I can’t remember if I picked a word at the beginning of 2018. I used to choose one faithfully, but that practice hasn’t had as much of a draw for me in the last two years as it once did. In the early years (starting with the year I chose fearless), my word helped pull me forward as I got closer and closer to the authentic and meaningful life I longed for. I made some big life-altering decisions in those years, partly because my annual word helped clarify my intentions and chart my path.
This past year, though, there’s been a shift, and my life has felt deliciously close to what I was dreaming of all of those years when I was choosing words. I don’t feel as much like I need an annual word to draw me forward anymore.
The only thing I can think of for 2019 is “more of the same”.
This year, instead of choosing a word at the BEGINNING of the year, I’m selecting one at the END that reflects what the year has been. For 2018, that word is Joy.
This is a unique place for me to be, and, as I wrote earlier this year, there’s been some uneasiness claiming joy.I’ve become much more familiar with grief and struggle in my adult life, and so joy feels like a foreign country. But after a year of deepening my practice around receiving and appreciating joy, it’s become a more comfortable place to live and I don’t plan to leave any time soon.
As this year of joy draws to a close (only ten more hours, as I write this), I’m doing some reflecting from this place of joy. Here are some of my thoughts…
1.) When you find contentment, stay there until you feel restless again. In choosing “more of the same” for 2019, I am acknowledging that I’ve arrived at a place of contentment and “enough” and I’m in no hurry to change anything. HOWEVER… I know my patterns well enough to know that I will continue to need growth and change in coming years, and so I surrender to the ebb and flow of life, resting when the time is right, and moving when I start to feel restless again.
2.) Joy may look different from what you expected. Embrace it anyway. There was a time when I was certain that a joyful life would be one in which I was well-partnered, with someone to come home to who would know just how to give solace to my weary heart when I’d been out in the world too long. That hasn’t happened for me this year, and though I still welcome the possibility of it in the future, I have found this single life to bring more joy than I ever expected.
3.) Find people who’ll hold space for you not only in sadness, but in joy. As I often discuss in my Holding Space Coach/Facilitator Program, though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s often easier to hold space for someone when they’re sad or lonely or have some kind of need you can fill. When they’re joyful and content, it can feel like they need you less. But a joyful person needs deep friendships just like a struggling person does and I am so very grateful for the people who’ve shown up for me in my joy just like they did in my grief.
4.) Joy may show up in places you expect it least. One of the most joyful days of the year was in one of the poorest places in the world, surrounded by people who know struggle, who’d lived through conflict and poverty, and yet who know how to dance and laugh. In Kitgum, Uganda, I laughed harder than I have in a long time when, at the Kindergarten graduation, the women invited me up to dance and I made a fool of myself trying to move my hips the way they do.
5.) It is easier to give from a place of abundance. If you want to be generous and to make a difference in the world, fill your own cup first. This year, I was able to give away more money than I’ve ever given, I held space for more clients than I ever have, I lent money to a few people I care about who are struggling, and I taught well over a hundred people through my online courses and in-person retreats. I could do all of this without feeling depleted because I’ve done a LOT of radical self-care the last few years (and continue to do so). I went to therapy, I’ve found spiritual practices that sustain me, I took sabbaticals and vacations when I started to feel depleted, and I spent time, energy, and money making my home feel more like a sanctuary. Some of what I’ve done for myself might look selfish to an outside observer, but it allows me to give generously without resentment or exhaustion, so I make no apologies.
6.) Boundaries help nurture and protect a joyful life. Becoming increasingly fierce and protective of my personal boundaries has helped me find this place of joy and protect it from those who might seek to diminish or destroy it (because of their own lack of joy). Because I know that my joy is worth protecting AND it helps me do better work and serve more people, I have become much more intentional about saying no when I’m depleted, limiting the time I spend with people who diminish my joy, and guarding the time and resources I need in order to feel well-resourced.
