one word

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.

The Things I Carry from 2015 and my One Word for 2016

I lived a hundred different lives in 2015. The adventurous expat, the patient teacher, the homesick little girl, the intrepid world traveler, the anxiety-ridden dependent, the supportive wife, the optimistic partner, the heartbroken friend. I have felt a hundred incongruous emotions — hopeful and discouraged, excited and apathetic, inspired and utterly disengaged, generous and self-protective, joyful and bitterly sad. I’ve traveled through 7 countries and made a 6,000 mile move. Each separate life and identity is self-contained like a square on a quilt, inextricably connected to the whole and meaningless without it.

I move forward into 2016 marked by the experiences of this past year and of all the years that came before it. I carry them with me like the very cells of my body. Who I am today is shaped by what I did yesterday and last year and in the years before that. But who I will be tomorrow depends on what I choose to do with today.

There are dozens of ways I’d like to change, but when I think of all the things I need to do better I don’t feel inspired to step into a new year – I feel too overwhelmed to even know where to start. I need to eat better, to exercise more, to drink more water, to be less selfish, to love better, to make more time for writing, to travel, to explore, to learn a new language or skill, to be a better friend, to volunteer, to blog more consistently, to stop whining so much, to pray more, to be more organized.

Last year I abandoned my list of resolutions in favor of just One Word. The idea of One Word is to get rid of your list and to choose a single word to focus on for a whole year. “One word that sums up who you want to be and how you want to live.”

In 2015, I chose the word “Wholehearted.” It was a big word that encompassed an entire way of looking at the world. I’m not finished with wholeheartedness – becoming wholehearted is a lifelong journey – but I have chosen a new word to represent 2016. My word is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” Mindfulness is something I profess to believe in deeply, but fail to put into practice.

From the time I was a young child I learned to disassociate. This began as a coping mechanism for me, a way of dealing with my anxiety, but it grew into a habit. There is a restlessness in me that causes me to grow bored and discontented easily, and when I’m no longer entertained, challenged, or excited, I tend to disengage.

There is nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of living an ordinary life, but most of life is made of ordinary moments. How much of mine do I miss by checking out and simply going through the motions while I dream of being somewhere else? This year, I want to learn to be present for my own life.

The poet Mary Oliver writes often about what it means to pay attention to the world. In her famous poem “The Summer Day” she writes:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I believe that nothing is without meaning if we only pay attention to it. And I believe that I can waste my one wild and precious life not through big mistakes, but through day after day of failing to pay attention and just going through the motions.

I am setting my intention this year on just one thing – growing in Mindfulness. I will choose to be present for my every day life. I want to learn to see the extraordinary wrapped up in my ordinary days and to collect evidences of grace that shine true even when the days are dark.

If you’ve chosen One Word for 2016, leave a comment below and share what you chose and what it means to you. 

Header image via: The Huffington Post

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