that pesky little one word

I’m not one to do something just because the rest of the world is doing it. I’m also not one to not do something just because everyone else is doing it if it’s something that would add meaning and purpose to my life.

Like that “one word” everybody and their sister is choosing for 2014.

Part of me says, “Bah, humbug. Who needs a word? Not me.”

The other part of me says, “Actually? A word would be nice. I could use a little focus and direction in my life.”

Another part says, “One word? Just one? For real? How in the heck? I LOVE WORDS. ALL THE WORDS!!”

And here’s what the serious, melancholy part of me says: “There are a lot of words I’d LIKE to choose if it were up to me. But it’s not. Because my life isn’t exactly going how I want it to right now.”

Which may seem a little silly to you, if you’re thinking, “Um, hey, didn’t you just move into an apartment complex with East African refugees? And didn’t you and your adorable husband just celebrate 16 years of marriage? And aren’t your kids, like, all into making stuff and giving all the money to Cambodia?”

What do you mean your life isn’t going how you want it to??


Okay, I’m going to be as honest as I can about my own crap without putting anybody else down.

Here’s the deal. I’m kind of an ambitious sort of girl. I like to dream big. To take risks. To go huge or go home. To make a big ol’ whopping difference in the lives of people around the globe.

And I’m DYING (like it seriously feels like I’m dying sometimes) to get back to Cambodia.

So, as I’ve thought about my ONE WORD this past week, these are the kinds of words that make my heart sing. Words like: DREAM. And RISK. And TRAVEL. And GO. And HUSTLE. And GLOBAL. And VROOM VROOM VROOM. (well maybe not that)


I pretty much felt in the deepest part of my spirit that I wasn’t going to get to choose any of those words. That I wasn’t supposed to choose any of those words.

Because the person I love more than any other human? The guy I just celebrated our sweet 16th anniversary with? Is not at the same place as me. He’s still fighting a pretty intense (at times) battle with anxiety and often struggling to believe he even has a future, let alone make crazy plans for it.

And while the devil likes to whisper lies like this to him: “You’re going to die. Your time here is short. Your wife and girls are going to have to live without you. You’re going to have another heart attack. You have no future. You’re worthless,” that same stupid devil is whispering these lies to me: “Your husband is never going to be better. He’s going to sabotage all your dreams. If you ever do get enough money to pay off your hospital debt, he’s just going to rack up more. Forget Cambodia. Forget your future. It’s over. Dead. Done. Gone.

And at the same time I’m telling Gabe, “You HAVE to trust God with your life and your future. You HAVE to,” am I trusting God that he can make dreams come true whether or not Gabe seems to be moving along at the pace I think is necessary to achieve those dreams?


I might have maybe discussed this before, but my love language? Acts of service. When Gabe does stuff for me, provides for us, I feel loved.

His love language? Physical touch. When I’m near him, holding him, scratching his back, rubbing his head, cuddling with him, he feels loved.

When he’s anxious and plays games on his phone to relax instead of doing work that pays the bills, I freak out. What he needs most is for me to hold him and love him through it. And I’m feeling unloved and unwilling to give him that.

And things keep getting a little bit better and then coming back to awful. Even on our “happy” anniversary.

And so I don’t choose a word because the only ones I can think of are ANGER and BITTERNESS and SILENT TREATMENT and a few that only have four letters that won’t do on this family-friendly blog.

And while some happy, holy bloggers (I’m totally being unfair here. I haven’t even read their posts.) are choosing their husband’s name as their one word, I’m thinking, “I’ll choose BITE ME before I choose GABE.”

And today it all hit the fan. We were supposed to be leaving for church and instead, we went into the bedroom and had tears and words. And we talked about our love languages, and Gabe told me through tears that he’s not crushing my dreams on purpose and there was a lot of other stuff said (good but hard), and I heard God whisper MY ONE WORD to me.

And I fought him.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope.


And then I gave in. Gave up. Which was a good thing to do, because the word?


