One Word for 2019: Light

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? you are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson
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If I’m honest, I’ve come into the new year a bit jaded and uncharacteristically hardened. That’s not the person that I want to be. And so, an antidote –

My word for the year: light.

Light as in seeing the light, speaking the light, shining light. More than anything, I want this to be a year of looking for God’s hand and seeing His grace. A year of noticing the gifts and seeking out the Giver. A year of cultivating warmth, positivity, and encouragement and surrounding myself with people who do the same. A year of journeying with my boys as they learn to shine their own small, but significant lights.

Light as in unburdened, light of heart, minimal. I want this to be a year of not holding onto what I am not meant to carry. A year of letting go of baggage, both literal and emotional. A year of few things – only what we need and only what we love.

Light as in sunshine streaming through the windows, sunsets on the beach and the glow given off of a fire pit around which we gather in Adirondack chairs making s’mores.

Light as in the opposite of dark. Because darkness in people, circumstances, our environment cannot always be avoided, I want this to be the year of looking for light in the dark places, the places where things are not what they should be. A year of “wak[ing] up with great expectation of these little reminders of God’s goodness.”

I’m beginning this year with Marilyn McEntyre’s book, Word by Word: a Daily Spiritual Practice, and in it she writes:

I invite you to discover, as I have, to my lasting delight, how words may become little fountains of grace. How a single word may open wide wakes of meaning and feeling. How a single word may, if you hold it for a while, become a prayer.

Light – my 2019 prayer and practice.

Looking back on 2018.

How much was a product of our decisions, and how much was in the cards all along?
— Lisa Gungor, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen

Truth be told, I’d rather look ahead than look back. I could write a book about the lessons I learned, the mistakes I made, all the ways that I failed, but in the spirit of #2018bestnine, I’m grateful for these nine “bests.”

The highlight: the news and the birth of our third baby boy and the end of being pregnant. Our favorite getaway: The Beach Lodge. Best financial goal hit: paying off my grad school loan. Best habit: recalibrating with the Intentional Living Worksheet every month. Favorite house project completed: turning our loft into a “movie theater”. Best fitness goal completed: hitting a 60-day Peloton streak while I was 8/9 months pregnant. Best relationship practice: regular date nights and business meetings with my hubs. Favorite family goal: intentional monthly adventures, like Disneyland, with the boys.

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… and, of course, the books I finished reading this year (not including the huge stack on my nightstand that I’ve started), my favorites in bold.

  1. A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living by Emily Ley

  2. Hello Sunshine: A Novel by Laura Dave

  3. Touch by Courtney Maum

  4. Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want by Rachel Cruze

  5. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

  6. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

  7. Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

  8. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

  9. Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza

  10. Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

  11. At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the World by Tsh Oxenreider

  12. An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones

  13. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

  14. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

  15. The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships by Suzanne Stabile

  16. Reading People by Anne Bogel

  17. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

  18. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

  19. You are a Writer by Jeff Goins

  20. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

  21. A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out: A Novel by Sally Franson

  22. Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy by Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam

  23. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

  24. The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Chris Heuertz

  25. Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for an Active Life by Phileena Heuertz

  26. Come Matter Here: Your Invitation to Be Here in a Getting There World by Hannah Brencher

  27. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller

  28. How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

  29. Be the Gift: Let Your Broken Be Turned Into Abundance by Ann Voskamp

  30. What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas

  31. Begin Again: The Brave Practice of Releasing Hurt and Receiving Rest by Leeana Tankersley

  32. Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

  33. The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted by Gary Chapman

  34. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami

  35. The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen: Opening Your Eyes to Wonder by Lisa Gungor

  36. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

  37. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

  38. Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

  39. Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler

  40. The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

  41. Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life by Lauren Winner

  42. Design Your Day: Be More Productive, Set Better Goals, and Live Life on Purpose by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

  43. Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff by Myquillyn Smith

  44. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

  45. We Were Mothers: A Novel by Katie Sise

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2018 was beautiful and surprising and I won’t forget it, but I’m also glad it’s almost behind me. I’m already so excited about 2019 and what we have lined up – our annual new year’s family beach retreat, an Exhale writing workshop, the getaway that we just booked for our anniversary this summer, and a new house… maybe? So many things! Here’s to a blank slate and a new chapter. See you in 2019.

Do You Hear What I Hear.

