What’s Saving My Life Right Now

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share some of the things that are saving my life right now. In her post, she shares how she arrived at this idea. Isn’t it a great question to ask? What’s saving my life right now? The current season feels a bit challenging–winter, the terrible two’s, and still (even after almost a full year!) trying to find my way in our new home and my new roles. So, there is much to be said for recognizing and making space for the gifts and rituals that give me joy, grant me reprieve, and help me be more fully myself.

saving_my_life

  1. Iced coffee. Yup. Still obsessed. Turns out, it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside; it is never too cold for iced coffee in the afternoon. A tall glass gives me just the boost I need to push through the late afternoon before dinnertime (which tends to be a bit rough around here). Not to mention, it’s just so delicious, guys!
  2. My therapy light. I felt so funny buying this, and even more uncomfortable admitting I had bought it. I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and we haven’t lived here for even a full winter. But, I wanted to be proactive about how I approached my first winter season, and after hearing from so many that these can really help ward off the winter blues, I decided to give it a go. Obviously, I don’t have a “control”, so I can’t say for sure whether having a light has improved my mood. I can say that when the timer ends and the light turns off each morning, I notice a difference in how the room feels; I like the light. More significantly, it makes me think, “I can handle the gloom today.” Having an extra tool in my arsenal gives me a little confidence boost as I attempt to embrace and not dread winter.
  3. Omega-3s. I’ve started taking an omega-3 supplement twice a day, and it falls into the same category as the therapy light: something that made me feel a little high-maintenance, but I’m SO glad I did. On the Sorta Awesome Podcast (also saving my life), Megan talked about how as a highly-sensitive person, an omega-3 helps her feel a little less on-edge. I wasn’t sure how much it was helping, until I went on vacation and didn’t bring any vitamins with me. Towards the end of our vacation, I looked across the hotel room at Evan and said, “I just can’t take this noise anymore.” Now that I’m at home and have started taking them again, I just feel more calm and less like I want to run into a silent dark room to hide at the end of the day.
  4. Wednesday night writing nights. In my attempts to figure out how to make this stay-at-home-mom gig work for me, it became clear that I needed to find a little more “me time” during the week. I’ve started taking Wednesday nights to do just that. I imagine that eventually I might use these nights for a girls’ night or shopping or whatever, but so far they’ve been writing nights. This little respite in the middle of the week is wonderful. It gives me something to look forward to if Monday or Tuesday isn’t so great, and it breaks up the monotony of the week so well.
  5. Podcasts. Nothing new here. Like iced coffee, I remain obsessed with these. Some new (to me) ones I’m listening to lately: What Should I Read Next?; Slate’s Audio Book Club; Masterpiece StudioDeath, Sex, & Money; and the Sacred Ordinary Days Podcast. Plus all my old stand-bys. (Is this getting out of hand? …Never!) When I’m home with the boys during the week, listening to podcasts gives me some extra grown-up (though one-sided) “conversation.”
  6. Pioneer Woman’s Dinnertime CookbookI got this for Christmas and love it. The Pioneer Woman can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. Her tips about meal planning and freezer foods have been super helpful to me.
  7. The “Hymns for Hipsters” playlist on Spotify. This is another thing I first heart about on the Sorta Awesome Podcast. It’s excellent. The playlist is long, so I just put it on shuffle and it lasts me a long time before I’m sick of it. I’m planning on keeping this playing quite a bit during Lent.
  8. Having something to look forward to. This is less a “thing” and more like an “idea.” One challenging aspect of being home is that most days feel pretty much the same. Having something on the calendar to look forward to helps me push through some of the monotony. Looking forward to Glennon Melton speaking at our church helped January fly by, and I am SO looking forward to Hope Spoken in March. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says that anticipating something makes it more enjoyable all-together, and I would have to agree.

So, that’s that: the small, simple, very good things that are infusing my days and weeks with a little more joy. Tell me: what’s saving your life these days?

Messy

The other day, I sat at my favorite bookstore to write. Occasionally, the words don’t come when I stare at my computer screen; I’m too distracted by Facebook and blogs that need catching up on. So, I turn back to my trusty black Moleskine. (Those notebooks have been keeping me company since my junior year of high school.) On this particular night, I opened up the notebook and flipped to the next available page. It was blank except for one thing: toddler scribbles.

