Heeding the sabbatical call.

Planning for sabbatical is a two-fold endeavor. On one hand, it is all head—logistics, timing, finances. On the other, it’s all heart—intuition, discernment, intention, preparation.

The head part is all practical, and honestly, it’s pretty easy to work out once you’ve made the commitment. It might not happen overnight, nearly 18 months in my case, but you can chart the path and start making progress against your goals. That’s a whole other blog.

The heart part is a journey unto itself.

Some of it happens in preparation; some of it is only work you can do when you have stepped out of the boat.

I’ll barely crack the surface in one blog. Honestly, this started to get really long, so I’m just going to highlight intuition and discernment in this post, hit intention and preparation in the next, and hopefully continue to work out these themes in future blogs.

In the 18+ months before I actually embarked on my sabbatical, I prayed. A lot. I’m aware of the blessing and privilege of even being able to do something like take time off from work, and I don’t take the responsibility of that blessing lightly.

I felt the call to sabbatical, but I didn’t want to throw up my hands and walk out on my job (although I do think God can work through that if you do end up going the light-everything-on-fire route). I wanted to do right by my employer, my teams, and myself. I also wanted to be really intentional about how I spent my time.

A sabbatical, however long it is, is a finite season. Its purpose should be to bring forth the work on the other side of it, to sow seeds in rest that you’ll harvest for years. And a month, three months, six months, or a year can fly by you.


Intuition is the whisper of the Holy Spirit, although you may be more comfortable calling it a gut feeling. Sometimes, the whisper tells you to steer clear of a person or place. Sometimes, the whisper nudges you to reach out to someone who pops into your head over and over. Sometimes, the whisper beckons you out, right to the edge of the shore. It tells you to leave behind the safe place because there is so much more if you’re willing to choose trust over fear.

But listening to your intuition, hearing that holy whisper is work that takes silence and space. Listening takes stillness in our surroundings and in our beings. You won’t hear it if you’re drowning it out with a constant flood of intake—Netflix, a packed schedule, too much wine.

It takes learning to be alone with yourself, and being willing to turn inward and heed what you hear.

A lot of times it feels scary. There’s nothing of what our society values in terms of science or data that will prove your intuition is right. But the wild thing about a life marked by faith is that it looks like one insane leap after another. And once you hear, the responsibility shifts to you. You’ve been told what to do, no matter how risky it seems, will you listen? What will you do?

For me, I felt in my being that I needed more space, to not have my calendar dictated by work, to be able to think and listen. I wanted to write more, sing more, learn, and adventure, do the things that give me joy and fill my being. I’m increasingly convinced that we can build things in this life that last into the next. I think that’s what purpose really is—doing the work we were created to do, to which we can uniquely contribute to building things that last. I want to do that work, but the first step was wild submission—sabbatical.


Discernment is about confirmation and direction. It’s also one of those spiritual words that can seem really vague and amorphous. Basically, it’s the phase where you know your intuition is screaming at you, but you’re still not sure. So let’s go ahead and ask over and over if this is actually what I’m supposed to do. Or maybe that’s just me.

Again, prayer, seeking silence, and creating space to just be and listen are critical. Discernment really is about the push and pull between doubt and determination. And it’s hard to be determined when you can’t hear with your heart.

What’s funny is how simple the elements of seeking guidance are, and how hard they are for us to into practice in our busy, distracted world.

I recommend developing a daily and weekly rhythm of centering. My own morning routine revolutionized my whole life. Every morning, I wake, make tea, read two chapters of the Bible, and pray. I also try to move my body every morning in some form or fashion—class, Peloton, walk, yoga. It takes continual discipline, but sticking to this routine has actually created so much more expansiveness in my life for curiosity and discerning. When I started my morning routine, it was wake, make tea, read a quick devotional, and occasionally pray.

Just start somewhere… maybe it’s wake and sit in stillness for five minutes before you move onto anything else—no phone, email, or rushing straight to start the day—five minutes to pause, be present, and hold space.

Discerning direction really is an ongoing work. Because unfortunately, you can’t discern once and be like, I’m done! All good!

I’m blessed to have some really wise mentors and friends in my life who were willing to ask smart questions and then listen while I worked it out. And I also found it helpful to work with a spiritual director.

