A Serious Time Out

I learn a lot about God through parenting. I learn about what it is to love and also disappoint with the way that love is expressed. Discipline is a perfect example. I didn’t ever really understand that part in scripture where it says that The Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), until I started putting my daughter, Esther Hope, in timeout.

She cries, she argues, and then she wants a hug. She feels alone and hurt and like her world is falling apart. She’s 3, and this timeout feels like it’s the most serious thing she’s experienced. And yet she has no comprehension that it’s only because I love her that I do it. I want her to grow up to be a decent human being, and so part of teaching her how to behave involves some sort of dicipline.

Since the novel coronavirus pandemic, I have been feeling like I have been put in a serious timeout. It’s actually been very much like how it must be for my 3-year-old.

I cry, I argue, and then I want a hug. I feel alone and hurt and like my world is falling apart. The stay-at-home order felt like the most serious thing I’ve experienced. And at first, it doesn’t even cross my mind that perhaps this is happening because God loves me. Perhaps part of teaching me involves this kind of discipline–a serious timeout.

I could write probably four different blog posts about the different lessons that God has been teaching me during this time. I will focus on this major one right now: Provision.

I’m the type of person who will plan out a day to the T. Those of you with children can imagine how this usually goes for me. If I’m honest, the fact that my kids have completely thrown off my routine has been a consistent point of contention for the past four years–because pregnancy did that too, let’s face the facts.

Planning out my day with timetables and routines doesn’t leave room to be surrendered to The Lord, nor does it leave room to be present to the reality of needy children. The plan is usually tossed, yes, but there is this lingering resentment in my body, as if tossing the plan isn’t suppose to happen. As if surrender and flexibility and presence is a burden.

When the stay-at-home order was issued, both my kids were old enough that I could have a somewhat regular schedule for each weekday. Gym on Mondays, Leader’s Meeting on Tuesdays, story-time at the library on Wednesdays, BSF on Thursdays, groceries on Fridays. Each nap time, I had a focus for that day, and even though my plans would need reworking, I still had several pillars to fall back on and to ground me. But they were my pillars, and they soon crumbled when everything was cancelled.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

God put me in His serious timeout and told me to think about my choices. Why did my patience thin so much when needing to be present with my children? Why did I feel being flexible with their schedules and needs was a burden? He didn’t ask these questions in an authoritative tone, but in a loving manner. He didn’t scream at me out of rage to go sit in a corner and think about what I’d done. He quietly nudged me into a safe space to reflect upon the ways in which I had been functioning during “normal” life.

I do not believe my wiring for order and structure is wrong, and I acknowledge that God has designed me this way. I do, however, see how I have made idols of my own schedule and plans. The problem with this is that these are not always The Lord’s plans for me (Proverbs).

But knowing this, for some reason, doesn’t make me less likely to fall into the trappings of over-planning or trying to prepare in ways that I’m naturally inclined to do. And it’s because of just that–I’m naturally inclined to do it. To change this, I needed to come to the root of the issue, which was staring me straight in the face as I wrestled with these frustrations about my tossed-away routine as well as this new anxiety of an unprecedented virus infecting people around the globe and in my own neighborhood.

Deep down, much of my desire to plan and prepare was rooted in a fear that what I needed would not be provided for.

Each time I got irritated with a change in my schedule, I feared that I would not be provided with enough time.

Each time I felt anxious about not knowing the next step, I feared that it would not be provided for me, and I’d be left stranded.

Each time I felt frustrated with unchecked items on my to-do list, I feared that I would not be able to provide whatever my to-do list promised at the time: a clean house, a perfectly balanced budget, the best “stay-cation” schedule for our family…

But here’s the thing: Provision happens in the present, and oftentimes, we don’t even realize it’s impact until it’s in our past.

I was craning my neck to look ahead so that I could get a jump start on providing what only God can truly provide. But as I rested in the quiet moments of being at home with my kids–the episodes of Daniel Tiger, or threading toothpicks through the colander, all sprawled out with the pots and pans on the kitchen floor, I could see where God had already provided more than enough.

I had enough time.

I had enough space.

I had enough resources.

I even had enough sleep and downtime, something I didn’t know how much I needed.

This timeout wasn’t a punishment, it was God’s way to showing me His goodness and provision that has surrounded me this whole time.

