The River Flows Onward: My Word for 2021

When stay-at-home orders last March yanked all routines out from under our feet, I fell hard. Which makes sense: as an Enneagram 4, my creative spirit both resists and requires routine. Any routine, even as simple as the imposed time structure around my son’s school day.

I don’t do transitions well – it takes me a while to settle into new routines as life offers them – and the pandemic presented an unprecedented transition. It took months for me to begin, gently, to get past anxiety-induced insomnia and eventually develop a routine for myself.

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When Enneagram and Coffee suggested that my New Year’s affirmation should be “structure,” I recoiled. Someone else commented, “I didn’t expect to be attacked on IG this morning” and I had to laugh. Yes, I know I do better with structure, but the word sounds so hard-edged.

Always with my word play… I reject “structure.” I tolerate “routine.” I prefer “rhythm.” I adore “flow.”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Some years I have chosen a word to guide me, like beauty or creativity. Last year was exhausting and didn’t think I’d choose a word for 2021. And then forward stepped up, a potential antidote to 2020 – let’s move forward and not look back.

Morgan Harper Nichols posted an Instagram video of so many words and their definitions. She suggested people take a random screenshot and adopt that word for 2021. I played along, twice. My words? River, and Onward. Ooh, this word-lover coos, a nuanced version of forward.

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The river flows onward. The river cannot backtrack. It flows in one direction, downhill toward the sea (oh, pour me toward the beach, yes please!).

Another river image that has been life-giving for me comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She rejects the notion of having to “think up” creativity. Like trying to force a plant to grow, forcing creativity doesn’t work very well. Instead, she proposes that creativity flows like a river, and we reach in and catch the fish as they swim past. If we miss the fish it keeps moving, yet another will follow.

That image contains freedom and grace: I am surrounded by the beauty of a rushing river of creativity, filled with fish for me to catch. Each fish is an idea. I will catch some and miss others. The river will keep flowing, and there will always be more fish, more ideas to nourish my own creative flow.

So many months into this pandemic pause, I might actually be thriving within my routine. It’s gentle, life-giving, with just enough sign-posts and flexibility to keep me moving. Just enough rhythm to keep me dancing (a terrible dancer, I try to laugh and enjoy the movement). Enough bank-barriers and current to keep me flowing. When my routine gets up-ended, as it does occasionally, I fall out of sorts, an annoying indicator that most days my routine works for me. On those days, however, I’ve wrapped around a rock, I’m out of flow, and I need to peel myself off this obstacle to get going again.

Forward wasn’t the right word. Because, indeed, 2020 yielded important lessons I ought to hold close. Perhaps they will serve as the life preserver, or better yet the raft, supporting me through the flow of 2021.

Image by Ray Shrewsberry from Pixabay

This is Day 6 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Rhythm. Follow my Instagram for more.

Cover image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Grief Balms: Snow Globes & Beauty Emergencies

Grief seems to be at every corner this year. Many of us have shared occasions for grief, such as illness and death, the loss of normalcy, shuttered shops and closed schools, dwindling dollars in our bank accounts, isolation and loneliness. Most of us also have personal reasons for grief. For two weeks I haven’t left my phone out of sight as I wait for the call that my mom has gone to glory.

So when I saw an article titled, “How to deal with grief,” of course I clicked. While grief has taught me lived-and-learned lessons, I’m still up for additional advice within easy reach. For the same reason, I am a sucker for happiness research. Recently I clicked on an article with a title along the lines of, “This one trick will make you as happy as eating 20 chocolate bars.” Twenty chocolate bars would make me sick, not happy, but I appreciate the effort. The answer was: Smile. Smile more, even when you don’t feel it, and you’ll be happier. Apparently, people rate their smiling-more happiness as high as having received a gift of $25,000. Now I simply must disagree: a no-obligation gift of $25,000 would definitely make me happier than insincere smiling. Also, I’d be happy to have you try to prove me wrong.

I clicked on the grief article and found an interview with poet Maggie Smith. Smith published a volume of poetry in 2016 (Keep Moving) which included a poem called “Good Bones” that seems to go viral when the world teeters dangerously on the edge of a deep well – for example, immediately after the 2016 election. Also, 2020. Smith calls “Good Bones” a disaster barometer.