Said the night wind to the little lamb // Do you see what I see // Way up in the sky little lamb // Do you see what I see // A star, a star // Dancing in the night // With a tail as big as a kite // With a tail as big as a kite

For my 31st birthday, in December of last year, our family stayed at the German Schmear house in Waco, Texas. For fans of Fixer Upper, this house is a favorite – rustic Texas meets French provincial meets West Elm. Max Lucado’s daughter and son-in-law own this house, and in the master bedroom is a beautiful custom art piece of the blessing that he spoke at their wedding.

For a few days, it is our home away from home. We huddle on the couch in matching family pjs – dark green plaid Hearth & Hand union suits. I happen to have my phone in hand, when Judah, my 11-month old, takes his first steps. He stands first, looking around. I start recording at the same time my heart skips a beat – I know I’ll want to remember this. He takes one small step, then uses his other leg like a lever, swinging it forward straight and strong, his tiny, round face set in bulldog determination. We’re watching now, all of us, and cheering.

“Keep going, bud! You’re walking!”

We watch the video later, and my voice is the loudest one. I see you, big guy, I’m saying. I see you.

Said the little lamb to the Shepherd boy // Do you hear what I hear // Ringing through the sky Shepherd boy // Do you hear what I hear // A song, a song // High above the trees // With a voice as big as the sea // With a voice as big as the sea

We flew into Dallas on a late flight, navigating around the boys’ bedtimes, so we could have an extra night in the German Schmear house.

It is the worst flight I have ever been on. The winter weather is just stormy enough to cause turbulence, and before landing, we make three loops, each plummeting in intervals so hard and so fast that women are screaming prayers and children around us are crying. In my head, I pray, Lord, help us survive this. Out loud, I whine cry to my husband, trying to hide my fear, “Why can’t we just land already?”

The boys, miraculously, sleep through the entire thing.

We disembark, and shakily collect our bags. Outside, as we wait for the rental car shuttle, the rain begins, softly at first, then harder. We’re from Southern California – in other words, unprepared. The boys are awake now. The shuttle arrives, and we squeeze in, cold and wet, when we hear out of the speakers, the Revelation song.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and is, and is to come.

“Do you hear that?” says Noah.

He recognizes the words from Revelation 4:8, his first memory verse.


Said the Shepherd boy to the mighty king // Do you know what I know // In your palace wall mighty king // Do you know what I know // A child, a child // Shivers in the cold // Let us bring him silver and gold // Let us bring him silver and gold

We must have caught a bug from the airplane travel.

We were sick for three weeks straight. It started as an upper respiratory virus that turned into an ear infection that morphed into bronchitis. We missed three Christmas parties, including one at Nobu (insert all the wailing face emojis here). Noah skipped entire weeks of preschool that we paid for, including his first Christmas chapel. We didn’t make it to Disneyland, where we promised the boys we would go for Judah’s 1st birthday, in lieu of a party.

Instead, we lay huddled in bed, the four of us, shivering and clinging to each other for warmth.

We were together. I forget the rest, wrote Walt Whitman.

Said the king to the people everywhere // Listen to what I say // Pray for peace people everywhere // Listen to what I say // The child, the child // Sleeping in the night // He will bring us goodness and light // He will bring us goodness and light

We’re at the nativity lighting at our church. The scene is high on a hill next to the 5 freeway, in South Orange County, a Christmas reminder to the thousands of cars that pass daily. We’ve seen it in passing, but never up close. After the service, I’m handed a candle that I almost don’t take because I have a one year old on my hip and a three year old ready to impale himself on a candy cane. We wait, and wait, and wait. We are cold, and the mulled cider that was boiling hot when it was poured is now lukewarm at best.

Finally, the lights come on. Impatience turns into wonder. At the top of the hill, the wisemen, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus glow, colorful and bright.

Now, December 2018, a year later, and we have another baby boy, our happy surprise.

December, 2018.

December, 2018.

We’re celebrating Judah’s 2nd birthday now – we give him the choice between an indoor playground and the beach, and future surfer boy that he is, he chooses the beach. It’s December in Southern California – in other words: sunny, clear, 70 degrees. A dreamily perfect day. We drive down streets with wreaths on the lampposts, and after lunch on the pier and ice cream for dessert, we stop at a ceramics shop.

We’ve come here before, for each of the boys to have impressions done. Today, Judah chooses a horse to paint, like Spirit, his favorite show. We have our last baby boy’s six week hand and foot impressions done. We’re loading the boys into the car seats to head home when we hear the bells  from the church nearby playing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Do you hear what I hear.

When we’ve stopped to notice, we see the signs that Christmas is coming. We find the season strung with hope –  where we’ve looked, and where we’ve listened.

