When I Have No Words

I’ve decided not to choose a word for this year. 

That makes 2016 feel a little exposed and risky, but I'm going to brave it. 

It seems as if I'm not part of the in-crowd of word-choosers because I really do love words and choosing one to reflect on for the year always captures my fancy. 

For the past few years, I’ve rummaged through all of my favorite words — words like lovely and glossy and dazzling. Like contestants at a beauty contest, I’ve selected the top contenders and then awarded one of my favorites with the title, WORD for the YEAR. 

But to be honest, it feels like I’m looking for a word that’s more of a prediction for the new year. And the word that’s uppermost in my mind these days is not really a word I’d like to focus on all year. 

It’s fear.

Fear of what the year may bring. 

I’m afraid that my life will change. And I’m afraid that my life won’t change. 

I’m afraid that everything will stay the same. And I’m afraid that things won’t stay the same.

{Have you ever felt this way?}

I’m not sure I could have imagined all that the past year held, with last summer’s trip to Italy for a faith and art retreat as the centerpiece of quite a remarkable year. 

But what was most extraordinary to me was that my sister traveled this year, too. 

She went to New York over the holidays because she wanted to. Usually she travels only if she has to.

It seems laughable to me that I’ve traveled to New York, Paris and Italy, and not my sister. 

She’s the adventurous one, not me. I’m the bookworm and she’s the social butterfly.

Our last trip together was 15 years ago when we jetted off to Los Angeles to visit one of her friends for a week of movie-star-gazing, dinner-clubbing and hill-climbing beside the Pacific.

Then she decided that she no longer liked to travel because she doesn’t like planes or elevators or skyscrapers or tunnels or bridges. 

And she doesn’t even want to think about a trip requiring flying across an ocean.

So she stays home and when I travel without her, I feel like a piece of myself is missing. 

I stood under the Eiffel Tower, wishing she were beside me to experience the awe of it. 

I walked through the Plaza in Manhattan and knew she’d love the rich history we’d read about in books.

I scanned the menu in Italy and saw her favorite pasta, gnocchi, and wished she were there to sample it.
But over the summer, she told me she and my brother-in-law were praying more fervently, more intentionally about her fear of travel. 

I prayed too because I have a dream only God could orchestrate that someday we would travel together. I want us to see all the places we've read about in books when we were little girls. Because there's no one I'd rather share it with than my sister.

In the fall she said she was experiencing something quite strange. She couldn't explain it, but she really wanted to travel to New York to visit it at Christmas.

I think sometimes to push fear to the edges of our lives, we need a faith that completely transforms us. But so often that faith asks us to stir, to rouse ourselves and move in a direction that seems unnerving. 

It’s a bit risky and it’s no ordinary journey, but as we move, we are changed. 

As we look at our lives through God’s perspective, fear loses its power. 
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. -Is. 41:10

My sister and brother-in-law spent the week before Christmas in New York, watching the Rockettes, taking my niece and nephew to see Stomp, taking a carriage ride through Central Park, walking through Wall Street, eating at Sardi’s and visiting the iconic Plaza in Manhattan. 

She said she had an amazing time. 

She said she felt free.

So this year I don't want to box myself in with just one word. 

Maybe this year is meant to live without borders or boundaries. Wide open, expansive, limitless. 

I want to greet whatever this year brings with anticipation, not afraid but knowing that even what’s hard can hold treasure, with an invitation to know more of God. 

So I'm hopeful. For all the days in this year ahead of me.

And maybe someday I’ll find myself in Paris, chocolate croissant in hand as I walk along those famous streets, and I’ll look over at my sister as she catches her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

And I'll know what she's thinking without her having to say a word.

A little note: thanks to my 12-year-old nephew Nate, who took all the NYC photos.

I'm linking up with Holley Gerth at Coffee for your Heart and Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Click the images to read more posts from my friends!


  1. ♥♥ Sooo 3 things first: 1. I thought it was hilarious (providential maybe???) that we linked up right beside each other at Holley's today-- and our color schemes even seemed to go together! 2. Nate has a great photographers eye! Is he interested in freelancing!?! ♥ 3. Isaiah 41:10 has been etched on my heart since last year when my mama was in the hospital over Christmas and I spied it on the bracelet of her nurse- never had that promise meant so much to me as it did in that moment.
    I commend your choice to go wordless this year!! Why box yourself in? Here's to more travel and less self imposed borders for your sweet sister, more photography and less fear of what's to come and definitely more of God and all of the unnamed blessings he has for us yet this year! A toast to doing 2016 with you my friend! ♥♥

    1. Heather,
      Going wordless just struck me as so comical! (Thanks for that one!!) But I love it that we're neighbors at Holley's place today :) and yes, my nephew definitely shows much promise as a budding photographer, doesn't he? Oh I just love that verse in Isaiah, too!

  2. Oh yes, oh yes. Breathing deep as I read your words, hearing your expectant heart, imagining what God will do in us and through us as we cast our fears into His waiting hands.

    Beautiful, Val. Beautiful.

