2016: My Year-End Review (Part 1 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note:  This is the first in a series of reflections on 2016. Today’s post recounts some personal milestones. Tomorrow will highlight some big-picture things we all witnessed and experienced.)

Name seven awesome things that turned 50 in 2016.

There was Astro Turf, Doritos, Fresca, the Toyota Corolla, the Super Bowl, Star Trek, … and well … Your’s Truly.

Fifty years. My Lord.

Because such a milestone was just around the corner I was already thinking a lot about 2016 this time last year. I wanted to experience significant things, real things, even make a lasting mark this year. I hoped to have tangible achievements this year. Here’s how the year fared:

  • More than anything, I’d hoped to publish my first book. The experience of walking across Spain in 2015 was filled with incredible stories, both
    The personal sell (stamp) I created for letters and whatnot. Design credit: Hanne Pelletier

    The personal sello (stamp) I created for letters and whatnot. Design credit: Hanne Pelletier

    internal and external. The transition from journalist to literary author was astoundingly more difficult than I imagined. Good writing in one place does not equal good writing in the other. That was my lesson. The draft for #PilgrimStrong currently stands at about 50,000 words and is just a few chapters from completion. Decisions about the direction for the completed draft remain, but are much clearer than they were months ago. It truly is a marathon writing a good book, and I insist this work be the best it can be. Balancing patience with peace was a huge lesson this year.

  • In a completely unplanned moment, Dana and I booked another October trip to Spain so she could share in the pilgrimage experience I had a year earlier.  Together, we spent 30 days walking some 275 miles with a backpack and pair of shoes. I believe marriages need big experiences like this where you share intense time together and really depend on one another. Times like this become anchor points in a marriage and they hold things in place. When you share something together that’s hard, fun, adventurous, seemingly impossible at times, and completely laughable … well, you’ve really done something together. Sharing the pilgrim experience with Dana is one of the highlights of my life.
We made it!

We made it!

  • In April, I attended my first real literary conference in Asheville, NC and pitched my book to eight different reputable agents. The process is much like I imagine speed dating. It’s an interesting experience selling an idea you’ve poured your heart and soul into for months when there’s five minutes on the clock. Even though no one offered me a million-dollar contract and begged me to write another book, (that’s what I wanted, ha) I count it a successful trip.
  • We joined a church in April which was kind of a big deal. That might surprise people who are familiar with much of the way I express myself in writing, but truth is I’ve had a fairly volatile relationship with church (i.e. what we’ve made of church) over recent years. In fact, I’d just about given up, concluding church wasn’t really necessary for the kind of life I wanted to live. I was wrong. We’re thrilled with the mission of The Rock of Northeast Arkansas. It’s a bible-based church focused on the deity of Jesus and the Great Commission. The leadership is humble and transparently real. I could say so much about this, but will end with the sentiment that I’m just so happy we didn’t give up on church.
  • It was another year when by way of more wisdom than I once had, I let several ideas go. That’s so hard for people like me. When you have an idea that you’re passionate for, it’s difficult not to engulf yourself in that idea, full steam ahead. But I have the battle scars to show you it’s not always the right thing. Once again, I passed on the food truck idea this year. God closed a door that I honestly thought was the real thing when I had a vision for a Spain-like neighborhood cafe just two blocks from our home (I recently wrote about that here). We looked at a small hotel for sale in a “resort town” about a hundred miles from Jonesboro, and I even made a serious call to a culinary school, but they weren’t accepting students for the spring semester. As you see, there’s a theme in all that, and it’s a belief that’s been refined from time traveling abroad. Much as writing does, I believe in food and hospitality, and how they can be used to perpetuate certain callings. Life is literally lived out in Spanish cafes and bars. Those ideas aren’t going away. It’ll be interesting to see how they play out this year.
  • On the topic of traveling abroad, I spent 82 days outside the United States in the last 12 months. Outside my faith and family, it’s the single thing I love most and radically shapes how I think. Up next is Ecuador for four weeks with wheels up on January 13.
  • The friendships we’ve created through travel really grew this year – not just on-the-ground friends, but those with whom we’ve made
    Coffee with new friends in Santiago - Steve, Darla and Andrew.

    Coffee with new friends in Santiago – Steve, Darla and Andrew.

    acquaintance sharing our experiences online. We’ve connected with so many people in the US and abroad just because of places we’ve been and things we’ve done. If you’re one of those people reading now, I want you to know how thankful we are for that relationship, and how much we truly enjoy the conversations we share with you.

  • It was through one such friendship that I got the unique opportunity this year to submit a video application for a TED talk. I connected with Michelle Burch Coleman, a communication professor and fellow outdoor enthusiast, during my first pilgrimage last year.  When I asked her consideration for a testimonial on my blogsite, we took it a step further and pitched an idea to TEDx Dayton where she coaches speakers on occasion. I didn’t make the final cut, but the possibility, and experience of the early phases in that process pushed my limits in a way that helped me grow. Thank you, Michelle, for that opportunity.
  • Things like gardening and recycling became a much bigger priority for me
    I had almost eight weeks of a garden harvest like this every day.

    I had almost eight weeks of a garden harvest like this every day.

    in 2016. I think it’s just the desire to do things that are real. Meditate on these terrible facts today: In calendar year 2016, US citizens will discard 35 billion (with a B) plastic water bottles. Furthermore, we’ll place 100 billion plastic shopping bags in our nation’s landfills, the total of which required 12 million barrels of oil to produce. Those bags will deteriorate over a millennium.

  • I created a YouTube channel this year where I have lots of videos including this one – a reflection about my first pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago:
  • Got a tattoo -a scallop shell, the symbol of the camino pilgrim. A wise Frenchman told me once, “A true pilgrim never stops walking the path.” Thank you for those words, Jeannick Guerin, and thanks to my friend, Beth Jusino (now my tattoo twin) for graciously letting my copy her creative idea.


  • Tossed and turned all night on April 16 as we worried about friends in family in  Ecuador when a 7.8 earthquake hit close to home. Our house was spared and our friends and family were okay, but it was a horrific ordeal where thousands lost their lives and  the rebuilding will go on for years. World news barely covered it.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-2-44-00-pm
  • One of my best achievements this year has been turning off network news. I spent two decades in the news business and love what it once was, yet despise what it has become. I haven’t seen television news in more than 70 days, and my life is better.
  • In 2016, I grew to believe the things I believe even more and with a stronger commitment to truth than ever before.

More on that from a much different perspective tomorrow, and in the following days.