Smith offered two pieces of advice that have affected how I’m moving through these hard days. The first is to find “snow globe moments,” something you do every day that stills the world and allows you to feel like your genuine self. For her, that’s writing. I share writing as a core activity and I’ll add walking our dogs, preferably with my husband so we can spend that time connecting. He’s my best sounding board and also an encourager who gets me out of my own head. I believe author Cheryl Strayed referred to her Wild adventure as “walking back to her best self” which makes sense to me. Writing and walking have been life-giving and sanity saving this year.

Smith also discussed “beauty emergencies.” We tend to think of the word “emergency” negatively, as a problem, but it comes from the root “emergent” which means “happening now.” So a beauty emergency occurs when you pay attention and notice that something beautiful is happening this instant and you’ll miss it if you don’t drop everything and watch. Like a hummingbird flitting at the feeder or a sunset that shifts colors every second and will be over within minutes.

Poets necessarily cultivate the ability to witness to the present. To focus their micro-lens on this moment. I am not a poet, and my monkey brain leaps from past to future, future to past, bounding over this uncomfortable time. One more reason I am going to add books of poetry to my reading queue in this upcoming year, because I need the benefit of their wise and often witty reflections.

Meanwhile, I mentioned beauty emergencies to my sixteen-year-old son and, though I didn’t know it as the words spilled from my mouth, that may have been one of the best things I’ve said to him this whole year. Several times over the last two weeks, as my attention has been absorbed in writing or reading, he has yanked me outside to witness a sunset. I have done the same for him, pulling him from his bedroom desk where he counter-attacks against the never-ending onslaught of distance learning assignments.

We both carry our own foggy griefs which we have soothed side-by-side with regular applications of beauty, watching as the sky indiscernibly shifts from orangey-yellows to red-purples to dusky twilight. We’ve both tried – unsuccessfully – to capture the splendor in photos. And that, it seems, is also poetic: the call is to witness, not capture, rather to be captivated ourselves. To stay present and open to this stunning moment before our eyes. To become newly aware of life’s magnificence and brevity.

Good Bones
by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Cover image by Meli1670 from Pixabay
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Not 20 for 2020

I don’t make resolutions. Which may sound odd when you read the list below except, to me, they’re not resolutions. They’re more like goals or intentions, things I’m already working on that I want to work on more diligently. For example, I already walk the dogs and drink water, but these goals give me a measure.

I won’t do these things perfectly, I know. For starters, I intended to come up with 20 and instead only hit 17; if I aimed for perfection, I’d add things to the list disingenuously. I included some to stretch me and others as easy checks which will encourage me to keep going, yet even those might not go as I anticipate. It seemed so simple to wake up on New Year’s Day in clean sheets…until the cat got angry at the New Year’s Eve houseful of revelers and peed on our clean comforter. I woke up on top of a clean sheet and under an old blanket. C’est la vie! Just keep going, stay flexible, and smile.

  1. Wake up on New Year’s Day in clean sheets.
  2. See Hamilton (tickets purchased for January 9!)
  3. Drink 4 Hydroflasks of water/day.
  4. Greet my family every single time with a smile and full attention.
  5. Eat dinner at the table.
  6. Go to bed early and bring a book.
  7. Exercise with the dogs on average 20 miles/week.
  8. Blog 2x/week.
  9. Declutter one area for 20 minutes once a week.
  10. Practice Sabbath weekly.
  11. Read/engage with a different version of the Bible.
  12. Read 4 books/month.
  13. One social occasion and/or family fun day per month
  14. Finish my current writing project and do three more.
  15. Use the gift cards.
  16. Make 5th weekends special: March 27-29, May 29-31, Aug 28-30, Nov 27-29.
  17. Say Yes and/or No when appropriate and not out of obligation or guilt.

What will you work on this year? Let’s encourage each other!

Two Words

What’s your most spectacular New Year’s resolution fail?

To get healthy, eat clean, lose ## pounds? To stop swearing, or drinking? To fall in love, or find a new job you love?