Keep asking questions, listening, and writing down what you hear. It’s like putting down a few stones a day at a time on your path. When you start, it’s a handful of stones, but after months and years, you’ve built a path that leads to oceans, mountains, deserts, rivers, to faraway places and hearths around the corner. It’s amazing how it starts to accrue to something you never would have thought at the beginning. And how an insight you write down years ago suddenly crystallizes and connects everything together in your present.

Why sabbatical?

Telling people about my sabbatical has been fascinating.

Friends and family will start with excitement, but then immediately ask when I’m going back to work.

And I usually say something annoyingly noncommittal like, probably in 8-12 months. I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m taking at least eight months off.

Partly, I don’t know what will unfold during this time, and I want to allow for the mystery of allowing for something I can’t foresee. I might take some project work, but that’s about it.

This creates some confusion. So they ask, your job is okay with you just being gone for that long? Because there are rules, lots of rules in the lives we lead. And this seems like a trick.

No, I left my job.

Then it’s usually something like what my neighbor said to me, “oh, so you’re not really on sabbatical, you’re just calling it that.”

Not quite. No, this is a sabbatical. But then they are in for a pretty long-winded explanation.

Culturally, I get that. Sabbatical in western cultures is common in an academic setting, but not so much in a corporate one.

In a corporate context, it can look a lot like it did at my former firm. After seven years, they offered six paid weeks off for sabbatical. In Europe, that’s just called a decent holiday.

Other corporations offer some longer form of sabbatical time. Starbucks, for example, allows for a “coffee break” after 10 years of service—six months unpaid with a guaranteed job on your return. I think that gets closer to the actual intention of sabbatical.

Sabbatical finds its roots biblically, whether we recognize it or not. And the roots are in sabbath, or shabbat—which in Hebrew mean “to stop” or “to cease [from work].” There’s also an interesting tie to the word sheva, which is “seven,” which is a biblical symbol of wholeness or completeness.

Humans and creation live in cycles—days, weeks, months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, millennia.

Every seven days for those of us who have a sabbath practice, we shabbat—we stop—and we rest and nestle in to all that’s been given. In the busyness of our modern context, it’s hard to think of stopping work, not getting ahead on email or finishing a project for a whole entire day.

But the biblical practice doesn’t stop there. Every seven years, in a continual cycle of rest and work, in the Torah, Israel is called on to take a sabbath year, a sabbatical year. It’s called the year of release.

And it’s radical. Debts are to be cancelled. Lands returned to their owners. So no one hoards too much, or accumulates too much land, or holds too much power over their brother or sister.

It is to be a sabbath year of rest for all people and for creation—Israelites, their servants, and the land.

It’s an ancient practice, and there is wisdom in it.

There is a rhythm of resting and working built in to the creative order that we ignore. And I think that’s to our detriment as humans. And who knows? Maybe even the world is crying out for us to let it rest.

Think about it: we’re supposed to let creation, all creation—the people and the land—rest every seven years. Just from an agricultural standpoint, we know the benefit of letting land rest. Letting it lie fallow allows it to regain its nutrients and strength—it increases the yield of the land. Rest brings forth a harvest.

I think it’s the same for humans. Rest reveals, it brings forth our work, lets us see more clearly the next harvest. Rest gives time and space, it creates room for presence with God and loved ones. To truly be in the moment you’re living, not with a mind racing to the deadlines and demands of work.

And rest requires trust.

Because in practicality, *you’re not working!*

How will all the ends meet?

It seems to make no sense, especially not to our understanding—where only our grit and our output provide for our lives. But tied to the sabbath year command is God’s promise to provide, and provide abundantly.

So it’s a call and a challenge to trust that God will do what He says He is going to do, that He will provide, even if we stop.

The world doesn’t spin because I work; and it doesn’t stop spinning because I stop.

It is so wildly opposite to what we’re told to value—work, productivity, drive, ambition.

We don’t live like this in the present moment. We worry about what won’t get done if we stop. Somewhere inside us, we’re afraid it all will fall apart and consequences will be catastrophic.

But I think the consequences of not stopping might be worse—anxiety, fear, apprehension, depression. The list of mental illnesses afflicting our culture are overwhelming. Not to mention a globe wracked with natural disasters and a world full of injustice.