For awhile, Ian was very interested in notebooks, pens, and “writing.” I felt such joy every time he grabbed a pen and dragged it across whatever piece of paper he found lying around the house. I set many bad examples for Ian (like not eating enough vegetables and carrying my phone around the house with me all day), but at least I did this right: I taught my son, through my actions more than my words, that writing is a good way to spend his time. For a long while, he was content to “pretend,” just dragging a capped pen across the page indiscriminately, but eventually that wasn’t sufficient and he wanted to see the lines appear on the paper as he went.

And on one occasion–the particulars of which I don’t recall–I found a blank page for him and let him do exactly what he wanted.

This is so unlike me, to let someone (anyone!) scribble in my notebook. What a waste of a perfectly good piece of paper! (And in a Moleskine, no less–those pages aren’t cheap.) I normally don’t even rip out a sheet for an impromptu shopping list, and I certainly don’t use a pens that bleed because that wastes the opposite side of the page. In the same way, I never liked to give scrapbooking paper to my sisters, or share my fancy pens with Evan. It’s because I’m a control freak, sure, but I am realizing that it also involves a lot of selfishness and greed.

Being a parent makes my life much, much messier. The mess invades every corner of our house. Rice and applesauce cover the floor under the highchair, the tray on which is permanently stained reddish-orange from too many bowls of spaghetti eaten with chubby toddler fingers. No matter the time of day, you’ll find at least one Cheerio left behind on the living room floor. Alphabet magnets peek out from under our fridge. All day long, I toss toys back into their baskets and wash yet another bottle and search for that misplaced burp cloth again. I have given up entirely on washing fingerprints off our windows. I almost never leave the house without spit up, drool, or smooshed snacks on my clothing.

The messiness isn’t contained to mealtimes and playtimes, though. The lines of my entire life have been blurred. I can be so exhaustedly angry because Ian said, “No!” for the ten millionth time, while simultaneously wanting to laugh at the clumsy way he runs away from me with chubby arms waving in the air, and I am immensely proud at the complete sentence he just threw together as though he’s been doing it his entire life. I have to drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to feed Leo but am suddenly awake and alive because of the way he smiles while he falls back asleep, milk-drunk and content.

This is what parenting does: blurs the lines between clean and dirty, happy and sad, angry and proud. It leaves me mired in uncertainty about my decision-making, the rules we’ve set, and the way I speak. I am coming to terms with the fact that these children have minds of their own, and no outcomes are guaranteed. Just when I uncover an effective discipline strategy or toss the very last block into its basket, the rules change again and a different bin is overturned.

Messy.

Most days, I feel I’m not doing a very good job handling all this mess. Instead of embracing it, I fight, desperately clinging to my illusion of control, my desire to turn these kids into exactly the adults I hope they’ll be, my expectation that life progress according to my plan.

And yet.

There is that one page in my notebook: scribbled on, crinkled, used up. And I willingly, joyfully gave it over to just that purpose: mess making.

In those scribbles I see the proof that parenthood is growing and stretching me. As I learn to be ok with “wasted” notebook pages and the sticky grape jelly coating every surface of my home, I am learning to embrace my shifting identity, my stretched-out tummy, my small and ordinary days. I am learning to be ok with the mess.

Justice Everywhere

Every year on MLK Day, I am struck by the same familiar memory. I am sitting in Mr. Morgenstein’s classroom, and on my desk are a few sheets of paper, stapled together in the upper lefthand corner. I have a pen and thick highlighter ready, as I always do. And in my mind’s eye, I can see the title on the top of the page, in a bold, seriffed font: “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

It was on that day that I first read these words:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Even now, that sentence gives me goosebumps, with their simple profundity, the way I sense its truth deep in my bones.

In his letter, Dr. King writes about why it was necessary for him to come to Birmingham. He talks about current events and the personal and professional ties that drew him there, but eventually he boils it down to this: Dr. King was in Birmingham because there was injustice in Birmingham.

Isn’t that what Jesus did, too? When he ate dinner with tax collectors, when he spoke with a Samaritan woman at the well, when he turned over tables in the temple? He put himself in the middle of injustice wherever it existed. And when he told us to feed the hungry, invite in the stranger, visit the prisoner? He is asking me, too, to work on behalf of anyone suffering under injustice and oppression. Isaiah said it well:

“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

The church we attend here in Grand Rapids includes “working for measurable change among the oppressed” in their mission statement, right after a bit about living out the way of Jesus. The more I’ve read Scripture, the more I’ve realized that you simply can not separate following Jesus and fighting injustice. I don’t believe Jesus gave us that option.

