To do, or not to do….a To-Do List


to do list--redSo here we are a couple of months into 2014, and my wife and I are still discussing our goals, our vision and our plans for the year. We have talked about finding more ways to keep ourselves and each other on track.

As parents who both work full time, the To-Do-List is an important tool for getting things done in our home. If you ask my wife, she might say that the Honey-Do-List is the only way things get done in our home. Sometimes The List is an actual list written on a notepad or on the dry erase board, or even a post it note. Other times, it involves her leaving me a voicemail message, sending a text or an email, or just telling me.

Without task or to-do lists, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of things you have to do, and it is also far more likely that you will forget things. Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “There’s an app for that.”  Recently Forbes magazine released its list of The 9 Best To-Do List Apps For 2014. When it comes to managing, scheduling, prioritizing, sharing, and completing tasks on a To-Do-List, taking advantage of these digital apps can help you organize and juggle multiple to-do-lists, meet tight deadlines, and make better use of your valuable time. By being creative with your To-Do-List, you can provide yourself a healthy framework for accountability, affirmation, improved focus, motivation, organization, prioritizing, time keeping, and increased productivity or efficiency.

One example, Wunderlist, is a free app that I have really grown to like. Wunderlist syncs across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows and the Web to keep you on top of your to-do’s from just about any device. It has several options and features that allow users to customize their experience, maximizing the app’s usefulness:

  • Share your list with a colleague, a friend, your spouse
  • Include a note, a photo, or web content
  • Add recurrences to capture your daily, weekly and monthly tasks
  • Break big tasks into smaller achievable goals through sub-tasks
  • Print your list with just one click
  • Assign To-Do’s, start conversations, or attach spreadsheets, PDFs, videos and sound files to a task (requires an upgrade to Wunderlist Pro, $4.99/month)

Developing a daily routine is one of the most powerful ways to become better at keeping and completing To-Do-Lists. You might find some inspiration from these seven famous entrepreneurs and their routines. When you flip your perspective by reflecting on what you actually got done at the end of the day, you’re looking at real, concrete evidence of productivity rather than thinking about all the should’ve, could’ve, would’ves. At that point, the To-Do-List, becomes the Done List.

What is your relationship with To-Do-Lists? Share what works for you in the comments below.

-Dwight Tucker

Image courtesy of Straighten Your via Creative Commons

February Wellness Calendar


Back at the beginning of January, I came across a new kind of calendar where you focus on a different wellness goal every day of the month.  For each day, a healthy activity is suggested and you customize it by setting a goal that makes sense for you.  The daily goals can be very simple and include things like hydration, having fun, eating healthy, staying active, and self-care… good habits that many of us in Spirited Life are striving for.

The blogger who creates these calendars says, “A healthy lifestyle is made up of a whole collection of small daily decisions… and when spread out over a week, month or year, it adds up to a healthy, happy you.”  I found that even though I might only focus on hydration for one day, those actions I set up carry over into the following days and without meaning to, I’ve started a habit of drinking more water every day.

I enjoyed this exercise and plan on trying it again in February.  Click here or on the image below to download a copy for yourself.  And the good news is that this is for YOU, so if you don’t like one of the recommended activities, replace it with something of your choosing!

feb2014-Katie Huffman

(Find more calendars and healthy recipes at back to her roots)



Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday.

Wait a second…

That last one might be new to you. For the second year, organizations around the country are uniting to begin the holiday season in the spirit of giving.

We were made aware of this by the good folks over at Heifer International, one of the alternative giving sites I mentioned in a holiday post around this time last year. Heifer offers 30 different kinds of livestock, trees, seeds and offers training in environmentally-sound agriculture to families in more than 30 countries, including the United States, Nepal, China, Brazil, Rwanda, and Armenia. Their gifts vary in efforts to give livestock to families, promote women’s empowerment, support sustainable farming, and provide basic needs. Check out this video  if you would like to know more about the good work Heifer is doing around the globe or their Most Important Gift Catalog if you would like to give gifts in honor of loved ones this year.

The amount of time, effort, and money it takes to change the life of an individual somewhere around the globe is minimal. We encourage you to take the chance this Tuesday to be a part of giving goodness to the world in some way!

This Giving Tuesday it's time to give back.

Happy Giving!