This isn’t new for God. He’s used to this kind of thing–people forgetting who He is and what He’s done for them.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

In Exodus, when the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness, newly freed from slavery, they didn’t know what God’s provision would look like in the future. They only looked back to remember Egypt.

But then, in the moment, honey-bread rests with the drew, quail flies into waiting nets, water pours from a rock.

God’s provision is in the moment. It’s right now. It’s not for me to know how it will be in the future. But I can trust that it will be. I can trust that it is.

This is only becoming clear as I look back to remember, something those same Israelites and their descendants were instructed explicitly to do by God Almighty Himself.

This is what He was nudging me to do during this time of unrest: remember His provision, and also, to become aware of it in this moment.

This was something I was not naturally doing in my everyday routine and rush. And even with more time on my hands during the stay-at-home order phase of the pandemic, it has become an act of resistance to not look ahead. Life is slower because of it; I am not on social media, I do not binge watch the news, I do not stock up on toilet paper or Clorox wipes. I have had this time to work at resting in the provision of The Lord, at trusting in His love.

And I realize I have only had this time to do so because of the serious timeout He’s put me in through this global pandemic. Don’t worry–I am not so self-centered as to believe that all of this was so that I could learn a lesson. But I’d also be foolish to think that God would not use a crisis for good–to strengthen the faith of His people and help them to lean into His goodness and love.

Photo by Rahul Pandit on Pexels.com

This is one of the many things He has done for me. And I will remember it.

This is what redemption is. This is what provision looks like.

shelter & half-hearts

There are so many thoughts running through my head. So many essay topics and ideas to explore. However, I feel like anything I might write about that doesn’t have to do with the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic may come off as rather tone deaf.

Maybe I’m wrong and we all could use reading about something other than the pandemic. Maybe we are all sick of hearing the word “coronavirus”.

But I also feel I may be right in thinking that, even if we are sick of news articles about this current world crisis, we all are thinking about how this has changed our current realities. And we could all use some encouragement that we are not alone in fighting the unavoidable fear that comes with an invisible and possibly deadly virus.

I wrote this piece as a reflection of my personal quarantine:

img_0649

It’s springtime. Officially.

The birds sound beautiful. A smattering of chatter, each calling distinctly, some close and some in the distance. A robin rifles through the trash, perhaps looking for food or something with which to make a next. I love the way my ears tingle and lungs burn with this chill.

The world is far from quiet. There is still bustle and hustle and cars rolling by.

A plane here and there.

But it’s lonely.

6 feet from embracing. Masks blocking smiles. Never touching. 

As if distance was not already preferred in this day and age. Now it’s enforced by law.

At home, we wash are hands so often. We sing, “God is so good” to get the timing right. And then she says, quoting Daniel Tiger, I’m sure, “wouldn’t it be fun if we could see the germs go away?”

If only we could. 

But this is the sneakiest of potential killers; invisible; tiny; deadly; mutating to cause the most damage for as long as possible.

How can life be so different and yet seem so normal at the same time?

We don’t put living on hold until something else clutches at our life.

Somewhere there is someone fighting for that life in the ICU on a ventilator. Totally alone. Somewhere not so far away from me at all.

On hold.

No one can hold them.

This hits close to home. And yet I pray it doesn’t hit our home.

Our temporary home.

This was the sound.

A burning.

A cry.

Water gushing, numbness, and loss, loose skin.

My heart leaving my chest.

Twice.

How can I keep track of beats and blows with my heart half-ed in two little bodies?

So warm. So naive. So innocent. So strange. 

Here they are: a car crash of human beings, unaware of any disaster but spilled popcorn and knotted hair.

My heart sill in me fears for them when I am not centered in He who is at the center.

And thankfully it’s true; I always arrive back to You.

You who make the mountains melt.

You who come down like fire.

You who are as gentle as spring rain.

You who shelter me as I shelter-in-place, by preparation for the test that comes next.

Always equipping, never ceasing to defend the loves of your life.

Oh Jesus, tell me this:

How can your heart beat in tens of thousands of Your people’s breasts, and yet You remain the only one who is and always will truly be

whole?

Here we are: a car crash of human beings.

We’ve made a mess again and now we are all alone,

walking alongside each other but never connecting;

our hearts have left our bodies for fear of a silent killer.

Only You can save us.

Yet it may be only in the next life.