    1. Hi Linda,
      Happy New Year! Imagining, waiting, and expectant . . .. I'm standing with you in all of these postures for 2016, friend! xo

  3. I adore this! I love not choosing the word that is echoing in your head but instead choosing to change your focus in the new year; I am ecstatic for your sister for pushing through and allowing herself to truly enjoy her trip, and I am also delighted by your nephews photos, they are beautiful!!!

    1. Brittany,
      Thanks for affirming my non-word choice this year! That kind of leaves it all open, doesn't it?!

  4. "I’m afraid that my life will change. And I’m afraid that my life won’t change." Yes, Valerie, I do feel that way, too, sometimes. I can understand where a One Word can box us in. I love this - "Maybe this year is meant to live without borders or boundaries. Wide open, expansive, limitless." Beautiful. May we together open ourselves up to what God has in mind for us! I'm so glad your sister took a risk and enjoyed herself. I hope someday you may travel somewhere together. :) I love the photo of you two, also all the photos your nephew took. Tell him "Great job!"

    1. Trudy,
      You are so kind to like my nephew's photos -- he will be so thrilled to hear your kudos! :) How I welcome your invitation for the two of us to open ourselves to what God has in mind for us this year. I know that he has some experiences for us to treasure, if we keep our arms and our hearts wide open!

  5. This post made me cry...to think of how much you've wanted to have your sister with you and to hear about her trip. We really can break through our fears. What a wonderful thought. All your travel stories make me want to get more courageous this year :)

    1. Christy,
      You are the picture of courage, moving cross-country with two little ones! I'm praying for some kindred souls to walk alongside you this year, to meet you in surprising ways and oh, how I'm missing our coffee appointments! xo

  6. You know ... as much as I love the word picking idea, and the idea of focusing on one, I don't really give up the past year's words or stop loving all the other words that pass before me, because well, we're word girls, right?! So I say, you go girl! Live full of all the beautiful words, and places, and things you love - it's a great perspective on embracing the new year. Love the pics and LOVE NYC. Been once and can't wait to visit again - though I might have to be careful about travel. Ha! Happy new year, Valerie - be blessed.

    1. Tiffany,
      Yes! I'm keeping some of my words from previous years because I just hate to retire them when they could continue inspiring -- I love that suggestion! NYC is pretty spectacular and I hope you're able to recover fully to enjoy traveling again, friend!

  7. I can't even put into words how much this resounded with me. I have no words either, and it seems that I haven't for quite some time. You and D remind me so much of my sis and I. I was always the social one, the traveler, the adventurous one. Then one day I just stopped. And it is bc of fear. You have helped me to realize that my fears are something I need to pray over. I know it's going to be an interesting year. Maybe my sister and I will get to travel together, too. It'd be glorious. Best to you in 2016!

    1. Debbie,
      Thank you so much for sharing your heart here! Our sister-bond is such a strong one, isn't it? There's nothing like it! And I know you and Dianne are as close as we are! :) I love how you described it as glorious to travel together -- wouldn't it be though! I'm praying that 2016 would hold that for you!

  8. Amazing adventures can be life altering as well as faith building. Its encouraging to others when you share a story like this. :-) Visiting from Holly's link up...

    1. Hi Lisa,
      Thanks so much for stopping by! Oh - you are so right that adventures can build our faith . . . and change our lives!

  9. This is so beautiful!!!! I love the rebelliousness of it ;)

    1. Hi Sara Beth,
      I'm so happy to have you stop by after admiring your new blog! I hadn't thought about being a rebel . . .but I think I LOVE it!! :)

  10. Let me just start off by saying your 12 year old nephew can take a photo. If he keeps at it, I definitely can see him becoming a photographer to watch. And I so know what you mean about fear. This year I've decided to push fear aside and look around the corner at what God has waiting for me. Beautiful post.

    Kia / KTS

    1. Kia,
      That is high praise on the photos, coming from you! :) I'm joining you friend, pushing fear to the side! What do you say we move forward in faith, instead? xo

  11. Hi Valerie- I can so resonate with this post- I was thinking while I was in Hawaii about a word for the new year- and I kept thinking about courage because the trip was a stretch for me. As crazy as it seems I was afraid to fly that far and travel and snorkel and swim in water falls etc! but God gave me courage- The problem with that word for me is that i means I must face fear- because the two are linked i think? so i have not decided about my word- I like last years word (beloved) better and am not sure I am done with that one - so I am word wrestling ! hahah and I feel behind because of my trip. Anyway this post meant lots to me and spoke to me on many levels as my sister is the adventurous one too! I just love this, "Maybe this year is meant to live without borders or boundaries. Wide open, expansive, limitless. I want to greet whatever this year brings with anticipation, not afraid but knowing that even what’s hard can hold treasure, with an invitation to know more of God." I want that too!! love the idea that whats hard can hold treasure. Thanks for all these lovely thoughts valerie!! sending hugs

    1. Hi Susie,
      I've missed you! But I'm so glad you got to go to Hawaii and it's not crazy at all that you were a little anxious about flying and snorkeling -- I would have been too! I love it that you're right there with me with an adventure-loving sister while we enjoy some tamer things, but if you went to Hawaii, then I think you're pretty brave! xoxo


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