7.) Healthy relationships help grow a joyful life. Much of my joy comes from the time I spend with the people who matter to me. I have grown and deepened some beautiful friendships this year and I have been intentional about carving out ample time for deep and slow conversations. I have also been blessed with the best clients in the world who fill my cup every time I am in circle with them. AND I have three daughters who bring me joy. I spent as much time as I could with them this year, taking them on two vacations, knowing that there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when they will all move away from home. One of my favourite weeks of the year was a joy-filled week of play at Disney World with my girls.
8.) Joy isn’t always about ease – sometimes it comes as a result of considerable struggle. There have been many moments this year when joy came after a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears. As I wrote about my time in the Netherlands, a retreat that took us through some hard liminal space was one that ended with deep learning and much joy. This has also been true as I’ve renovated my home and backyard. I find great joy and satisfaction in completing something that stretched my physical and/or mental capacity.
9.) And then, sometimes, it IS about ease. I have found deep rest and relaxation this year – times when I’ve spent a long afternoon lounging in the hammock in my new backyard, or when I’ve taken a long leisurely hike through the woods. There was very little external stimulation needed in those times – just spaciousness and ease.
10.) Doing good and meaningful work is one of my greatest sources of joy. A year and a half ago, I launched the Holding Space Coach/Facilitator Program. Since then, I’ve taught about 200 people through the online program and in-person retreats. It took a LOT of work to build this program from scratch and it continues to take a lot of work to grow it and teach it and hold space for the people who come to it. It’s a deep program and it’s not always easy to support people who have to dig deeply into their own blindspots, fear and internalized oppression in order to grow their comfort with the liminal space. AND… despite how much it asks of me (and perhaps BECAUSE of how much it asks of me) this work gives me more joy than I ever could have imagined.
I hope that in 2019, you, too, will find joy and contentment.
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Want to learn more about holding space? Check out my Holding Space Coach/Facilitator Program. The next session starts in January 2019.
I am writing from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve come here with my family of origin – my three siblings, their spouses, and all of our children. I’m currently sitting on the patio of the large house we rented, just feet away from the pool. I can hear the waves crashing on the shore on the other side of the fence.
Three years ago, Christmas, for our family, was a painful time. We’d lost Mom only a month before and we were all raw and wounded and the festivities all around us were like slaps in the face every time we left the house.
We’re less raw this year, but the grief is never fully gone.
After Mom died, we decided to use the small inheritance that was left, after all of the expenses were paid, for a family vacation. We started dreaming of a week in the sun together… and then we got walloped all over again when my oldest brother was diagnosed with cancer only six months after it took Mom.
The next sixteen months were again mixed with the same highs and lows we’d been through with Mom’s cancer. Sometimes we dared to hope Brad would survive, and sometimes we were almost certain he wouldn’t. In August of last year, when the cancer showed itself to have survived two surgeries and mutliple chemo treatments, the doctors said there was no longer any point in prolonging treatment. We tried to prepare ourselves for another loss. Expecting we would have him with us for no more than 3 months, the four siblings considered going on a smaller version of the family trip we’d imagined – just the four of us making one last attempt to have fun in an interesting location before our numbers shrunk.
But then, the pendulum swung back in the other direction. The doctors decided it was worth making one more attempt at saving his life, so they cut him open again, extracted more cancer, and hoped for the best. That was shortly before last Christmas. We spent that season in subdued hope that he would stay with us and that we’d have more holiday seasons together. His energy was low, and he couldn’t travel, so the rest of us drove across the prairies to be with him instead of the other way around.
Over the course of the year, things continued to improve, and his remission continues. For now. Today is what we have, so today is what we will celebrate.
This week, we took that celebration to the shores of the Gulf. Three years after she died, we finally unwrapped Mom’s final gift.