The one that’s not on hold.

The world is far from quiet. There are birdcalls and burning wind and 6 feet apart conversations.

But it’s lonely. And it’s fearful.

Perhaps that’s not very different than normal here on earth.

I will rest in Your shelter, in the place You’ve made Your home–my heart–half-ed though it may be.

And I will resist the urge to fear for the time when You take me and my little half-hearts home to make us

whole. 

Our eternal home.

This is the sound.

The sound of You restoring my heart to whole.

It’s quieter than I thought.

6f7e8d15-45ef-45d7-b3b7-509e3a25fb6a

Dear Younger Claire,

Dear  Younger Claire,

11266245_589879207820363_1672999799066846212_nDo not write that note to Julian in 8th grade. Just don’t—it’s not a good idea. Trust me on this one.

Also, just flippin’ call your parents if you’re going to miss curfew. Don’t test your limits just because you think they are unfair. Your parents are trying to keep you safe. They love you; they honestly do not want to ruin your life. I promise.

You are nowhere near fat. Stop worrying about it.

Okay, yes. I know it is not that simple. So just know that disease, this disorder, is what truly brings you to Jesus. Sharing about it catches the attention of your future husband, and battling it in every human way possible brings you to your knees so that God can take over… Don’t loose heart. You will not be sick forever. God works even this into something good.

Just because someone likes you does not mean that you have to like them back. A lot of guys like you Claire, whether you are aware of it/believe it or not. If you had the confidence to know this, you wouldn’t get yourself into a relationship you should never have been in. Just say “thanks, but no thanks” and move on. You don’t have to be with someone in order to be worthwhile.

When your friend sells you his awesome bike for a ridiculously cheap price, make sure you bring it inside every. single. night. Don’t leave it out in the rain, be sure to give it regular tune-ups, don’t leave it someplace without chain-locking it to something immoveable. Seriously girl. Flippin’ take care of the stuff you have. Especially the nice stuff.

Train better for your second marathon. And take your best friend’s iPhone when yours dies. You’re going to need some pump-up music those last 6 miles.

The “in” crowd is myth because it doesn’t last. Just know this. Just know that you don’t have to be anyone else to be amazing and loveable and beautiful and talented. Just be you. I know it takes a while to figure out who that is, but go with your gut—it does not lie to you, you crazy-awesome Enneagram Type 1 (you’ll understand later). So be nice to your fellow nerds, no matter how awkward they are —yes you are a nerd; in fact we all are, in some way, shape, or form. You all are way cooler than anyone else who is “popular” in middle school, high school, or even college.

It’s good that you’re going to counseling, but do know that there are bad therapists that exist in this world, so take your time in finding the one what is going to help you the most. Also, remember that it gets harder before it gets easier. Do not give up on yourself. You are making progress, no matter what it feels like. You will be working on yourself for an entire lifetime, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Most of what you will need to keep doing again and again is forgive your parents. Forgive. Your. Parents. Seriously. They did the best they could. They currently are doing the best they can. And really, they are pretty awesome people, who love you and your family as best. they. can. Get it? So please give them a break. You will want your kids to do the same for you.

In college, when you are laying in bed agonizing about whether you should do a teaching internship or go out for a part in a professional theatre production and also whether or not your boyfriend at the time really does want to marry you…you are going to hear this voice that tells you to quit it because your life is not going to look anything like what you could ever imagine in that moment. Believe that voice. It is the voice of God and He’s got a crazy-awesome journey planned for you.

The first time you and a boyfriend break up needs to be the last time. As in, do not go back. It is okay to not want to be with someone. Give yourself permission to want something else and know you deserve better. Even if you break his heart. Even if it breaks your heart. Do not go back and forth on these things. Be clear and honest and decisive. Again, your gut does not lie to you Claire.

When you meet the man who you are pretty certain is your soul mate and he says he doesn’t really want a relationship right now, or at least nothing labeled, just laugh and say, “okay sure”. Your daughter will have his musical talent; your son will have his gorgeous smile.

And finally: do not cut your own hair. Do. Not. Cut. Your. Own. Hair. But seriously, not even if it’s just a trim, or you think you can get it so that your pixie cut will look good growing out. No. Do not do it. In fact, after the first one, just don’t do the pixie cut thing again. Okay? Okay.