What if we all stopped and admitted trusting in ourselves—in our human innovation, in our human wisdom—isn’t working?

And maybe considered there might be a better way. A way of wisdom for the ages.

So even if it isn’t corporately sanctioned, I’m taking a sabbatical, facing the fear of “what if” and the excitement of possibility. I’m trusting, even if I don’t always believe it, that God will do what He says He’ll do, so I’m nestling into God’s sovereignty and provision.


A couple months ago, I left my job, and I launched myself into an unknown that I haven’t experienced in my professional life—sabbatical.

I’ve been working nonstop since before I graduated from college. In an office by a certain(ish) time, deadlines to meet, expectations to exceed, achievements to rack up. It can be hard to imagine that there’s another way to be.

But over the last several years, as I have considered how I want to apply my time and energy, to what I wanted my effort to accrue, and what really matters, I knew I had to stop.

I wanted a break, a rest, so badly, the time and space to listen to God, listen to myself, and figure out how I can make the most impact with this one wild life I have. How I walk to the end, whenever that is, and look back knowing I did and gave my best to work worth doing. Building things that last.

But all I knew was work, and I couldn’t see another way.

Until a friend asked me, why not… what would it take?

And something shifted, and opened, and I started thinking, and praying, and planning, about how to make a different way.

And slowly, the pieces started coming together.

Sabbatical has its roots in Shabbat, the Sabbath. It’s an ancient practice—a time to stop, rest, and trust in the provision of God. A resting space from which our work flows. We’re made to work from rest.

Deep down, I knew I couldn’t commit to any next step for my career, until I stopped.

It is the space for me to do the work to align my why to my what and my how. To co-create my future with my Creator. To do some more of the creative things that I haven’t really had to time to do in years.

Stepping into this time is thrilling and terrifying. When I gave notice near the beginning of the year, Covid19 was barely a twinkle in anyone’s eye. But even as the shutdowns began, I prayed, turned over the outcome, and the wooing to sabbatical time continued unabated.

So here I am. Wandering in the unknown.

Seeking with hope for what this sacred space holds.


Photo credit: Matt Fons, Mountain Coast Media, Instagram: @mfons

Seek justice.

Let’s consider this scenario. A white woman goes for a run. She’s training for a marathon, so her daily runs have gotten longer, so for a couple weeks, she’s been running through a neighborhood a couple miles away from hers to get the extra training miles in.

A father and son have been sitting on their porch, hanging out, chatting, occasionally cleaning their guns, and have noticed her in the neighborhood. They’re a little suspicious. They don’t recognize her. And she’s back again. They start following her, they heard that their neighbor’s house was vandalized last week, maybe it was this chick. They take the guns they were cleaning as they get in the car. You never know if someone is armed.

They drive up behind the running woman and slow to a crawl, she looks over her shoulder and speeds up. Well, that’s suspicious. They pull up alongside her, shotgun in hand, and shout out the window to her to stop running. They want to talk to her. She glances over and just runs faster.

They can’t let her get away. She might have vandalized the Smiths’ house.

As she crosses the street, they speed up and cut her off. The son jumps out of the front seat with his shotgun, yelling at her to stop, demanding she answer his questions. He runs toward her aiming the shotgun. He shoots. Can’t tell why, maybe to scare her, maybe to stop her. She pushes him away. But he persists. She tries to get the shotgun away from him and he pulls the trigger a second time. Blood spatters from her hand that he just blew away.

She looks terrified. Like she knows what’s next. She wildly punches at him and tries to pull the gun away from him in her last desperate attempt to save her life. He pulls the trigger again. She stumbles back, blood seeping out from her chest, and falls to the ground. The son’s dad runs up and turns her over. There’s blood everywhere. She’s dead.

He stands up over her body next to his son. They start to notice neighbors are watching. And there they are: two black men standing over the body of a dead white woman.

What would you think? What would happen next? What should happen next?

Because that happened. It happened to a young black man named Ahmaud Arbery. Only, the two men standing over his body were white.

I’m so angry. I want justice for this young man. And I don’t have any ability to do anything about that. To make a prosecutor do the right thing—which is to arrest and prosecute the perpetrator/s.

