This year, I want to be brave

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he asked, looking at me in the mirror.

From height of my salon chair, I studied myself. Some iteration of long hair has been my look the majority of my adult life. My senior year of college I received a poorly executed shorter cut that left me emotionally scarred. It was almost as embarrassing as four-year-old me’s infamous bowl cut. I’d vowed to never go short again.

For months my stylist urged me to try a “lob”—I resisted. Now it was the middle of December, my birthday and Christmas looming. Yet I found myself longing to speed up the clock and turn the calendar to a fresh year. I needed to put the last year behind me. I craved change the way a desert wanderer craves water. I was thirsty for it.

“Oh yes. Let’s chop it.” I answered confidently. “This year, I want to be brave.”

I love the energy of a new year. There’s something about switching out my calendars and starting fresh that inspires hope and optimism in me. I love seeing others set new challenges and attainable goals for themselves. I even love the idea of resolutions, though personally, I don’t set them. I haven’t for years.

Instead each December my practice is to select an intention—a word or phrase on which to focus in the coming year. A new year’s intention is both a catalyst for change and slow burning theme that seeps into your dreams, eventually spilling over into real life and disrupting old patterns of being.

Last year my intention was “create and connect.” I hoped to build relationships with my network by continuing this blog. Though I work full-time at a faith-based magazine, I dreamed of expanding my horizons—exploring other topics and reaching new readers—via freelance writing. Most of all, I wanted to publish more stories and connect with others.

In early 2018 especially I wrestled with self-doubt and rejection. Rejection is common in publishing, but when you’re just starting out it can feel deflating. Amid a sea of unreturned pitch emails, I held tightly to the wisdom of established authors who’ve repeated this seemingly simple advice: if you want to be a writer, write. Easier said than done.

For me, writing is both a passion and an act of courage. When I write, I have to tune out my inner mean girl who claims my story isn’t interesting or helpful or original—and listen to my sure, strong voice. Anchored by my 2018 intention, I pushed past fear and pecked away on my laptop anyway. While I did, a funny thing happened: The more I wrote, the less I heard my inner critic. Because of this, I spent the last year immersed in creativity and connection. A few highlights:

I attended the 2018 Festival of Faith and Writing with my colleague and left SO invigorated. I went to Austin with my college girlfriends. I met some amazing youth at the ELCA Youth Gathering and penned a story on it. I blogged. I networked. I traveled to Boston and Florida to help produce four video stories. I clinked champagne at the weddings of life-long friends. I published a Coffee + Crumbs essay on working motherhood. I went to Disney with my sweet husband, son and college pals. I had heart-to-hearts with my old pastor and my father. After weaning my son, I finally developed a morning writing routine. I shared my son’s birth story with readers of The Everymom. I returned to my yoga mat and church sanctuary again and again for stability and inspiration. (Missing from this list are myriad milestones from Jack’s second year; more to come in a future post marking his birthday!)

What I didn’t know last winter was how much I’d need my craft and community when we faced a family crisis last summer. Our circle of family and friends stepped up to the plate to help carry the heartache of my husband’s illness. Our parents especially went above and beyond to lighten the burden and for that, I am deeply grateful. God accompanied us in the pain, even though I couldn’t always see it. Writing through it—journaling for myself, reflecting here—helped me find hope when it felt like I was drowning. Yet I wrestled to put down big feelings on paper and with how much to share about that tender time in our lives. I still do.

My intention/word for 2019 is “brave.”

I want to be brave—take more chances, open my heart, speak my mind, live my faith because I’ve noticed the pay-off when I do. I come closer to living out my vocation when I am brave enough to reject the noise around and inside of me telling me I’m not worthy.

When I think of bravery, I think of my father. He survived four years at West Point. He flew Blackhawk helicopters in Desert Storm. He soldiered on through disempowering unemployment then reinvented himself. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even if it upsets others. He taught me to always do my best, even if it’s not perfect. He leads with his heart.

In 2018, I was brave. I shared more than I ever have on this blog and social media. I shouldered the bulk of parenting duties while my husband received treatment this summer. I aimed to be openhearted in my relationships.

