new year

My To Don’t List

A few weeks ago I was texting with my mom and she mentioned that she’d started making a “To Don’t” list. Since I’m always intrigued by contrariness I asked her to explain. “Instead of making a list of things ‘To Do’ that feels weighty, I’m making a list of things not to do.”

At first I thought a list of don’ts sounded restrictive, like a bunch of rules I’d better not break…or else. The first things that popped into my head were things like, “Don’t be so annoying.” ” Don’t eat so many sweets.” “Don’t just blurt out the first thing that pops into your head because you’re so uncomfortable in social settings.” To me, this sounded like one more list of things to fail at and then feel guilty about the failure.

“I’ve got one,” I texted my mom. “Don’t tell friends with new babies how I really think their kids look.” (Like angry potatoes, for the record. I even found this meme that agrees with me).


“Don’t bite random babies cheeks at the grocery store,” she shot back.

“Don’t lick all the cookies and then put them back on the plate.”

“Don’t pick a wedgie with frosting on your fingers.”

We came up with lots of sage advice, but eventually my mom shared some of the things that are actually on her list, things like, “Don’t shy away from challenges,” and “Don’t forget how far you’ve come,” and I started to understand what she meant. Her list wasn’t so much about actions, but about attitudes. I love that because I passionately believe that what’s going on in your head and in your heart matters. So I’m making my own list.

To Don’t:

  • Don’t let other people steal your joy. It’s yours. No one gets to take it from you.
  • Don’t waste time worrying about things that are outside of your control. If it’s outside of your control, then what possible good is your worrying going to do?
  • Don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes. You’re not perfect. Your husband isn’t perfect. Your friends and your family aren’t perfect. Only God is perfect. Don’t expect yourself to be God. Nobody else is expecting you to be either. Actually, they are super happy that you’re not.
  • Don’t call yourself names. If you wouldn’t call someone else fat or ugly, then don’t call yourself that either.
  • Don’t forget that you are loved. Wholly. Unconditionally. Forever. (Deal with it, Shame)
  • Don’t take responsibility for things you aren’t responsible for. You are responsible for yourself and for how you treat the people around you. You aren’t responsible for other people’s responses or actions. Even if they try to convince you that you are, you aren’t.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other people. You are you. Who you are and where you’re at in life is unique to your background, your personality, and your choices. Comparing will only make you feel prideful or dissatisfied. Just do you.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you, for everything, always.
  • And of course, Don’t Stop Believin’. (I know, I know, but it was right there!)

What’s on your To Don’t list?

New Year Blues or One Nasty Case of FOBO

Confession: I love new beginnings. I love cracking open the cover of a new book, running my fingers over the pristine pages of blank notebooks, and lining up a new pack of pens in a neat row. I love the first day of school and the first day of spring and the first day in a new place. I love making neat To Do lists, crossing things off of them, and planning for the future. I like having goals. Sure, when things get tough (or boring) and I get tired (or lazy) I can half-ass it with the best of them, but I always start strong.

Not so this year. We reached New Year’s Day and instead of that bright, crisp my-lungs-are-full-to-bursting feeling of possibility I normally feel in January, I felt nothing. No anticipation, no excitement, and no motivation.

“It’s just that there’s nothing I’m looking forward to this year,” I whined to my husband. “I’m looking at 12 months of being in the exact same place and doing the exact same thing as I am now. What’s exciting about that?” And admittedly, the past few years when we were living in Korea spoiled us with frequent international travel and near-constant opportunities to experience new things. It’s not really surprising that life now seems bland in comparison. What’s surprising is how quickly I’ve become unhappy with our (admittedly) comfortable life.

I’m an introspective person (shocker, I know!) and I spend a lot of time evaluating the whys behind what I do, think, and feel. I think the reasons why we make the choices that we do are important and that our motivations, both positive and negative, matter. After some reflection I think I’ve found the source of my pessimism. I have a nasty case of FOBO.

What’s FOBO? Like its trendy cousins, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and YOLO (You Only Live Once), FOBO is a motivation for doing things that is rooted in fear. In this case, Fear Of Being Ordinary.