I gave up on resolutions years ago. Why set myself up for failure…again and again, year after year? If I’m going to set goals, I can do that any ol’ time, and not just at the turn of a new year (although, admittedly, there is something about January 1, or the start of a new school year, that I find motivating). Not surprisingly, 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions break them, and most resolutions get trampled in the rain-soggy February mud.

Five years ago, I joined the ranks of the One Word movement, where people choose a word to inspire their actions and decisions over a year. My first foray, 2015, was my most successful, interestingly not because I chose a word but because I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

Beauty was my word, but the phrase required dynamic action. It motivated me to get out of the car to play in the cold, wet snow with my kids. So I shivered, but I also hiked up a hill (exercise!), took a picture of vivid red berries contrasted against the white snow, threw a few snowballs, and saw some train tracks that inspired moments of wonder.

You can read more about my one word experience over the last few years here, where I share why one word just wouldn’t be enough for 2019.

Honestly, at the dawn of 2019, I didn’t realize how unhappy I was. I had, little by little, painstakingly over years, folded into myself until I no longer resembled my best self, who I am or want to be. My origami life wasn’t a unicorn or a crane; it held no magical reflection of the beauty within me. I had unwittingly entered myself as “paper” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and, in this version, rock and scissors beat paper every time.

Last New Year’s Eve, I didn’t know if or how or when I would make the changes necessary to love myself back into three-dimensional wholeness. Thank God for His guidance and strength, and the renewed health I’m enjoying now.

Having braved up also freed up time to invest in a project with my favorite creative collaborator, Nancy. Together we created a set of devotional cards: To Do Cards//take two. Each card has a two-word invitation from Jesus, found in Mark’s gospel, beautifully hand lettered by Nancy. On the reverse, you’ll find the corresponding Scripture from Mark and a prayer written by me.

If you’ve been around my blog this month, you’ve seen them. Nancy and I used and promoted them as an Advent calendar. There are 25 cards in this set, and they worked nicely as a way to daily check in with Jesus in a season that can get more than a little hectic, even among the twinkly lights and festive gatherings.

The set definitely has a life beyond Advent, however, and they are still available for free download. We recommend you print them double-sided on card stock for best results.

I’m looking forward to steeping 2020 in these two-word invitations from Jesus. And, as it turns out, I have a two-word response that will be my prayer throughout this year: Transform Me.two words

Spring

What puts (or keeps) a spring in your step?
What helps you experience flow?
What do you do that prompts bubbles of joy to float to the surface of your life?

I knew one word wouldn’t cut it this year, so I’m playing with words again.

I started January with Create Happiness. That didn’t make January a joyride, but it helped me think through some issues and put some new, at least revised, guidelines in place.

February’s renewed focus on Connecting once again resulted in loneliness (Connect was my 2018 word, and it stunk). For now, I’m sticking with tried-and-true mutual friendships.

March blew in with a soggy, wet mess as a ridiculous amount of rain drenched Northern California. The rest of the country also had its share of unusual weather (thanks, global warming!), but NorCal is my reality. Through the darkness, I cast about for the right word, something that would get me out of my own funk, something playful and inspirational, and pounced on: spring.

Even though spring won’t officially begin until March 20 this year, as soon as I said it aloud, I knew I’d found the right word. Spring is coming, so it’s hopeful. Also, Lent (German for spring) began on March 6, the season in the Church calendar when we observe the service and sacrifice of Jesus, so it fits that bill as well.

Playing with spring makes me laugh. It’s unlike any word or discipline I’ve chosen before, and therefore feels novel.

I want to keep a spring in my step, both physically and emotionally. Which means I need to get up on my feet and move (gym time, dog walks with Guy and friends), and it keeps me mindful of what I put in my mouth that might weigh me down. I’m also aware of what I put in my mind, via books or screens, social media, even conversations that take a wrong turn, so I don’t slog through the muck and mire of unhappiness or worry, gossip or anger. Feeling springy on this clear-sky gorgeous afternoon, I hopped on our front yard swing–perhaps more swing in my seat than spring in my step

I want to flow like a spring. Not like a dry summer creek bed or a muddy winter torrent, but light and easy, conscious of healthy boundaries as I bring life to dry places and parched creatures. I flow best when I’m reading good books, both fiction and non, and when I’m writing regularly. I flow best when I take care of myself: sufficient rest, hydration, and time alone and with God to recharge. Our church has a Lenten focus on Sabbath, prompting renewed attention to what a life-giving rest might look like in my life and our home.

