wholeheartedness

New(ish) Ink for My Year of Wholehearted Living

Last January I decided that instead of making resolutions I would just choose one word to focus on for the year. A single word that summed up how I wanted to grow during 2015. I chose the word “wholehearted.” I wrote that:

Wholeheartedness 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.

My journey with wholeheartedness isn’t over, but I can honestly say that I think I can see where I’ve grown in these areas. I have taken more risks in trying to connect with people and I have learned to be kinder to myself. I have also failed in some of these areas, and that’s OK too. Choosing one word for the year was never about mastering a particular virtue. It was simply about setting my intentions.

Just before we left Korea in August, I got a new tattoo. It wasn’t something I posted to Instagram or Facebook and I didn’t tell many people about it at the time. It wasn’t meant to be a secret, but it also wasn’t something I wanted to hear a lot of conflicting opinions on or make a big deal about. I wasn’t getting it because tattoos are trendy or because I wanted other people to think I was cooler than I really am. I wanted a symbol of my time in Korea and my journey towards wholeheartedness that would stay with me forever.

I know that tattoos are not everyone’s cup of tea and if you don’t like them, that’s totally fine. There are certainly plenty of people who get tattoos that they later regret. But for me, my tattoos are physical marks of my own story. They remind me of where I’ve been and of the places in my life where God has broken through. I like the permanence of them – the sense that in a world where everything is always changing, these things will always be true and constant.

This tattoo is a compass inside of a mandala. The mandala is a traditional Hindu or Buddhist pattern symbolizing wholeness and unity in the universe. The intricate dot-work shading and the symmetry in the pattern are meant to point to the order in the universe and to our smallness in relation to the greater pattern. I had the compass placed into the middle as a reminder of this time spent living abroad and also that my life has direction. And while these really are meanings I thought about before having this piece done, I also chose it because I think it’s beautiful and I believe that’s a worthwhile reason in itself.

11880909_855398903458_10012120_n

This was when it was freshly done.

84ba26c2-bc8d-4a0d-a9b5-b88469894ca0

And this is what it looks like now that it’s healed.

I chose the placement on my leg partly because it was a big enough area to handle a larger piece like this and partly because it’s relatively easy to cover. It shows when I wear shorts or a swimsuit, but it naturally covered by pants or dress clothes so its no hassle for a more formal setting. I was hesitant about putting it on my thigh which has long been my least favorite part of my body. I wasn’t sure I wanted to call attention to the part of me that I am most self-conscious about. But then I thought, “Why not put something beautiful on this part of you that you don’t think is beautiful?” And the cool thing is, since getting my tattoo it’s become one of my favorite parts of myself. I feel so much more confident and beautiful even if the rest of my legs still jiggle like Jell-O.

11121493_855398918428_2104101572_n

This was also the day I got it. I had my shorts rolled up so they wouldn’t irritate it, but normally my shorts fall right to the middle of the tattoo.

11960005_859460429128_1835978076289442416_n

This is the only picture I can find where you can sort of see where it falls with my regular shorts on. It’s just barely showing here.

2015 is drawing to a close, but my journey towards wholeheartedness will continue into next year and on through the rest of my life.

___________________________________________________

My tattoo is a beautiful, one of a kind piece that was designed for me by an artist in Busan, South Korea. In other words, don’t go get my exact tattoo somewhere on you! Most artists are happy to design something unique for you – they don’t want to just copy other people’s work either.

Feature Image Credit: The Blue Mug
Advertisements

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 Deviantart.com

What Makes You Vulnerable Makes You Beautiful: A Review of a Book That’s Changing My Life

daring greatly

A Review of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

I’ve spent the past few weeks telling everyone I know to read this book, so I thought I would put together some sort of official book review. Although I mention the books I’ve read or recommend in my monthly “What I’m Into” post, this is the first book review I’ve ever done on the blog. I think this book is powerful and I hope if you haven’t read it yet, that you will soon.

Brené Brown is a skilled researcher with a Master’s and PhD in social work. She has dedicated the last decade of her professional life to studying shame and vulnerability. Her two TED talks on these topics have been viewed by over  This book is the perfect mixture of hard data and personal stories and her message is one that I believe every human being can relate to. This book does not apply to people of one particular religion, race, family demographic, or socioeconomic status. It is a book for everyone.

The title of the book comes from this powerful quote from Theodore Roosevelt,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brown began her research by studying human connection, but very quickly discovered that there was something that kept coming up when she interviewed people about connection. She would ask for stories of connection, and inevitably, people would share the opposite – what disconnection felt like. She noticed a common element among the stories of disconnection and that element was shame, which she defines simply as the fear of disconnection. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Brown differentiates between shame and guilt in one of the simplest and yet profound ways I’ve ever encountered:

Guilt = I did something bad.

Shame = I am bad.

She explains how this sense of shame stems from the feeling that “I’m not enough.” Not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, successful enough, funny enough, etc.

Brown states that shame blocks our ability to make meaningful connections with others, and the only way for connection to happen is through vulnerability – allowing ourselves to be truly seen.

Vulnerability has such a negative connotation for many people. In our culture, we often equate vulnerability with weakness. Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” and argues that vulnerability is a risk, but it is not a weakness. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Unlike how many of us think of vulnerability, Brown reassures us that vulnerability does not mean “letting it all hang out,” but is instead about “sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned a right to hear them.”

Brown goes on to identify the “vulnerability-shields’ people put up to protect themselves from being real with others (perfectionism, forboding joy, and numbing being the major ones) and to give the “daring greatly” alternatives to these behaviors (embracing the beauty of our cracks, practicing gratitude, and finding true comfort).

Through the book Brown explains how developing shame-resilience and practicing vulnerability has the power to radically transform our relationships and our lives. She gives practical examples of what this could look like in a business or work environment, in the other leadership roles we fill, and in parenting. Although I’m not a parent yet myself, I found the section on parenting particularly interesting and inspiring. This section was full of good, practical examples of how we can break the cycle of shame in our homes and teach shame-resilience for the things that happen outside of our homes. We can cultivate empathy, self-compassion, and a profound sense of belonging in our children by first cultivating these things in ourselves.  Brown explains that being vulnerable is one of the most powerful ways we can parent children, “…the question isn’t so much, ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?’”

In her previous book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown explored the concept of “Wholeheartedness” which she defines as living with a sense of worthiness – of love and belonging. She interviewed hundreds of people and studied what separated those with a sense of worthiness from those who struggled for it. She talks about this research in one of her TED talks. Brown says that the difference between these two groups of people was only one variable. “And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”

“And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect…The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful… They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

I think Christians (in the Reformed tradition especially) have some push-back against the idea of our own worthiness. We balk at expressing what we perceive to be an overly high opinion of ourselves. What about being hopeless sinners in need of Christ’s grace? I would argue that Christ’s grace is exactly why we need to see ourselves as worthy. That we are worthy because of the work of Christ. Maybe failing to see our worthiness is really a failure to understand and accept the work that Christ has done for us. Maybe combatting shame and embracing vulnerability are essential to how we live the gospel.

This book is making me consider the kind of person I want to be. It has challenged and encouraged me to identify places of shame in my life and to combat them. Embracing our imperfections and our messiness is something I had already been thinking about and writing about a lot over the past year, and this book has confirmed for me that this is crucial to living an abundant life and to becoming the people we want to be.

****

If you don’t feel like you have time to read the book, or just want to hear more before you do, here are Brené Brown’s two TED talks. They are well-worth the 18 minutes of your time.