Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Ten for Tuesday: Here’s Some Virtual Serotonin!

Happy Tuesday!

Or… maybe not?

We were a little sad to be getting back to the routine after such a nice long break. I had a great birthday yesterday, but it was also the de-decorating day, which happens sometimes with a January 2 birthday. Boo. Plus one of our kitties died last week.

So here’s some stuff that’s making me feel good. Hope it brightens your day as well.

1. In the Moment: Photographs from 2016. Some beautiful shots here from the world of performing and visual arts, from the New York Times.

Misty Copeland and fellow members of American Ballet Theater in “Firebird” in May. Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Misty Copeland and fellow members of American Ballet Theater in “Firebird” in May. Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

2. I love the way this family does Christmas cards. Every year they go looking for street signs corresponding to the new year. They even found a Highway 2016 for last year! (Free registration required to access the article.)

3. I recently wrote a post highlighting books written by friends, and I forgot one! Roy Howard has a book of photos and reflections from the Camino de Santiago. Check out Walking in Love: My Journey Along the Camino de Santiago.

4. Dorothy Oger’s poem I Will Stand for Love is a good rallying cry for the coming year.

I shall stand for love,
for the world is wounded.
Not just my little piece of land,
where I am mostly safe,
where I am mostly well,
but our world, everyhwere.
Every day.

More at the link.

5. Or if you need further inspiration for 2017, take it away Doris Lessing:


6. How Parents and Teachers Can Nurture the “Quiet Power” of Introverts. An interview with Susan Cain, and an especially good read after spending two weeks with our Order Muppets, who seemed (mostly) content to read and do solitary things.

7. Fitting in Cardboard. My friend Dan Blank sent this along recently and I found it very moving:

8. The Most Common Practices of Super Achievers. This a little Type A for a list of happy joyful things, but these are pretty good general life practices too.

9. This was a bittersweet article, “Frog and Toad: An Amphibious Celebration of Same-Sex Love.”

10. Our family loves Simon’s Cat. We watched this new one this morning, called Bed Sheets.

Bonus: The reaction to “Still Possible.” It’s been wonderful to hear from people who are using my 2016/2017 workbook-playbook. One reader wrote, “I am going on retreat for a couple of days in the middle of January and this is THE perfect thing to take with me.” Another: “Thank you MaryAnn for putting this booklet together. I love it because it helps me reflect on little things that I don’t usually think about and come to realize how important they really are!” Get yours by subscribing here.

Monday Runday: Happy New Year!

This will be a quick post, since it’s my birthday.

45! Woot!

For the last three birthdays, I’ve done a mile time trial at the track. (Do I know how to party or what?) A mile is just one measure of fitness–and even that is a snapshot in time, not the whole story–but it’s a cool benchmark to have as one starts a new year (and in my case, a new year of life).

Last year I invited running buddies to join me, and this year I did it again. This morning we had temps in the 30s and rain, but a small-but-cheery crowd braved the elements to run our hearts out. (Some just came to walk loops and cheer for the others! How awesome is that? Of course, the promise of a nice warm Starbucks afterward was a big draw too.)


Last year’s birthday mile was a mixed bag. It was better than it could have been, coming off of injury, but not as great as I secretly hoped.

Today was better. I ran my second fastest mile ever, and am just nine seconds away from a personal best.

More importantly, I paced myself well. You can see I’m wearing my “I love running, I hate running” headband. That’s the way I feel about these miles. They’re rough. I told someone yesterday that I’d rather run a half marathon than a fast mile. That’s an exaggeration, but not a huge one. I like the pace and strategy of a long race. And on the mile I typically poop out in the third lap and generally hate life. Not this time! I still started too fast but was able to end fast (for me), and the middle was consistent.

But most importantly, I got to be around friends who came out to support me and run with me, and who give me a birthday banner for my car:


Running is such a numbers-driven sport, but numbers only tell part of the story. As a confirmed middle-of-the-packer, I’ll never be the fastest runner, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves it more. And a big part of that is the running community and the lifelong friends I’ve made. I wish the same for you, whatever your fitness journey looks like.

Body happy. Heart happy.

Ten Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

6643498911_c37d05483e_bThis is an annual post, with a new bit at the end!

Resolutions get a bad rap. There’s a lot of guilt in play, as people feel like they should make them. Other people make them and quickly break them: more guilt. Still other folks genuinely want to follow through but don’t know how.

As for me, I love setting a direction for the upcoming year. (I created a whole workbook-playbook for this purpose, called “Still Possible”! If you subscribe to my email newsletter you should have received it. It’s available to new subscribers too; click here.)

