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.

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!


The Transition.

I thought the summer of 2005 was hard, when I had to pack up for college and leave all my best friends. I went to a small, Christian school, which was like its own world – a bubble – hard to really understand unless you grew up in the same environment.

What I know now is that there is leaving what you knew, and there is loss of what you believed to be true. Those are not the same. That summer was an emotional rollercoaster, but this summer is soul-searching heartbreak and confusion.

Necessary change and sudden loss are so entirely different. One is like being in water that is turned up so slowly, you don’t realize that it’s boiling until you’ve spent some time simmering in it. It hurts, but you become acclimated. The other is an amputation, quick and irreversible, so abrupt and shocking that you wake up in the morning still reaching for that phantom limb.

There is so much that I’ve learned recently in the most painful way. So much that I wish I knew even a few months ago. There were feelings that I thought I buried, unchecked assumptions, and unmet needs that all came bubbling to the surface like a science project volcano. The gasoline was everywhere, but I was still convinced that no one would possibly dare to the light the match that would set everything on fire.

I learned that even good intentions can get complicated, something I only knew before cerebrally – it’s the number one takeaway from the field of international development. Proverbs 18:21 (MSG) has never rang more true: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” Honesty is bittersweet, and even things that are true are sometimes better left unsaid. We never really know what’s lying beneath the surface that can resurrect into the perfect storm of human error.

I find myself trying to do everything possible not to sit with the grief. My coping strategy is to read a million books (currently on my nightstand: Bittersweet, The Meaning of Marriage, Becoming Mom Strong, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, The Eternal Current, What Comes Next and How to Like It, Be the Gift, The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted, You and Me Forever), to move the ache from my heart space to my head space, because it’s easier to understand up there.

I made new goals, new lists – everything is a task. If you’ve listened to the most recent Typology podcasts with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, that’s me, right now, in a nutshell. I have appointments lined up, a wardrobe refresh in progress, birthday parties planned, and my postpartum exercise regimen researched (yup, still 7 months pregnant). I even signed up for the Sprouted Kitchen Cooking Club. I mean, good food heals all, right?  I was operating at 60%, and now it’s time to bump it up to 100, because it’s easier to forget what’s broken when you keep moving towards the better and the best. The record playing in my mind: what’s next, what’s next, what’s next, do better, do better, do better.

Spoiler alert: Move on and move on fast is not a strategy that works. There is no fast-forwarding. There are no shortcuts. If you’re lucky, there are second chances, but no do-overs.

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I’d rather have all the sunshine and iced lattes, but I’m learning that the layers of love and loss, lessons and let-it-be’s are moving me closer to wholeness. Shauna Niequist wrote: “Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.”

Fall is a season of layering, of falling leaves and sweater weather. Even as I prepare for it – buying cardigans and faux leather leggings (that in reality, I won't be able to fit into for six months), I don’t wish for it to come sooner. There’s still healing to be had in the long days and golden hours and warm, beach nights, but even those days are coming to a close. Now is the in-between.

There’s a point in childbirth known as the transition. It’s the absolute worst. (I’ve had two unmedicated natural births with the obvious impending one on my mind). It’s the lowest point in all of labor, the point where it feels like the contractions are never going to end. They hit back to back, and there’s no relief. It doesn’t feel like dying. It feels like you are very much alive, and what you want is to not feel everything quite so much. Like, right about now would be an excellent time to go numb or pass out until it’s all over.

That’s the point when you know that you’re close. You just need to hang on a little bit longer. You need to breathe deeply and hold tightly to your husband’s hand. Time will pass at the slowest rate possible.

And then, your baby comes.

The time that seemed to pass at a snail’s pace, stops. Completely.

Not every real-life transition ends with something as transcendently beautiful as a newborn baby. But there’s hope in that. The cross was not the end of the story. It was the in-between, the transition, the slow passing of time. The story is still being written.

I came across an Instagram post recently that said that sometimes the wisest and kindest thing you can do is walk away. Part of walking away is giving up knowing how the story ends. Uncertainty about what comes next has never been easy for me, but I hold onto the belief that the ending is always about the deepest, fullest kind of life and that the transition is what gets us there.

On Fight & On Grace.

