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The Year of “Faith”

It is always an interesting experience to sit down and write about my word of the year, from the other side of the year. When I first learn my word, I’m excited, but often worried about what’s to come. And then in January of the following year, having lived through the ups and downs of both the year and the word, I often laugh at the naivety and anxiety, thinking to myself, you really had no idea what was ahead.

Needless to say, 2020 was unique in its ability to be unpredictable. For me, stepping into a new decade and the last year of my 20’s, I knew change was afoot. In fact, I felt like it had been closing in for quite some time. When I was given the word “faith”, I was confident that the year would be challenging, but I really had no idea of what sort.

Reading through my journal from the early months of last year, I can remember how restless I was. While I’d been anticipating the arrival of change, I was also impatient for it. There were parts of my life that I wanted to change, and I wrote about them in a demanding, desperate tone. I made empty promises to pray more and I set unfulfilled goals to spend more time with God—upset that neither were getting me where I wanted to go.

Then came March, where, on the 17th, I wrote, “well, the world has gone f*cking crazy…”

A true statement that was really only half true at the time.

A few days later, I started an entry with, “I really put my quarantine time to good use today—what an insane thing to write.” And the entries that follow are feverish, nervous, and overly sarcastic, trying to find comfort amongst the ever-growing panic around me.

In April, while knee deep in a puzzle that barely fit on our coffee table, my sister and I sat down to watch I Still Believe, a movie based on the life of Christian singer Jeremy Camp. In the movie, (spoiler alert!) his wife dies of cancer, after having previously believed she was in remission. It is a very hard, but very inspiring story, and I thought about it for weeks afterward, but that night, I wrote this:

“One part of the movie that struck me and that makes me tear up just thinking about it is the very last scene, where they show his late wife’s journal. There is a bible verse she circled that says, ‘do not be afraid,’ and next to it she wrote, ‘I won’t be! I will only believe!’ I can’t imagine that faith.

It is the first mention of my word up until that point. And I vividly remember writing it out, underlining it, and then immediately bursting into tears. It wasn’t until then that I realized how far my mind had wandered. And in a world that had begun to make me spiral with questions—most prominent of which was “what do I do now?!”—this movie was a reminder to lean into that word—to have faith.

Now, 2020 was no stranger to heartache. And oftentimes I caught myself wondering and asking why? Why was this happening? A pandemic was running rampant, people were losing their jobs, their homes, and their loved ones. And in my own life, a string of medical scares had left my family feeling exhausted and terrified. Pain and chaos were coming in all directions and I was not only asking why but how? How I am I supposed to have faith when so much bad is happening around me? How can I encourage faith in others when I have no explanation for what is happening? How can I pray when I don’t feel like it will make a difference?

It was a constant struggle, a constant point of contention between God and I. And I fought my word hard.

But then I would always come back to that movie.

To that little entry Jeremy Camp’s late wife, Melissa, wrote in her journal. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it meant to me. Someone she never met, never heard of, never knew would hear her story, let alone watch a movie about it and be so moved that it would restore my faith in faith.

And as the year went on, I started to realize that that is what faith is. Faith is believing that our lives, both the good parts and the bad parts, the explainable and unexplainable, have purpose. Faith is trusting that God has a bigger plan, and that we are all playing a part in its goodness—even when there is seemingly no goodness in sight. Faith is living through the why’s and the how’s and sometimes never getting an answer, but trusting that, perhaps in my struggle, I’m helping someone else find their answer.

I don’t know what 2021 has ahead for us, but I know that each day has meaning. That each moment you are brave enough to live out the life you have ahead of you, you are making a difference. That every up and every down matters. And that there is goodness—goodness that we cannot even imagine—up ahead for each and every one of us. So I encourage you on this day and in this year, to have faith. Have faith in the goodness. Have faith in the light even amongst the dark. Have faith in faith.

“Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” – Mark 5:36


You can check out my previous words here: GivePatienceSurrenderShine

The Year of “Shine”

As a final wrap up of 2019, I wanted to share with you my word of the year.

Since 2015, I have found a faith-based word to focus on each year. In these last five years (!!) I have had: trust, give, patience, surrender, and then for this year I got shine. Every word has found its way to me differently, but shine was perhaps the most direct.

In November of 2018, I was at the wedding of a family friend, and my mom, sister and I were on the dance floor—our usual wedding reception hangout. In between songs, the bride herself walked up to me and put her hand on my shoulder.

“You have a light in you, you know that?”

Me, being bad at receiving compliments, smiled, but was already plotting a way to deny, deflect and run away. But she didn’t back down.

“You have a light in you, something special, and you need to let people see you shine.”

I remember wondering if she could possibly be talking about me, or if maybe it was dark and she’d had champagne like the rest of us, and had meant to say this to one of her friends, or my sister, or someone, anyone else. But she looked at me, and she squeezed my shoulder, willing me to hear her and believe her.

“Okay,” I said, and the word stuck with me.

By the time I rang in 2019, I was sure it was my word, and as usual, I was terrified.

For starters, the dictionary defines shine as: to emit rays of light, or to be eminent, conspicuous or distinguished. So I thought, GREAT, I just have to be wonderfully successful, seen, heard, inspiring and bright. Sounds horrifying. And hard.

For the first couple months, all I could do was put pressure on myself.

You need to shine you need to shine you need to shine.

You need to be BIG! You need to be LOUD! You need to let people see you and hear you. You need to be great.

Then, in March, after six months of training, I ran the LA Marathon. And when I crossed that finish line, I thought, THIS IS IT! This is me, shining. I’m doing it, baby! But then the high wore off and my routine went back to normal, and I felt as dull and unremarkable as ever.

I kept trying to think of new ways I could impress people. New things I could do that would mark me as successful and inspiring and unique and special. I was trying desperately to shine my light, but was doing so in ways that sometimes felt inauthentic or even uncomfortable. Ironically (or not at all), this is when my definition of inspiring, successful, unique, special and shine, began to change. And it started with something I hated most: quitting.

Out of nowhere, I started quitting.

I took a look at the list of goals I’d set for the year and I started crossing things off and making changes. I pulled the bookmarks out of books I was “going to finish,” and I waved the white flag on projects I’d lost interest in. I got rid of clothes and shoes that didn’t fit right but I’d kept because I thought I should wear them, and I stopped buying makeup products “everyone was using” that I didn’t like the look of on me. It was a Marie Kondo approach: anything that didn’t spark joy (or was necessary for survival and wellbeing) was out. And though it felt scary, bad even, like I was letting people down or giving up or being lazy, I knew it was something I had to do.

For so long I have tried to figure out who I am, what I represent and what I want to do with my life. I have tried to find that unique light inside myself, but have often done so with the hope/need of others’ approval. I have based a lot of my self worth in the opinions of others, and I have let my own opinion and self-confidence be swayed in their wake.

This submissive and self-conscious mentality is something I’ve always been aware of, but it is also something I believed I needed to embrace in order to be loved and accepted. When I realized the error in this thinking, and I began to let things go that “didn’t spark joy,” I found that what was left were actually the things that, in my own way, made me shine.

And it is there, in that understanding, that I found my reason for receiving this word. It is there that I found the hope in it rather than just the pressure.

We have all been made to shine. We have been given unique talents, dreams, desires, and destinations, all to mold us into the wonderfully different people that we are. We do not need to be the biggest or the loudest or the most successful to shine, we need only be our most authentic selves. And when we do things that make us happy, make us feel whole, give us a reason to laugh or smile or scream in excitement, that is when we shine the brightest.

