I began January 2013 at home in Illinois, well-rested from a long Christmas break and excited to get back to my Pennsylvania home and school and work. But that didn’t last long before the bone-chilling cold crept up on me and the grey monotony of winter set in: emotionally as well as physically. I am not a stranger to winter, to the harsh landscapes of depression; but even so, weathering January was unexpected and hard. Now, while the snow is still falling soft and pixie-like, I am lighter of heart and mind. After years of long winters, I am quicker to notice when something is wrong and better able to both live with it and change it. I am gladly welcoming February, a new month with new chances, and a month that always seems a bit warmer–if only because of the warm-hued valentine themes. 

In mid-January, I found myself curled on my bed, looking at my one word that I had written on a dry-erase board: “placed.” At that moment, “placed” seemed more like a curse than a call or even a blessing. And as the month continued, the stormy moments confirmed that the word “placed” is full of pressure for me, to be happy where I find myself whether I like it or not. So while it may be “cheating,” I’m changing my one word for 2013 to something a little less pressurized, a lot more grace-filled, which captures the same things I loved about being placed: dwell.

Dwell retains the idea that place matters. It also speaks to the significance of staying where you are, being where you are, sitting in it awhile: be it sunny summer or wild winter. I may not be happy there, but I can still dwell right where I am, sticking it out, and have a heart that is dwelling in grace regardless of where my body is dwelling. I had originally considered dwell when thinking about my one word. The definitions are as follows:

  • to live as a resident; reside
  • to remain for a time; stay
  • to exist or live in a given place or state
  • to fasten one’s attention, keep the attention directed
  • to linger over, emphasize, or ponder
  • to speak or write insistently

I like the variations on a theme. Dwelling is more than where I am physically placed or what situations I find myself in; I do dwell in Beaver Falls and sometimes I dwell in situations I don’t like: winter, of any sort. But at the same time that I am dwelling there, I can seek to dwell in joy, in grace, in peace: in a state which does not waver. I also love the focus on attention.  A pastor once told me, “Our ability to pay attention is sacred,” and I believe this to be hugely true. Paying attention to our lives, to our selves, to those around us, to the movements of God in our lives, to the gifts he is giving us, keeps us grounded in what is true and life-giving. And as I attempt more writing this year, I liked the last definition as well.

So there it is. A new year is still very new; I am starting a new month with new tools and habits and perspective, seeking to dwell in grace in 2013.


One Word: Placed


A bit of a strange choice. I may be going out on a limb with this one–this piece of a past participle full of meaning.

Inspired by a real-life friend and by many in the blogging world, I wanted to pick one word to frame this year, to guide my goals, to shape a space where I can grow. (See more at myoneword.org and oneword365.com.) In my thinking and scrawling and skimming, a weird tense popped into my head: “placed.” I’ve been thinking and learning about displacement in 2012, through my sister who has worked with refugees and community development and wrote her senior paper about displacement, and through a community at Geneva College that seeks to understand both specific people and communities and the human condition in general as one of displacement and home-making. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/december/created-to-make-homes.html)

I know the value of place, of a philosophy of place, through these people and many more. But how often I rebel against where I’ve been placed and displaced in my own life. I like the concept, God, but I don’t actually want to be placed here, or here, or here…

This year I want to let the word “placed” soak in to my life. It has a range of meanings for me, and I’m both excited and nervous to discover more throughout 2013, but here are a few initial thoughts.

Placed:  I have been placed in a particular location, era, job, school, house, neighborhood. Where I am in life matters. I feel floaty knowing I am only in grad school for 2 years–heck, just a year and a half now–but I am here, and I want to be present to the people and places here. Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I don’t know if that’s feasible or even ideal in our age of technology, but we are nonetheless called to be where we are.

Placed:  There is a nuance of intention in this word. I have been placed here for a reason; it was a purposeful movement. I don’t necessarily think that my every choice is planned out by God while I am a puppet just moving through the steps. The will of God is bigger and broader and freer than that. But in all my willings and choosings, God in His providence works out His higher ways and has plans for me beyond what I can see when I make my choices. That is reassuring to me: I am not left to my own (poor) devices.

Placed:  Two words I’ve been reflecting on over the fall semester are “dwell” and “engage.” They make up opposite ends on the spectrum of placement. “Engage” has an active, intense feel to it; “dwell” evokes a restful, reflective state. But they are both very much tied up in being where you are: being placed.

Placed:  Finally, the nuance that convinced me that this will be my word for 2013. I am prone to escapism: to running away, to numbing myself, whether through media or busyness or hiding from life. When the going gets tough, I get going…away from the tough to something more pleasant and manageable. Don’t like a class? I’ll change my major. Don’t like winter? I’ll move somewhere warmer. If I don’t like a situation I’m in, I declare that I will run away: to a Protestant nunnery, to a Christian commune, to a cabin in the woods. Get me out of here–anywhere–just not here.

The escapist tendency is deep-set within me, and I believe it is not honoring to God. He has placed me here, on this earth, and I don’t get to choose my exit. He has placed me, and allowed me to be placed, here: in this situation, in that city, with those people, with these pains and promises all wrapped up together. I don’t know why He places me as He does, especially in the painful times. But He has placed me, I have been placed, and I want to look for the beauty and purpose in each moment, right here, no matter how small. I want to be present, to dwell and engage right where I am, instead of wishing away the days and running away from here. I want to count the gifts He places around me (to one thousand?) and not be blind to His touch and His work, in my life and in this place.

I am finding myself placed in 2013.