And interestingly enough, the first place I remember learning that lesson wasn’t in a church service. It wasn’t in Sunday school or even in a Bible study. It was on a weekday morning during first period, reading Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Admittedly, I don’t do this well, most of the time. I write letters to Fotunate and hang her photo on my fridge. I pay attention to organizations like IJM who are working for change, and sometimes I send money. Once in a great while I write a letter to a government official. There is so much more I could do. I don’t always know what to do, and even when I do, I don’t always do it. I am often stuck in my suburban, privileged bubble. If I were alive during the Civil Rights movement, would I have been marching alongside Dr. King? I hope so, but I’m not always sure. I suppose if there is anything I’m meant to gain from having a holiday like today on the calendar, maybe it’s that I should come away with a renewed desire to live a life that honors Dr. King’s work.

This morning, I reread Dr. King’s letter, and then I wrote a quick note of thanks to Mr. Morgenstein. (And by “note,” I mean Facebook message.) I had to thank him for handing me that copy of Dr. King’s letter that day and forever changing my understanding of my roles as a citizen and as a follower of Jesus.

“We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God…”

I read the news headlines and I read my Bible, and I know that all Dr. King wrote in that letter is true. Even now, it is true, and I want to be a willing coworker.

***

I’ve been posting a small benediction on Instagram each Monday. This morning I couldn’t quite find the words, but here they are now, better late than never:

May we reflect Jesus the same way Dr. King did: desperately hoping for peace and justice, while allowing our hope to move us towards action.  May we draw near to those suffering under injustice. May we pray for God’s kingdom to come, but may we also use our words, hands, and feet to build it together.

The First Thing I’ve Learned About Joy

Did you hear that scientists discovered 4 new elements? With Evan’s job being what it is, this is big news in our house. The elements, their discovery, their names, and the media’s coverage of their discovery–all recent topics of conversation around here.

I don’t pay much attention to science news. Evan does by nature of both vocation and passion, so I trust him to inform me of anything important. He filled me in on the new elements as we got ready for bed the other day by saying, “Our shower curtain is out of date now. We’ll need a new one.”

Because, you see, our shower curtain is a 72×96 inch Periodic Table of Elements. (As you can imagine, the staffs of Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Living magazines are currently duking it out to see who can land a tour of our home first. )

It hasn’t always been this way. A neutral white shower curtain hung in its place until just a few weeks ago, but now I brush my teeth while reading the atomic masses of Hydrogen and Carbon and Americium. (I didn’t make that up; Americium is a real element.)

I think this all started when Evan bought me a Gator flag for Christmas.

If you know my husband, you know he hates the Florida Gators. UF and UCF (Evan’s alma mater x 3) are hardly “rivals,” but Evan is unswervingly loyal. It’s one of the things I love most about him…except when it comes to football.

The living room in our first apartment had a set of built-in shelves, perfect for displaying our college memorabilia. Each football season, we placed a bet: whoever’s team had the more successful season would earn the top shelf, which could then be decorated in school regalia to his or her heart’s content. (Sadly, this coincided with the start of the Will Muschamp era, so I did not win the shelf every year.) We didn’t continue that tradition when we moved, but our school spirit and the requisite rivalry has never waned.

This year, the Gators played the Michigan Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl. I couldn’t believe the coincidence: my first college football season as a Michigan resident, and my team was playing the Wolverines. When the match-up was announced, I gleefully told Evan, “We need to hang a Gator flag outside!”

“That sounds like a good way to get our house vandalized,” he said, but low and behold, a few weeks later I found a big, blue, beautiful Gator flag inside my Christmas stocking. I was shocked, and Evan said he had to get me one when he saw excitement about the idea.

This flag wasn’t my prettiest Christmas gift, it won’t change my life, and I probably won’t even get that much use out of it. But, it was my favorite Christmas gift this year because of what it demonstrated: Evan was willing to set aside all of his personal preferences to give me something that would bring joy to my life.

This brings us back to the periodic table shower curtain. It was a Christmas gift to Evan  from my dad, and when he unwrapped it I thought, “No way are we putting that up.” But lo-and-behold, hanging that curtain was practically the first thing Evan did once we arrived back in Michigan.

At first, I thought, “Ok, fine. We’ll leave this up for a week or so.” But the truth is, it was a great gift for Evan: quirky and silly and science-y. True, it doesn’t really “gel” with the rest of our decor and the editors at Better Homes and Gardens will not be contacting us anytime soon for a home tour and photo shoot. At first, the perfectionist and approval-seeker in me kept thinking, “When someone comes to visit us, they will think this is WEIRD.” But I’m having a change of heart.