Sometimes I feel like I’m at war with myself. There’s a part of me that genuinely likes the trappings of domesticity. I LIKE cooking and hosting dinner parties and burning candles and wearing perfume and going to bed at 9:30 PM. I really do. But there’s another part of me that thinks about living that kind of life – settling down somewhere, buying a house, having a couple of kids, waving to my neighbors through the window of my minivan on my way to the church potluck with my famous casserole – and feels utterly stifled by the idea. It is this part of me (as juvenile and prideful as it is) that wants “ordinary” people to be able to look at me and know that I am not like them. The same part of me that wants to wear Marc Jacobs lipstick but still put purple streaks in my hair.

Over the summer my college roommates and I had a reunion. We puttered around the lake in the speed boat and talked about our lives and where we saw them going. The other girls talked about feeling settled – one felt happy to stay near her family, another had recently bought her first house with her husband, one talked about her and her husband’s dream of maybe building a house with a lot of land, and the other talked about visiting her cousin who lived in a beautiful golf-course community and how she could imagine a life like that someday. And I looked around the boat at these women I love, who have such sweet hearts and pure desires, and realized that I don’t want the same things that they do. That even when I feel tired of moving and tired of temporary homes, I can’t imagine settling down in one place. I’m struggling now to think about staying in the same place and doing the same thing for the next year. I can’t imagine living for years and years in the same place, doing the same things. And yet, I can’t deny that there’s a sweetness in that desire too, even if it’s one I don’t share.

I wonder when the word “ordinary” started to burn my tongue like acid. When did living a good, honest, regular life become something to fear or worse, disdain? Was it wrapped up somewhere in the words of the parents and teachers who urged us all to be exceptional? Did I absorb it from the shiny plastic worlds we see on TV? Or is it just a product of my own brokenness and rebellion?

I’m realizing that my attitude towards the ordinary is not OK. I don’t have to resign myself to living a cookie cutter life, but I might just have to make peace with living through a season where my life looks undeniably normal. I might have to lay down my pride and accept that I am living an ordinary life right now and that I don’t have to convince everyone around me that I am a special millennial snowflake. So I pray for the eyes to see the simple value of the ordinary and to sense the sacred motions of the mundane.

New Year: My One Word for 2015 and Why I Can’t Leave 2014 Behind

In Korea people don’t stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year. Instead, they get up in the middle of the night and they hike a mountain. They climb through the dark, snowy pre-dawn hours and when they reach the top they stand with their faces to the sky to greet the first sunrise of the New Year.

What a contrast to how we in the West often enter the New Year – stumbling out of bed at noon, tired and quite possibly hungover. For many, January 1st is a day of recovery. We spend New Year’s Eve celebrating the ending of something and the beginning of a new thing. We bombard the internet with reflections on the previous year. Even the less introspective among us take a moment to declare the past year, “the best” or “the hardest” or “the craziest” year of their lives.

I can never bring myself to make those kinds of statements. Because I don’t believe a year can ever be just one thing. Life is never just one thing, and what is a year besides a microcosm of an entire life?

Elaine’s comment on my Year in Review post explained this perfectly. She said she was struck by “how every year is a little life – with birth, death, family, love, travel, new things, familiar things, difficulties and good friends all swirling through it.” I thought this was profound because of what it says about the year we’ve just lived and what it means for the year ahead.

2014 had a life that is both self-contained and part of a larger whole. Entering the New Year doesn’t mean we’ve finished with the old one. We can’t discard it like a worn-out pair of shoes. We carry our past years deep inside our bones. They make up the very DNA of our lives.

The person I was as a child is markedly different from the person I am today, but I could never say I’ve left her behind entirely. You never completely stop being the person you were at 8 or 18 or 28. You carry all of these selves inside of you and they shape who you become. In the same way, we each carry dozens of lives with us –the lives we lived in our previous years – and these lives become part of our future.

But carrying the past year with you doesn’t mean you have to be weighed down or shackled by it.

In the past, I’ve looked back on my previous year and made some promises. I’ve set goals for the year ahead that were largely lists of how I would do better, be better than I was the previous year. I used to think that doing this was a way of leaving the previous year behind, but maybe all that is is a way of letting the previous year enslave me.

