My OneWord for 2014

In late December 2012, I stumbled upon a website called OneWord365.com that invited bloggers and twitter-ers to pick one word to be their focus for the entire year. After a moment’s hesitation, I settled on grace.

It was a bumpy ride. Sometimes I loved the word and sometimes I furiously rebelled against it. When I had no words to describe it, God told that grace means freedom and second chances. I learned the meaning of the words “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound” from Romans 5:20. I had moments of relapse into sin when I thought there was no way God could show grace to me. I discovered how to hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection. I learned that grace relaxes perfectionism and doesn’t demand her own way. I could not understand it, but I tried. I compared grace to a waterfall, never-ceasing, faithful, and strong.

To quote one of the first posts I wrote about Grace:

“I heard somewhere that humans were not made to withstand every shake. Just as tall buildings in earthquake-prone areas are made with a bit of flexibility to them, so also are people made to ‘wobble’ a bit. Grace is what lets us struggle like buildings in an earthquake. If we were always strong, we would never wobble, and a single catastrophe would ruin our lives. But if we allow ourselves to struggle, if we allow ourselves grace, we will not crumble at the first sign of disaster. We will weather the storm. Don’t bottle it in; let yourself feel and move and wobble.”

Grace is what lets us struggle. And struggle I did, all year long. But it was a good kind of struggle. It was the kind of struggle that lets me fight just long enough to know that I am not struggling to be free. I am free. I am struggling to feel my freedom. I am struggling to know my name. I am struggling to know my grace.

Grace: One Word 2013

With this, I say goodbye to 2013. Grace will be a lifelong journey, but a new word is on the horizon.


As 2014 dawns, I want to let you in on a little secret that is not very secret. In 2014, I am undertaking three very new events in my life.

  1. I’m spending over three months in Asia where I’ll be student teaching in Thailand and visiting friends in Hong Kong (January to April)
  2. I’m graduating college, all while finishing student teaching requirements well and attempting to make sense of the job market (April to May)
  3. I’m finding a job, a place to live, a community, a church, service opportunities, the finances necessary to live on my own, the resources needed to live with roommates, etc, etc. (May to December)

I don’t know how I’m going to do it. The good news is that I’m not doing it alone. And I’m not doing it blindly. I’ve set a goal, a OneWord for 2014, to pursue and keep my eyes open for. This year, that word is Discovery.

OneWord2014discovery

I toyed with choosing the words “change” and “transition,” but the fact is that change is inevitable. And by choosing a word with such negative connotations, I thought I might set myself up for disappointment. I thought about “faithful” as a reminder to be myself throughout the change. But that didn’t fulfill my goal of being changed by the change. I aimed to find a word that let me stay faithful to who I am while still allowing me to change. I strove for a word that would acknowledge that life is a journey full of adventures and… Discoveries. Life is a journey full of making discoveries about oneself, other people, one’s world and circumstances, and more. In fact, the prompt for my student teaching journal is: What have I learned about myself, teaching, and the world today? I began to see that it is not only what I have learned, but what I have discovered.

To discover is to notice, realize, see, gain knowledge of, to uncover, or find out. I want this to be a year of realizing, of learning, and of encountering. I want 2014 to be a year of not only observing, but also participating in, because the best discoveries occur when the archeologists climb into the caves and get their hands dirty, even if they are scientists.

I guarantee this year won’t be any less bumpier than last year, but it will be another 365 days in this crazy journey called life.

Looking forward to 2014!

Mary, Receiver of Grace

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

– Luke 1:28

I have always wondered what the angel Gabriel meant when he said that Mary was “highly favored.” The different translations I’ve purused make it sound like God just really liked Mary for some reason. However, I heard something in church this morning that made me question it again, and today I found that the words “highly favored” can be translated from the Greek as literally “having been graced.” It doesn’t stop there.

In Strong’s Greek Lexicon, we see that the Greek word translated as “favored” is χαριτόω (charitoo). Interestingly, charitoo is a verb relating to the noun charis, meaning grace. Charis is the word we see in John 1:16, translated into English as Grace Upon Grace, the title for this blog, and the word that has been hitting me over and over for an entire year. 

Anyway, back to Gabriel describing Mary as “highly favored”: charitoo. According to Strong’s, charitoo can be used in Greek in three specific ways:

  1. to make graceful (charming, lovely, agreeable[, or accepted])
  2. to pursue with grace, compass [or surround] with favour
  3. to honor with blessings

I was blown away when I read this list. God chose Mary to carry and mother his Son as an honor. Because of this, she was “highly favored,” even “surrounded with favor.” She was “honored with blessings” and “pursued with grace.” She was “accepted.” She received grace.

But why?

It is the general opinion of the Catholic Church that Mary was chosen because she was sinless and perfect. Many also believe that Mary never had any other children, and that when she died, she was made Queen of Heaven. While I seek to honor my Catholic brothers and sisters, I must also acknowledge that I do not believe that Mary was sinless.