If you want to make some New Year’s goals stick, here are some tips that have worked for me and other people I know:

  1. Set an intention instead. Resolutions have always felt too brittle for me. (After all, when we don’t follow through, we say we broke them.) Intentions are more flexible. Listen to the difference between “I resolve” and “I set the intent.” The former feels like one of Harry Potter’s Unbreakable Vows; the latter points you in a worthwhile direction. Maybe you need the force of the former, but I like the latter because it can bend as our lives shift. And we can set intentions again and again. There’s a reason people in 12 step programs take things one day at a time.
  2. Make it a story. Most resolutions are vague goals that lack context. Donald Miller suggests we come up with stories instead. Stories are compelling, and they take us somewhere. According to Miller’s definition, a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it. What could be a better framework for a New Year’s improvement project? “Lose weight” is a worthy goal, but without a concrete story to hang it on, it’s too easy to give up. So instead of getting in shape, a story-based resolution might be to complete a road race or do a big hike with friends.
  3. Explore the 5 W’s. In ninth grade journalism class I learned the basics of a news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Also How.) If you want your resolutions to stick, you need to spend some time with these questions. Say you want to cook at home more instead of eating out. Who will support you in this effort, and whom will be impacted by this lifestyle change? What will you do to make this happen? When will you plan, shop and cook? Where will this happen—do you need to de-clutter the kitchen? Stock the pantry? And most importantly, Why is it important that you do this?
  4. Take things monthly. Gretchen Rubin is a pioneer of this approach. Her book The Happiness Project chronicles a year-long self-improvement project with a different emphasis each month (money, home, family, etc.). Why not pick something modest to work on in January? Then on January 31 you get to celebrate your success (or shrug off your failure) and move on to something new in February.
  5. Pick a word. Many of my pastor friends hand out stars with words on them to their congregations on Epiphany Sunday—I’ve done it myself. These words become a prayer or meditation focus. For folks who find self-reflection tedious, there’s something serendipitous about being given a word to live with for a whole year.
  6. Let the resolution grow out of a deeper reflection. Ideally, a resolution, intention, or story will grow out of a period of reflecting on the year to come. In other words, don’t go for the same knee-jerk resolution you pick every year—it may not fit your life right now. If you’re about to move across country or get a promotion at work, it’s probably not the right time to take on a new hobby or join that CrossFit class. Or because of those changes, it may be the perfect time to take care of yourself. But the point is, your resolution needs to grow out of a realistic assessment of the year to come. I’ll be using the workbook I created to say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017 (see above or subscribe here), but there are tons of tools like this on the Internet.
  7. Build in some No with your Yes. I’m convinced that a lot of resolutions fail because people add on habits or practices without taking other things away. So you want to spend 20 minutes each morning in prayer or meditation. OK… but what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen? (Additional sleep? that bleary-eyed early morning Facebook session?)
  8. Tell people. Every December my writing group would get together for a Christmas luncheon, and we would go around the table and share our writing goals for the coming year. Stating our goals aloud in the company of trusted friends was powerful. We are communal creatures—only the most disciplined among us can make a major life change without any support, encouragement or accountability from friends and family. If you’re one of those rocks or islands that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, tweet or Facebook your goals. Blog about them. Tell a friend. Heck, tell me in the comments—I will cheer you on!
  9. Take two steps, not just one. According to the Journal of Consumer Research, people who take only one step toward an exercise or weight-loss regimen (like joining a gym) were more likely to engage in activities that were counterproductive (like bingeing on brownies). Meanwhile, their peers who took a follow-up step (working out right after joining the gym) were more likely to stick with their plan. So while Lao Tzu is right that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, don’t neglect the second step either.
  10. Focus on systems, not goals. I love this reflection from James Clear, in which he talks about the process as opposed to the destination: “I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress… Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.” For example, the one year I set a mileage goal for running (1,000 miles) I got injured. Coincidence? Perhaps. But since then I’ve adjusted my approach and set different kinds of intentions: to run three times a week and to participate in various races along the way. In James Clear’s parlance, those are actually systems I’m putting in place rather than goals. I suspect they will result in a great end-of-year total mileage, but if they don’t, the journey still took me to great places, and that’s more important.

Do you have intentions or hopes for 2017? I’d love to hear.

Image is from elycefeliz on Flickr, used through a creative commons license.

Rogue One’s Jyn Erso: Improviser

This post contains Rogue One spoilers.

star-warsPeople ask me how I got hooked on improv. Sometimes they mistakenly assume that as a pastor, my interest has something to do bringing more creativity to worship, or perhaps wanting to introduce more humor and lightness into a denomination that is often too somber and reserved.

Those things are important–they don’t call Presbyterians the frozen chosen for nothing–but that’s not what drives me. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact.

