new year’s resolutions

Delight: My One Word or My Plan to Make 2021 Not Suck Balls

A year ago, we all counted down to midnight feeling like we were standing on the edge of something capital “I” Important. We flung ourselves into a new decade wild with hope. I stumbled into 2020 in the dazed, exhausted, love-drunk stupor of a new mom, thinking there had never existed anything as tiny and precious and exquisite as my infant daughter.

By March, it seemed the whole world was crashing and burning. By June, we started counting down the days until it would be over. We made 2020 a four-letter word and told ourselves we just had to get through it. We talked about self-care and mental health and praised the superhuman powers of frontline medical workers and elementary school teachers. And we crossed the days off on our calendars.  

Now here we are in 2021, and it turns out there was no evil curse that broke at midnight on December 31st. Overall, things are the same as they were in December. Some things are actually worse. In 2020, we all spent a lot of time talking about how hard it all was. How tired we were of it all. How we couldn’t wait for things to get back to “normal.” 

I’ve got some bad news.

Normal life is hard.

2020 was hard because life is hard. It has always been hard. It is always going to be hard. Yes, it’s hard in different ways for different people, and it’s harder at certain times than it is at others, but it’s hard all the same. 

Most of us are addicted to our own comfort. We cannot bear the thought of sitting with discomfort, let alone real pain, so our priority is finding ways to numb the pain or to pass the time until it goes away. We forget that hard does not have to mean hopeless. Difficult is not always the same as bad. 

For the last year, it’s felt like nobody can have a conversation without the need to acknowledge how crap everything is. In a sense, we need that. We need to be honest about it instead of pretending everything is rosy. But we also need to remember that we have a remarkable capacity to live with contradictions. 

Humans have a unique ability to feel multiple emotions simultaneously. It’s part of what makes us so gorgeously complex.It is what makes me able to feel sick with grief about the brokenness of the world, and a breath later to feel wild with joy when my daughter calls me “Mama” for the first time.

My Facebook feed is peppered with articles about how it is OK to not be OK right now. How we’re all doing great just by making it through the day and we need to give ourselves some grace. And of course, that’s completely true. But I think some of us (me) might also need the reminder that it’s also OK to be OK. It’s even OK to be happy. What if the most daring and subversive thing that we can do in this moment is to have the courage to risk delight? 

Confession: It is really easy for me to be unhappy. Even on antidepressants, the chemicals in my brain need very little excuse to tell me I’m not OK. What is much more difficult for me is to let myself feel pain, even grief, without letting it win. 

One of my favorite poems is “A Brief for the Defense” by the brilliant poet Jack Gilbert who writes, “We must have/the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless/furnace of this world. To make injustice the only/measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.” (You can read the whole poem here). 

Embracing gladness in the midst of suffering has always been a high and holy calling. (“Rejoice in the Lord, always: and again I say, Rejoice!”) This does not mean that we ignore evil and concentrate on self-indulgence. It means we march and we vote and we write and we preach and we call out injustice in ourselves, in our communities, in our policies. It means we seek to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. It means we continually learn how to be better. And when we know better, we do better. But it also means we sing while we do it, just because we can. We dance because moving our bodies is a gift. We delight because we are here to care about any of it at all. 

For many years, rather than making resolutions, I have set a single word as an intention for the year. I haven’t done this in the past few years, but this year I feel drawn to do it again. So here it is.


Not because 2021 is better than 2020. Not because the suffering is over. But because it isn’t. And yet… “there will be music despite everything.” I want to be brave enough to sing along.

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: 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.