My word for 2018

I've chosen a word every January 1st for the past six years and I'm not about to stop now. Here they are so far:

2012: More

2013: Simplify

2014: Me

2015: Real

2016: Delight 

2017:  Power 

This year, my word is STELLAR, and it's perfect. 

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Just the looks of it makes me happy. I have a good feeling about 2018. It's a time to shine!

Meaning outstanding, wonderful, better than everything else, stellar is a word of praise or excitement...Stellar literally means "like a star."  

I like that stellar is such a natural transition from last year's word, power. Maybe all that all that powering up was the push needed to finally sparkle? I don't know, but what I do know is that I'm ready for an outstanding, wonderful year. I love the optimism. I also like that in order to have a stellar year, just like in a performance, a lot of work has to be put in. I don't mind hard work, as long as there is a reward - so I'm going for it. 

But there is more to it, please bear with me as I nerd out a bit.

You know that feeling when you are out in the darkest nights and look up at the sky and it is so star filled that it's three dimensional? That feeling of both infinite smallness and overwhelming greatness, and the knowledge that you are somehow connected to it all, and the fear and comfort in the reminder that all that you know and love and worry and care about is both nothing in the grand scheme of the universe and has always been?

Yeah, that feeling. I'm going with it this year. 

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we've learned most of what we know. Recently, we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” ― Carl SaganCosmos

It's scary to acknowledge that our place the universe is so small and insignificant. But it's also comforting to know that you are made of the same elements as the brightest stars in the sky and incredibly humbling to remember that you are also made of the same stuff as a rotting piece of fruit.  But unlike the stars or forgotten fruit, we have the ability to do what we want. How amazing is that?

“We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.” ― Carl SaganCosmos
(Image source unknown) 

(Image source unknown) 

Neil deGrasse Tyson nails the feeling, of course:

And as always, here is the dictionary definition:

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Here's to a stellar 2018 for you, and for me!

My word for 2017

I turned 40 last September, and so far it's going great. I'm not being sarcastic, I really mean it. For example, it's January 1st, and I'm finally free of the tyranny of New Year's resolutions. Instead of hitting the gym, I'm having a dinner of creamy, stinky French cheese and Club crackers. It's AWESOME.

It's not that I ever made crazy resolutions - far from it. But I used to firmly believe in the power of picking a day to make long overdue changes. And then my resolutions went as well as everybody else's, which is to say they didn't go well at all. 

But choosing a word/theme for the year? That has worked well enough that I've chosen a word every January 1st for the past five years. Here they are so far:

2012: More

2013: Simplify

2014: Me

2015: Real

2016: Delight

I've got to pause here. There's not point in sharing this if I'm not going to be honest with you, and the truth is that at some point this fall I remembered my word and I laughed at my innocence in choosing "Delight". I felt nothing near "delight" after the election (ugh) and as I reflected on the year so far, I felt more tired and harried than anything else. 

Perhaps this was the end of the road for choosing a word of the year?

Then Christmas break came along, and with the slower pace I realized that of course there were many things that were delightful last year. I actually made a concerted effort to do more things that *I* found delightful, even if they were not always things that other people would find delightful. And, actually, a lot of the time I was lucky enough to delight in things that are universally accepted as delightful. 

It's funny how space and quiet gives us perspective. Unfortunately, I still wasn't sure that I had a word for 2017, mainly because I really didn't feel like choosing one, and forcing myself to choose a word just to keep a streak going is the opposite of delightful. Also, everyone is doing the Word of the Year thing, and I've always been reluctant to be too on trend. 

This year was going to be the year I stopped - until this afternoon, when I took a walk with my family and I looked up at a street lamp and I realized what my word for the year would be. It would be POWER. I realize how cheesy this sounds, but hear me out. 

Anyone that knows me or has talked to me at depth in the past few months is probably tired of hearing me talk about power and empowerment and needing to recharge my power. It's so obvious that I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before. 

I guess you could say my word chose me. Power. 

 

One of the first things I though of was that Marianne Williamson quote. You know the one.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?

...Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do...

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson

When I relaxed into the reality that I would have a word for 2017, I got to thinking about power in different ways. I thought about how much more comfortable I am about power itself - it's so hard to even acknowledge that you have power, isn't it? One good thing about being older is realizing that power isn't as mysterious as you thought it was when you were younger.

I also realized that I need to recharge my power - so my word of the year would conveniently serve as an excuse to nap and meditate and rest as needed to recharge my batteries. To power up, if you will. 

Oh, and I also need get some physical power - so I guess I do have to get some physical activity in there. 

And what's more, I realized that one of the things that gives me the most power is when I empower others. I'm not good at everything, but I am good at a few things, and it will be my focus this year to indulge my powers (as they are) and to encourage others to wield theirs. I feel electric just typing that. 

You'll see. 

