For the past three years I’ve picked a word. I’ve used this word like a rudder, to steer myself, or like a map, to help me determine my course. I’ve used it like a mantra to help me stay focused and like a lens through which I see the minutiae of my life. I’ve learned the consistent pace of my own self when I chose breathe. I’ve learned about how my cracks only make space for Glory to shine through when I chose enough. Last year my one word was story where I worked out each misstep, each adventure, each heart swell, each struggle as a tale to be told. And while these words have spoken beauty and truth into my life, I was ready to try something else.
On New Year’s Eve, when the conversation drifted to our words, I just spun something, noncommittal, and threw it in, but really I thought that’s where it would end for me. Part of it, yes, was that I didn’t feel an attachment to, a calling out from, a word yet. But I have this confession, too: I don’t like to swim with the whole school of fish. Mostly, I swim a little crookedy, if not entirely upstream. It seems like it has become vogue now to forgo resolutions and instead broadcast your word to the world. I’m not much with keeping up with current trends, and I tend to avoid bandwagons, so I thought this might be my year to do something else, jump out of the river on this one, hike into territory unexplored.
About a week ago, though, I stepped out of the shower with my word. Something about that space that is mine, without toddler hands and small voices, and the ambient sound of water occupying the part of my brain that is too noisy, and the depth of my mind rises to the surface. I spun the towel around my hair and walked out to Mark to tell him.
“My word – I’ve got it. It’s Learn.”
Here’s what I can tell you: I am not a perfectionist. Never have been. I’m ok with ruffled edges, fuzzy corners, the imperfectly perfect. But it is hard for me not to be good at something. I’ve always been a good student. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing ‘atta girl’ for very little effort. And when I don’t? Well, I take it as a sign. Not my thing. I walk away, leave it to someone better fit for the task.
Years ago, before we had kids and time was less of a hoarded commodity, Mark took up golfing. He enjoyed being with his friends, and being outside, and he is a natural athlete in all things. After a while, we both thought it might be nice for me to learn to play with him. One terrible hour at the driving range, and I was done. I have not picked up a golf club since (putt-putt notwithstanding). Because I take instruction terribly. I frustrate easily when I don’t get it right the first time. While I know intellectually that I should, of course, not be good at golf yet, since I have never played before, my emotional core could not adjust to the learning curve. I wanted to play golf. I wanted to be good (enough). I wanted to hit the ball and see it go (mostly) straight and (pretty) far, and I wanted to keep up with Mark. But instead, I gave up. I was done.
I did not learn. I did not put the time in, the effort and energy to practice, to study and to work it out. Instead, I walked away.
There was a time in my life when I would have congratulated myself. I would have patted myself on the back for finding my edges, recognizing my limitations. I would have been up front and positive about who I was: I am not a golfer, but I am an artist. I am not good at packing a car, but I can roast a nice chicken. It was about accepting myself for what I was, not wishing that I was something else. And it worked back then. But as I get older, as I parent my children, I realize that what needed to be protected when I was younger (my insecure vision of myself) now needs to be pushed towards growth.
There is this poster that hangs in Griffin’s room. It is a Nikki McClure print, mostly black and white, of peas growing all tangeldy towards the sky. They are held up, woven through twine, as they stretch up. The print is called “Learn.” Learn. Those peas, with their curly-cue tendrils and delicate blooms, need to be trained up. They need to be supported, held in place, or else their sprawl would rot them into the ground, unable to get the sun, the air, the space that they need to grow into the fullest truth of what they are as peas.
This year, I’m going to fix myself to that twine. I’m going to learn how to reach the sun. I’m going to take the weight off of the higgledy-piggledy tendrils of myself to be immediately good at something. I’m going to accept the work it takes to learn, the insecurity of first steps. To say ‘I don’t know how. But I’m going to find out.’ I’m going to be curious of every moment: what lesson is for me here? Learn, even knowing that I may never be proficient. Maybe I never will be a great golfer, or even a good one. But maybe that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t learn how to hit the ball, how to align my hips, eyes on the ball and follow through. Even when my ball flies into the sand trap.
Renee is learning how to write her name. Grant is how one word with another and another makes a sentence, and how to string them all together to make a story. Griffin is learning how to undo safety latches on cabinets. And I want to learn, too. Like those peas, I want to grow into the fullest truth of who I am.
Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.