Before we go any further…

Sheesh. Half way into January already. Somewhere amidst Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the Sugar Bowl, returning to a “normal” schedule, three snow days, and life in general…I neglected a post I do every year.

The Word of the Year.

My friend Karen C.L. Anderson – writer, blogger, coach, self-acceptance and healing guru – introduced me to this concept several years ago. She discovered it through Christine Kane, an expert in helping women focus their professional lives. Instead of setting a resolution for the new year, a Word of the Year is broader. It gives your year focus, but allows for many ways to make it happen (one destination, many paths).

I find when I don’t choose a Word of the Year, I feel more scattered and at loose ends. And frankly, I’m tired of saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds” or “I’m going to get organized”, only to get to April and laaauuugh.

There are ways to arrive at your Word. If you go to Ms. Kane’s website, there’s a guide to help you with the process. For me, the biggest help (and biggest challenge) is stillness. Allowing myself time to just be, with no TV, no music, no tech…just comfortable clothes, maybe hot tea, and time to reflect. Not analyze. Reflect. Stroll through the archive of my life and look at things as an impartial but curious observer. The answer doesn’t always come right away. It can take several days and several tries, but a Word comes. And if I keep circling back to it, that’s a good sign.

One of the first times I focused on a Word of the Year, I came up with Fearless. Maybe it should have been “Fear Less”. I’ve always wanted to be “right”, to be the smartest kid in class, to not be wrong or make a mistake. But those desires hogtied me. They kept me from making any decisions. I’d rather sit on the fence than be wrong. So I decided that year to be Fearless.

It was a word I could hang my hat on. When faced with a tough decision, I could pull up one word. Fearless. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid to be right. Don’t be afraid.

While it never made things easy, it did help. Instead of a laundry list of failed resolutions and things I wasn’t accomplishing, I could remind myself of one goal. Fearless.

In 2014, my Word was Authentic. I spent a lot of time playing small, keeping my feelings to myself so I didn’t rock the boat, and living other people’s visions of my life. As is written in Ecclesiastes, “there’s a time for silence, and a time to speak.” I spent a lot of time in silence. Sure, I functioned, but mostly I was silent. So last year, I decided to be Authentic. I knew that meant I potentially would shock and irritate people…but is that my problem, or theirs? People who are used to me not standing up for myself or a principle were surprised…and sometimes I surprised myself, especially when that act of courage went well. But I grew. And I’m still growing. Just because the calendar has flipped to 2015 doesn’t mean I’m done with being Authentic. It takes practice. So does Fearlessness, for that matter.

On my refrigerator is a magnet and in my purse a small mirror with the legend “Be Fearlessly Authentic”, courtesy of There’s a Badge for That. Ms. Claire, the owner of TABFT, posted the image on the company’s Facebook page one day. She didn’t know it, but she reminded me of who to be.

Elizabeth Irwin - Fearlessly Authentic

Be Fearlessly Authentic

A few friends were on the receiving end of my quest for Authenticity. I don’t think they’re still honked at me. One actually appreciated the honesty. The expression was necessary, but the execution could have been better.

So where does that leave 2015? Like Fearlessness, Authenticity needs practice. It might take years, but that’s okay. I’ve decided on a new Word of the Year.

Wellness.

For me, this isn’t about living at the gym and denying myself things I enjoy. It’s about living in balance. Not just talking about, but implementing self-care. It means sleeping when I need to sleep. Seeking out good people when I’m lonely. Allowing myself to spend time doing nothing if that’s what fits. Saying no. Saying yes to things that are fun simply for the sake of fun. Eliminating foods that make me feel sloth-like. Trying new things like dance, yoga, and even painting. Making time to do a Bible study, even if I can’t make the class. Expressing feelings, even the “ugly” ones, is a part of Wellness. Listening to music. Reclaiming things I once enjoyed, and finding new things to add to the list.

In my line of work, I see people ailing in body, mind, and spirit. I realize what a short ride it is from well to unwell. In order to be the best that I can be for others – my children, my family, my friends, the people who rely on me – I have to be Well and take care of myself whenever possible.

So what’s your favorite way to practice self-care and wellness? Are you a resolution person, or a Word of the Year person? Do you have a Word of the Year? Please chime in!

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The Family Tree: The Dancing Lady and Two Reindeer

Thanksgiving weekend, I finished decorating my Christmas tree. It’s a combination of Hallmark collectibles, handmade ornaments, and pieces of my heritage…ornaments that have hung on other trees in other houses for generations. And every one has a story.

The story begins with my odd little quirk that I don’t mind stringing lights. After attempting to celebrate with pre-lit trees – only to lose a quarter to half the lights after two seasons – I went back to a conventional faux tree, with whatever lights I felt like adding at that time. This year: green and blue, wrapped in a twinkly double-helix top to bottom, then bottom to top.

I’m sure unthreading it will be a nightmare, but I’ll worry about that in January.

