Words & Movements

This is the second post in a three part series of year-end reflections.

Over the last few weeks, back into mid-November, I have been thinking a lot about my 2016 word(s) for the year and looking ahead, settling on a word(s) for 2017.

I've grown into my own word-for-the-year practice. For years the idea of choosing a word for the year mystified me. Where did the word come from exactly? And just one word? How can one word fit an entire year?

But I was very intrigued and wanted to get in on the action so I started by choosing my word for the year in retrospect, looking back on the previous year for a dominant theme. I like closure so that worked for me.

About three years ago I started choosing a word for the year before the year had begun.

I don't know how other people find their own words to express the coming year. In my case, these words might be a desire I have, how I hope to align my external reality with my inner self in the coming year. Or they might be a more definitive word that largely expresses an external reality, a goal perhaps based on life season, time and place.

The question I have asked myself about choosing a word for the year is: does it influence you, or do you influence it? In other words, does that word change your path somehow, or does your path determine your word. I think the answer is both.

Words frame our experience. They are a mental construct to help us make sense of things. Words help us write a story with our life, they help make the messy and confusing feel more cohesive and tidy.

As a memoirist blogger, I use words, lots of words, to tell the story of my experience ("narrative" is the buzz word these days) in an attempt to find hidden structure or to bring order and meaning to an experience.

This is what stories are, a narrative that helps us to make sense of the chaotic and challenging circumstances of our lives.

Our stories and our words are both tools and truth.

They are tools to help us make sense of things. And they are truth in that how we tell that story, how we make sense of our experiences, will inform and influence how we actually experience the world. Our stories are both an expression of an experience and the lens through which we view that experience and future experiences. In this way, our stories, our words, have the power to manifest things in our lives.

Words have the power to create worlds, to create reality.

As a person who struggles with anxiety, I know, first hand, the power of words to create both positive and negative "realities". How I perceive a situation, the words I use to make sense of it (the words I use to describe the people, the motives, the actions, etc), those words, more than the circumstance itself, is what defines my reality in that situation.

I'm not about to make the leap that my perception equals capital R reality, the absolute truth of a situation. That is a philosophical discussion I'm not prepared to have right now. But what I am prepared to put forth, and stand by, is that what you believe about something gives power to that idea, event, person, object, remembrance. And how we frame experiences (and people) with our words, can be a tool to build, restore, improve, create, or it can be a force of destruction, on all levels of relationship - intrapersonal, interpersonal, families, communities, societies.

I want my words to create a reality of love and freedom, for myself and others.

Choosing a word for the year is part of this intention. This is not an exact science for me, it's more of a "sense" I have of where I'm at right now or what my heart is telling me I need to focus on.

Here's my list of words of the year going back to when I started this. Remember I started this as a retrospective activity.

  • 2009 - dream
  • 2010 - plan
  • 2011 - move
  • 2012 - re-root
  • 2013 - establish
  • 2014 - hike (beyond my boundaries)
  • 2015 - heal (fallowed field)
  • 2016 - receive (open hands open heart)
  • 2017- release (open hands open heart, part 2)

You'll notice at 2014 I move beyond one word. That demarcates when I started choosing a word at the beginning, instead of the end of the year. I also can't keep it to just one word.

I've been blogging through all these years but 2015 was probably the first year I expressed my word for the year explicitly on the blog. I meant to write a post last January with the word for 2016 but didn't get that done.

Words of the year are not written in stone, they are written on hearts and hearts can change. At the beginning of this year I felt very strongly that my words for this year were Open Heart Open Hands. (I know, more than one word.)

I had been thinking that after a year set aside for healing (2015) it was probably time to open my hands in service. And then in January, it was clear to me through the movement of the Spirit in my heart (these things are hard to explain), that open heart open hands mostly meant I was to receive.

As a doer this is not my natural inclination. And I wasn't even sure what this meant. Our lives are to be full of service to others. This is our calling and vocation as humans, to serve each other. And as mothers, partners, fathers, homeschoolers, community builders, employees, whatever we are, we are always serving in some capacity. But everything has a season, and some seasons we need focus on receiving, and that was what I needed to learn this past year.

I feel like 2015 set the stage for that because basic healing practices were in place, it was like the foundation was laid for what I was about to receive.

