Someone once gave me a folder as a gift with what appear to be Scrabble Tiles on the front spelling out a two-word phrase meant for me: “WORD NERD.”
You know how Oprah feels about bread? (If you haven’t seen the Weight Watchers commercials from when she first signed on as an investor/spokeswoman, here’s a spoiler alert: she LOVES it). Well, I love words like Oprah loves bread. Or like Trump loves giant walls and self-tanner. Or like Kanye loves…well…Kanye…or does he just go by Ye now? Whatever the name, you get the point.
I am a true word nerd. I love etymology and studying where words came from, how they’ve been used throughout time and how people currently use them.
I also think most communication problems can be solved by simply asking, how do you define ____ (enter word) or what do you mean by ____? Scott and I have gotten in many arguments simply because words are complicated, have multiple and often layered definitions, and we use language differently. We once fought about the word “panicky” on and off for a whole month—that was early marriage…we now know better! ☺
We all know the power of language—words can liberate or imprison, calm or ignite, bless or curse. Coupled with the power of a person or position, the impact of someone’s words can be truly life-altering.
My favorite time of year to think about words is right now—the turn of a new year. A few friends and I have a tradition where we gather sometime around the New Year and choose our “word for the year.” The word is usually somewhat aspirational—it is a word that we want to inform this particular calendar year, something that we are missing in our lives and longing for, something that has usually been brewing throughout the previous year and we are just now willing and ready to name.
Now that we’ve been doing this for several years, it is easy to see patterns. Sometimes one of us will do a big pendulum swing—going from a word rife with productivity and achieving one year to something more ethereal and mystical the next year—the pendulum swing ultimately creating some kind of balance by extremes.
For others of us, it is clear that girlfriend has got some issues! I would be in that camp. I have found embarrassingly creative ways of pretty much saying the same word every year. Last year I finally owned up to it and so here you go everyone…my word will ALWAYS be “VOICE” or some derivative of that. I’ll find ways to say it in other languages because that is super fun and the use of Latin will always make someone sound way cooler than they actually are. I’ll use a word that describes a way the voice can be used. I’ll do demonstrations of what a voice can sound like and find a word for that. I’ll pretend I’m not talking about voice and make up another word, just to mix it up but really, I’m talking about voice.
This makes sense for me. I’ve been a singer for most of my life, so from an early age I had a sense of the juxtaposition of my voice as utterly unique and completely “mine,” yet also given away, put on display, commodified, ready to be picked apart and judged in some vocal competition or audition and paid a range of values throughout my semi-professional vocal career. In those early years of singing, the temptation was to try and manipulate my voice to sound like someone else’s: specifically in those years, Amy Grant—a requirement of any pastor’s daughter who grew up in the 80’s.
In the late 90’s, the Italians taught me that it is best to sound like yourself—with all of the range, both vocal and emotional, that you possess. They call it “Bel Canto” and it means “beautiful singing”—a vocal philosophy and technique developed in Italy in the late 16th century. The Italians also taught me that this concept applies to appearance (which will be a VERY fun blog post for another day), so all the love and claps for the Italians right now!!
Last year, that was my “word:” Bel Canto. I wasn’t talking about singing specifically anymore, but about the meta-concept of voice and using it as only you can in this one lifetime. At the beginning of last year, I found myself in a place where I was fighting hard for other people to use their voices and live into who they truly are, while not doing that myself. I was attempting, once again, to try and manipulate my “voice” to sound like someone else’s. So, “bel canto” for me last year sounded a lot like truth-telling. A lot like “courage”—which at its etymological fullness means, “to tell the truth about one’s heart.” Once you tell the truth, you have to act on it.
The act is what is inspiring this year’s word which is going to blow everyone’s mind because it isn’t even a word and it isn’t specifically about voice, though you know as I unpack it, I will find some creative way to make it about voice.
My word for this year is a prefix! And that prefix would be….drum roll please… “RE”- as in, “again,” or “back.”
It is about RECLAIMING my calling(s) which involved the small matter of resigning from my position at our church—a profoundly complex and difficult decision for me—and starting my own business.
I knew it was coming…the “RE” year. My last blog post was about a trip we took this summer where I was “re-membering” the death of my sister. But it was also a trip about remembering who I am—who I know God has called me to be and what God has called me to do.
And then there was my Christmas gift from my sweet husband this year. He’s started a tradition of getting me a glassybaby or two for Christmas. For those of you who don’t know about glassybaby, you NEED to and I will direct you to a link at the bottom of this post). Each of these stunning hand blown votive holders has a name. One year we made a difficult move and he gave me one called “silver-lining” to remind me of the good things that were happening even despite the hardship. Another year I was having my usual issues telling the truth about my heart and he gave me “courage.” This year he gave me, “express yourself” (see what I’m talking about with the voice issues??) and my new favorite: “Begin again.”
That is what this year is—a RE-year…a year to begin again. It is year where I hope to remember, reconcile, restore, receive, relaunch—to begin again in a new career of sorts, but really just launching the career that I have always had but in a new way. I am going to live into the multi-hyphenate I have always been (I think we ALL are) but I spent too many years convinced I wouldn’t be able to live into the fullness of. I always thought I’d have to sacrifice something core about myself. That is a lie. I don’t and neither do you. We all just need to play with the percentages and the timing—we can’t do all of the things we want to do with 100% of ourselves, 100% of the time. But we can do them.
This is something I will be experimenting with in real time this year as I re-claim these parts of myself: I’m a writer, speaker, singer, both a theologian with an Master’s of Divinity, yet forever a theology student; a storyteller, but, as a consultant and coach, my most profound work is as story-holder and then a co-crafter with the people and organizations I have the opportunity to work with who want to write a new chapter, if not a brand new story. Over all those things that I “do” I’m a mother and a wife, a daughter and a friend, and want to do those things with as much love and grace as humanly possible with God’s infinite and help.
Thanks for joining me on this journey. There will be some exciting updates in the days and weeks ahead on this website.
So your environment can be a little more glowy and beautiful (never a bad thing), here is the promised link to glassybaby. You’ll thank me!
Here’s to you and whatever word (or prefix…or you could get really crazy and pick a suffix!) you need to live into this year. The happiest of new years to you and yours….