams and daydreams, it fits. I’m staying with STAY.

That brings me to the first goal of the year: to finish this CD! I’m am completely on target to get the final 5-6 songs recorded and mastered. More than on target, this next batch of songs is killing it. You’re going to love them.

Daren adds shaker. Luke captures the track.

Drums were recorded on Dec 13th, with the incredible Daren Hahn on set and other percussion. Bass on one of those five is done, provided again by Noah Matthews who appears on “When You Go to Bed.”

Daren throws down some djembe on “Ever So Wide.”

Luke and I are planning out the next phases: more bass, harmonies, other instrumentation (what about accordion?), and final vocals. It’s like a construction project. You do this so you can do that and once that is done, you can go back and put the finishing touches on this.

I am staying the course, staying on target. Can’t wait for you to hear some of the results. Stay with me!

How are you staying the course in 2017?
And how might you support me to stay true this year?
Comments, people!

(And if you’re reading on a mobile device, and some of the photos are wonky,
OOPS! I’m working on that, too.)