Love always,

~ A little bit wiser Claire

Never A Failure

Never a Failure (1)

I began my career as a high school English teacher with an unapologetically idealistic attitude about the difference I could make in my student’s lives and in Chicago’s far South Side community as a whole. After all, when you’re young and energetic and still on an academic high from all of what you’ve learned as a recent college graduate, there is literally no passion you cannot chase successfully.

I think I envisioned myself as one of those young, inexperienced, yet unexpectedly inspiring and successful teachers you always see in the movies. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but I also had no idea how hard it would be.

After three years of teaching in Chicago Public Schools and living in the Roseland community, that passion I had clung to so dearly dwindled from a raging fire to barely a smoking ember. What I believed to be God’s calling for my life now felt far away – lost, even.

I was tired; I was bogged down with paperwork; I had too many classes; I had over-crowded classrooms; I had a steep cultural learning curve that I was barely getting over the hump with, and on top of that, being a recent hire made my job security slim to none. Some students consistently skipped my class; I struggled immensely with getting certain kids to listen, or to even pick up a pencil; many of the tests I gave came back with dismal results; I was constantly sleep-deprived and over-stressed, and I got sick more times in a single year than I had in the past four combined – in short, I felt like a complete failure.

So, when I left the teaching profession at age 25, I felt disillusioned and disheartened about passion as a whole. I thought that if I couldn’t live out my perfect dreams of being an inner city educator, then how could I hope to live them out in any other area of my life?

But mostly, I was just afraid – afraid that because I had quit, that meant I would forever be labeled a quitter – afraid that because I had given up on a past hope, then all hope was lost for me – afraid that because I hadn’t achieved this dream, I would never achieve anything of value.

But more than anything, I was afraid that all of this meant I was a failure.

Two years later, when I found out I was pregnant, those fears resurfaced. I was afraid to have any expectation of motherhood at all, or of my child, for that matter. I didn’t want my passions to be killed yet again.

And I didn’t want to fail.

But how could I hold a new life inside of my own body and not have wild and courageous dreams for her? How could I not hope for so much in this tiny person’s future? How could I not cling to the promises that God had made to this little baby, and also to me?

 After quitting teaching, and especially after becoming a mother, I was pitched into a new season of life where my motivation was very different than it was when I was fresh out of college. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t bad.

We would never say that the little girl who dreamed of being a ballerina at age 5 failed because she ended up becoming a doctor at age 27.

In the same way, God showed me that I wasn’t a failure simply because my dreams in college changed into different dreams even just a few years later.

My passion for teaching impoverished urban kids has grown into a passion for raising my own kids to befriend them and advocate for their rights and for their futures. My passion for living in the Roseland community of Chicago has grown into a passion for pushing myself to see things from other’s perspectives, and learning to love all people where they are, not where I think they should be.

It would take more pages than I can count to recall all of what my former students have taught me, and all of what I am still learning from my Chicago neighbors and South Side friends. But I know that God has used these experiences to mature me and help me see that his perfect plan for me is never just one thing.

My daughter is toddling around now, and a new life is growing inside of my belly, along with new passions and new hopes. I know not all of those fleeting and idealistic dreams will come to fruition in this lifetime, but some of them will, at least to some extent. The rest can wait for heaven.

Passion, in the form of tentative hope, peeks forth from already-fertilized soil. Dreams have grown and died and been stripped away to make room for a new and freshly pruned crop. It’s the way things grow, and it’s the way we grow. And I know now that it is never a failure.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog

Begin Again

rear view of woman standing in balcony during sunset

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.

Mommy-Jeans: wearing the motherhood I want to wear, and wearing it well

two hanged blue stonewash and blue jeans

Photo by Mica Asato on Pexels.com

I wake up to the sound of her babbling in the next room. Lately she has been fascinated by blowing raspberries with her lips. I briefly wonder why they call it that– blowing raspberries– as I look at the clock.

5:30am.

I lay in bed for another five minutes, praying that she goes back to sleep for another two hours, but I know better. I don’t even bother looking at my husband; I know he’s sound asleep, the lack of those ever-hearing “mom ears” keeping his sleep peaceful and uninterrupted. I try not to be jealous.

Something happens to me as I pull on jeans and a zip hoodie over my ever-trusty and completely over-worn nursing tank: I become Mommy again.

