Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That word

A few days ago I realized that the hands of Father Time were ticking along and that soon we would be closing the books on 2014. I don't know what tipped me off first, the fact that New Years always arrives a week after Christmas, or my multiple calendars all faithfully counting down the last days of December, but at some point I finally clued in that 2015 is just around the corner. I'm quick that way. 

For me, the arrival of a new year means the arrival of a new Word. As in, a One Word resolution. Or, a Word of the Year, if you will. Call it what you like but for the past two years this has been my approach to heralding in the New Year in lieu of a more traditional list of resolutions. 

Essentially, the goal is to choose a word that will help you to grow or change or improve in a certain area and make that your focus. It's more about big picture thinking than a list of narrowly defined goals you are likely to abandon by Jan 10th anyway. I also choose a scripture verse that complements my one word and commit that to memory as well. My verses from the past two years continue to be of enormous benefit to me and I repeat them to myself often. 

You can read more about my previous words and verses here but suffice to say the past two years have had a similar flavor. While different in some respects, both 2013 and 2014 carried an intention to combat my somewhat complacent nature and encourage more productivity. And I have to say, I was encouraged by the improvement I saw in 2014. I'm still a work in progress, and Jack's room still isn't painted (ahem), but there has definitely been growth. 

(And I have come to the firm conclusion that until Jack can keep his room clean for more than five minutes when he's home, I think he deserves a room with spring green walls.) 

For 2015, I knew I wanted to go in a new direction. As much as I continue to wish I had a more task-oriented, Energizer Bunny personality, at some point I also have to acknowledge that just isn't who I was created to be. I get all the important things in my life done. My family is well cared for, my home is relatively neat and tidy (ignore Jack's room), I exercise regularly, I am a reliable and conscientious employee, and I make time for family and friends. I continue to strive for growth but certainly there are other areas I could devote my energy to. 

So, a couple of days ago I opened up my mind and heart and started asking myself some pertinent questions. There is no magic formula to arriving at your One Word, but these are the sort of questions I ask myself: What do I like about myself? Where do I struggle? What makes me feel happy? When do I feel lost? At the end of 2015 what would I like to be able to say was different this year? How do I want to be and feel different? What do I want more of in my life?

Many words popped into my head in the course of answering these questions. They were all useful, interesting words but there was one in particular that kept elbowing all of the other perfectly good words out of the way. And, in response, I kept shoving it back down. 

It wasn't that I didn't like the word, I just didn't know what I would do with that word. It didn't make sense to me. Or, deep down it did but it wasn't a word I wanted to have to spend much time with. Certainly not a whole year. 

So, I kept thinking and made lists of other words. Better words. Words that made sense. 

But it was still there. Quietly knocking on the door of my heart. That word. 

I decided to ask Superdad what he thought. Part of me felt silly asking for help in arriving at my One Word but who knows me better than the man who shares my life every single day, year in and year out? Plus, I knew he wouldn't just make something up to placate me. He would only give me an answer if he had one to give. He's annoyingly honest like that. 

I told him what I needed. I stammered out a bunch of rambling thoughts about my answers to my questions. How I want to feel more comfortable in my own skin. That I want to feel less burdened by the feelings and reactions of others. I want to own my feelings but let other people have theirs without feeling responsible for them. I want to feel less guilty all the time, as though anything that ever goes wrong in the world is somehow my fault. I want to stop thinking, and analyzing, and pondering, and worrying so dang much and just BE. 

I want to be free. 

Superdad nodded along to my painfully long stream of consciousness and when I finished he looked at me steadily for several looong seconds. Then he turned back to his iPad and said, "Okay. I'll think about it."

I went upstairs with Annie and we both got in our pjs. We settled in on my big bed so she could watch a show and I could read. She burrowed into my side and I opened my book. I didn't expect to get a verdict from Superdad quickly (if he would have one at all). I fully expected him to take a day or two to mull things over and then let me know whether inspiration struck. I figured by the time I heard back from him I would have figured it out on my own. I would have found my One Word. A word that made sense. A good, solid, sensible word. Certainly not that word. 

But then I heard my text chime on my phone. Superdad.

There was only this:

And there it was. That word. 

I stared at it and felt this odd mix of shock and relief. Shock that he had so quickly arrived at the exact word I'd been avoiding, and relief that maybe it wasn't so crazy after all. Superdad is many things but among his varied gifts and qualities he is most decidedly sane, sometimes maddeningly so. And yet, somehow, in whatever way it came to him, he was nudged by the same word that had been pestering me for days, refusing to go away. 

I wish I could say that was all it took, but even after what most people would consider a pretty crazy, clear sign, I still fought it. I decided it was best to seek counsel from two more people, what with three being such an ancient spiritual number and all. So I texted two dear friends who know me well and I knew wouldn't call the loony bin when I gave them the condensed version of my story. But even as I typed the words, even knowing they would never judge me, I still felt hesitant to tell them the word that kept popping up. That word. 

