The author shares how her yearly choice of a single inspiring word has impacted her life and career.
Dec 20, 2011
Each year I choose one word to focus on and live by. These words have comforted me, challenged me and brought me closer to God. They have changed me.
I’ve used them in my prayers, written about them in my journals, discussed them with my friends. I’ve seen how they’ve shaped my spiritual path. Sometimes I even trip over them.
A friend of mine who shares this practice puts her word on a doorstop. “I like to stumble over my word every now and then,” she says.
I write about two books a year—that’s thousands of words. What a gift to be able to concentrate on just one.
In 1979 hunger was my word. I wasn’t sure why I chose it. Partly it had to do with my lifelong struggle with my weight. My journal that year was full of entries like this, “Dear Lord, as I struggle to gain control over my eating habits I turn to you. Your word promises victory. Every day I must simply take the next tiny step...”
I dieted, prayed, fasted and backslid. There were other hungers as well. With four children in a tiny house, I was hungry for more room to spread out, hungry for some quiet and a little time to myself.
I was also hungry to learn. I was taking writing classes at a local college. I wanted to be a novelist so badly I could taste it. I kept writing and getting rejected, only this desire driving me.
My deepest hunger, though, was spiritual, and I can see that in my journals. “Read through First John,” I wrote on Good Friday. “Only five chapters and yet I feel I’m only skimming the surface of what it means to live a Christian life.”
I didn’t want to skim. I wanted to go deep, and hunger pushed me forward.
In 1986 when I picked the word trust I didn’t know how deeply my trust in God and myself would be challenged.
Wayne and I and the kids lived in Seattle then. Although we were several miles from the notorious Midway landfill, the methane gas produced in the breakdown of trash traveled through the porous earth and settled in our neighborhood.
In our yard, it bubbled up from the ground like a toxic champagne. You could see it and smell it. Our kids ranged in age from middle school to high school, and I worried about their health and safety.
That whole year there was always at least one person in our family who was sick. I just managed to get one child well when another would fall ill. To add to the stress Wayne and I began to experience fissures in the bedrock of our marriage.
To me, the only option was to move to another neighborhood. Wayne, who hates change, didn’t want to move. He believed the problem would somehow right itself.
We spent many an evening at contentious community meetings where lawyers milled around outside handing out business cards. The city of Seattle brought in a huge pumping station and set it up in the corner of our yard. Day and night methane gas kept bubbling out of the ground. We talked about a lawsuit, but the attorneys asked for more money than we had.
All the while there was that word “trust.” Again and again I clung to the promise from Isaiah, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
I wrote out prayer after prayer in my journal. Eventually the city of Seattle bought us out. We moved and although we continued to struggle financially, I managed to write five novelizations of soap operas that year. The money helped keep us afloat and I kept trusting.
The word brokenness was a painful choice in 1988, reflecting my emotional state and the state of our marriage. “We aren’t going to be able to save this marriage,” I wrote in my journal. “Wayne runs and I hibernate and it isn’t helping either of us.”
I drove him to the ferry that took him to work every morning and then picked him up after. We hardly knew what to say to each other. One night Wayne came home and announced, “I’m moving out.” He went and got his suitcase.
All I said was, “Okay.”
Many times I wondered if it was a mistake to choose “brokenness.” How could God ever save our marriage? What was broken could never be fixed. But I’ve learned, no, scratch that... I’m learning that when struggle comes, to lean into it and learn all I can from it.
If the Lord seems to be whispering a word that you’d much rather not even think about, I encourage you to embrace it. I did that year and it led to a period of discovery and growth.
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn,” said Harriet Beecher Stowe.
I had no idea how the tide would turn for Wayne and me.
Prayer was my word in 1990. Wayne and I were separated. He’d moved to Nevada and we had completed all the legal requirements for our divorce. Our children were devastated. I felt like a failure. I was angry and lonely but knew I had to get on with my life.
I committed myself to praying one hour a day that year. I would get up very early in the morning to read my Bible, then go in the bedroom, close the door, get down on my knees and pray.
How many times have you seen the saying “Prayer Changes Things” on a bumper sticker or done in needlepoint on a pillow? What I always want to add to it, especially after that year, is that prayer changes us. Prayer changed me.
I remember attending a workshop called Living, Forgiving. It was one of the most uplifting days of my life. I came home so aware of God’s love for me and of the limitless freedom I have in God.
The divorce was set. I was prepared to walk out of the marriage. I prayed that Wayne would find happiness, that he would find peace and that he would be able to make a new life for himself without any bitterness or animosity.
Then he called, asking for a reconciliation. “I don’t think I want to get divorced,” he said. Just when I’d relinquished everything, he wanted to get back together.
I prayed hard. We decided to take it slow. We dated for six months before moving back in together. When the time came, we made a pact—Wayne insisted. If we were to recommit to marriage it would be forever.
Wayne was wise in that. In all the years since, divorce has never been an option.
It’s funny, when I think about all the prayers I made that year, the prayer that was answered was one I never uttered. Our marriage was saved.
Recently it was hope, a word that appeared when I felt weighed down by the passage of time. I’d lost both of my parents and I had become consumed with worry that I would never be able to write all of the books I wanted to write or knit all of the sweaters I had patterns for or cook all of the recipes that I had collected.
I prayed and prayed about this. The answer came to me in a prayer. God reminded me that there were wonderful books in heaven waiting for me to write... and sweaters to knit and recipes to try.
Ever since that moment I have been incredibly excited about heaven and eternal life. My heart longs for the next life as much as I love this one.
Hope isn’t always obvious. Nor is trust easy to find or the lessons lurking in brokenness or hunger so easy to uncover. But to concentrate on just one word, to make it a part of your devotions, to include it in your prayers, is to see how it permeates your life and how God has blessed you.
This year my word will be “listen.” Once again I’ll see how the Lord has been guiding me, one word at a time.
How to Choose Your Word
Sometimes the word will choose you. Looking for a word, my friend Rachel noticed her drink at a fast-food restaurant came in a cup that read “joy.” She picked up a worship CD called “joy.” A friend gave her an ornament with the word “joy” stenciled on it; another friend gave her a mug that read, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” She had her word!
Don’t shy away from words that you perceive as asking for trouble. If God is calling you to explore a weighty word like “loss,” for instance, don’t let fear stop you. Blessings will come from trusting him and letting him take you on a journey of discovery.
Download your FREE ebook, The Power of Hope: 7 Inspirational Stories of People Rediscovering Faith, Hope and Love.