Still there were plenty of moments during which I despaired and cowered, paralyzed by fear. Hearing on the radio the cries of children separated from their families at the border, I drove to work, sobbing. Nights after one of many mass shootings, I laid in bed, riddled with anxiety, endlessly scrolling through my phone as if it were the Bible. Other times, I sat in my privilege indifferent to current events and the man asking for money at the Addison exit. I failed to speak out or act or donate or show up or say, “I’m sorry.” And while I don’t expect myself to get it right all the time and certainly don’t feel called to comment on every major news or life event, I do think all areas of my life could use a healthy dose of courage in 2019.

There’s a best practice in creative nonfiction writing described as “facing the dragon,” which means exploring points of tension in your story rather than avoiding them. This is key to honest, authentic writing. I also think it’s the key to living a more authentic life.

Before I saw a therapist, I struggled with acknowledging difficult emotions. In the beginning, when my therapist asked me how I was feeling, I usually answered, “Stressed.” I had a limited vocabulary for talking about pain.

One Saturday I arrived at her office and she handed me a stack of papers.

“Here, I want you to have this,” she said. “It’s a catalogue of emotions.”

“Oh this is great,” I exclaimed, flipping through it. There were dozens of words to describe the range of human emotions—angry, jealous, anxious, elated, scared, frustrated, depressed. Armed with my new knowledge, I began to slay the dragon in conversations with her and, eventually, others.

I want to slay the dragon in my writing, too. I want to lean into discomfort; to go out on a limb; to acknowledge my short-comings; to be a voice for the voiceless; to speak the truth in love.

This is why I write anyway, to inspire and encourage others. Not because I know what I’m doing, but the contrary. I want to pull up the veil in this image-obsessed world and show you about hardship—and joy—because we all need someone in our corner cheering us on, encouraging us to face the day, to remind us we’re not alone. Because, sometimes, the bravest thing we can do is just show up IRL.

This year I want to show up for my community;

For my spouse;

For my son;

For myself.

I want to have the hard conversation;

To donate time and energy;

To honor my limits;

To step back and just be still;

To give thanks;

To know nothing I say or do in 2019 and beyond makes me more or less worthy of the life-giving, centering love of Jesus. That’s the story I’m called to tell again and again and again as I share my life in word and image.

In 2019, I’ll be turning to the wisdom of author Cheryl Strayed, which makes me feel a little braver: “You don’t need anyone’s permission to be the author of your life. It’s yours. Write it.”

This year, I want to be brave.

Do you have any goals, resolutions or intentions for the new year? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2019? I’d love to hear from you! Message me or tell me in the comments.

Why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions

. . . and what I’m doing instead in 2017.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want the next year–2017–to look like for me. Have you been too? Maybe you’ve made a resolution to lose weight or to save or make more money or to get involved in local politics or to start making it to work on time. How many times have you said this to yourself, “This year will be the year I finally … (fill in the blank with your just-out-of-reach goal here)”?

sparkler
freeimages.com/danielcarter
For most of my adult life, I was the queen of resolutions. In late December, as New Year’s Eve approached, I’d write in my journal all the hopes and dreams I had for the year ahead, all the ways I’d improve myself–bad habits I’d break (stop procrastinating), good habits I’d pick up (flossing), goals I’d accomplish (run a half marathon). I’d copy my list of resolutions neatly in the back of my planner, excited and eager and hopeful for a fresh year, a blank slate, a new story to write.

As each new year went on, though, inevitably I couldn’t live up to all dreams I had for myself. When I’d turn to the back of my planner and check in on my progress I’d feel good about what I was pursuing (training for that race – check!) and guilty about the habits I just couldn’t seem to shake (still procrastinating, ugh) or make (still not flossing, whoops). Because some of the visions I had for my life were just that–visions too aspirational or unattainable–I ended up putting myself through a lot of unnecessary, internal angst by focusing on my unmet resolutions rather than what I had accomplished with a little determination and focus.

Once I resolved to eat nothing but beans, vegetables and proteins for the entire year (I know, strange). Something I read had convinced me that this diet would be the solution to the body image issues that plagued me because with it I would finally lose the weight I desired and keep it off too. I wasn’t perfect, but I actually kept up with this weird diet for several months until I realized how unhappy I’d become and how unrealistic it was for someone like me to eliminate several food groups from my diet (I am a moderator, not an abstainer; for more on this idea, see this post).