God meets us where we are. The place of first steps. The place of fear. The place of sickness. The place of awe. The place of celebration. And into these places, he brings us goodness and light, preparing our hearts for His Christmas gift.

Present: A Practice.

My days are looking a whole lot different from six months ago when I was up at the crack of dawn because of pregnancy insomnia. These days – with a toddler, preschooler, and newborn on different sleep schedules – my morning routine has gone out the window. I came across the PRESENT principle in the book Design Your Day, and it turned out to be the best takeaway from that book. PRESENT is an acronym that the author uses for her morning routine – P for Pray (or Pause), R for Read, E for Express, S for Schedule, E for Exercise, N for Nourish, and T for Track (progress). I love this so much that I’ve adopted and adapted it for myself as a daily self-care checklist for this season and the ones to come.

PRESENT over perfect.

PRESENT over perfect.

PRAY

It’s been a rough year in some respects (and a great year in others – I’m not complaining!), so I’m re-learning how to pray in different ways. The daily Examen is becoming a favorite practice, and I’ve found the Book of Common Prayer to be helpful when I just don’t have the words. Next year, I hope to restart the practice of centering prayer. For the Advent/Christmas season in particular, I love what Sarah Bessey writes.

READ

I usually start out the day reading a book like this one, but basically, I’m reading all day long in bits in pieces (lately: memoirs). Reading is one of my favorite ways to start the day, and the fact that I can both relax and feel productive without leaving the bed is a bonus.

EXPRESS

I write the clearest in the morning, but like reading, I write all day long. I journal my feelings, so that I can clear my head. I write down endless lists and braindumps. I write bits and pieces of blog posts and ideas.  Recently, I’ve adopted the practice of spiritual journaling – writing down my prayers, and then copying scripture, and personal or insights from devotional books.

SCHEDULE

Hands down, the Day Designer has been my best scheduling tool. Even on weekends, I start the day by writing my ideal schedule and calendaring events and appointments.

EXERCISE

Ideally, this happens at the beginning of the day because my motivation starts waning as the day progresses. My goal for this season and the upcoming year is to exercise 6 times a week and to do core compressions daily. I’ve had a postpartum healing setback, but my main focus is getting my core and strength back because carrying/chasing after three boys is no joke.

NOURISH

I am 100% a coffee person. Steaming hot coffee or a latte first thing in the morning is one of my favorite rituals, but I’ve found soul care in other places too – talks with sisters/friends, preschool walks with my crew, and allowing myself the gift of resting with my newborn boy sleeping on my chest.

TRACK

I naturally check my to do list progress at the end of each day, but I’m learning to spend more time reflecting with gratitude on the gifts of the day. Before I go to bed,  I use the Rifle Paper Co. Five Year Journal set to document the highlights of each day along with five specifics for which I am grateful.

What practices or routines are you embracing this season? I’d love to know!


Thirty-two.

I won’t pretend that we can control the night
Or what kind of road we’re on
Or where we will see the light
But right now, I’m talking to you
I’m looking into your eyes
Right now, I’m trying to show you
That we’re gonna be alright
— Forever on Your Side (feat. JOHNNYSWIM)
No filter needed. An early November sunset view from the end of our street.

No filter needed. An early November sunset view from the end of our street.

They say that God is a storyteller. So, as the sun sets on 31 for me, I wonder: what of this year was foreshadowing, what was a detour, what was a turning point? What will I look back on years from now and be shaped by and what will have turned out to be just a blip in the radar? What events were actually breadcrumbs, hinting at a trail?

Wait, weren’t we just 22?

Wait, weren’t we just 22?

Today, as I’m writing this, I turned 32. I am so, so grateful for 32 – to start the year off with my crew of healthy, beautiful boys; for my husband/best friend; for our amazing families; for a new year of dreams and goals and sunsets. I’m reminded over and over again that I am not entitled to these – that they are gifts.

Thirty-two will be the year of my ten year college reunion and ten year wedding anniversary. There was my first job out of college, then grad school, then a baby boy every two years, and has an entire decade really passed? My husband is two months older than me, so I asked him, “Is this what you thought 32 would be like?”  “It’s better than I ever could have imagined,” he said. 

The perks of a December birthday —Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

The perks of a December birthday —Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

I have big hopes for this year, that maybe this will be the year that I finally go to Rwanda or the year that we make the move to the community in San Clemente that we both love. But mostly — I hope that it’s better than I ever could have imagined. I don’t know what kind of road we’re on, but I know that we’ll look for the light.