I tip-toe out of the bedroom and swing the door open into her’s, switching on the lights as I do. My sluggish and exhausted body is no longer acting sluggish or exhausted. I am Mommy. And so I energetically sing our morning song to the little 6-month-old girl who is giving me the best open-mouthed grin I could possibly hope to wake up to.

“It’s time to rise and shine and give God the glory! Rise and shine and give Him the glory! Rise and shine and give God the glory! Give Him all our praise!” 

For the next two-ish hours before her morning nap, I am Mommy. And when I say that I become Mommy, I don’t mean that I wasn’t a mother before I got out of bed. But lately I have been thinking about my motherhood as something that I put on like clothing–a new pair of jeans that need breaking in as well as some time to clean up in the wash, and to give my stretch-marked tummy some room to breathe once in a while.

This allows me to be more intentional with my motherhood; thinking about what kind of Mommy I want to be. One that responds in the way she feels at 5:30am when she was up three times during the night and really just wishes her husband would get up with the baby and let her sleep in a little, or one that chooses joy and sings the morning song even before the coffee’s on or hair is brushed?

One that looks in the mirror and reverts back to old wounds, wishing these birthing scars would disappear, or one that chooses to see beauty and life across the abdomen that stretched to become a home for this incredible little child that now sits on the hip, curiously reaching for this and that?

One that looks back longingly at the life she used to have of staying up late, spending hours training for marathons, drinking coffee all day long, and working long hours out of the home, or one that lets go of the things that used to formulate her identity so she can embrace a new responciblity–rather, the best opportunity– to become another’s whole world for a period of time?

I know myself.

I know that if I get too cozy in my motherhood, I become lazy, disillusioned, bitter, and I forget what’s important to the Mommy I know I need to be.

But if I step into motherhood–the motherhood that I want to give to my daughter–I wear it so much more gracefully.

I become better able to deny my selfishness, to embrace imperfection, and to choose joy, even when it’s hard.

And when this motherhood I wear gets tired, frayed at the edges, and a little dirtied by grass stains or spit-up, I can peal it off for a little while, for the sake of my sanity and my family, and rest while those Mommy-jeans get cleaned up.

How can I peal off my motherhood?

By arranging for my husband to wake up with the baby so I can run three miles at the local park. By taking nap time to journal with a cup of tea, or try out a new paleo recipe I’ve been wanting to make. By asking a friend to watch the kid while I grab some groceries at Mariano’s, and take my time browsing while sipping a fresh-squeezed drink from the juice-bar. By going to MOPS and BSF, and taking care of my husband, and coaching praise dance, and getting together with friends, and by just being myself, who is more than “just a stay-at-home-mommy”.

Pealing off motherhood means you need a break every so often. It means you can rest while God scrubs up the kind of motherhood He wants you to wear. It means that He sanctifies and fortifies your role as a mother so that you can be the Mommy who sings in the morning and laughs at the bow-out diapers and knows that no matter how hard it is to run errends in between naptimes, that life is so much more full and excellent now that there is this beautiful new person in the world that you get to be “Mommy” to.

It’s 8:30am now, and baby girl is yawning, and rooting around to nurse and fall asleep. I have worn my motherhood well this morning, despite my exhaustion– praise God! And as I lay her down in her crib, noise machine going and her belly full of breastmilk, I tip-toe out of that bright, patient, energized, and positive motherhood, and I fall into the arms of Jesus.

Like a dirty pair of jeans, He washes “Mommy” up, while Claire rests in the presence of her Strength and Hope…and maybe a bubble bath. I know in about an hour and a half, I’ll have to put on that motherhood again, and I know it will be ready and waiting for me, clean and fresh and replenished as only it can be when I leave it to The Lord.

It’s a new thing–this Mommy role– and I want to wear it well always. But I know I cannot possibly do it alone.

 

 

 

One Word 2016

alphabet blur close up font

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”

These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website.  And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.

At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.

And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.

Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!

The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.

“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org

I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.

Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to  throughout 2015.

My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.

Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.

This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.

This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.

It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.

This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.

“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.

It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.

“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.

“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.

I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.

“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.

And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.

As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else. 

But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.

 My one word for this year is “Surrender”.

Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?

I think not.

And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.

Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…

But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)

I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”

I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.

And so far, that has proved to be true.

The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?

I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.

But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.

And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.

What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!