For more than a dozen years now I’ve had a practice of choosing a word of the year. I have a group of mom friends that I fondly call my “chai sisters.” We met years ago when our kiddos were still nursing and our highest call was changing dirty diapers. We would get together for park dates, story times, and afternoon tea.
One of our sacred gatherings that was not kid-focused was the “Word Party.” We always pick a date in January to come together and share about the things God has been teaching us through the years. Now that our kids are older we leave them at home and savor this mama respite together once a year.
One year we all gathered around our friend Amy’s Christmas tree that was still up in late January and shared our words wearing our jammies and sipping chai.
Another year, I invited the chai sisters to the table at my new house. We feasted on cardamom cake, Italian pizzelle cookies, and fresh tortillas with potatoes and eggs. We celebrated the abundance of ways God showed up for us that year. And, of course, there was chai.
During the pandemic in 2021, three of us here in Fresno met in our friend Terry’s backyard around her fire pit. We ordered Indian food and sat socially distanced. She set up a music stand and we propped up my laptop. We zoomed with our friend Amy, who now lives in LA, and Carla, who lives in Manila.
The Word Party is a chance to pause and reflect on the past year and to look into the future with eager eyes. We each choose one word to embody our year.
In many ways, choosing a word for the year has become a spiritual practice for me. This year marks 12 years I have leaned into this practice. Of course, every year I choose a word and by the end of the year I am surprised at the lessons I’ve learned from following that word. It’s never what I hoped, imagined, or predicted back in January. It always involves surrendering, reckoning and deepening my relationship with the One who was and is the Word from beginning to end (as it says in John 1:1)
Today I’m inviting you to my table. Imagine I’m serving up my favorite French toast casserole with pecan praline and brewing you a cup of spicy chai with almond milk. Let me share five tips for choosing and following a word through your year.
1. Notice – Look around. See where God is leading you. Take notice of the petals, the presents, the pouring rain and the poignant moments. What do you notice?
2. Listen – Make space to listen. The practice of silence is a rare treasure in our crazy-busy world. Set a timer for 5 minutes or 15, and give yourself permission to sit and listen. What do you hear?
3. Pray – Take a prayer walk and pray over your word. See what God reveals while you are moving your body. Move deliberately. Let your mind wander. Cry out to God. What are you praying about?
4. Study – Open your Bible. Read a psalm or a story. See what pricks your curiosity. Highlight these words or journal about the themes that energy. Are there words that are repeated or keep jumping out at you?
5. Follow – Keep a notebook or use a special highlighter in your Bible and follow your word. Jot down ways you see God at work through that specific word. At the end of the year, you can look back and see where the Holy Spirit led and what you learned.
My word themes have connected year after year like bright bulbs on a string of backyard lights. One year’s lessons flow into the next year and spark another set of lessons. God has taught me so much through these words: joy, grace, mercy, glory, redeem, flourish, behold, wonder, abundance, soar, rejoice, and this past year it was the Hebrew word HESED.
These words have shaped my life, my learning and even my writing. In 2014, the word glory lifted me day by day, month by month through my husband’s cancer journey and when he soared to heaven that September. The following year I published a Bible study called Glory Chasers, sharing about my journey chasing after God’s glory during the hardest year of my life.
The next year I chose the word flourish in hopes that it would be a year of learning to flourish after loss. I never imagined that God would bring my new husband Shawn and I would publish another Bible study that year on Flourishing Together in community.
In 2020, I chose the word soar for my word theme and during the pandemic wrote and published Walk Run Soar, my first devotional journal for runners and walkers.
This past year, I circled back to the theme of glory and published my children’s book, Chasing God’s glory, to teach kids about this idea of following God’s glory through our everyday lives.
My Bible study Create in Me a Heart of Mercy also released in 2023 – a full circle moment as I returned to my very first word of the year and shared many stories of how God has cultivated mercy in our family through the years.
This past year, my theme word was the Hebrew word hesed, which is often translated steadfast love or lovingkindness. If you were here in December or joined me for my Friday “Walking Through His Word” broadcasts through the psalms, you learned a lot about hesed. In many ways, this word is all-encompassing.
Hesed is not an easy word to define in English. It’s composed of three Hebrew consonants that are strung together and mentioned nearly 250 times in the Bible. Hesed encompasses the concepts of truth, mercy, covenant, justice, faithfulness, goodness, favor and righteousness. Hesed is God’s heart for his people.
And hesed is God’s heart for you and me.
As I look back over 2023, I see how God has held me through challenges and grief. I also am grateful for the ways He has shepherded me through unexpected green pastures. After years of waiting and investing quietly, this was a year full of opportunities to publish, speak, and share the messages He has put on my heart.
I know what it is like to live in the valley of rejections and broken hearts, but this year God lifted my head with His hesed. He invited me to walk audaciously in the harvest. He showed me His love is consistent and steadfast in all seasons – just as tender in grief and glory.
Friend, I’m eager to hear what God has been teaching you this year. Did you choose a word of the year in 2023? Even if you didn’t, share something you learned about yourself and God through the journey. RSVP for my online Word Party here.