Ironically, the verse cited by many Catholic apologists to prove Mary’s sinlessness is the same verse I quoted above. The NLT, NIV, ESV, KJV, and both the NRSV and RSV Bible translations use terms like “you who are highly favored” and “favored one” to describe Mary. In contrast, while some of the approved Catholic translations of the Bible also use “favored one,” many (especially the older ones – see here and here) state that Mary is “full of grace” instead, note the RSV:CE and DRA. According to Catholic tradition, Mary is “full of grace” not because God has chosen to demonstrate blessings, acceptance, and favor upon her on the day that Gabriel visited her for the purpose of conceiving Jesus, but that Mary was already sinless and innately “full of grace.” For more information, compare a Catholic interpretation with a Protestant interpretation.

My goal here is to cause division but to make a point.

I have been delving deep into this issue of grace all year, and I have found that grace is not deserved. It is not earned. It is freely given. It is God giving me what I do not deserve out of his abundance of blessings. It is patience and forgiveness and acceptance. Therefore, I find it very hard to believe that either One: Mary earned the grace of God and the privilege of being the mother of Christ, or Two: God created Mary as a sinless and perfect person for the purpose of bearing and rearing Christ. If Mary was perfect and then was considered “full of grace,” what hope does that leave me, sinful to the core and utterly hopeless?

No, Mary was a person like me. She was fearful and confused. She did not know what the angel was talking about. She was blessed not because she was perfect, but because she believed in the Lord. She needed Christ to save her. She considered herself a “lowly servant girl,” willing to be used by the Lord. Christ died even for his own mother.


Think God can't use you?

God can take even the most sinful people and do great things through them. How? Because he makes them graceful, he pursues them with grace, he surrounds them with favor, and he honors them with blessings. He endows them with grace; he makes them accepted. He charitoo them. And us, too. God working through our tiny blips on the timeline of eternity is one way he is pouring grace over us and claiming us as his accepted children. He does not need perfect people to achieve his plans, because he is already working through imperfect people.

What is the irony that I would find an excellent definition for grace, my OneWord for 2013, in the Christmas story? That’s the place in late December 2012 when this all began, and it is the place in December 2013 where it will end. Honestly, this search for grace will be a never ending journey. Understanding grace, understanding my receiving of grace, and learning how to give grace will be life-long, because I will probably never truly get it. And I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay that I feel small and undeserving. To paraphrase Mary’s magnificat, I am overwhelmed with joy in my Savior.

With a little over a week until New Year’s, the time has come to select a word for 2014. I can already tell this is going to be a crazy year. Over three months in Thailand and Hong Kong, college graduation, moving to a new city with friends and starting my first real teaching job (hopefully!), and ending 2014 in a much different place than where I started it. With these thoughts running through my head, I invite you to check out the new www.OneWord365.com website, all prepared for 2014 by its creator, Alece Ronzino. A fellow blogger, Melanie at OnlyABreath.com, offers free OneWord blog button images that you can personalize yourself or get her to personalize for you for a donation. If you are planning to do OneWord365 for 2014, I suggest you check out both the official website and Melanie’s images. Make it a goal for yourself to include your OneWord is as many things as possible: as a journal prompt, a Pinterest board, a Bible verse memorization tool, a phone or computer desktop background, a magazine cut-out collage poster, etc. You might just see it showing up everywhere!

What College Has Taught Me

What College Has Taught Me

Give and Accept Grace

“I think college broke me of my legalism.”

I was sitting in front of my boss in our monthly one-on-one meeting time several weeks ago. She had asked me what I had been learning personally, and that was my response. The fact of the matter is that college taught me that rules don’t work. During semesters when I made straight A’s, I didn’t have a lot of fun. During semesters when I participated in and led half a dozen groups or activities, my grades suffered. And what measure of learning are grades, anyway? I gained so much from my Exceptional Child class, and I talked about what we were learning outside of class on a regular basis, and I still made low B’s on two of our projects. Are A’s worth three hours of sleep a night? Is spending time with friends worth a dip in grades? No matter how many times I thought I could beat the system, they’re right when they say college students have to choose between grades, sleep, and a social life. So right.

College broke me of my legalism in that I have chosen not to feel bad when I do not achieve the goals I arbitrarily (and often thoughtlessly and habitually) set for myself, such as writing more pages than the minimum or not having two caffeinated drinks in one day or limiting my introvert time in favor of giving time to others. College taught that good intentions and a desire to do good are different from the insatiable need to always surpass expectations. I’m a woman, not Superwoman. And when I realized that there was grace for not meeting expectations–mine or another’s–I learned to relax. I learned to show myself grace and to give grace to others.