I’ve realized that this isn’t really about a shower curtain. It’s about joy.

Over the past several years, I’ve only thought about my word of the year in terms of me: what will this word bring to my life, how can I embrace it more, how will it change me? But the thing about joy is that I can play a role in bringing it to others. In a small way, that happens when I set my control freak nature to the side and let my husband hang whatever crazy shower curtain he wants. In a larger way, I can pay more attention to the needs of others, yield my agenda to the whims of my kids, and encourage the passions and interests of the people I love most.

The amazing thing about life according to Jesus is that more joy for others does not mean less joy for me. We don’t live in a 1+1=2 sort of world. When the people around me are experiencing joy, I receive it in equal measure. Or perhaps in even greater measure. It multiplies.

If I was doing things the old way, with my perfection-obsessed, approval-driven impossible standards, that shower curtain would have meant more joy for Evan, but less for me. Not so anymore. Walking in freedom means relinquishing control of this one small detail in my life. And there is so much joy to be found in the yielding, in putting another person first, in serving rather than being served, in caring less about outward appearances and more about connection.

It’s the first lesson I’m learning about joy this year. Hopefully, it will stick with me more than 10th grade chemistry did.

 

What I’m Not Doing in 2016

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the past few years is that I make arbitrary rules for myself. Some of them emerge out of habit: having only done something one way for most of my life, why switch? Some rules emerge because of “shoulds”: this is how successful/smart/creative/responsible people do it, so I should do it that way too.

It sounds so silly, but showering in the morning was one of those rules. It’s something I’ve done for so long, I never considered an alternative. Most people talk as though a shower is a necessary part of their morning routine; both my mom and my husband will tell you that they need to take a shower to fully wake up and get going.

Me, on the other hand? For years now, I have hated to shower in the morning. It feels like an abrupt start, like when someone tears away the blanket you’ve been cozily sleeping beneath. The worst part, though, is that while I’m showering, I start running through my mental to-do list for the day. It’s as though the whole day looms before me, and I immediately lose any of the sleepy, unfiltered thoughts I might otherwise dwell on. My brain immediately goes where I don’t want it to. I also hate the idea that I could be using that limited time before my boys are awake to be writing, reading, or even eating breakfast without having to share it. (Confession time: I don’t like sharing food with my toddler.)

I thought about what my ideal morning would look like. I want to get out of bed before the boys are awake. I want to make a hot cup of tea or a cold glass of iced coffee, and I want to sit by candlelight with a journal and pen. I want to start my days slowly, quietly, creatively, prayerfully. I want to get my thoughts down on paper, read my Bible, and ease into the day from there.

So, I started showering at night. Admittedly, I sometimes forget and am stuck doing it in the morning, and I haven’t magically become a morning person. It’s still hard to force myself out of bed most days, But once I am out of bed, I enjoy my morning immensely more than before. I’ve broken my own rule, and my life is better for it.

This time of year, every blogger and person on social media is talking about their resolutions, goals, and words of the year (myself among them, obviously). I enjoy those posts, but the ones I love even more are the “unresolutions,” the lists of what people are NOT going to do, or the list of things they’re content to be doing already. Anne Bogel and Tsh Oxenreider both wrote posts about the 3 things they are NOT doing this year.

Inspired by them, here are 3 things I’m not doing this year:

  1. I’m not showering in the morning. I mean that literally, but I also mean a bit more than that: I am not going to follow my own stupid rules. If something isn’t working for me anymore, I’m ditching it. I resolve to do whatever is best for me and my family on any given day. I think this falls under what Anne Lamott calls “radical self-care.” I won’t fall victim to the “shoulds.”
  2. I’m not preparing for the 11 p.m. inspection. I think I first heard about the “11 p.m. inspection” on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, but I’m not sure. As soon as I heard it described, I thought, “Guilty as charged.” Every night, I start frantically cleaning and straightening as if someone is coming to do an 11 p.m. inspection of my house. And you know what? NO ONE is coming to make sure all my dishes are done, floors swept, laundry put away by 11 p.m. This habit tends to stress me out, because I often would rather read a book, going to bed, or hang out on the couch with Evan. It also stresses Evan out, because he feels like he should be up cleaning with me. I’m moving forward differently. Sometimes I will feel better if I put the dishes in the dishwasher and put away Ian’s toys, but if I’d rather do something else? I’m giving myself permission to skip the 11 p.m. inspection.
  3. I’m not picking up my phone before 10 a.m. This is a new one I haven’t attempted yet, but I’m going to give it a try. I’ve fallen into the terrible habit of checking my email and scrolling through social media before I even get out of bed. On top of that, I am feeling much too tethered to my phone during the day. Right now, my phone is both an addiction and a distraction. I hope that by ignoring it in the morning, my day will be off to a better start, and I’ll be less inclined to mindlessly check my phone at other times. (I’m considering buying a regular alarm clock so I don’t have ANY reason to pick up my phone.)