I want living water to spring up in my soul. I hear Sunday school songs from my childhood: “Spring up, o well, within my soul / spring up o well, and make me whole…” (Numbers 21:17) I think of the woman at the well, to whom Jesus offered living water so she would never be (spiritually) thirsty again (John 4). And during my Ash Wednesday personal spiritual retreat, I came across Isaiah 43:13-18 in which God encourages His people:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

In these uncertain times, on days when I’m more inclined to stomp than spring, I can drink deep from God’s spring of fresh, clean, living water, then lie back and rest as He floats me through the wilderness on His own currents.

Image by 이룬 봉 from Pixabay

Happiness Questions

Ready to think about your own happiness? Want to have more meaningful  conversations, whether you’re driving your teen home from school or having family dinner? Or (do what I did) gather a group of friends and have a chat about happiness.

Here you go!

1. Share a happy childhood memory.
2. Which of your possessions make you feel happy? Which don’t?
3. Describe your perfect happy day.
4. Do you think others perceive you as happy? Why or why not?
5. What changes have you made in life to increase your happiness? What changes could you make?
6. Name 5 things guaranteed to make you smile.
7. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss
What memory does this quote remind you of?
8. Name some things you do regularly that increase your happiness. What do you do occasionally that increases your happiness?
9. What obstacles get in the way of your happiness, and how do you handle them?
10. When have you felt happiest recently?
11. “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” –Jim Rohn (American businessman)
How are you designing (or not) your present happiness?
12. What happiness do you add to others’ lives?
13. Who do you admire for their happiness and why?
14. What do you think is the key to your happiness?
15. How do you balance what makes you happy now with what will make you happier in the long term?
16. Why is it sometimes hard to do things you know will make you happier, and easier to do things you can expect to bring unhappiness?
17. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” –George Sand
Who loves you toward happiness?
18. Is happiness the same as joy? How would you define each?

Create Happiness

My One Word aspiration for January 2019 is to Create Happiness. A microcosm of life, this month presented both expected and unexpected happiness challenges. I know I’m living my best life when I am reading, writing, and cooking regularly; this month has been all out of whack on all fronts and the best I’ve been able to do is to ask myself whether I am present in the moment (sometimes yes, others no). Still, I’ve been conscious of happiness and what I might do to develop more.

To that end, I’ve read a few articles on happiness (this one from a minimalist perspective and this one on time). The best was this one in The New York Times. Culling together what I’ve learned, here are some things I’m committed to to increase my happiness.

MIND
Process my life through writing. Writing helps me become aware of myself and it’s a whole lot cheaper than therapy.

Talk to myself like a friend. I can get lost down the rabbit hole of my own ruminations, completely stuck in negative thinking. I’m going to try to stem that flow by imagining I am my own best friend.

Keep up my gratitude practice, which also helps me stay in the moment. I keep a gratitude journal to record at least three unique-to-today things for which I’m grateful, along with quotes from Scripture or other books.

Use the Pomodoro Technique. Set timers to focus for 25 minutes/5 minute breaks x4 for 2 hours of increased productivity.

BODY
Move for 30 minutes most days and some days more. Just do it.

Say thank you. It’s too easy to be critical. I want to increase my appreciation for the gift of being a living, breathing, healthy human.

Get outside with my pets and my humans. Four things working together here: exercise, beautiful NorCal fresh air, the joy of furry loves, and shared time with people who matter.

Cook and eat real food. Bulk cook so that there is (almost) always something healthy in the fridge. Choose fresh over processed food.

Hydrate. More water, more tea.

Smile more. Find reasons to laugh. Be silly. Don’t take myself too seriously.

ENVIRONMENT
Declutter at the speed of my own life. Don’t wait for time to do the massive decluttering projects, just spend 1-15 minutes right now (not on social media but) eliminating, organizing, or cleaning to make the environment more satisfying. I already make my bed (research shows that happy people make their beds!), but I want to turn my bedroom into an oasis, which means no clutter.

