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The One Thing I Didn’t Expect to Release

| written by Lisa Bartelt | 18 comments

I began 2013 with a withered soul. The soil of my heart was dry and cracked and the weeds of disappointment and bitterness were choking the life out of me.

On the outside, I wasn’t much better.  My words were unkind and pessimistic, evidence of the slow hardening of a heart that had been dealt one too many blows. I was barely holding on.

My husband had graduated seminary six months earlier and was jobless in his field. We were raising two kids under the age of five, 800 miles from family, and we were not even getting by.

This wasn’t the life I’d imagined. Mad at God. Disappointed with my husband. Embarrassed to be asking family for help.

And that’s where I was when I found OneWord365. I’d failed many times at keeping resolutions, so the idea of focusing on one word for an entire year was appealing.

The word-lover in me had trouble narrowing it down but eventually only one word settled in my soul.


The year 2013 was going to be a year of letting go, whether I liked it or not. Our daughter was starting kindergarten, and I thought that would be my biggest release. I had no idea that a dozen small releases throughout the year would prepare me for the one thing I never thought I’d release.

Slowly and gently, God unfurled the fingers that had balled into fists, encouraging me to let go of whatever I was trying to hold. My hope for the future. My plan for our lives. My expectations.

And a funny thing happened. I started to feel different. Lighter. More free. The more I released, the more I wanted to release.

And in some strange and mystical God-possible way, I was being filled by emptying.

By mid-year, I already knew that this one word journey had been worth it. But it wasn’t over yet.

The seed of release had been planted early in the year, and as I nurtured the tender shoots and saw the visible growth, the next step became clearer. Of Christian growth, I’d once heard: It takes a lot of manure to grow a beautiful rose bush.  I was going to have to fertilize this plant, and it was going to be a stinky mess.

Three years ago, my husband broke our marriage vows by cheating on me. By the grace of God we began the healing process less than a month after it happened. We were healing but not healed, and the state of my soul at the start of 2013 was largely affected by this lingering hurt.

But one night, in a moment of honesty and tears, he and I both released our expectations of the future. 

Life wasn’t going to be as we had planned it, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be better. 

I wondered if, someday, we’d share our story beyond the few people who already knew.  Someday. But not anytime soon.

And then one fall day, a friend asked me to be part of a series of guest bloggers writing on the topic Nothing So Broken God Can’t Redeem It. She didn’t know our story when she asked, and I knew that it was the only story I could tell. 

My husband and I talked about it, wrestled with it and finally decided it might be time. I scheduled it for the end of the series, a day in December that seemed so far away. We met with our pastor and his wife and said we’d like to share the story in church, too. We were new to the church community and we wanted to start off on authentic ground. We were given the green light.

So, on a Sunday in October, as the trees were reaching their final burst of color before the dying season, we told our community of faith our story. A few weeks later, I told it again on the blog.

Two events I wouldn’t have dreamed would have been part of my year.

But as my best friend reminded me: Maybe this is what God was leading me toward all along.

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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.