Standing on the dance floor of that wedding, I had no idea why God would put someone in front of me and ask me, outright, to shine. I couldn’t figure out why He needed me to be big and brave and loud and remarkable, and I was afraid that if I couldn’t be, I’d be the disappointment I’d always feared. But as I’ve made my way through this year, I’ve found that what He was really asking of me was simply to love the person He made me to be. To reconnect with the goodness that is mine, the uniqueness that is mine, the shine that is mine, and to let go of the fears, expectations and opinions that have been controlling me for too long.

And so, as I step into this new year, I will shine my light, in exactly the way I was made to shine it, and I hope I can encourage you to do the same.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

The Year of “Surrender”

If you have been around my blog for a little while, you might know that each January I seek a faith-based word to focus on for the year. In the past four years, I’ve gotten trust, give, patience, and then for 2018, I got surrender.

51k1v-ci0sl._sx357_bo1,204,203,200_To kick off the year, I bought this book on Amazon. It has one devotional to read for each day of the year, and I figured surrendering 5-10 minutes a day to read them was a good place to start.

I had tried this a couple years ago, not with a devotional, but with prayer each night before I went to bed. After hearing so often at church how important it was to set aside time with God, I decided I’d get down on my knees every night before bed and pray.

Initially I was very nervous. Praying out loud, to me, has always felt a little bit like public speaking—which I hate. I always get self-conscious that I’m not saying the right thing or that I’m not saying enough. Sometimes when we pray in groups at church I spend so much time worrying about what I’m going to say that I miss everything everyone else says.

After a while though, I got the hang of it. Each night I’d kneel down on a blanket and just talk candidly. Most of the time I legitimately started off just by saying, “hey,” like I would if I were talking to a friend, and then I’d just tell Him what was on my mind. When I would close out prayer—I’m not sure why or when I started saying it—I would always ask that He hold my hand.

Just hold my hand, please. Hold my hand and lead me.

I so desperately wanted—and still want—direction of where I should take my life, and I think I just liked the image of being led that way. It made me feel safe, the way a child might feel when their parent takes their hand to cross the street or when a friend takes your hand to guide you through a crowded room. It lets you know that even amongst the chaos, you have someone with you, guiding you forward, and I sought that kind of direction from God.

So as I started this year of “surrender”, I again approached it with that mindset.

I am here, I thought. Show me the magic of this word. Lead me.

As the year went on, I had my share of encouragements and reminders. When my mind would start to slip, surrender would make its way into my sights.

One particularly stressful afternoon, this song popped up on my Spotify:

And there was never a shortage of blog posts, podcasts, Bible verses, etc. that kept finding ways to remind me to let it go. Let it all go.

But perhaps the biggest encouragement, the biggest reminder that not only was letting go okay, but that it was necessary, refreshing, unburdening, and most of all safe, was found in my daily devotional. For amongst the passages—most of which I marked up, circling and underlining and making notes in the margins—I found one phrase over and over:

“I am holding your hand.”

I didn’t just find it once. I found it 32 times.

My own words. My own request. My own prayer handed right back to me over and over again.

I am holding your hand, it said.

And it was in reading those words over and over that I realized what it would truly mean to surrender.

I pictured myself walking up to the front door of my house with my arms riddled in grocery bags (because #onetrip). With the keys in my purse and the doorknob unable to unlock and open itself, I would most definitely have to set a bag or two down. I would have to empty my hand to get what I needed.

All these years, though I asked, pleaded for God to take my hand and lead me, and grew frustrated when I didn’t feel that presence, that hand, it wasn’t because he wasn’t by my side reaching out, it was because my hands were full. Full of everything else I was worried about or focused on. Even though I wanted to take his hand, I wasn’t willing to first let go of the things I was holding onto.

And so, 2018 saw me finally start to loosen my grip. No longer am I trying to win any awards for carrying the most weight all at once. No longer am I trying to balance one grocery bag on my knee and the other on my elbow as I try to reach in my purse to grab the keys. I’m setting the bags down, one by one, and I’m freeing that hand, because I know that His hand is right there, waiting for me to take it.