But I do have my voice and my privilege. I’m very aware of the gift of both. And I will raise my voice and throw my white lady privilege behind the cause of justice because this murder breaks my heart. And I truly hope it breaks yours, too.

This is not okay. It needs to stop.

We wonder why bad things happen. We’re good people, we think. No, we are people who tell ourselves that we’re good people and allow injustice to flourish. It must end.

I’m a conservative. I’ve worked for multiple Republican office holders. I’m a strict constructionalist. I believe deeply in the Constitution and our constitutional rights as a citizenry. I believe in the 2nd amendment.

If you are those things, if you believe in the constitution, then you should also want these murderers brought to justice. Injustice, especially injustice perpetrated by systems of justice, undermines the rule of law.

We are a nation of laws. And we allow the justice system to deal with criminals. We don’t shoot people in the street.

If you suspect someone of a crime, call the police (for the record, it seems pretty clear there was no crime that took place, other than Ahmaud’s murder). Don’t chase the person down with a deadly weapon. Of course, Ahmaud ran away. This father and son had no legal right or authority to stop him, they are NOT the police, and they were brandishing multiple guns.

If someone is driving a car after me waving a gun and telling me to stop, I’m trying to get away as fast as possible. If they physically try to block me from leaving, I’m defending myself, I’m fighting for my life. Which it turns out is exactly what Ahmaud was doing, and he lost that fight.

This father and son decided Ahmaud was bad or had done something bad, that’s clear from their statements to police, they believed he robbed several houses (even though there was only one reported robbery in the neighborhood all year). So they got together a cadre of guns and went to confront him. They didn’t call the police first. Instead, they made themselves judge, jury, and ultimately, executioner. And then the dad, who is very familiar with the criminal justice system as a retired district attorney’s office investigator, made up the most plausible explanation to tell law enforcement.

This is insanity. Only made worse by the decision not to arrest and prosecute. Maybe they didn’t intend for it to end this way, I certainly hope that’s the case. But the reality is, they took Ahmaud’s life.

I am also a Christ follower. I love and fear God. I read the Bible.

If you are also those things, then you know God’s expectation that we seek justice for the oppressed.

And you, too, should hear Ahmaud’s blood cry out from the ground for justice.




*Photo taken from publicly available sources. Please contact me if it should be taken down.


Socials fasting…

When my friend asked if I wanted to join her in giving up social media for Lent, I hesitated. Mostly because I wasn’t sure I could do it. And I didn’t want to make a promise I couldn’t keep.

And with the realization that I legitimately might fail at choosing to not mindlessly scroll for 6.5 weeks, I had to do it. I don’t want anything man-made to have that kind of power over me.

On Fat Tuesday, I deleted and hid all social media apps on my phone. And as I launched myself into a social media-free existence, it became really clear how much of my time on social is just mindless habit. A flip-flip-flip… unlock phone, flip to social apps, click on Instagram. By just putting Instagram in a different place on my phone, it was enough to remind me that the choice was mine. I could either go hunt for it, or choose not to worry about it.

Although I did spend the first few days wondering what to do with my hands, the choice was shockingly easy.

When I first gave up social media, coronavirus was just a hint of something that might be a thing. I remember going to Target with my ashes on because I had an inkling I might need to get some Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. By the following Monday, the world as we knew it was starting to unravel.

A social media fast in the midst of our collective social contact fast turned into an unexpected and prescient blessing.

Everything on social media is looking for a reaction. Literally, we click on our reaction… hearts, likes, dislikes, laughter, horror. But what is happening right now, it’s a lot. I still haven’t fully processed it. I’m not sure I’ve even started. I don’t think any of us have. And if you are having a reaction right now, it might be different with a little more time and space. I know it all is a little confused inside me. Social media is full of emotions, thoughts, opinions, and too. much. news.

The last thing I needed/need was the little space I have between work, news, updates, checking in and with family and friends, and my own reactions and feelings to be crowded by a barrage of input from an algorithm.

I did miss seeing updates and photos from family and friends. But text and FaceTime filled in the gaps. And I missed memes. A lot. Like a lot a lot.

But I think the biggest lesson is pretty similar to what I observed in the beginning – it’s a choice. And I get to choose what I allow into my spiritual space, my brain space, my emotional space, and my heart space.