– Ellie Poole

meQuilibrium: An Innovative Stress-Management Program


The Duke Clergy Health initiative has been talking to pastors about their wellness for nearly six years now. One theme that comes up regularly in these conversations is stress. We know that pastors juggle many responsibilities and expectations and are often asked to be present with people during their most trying moments. But what IS stress? Is it a feeling? Is it measurable? We know that stress is not experienced in the same way by every person: the circumstances that trigger the stress response in you are likely different from those that cause stress in those around you.

Earlier this year, we added a new tool for understanding and managing stress to our Spirited Life wellness program. It’s an interactive coaching system called meQuilibrium. This program caught our attention because of its highly-customizable, holistic, insightful approach and practical tools. Over the past few months, many clergy in Spirited Life have had the opportunity to take part, and we’re pleased to have negotiated a special rate that will enable any friend of Spirited Life to use the program at the highly reduced rate of only $10/year.


meQuilibrium starts with a comprehensive meQ assessment designed to evaluate your individual personality type, thinking patterns, habits, and lifestyle, and pinpoint the areas that create the most stress for you.

Based on your responses, you’ll instantly receive your stress profile – an in-depth analysis of not only where your stress is most pronounced, but how your unique thinking and lifestyle habits led you there.  The meQ program will then give you a personalized prescription of skills that will help you change your stress response.

To learn more about meQuilibrium and to sign up at a reduced rate, visit:

Caren Swanson




I’ve been thinking a lot about benedictions lately, as my coworkers and I prepare for our final workshop with the pastors in the second group of Spirited Life. It is our task, in a very real way, to offer a benediction, a “good proclamation,” not only for our time together at the workshop, but for all the work that the pastors have put in over the two years of the program. It feels like such a great privilege to pronounce blessing, especially to pastors who spend their days doing just that (among many other things, of course!) and our staff is eager to do it well, thus there have been many resources shared between us recently. There are a plethora of benediction resources out there, from the UM Book of Worship, to contemporary poems and prayers. I thought I’d share a couple of my personal favorites here:

John O’Donohue, Irish teacher and poet, has been widely praised for his gift of drawing on Celtic spiritual traditions to create words of inspiration and wisdom for today. In To Bless the Space Between Us, his compelling blend of elegant, poetic language and spiritual insight offers readers comfort and encouragement on their journeys through life. O’Donohue looks at life’s thresholds—getting married, having children, starting a new job—and offers invaluable guidelines for making the transition from a known, familiar world into a new, unmapped territory. Most profoundly, however, O’Donohue explains “blessing” as a way of life, as a lens through which the whole world is transformed.

  • Carol Penner is a Mennonite worship leader and writer, though people of all denominations will find her accessible. Her website is a wealth of worship resources of all kinds.  On her site you will find benedictions for particular holy days, as well as general blessings.  I particularly love her benediction titled “Pitched, Peeled and Poised:”

Go into your week
with your ears pitched
to the sound of God’s voice calling your name.
Go into your week
with your eyes peeled
for the face of Jesus in unexpected places.
Go into your week
with your soul poised
to receive the Spirit of God,
the Spirit of Peace.

  • St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a much-loved prayer popularly attributed to the famed patron saint of Ireland.  It has been transposed into a hymn, but is lovely on it’s own as a blessing It is not traditionally used as a benediction, but with it’s strong language evoking praise and the abiding presence of God, I think it makes for a powerful one. It’s long, but some of my favorite lines include:

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

  • There is a lovely video benediction for churches who use multimedia based on the Romans 15:13 prayer at WorshipHouse Media.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

6371421595_c96267e7b8_zGo in peace to love and serve the Lord!

Caren Swanson

Images by flickr users cknara and nffcnnr via Creative Commons.


What Waits?


1235336_10151644815901845_113155099_nI came across this gorgeous photo and quote in the Clergy Health Initiative facebook feed, and it stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been talking to my daughter a lot lately about seeds, as our garden goes to seed and the massive oak trees that shade our yard pepper us with acorns. And when I look at her, I can see the seed of the young woman she will some day become. Yet, when I think of myself, I forget that there is also a seed there. I forget that I am still growing and changing and in need of nurture. It’s easy to do, in the busyness of life, but it is essential that we have reminders–poets and artistic images–that remind us.

