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One literal step at a time

| written by Lisa Bartelt | 3 comments

This was not how it was supposed to be.

When I chose “present” as my One Word for this year, I had visions of how it would play out. (I do this every year, and I should know better by now that my One Word is my guide, not the other way around.) Being present meant I would set aside my phone more often and focus on the people in front of me. I would spend more time with my kids, doing crafts and reading books with them teaching them how fidget cubes are taking over, things I often neglect because I’m caught up in an online world of my own making. I would worry less and pay attention more. It would be lovely and transformative and peaceful.

But two weeks into the new year, my body decided it had different plans. Muscle spasms in my lower back had me writhing in pain anytime I tried to take a step and for the better part of a month, I was confined to bed while the world spun on without me. Other than trips to the chiropractor’s office, I didn’t leave my house.

My world shrank to the number of steps between the bed and the bathroom, my time to measurements of 15 minutes as I rotated the ice pack on and off my back.

I could not do; I could only be. I could make no plans for the future, only for today.

My calendar cleared and the glaring blank spaces mocked my need to be productive. I fell behind in writing projects, blogs, church responsibilities, household chores while others stepped in to fill the gaps. I kept guilt a close companion as I sobbed over my neediness.

What was I worth without the tasks that filled my day? The lists I could check off? Who was I, apart from what I could do?

When my mobility gradually returned, I had to fight the urge to hurry. Even a two-minute walk to the bus stop to meet the kids was an exercise in patience. I found myself watching my feet take one literal step at a time. I forced myself to take “baby steps,” even when the air stung my face with its frigidness. Instead of thinking ahead to what I was going to do when I got back to the house, my goal was simply to make it back to the house. Until I reached that milestone, I refused to think about the next one.

One step at a time

When I chose the word “present,” I knew I needed it for multiple reasons. I’m guilty of thinking about the next task before I’m finished with the current one. I don’t enjoy the life I have right in front of me because I’m always thinking it will be better next month, next year, a decade from now. I needed a reason to stop wishing my life was something else and start seeing it for what it is. 

“Present” was the solution. I just didn’t think it would mean slowing my life nearly to the point of stopping.

But that’s how it’s been with my One Word journeys. Just when I think I know how it’s going to show up, the word surprises me and takes me somewhere new. Thanks to this month-long convalescence, I’ve decided to drop my assumptions about this year’s word and let the journey unfold one day at a time. One step at a time.

Maybe it won’t be as lovely and peaceful as I had hoped, but it will change me. It already has.

How do you let your One Word guide you through the year?
How has the journey surprised you?

Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near the mountains. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between— preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at Living Echoes. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.