On Christmas Day, the four of us spent all afternoon playing like children in the giant waves. Spouses and children joined us for awhile, but the four of us stayed in the water by far the longest. We relished every wave and held every burst of laughter like a sacred jewel. Some waves tossed us to the ground, some buried us and left us gasping for air, and some let us simply roll gently over the top. Long after we were so weary we could barely stand, we played and laughed, hanging onto every moment as though it were our last.
At one point, in a short lull between waves, one of us remarked that this moment represented all that was left of the tiny pittance of money mom and dad had left after all of their years of toiling on the farm. Farming was hard on all of us, and in the end it killed our dad, but it also gave us many incredible gifts, including this moment.
This trip has been both grace and gift in the middle of all of our shared grief.
And that is the way of life. We walk through grief and then we step into grace, over and over again. There are moments of profound loss, and moments of ache and betrayal, and then there are moments when we play for hours in the waves with three of our favourite people in the world.
Earlier this week, on a long solitary walk on the beach, I was contemplating what my word for 2016 would be. Unlike a resolution, I consider my word for the year like an invitation or intention – something that helps me stay open for my own longings and the gifts that come my way.
The word that came to me was OPEN.
I want to live 2016 with an open heart. I want to be open to the gifts, the grace, and the grief. I want to open myself to new relationships, new experiences, and new learning opportunities.
I want to stay open the way I felt out there on the waves – surrendering to whatever gift each one brought – riding those that were gentle, rising up again after those that were not, and always laughing and hanging onto to those people who matter.
Soon we will begin to return to our various homes. We may have another chance to play together like this, or we may not. Only God knows our future. But in the meantime, we have this moment, and in this moment I make a conscious choice to remain open.
Note: If you want to choose a word for 2016, or if you want to reflect on the gifts, grace, and grief that 2015 has brought your way, there are mandala exercises for that purpose in A Soulful Year: A mandala planner for ending one year and welcoming the next.
Also: Mandala Discovery starts on January 1st.
Suddenly I know what my word for 2014 will be.
The sudden realization of it made my eyes well up with tears just now. Because that is what I wish to spread more of in the world and it’s what I need to practice giving more of to myself as well.
This past year has not been an easy one – first there was Mom’s death, then Marcel’s heart attack, and then my broken foot – but it has been a year that has taught me that there are few things more worthy of spreading in the world than grace.
Grace is the woodpecker that arrived at the bird feeder moments after mom died reminding us that the world is still beautiful in the midst of pain.
Grace is the circle of friends who rallied around me to help pay for my trip to Lake Tahoe and Atlanta.
Grace is the food friends brought in our times of grief and illness.
Grace is that quiet moment in the woods when a deer stopped to look deeply into my eyes.
Grace is my daughters, giggling all night in a cheap hotel room, satisfied even though their friends hopped on planes to exotic destinations.
Grace is a picnic table and a bottle of wine at the edge of the lake while the sun set over the prairies.
Grace is accepting the quiet moment at Lake Louise with my post-surgery brother as enough, even though we both longed for more.
Grace is the many circles I have sat in and hosted – writing groups, leadership retreats, an artist retreat in a tiny border town, an international circle of women in Lake Tahoe, and a circle of grown-up campers at Lake Lanier.
Grace is late night swimming with a new circle of wild women friends.
Grace is hundreds of heart-opening conversations.
Grace is a quiet comment from a client that “your work changed me.”
Grace is getting up in the morning and forgiving the mistakes of yesterday.
Yes, 2014 will be a year of grace. Just like 2013 has been.
Since my kairos moment at the retreat centre a few weeks ago, when I decided that my word for 2013 would be “home”, some really good things have been happening. I’ve spoken of a lot of sadness on this blog for the last few months (and will again – the sadness is far from over). But now it feels like time for a happy post. Here are some of the little blessings emerging out of my heart’s longing for home…
- I have done a lot of cleaning around our home – the bedroom, the basement, the living room, the kitchen. I’ve washed walls and floors, shampooed the carpet, sorted through stacks of papers, and de-cluttered many of the surfaces that tend to hold the things that don’t have a place to belong.