When I thought about making room for joy this year, it quickly became apparent that part of the process will be addressing things that steal joy. I need to say “no” to certain things in order to say “yes” to the new, better, and more important. Hopefully, saying “no” to some useless rules, needless stress, and bad habits will make 2016 more joyful.

How about you? What are you not doing in 2016?

How I Practice My Word

I shared the other day that choosing “free” as my word of the year (well, two years, as it turns out) was really profound for me. Developing a new sense and understanding of freedom changed how I approach almost every area of my life: parenting, marriage, friendship, family, vocation, spirituality…etc, etc, etc. It was big.

In the three years before I chose “free,” I enjoyed choosing and exploring my words, but they weren’t nearly as meaningful, and I’ve been wondering why that is.

To some extent, I think timing is key. It was simply the right time for me to learn about freedom, and much of that has to do with my relationship with Jesus and what God has been up to. It’s as though I chose “free,” and God used it as an opportunity to really, really move in my life. Of course, I don’t pretend to understand the mystery of how God speaks and teaches. I don’t know if I chose my word because God was teaching me about freedom, or if I wanted to learn about freedom because I chose the word. But at any rate, the timing was perfect: the events in my life and the books I read and the things God was up to all conspired into one big, flashing neon said that read, “Freedom!”

At the same time, I was much more intentional with my word in 2014 and 2015 than I had been with my other words. I looked for ways to incorporate it into my daily routine, and I tried hard to pay attention to the ways it showed up (both literally and figuratively). As I’ve talked about this practice to others over the years, I’ve had a lot of people ask, “Once you choose a word, what do you DO with it?” So, I thought I would get super practical here and share some ideas for making your 2016 word more meaningful. Some ideas are obvious while others are maybe less-so.

1. This is perhaps the most obvious: I write my word down and post it somewhere. I don’t think it matters whether it’s scribbled on a post-it note with Sharpie and stuck to the bathroom mirror or painted on a canvas with beautiful calligraphy. I also love to post Bible verses, quotes and song lyrics with my word up around the house. I think the key is to post my word in the places I will see it most: bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, kitchen cabinets, above door knobs, on my dashboard, and in my planner.

2. I brainstorm. This is pretty nerdy, but I basically make a mind map about my word. At the beginning of this year, I wrote “joy” in the middle of a page in my journal and went from there. I wrote down things that bring me joy, things that steal joy, and every application and meaning of the word I could think of. I was instantly more aware of how joy currently shows up in my life (or doesn’t, depending in the context), and I thought of lots of new ways to approach my word.

3. I keep a Pinterest board dedicated to my word. Here is my board for free, and here is my new board for joy. The easiest way to fill up the board is simply to search for your word and scroll through the results. Usually, I’m pinning based on the image itself, and NOT what it links to, but I also pin related things I find on the Internet as the year goes along. (And as you can see when you look at my board, some of the pins are related to the word or how it plays out in my life, but I’m not super literal about it. This past year I cut back on my Pinterest usage (though I don’t use it sparingly, by any means), but I still add things to my board as I find it. If I ever need some inspiration or encouragement, it’s just another resource I can draw from.

4. I collect quotes, Bible verses, and song lyrics related to my word. I use Evernote to collect these, but I have also jotted them down in my planner and journal.

5. I pay attention for my word as I read Scripture. Anytime I read something in the Bible related to freedom, I highlight the passage using a purple colored pencil. I plan on picking a new color and doing the same thing with joy (and I’ll continue on with freedom, too).

6. I took Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class. This was–BY FAR–the most impactful thing I did with my word. Ali’s class is full of writing and creative prompts that helped me keep my word at the forefront of my thoughts and think about my word in new and unexpected ways. The class does involve some scrapbooking and creative ideas, but at $31, I think the class would still be valuable if you only responded to the prompts by just writing or thinking through them. I took the class in 2014 and I’m not taking it again, but I am planning on redoing all the prompts from 2014 for my new word.

