Every year for the past several years I’ve identified a word for the year. I used to only choose a word for our church. Now I choose a word for our church and a word for our family. In the past the word has often been based on a concept or an idea that I couldn’t get off my mind. It usually spawned from lessons The Lord was teaching me the final couple months of the previous year. I’ve always want this word to provide us with a unified sense of purpose and direction for the coming year - in one case for our volunteers and staff, and in the other for my family.
The first time I came up with a word for the year for Resonate was in 2013. The word God put on my heart was the word “dig.” I believed the theme we needed to focus on that year was to dig deep roots in our city and community, dig our heels in against discouragement and disappointment, dig in with and develop deeper relationships with people in our church and people in our community. I knew our impact as a church would only extend as wide as our roots were deep. I knew we needed to be firmly planted so that the storms we would inevitably face wouldn't uproot us.
Then at the end of 2014, Amanda and I both felt that we needed to establish a word for the year for our family along with a Bible verse for the year that would correspond with it. This word and verse would help us keep our eyes fixed on the things that mattered most that year. So at the beginning of 2015 we chose the word “Trust.”
The end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 marked some seasons of high anxiety for us on both fronts — ministry and family. We were relaunching the church while moving into a bigger rental facility that would require a large amount of fundraising. We were five months into parenthood and partially because God had asked us to empty our retirement accounts and give it all to the church during the relaunch, and partially because we didn’t have great insurance when Weston was born, we were watching our personal finances dwindle.
Trust seemed to be the only appropriate word for 2015.
So we chose the verse “He will keep in perfect peace him who’s mind is steadfast because he trusts in You” from Isaiah 26:3. We knew the next year would be a close partnership with God. Our part was to trust, and God’s part would be to bring us peace in the midst of our circumstances.
So Amanda wrote Isaiah 26:3 on a chalkboard window and hung it up in the dining nook in our house. We had to remember to trust God that year when we relaunched the church and not as many people as we expected showed up. We had to remember to trust God that year when our personal savings dwindled to a meager $500. I had to remember to trust God that year when He took Amanda home to heaven through unspeakable tragedy. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Isaiah 26:3 chalkboard window was hung just around the corner from where I found Amanda that November morning.
I’m not sure exactly when the word for 2016 became clear to me as my typical reflection and planning months of November, December, and January had been ransacked by grief and loss. It must have been some point in May or June of 2016 that the word “Survive” began to emerge and that’s exactly what 2016 felt like, survival mode. My goal was simply to survive the myriad of emotions I was left to juggle, survive being a single dad, survive the temptation to give up on life and the church. My verse for the year became very appropriately Psalm 23:4, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
As 2016 came to a close and 2017 dawned the word “Heal” became my focus. Even though I thought the bulk of my healing would take place in 2016, I quickly realized early in 2017 I was on edge, paranoid, anxious, and responding to people with less patience than I would have before. I felt less motivated, apathetic, and exhausted. I couldn’t understand why at the time, but now I can recognize that for the last two years I’ve been in emotional triage. 2016 was spent stitching up the flesh wounds, and 2017 would be when the deeper healing would occur.
I chose 1 Peter 5:10 for 2017: “After you suffer for a little while, the God of all grace will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish your feet.” The end of 2017 was the beginning of the fruition of this promise for Weston and me. I was overwhelmed with both floods of elation and twinges of pain on December 17th as I watched Kristi Monroy walk down the aisle, take my hand, and stand by my side as a powerful symbol of God’s love and desire to restore in our lives out of the abyss.
The last couple of months of 2017 has shown me that true healing after loss can’t take place until you open up the wound that’s been covered and step into the vulnerable choice to love again.
Now, three years after my first family word of the year designation, I’m sitting on an airplane next to my new bride flying home from Dover, DE where I preached to a congregation this weekend about trusting God during tragedy and trial. Kristi and I have spent the past several weeks in conversation about our word for the year.
The word we chose is Flow.
Now I know that can seem like an unusual word, but Kristi and I feel strongly that what we need and what our family needs this year more than anything is to create a healthy rhythm — or flow — to what has been two very chaotic lives. For both of us 2015 was marked by pain and trial that led us each to spend the past two years fighting for survival and healing. Our lives were both upended by traumatic events and now is the time to begin rebuilding a new family, to plant ourselves again by waters that will bring new life.
Part of our decision to marry before 2017 came to a close was to jump into what could be a crazy and exciting year together, as a family. Kristi is finishing up her last several months of PA school and has a very sporadic schedule. She should graduate at the beginning of October. Right about that time I should be releasing the book Nothing is Wasted. Between now and then our schedules will be filled with kids’ school and activities, leading and pastoring the church, traveling to share our story with ministries and organizations all over the country, and walking through two murder trials. If we’re not careful this year could throw our family into an unhealthy frenzy where we perpetually feel behind, frazzled and disconnected from The Lord and each other. For that reason, our aim this year is to be very intentional about our calendar and time together as a family. We want our FLOW to be life-giving to us and others around us, not life-depleting.
Our word comes from Ezekiel 47:12:
“. . . Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
Let me tell you some practical things this means for us as a family this year.
- Being very intentional and disciplined with our personal time with Jesus
- Limiting long stints of ministry travel . . . keep them to one or two nights at most
- Limiting our recurring weekly commitments so that our weekly calendar doesn’t fill up too quickly
- A kidless date night with Kristi every week
- A date with the kids each week
- Evening meals and bedtime with the kids as often as possible where we take seriously our role to teach our kids about Jesus and his love for us
- A carved out Sabbath each week — or day of no work to just rest (together if our schedules allow)
- A 7-10 day kidless vacation
- A 5-7 day family vacation
I’ve found that creating a healthy FLOW is a monumental step in my healing journey. A couple months before Amanda passed away she and I had just begun to operate in a healthy flow for our family. After a couple years of the daily grind of getting a church off the ground combined with the first year of Weston’s life, our rhythm felt off. So we went to work about being more intentional with our calendar. Just as we began getting accustomed to a healthy rhythm, tragedy struck. To be honest with you my spirit has felt resistant and anxious about creating a healthy rhythm for fear that once I do, something bad will happen again. Really the very act of working toward FLOW this year is another act of TRUST. Trust that God is great, He’s in control, He’s good and even if tragedy were to strike again, He’ll see us through it.
Have you created a word for the year? If so, share it with me! I’d love to hear it! If not, I’d challenge you to sit down with your spouse and talk about what it would look like to focus your life and family around one concept this year.