As December, and hence 2023, draws to a close, it’s that time when I pause to reflect upon the twelve months that have just passed, especially in light of my Word of the Year. In January of 2023, I chose the word “Linger” to guide me into the year to come.

I’m an overachieving, goal-oriented, competitive person, and sometimes that results in impatience. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to reach benchmarks that I don’t pause to enjoy where I am. But I knew as I looked ahead into 2023 that that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life, especially not during Xoe’s last year at home before college. I wanted to linger–linger with God, linger with my family, linger with friends. I wanted to linger in Scripture, in prayer, and in the things that matter.

As I sit here in December and look back with that word in mind, I’ll be honest: my first thought was, “Well, I didn’t do such a great job with that this year.” But as I reread my post from January 1, I realize I’m being a little too hard on myself. Was the year perfect? No. Was I a model of patience 24/7? No. Did I perfectly resist the temptation to rush all year? No.

But…but I actually made some new habits that have just become so much a part of my life now that I didn’t immediately take them into account when I sat down to do this reflection.

I didn’t in fact start the Lectio Divina method of studying scripture as I’d intended, but I did read quite a few spiritual books along with my daily dose of Scripture. At the start of the year, I was spending 1-2 hours a morning in prayer. As deadlines mounted for my writing, that contracted to about 30 minutes. But they’re still some of my favorite minutes of the day, as I sit with my coffee and my Bible.

One of my big goals for the year was to linger with family. We sent our firstborn off to college this August, and I knew I didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted our last months together with nothing but work. I still had to work–as a homeschooling, work-from-home mom, the various parts of our lives and relationships have to mesh. And this last year, I can remember many times when one of the kids or David would come out into the kitchen where I was working, and I would spin my chair away from my computer to give them my undivided attention. Many times this was just a few-minutes conversation, but quite a few times, it was an hour-long discussion.

I treasured those times. Even if they put me behind in my work, I knew they were the important things, and I held tight to them. So many afternoons or evenings, Xoe and I would just hang out in the kitchen, talking through fears and anxieties about the upcoming changes, talking about dreams and hopes, talking about new friends and the life she’s building at St. John’s. Rowyn and I, on those days when we’re the only ones in the house for a few hours, spent hours talking about science, about God, about his dreams of someday taking over the property and what changes he wants to make. His dreams of owning a business, the multiverses he creates in his head and how he isn’t sure yet the best way to get those out there. David and I would sit at the table or on the couch and talk about business and AI and God and the Church, about our family and our minds and hearts, our hopes and our fears.

We listened to audio books together–as a couple, and as a family. We lit a fire in the fireplace during the cold months and spent our evenings in front of it, a cup of something in hand and either those conversations or audio books occupying our minds.

I got to linger with my Patrons & Peers ladies, both on Marco Polo and then in a full week retreat in the Outer Banks of NC. So many hours laughing together, sharing the stories of our lives, deepening our friendships, and just doing life together. I also got to take a full week on a writing retreat with my best friend, which included plenty of lingering in conversation, walks on the beach in Pensacola, talking over dinners, and filling in all the blanks that crop up in an otherwise long-distance friendship.

My mom and I try to do a lunch out every month, and while it doesn’t always happen every month, it’s so lovely when it does. In October I worked from my mom’s house while they were away so that I could be on hand to help my grandmother who lives in an apartment attached to their garage, and I treasured the lunches we had together. She’s 92, and I want to take more time to linger with her. I know that the lingering that happens away from my house is still something I need to work on.

In 2023, I ended up with 6 contracted books to turn in. Y’all…that’s a lot of books. I wrote half a million words this year! That’s a lot of words. And when put that way, it’s no wonder that not all of my lingering goals could happen. Especially when you also factor in some pretty major health crises in our family, including my husband’s stepfather’s massive stroke, that meant David spent months traveling to Baltimore multiple times a week.

But an amazing thing happened through all of that. I found myself lingering more, this last half of the year, in story. More than I’ve done in so many years! I didn’t even think to put that on my list of lingering goals, because I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing it. But when stories began to flood my mind again, I realized how little they had been in the last few years. I found such joy in them again, in just being there in the story world, in writing when I didn’t have to, in getting to know my characters and settings like I’d done way back when.

Some of those half-million words…they weren’t necessary. They weren’t for deadlines. They weren’t for contracted novels. They were just for a fantasy I got an idea for and started writing in spare days and hours. Do you know how long it’s been since I wrote something I didn’t have to write? Years. So many years. And oh, the joy that floods my soul when I do what God made me to do, not because I have to, but because I want to. Lingering in story renewed my faith too, in ways I know every artistic soul out there can understand.

My year of Linger certainly wasn’t flawless…but it was beautiful. In many ways, 2023 was the worst year our family has faced in a long, long time…but there’s been such beauty in it too. In time spent together, in dreams renewed.

Maybe I didn’t linger everywhere and with everyone that I’d hoped to…but linger isn’t a word I need to just give up come December 31st, either. Linger has become a way of life and relationship that I’m learning to embrace.

How did your 2023 go? If you chose a Word of the Year, did that word guide you? Did you forget what it was? Are you planning to choose a word next year?

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