Surrender it. All of it. The dreams of going back to Cambodia. The dreams of getting out of debt. The dreams of Gabe being anxiety-free and us leading a happy, “normal” life. ALL OF IT.

And I told Gabe, “I’m making you a promise. I’m surrendering my dreams, giving them up. And I promise to love you like you need to be loved, no matter what.”

And I felt this huuuuuuuuuge weight lifted off my shoulders.

And I felt the love that I keep burying underneath resentment come bubbling back up.

And I felt peace.

And I don’t have the time to get into it now, but a whole whole bunch of things kept happening all day long to 1.) affirm that I made the right choice of words, and 2.) that my dreams are best off in God’s hands anyway.


So, that’s my word for 2014. SURRENDER. What’s yours?

26 thoughts on “that pesky little one word

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  4. Arneta

    Oh Marla…. Again…your honesty, always resonates. What a tough thing, to lay down your dreams…to surrender. But oh the things God can do when we surrender. Thank you for being an example on how to be real…in a world that makes it easy to pretend, especially with social media. You and your family continue to be in my prayers. ❤️
    Oh… And my word this year is AVALIBLE … I am to be available…. To God, my Husband, my children, my friends… To be available to be used by God in ways that express his love to others.

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  6. Rachelle

    I haven’t been a “one word” girl either. Not a bandwaggoner. Nope. I’m weird. Then as I was resisting…I kept hearing God speak into my heart. And after a proper term of denial I caved. And so my word this year is Trust, along with the scripture Phil 3:13-14. And so God will have to work this in me because, well, I can’t.
    Love you guys!

  7. Jennifer

    I just finished reading the post with tears in my eyes! I can relate so much to what you are talking about. My husband and I are in very similar places as you and Gabe and it has killed me to feel like I am giving up on all my hopes and dreams. There are so many people in my life that have told me countless times I should take my girls and leave because my husband isn’t putting us first, and he isn’t providing for us like he should be. And, on one hand they are right, but there are so many things they can’t see because they don’t know what happens in our house. They can’t see the little changes that have happened over the past 10 years. That little glimmer that keeps hope alive that things can and will be better.

    My word for this year is trust. I have to learn to trust. I have to learn to fully, completely and totally trust God. I have to learn to trust my husband, and that he is honestly trying to make things better in his life (and our family’s life). I have to learn to trust my kids, and man are they great girls.

    I can tell you it is so hard, especially when you start making leaps in faith (you know like pulling your daughter out of private school to homeschool not exactly sure how you are going to do it while working full time, but knowing that is what God put on your hear to do.) I have to learn to trust myself that if something doesn’t go as “planned” then that doesn’t mean it didn’t go exactly how it was supposed to go and that I’m capable of making it all work and balance. This is a huge year for my family we are making major changes, but I know as long as I trust fully and completely it will be okay!

    Thank you for your blog, I hope you are able to see what an impact your life has on others around you!


  8. SharonB

    Just “hsppened” by tonight and read this. Love the honesty and emotion of it all. Its real and oh so relatable.
    My word is joy.Its not a word I really wanted but I know its His word for me. Joy, Everlasting joy as in Isaiah 61:7. Learning to have joy in ALL life’s circumstances. Even pain, suffering and affliction! He alone can turn our suffering into Joy.

  9. Shay

    What an awesome post! My husband is a recovering addict and he frequently says that all of his peace and freedom took place when he finally surrendered. He, like you, had to go through a lot of pain and tears to get there, but he says it’s the best decision he has ever made! Thanks once again for posting the hard, real stuff. It is inspiring and encouraging to me every time! I can’t wait to see all he has in store for you guys!

  10. Keri

    I was going to write a post about this exact thing and it would sound eerily similar to yours!!! So much the same with me. Love you! Fantastic post!

  11. Sharon


    Was debating about a word the other day, when I saw a post (you may have seen it, too) where the writer’s word was her husbands name. Thought that would be a great one for me, too. Then realized, not just his name, but our kids, too. So my word is “family.”

