One Word to Live By

Initially, this post was about my experiences with a fun Word of the Year Generator, but while writing the conclusion, I realized that it was really about listening; something which is far more important. 

But first, where the story begins.

In 2019, while perseverating over the “perfect” word for the year, I learned of a word of the year generator. I’m not sure if I physically sighed in relief or if my jaw dropped in amazement with the timing, but the solution was perfect! The pressure was no longer on me, thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler. 

If you have listened to her podcasts or read her books, you already know that she is witty, sarcastic, and oh so relatable. I discovered her SiriusXM radio show one afternoon while scrolling through stations. There is a lot to like about Jen.

  1. As an atheist turned Catholic (talk about a paradigm shift!) she understands two vastly different perspectives. Jen approached theology with a strong desire to understand the dogma. As you might expect, her radio show topics were varied and fascinating. 
  2. Jen is a mother…six…times…over. Her written and verbal portrayal of a day in her life is sprinkled with hilarious and identifiable moments. 
  3. She is creative. Jen is frank about the struggles associated with balancing being a good mom and maintaining creative outlets. Last year she layered on standup comedian to her robust list of accomplishments. And as you may have guessed, the aforementioned points provided some excellent material.

Needless to say, I am a fan of Jen Fulwiler. But, back to the word of the year generator. 

I pulled up the website on my computer one morning, it was both unassuming and straight forward. I couldn’t wait to see what amazing word I would receive. My earlier brainstorming had produced aspirational words like ‘joy’, ‘flourish,’ or ‘imagine’. With a twinge of nervousness, and a lot of excitement, I clicked the “Show Me My Word” button. 

I waited anxiously…Then it appeared. My word:


Prudent?! What kind of word is that? How could this happen? ‘Prudent’ did not resonate with me or what I wanted for my life in the upcoming year. I debated about trying again to get a different word. Part of me felt that I should keep the word I was given, the other yearned for something more ethereal. “This is just a silly website” I rationalized. “No one will know if I get a second word”. There aren’t rules against ’do-overs’ so I clicked the button again. I sat up straight in my chair with giant eyes when my new word appeared.


After regaining composure, I recognized that my word for the year was most certainly ‘Prudent’. This realization was not without a modicum of disappointment. I moved onto other tasks for the day, but this word was gnawing at me. Seeking clarity, I reopened the web browser and pulled up the definition.





  • wise or judicious in practical affairs; sagacious; discreet or circumspect; sober.
  • careful in providing for the future; provident

The first definition was what I expected, but the second one resonated with me. For context, at that particular moment we were in the process of building our home. It was a very exciting time and we were presented with many more decisions that we had ever expected to make. There were SO many lovely options and it would have been easy to justify an upgrade here and an upgrade there, only to find ourselves extended beyond our initial plans. 

“It’s really not that much more.”


“This is our forever home.”


“Changing this later would be hugely inconvenient.”

These are just a few of the rationalizations that I found myself verbalizing. Prudence proved to be an essential word during our building process, keeping me grounded and focused. When the option to upgrade or modify came up, my questions shifted to:

“How important is this modification?”


“Will we be glad that we made this modification in 5 years?”

We ended up making some modifications and additions, but only ones that were most important to us. Prudence made for good conversations and created the opportunity to be invested in the process and the result. 

The significance of this word didn’t end with our July move-in. Practicing prudence with each decision for how we spent our time and money allowed us to prioritize and gain control over our life. As 2019 came to an end, my opinion of the word had changed. In the end, ‘prudent’ was the ideal word. I’m glad that I listened. 

After reflecting upon my first experience with the word of the year generator, I was excited to see what my 2020 word would be. I confidently pulled up the now familiar website. Surely this year a positive, aspirational word would appear. It would be only fair given the practical nature of ‘prudent’ in 2019. With much hope and anticipation I clicked the button. 

My 2020 word: 


I shook my head in dismay. Really Jen?! I was beginning to wonder if any poetic words were added to this generator at all. Back to I went. 



verb (used with object)

  • to see, hear, or know by personal presence and perception
  • to be present at (an occurrence) as a formal witness, spectator, bystander, etc.

verb (used without object)

  • to bear witness; testify; give or afford evidence.


  • an individual who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder, spectator, or eyewitness.
  • a person or thing that affords evidence.
  • a person who gives testimony, as in a court of law.

Ugh, none of these looked good, and I really didn’t want to “witness” anything bad. Did this word generator know that I had to stop watching CSI because scenarios from the show kept invading my dreams, causing me to sleep poorly?

I tiptoed into 2020. 

Periodically throughout the year, I thought about my word. We all witnessed a lot. A lack of social gatherings and a lot more time at home provided few opportunities to witness events and comments in person, altering the perspective. We witnessed most everything through the lens of the person behind the camera. Rather than get riled by a single person’s perspective, which I sometime appreciated, and other times did not, I made use of the word ‘witness’ by holding back and taking time to listen. I realized that listening is something few people do well. I’ll admit, it’s not easy, but my goodness, if we would all take a few moments to listen rather than pausing and waiting for the opportunity to spew our opinions, we just might find a lot more common ground than opinion leaders and social media would like us to believe.

After Christmas, I could not wait to pull up Jen’s Word of the Year Generator (this has now become a tradition). I was ready for my new word, and sure that 2021 would hold a happy and light word. Subscribing to the “third time’s a charm” adage, with crossed fingers, I clicked the button. 

2021’s word of the year:


I smiled. I was so excited to get this word, although I fully appreciate that after spending so much time at home over the past year, not everyone would be as excited about this word as I.

Why so much excitement? Well, I love our home because it is filled with my favorite people. In the 18 months we have called it our home, we have enjoyed:

Pancake Breakfasts


Saturday morning coffee outside 

Conversations about hopes, dreams, and fears


Simple moments 

Family Movie Nights

Campouts in the living room

Soup and Grilled Cheese with friends


I want more of these moments, and I want more memories. I want this home to be the safe place for our kids. The place they always know they can come home to even after the go off to college, the place we gather with friends and family over dinner (that Tim has prepared of course). I want a vegetable garden and fruit trees, some wildflowers by the seasonal creek. This will all take time, and I love that my word of the year encourages me to work on making these dreams become a reality. 

When I started writing the conclusion to this post, I got stuck. Yes, it is about picking a Word of the Year using Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator (because I’ve gotten so much from my past words of the year, I encourage you to try it, too!)

But I wanted something more for this post. 

Over dinner, Tim asked me what the post was about. I explained the sequence and realizations, he lived this story, so none of this was new information, but as I watched him listen to me ramble without cohesive thought, the intent of this post crystalized. 

When we stop to listen, that is when we start to hear.

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