Social media is a vice and virtue. A paradox. Another time, I’ll ponder on paradox. But that’s what it is.

There is so much good. Connection across distance and isolation. Humor, love, caring, sharing. And there’s a lot of not good stuff, too.

As it dawned on me Easter Sunday that I could go back on the socials, I hesitated. Mostly because I don’t want to go back to a place where I’m not sure I can give it up. I’ve treasured the sacred space my Lenten social fast created.

I’ll go back on tomorrow. I think.

A Lenten journey—preparation for discernment.

As I prepared for my 2018 project, I knew I was being called to do work. Dig deep in myself, ask tough questions, actually answer them. And I innately knew this process would not be easy or quick.

I looked at the year and mapped out things I know that I’ll want to pursue—art, adventure, new experiences, peace—that may yield some revelation to help define and articulate my purpose, my why. Or just be fun. But in order to get to those things, I knew I need to lead from deep rooting in my internal life. I need to be able to hear God and hear myself. And in order to hear, I would have to listen.

Before I move to months focused on my home, my music, or my writing, it was critical that I practice and develop the disciplines of discernment. These are foundational to my journey.

Discernment is defined as the ability to judge well, and within the Faith, it is further defined as judging well by obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.

So how to do this? I crowdsourced. I’m fortunate to have a lot of pastors in my life, and I asked all of them for their advice, perspectives, and reading recommendations. Insight about discernment doesn’t have to come from a pastor, but I do think the intense schooling helps produce a strong point of view on the study of the spiritual disciplines.

Initially, my plan was to focus on the discernment for February. Then I started studying, and I realized I needed more space. Space to practice what I was learning, space to listen. Especially with a super busy February at work, I did not want to shortchange the work. And it’s my project, so I get to choose how I spend my time. I decided spend two months—February and March—on discernment.

Once I considered moving to a two-month focus, I realized that the church calendar beautifully aligned with this desire. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day, the contemplation of Lent would bring a spiritual weight to my time in the disciplines. And Easter on April 1 would lead me out of the months of reflection—hopefully, with some additional habits developed around the disciplines to carry into the rest of my year.

I read Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, which teaches about the 12 spiritual disciplines of discernment. Twelve is a lot of disciplines, so I concentrated on meditation and silence. As an extreme extrovert, these two are tough disciplines for me. But once I started, I found myself craving time alone, quiet, and more and more space to listen.

Since I had begun my year mastering my morning, I was able to make time for meditation in the mornings and on weekends. One discipline was a building block for another.

Full disclosure, I also tried to add fasting, but failed pretty miserably at it. Mostly because I would forget to fast. I’m only a half-Cath, not a full Cath, and I don’t have that muscle memory around fasting. Perhaps for later in the year… the one time I managed a full fast, it was centering.

When I started, I thought I would spend the whole time discerning, if I got quiet, it would be full revelation. But revelation is a process, and God refuses to be rushed. Judging well with spiritual direction—whether my next steps or truths about myself—is not a one-and-done. You get one message at a time. And sometimes, it’s not one you want to hear. And then you sit with it, in the silence or in the noise of life, wrestle, journal, step back, re-engage, and in this pondering, the truth comes alive. And what’s crazy, the vibrant truth, revealing itself piece by piece, is just the beginning of the work.


Photo credit: Matt Fons

Master the morning.

I am not a morning person.

It’s hard to underscore how much of an understatement that sentence is.

Here’s how mornings have typically gone for me before I started my 2018 project. It doesn’t matter how many hours I’ve slept, I wake up thinking, can I just go back to sleep? And I’m a little mad. Not at anyone or anything, just a general state of being mad.

My brain doesn’t function. I can stand in my closet for 15… 25 minutes staring at my clothes and realize no conscious thought has passed through my mind in this time. I usually hit snooze for anywhere from 30-60 minutes and then mutter curse words under my breath while I tell myself, “skin, teeth, hair, clothes, makeup.” I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want the lights on, I don’t want any noise. Just let me make peace in myself with the fact that I had to wake up.

Basically, it’s not a great way to start the day.

As I started thinking about how I wanted to ground myself for my project, I wanted to start the year with developing better habits, establishing the foundational steps to making everything else work for my 2018 project. And this starts with revolutionizing my morning routine. I need to Master the Morning, rather than let the morning master me. And my January focus took shape.