Believe me, I have a long way to go before I consider myself a gracious (or graceful!) person. One of my biggest pet peeves is incorrect grammar, and my tolerance for bad grammar is very low. I also learned that no matter how confusing or frustrating or irritating people are, they are still in desperate need of grace. To be honest, I am one of those confusing, frustrating, and irritating people myself, and I must learn to give myself grace, which is probably the hardest thing.

I think that the simple act of giving and receiving grace makes me want to keep trying. In my education classes, our professors say that positive reinforcement (giving a reward for good behavior) is the best form of student discipline. I wonder if it works the same way for adults. Grace makes me want to do difficult things to achieve that which is good. I am not shamed or scared into doing those things – I am “loved” into doing them. Grace does not mean that I do not set goals for myself, work to achieve them, or even mess up. It means that when I do mess up, when I do fall short of my goals, I pick myself up and try again. I will fail. I have failed. But I choose not to give up. I choose to keep trying or to modify my goals.

Let It Change You

There is a fine line between holding to your convictions and refusing to let anything mold you. The problem exists when 2014 dawns and you are the exact same person as you were when 2013 was dawning. We must allow what is within and outside us to change and shape us, and one way that college has shaped me was by inviting me to take risks.

I like to know what will happen ahead of time. But if I had known what college would have been like before I began this crazy journey, I would have refused it. I probably would have taken one look at the heartache, the steps (and giant leaps) outside of my comfort zone, the really late nights and really early mornings, and the awkward situations and said, “No, thanks.” In my finite mind, that which is relatively simple, clean-cut, and dare I say “easy is best. I can wrap my mind around it, I can see it, and I can plan appropriately. 

But what would life had been like these past three+ years had I not been required to step out of my comfort zone by leaps and bounds? What life lessons, skills, and attitudes would I have come out of college with had I not known the all-surpassing joy of depending upon God for literally everything?

College has taught me to be willing to let circumstances, people, events, attitudes, knowledge, and passions change me. I intend to keep letting these things change me, especially as I embark on my student teaching trip in less than twenty days.

I will board a plane for Seoul, South Korea, spend a layover in Bangkok, and then arrive in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I will spend three months student teaching, volunteering, and sight-seeing. My plan is to spend five days in Hong Kong following Thailand to see friends and visit familiar places I enjoyed in 2012. I will then have four flights to make it back home by mid-April. This is the longest trip I have ever been on, period, not to mention the fact that it is both my longest overseas trip and my furtherest trip from home by myself. Now that I think about it, this is actually a little crazy. Part of me can’t blame my parents for being a bit uneasy about sending their daughter to Asia for over three months.

But this is just like me. I hate doing what everyone else is doing. Well over half of my high school graduating class went to big state universities. I enrolled at a tiny Christian college in the next state over. Typically, student teachers spend a semester observing and teaching at the local public school near our college. I’m flying half-way around for mine. I’m willing to make it happen–to stay up until 4am, to pay $20 to overnight letters and money orders (twice), to struggle with time zones and fees and plane tickets and vaccination appointments–because I want it. I want the different opportunities because they matter to me. Because broadening my horizons (figuratively and literally) matters to me. Because loving on ninth grade missionary kids matters to me.

Follow Your Passion

There is this drive and passion and desire that sits in a place in my soul. Sometimes it peeks out from behind obligations or baggage or whatnot and whispers words of courage. Other times, it raises cain and roars for all to hear. I have been reading Allison Vesterfelt’s book Packing Light and I came across her discussion of the passion and desire in herself, and how she realized that maybe the desire was good. I think that many people growing up in the church have forgotten that passion and desire can be really God-honoring things. She writes that she had lost passion until a friend asked her to pursue her dream, and then the passion emerged. Her desire, no holds barred, was to take a road trip to all fifty US states, and she did it.

For all of my life, I have wanted the stainless-steel kitchen/Cuisinart mixer/Pinterest ideas/Room Mom life. I’ve wanted silver jewelry and little kids in matching outfits and everything-from-scratch and a planner full of appointments and playdates and coffee dates. I think I still want a life that resembles those things, or at least, embodies the good things of a life like that. However, I’m willing to follow my inner passion even if it means excluding some of those things. I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that life can look different, really different from my original plan – and that is okay. Maybe the desire, the passion is what is good and long-lasting. Along the way it is going to take work. A passion for teaching English has erupted into this crazy four year journey through long nights and busy weeks and not nearly enough time. And it might be a bit boring (English Literature, anyone?), but it is a passion I am pursuing. Why? Because, like Frederick Buechner wrote: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” There just happens, of course, to always be a need for teachers in this world. That’s where my passion and the need of others collide.

When I was in high school, I wrote an auto-biographical paper for a school assignment. I finished my concluding paragraph asking the reader to wish me well as I “throw caution to the wind and embark on the journey to adulthood.” It was a bit cheesy for a high school assignment, but I feel like those words have become, in a sense, a self-fulling prophecy. I am still a very cautious person, but I am embracing the decisions to give (and accept) grace, let life change me, and follow my passions. Life is an adventure.