I don’t think we have the choice to throw out the previous year or any year of our lives. But we do have a choice about how we let it shape our lives. I can either look at the previous year and allow my mistakes and disappointments and perfectionism drive me to guilt-ridden resolutions, or I can look at the previous year and simply embrace it all, both the proud moments and the parts I wish I could undo, thank God for them, and let them be part of my story.

This year, instead of making a list of resolutions, instead of thinking of all the ways I failed in the last year or all the things I want to do better, instead of making 2015 a giant to-do list, I’ve decided to join the many people I know who choose One Word. The idea of One Word is to get rid of your list and to choose just one word to focus on for a whole year. “One word that sums up who you want to be and how you want to live.”

I’ve been thinking about my word for several weeks. At first I thought about “Belief,” because it’s something I desperately want more of – in God, in myself, in the world. And then I thought about “Present,” the practice of being fully engaged where I am instead of constantly thinking of the next thing or the last thing. Both of these are important to me, but when I really considered what summed up who I want to be and how I want to live one word rose to the top. My word for this year is Wholehearted.

Wholehearted is about sincerity and commitment. For me this means authenticity in my life and my writing. It means commitment to continue my faith-wrestling and to asking sincere questions. Being Wholehearted is also a commitment to courage, compassion, and connection. It is the courage to be vulnerable despite the risk, the compassion to love other people well and to extend grace quickly, both to myself and to others, and the choice to develop genuine connections with others. Wholeheartedness means committing to being fully present, to showing up for every day of my life instead of checking out when things are hard or boring. It means engaging with Today and believing that every day is a gift. And Wholehearted means believing that I am worthy of love and belonging – not because there is anything especially great and deserving about me, but because we are all worthy of love and belonging and because we can’t fully accept love and belonging unless we believe we are worthy of it.

This year I want to step into the New Year with intention. I want to turn my face towards the sun and say, “I’m here. Whatever you have to offer, I am fully present and ready to receive it. The births and the deaths. The joys and the fears and the disappointments. The beauty and the brokenness. The faith and the doubt. The longing and the contentment. The adventure and the mundane.” May 2015 be a step on the journey towards Wholeheartedness.

Happy New Year.


Image Credit: Iamidaho at

My Resolutionless New Year

For as long as I can remember I have been that nerd kid who absolutely loved getting new school supplies. I would burst with excitement over the sharp wood-scent of new pencils and the crisp bindings on composition notebooks (and later in college, slender, trendy moleskins) with all of their empty pages which seemed to me to hold whole worlds of possibility. I have always been a lover of the written word and even though most of my notebooks would soon be filled with notes on lectures and computations and random doodles in the corners when I got bored, each blank book seemed to me to hold secrets that I had the power to unlock by simply setting my pen to the paper. The beginning of a new school year was full of opportunity.

Cool thrift-store notebooks

 Even in college, I loved the first day of classes when we’d get our syllabi and I would carefully copy due dates and assignments into my planner as though they were treasures just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I loved the first lecture where I would use a new pen and have dramatic internal struggles about what the first worthy thoughts were to put on the page. (I was always a little anxious about marring the page with something silly or insignificant.) The first day or even first week of lectures would be preserved in careful notes written in my most precise handwriting and a mistake was like a horrible blemish on that perfect clean slate. I’ve even been known to tear a page out completely and recopy the whole thing rather than leave the ugly stitches of a crossed-out word on one of those first sacred pages. Of course after a couple of weeks my handwriting grew sloppier, my carefully printed words slipping into a crazy mixture of print and cursive, my full sentence outlines turning into bits of words and phrases scattered haphazardly across the page, my syllabus a portent of doom rather than the exciting excursion into knowledge it had once seemed.

My romanticized view of school supplies

 In many ways, I have a habit of looking at a new year in the same way. There is the initial excitement of the fresh start, as sweet and clean as the crisp pages in a brand new notebook.  There is the anticipation of the beautiful things that might be discovered in the coming days and weeks of this year. There is the hesitation over how to begin. How to place that first mark on something so pure. So altogether holy. Unblemished. But inevitably, it does begin. Usually with a dozen promises to myself, to God, to the world, of all the projects I will begin, the habits I will form or break, the ways I will be better, more, different. Things I want to accomplish. Things I want to change. The parts of me I want to discard like yesterday’s newspaper. The parts I want to sink more deeply into, attributes I desire to weave more deeply into the fabric of my being. The parts I want to take up and try on for the first time and see if they fit. As if any of these things could happen simply because one day rolled into another and we called it 2012.