- In a moment of creative inspiration, I tore the dirty fabric off an old lampshade (that we got for a wedding gift 19 years ago) and decoupaged the pages of an old book onto it (see photo above). I absolutely love it and want more of them around the house.
- In another moment of inspiration, I covered the stained and peeled linoleum in my kitchen with peel-and-stick linoleum tiles. It’s not a perfect solution, but hopefully it will last until we can get around to the renovations we’ve been dreaming of. It sure is nice to have a kitchen floor that actually looks clean when it’s washed! (I have a few more ideas to give the countertop and cabinets a bit of a boost too.)
- While cleaning out an old purse to put in the give-away bag, I came across $75 worth of Superstore gift cards and $50 in cash. Bonus! That little windfall will be used to buy a few things to help this home look a little more cozy (like maybe some new curtains for the bedroom).
- I had a lovely home-related dream the night before last in which a favourite teacher/mentor of mine welcomed me into her home. In the dream she lived in a large retreat/teaching space and I wasn’t just being invited as a guest, but as a partner in the work. It felt like a beautiful homecoming for my work – like I’d arrived at a new place of comfort that I am in the right work with the right people. I’ve had a lovely sense of calm since that dream.
- After years of being intrigued with The Work of Byron Katie, I’ve finally dug in more intentionally and am taking a look at some of my old stories to see what might happen if they are not true. It’s already having a transformative impact on me, giving me freedom from some baggage in my relationships, especially my marriage.
- I’ve had some wonderful moments of contentment and hopefulness – a nice change after months of sadness. One came yesterday as I was driving to meet my husband for lunch.
I haven’t been able to write much these past few weeks. My heart has been aching. Christmas has always been about family and at the centre of the family has always been Mom. Without her, I feel like I’ve lost my anchor.
This became especially clear to me just before Christmas when I managed to get away for a 2 day personal soul-care retreat. The first evening was much like every other personal retreat I’ve gone on. I always feel a little restless at the beginning, wandering around, trying to settle in, not very focused on anything. I read a little, I try to write, I get up and walk down the hall to the art room, I head outside to walk to the river… nothing really grabs my attention for long and nothing feels very monumental from a “spiritual retreat, time for some profound a-ha moments to show up” perspective.
After years of doing this, I know that it takes time to shift from chronos time to kairos time. In Greek there are two ways of referring to time. Chronos (the root word of chronology) is the kind of time that we measure with clocks and calendars. It’s a linear form of time that keeps moving at a steady dependable pace, much like the metronome. Our day-to-day lives are all based in chronos time.
Kairos, on the other hand, is the kind of time that’s harder to define. It’s time that exists outside the realm of clocks or calendars – the kind of time I seek when I go on retreat. It’s spiritual time, fluent and random. It cannot be boxed or measured. A kairos moment is an opportune moment – one that slips away if we’re not paying attention.
Kairos time is the space where God meets us. It defies logic and clocks and calendars. Kairos goes against the grain of a production-oriented world.
On the second day, when I had given my chronos-oriented mind sufficient time to slow down, a kairos moment showed up in the art room at the retreat centre.
I’d grabbed a large sheet of poster paper and was flipping through magazines. I thought I’d make a collage. I hesitate to call it a “vision board”, because the place of grief I’m in is more about surrender than it is about trying to find a vision. It was more like the lack-of-vision board I made in the summer when I was learning to cope with the idea that cancer would probably take Mom away from me.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was a calendar picture of a lovely home. Something about it stirred me deep at the core.
“My heart longs for home,” were the words that came to me as I sat staring at the picture. And then I began to weep. And I kept on weeping. My body shook with the bottomless sobs that erupted.
My heart longs for home. Yes. There are a hundred kinds of truths in that simple statement.