That’s why I’m grateful for Anam Cara Ministries and their facebook feed. You never know where a source of inspiration and nurture might be hiding, and even facebook can serve up some pretty great stuff occasionally! is a website devoted to spiritual growth–the woman who runs it, Tara Owens, is a spiritual director–and there is plenty of inspiration to be found there in the form of blog entries, information about spiritual direction, and beautiful little nuggets of wisdom like the one above. I encourage you to check it out, if you, like me, are in need of some encouragement and spiritual nurture, even on the internet!

–Caren Swanson

Image courtesy of Anam Cara Ministries.

One word


There’s a new approach to New Year’s resolutions that has been popping up in my corner of the blogosphere in the last few years, and it’s one of those concepts that must be good, because I can’t get it out of my head.

People have been writing candidly about the pressure that they place on themselves to be a certain person, to act in a certain way, to practice certain behaviors — and hypothesizing that our proclivity for making resolutions can sometimes reinforce or validate that pressure.  In response, some are choosing to forgo creating a list of daunting New Year’s resolutions.  Instead, they are focusing on a single word for the year, a word to ponder, to be shaped by, to live into.

Here’s inspiration from Alece Ronzino, a woman who started a website that invites people to share their “one word” and the stories of how it has shaped their lives:

I’ve lived most of my life by SHOULDS. Growing up, I was the all-American good girl. I did well in school. I went on mission trips. I moved to Africa when I was 19 to serve as a missionary. I did everything “right.” By the book. The way I was supposed to, expected to, told to. The way I should.

But the treadmill of striving is exhausting.

She goes on to write about how the routine of making resolutions every January and then not meeting them made her feel like a failure.

So I began choosing just One Word as I step into a new year. One word that sums up who I want to be, or a character trait I want to develop, or an attribute I want to intentionally add to my life.

And since it’s just one word, it’s easy to remember. I place reminders of it around my home and workspace, and I inevitably start seeing and hearing it everywhere, which helps me stay mindful of it…

My One Word isn’t another to-do list. It’s simply a guide as I make decisions, set plans, and go about my every day.

And I’ve seen these words shape not only my year, but also myself. They’ve challenged me, inspired me, changed me. Such is the power of intentionality.

In the busyness of the holidays, I neither set resolutions nor chose “one word,” but I do like to set intentions for myself, so I might prayerfully choose a word and start my year in February.  If you’re inspired to do the same, let us know what word you chose!

Read Alece’s full blog post here.

Join up with Alece’s OneWord365 community here.

–Caren Swanson

Image courtesy of

Maintain, Don’t Gain, Over the Holidays


Fresh back from Thanksgiving, it’s official: ’tis the season for holiday eating.  And also countless articles (here, here, and here) about holiday weight gain. While some of these stories pose a scare that Americans may gain, on average, 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the average gain is actually closer to just one pound.

That’s the good news.  The not so good news?  According the National Institutes of Health researchers, that one pound may never come off.  Americans gain an average of .4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives.

There are lots of reasons why weight gain happens over the holidays.  The increased availability of rich foods.  Stress.  With so many additional activities to attend to, it can be tempting to carve out less time for exercise and sleep, and deprivation of both can contribute to additional pounds.

There also may be a sort of ‘all or nothing’ thinking; once you have blown your diet at one event, it may seem like forgoing exercise and enjoying each delicacy with fervor and enthusiasm is the best way to get into the holiday spirit.  After all, the New Year’s the time for dieting and renewed commitment to exercise, right?

Unfortunately, no.  The easiest way to lose the extra holiday weight is to never put it on.  However, during this season of temptation, keeping the weight off can be much easier said than done, so here are some tips to help keep the scales from creeping up on you:

  • Make a plan. Take a look at your (already very full, I imagine) holiday calendar and schedule in time for exercise, healthy meal preparation, or an early bedtime a night or two per week.  Be prepared for holiday gatherings with these tips on surviving a potluck.
  • Limit treats to one per day.  One way to prevent overeating of sugary and savory holiday goodness is to allow yourself one serving per day, remembering that you may have to compensate later with exercise or holding back from a second treat.
  • Focus on other joys of the season.  Focus your energies on making calorie-free conversation with family and friends at gatherings.  Redirect attention from food to enjoying holiday music, a warm fire, or taking a walk in the crisp outdoors.
  • Don’t make a new year’s resolution for weight loss.  Planning for a ‘brand new you’ in January sets you up to overeat and overindulge now as you anticipate lean times with just carrot sticks to slim you down come January.
  • Sign up for the ‘Maintain Don’t Gain Holiday Challenge’ through the NC Department of Public Health.  You will receive email tips, healthy holiday recipes, and physical activity suggestions to stay healthy during the holidays.  Last year, 89% of the more than 3,000 participants reported maintaining their weight.