I find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions too simplistic to be helpful. The idea that I, by sheer force of will and determination, could decide in one day to change the patterns and habits that I’ve been developing for years simply by resolving to do so. I mean, think about it. It isn’t as though I had a magical revelation on December 31 of all the things I wish were different and am now making my first genuine effort at changing them. I am constantly aware of things I want to change, from practical things like being more organized to heart issues like being less selfish. In most cases, they are things I have already tried (many times) and failed (many times) to change. Like my careful notes in my notebook during the first few weeks of a new school semester, I manage to keep some of my resolutions for a few weeks. But slowly and surely (or more often honestly, pretty quickly) I slip back into my old routine, my selfish habits, my less healthy choices, my overly busy lifestyle.

For me, New Year’s resolutions quickly become a reminder of new ways that I have failed. Failed to do what I said I would do. Failed to change things that need to be changed. Failed to keep that clean page of the new year free of angry ink-scarred blemishes. Over the past few years I have stopped resolving altogether, at least officially. But this year I am thinking something new. I am thinking that my failure doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. I’m reminded of another post I wrote many months ago about how ultimately, there is no such thing as ultimate failure, there is only feedback. And looking at it from that perspective I can see that my string of failures are valuable in several ways. At the most basic level, they help me eliminate something that does not work. A “solution” that did not have the intended result. But on a spiritual level failure is a stern teacher, a reminder of my brokenness, of my inability to fix myself, even when I can see what needs to be done. Failure gives witness to my sinfulness. To my need for salvation. And then I remember the great news. The news we celebrated just last week. Salvation is here. God with us. Hope is here.

So instead of making resolutions this year of things I will do or won’t do, I’ve decided to frame it in terms of hopes for this year. The greatest of which is that God would make himself known. That in my weakness, my utter inability to fulfill any of these hopes, I would see any progress as the work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. That I would see any small successes as an outpouring of grace. That I would understand that in my weakness, I am utterly incapable of making the changes I want to see in my life. But my weakness is the perfect avenue for God’s strength. With that in mind, these are the things I am hopeful for in this year. These are not things I think I can accomplish and they are not items to check off like a grocery list. These are ways I hope to see God work in my life, but hopes I hold with open hands knowing that God’s desires for me may be different than my own.

My hopes in this year:

1. Develop a greater dependence on God and a greater desire to hear his voice and to obey it, both individually, and as a couple

Lily and Jonathan Swing. Courtesy of Asharae Marie.

2. Cherish and invest in the friendships God has given me

Scott and Sarah, some of our new friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with these guys?! (This was at the state fair, by the way. There aren’t giant hotdogs just sitting around NC.)

3. Practice being a better listener. Be slower to speak.

Me listening. Also courtesy of the lovely Asharae Marie

4. Give more than I take. Especially with my husband.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle- eating well and continuing to run even after my half marathon is over

In case you never got to see this picture. So true.


6. Take time to write. Hopefully finish something I’ve started. It’s been years since I’ve completed something besides a blog post.

7. By this time next year I would like to be in a job or school situation that is more fulfilling, even if it isn’t my ultimate “dream job.” Take a step closer to understanding what God made me for.

I would like a path to follow. Any direction will do. 🙂

8. Bake more! : ) And practice the gift of hospitality that goes along with that.

Confession: I made these cookies like 5 years ago. But it was the only baking picture I could find today. So there.

9. Live an adventurous life, less hindered by fears that disguise themselves as “practicality.” Take opportunities to travel, to love strangers, to try new things, to learn from unexpected teachers.

Tintagel, England. Near Merlin's Cave. Photo by the lovely Jenny Hansma.

10. Find ways to spend time playing with little children (in the non-creepy way!)

Little guy I used to watch. Obvious why playing with kids is on my list. I have to get my baby fix or I'll start wanting one of my own.