8 Things That Held My Attention in 2021
What do Mother Theresa, outer space, blue heelers, and a flooded basement have in common?
Several weeks ago, I asked folks some questions to reflect on 2021. I had intentions to do something similar to last year, answering the questions myself and sharing some of the answers I received the week between Christmas and New Year. And while I loved (loved!) reading everyone s answers, but a recap and summary obviously did not happen.
So, we’re switching course.
I’m not typically a word of the year person. But the word attention has, ahem, caught my attention in these weeks of closing our 2021 and opening 2022. Whether or not it’s my word for 2022, we’ll see. But it’s been a helpful word to hold as the calendar turns.
I’ve been asking what held my attention in 2021, what’s holding my attention as we transition into a new year, and what I want to hold my attention in 2022. Those are topics I’m looking at over my next three newsletters. So without further ado, here’s what held my attention in 2021 (along with some snapshots from the year).
Long-form journalism-adjacent podcasts and funny television. Specifically The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and The Turning: The Sisters Who Left in the former category, and Ted Lasso, Bluey (yes, the Disney show), Only Murders in the Building and Schitts Creek in the latter.
Other podcasts I enjoyed were, of course, The Popcast and Currently Reading (and the CR Patreon podcasts). I also enjoyed watching Corman Strike, Emma and Come from Away.
Books. Here are a few that I haven’t stopped thinking about. Not all of these are favorites per say, but these are books I’ve thought about a lot and recommended frequently:
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth
How to Not Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jacee Dunn
Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren
The Huntress by Kate Quinn
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett Graff
I read notably less in 2021 compared to 2020, but my reading was far richer and more rewarding. And that’s a trade I’ll happily make.
Our house. Gosh, I wish this wasn’t so prominent. But our house and the logistics of some major projects consumed a lot of my attention from May through August, then continued (but less so) through the end of the year. One set of house projects was sorely needed and we also had our basement flood with sewage. The whole shebang was hard and frustrating, and served as a reminder that sometimes we don’t have a choice in what we give our attention to.
My children. Kids, man. There were more moments that I could count this year that were “stop me in my tracks” beautiful; those moments often popped up in the mundane while doing the littlest of things. There were hard stretches, and one particular bit scared us. Through it all, my kids held much of my attention. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
Disconnected relationships. 2021 was a year where some disconnected relationships in my personal life held my attention. In some ways, this was good and needed. But somewhere in there, I crossed a line and let these relationships preoccupy my attention far more than was wise.
I can idolize understanding, specifically attempting to make sense of something unsettled in an effort to make peace. Last year, I devoted a lot of energy to trying to figure out what was “off” in a few relationships, talking with trusted and wise friends, and giving the relationships a lot of mental and emotional energy. There was some good fruit, but I also learned I need to be quicker to stop talking and thinking about a situation, and simply consider what the next right thing is in a relationship, then do it in love.
Late afternoon + dinner routine. I paid close, close, close attention to our post-nap time/dinner routine last year, and that attention has been well rewarded. This has always been my least favorite part of the day, and more so since having kids. So in 2021, I started experimenting with different approaches for handling the hours of 4-7p. And you all, it might just be working. Stay tuned for a potential newsletter on the topic in the future.
My social media usage. This year, I considered if I should delete or go off social media permanently, or at least, indefinitely.
I’ve learned over the years that certain forms social media consumption can make me mean, and the medium itself can distract me from the good things in front of me. Social media creates echo chambers and isn’t a good primary news source. It cannot and should not replace embodied community. Social media is a space where comparison, FOMO, and lifestyle and moral preening can thrive.
Reflecting on all of those things put me at a bit of crossroads with social media: keep using it or stop using it.
But I’d watched many people make a hoopla over going off of social media and airing their angst, only to come back onto the mediums and (seemingly) using them as before.
I didn’t want my social media usage to follow a cycle of abstinence and bingeing. So, I paid attention to my usage. I wanted to honor social media’s unique and good role in my life while creating guardrails around my particular pitfalls with the medium. I wanted to figure out how to create sustainable rhythms of social media use for my right-now-life.
The smart work Jennifer Fulwiler and Laura Tremaine have given me a lot of food for thought, along with the writings of Andy Crouch and Alan Noble. Again, stay tuned for a possible newsletter in the future.
The mysterious, persevering love of God. I think of what Leif Peterson shared at the funeral of his father, Eugene. Leif said his dad told him the same thing every night, and that it was the essence of everything he taught.
“God loves you. He's on your side. He's coming after you. He's relentless.”
If this is true about God and if that truth worked down deep in my bones, how would my life look different? Along with that, how would I care for those in my life differently?
I haven’t been stop thinking about these questions for the past year, and I don’t plan to stop in 2022.