Some new things I’m going to try this year:

  1. Make a playlist for my word. This was inspired by Ali’s class. One month, she suggested making a list of song lyrics that included the words or evoked feelings related to it. So this year, I’m going to make a “joy” playlist and as I find them, I will add songs that contain the word joy, seem to be about joy, or make me feel joyful.
  2. Incorporate my word into my bullet journal. This year, I’m using a bullet journal as my planner and catch-all. (I love it, but that’s a story for another day.) Because it gives me total freedom to adjust the format however I want, I’m thinking about how to incorporate my word. Two ideas so far: write a quote or Bible verse along with my weekly log each week, or include a goal related to my word on each monthly to-do/goals page.
  3. Read some books about joy. I have definitely read books that impacted my understanding of freedom, but I didn’t specifically set out to do so. I think I will re-read One Thousand Gifts, and maybe I will try to find a Bible study related to the fruits of the spirit. I’m also planning on reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because I know her philosophy has a lot to do with asking what “sparks joy.” I’ll see what else comes up.

Besides all that, the Internet is full of things you can buy related to your word. I love the custom acrylic words Ali Edwards is offering. Lisa Leonard has lots of custom stamped jewelry. I have a friend who bought a few letterpress blocks to spell out her word, and I did a quick search for “joy” on Etsy and found about a million different options for art, clothing, jewelry, and decor with “joy” on it. Super easy, and super fun.

This whole business of choosing a word is really what you make of it, I think. I’ve had years in which I barely thought about my word, but because “free” has been so meaningful, I am more eager than ever to really use my word to guide and impact the year ahead.

What about you? Any tips for making a word of the year more meaningful?

One Little Word: 2016

I’ve shared here before that for several years now, I’ve chosen a word of the year. I’m not very good at following through on goals and resolutions, but I love the fresh start that a New Year offers and want to acknowledge it somehow. I don’t want to set myself up for failure with a long list of daunting and impossible platitudes, but I do want to begin the year with intention, honoring what I think God is doing in my heart right now and what I think He’s calling me towards in the year ahead. And so, I choose a word. For the past two years, my word has been “free,” and I’ve learned to lean into the freedom Christ offers, liberating myself (little by little) from perfectionism and approval-seeking.

Even after two years, I still learn more freedom and its implications every single day. I have such a long way to go! So much so, I was tempted to choose “free” as my word yet again, but as I mulled it over, I sensed that it was time to choose something new. The truth is, because freedom is something Christ offers, a characteristic of His now-but-not-yet Kingdom, I don’t think I will ever be done with it (at least, not until Christ Himself returns and restores us to Eden). I will carry “free” with me every year from now on, because it wasn’t just about 2014 or 2015, but it is about my entire life and my entire identity.

Ever year, my word has just somehow come to me. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, but I can’t explain the dynamics of it. I just know that each year, I’ve landed on a word and it’s usually only after I’ve chosen it that the reason becomes clear. If 2014 and 2015 were about being set free from what’s held me back (perfectionism, approval, fear, etc.), I wanted 2016 to be about what I’ve been set free for. In the same way that Jesus doesn’t just save us from sin but saves us for His glory and the benefit of those around us, I know that freedom has greater implications.

And so, my word for 2016 is joy.

I bucked against it at first. It felt too simple, too obvious, too Inside Out. I started asking my friends what words they were choosing, reading blog posts and Facebook comments about others’ words, and I started making mental notes of all the potential words I might choose. “Joy” felt small, and I wanted big, life-changing, profound. But I shouldn’t be surprised that as He’s been doing in every area of my life, Jesus kept calling me back to the small place where I started. In the days leading up to New Years, I kept thinking about joy. I heard it it songs, read about it in books and blogs, and I was suddenly more cognizant of all the ways it is sometimes missing from my life. Even more than that, I was more aware of the ways it is present in my life, but ignored.

Joy feels like a natural outcropping of free. It’s true that my perfectionism and approval-seeking might have brought accomplishment and reputation into my life, but they also robbed my life of joy. So, learning to be free from perfectionism means, in part, growing more aware of joy. I’m ready to go there.

And of course, only 3 days into 2016, joy has shown up in surprising and unexpected ways.

Here’s to a joyful year ahead.

Have you chosen a word for the year, or are you more a resolutions type? I’d love to hear what you’re hoping for 2016!