Do you pick a word for the year? Something you’ll focus on, a word or maybe even a phrase that will be a guide or a stake in the ground for the next set of 365? Somehow here we are — 31 days into 2018 — and I’m still struggling to wrap words around my words of the year.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Words of the year. Plural.
(Is that even a thing? Don’t answer that.)
For many years now, I’ve chosen a word of the year. Instead of making a list of resolutions or writing down specific goals, you simply choose a word to focus on in the coming year.
For me, “finding” the word isn’t the difficult part. Accepting it? Understanding what it will mean? That’s a bit harder.
This past September, I began to notice the word flourish popping up seemingly every where in my life. From song lyrics on the radio to a sermon series to a new design for the Starbucks travel cup (no lie), there it was.
And I can’t tell you how badly I wanted that to be it, to be my word for 2018.
I mean, what a story — right? 2017: Planted. 2018: Flourish.
But something in me knew I was missing an important piece of the puzzle, that flourish would play a part but that it wouldn’t come first. There was more to the story.
In late November, I felt like God made abundantly clear what word would guide 2018, which one had to prepare the way.
And then I found out my car was deemed a total loss.
And then I spent eight weeks on the phone with an insurance company, eight weeks fighting to be treated fairly, eight weeks relying on others for transportation, eight weeks slowing down and being still and feeling stuck. Eight weeks of exhaustion, frustration, and ultimately reliance on God’s strength being (more than) enough.
And so is it funny, laughable even, when I tell you that right before eight incredibly difficult weeks God gave me this word for 2018?
To stand in awe or be amazed, to pay attention, to cease activity, to watch, discern, and observe.
I know. I want to laugh and cry and shake my head just typing it out.
Flourish wasn’t wrong, it just simply doesn’t come first. It’s meant to be a natural result of the focus, not the focus itself.
As I do each year, I read through the previous year’s word-of-the-year-post before beginning this one. When I came to this paragraph right after sharing that my word for 2017 would be planted, I cried. Like, for real tears rolling down my face:
“To be honest, I don’t know what it means. In many ways, I wanted to push against that word because it feels risky, like embracing something fleeting or trusting the unknown. It sounds like being grounded and digging deep, planting roots that may very well be uprooted and turned over. It sounds like darkness and quiet and a commitment to daily hard work. But there is this quote by Elisabeth Elliot and I cannot quit it. Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.”
There are story lines woven through the past two years that will likely never see the light of day (they aren’t mine alone to tell), but I’ll say this: it has not been easy. I didn’t know as I wrote that paragraph last January that for the second year in a row, the word cancer would strike way too close to home. I had no idea an important relationship would shatter or that I’d learn to grieve the loss of someone still living. No one gave me a heads up that I’d find myself making phone calls, hoping that the person on the other end of the line still recognized my voice.
I cried over that paragraph because little did I know just how true, how difficult, how beautiful it would be.
I didn’t change the world in 2017, but I planted roots. I wasn’t busy making big plans or writing another book, I was hanging on. I was digging deep. I was doing my darn best to faithfully show up in the seemingly ordinary, regular mundane.
He was there in all of it — in the hard and the holy and the horrific and the hilarious. In the ordinary, He was waiting to be found. In the unknown, He was constant. In the broken places, He was holding me together.
And He’ll do it all over again this year. Situations will be different, of course. There will be new challenges, unexpected changes, and deep joys. There will be life. And I want to behold His goodness, His presence, His kindness in it all.
Every year, I have an idea of what my word will mean but God always surprises me along the way. I think that at the heart of it, behold is about wearing different lenses and looking for Him, focusing on Him in the midst of it all. The situations I’m facing today won’t necessarily change tomorrow, but my perspective can shift.
If you’ve read my book Even If Not, you’ll recognize this print that’s included inside, these five small words, this phrase I’ve loved for a long time: You become what you behold.
I really do believe that’s true.
We automatically drive toward what we’re looking at and imitate what we see.
When He gave me the word behold for 2018, flourish suddenly made sense. As I behold Him, spending time in His Word, looking for Him in the big and the small and the good and the hard, I’ll flourish.
The story is so much better this way. And wouldn’t you know, He was already writing it last year (and the year before that, too) when I shared these verses alongside “planted.”
His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:2-3)
The righteous will flourish like palm trees; they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the Lord’s Temple, they will flourish in the courtyard of our God. (Psalm 92:12-13)
2016: Temple. 2017: Planted. 2018: Behold… and flourish.
Do I know what story 2018 will tell? No. But I trust the One holding the pen. And so I’ll choose to behold and trust that as I do, I’ll flourish, learn, grow, and find that my roots continue growing deeper, preparing me and steadying me for whatever may come.
As has become my habit, I’ve written a letter to myself based on my word(s) for the year. I’ve shared it below and would love to hear in the comments or on social media if you’ve chosen a word for 2018!
As you walk into a year full of unknowns, big decisions, and countless changes, may you live with eyes wide open to the ways God is at work in, around, and through you. Don’t miss it: He is in the small things. Watch and see, pay close attention. He’s in the late night laughter, the clear blue sky, the unexpected message, the drive-thru lane. Pause. Go slow. Light the candles. Behold His goodness in the everyday-ordinary of life.
Walk forward in faith, keeping your focus on what is True. May His words ring in your ears and constantly be found on your lips, the natural result of spending time in His Word. He promises that when you seek Him, you will find Him, and so may this be a year marked by your faithfulness to show up, to open the pages, ready and willing and eager to listen and learn.
Live with open hands and don’t try to take hold of the pen. He is writing a good story. His timing is the best, exactly what you would choose if you could see the end from the beginning. Look around you and find Him in the in between, always present and good in the middle of it all.
May you see the beauty found in His declaration: Behold, He is doing something new. It’s already happening all around you, but will you see it? Pay attention. Keep your eyes on Him. He’s at work, preparing the way, opening the doors for you to walk through. Be strong, courageous, and don’t doubt for one second that He is with you here and now — and He’ll be with you there and then.
As you say hello to new beginnings and blank pages, you’ll come face to face with some of your hardest goodbyes. There’s a beautiful cost to planting your roots down deep. May you find that it was worth it, and may you see His hand in every last and see you later. When tears fall, trust that they are watering the soil that will enable you to flourish. Take time to rest, to appreciate, to slow down and remember. Stand in awe and be amazed, for He is a kind Father and a good Author. His fingerprints are all over these pages.
May this be a year of holy anticipation, of looking for Him in the ordinary and discovering that He’s been there all along.