My passion for improv actually stems from walking with individuals and families as they endured profound crises and heartbreaks. Navigating tumultuous waters requires us to hold our own plans lightly, to see life realistically as it unfolds, and to bring our best response to each moment, even if we can’t see several steps down the road. In other words, improv.

Health crises in particular are full of improvised moments. As I see it, and saw it, medical personnel are guided by a few simple questions:
What is the present reality we’re dealing with?
How do we respond to what this disease is handing us TODAY?
What is the best YES possible for our patient? 

Even when the prognosis is poor, those questions don’t really change. What would “healing” look like in this situation? Healing doesn’t always mean a successful cure, sadly. Sometimes it means managing someone’s pain, or allowing them to die with dignity at home.

If you’ve seen the movie Rogue One, you’ve seen improv in action. Jyn Erso makes a resounding speech to the rebel council in trying to convince them to go after the plans for the Death Star. She’s ultimately unsuccessful at convincing them to take the risk. But I was more struck by her speech to the ragtag group of rebels who do take on the job. She says:

“We’ll take the next chance, and the next, until we win… or the chances are spent.”

It’s a brilliant summary of an improvised life. If we go into the unknown banking on success, we’ll either get too scared to start, or we’ll be so focused on the future that we’ll lose our eye for the present moment, which is essential to moving us forward. We must keep our vision trained on what’s in front of us–the next chance, the next conversation, the next move. Improvisers talk a lot about Yes-And as the foundation for good improv, but having a sharpened vision for what’s happening around you is at least as important.

And the ending! I asked in my post on Tuesday, how can a movie in which everyone dies be so uplifting? Well, part of that is seeing what they died for: Hope, in Leia’s words. And hope is so much more enduring than a little band of rebels. It’s also inspiring to see everyone do their part in making this stunning data-heist possible.

When we last see Jyn and Cassian, they know they are about to be consumed by the destructive incinerating power of the Death Star. Cassian says to Jyn, “Your father would have been proud of you,” and they embrace.

They know they are doomed. They know there’s no escape. Cassian didn’t need to say that to Jyn. But even in his last moment, there is still an opportunity to find a Yes. It’s a smaller Yes than we might have wanted for these heroic, fascinating characters. But it’s the best Yes possible in that moment.

Have you seen Rogue One? (I hope you have if you’re reading this!) What did you think?


Reminder: I’m doing another workbook/playbook for 2016/2017Subscribe to my email newsletter to get this year’s copy, which should arrive next week.

Ten for Tuesday: Hope, Humanity, and Sweets

Last week I challenged myself to come up with ten small-or-large things that brought a smile to my face or hope to my spirit. Most turned out to be small, but they were enough.

Well guess what? The world ain’t no better this week. So:

1. Rogue One. How can a movie for which we know the ending be so riveting? And how can a story in which [spoiler redacted] be so uplifting? I’m working on a blog post tomorrow or Thursday about this film.

cd5abf828930350847d592e2e0cf30272. The televised yule log turns 50 this year! Parade Magazine had an unexpectedly delightful story about it.

3. Patty Smith sang at Bob Dylan’s Nobel ceremony and reflected beautifully on the experience. She was stopped in her tracks mid-song and couldn’t continue.

4. CBS recently profiled the white helmets in Syria. Incredible stuff. They literally dig people out of the rubble with their bare hands.

“Syria has descended into murder on an industrial scale. But on the outer limits of cruelty, humanity begins.” Donate to their cause.

5. This sermon I preached about Joseph, the father of Jesus, always gets a ton of hits this time of year, which makes me smile. It must be listed on a sermon-preparation website somewhere.

6. A maple syrup heist! I read Vanity Fair for years but had let my subscription lapse. I resubscribed this week with the $5 deal which I’m calling the Troll Trump rate. Anyway, here’s an entertaining article about the price of maple syrup. (Yes, really.) Did you know there are syrup reserves in Canada? We were a Log Cabin family growing up, which made me automatically suspect in the Dana house. (News flash, Log Cabin is cheap.) I do love real maple syrup now, but yes, it’s outrageously expensive.

7. Butter mints: I made these mints with Margaret yesterday. The dough is fun to work with and they’re yummy. The texture is different than commercial ones though: they harden on the outside but remain soft and silky on the inside. So it’s like little morsels of minty frosting. Delish.

8. These household objects and appliances, cross-stitched by Ulla Stina Wikander, courtesy of Colossal. So fun.


9. I’ll let this story of a coffee shop “date” speak for itself. 


10. Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017: I asked people last week whether they’d like me to do another workbook/playbook for doing an annual review and looking to the year to come. I’m touched that so many of you responded with an enthusiastic yes! Subscribe to my email newsletter to get this year’s copy, which should arrive next week.