Now obviously there is always two sides of story: we are giving and receiving, shining and sheltering, exploring and rooting, relaxing and stretching, in the same way that breathing depends on an inhale and an exhale. But I do believe there can be an overall theme to the experience of a year or a life season. And the overall theme for me last year was to receive.

At the beginning of 2016 the word receive was clear to me, but it wasn't clear "what" I was to be receiving. The word gave me a direction, gave me hints about to look for, but it didn't give me "the thing" itself. The thing itself was what I received. It's like saying the word "gift", gift tells you something special is coming, something wrapped up just for you, but not what that special thing is.

Just like opening a gift and discovering what's inside, so to has this year been a discovery of what I've been receiving. In the last month, I asked myself "what have you received this year?" And then I looked back at each month, revisiting the seasons of pain and frustration, and the growth that came out of that, mentally revisiting the times of ease and a strong sense of well-being. (I always prefer the latter over the former.) And here's the list I came up with.

This year I received:

  • the Spirit in a fresh new way
  • a deeper sense of God's love for me
  • further understanding of my identity
  • increasing freedom from anxiety
  • insights about my marriage and my husband
  • some clarity in my callings
  • friendship
  • the message so strong and clear, that I am to rest in God, and the only sustainable and life-giving way to serve and love is to be rooted here in this love, first and foremost

God's love is always present, the Spirit is always in me. But there are times in our life where we are made more aware of certain realities and this was my year to deeply receive these truths, these gifts.

At the beginning of 2016 I had thought it was a year to open my heart open my hands into some kind of giving. And I don't doubt that I have given of myself this year. But I feel that 2016 was the year to understand what I have received, to experience that depth of love, out of which I can actually give.

At the end of 2016, as I look into 2017, I believe I'm being released to serve and love, part two of open heart open hands. It's the year for a release of what God has given me.

I have small inklings of what this might look like. I have started to move in this freedom in the last part of this year. But I also know I can't quite imagine both the struggles and the joys that will accompany this heart-set (like a mindset of the heart). I am excited and scared. But when I feel that anxiety, I need to go right back into the source of all my strength and courage, dive right back into what I have received - love.


Looking back on this past year I see movement into positions and places that were unexpected. Movement into these roles and responsibilities has not been smooth or easy. I went through a difficult period of anxiety this fall in one such transition. And there was no signpost saying, "this way Renee". There were prayer, tears, frustration, self-surrender, and this: being quiet to listen for the voice of the Spirit.

This is a key piece for me to be grounded (something I talked about in the first post of this series). I am not a naturally quiet person. I'm extraverted and in times of distress I might go either way, into frenetic and frantic behavior or into deep retreat, pull the covers up over my head and seek shelter and "safety" from the discomfort, exposure and pain I am experiencing.

But the path for me is neither. The path is to root and ground myself in quiet and contemplation, to listen to the Spirit and then use all that energy that comes naturally to me, all that bubbly, all that effervescence, to act. Not in a response to my fear, but in response to the Spirit.

This past year I have nurtured my ability (and been equipped by the Spirit) to show up and be present in pain and discomfort, mine and others. I'm still a baby in these skills, my first instinct is to hide and shelter but I know I'm being asked to grow in this. I have more words to publish on this subject (I've been writing a lot about this idea) but for today, in this moment of reflection and celebration, I am grateful for the compassion, born out of brokenness and vulnerability, that I am able to bring to situations that I couldn't before. Situations I would have avoided for fear of exposing my weaknesses and inadequacy, or situations into which I would have brought judgement.

I have started, once again after a season of retreat, to put myself out there in new realms, realms where I am depended on and I don't feel completely up to the task, unsure of my competency to do the job well and fulfill my responsibility. And I'm having to remember, in those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, where my security and sense of worthiness comes from. And I am proud (I did question the use of that word and chose it intentionally because I am proud, not in a boastful way, but a deeply grateful way) of myself that I do this in spite of the anxiety these situations cause me. I still struggle with anxious episodes. But I know these are things you cannot go around, but must go through, in order to gain strength and confidence.

Do you have a word of the year? How do you choose that?

What kind of movements did you experience this past year? Did you move into some things and out of others?

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  • Leah

    Leah on Jan. 2, 2017, 12:57 p.m.

    I actually have two words for this year: Authentic and Intuitive. As a recovering people pleaser whose inescurities and control issues have manifested themselves in eating disorders, my goal for the year is to embrace and present my authentic self, not the person that people expect and/or want to see, and to eat intuitively, without extreme dieting.


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