As I thought about how I wanted to spend my mornings, how I wanted to approach the start of my day, I focused on building a morning ritual grounded in my top two principles: 1) turn to God, and 2) discipline is a muscle.

For the month of January, my daily morning ritual would be: wake, devotional, pray/meditation, scribe/journal, move. To do this well and with intention, I need an hour. So how do I squeeze another hour from the day?

Pretty much all research on the topic says establishing a regular sleep rhythm helps to get adequate sleep. And I had to get adequate rest for my brain and body to function, so revolutionizing my mornings would start with revolutionizing my evenings. I needed to get control of my bedtime.

I’m a night owl. Always have been. If my natural body clock wasn’t subjected to a world order controlled by early birds, it would be bedtime at 2 a.m. and wakeup at 10 a.m. But that’s not an option. So I have tended to struggle to fall asleep before midnight, sometimes much later, while still waking up early for work, and then spend most of life sleep deprived.

Since I needed to pick a bedtime and a wake time that I could realistically expect myself to keep, I decided on 11 p.m. and up at 6 a.m. I use the bedtime setting in my iPhone alarm clock app, and I listened to all the music for waking and picked the most soothing, least annoying tone to my ear.

Then I defined my non-negotiables—start winding down at 10 p.m., in bed and lights off at 11 p.m., no hitting snooze, and no going back to bed. I wake up and get out of bed with the first alarm and even if I still do a lot of staring into space and wishing I were back in bed, no getting back in bed.

So far, at three weeks in, it’s made a drastic difference in my ability to start my days peacefully and with intention. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I don’t get into work any earlier, but I get there more focused and ready to dive into whatever is on my plate.

I’m not perfect, but I have gotten up with the first alarm every morning and I don’t go back to bed. Even if I’m groggy and mad, which I am. I sit in the same spot on my couch and move through my morning ritual. I did find that jumping straight into devotional and meditation was causing some head bobbing, so I’ve made adjustments.

Currently, I wake, start coffee, stretch, pray for my intentions, get coffee, read my devotional, pray and journal, and then move. Usually a walk. You know, if it’s not raining.

Pursuing Purpose: My 2018 Project.

I love the New Year. I love resolutions. I love talking and thinking and puzzling and planning. Everything about it, I love it all.

At New Year, we mark what has gone before, honor the journey that has led us to the present moment, and hope for the growth ahead.

And if you’re like me, you make a plan.

Obviously, you can start any time, but I like the forced reflection that the turning of the calendar brings. Recognizing the unrelenting passage of time. The push forward, ever forward, whether you want to go or not.

Typically, I reflect on resolutions and look at approaching the year ahead in broad themes of how I want to be. And then I ladder up small specific goals to those themes.

Since 2012, turn to God has been at the top of my list. It still is, but my approach this year is different. Less free form, more methodical. It’s a project.

My bestie and I decided to start a long distance book club last fall. We listen to books on Audible and then discuss on the phone. We read The Happiness Project, and an idea germinated—what would a project like this look like for each of us?

The author’s project started because she wanted to be happier and wondered if it was possible to change habits and actively pursue happiness. As she notes, research shows happiness is a largely dispositional proposition. Basically, each person has a happiness range, and my general disposition is a pretty happy one. So I don’t really need a happiness project.

I’m more of a seeker. And what I am pursuing is purpose.

Purpose feels intangible, almost ephemeral. We all talk about it a lot, but there’s not a lot of substance to what the it is. But all current research points to needing a sense of purpose to engage your intrinsic motivation, find flow, and achieve a sense of fulfillment.

So how do you find this purpose? And once you do, once you can clearly articulate it, how do you pursue it?

I don’t have answers to those questions, not yet. That’s the work ahead of me.

What I liked about The Happiness Project is the author’s organized approach. Be clear about your priorities, set goals, and map actionable steps to those priorities and goals with a monthly focus on one area.

So on January 2 (because we all deserve a day to recover from NYE), I began my 2018 project. A name for it doesn’t feel like it’s fully materialized yet. And rather than get hung up on a name, for now, it’s just my project.

12 months focused on my priorities, pursuing my goals, and grounded in principles that I articulated for how I want to live and be in the world and in my interactions with others.