For now, I'll leave you with the dictionary definition of power, as it's tradition on this blog:

Oh, and of course, due to the horrible man an angry and misguided minority has saddled us with, I will be using my power (and empower others as much as I can) to resist what's coming. Because I still can't believe this happened. You can't stop us. ALL OF US. 

The Exodus Road: Empowering Rescue and what you can do to help

As many of you know, I traveled to Thailand with The Exodus Road in June to learn more about their work in fighting human trafficking. And as I'm sure you can imagine, I have stories to share - stories like this one:

We witnessed this on our first night in Thailand, at the second brothel/bar we visited. To say that what we saw was sad and infuriating doesn't even begin to cover it.  And it's just one story out of many that happen all over the world - our job on this trip was to witness and share as many of these stories as we can. My fellow Storytellers: Kelly, Heather, Erika, and Doug are all sharing stories over the next couple of weeks on our personal platforms; they are all collected here because the internet is big and it helps to have them all in one place. 

But I keep coming back to the end, which is the question that begs to be answered: So?

So a few of you travelled halfway around the world...and? How does that help? And yes, I'll hear and read the stories, but what can I do?

Excellent questions.  The long answer is here, but the short answer is that if you want to make a change, you have to go where the trouble is. Exploitation happens where "good" people don't want to go. And the good news is that there is a lot that we can do. It's a huge problem, but we can help and the way most of us can help is with money to help fund rescues directly.

Money? Ugh. 

Yes. Money. It is my hope that our stories will inspire you to donate to their work. You can do a one time donation or sign up to become a Freedom Partner. Freedom partners pledge a monthly donation and in return get updates from the team they are supporting. And here's the kicker: $35 is all it takes to fund one night of investigative work. The ask is really small, and the results are huge. 

On the subject of money: In modern slavery power is exerted with money. For example, if any of the girls we saw that night are true victims of trafficking, they are trapped because they most likely have a debt to pay. To my ears, how they fall into this debt is heartbreaking in its simplicity and its cruelty. But the truth is that they are being exploited - and in the cities we visited, the average quota for these girls and women is 100 men a month until the debt is paid. It almost never is, of course. Even if they are young. 

How do they know that the girls are truly victims of trafficking? By rescuing one girl, aren't you just putting a target on other girls?

The truth is that sometimes prostitution is a job. But it is also true that prostitution is an easy way to hide trafficking. In a lot of places, there is no safe mechanism to ask for help. Sometimes, you don't want the police to show up, even when you're a victim, because you don't know if the rescuer is corrupt or not. In Thailand police departments simply lack the funds or manpower to fully investigate each case to find the true victims of trafficking.

The traffickers know this, of course, and they exploit those weaknesses in the system.

That is where the work of the Exodus Road comes in. Just like criminals work together to traffic people across borders, The Exodus Road works with various organizations and volunteers to make it difficult for criminals to exploit people. They go undercover to find victims and collect evidence which they present to their partners in law enforcement. This is the work that we witnessed and that we are sharing with you, but what they do goes beyond that, and it was one of the most empowering things I learned. They also supply police departments with equipment so they can not only rescue individual victims, but also build cases against trafficking networks. And they do a lot of work that must be behind the scenes to help police more effectively do their jobs. 

While some Exodus Road volunteers do travel to Thailand to do investigative undercover work - they visit brothels, identify potential victims and gather information to pass on to the police - this is a small group that is very well trained and screened both before and after they do the work. Everything they do is monitored and collected.

I can't give too many details, obviously, which I know makes that part of the work seem even more fascinating. That is what is so tricky about the stories we have shared and will be sharing. What I can say about these teams is that many of them work (or have worked) in law enforcement or the military and they treat this work with the same respect and professionalism they do back home. 

The Exodus Road has a standard operation procedure handbook by which all investigators while on mission with The Exodus Road or while using granted funds from The Exodus Road commit to adhering to. All operations also operate within local laws and in partnerships with local authorities. Agents are trained, travel in partners when engaging in higher level surveillance, and are committed to not further “victimizing” the victim during the course of investigations. With policy and accountability in place, The Exodus Road encourages quality, effective evidence-gathering practices for the entire community. All data gathered during operations is entered into our customized, encrypted database program which tracks and helps to analyze all intelligence gathered.
— https://theexodusroad.com/faq/

The staff (who is mostly made up of locals, incidentally) understand local needs and come up with solutions much more effectively than any visitor can. They are the true backbone of the operation. What volunteers like us is help them by raising awareness and funds so they can do the work

The Exodus Road ultimately is working to make trafficking and exploiting men, women, and children too dangerous for the traffickers to make money. And it is working. As of today, 749 victims have been rescued, and 234 arrests have come from their support. And they have also seen the streets begin to change - people are starting to be afraid to come to the areas they have targeted. Change can happen.