Light candles and turn on the diffuser. Pretty light and intoxicating scent are relaxing.

Practice silence. Minimize noise and negativity of all sorts and choose quiet, deep breathing.

RELATIONSHIPS
Invest in positive relationships. Minimize negative ones. I have my go-to people, but I can more consistently invest in them: both in time and in letting them know how important they are to me.

Spend money and time on shared experiences. Create memories rather than collect stuff.

Be kind and generous. Let people know I’m thinking of them. Become more thoughtful towards those I don’t see regularly, especially in recognizing important events (birthdays, etc). Give away time and stuff to bless others.

Enjoy alone time. Relish time alone to indulge in my favorite pursuits, especially reading.

Rituals

Of course you have routines, but do you have rituals?

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, explains them this way:

While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.

My morning routine looks something like this:

Hit snooze on the alarm for eight minutes of dozing, rolling, stretching before I yank myself up.
Refresh my eyes with drops and my teeth with toothbrush.
Inhale a cup of coffee while checking email and media.
Make the bed and pull on yoga clothes.
Take the kid to school and put in some gym time. Or walk the dogs, whichever seems most urgent.
Shower and breeze in to the rest of the day, whatever it might hold.

Mundane and purposeful, but magical? Not so much.

A few years ago, in an attempt to achieve a deeper sleep on a regular basis, I developed a bedtime ritual:

Make a cup of sleepy tea.
Put on pj’s by 9:30-10 pm.
Brush teeth and wash face.
Turn the lights low and get into bed with a good book.
Read for 30-60 minutes.
Lights out, ear plugs in and sleep mask on.
Massage hands and feet with body butter.
Night night!

Some nights, I pull on my pj’s, brush my teeth and wash my face, and fall into bed. But when I add the tea, reading, and massage, routine becomes ritual and, yes, magical.

The ritual gives me time to unwind my brain from the day’s anxious thoughts and to tangibly thank my body for its service. It adds magic to the mundane. Those simple actions form a ritual that, when I practice it, actually does help me sleep better.

As the new year is still young, I am thinking about my routines, which are helpful and which need strengthening. Which don’t yet exist and should. And, as I can use a little more magic in my life, I’m going to pay special attention to how I might sprinkle small rituals into the daily mix.

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

When One Word Won’t Cut It

My One Word for 2015 was a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty. It required action on my part (put) and a goal (beauty).

In 2016, I chose Create, which led to a series of connections and blog posts on creativity from various creative friends, many of whom stretched to embrace the creativity I recognized in them.

In 2017, I decided I wasn’t done with Create, so I circled re:create recess, focusing on the connection between creativity and play. Unintentionally, I happened on the reality that recreation often involves taking things apart, stripping down before putting back together, and that can be (was) painful.

That led me to Connect in 2018, a word I hoped would restore some joy to my life and yet, at the end of 2018 I felt less connected than ever. At least, differently connected.

Two discouraging years in a row had me carefully pondering the word I’d choose to guide me through 2019.

Yes and… has been a helpful motivator to get beyond my comfort zone. This year, along with Connect, it led me to an eye-opening and life-giving retreat I might not otherwise have attended. But boundaries are important, and I suspect I will continue to need to practice saying No this year, so Yes and…//No has been a contender.

Yonder caught my imagination right at the 2018/2019 transition, that I can’t move forward if I keep looking backward. Or Forward, but Yonder holds more appeal as an unusual term.

I’m still drawn to Beauty and Create, and to their interplay. Play could be fun, as could Happiness, but neither hits the right note on their own. Hope and Delight have shown up, too, reminding me of the optimist I have been and would like to rediscover. And Brave. Yesterday I heard myself say, “I braved up and…” I know that’s not correct usage, yet that’s the joy of language; it felt good to make it a verb for something I’d done that felt intimidating but turned out well.

So I’ve decided to take on a few words, to play with as I need them. I suspect Create will be their ringleader as I Create Happiness (January’s focus) or Create Connection (February?), for example. And I’m looking forward to seeing which words crystallize something I haven’t yet discovered. Hmm, come to think of it, Discover or Adventure might need to be on the list as well!