Part of my problem was that the resolutions I set were just too idealistic. To “never eat gluten again” or “always be early to meetings” just isn’t realistic because life is never all or nothing, life just happens. Grandmother’s extra-special 80th birthday cake, a business lunch that runs late–happens and often bends or breaks a resolution. Unfortunately my all-or-nothing approach to resolutions made it hard for me to jump back on the horse when I faltered, leading way to self-loathing.

The other issue?  I had so many different resolutions going at once, I couldn’t keep them all straight. Though I had good intentions, I couldn’t see that I was actually setting myself up to fail by dividing my attention, rather than honing in on a few attainable resolutions. Maybe you already know this for yourself–I obviously didn’t–but eventually I realized New Year’s resolutions were doing me more harm than good.

I know I’m not alone in my resolution angst. This study found that 81 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. So why do we make them, year after year, even though it’s unlikely we follow through? I think the answer has something to do with this generation’s zeitgeist of self-improvement, coupled with the many messages we receive from media and marketers who capitalize on our deepest desires to become “better” than before.

My philosophy today: I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

I suppose I could just be more practical and focused, lowering the bar a bit when it comes to resolutions. Do I still have habits I want to break or form? You bet. Goals that I want to accomplish? Sure. But I no longer use the New Year as my starting line for improving my life in those ways.

Instead I use the start of a New Year as an occasion to set one theme or focus I can pursue year-round. It’s an idea inspired by one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, who has written quite a bit about choosing a one-word or phrase theme for the New Year.

Your word or phrase can be just about anything–its purpose is to be a guiding beacon as you approach a new year of life. In the past, I’ve chosen “presence” (2016), “love” (2015) and “peace” (2014). When I look back on the past three years, I can see a marked change in the way I approached my life and ways my word helped me transform on a conscious and subconscious level. Gone is the creeping remorse of unmet resolutions of years past.

In 2015, I made a life shift toward a different career track. My company was restructuring our department and my dream job had opened up. So had a few management opportunities within my existing team. Both paths seemed intriguing and out of reach, but I knew I had to take a chance or risk the regret of not knowing what might have been. I applied for my dream job–a lateral move for sure–an incredible chance to do what I love every day. For work. It seemed a bit, well, unreal.

Fast forward a few weeks, and they offered me the dream job, the job I never thought I’d have. I was overjoyed and relieved and exhilarated. Due to a variety of factors, the next year in that position would be more challenging than I’d ever anticipated. When occasional moments of doubt or envy set in, I needed only remind myself of the love that inspired my career decision and those feelings dissipated.

Having a theme or focus for the New Year has been uplifting beyond measure, it’s like having a handy compass whenever you need direction or motivation or feel as if you’ve lost your way.

For my focus in 2017, I’ve chosen the word “courage.” In the past, I’ve often allowed my fears to hold me back from being my most authentic self or pursuing big dreams. This year I want to break up with fear and cultivate courage.

I want to be brave enough to create, to tell my unique stories and share others that need telling. I want to disagree, to disappoint, to say “no,” to say “yes,” to live out my faith and values in ways that might be counter-cultural.

I want to be courageous in the ways I love and care for my family and friends, showing up for them, being open and vulnerable and true. I want to be brave enough to speak up for what I believe or what I need, even when it’s unpopular or unsettling.

I want to be brave enough to live and love imperfectly in a world obsessed with picture perfect people. I know there are times that I’ll fail and give in to fear, but I’m using this space, this post to make a public promise to myself that I’ll keep pushing and trying to be courageous, and be gentle with myself when I’m not.

Being courageous means working to silence the tiny voice inside my head that says, “You are not enough,” and replace it with a message of love, a message that says, “You are enough.” I draw strength from my belief that God made me, and everyone else in the world, in God’s image.

I am enough, and my stories matter. You are enough, and your stories matter too.

I choose to be courageous in 2017. What do you choose? 

Do you have a one-word or phrase focus for 2017? Share it in comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!