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree brings fond memories. It was family tradition to put up the tree on the same Sunday when the Cleveland Browns played the Cincinnati Bengals…around December 3rd. Dad had a “technique” for stringing lights that involved a tight star pattern on each row of branches. Painstaking in its precision – which occurred only during time-outs, commercial breaks, and halftime – it took a few hours to get the tree lit.

I didn’t have the distraction of football or the assistance of children and it STILL took a couple hours (and 600 lights).

This is my first Christmas with no cat. Our little furry curmudgeon crossed the Rainbow Bridge in late summer. He is missed, especially by my 11-year-old, who grew up with him. However, this Christmas, the breakable ornaments can be hung on the lower branches.

My first ornament. I've had it for more than 40  years.

My first ornament. I’ve had it for more than 40 years.

One ornament in particular had not seen the light of day for at least 20 years, maybe longer. Probably “pre-cats”, so that would mean “before 1981”. She was given to my mom as a gift for me when I was very little. I remember the boxes – one with the Dancing Lady, another with a funny silver clown for my brother – sitting outside the door of the apartment house where we lived. The ornaments were gifts from our landlady and her family, including her quiet husband who mowed the lawn and did the repairs as well as working for Alcoa during the day, and her elderly mother, who didn’t speak a work of English.

I remember the ornament. I remember the surprise of seeing the boxes by the door. I remember the dark wood of the door, and our real Christmas tree with the big honkin’ C9 ceramic light bulbs. There’s a cascade of memories of a neighborhood that has changed dramatically since my childhood.

Over the years, my brother and I have been gifted with coordinating or matching ornaments. One of the pairs hangs on my tree.

White ReindeerRed Reindeer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t recall where these little guys came from, but I can’t remember them NOT being on a tree in our house. The red one is my brother’s, the white one mine. I can’t picture separating them. They say “family”. I think about my brother and how much we’ve been through in 40+ years.

At a memoir workshop a couple years ago, I remember the instructor saying, “Because you have remembered, it deserves to be told.” Do you have a Family Tree, or family traditions? What stories do you have inside you that deserve to be told?

A Thanksgiving Parade of Blessings

I started Thanksgiving with a Facebook post thanking God and my mom for being the two ever-present forces in my life over the last year, which has been year of change to say the least. It set off a cascade of thoughts about everything I’m thankful for because of or in spite of all the changes. I thought about the “little things” that weren’t so little to my mind, heart and spirit.

  • My friend of almost-a-lifetime, Wayne, took a day off and drove for three hours to hang out with me and do nothing more than have a three-hour lunch in a Mexican restaurant, then drive three hours home.
  • My eldest child will be 18 this week and will graduate from high school in the spring. One of her college application essays focused on how she considers being “on The Spectrum” not a disability, but a blessing.
  • My youngest child, all of 11, loves to do and to go and to experience. This year, she learned to swim. Because I can’t, I had a heart attack every time the instructor took the kids into the 10-foot end of the pool. May she be the explorer that I struggled to be.
  • My professional partner-in-creativity Caryn, with her amazing artistic talent, I am grateful for simply because I get to work with her. Ditto for all of the other terrific people on staff at Epworth United Methodist Church who teach the children, lead the youth, run the office, arrange for classes, balance the books, answer the phones, and nurture the spirits.
  • Being diagnosed with situational depression and anxiety might seem like a strange thing for which to be grateful, but it was the gift of empathy. I kept my head above water enough to recognize the problem, to assess how I felt without judging, to be willing to talk to someone, and to know that eventually I would be okay. And I recognize that there are many people who cannot keep their heads above water, who fight for emotional air, and who are not okay. I have been given a taste of it; I am not drowning in it. The experience calls me to those with invisible injuries, emotional injuries, internal brokenness.
  • I am thankful for the friends who understood when I cancelled plans at the last minute because the anxiety was too much, and I’m thankful they still love me.
  • A wrong turn in a hospital corridor…total God moment.
  • I was given the gift of holding the hand of a dying friend. She opened her eyes, smiled at me, and said “thank you”.
  • Two years almost to the day since God called me to ordained ministry, I was accepted to Methodist Theological School of Ohio. I’ll begin working on my Master of Divinity next fall.
  • My eldest child (see above) has been accepted to one university, and has an application pending at another. She will start her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice when I start my MDiv.
  • I spent my 46th birthday away from home. After hanging out with my awesome cousin and his fabulous wife on Friday night, I attended the Write in the Country writing retreat at The Red Maple Inn on Saturday. That night, I had dinner with five amazing women writers at a bistro we stumbled across in the wilds of Geauga County. We reconvened for more laughs over a big, homemade country breakfast the next morning. In spite of car trouble that kept me panicky for the 3 hour drive home, I would not have traded that weekend for anything. I laughed, ate, slept, learned, and inhaled radiant fall color and sunshine.

We often think about the tangibles – food, clothing, shelter, etc – that we are thankful for during Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, and other celebratory holidays. What are intangibles for which you give thanks this year? What moments and experiences left you changed?