Their responses?

Wow. That's awesome. That's a good one. Yes. I get exactly what that means. 

Really? You do? Alrighty then...

And it was at about that point that I swear I felt the Spirit smack me on the forehead and say, "Look. I can't really make this any more clear without doing something that will completely freak you out like writing the word in steam on your mirror so could you just trust me on this one?!"

Yes. Gotcha.

So that's it then....my word for 2015 is Loved.


I still don't know exactly what I'm going to do with that word for an entire year, but I have a feeling it will come to me in ways I least expect. 

Maybe, for now, I will just try to take the focus off of always trying to do better and be better and instead live out of the knowledge that I am loved. Right now. Today. Just as I am. Unfinished painting projects and all.


That's my 2015 One Word. Whether I like it or not. :)

My 2015 verse.
I like to create a graphic of my Verse of the Year for
the wallpaper on my phone, hence the strange shape.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Come darkness, Come light

I think it's safe to say that my biggest weakness is my sweet tooth.

Actually, it's probably even safer to say that my biggest weaknesses are pride, impatience, slothfulness, selfishness....but let's just start with my sweet tooth. That's a bit more manageable. Baby steps.

Oh my, do I love sweets.

In the interest of good health, moderation and all things holy, I do manage to keep my sweet tooth in check most of the time. I am very aware of the dangers of sugar and the importance of eating real, whole foods. And that is what I do eat, most of the time. My meals do not consist of old fashioned donuts topped off with a sprinkle of M & M's. (But...yum, right?) I'm not Buddy the Elf pouring maple syrup on spaghetti. But truth be told, when I finish off my healthy meal of mostly high fiber, vitamin-rich, minimally processed, heavy-to-the-vegetables foods...I kinda want a little something sweet.

Maybe just a small handful of Christmas colored mint M & M's?

So, you can see why the holidays pose a particular challenge for someone like myself. When we enter into the season where every meeting, gathering, classroom function, or social event comes with a plate of Christmas cookies laid out front and center, it's time to pull out all the stops for sweet tooth dysfunction management.

It's not that I'm not capable of forgoing sweets. I once gave up sugar for a full two months. I like to refer to that period of my life as The Dark Ages.

I mean, really. What is life without a little sweetness?

So, given that any full ban on sweets is ultimately doomed to failure, my strategy for the past month or so has been to eliminate sweets on weekdays, only allowing myself a moderate amount of sweet treats on weekends. The only exception to this restriction are bonafide holidays that fall on a weekday. I mean, like, Thanksgiving and Christmas, not National Potato Chip Day (although who needs sweets if you can celebrate with potato chips?)

I realize that for some people my personal Operation-Cut-The-Sweets plan is probably an eating regimen that is second nature for you. I don't want to hear it. I'll warn you that every time someone primly say, 'I don't really care for sweets...' I am pretty sure an angel loses its wings. So, just keep it to yourselves you salad-loving-health-nuts.

I was walking the dog yesterday (distracting myself from Annie's candy bar she had left half-eaten on the counter), listening to Christmas music, when a song came on that literally had me almost skipping down the sidewalk. I was overcome with such merriness that it was almost silly. The only thing that kept it from being more-than-almost silly was that I did not actually skip down the sidewalk (my children are thanking their lucky stars right now).  But I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that one little Christmas song turned my day, and my mood, right on its heels. I went from melancholy to joyful in about twenty seconds flat.

And it occurred to me that one of the reasons I embrace the Christmas season so enthusiastically is because it is my little something sweet.

For those of the Christian faith, we are really in the season of Advent. The Christmas season does not truly begin until Christmas Eve. And Advent is traditionally a time of reflection and repentance, not unlike the season of Lent. It's an introspective time in which we travel through the stories of our faith, reminding ourselves of why the Christmas story is indeed good news and something to be celebrated.

I'm good at that part. In truth, my heart and mind are all too often inclined more to the heavier stuff of life. Things weigh on my heart easily. I am too willing to carry burdens that aren't mine to hold. I lean into Advent with all the pondering and praying and repenting and sometimes get so far into the darkness that I forget that the light is coming. And, in fact, that the Light is here.

I think that is why I encourage an atmosphere of festivity and jolliness in my home by decorating early, playing Christmas tunes 24/7, and moving that blasted Elf around the house every night to the delight of one nine year old girl. It is because I need to be reminded of the light that is coming, the Light that is here- even as I acknowledge the darkness that is also the truth and reality of this life.

Being honest about the darkness awakens us to be compassionate with ourselves and others. But remembering the light, keeps us hopeful. And hope is the source of joy.

Wherever your heart is this Advent season, I hope Christmas will be your little something sweet.

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life." John 8:12

P.S. And if you see me on a weekend, be sure to offer me a cookie...or candy...or brownie...I'm not picky. Just watch out for your fingers.