My priorities are:

  1. Faith.
  2. Family. Friends.
  3. Love.
  4. Art.
  5. Fulfilling work.
  6. Creating beauty.
  7. Living generously.
  8. Travel. Adventure.

Every month will have a different focus area. My intention is for each of my month-long focus areas to be building blocks that develop better disciplines and habits to achieve my overall goals. For example, in January, I’m working to Master the Morning because developing a better morning routine is foundational to achieving the rest of the project.

My bestie is doing her own project. And hers looks different from mine.

I may annoyingly love the New Year and New Year’s resolutions. But it’s because of the promise it holds, the questions it begs… Will you grow? Will you go forward changed? Will you take paths to better yourself? Will you do the hard work?

Some years we need a rest, but that’s not 2018 for me. It’s time to go deep, know myself better, and do some work.

And if you are on a similar journey or are interested in getting started on your own, I would love to have a conversation about what’s working and what’s not. Mutual encouragement and learning is an amazing thing. There’s never a bad time to start.

Four things to do when there are no good words.

Recently, a good friend asked me how to support a dear friend encountering a devastating loss.  There are no good words, he said.

My friend isn’t wrong.

My hope is that my journey through grief can light a path for others. While everyone’s experience is different, here are four ways that I would suggest to encourage those in your community walking through loss and grief.

  1. Be a haven.

A haven is a place of safety or refuge, a shelter. In the storm of grief, seek to be a shelter for your friend. Whether that is by opening your home or a bottle of wine. There are so many ways to do this, but it’s important to know there are two things grieving people need to feel deep in their bones to feel safe:

You are loved.

Say it, show it, let your actions do the talking. When your heart is ripped apart, you need to know that others care that your heart heals. That you heal. That you matter to them. Your wholeness, the care of you matters to them.

As humans, we want to be accepted. When a loved one passes, it upends your support network, one of your go-to people is no longer here with you. You worry that you don’t or won’t matter to anyone else.

There are lots of ways to show love, and everyone receives and feels it differently. Think about the ways your friend or loved one expresses their love to you. Odds are, that’s their love language. Mirror it back to them. Gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, or some combination of a few or all. Figure out how they will feel you love them and do that.

And then say it, say it, say it. Even when you don’t hear it back. Say it.

You are not alone.

When my Mom passed, I felt so alone. Actually, I didn’t realize that I felt alone until my best friends told me over and over, that I was not alone. I felt such relief. Those words made me cry.

But the ways our community showed up over and over let me know it is true. Prayers, texts, emails, meals, flowers, visits, cards, calls.

Some of my Mom’s best friends sent notes on significant dates. My godmother accompanied me to doctor’s appointments after I ruptured my ACL. The kindness of it is overwhelming.

Pay attention and put the significant dates in your calendar—the day of the month and check in at one month, six months, a year. Check in every year during the month of the anniversary of the passing. For friends who have lost spouses, write down their wedding anniversary. Know holidays will be raw and difficult for those grieving, so find a way to reach through busyness that surrounds holidays to say I see you and your pain is not forgotten.

  1. Acknowledge the shitty.

I don’t know anyone who is walking through grief who hasn’t looked around and gone, this is some bullshit. And it is.

No matter how it happens, whether a long illness or in an instant; no matter the age of the loved one who passed. The gaping hole of their absence will be something your friend deals with for the rest of her or his life.

Acknowledge it. Doesn’t even have to be complicated. Just put it on the table, look at it, and know that not trying to cover it up in some platitude is a way to unflinchingly see and affirm the grieving process. Say the nice things, too, but let’s all start with being honest.

  1. Listen, be present, and just be.

When a loved one passes, you honestly don’t know what you’ll need or when you’ll need it. You don’t how things will get put back together again or if they ever will.

There are all different kinds of people—introverts, extroverts, introverted extroverts, etc. Some people will need to talk. Maybe a lot. Some will want to lose themselves in nature. Sometimes, your extroverts will just want to sit with someone in silence. Do all those things.

Some will want to pray together. Others will want to cry out to God in anger. Give grace for that. Hold their hand through it, literally or in spirit. And provide a safe space for that process.

