spiritual practice


Almost two months, huh? Yikes!

For the last several years, I have chosen a “word” for the year. Or one has chosen me. You’re probably all familiar with this practice, where your word signals the thing you intend to focus on or an area where you wish to grow. I usually pray about it a little in late December, something pops into my mind that feels right, and I go with it, seeing where it leads. I bring it to mind in confusing situations, to clarify: “What if I were to [insert word] here?”

I stopped doing this after 2016, the year in which my word was “surrender.”

It turns out, choosing a word like surrender is a lot like praying to God for more patience. He doesn’t just give you more patience. He gives you lots more opportunities to BE PATIENT. If you choose a word like surrender… you may end up having to surrender a thing or two.

(Like your deep-seated and childish insistence that God only loves you when everything is your life is going really well, and that you are only blessed if your children are all happy and healthy. Just for example. Plucked out of thin air, that one.)

This year, I didn’t choose a word. In January, let’s face it: I wasn’t prepared to do much of anything but curl up into fetal position and brace myself for the next blow.

About a month ago, though, some friends and I were talking about our words, and I realized that I had had a word all along. My word for 2017 was beloved. The thread of that word throughout my life this year is too crazy to be made up, and too obvious to be missed.

The retreat in April that caused me to completely re-evaluate my relationship with God, ripping up the foundations of my faith so it could be rebuilt from the ground up? The title was Beloved.

The pilgrimage to Lourdes? Oscar was one of 50 “beloved malades,” and the Order of Malta demonstrated with their bodies how God cares, so gently, for his beloveds. The entire trip was another step in showing me that our belovedness is not rooted in what we do, but in who we are: children of God, created in his image, and so, so beloved, no matter what kind of brokenness we are carrying.

The post I wrote about Oscar’s miracle? It wasn’t really about his healing. It was about his belovedness, and yours, and mine.

The small faith group I started this fall with friends from church? It has been based on Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved — the same book on which the April retreat was based. God wanted to be quite sure I didn’t miss the message.

Oscar’s dreadful, extended, yo-yo hospital stay in October, during a period where I felt lonely and separated from the love of God and our community? God used it as an opportunity for that community to remind our whole family of our belovedness, both in heaven and on earth.

The surprise trip I took to Fredericksburg for my birthday with a dear friend? We spent the better part of that weekend discussing (again) Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, for hours upon hours, with no interruptions. It’s a really good book, in case I haven’t made that clear.

If I wasn’t secure in my belovedness to God before (and I surely, surely wasn’t), how could I fail to be so now, after all that he has revealed this year… and how spectacularly?


Today, on a whim, I went over to a Word of the Year generator put together by Jen Fulwiler. Then I immediately wished I hadn’t.

The word it selected for me for 2018 was “deepen.”


I don’t know, and maybe it’s the PTSD talking, but to me, this reads like another word of the “patience” and “surrender” variety. When God asks us to go deeper, it’s not usually for a pleasure cruise.

I wish I could say I am secure enough in my trust of God’s plan and providence to voluntarily move deeper into the hard and messy stuff that is this life. I have really been enjoying this beloved part lately, the being showered with gifts and miracles and consolations and loving community, thankyouverymuch.

But if there is anything I have learned from Nouwen’s Beloved book this year — three times! — it’s that our blessing is not ours. It is to be poured forth and given to others. These last six months or so of reprieve and hope have felt a little like a deep breath, or a shot in the arm. Even in my writing, I have rested, not questioning or challenging so much as enjoying and silently contemplating (maybe you noticed?). In the background, all along, I have known that there would need to be a next step, that we are supposed to DO something with all of this.

Some things that “deepen” may mean practically: I have applied to join the Order of Malta as a full member [edited to add: this is a long process and, if accepted, I would become a member in the fall of 2019]. In the meantime, I have been accepted to return to Lourdes as a non-member volunteer with the Order this May, and am toting along a bonus kid to volunteer as a page (our 2nd grader, who will make her First Communion while we are there).

We are re-enrolling in our part-time homeschool group, and I am using those hours the kids are in school to rededicate myself to finishing a memoir about Oscar and Lourdes, even if it never sees the light of day.

And, frighteningly, I am doing some hard discernment about a call I perceived, extremely clearly, during our pilgrimage to Lourdes, relating to a possible new career move for me. I certainly intend to bring that intention back with me this year and ask again: “Um, did you REALLY mean what I think you meant?”

Anyway, I hope that’s what deeper means, as opposed to deeper into union with Christ’s passion on the Cross (the other possible interpretation that crossed my mind immediately, please no God no please).

May your 2018 word find you, and may you live it well.

Photo credit: Erin Khoo on Flickr

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