Every year since 2013, I’ve picked one word that I want to focus on, a guide for the year to come. (You can see all the words I’ve chosen and reflections on those years here.) It still sounds too simple to be effective, but at the end of each year, I can testify to the changes these words have brought about in my life.
This last year might be the year that I’ve written the least about my word and its impact on me. In December of 2016, after life circumstances left my heart feeling hard and impenetrable, I chose to focus on “tender.” I needed to let in the things that hurt. I needed to feel things deeply. I wanted my heart to break in the kind of way the ground needs to be broken every spring in preparation to receive a seed that will grow up from the dirt.
When I look back on the year, there was heartbreak, for sure, circumstances I didn’t understand. We started the year with my husband unemployed and then the transmission went out in our van. After my husband found a job, his unemployment compensation was denied and we ended up needing to fight the decision months into the new year. A project I had emotionally invested in fell through. We struggled to dig out of a financial hole, and when we desperately wanted to take steps forward on buying a home, we were denied a loan.
These things stirred up a lot of bitterness and resentment and while I would normally want to just stuff those feelings right back down, all of these disappointments were like manure spread across my heart, making the ground more fertile. (Can I put in a plug for regular appointments with a therapist or counselor? My therapist’s office became the place that my heart busted open again and again as we turned over things I thought I had buried.)
Before I chose to be more tender, I feared what would happen. I worried that cracking my heart open just a little would break me completely until I was shattered–like innumerable pieces scattered across the kitchen floor. I was cracked, yes, and I was broken, yes, but I learned that I could be pieced back together. Different. Stronger, somehow.
And having survived being broken once, I dared to let my heart break again.
It started a couple of years ago with refugees. I opened my heart. I took action. And they have changed my life. This year I took another step and started learning about racial injustice and how to be part of the reconciliation process. (Mostly I’m just learning and rethinking everything I’ve been taught.) Late this summer, my concern moved toward undocumented youth, those whose parents brought them to the United States illegally but whose entire lives have been lived here. They are fighting for a path to citizenship and I stand with them in that fight.
I ended 2017 softer than I thought possible but also stronger. My heart is not a bitter, barren place, and though there is much work to be done where justice is concerned, I am encouraged and energized by the things I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, the stands I’ve taken. Tender shoots of something green are growing in the soil of my heart again.
Where all of this will take me in 2018, I really don’t know. I have a lot to learn, and I don’t do nearly enough of the kind of work I think I ought to do where advocacy is concerned. But if 2017 was an internal decision to open myself up to caring about people and causes I hadn’t previously considered then 2018 is about getting out of my seat and standing, walking, singing, shouting, and doing more of what I see others doing. It is about sharing the tweets and opinions I’ve been too scared to share because someone might not like it. I’m not out to divide. I’m physically ill when I lose “friends” or get into arguments online (or in person).
But this year I also learned more about my personality (I’m a 9 on the Enneagram if you’re familiar) and my tendency is to keep the peace at all costs. To bury my head in the sand when the shots are flying. To engage in all kinds of diversions when I don’t want to feel one.more.thing.
That ends in 2018. (Or it lessens. Let’s be real.)
So my word for the year is “awake.” I am waking up to myself, my needs, my abilities. I am waking up to the world around me. I am waking up to the ways my upbringing was different than those in other parts of the country. I am waking up to the realities of life. I am vowing to live with my eyes open, to not turn away when what I see is too hard/messy/brutal. (And also to not turn away when it is too lovely/sparkly/beautiful. I have a problem seeing that, too.)
I want to live this life intentionally, not drifting along waiting for something to happen to me. (This is mostly a work-related vow. I will write more about this later.) I am a daydreamer by nature and if I’m looking at you, sometimes I’m not seeing you at all. I’m living a story I’ve made up in my head or thinking about a conversation I had last year. It’s going to be hard work for me to recognize this as it’s happening and pull myself out of it to be fully engaged with the person right in front of me.
So, this is me. And this is my work for the year. Awake.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be an eyes wide open kind of year.