I feel homeless without my mom – anchorless, at drift in the world. After my dad died and then my last grandparent, Mom was all that was left of my history. Now I have nothing that holds me to my lineage. I don’t feel ready to be my own anchor yet.
The loss is emotional, but it’s also physical. In the weeks before Christmas, my siblings and I helped Mom’s husband pack up her things so that he can move to a smaller apartment. There is now no longer a physical place that holds the essence of my Mom. There is no place that gives me roots.
This physical loss of space has been a gradual one. First, when I was pregnant with my first child, Mom and Dad moved off the farm that held all my childhood memories. Then, when Dad died, Mom moved away from their second farm and the small town that had always been home. Now, with Mom gone and her belongings either given away or distributed among her children, there is nothing left but the memories. I am realizing more and more how much a sense of place is important in giving me a sense of belonging. I’d always thought that being a wanderer meant that I didn’t need to be rooted to place. I was wrong.
Sadly, my own home doesn’t feel much like home these days either. I hadn’t made the connection before that moment, but for about the same amount of time as my Mom’s had cancer, I have let my home fall into chaos and disrepair. I’ve blamed the lack of money for the chaos. The linoleum floor is peeling, the carpet needs replacing, the chairs are all breaking, and because of all of that brokenness I haven’t bothered investing the time or energy to keep it clean. But it’s much more than the lack of money. I see that now. It’s my own state of mind. As much as I’ve been losing a home with Mom dying, I’ve been giving up my own home by letting it fall into disrepair.
There’s a sense of homelessness in my marriage too, and I know that I need to take responsibility for the lack of investment there as well. I try to point the finger of blame in the other direction, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but I need to take ownership for what I have allowed to fall apart.
In a sense, I’ve been running away from home – in more ways than one. While I was losing Mom, I ran to the woods to find a home with Mother Nature. When I stopped caring about and nurturing my own home and witnessed my marriage coming apart at the seams, I ran to coffee shops, other cities, parks, books – anywhere to avoid looking at what I was letting go of. Instead of finding a sense of home inside myself, I was looking for something external that would give me roots and nurturing.
All of these piled on top of me as I sat staring at that picture of home. “My heart longs for home.” My heart longs to find a place where it belongs. My heart longs for comfort, for safety, for peace, for love, for a place to nestle and be nurtured.
I cut out the picture and glued it to the centre of the page. Other pictures soon joined that one. Almost every one of them had something to do with home, family, safety and nurturing. Every other vision board I’ve ever made has been full of pictures of adventure, travel, and living large. A very different theme emerged on this one.
By the end of my collage-making, I knew what my word for 2013 will be.
My heart longs for home. I have to find a new way to define home that is still tied to the spirit of my mom and dad and all of my lineage, but that no longer includes their physical presence. I have to find a new way of loving my own physical space even if I can’t afford to replace the floors and chairs and build that new kitchen I’ve been longing for. I have to invest in my marriage and my nuclear family so that we call all find a sense of home in each other. I have to find a sense of home within myself rather than looking for something external to fill the void. I have to treat my own body like the home where Spirit can reside.
There are so many things going on here – respect for my physical home, investment in my marriage, trust in myself, and, ultimately, a deeper faith in God. When I have a greater sense of home, when I stop looking for it outside myself, I am in a place of deeper trust in the God who resides within me.
I have already found small ways to begin. The day after my retreat, I cleaned my family room and washed walls. The next day, I rented a rug doctor and gave some TLC to our much-neglected carpet. Already it’s beginning to feel more like a space that I want to spend time in. I’ve also begun to invest more intentionally in my marriage and my spiritual path as well. I am, once again, learning new lessons in surrender and trust.
Home doesn’t feel like a very exciting word to focus on. I’d much rather pick one that’s full of adventure and excitement. But I know that it’s the word that I most need right now. Once I have a greater sense of home and a greater sense of spiritual rootedness, I’ll be ready for more adventure and excitement.