Ask the how are you doing question, mean it, and be ready to really listen. Don’t shy away from asking the question. Don’t worry that you’ll remind them of their loved one. They do not forget for a moment that their loved one is not here. Ask the question, give the space to answer or not, and follow their lead.

  1. Bring the joy.

Loss is deep water. And joy knows how to reach into the deep, how to cut into the darkness with light. Joy can abide with grief in a wounded spirit and give it a hug.

Find ways to honor, remember, and share. If you know the person who passed, share stories—not just the proper ones, but the funny ones, sassy ones, inappropriate ones. Your friend knows who their loved one is. I love hearing stories about my Mom. Especially when she was being sassy. The lady is no wilting flower, I know she’s sassy. She was sassy with me all the time, and opinionated, and bossy. She loves to giggle. The best giggle. Talking about her, hearing how she impacted the people in her life, sharing memories is such a loving way my friends and family let me know the difference she made to each of them. And I’m so proud of who she is, so I love to hear about the way she lives on in the lives of others who love her.

And encourage your friend to celebrate. It could be small things. But find the small things that lift the spirit. Share photos on social or send hard copies through the mail, so they can be framed. Ask how or if they want to mark significant milestones and support them in it. Do activities with your friend that their loved one enjoyed or that they always did together. Be ready to share a meal, make a drive, or jump on a flight if you’re able.

Finally, don’t get bogged down in trying to do the perfect thing. Keep it simple, keep it real. Show up, show love.

Good things happen on J5.

“Mom, good things happen on J5,” I said on June 4, 2016.

My Mom had asked if I wanted to spend Sunday, June 5, organizing and decorating my new apartment. And I told her J5, as I referred to it, was for reflection and celebration, so I was going to the beach.

The next day, I packed a bag with my Bible, books, journals, and sunscreen and prepared to go to brunch on the beach. I hugged my Mom as I headed out, told her I love her, and she grabbed beach towels for me. She was going to a church meeting at noon. I’m pretty sure I probably told her again that good things happen on J5. Sounds like something I would do. Kissed her cheek and hugged her big again. She is so little. And I walked out the door.

It was the last time I spoke with her.

For years, June 5, or J5, has been a day worth celebrating.

In late 2011, I took a risk, moving to Wisconsin to work for a Governor who was being recalled. No U.S. governor in history had ever won a recall election.

On June 5, 2012, we won. Not just a little bit, by a larger margin than the Gov had won his first election. In a victory that stunned pundits and changed the course of a state, I think for the better.

The risk, the stress, the hard work had all paid off. Victory was sweet and it was ours.

That race forged friendships for a lifetime. And we marked the next J5 with celebration.

Good things happen on J5.

In spring 2014, I was stunned to find out one of my cousins had a malignant brain tumor. We are the same year in school and had been getting into just the right amount of trouble together for years. His illness hit me hard.

On June 5, 2014, he had brain surgery to remove the tumor.

As I sat praying on a blanket in a lakeside park, one of my Wisconsin friends texted me: “good things happen on J5.” It made me smile and lifted my spirits. A few hours later, I got a call, the surgery was a success.

My friend was right. Good things happen on J5.

Last year, as I sat down to brunch, I got a phone call from my Mom. It seemed strange because I had just seen her, and I picked up.

It was our pastor’s wife. She said my Mom had fainted during the church meeting, paramedics were there, and they were asking about her medications. Sensing something much worse was going on, I raced home to grab her medication, threw it in my beach bag, and drove toward church.

Last June 5th started my family on a 10-day journey toward an earthly end, an anguished goodbye. A journey laced with tears, sadness, and pain. A journey filled with Hope, and Faith, and Love. A steadfast Hope that doesn’t fail even when everything you used to know falls apart, a Faith that binds us together with the strings of eternity, and a Love that doesn’t let go, sweetly, soothingly, silently, it doesn’t let go.

It is the formidable faith of my Momma that is her greatest legacy. It is the unrelenting faith of my Momma that taught us where to anchor our souls. And it is the quiet faith of my Momma that leads to our greatest Hope.

Last year, June 5th became the pivot point for the rest of my life. But it is still a day to celebrate.

Because a year ago, on June 5, my Mom lived. She lived long enough for us to hold her and for us to be able to let her go gracefully.

So all is grace. And good things happen on J5.