    Thanks for sharing this here. Have I mentioned that we pray for you all daily?

    And, have you read the book “Love and Respect?” Some of what you wrote made me think it might be a good read for you guys, though I know you are going through extraordinary circumstances right now.

    1. Jennifer

      Could you give me some more information about the book you mentioned? I think it sounds like something my family needs to look into as well!


  12. Helen

    Definitely laying down my writing dreams. Not abandoning them but letting God hold them in His sturdy hands. Romans 12:1-2 in the message…is leading me along.

  13. Beth in the City

    I don’t have a word because…well, I’m just a little too random for one word all year. I am SO proud of you for obeying God! It’s hard. It’s been really hard for you. But you did it. You obeyed. And I’m cheering a sister on, because that’s one of my very favorite things to do. I also know a little bit about letting dreams go. Not a lot. I don’t have it figured out. Just wanted you to know I’ve been there a wee bit. Love to you.

  14. Marcy

    Hokey smokes girl!! I am crying. You wrote things that resonated deeply with me. I also don’t like jumping on the same train as anyone else but you’ve made an excellent point. When it is a worth “whatever” that everyone is doing then it’s worth letting God work through it.
    I am very similar in love languages and, after 20 years of stuff (and I’m the eternally and chronically ill one), struggle with SURRENDER. Wow. Just. Oh. My.
    I have been ignoring this little thing for so long and here you go and bring it up 🙂

    Thank you for sharing it with us. God is at work through you no matter where you are.

  15. Sarah

    I love this, friend. I really love this. You’re so real. I’m thankful to call you friend. (I know…not eloquent words…I am just like…amen). And, my word is abide. Which is surrender for me in so many ways.

  16. Claudia

    my word is “grace” … grace for others and grace for me…unmediated favor, a willingness to give others and myself the break that Christ has so generously given to those who believe

  17. Donna Lohr

    First off, you need to get Bethany to make you a banner for that word. My word last year was WHATEVER as in Phillipians 4:8, and she made me a lovely banner that kept me focused all year.
    Second, when God gives you your word it is a good thing.
    Third, my word(s) this year are MORE/LESS…as in more of Him, less of me, more time studying the Word, less time playing on the computer, more intentional living, less seat of the pants living….yep. Those are my words.
    Gotta get my banner for this year!

  18. holly

    My word is LESS.
    Less me.
    Less stuff.
    Less food.
    Less interruptions.
    Less of technology
    You get the picture…..

    Praying for you. Love you.

  19. Rachel Degeo

    My word is NOTICE. I picked this word after reading a book that my sweet sis-in-law gave me for Christmas, called “The Invisible Woman” by Nicole Johnson. This word is my goal for 2 reasons. 1 – To remember that my God NOTICES me, that He has not forgotten or forsaken me; especially when it feels like everyone else has. I am not invisible, even when I feel like it. 2 – To remember to NOTICE those around me that my God wants me to reach out to, and tell them that they are also not invisible. After reading this book and mulling over this, the song “His Eye is on the Sparrow” kept going through my brain. I went out and bought cards that had sparrows on them ($1 at Michaels!). My goal is to write 30 handwritten notes of NOTICE to women this year. I love you and your heart for Cambodia, I know that yearning to be in a place like that. I pray that God will fill your heart with a temporary dream, while you wait on the big ones!

  20. Jill Foley

    Oh Marla…I can totally see how God has his hand over all this. SURRENDER is perfect for you and I think you will learn so much about what God wants from you.

    I started the whole “one word” thing 4 years ago when it wasn’t all that trendy, but I’ve been amazed at how God reveals a new word to me each year. And they have all built upon each other – one leading to the next.
    Here’s what I mean…
    year 1 – LOVE.
    year 2 – QUIET God gave me Zeph 3:17 – I will QUIET you with my LOVE.
    year 3 – LISTEN Now that I’m quiet, I can listen to God.
    year 4 – SLOW Now that I’m listening, I need to slow down
    YEAR 5 – SERVE

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