We wish you well on your efforts to health and well-being this Christmas season.

Catherine Wilson

Photo by flickr user JoeGray, via CreativeCommons.

Sabbatical Leave


This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Sabbath… a break… time away… study… rest… prayer… travel… research… renewal… growth… reflection…

Sabbatical leave can be all of these things and more.  In fact, there are many passages in the Bible where sabbatical, coming from the Hebrew “sabbath,” is encouraged and where Jesus is described as going away for prayer and renewal (ex. Exodus 23:10-11a; Matthew 14:22-23; Luke 4:42, Luke 6: 12-13; Mark 6:30-32).

How would you use two weeks, one month, or even up to six months of leave, not as vacation, but as dedicated time to refocus; to renew yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually; to rediscover yourself and your ministry?  Read on for more information and inspiration about planning, funding, and taking a sabbatical.

Funding Sources:

1. Lilly Endowment’s National Clergy Renewal Program: each year awards 120 grants of up to $50,000 to support pastors in a renewal experience.

2. Louisville Institute’s Pastoral Study Project: awards grants of up to $15,000 to support the intellectual work of pastoral leaders who have the capacities for research, teaching, and writing that can reach broad audiences.

3. Study Leave at Duke Divinity School

4. Samford University Sabbath Leave: pastors can spend 2 weeks to 3 months at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., working on projects of their own (writing, research, art, volunteering, etc).  Stipends of up to $6,000 are available.

Additional inspiration and information about sabbatical leave:

Lilly Endowment Grace Notes– a collection of comments and advice from previous grant recipients.

Resources for American Christianity: Articles on Clergy Sabbaticals– a compilation of articles written by clergy about their sabbatical experiences.

Wheat Ridge Ministries: Sabbatical Resources– a variety of links, downloads, and book references to help plan and prepare for sabbatical.

Sabbatical Leave in The UMC Book of Discipline (paragraph 352).

What pastors should know before their sabbatical– an article by Warren Bird and Martin Sanders on

The dark side of sabbatical– an article by Mark Miller-McLemore on Faith and Leadership.

Katie Huffman

What’s your passion?


In The Happiness Project, both a best-selling book and popular blog, author Gretchen Rubin takes a whole year to explore various techniques for adding joy to and removing stress from her life.  She identifies several aspects of life such as marriage, friendships, parenting, work, money, play, and passion, creating resolutions for each area and then chronicling her experiences as she works through them monthly.

The book and blog have some really interesting and concrete suggestions of even small steps you can take to feel happier, more organized, and more grateful.  Here are just a few of Rubin’s experiments: going to bed earlier (and how she accomplishes this!), giving “proofs of love” to her husband, taking time to be silly, starting a gratitude journal.  Readers are also encouraged to come up with their own happiness projects.

Rubin’s September task is to “pursue a passion.”  What’s so important about pursing a passion?  Rubin remarks, “happiness research predicts that making time for a passion and treating it as a real priority instead of an ‘extra’ to be fitted into a free moment (which many people practically never have) will bring a tremendous happiness boost” (p. 223).

For the author, this resolution is simple; she knows what her passion is:  she loves books – reading, writing, and even making them.  Identifying a passion is not easy for everyone.  In fact, Rubin learns from her blog readers that the question “what’s your passion” can “seem so large and unanswerable that [people] feel paralyzed” (p. 223). Rubin says,

If so, a useful clue to finding a passion to pursue, whether for work or play, is to ‘Do what you do.’  What you enjoyed doing as a ten-year-old, or choose to do on a free Saturday afternoon, is a strong indication of your passion… ‘Do what you do’ is helpful because it points you to examining your behavior rather than your self-conception and therefore may be a clearer guide to your preferences (p. 223).

Have you discovered your passion and taken steps to make it a priority in your life?  We’d love to hear about your experience.  Not sure what your passion is?  Check out Psychology Today‘s five steps to finding it.

Katie Huffman

Photo by Flickr user CHEZ ANDRE 1 (via Creative Commons)