 “All is grace in our one brutal and beautiful life.” - Ann Voskamp

One of my very favorite places. Someday, I'll have an epic party on that rooftop.

One of my very favorite places. Someday, I'll have an epic party on that rooftop.

I wonder if grace is written in the sunsets and the clear blue skies and iced half-decaf mint lattes by the pool and clothes that are not maternity but still miraculously fit. I wonder if grace is found in quiet mornings by the ocean, the perfect glass of pinot noir rosé, and running into friends at the farmers’ market.

I wonder if grace is holding both the light and the darkness, what is and what isn’t, the homecoming and the ache. I wonder if grace is being showered with love that you don’t deserve and never asked for.

Jen Hatmaker wrote a book about fighting for grace. I haven’t read it. It seems like an oxymoron – like fighting for peace, which doesn’t seem to make sense until you look back at all of human history and see that all peace was hard-won and paid for in blood, tears, and loss.

Maybe what we need is a little more fight and a little more grace. Maybe it’s in the juxtaposition that we sense more clearly, like with bitter and sweet. In Come Matter Here, Hannah Brencher describes fight songs as reminders to keep going.

She writes:  “I just hope you always know you deserve beautiful things. You deserve the chance to close chapters and write new endings and cry loud and not be sorry for whatever makes that wild heart of yours beat. (Fight Song #4).”

Here’s to reclaiming that wild heart and letting it beat, for the fight and for the grace.

Note to Self.

I had a student at work ask me recently for advice. I gave her the advice that really, I needed for myself. What I said:

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Intentionally develop your voice. I love how Sheryl Sandberg (my patron saint of all things business) says it: “People aren’t brands. That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely – I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.” Practice pitching ideas – in meetings, but even with friends. Practice disagreeing with people – forcefully or sweetly. Practice writing on a personal blog because you are the boss on that blog (side note: Learn to be the boss. Own your decisions). Know the rules before you break the rules, so to speak. Practice and refine, so that your voice can bend to accommodate the audience or the topic, yet still stay true to your essence.

Engage in the disciplined work of moving towards your goals (and be ok with your goals changing). For a few different seasons in my life, my priorities did not revolve around creative practices. I needed international experience, so for over a year, my discipline revolved around the daily study and practice of Chinese. My “creative” practices felt to the wayside. They felt fluffy and less important. There are seasons – with a newborn or acclimating to a new country, for example –  when it can feel impossible to create, but totally possible to observe. So observe, instead. Progress can come in different forms.

Read, as much as possible. This is something that comes naturally to me, because I’m a librarian’s daughter, because I consider myself a curious person, and because I love words and ideas. I’m an ENFJ, and I especially love how words and ideas act as the inputs that allow me to draw connections across genres and disciplines and areas of learning. It may take 4 months to finish reading a single book. Or you might juggle between 18 books at a time (me, currently). Reading is like eating your veggies. It makes you healthier.

It’s ok to be “behind.” I recently completed – and I use the term completed loosely – a writing workshop. “I’m so behind!” I emailed to the instructor. She replied, “There is no behind. There’s just where you are.” I love that. Start where you are, with what you have. Jess Connolly wrote, in my new favorite devotional, Always Enough | Never Too Much: “Maybe it’s time we look down at what He’s given us and get busy multiplying it. Maybe we should stop thinking about when we’ll get more and start thinking about how about how we can give what we’ve got.”

Make time to appreciate art in community. In my 20s, I was part of a book club where we not only read books together, but we cooked together and ate at the cutest cafes. I am one thousand percent a goals person, and the working life comes easily to me. In other words, I can be overly pragmatic and very intent on “accomplishments.” Communal appreciation of beautiful and interesting things pulls me out of that tendency and brings much needed balance and richness to my life. Don't sacrifice joy on the altar of work.

Leave room for white space. This has been a game-changer in my life. Since I’ve started the practice of a “daily office” – regular time for Scripture reading, centered prayer, and silence – I’ve noticed that the days I practice are more balanced and more centered than the days that I don’t. Also: margin is everything. Silence and margin are two sides of the same way of being that have been hugely impactful in my journey to maintain healthy habits, develop new insights, and engage in purpose-driven growth.