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.