It started in a moment, a word thrown at me over and over again until I took notice. I wasn’t having a great day, in fact, I was angry and done with all the things not going my way. The cashier’s name was Joy, I saw her name tag as I waited a ridiculous amount of time for the stock boys to find my purchase in the back room of the store. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself in the midst of the holiday season.

Half an hour later I was standing in another store, looking at Christmas decorations and there in front of me was a large red wooden word “JOY”. Ok, I get it. I don’t have joy right now. I don’t even know what it really means. I picked up the wooden word and decided to take it home.

This was 6 years ago and that word still sits in my living room to remind me of that time when it’s meaning was beyond what I thought I knew and when I felt it was completely out of reach.

It’s never been about finding a word for the beginning of a new calendar year. They seem to come with each new seasons of life, sometimes like a punch in the gut, sometimes as a gentle hug reminding me to shift my focus. In 2005, the word “Hope” sprang out like a hand pulling me out of the depths as I walked with my husband through cancer.

It was simply a word, but seeing it everywhere gave me something bigger to focus my thoughts on.

Each word has been exactly what I needed to keep myself afloat during hard times or grounded in great times. But it is never just a word I choose, it is a word that comes to me. A word that screams at me, that is given like a gift from something bigger. God knows what I need rather than what I want and is ready to show me in a way I can understand.

2019 was my year of healing. Healing my gut, healing from grief, healing from the loss of a life full of toxic relationships. Through loss and grief, I found healing and love. The death of my dad felt like the closing of several hard and hurtful years. It opened up the opportunity to find encouragement and a confidence that had been buried deep inside. Yet, with my personal focus on healing, the word continually handed to me was ‘bitterness’. It wasn’t a pleasant word. Unlike Joy, this word is not displayed in my house. For a while I kept it hidden, even from myself. I was embarrassed by it. Why would this word be what I needed to focus on. It was so negative, a gut wrenching thought to truly focus on my bitterness. But when I finally gave in, when I finally began sifting through this harsh word, I found that it was actually holding me back from the complete healing I was working toward.

I was given the book ‘Unclaimed Baggage’ as I began working toward healing my past and the book ‘Boundaries’ to help me build new relationships for my future. These books, along with counseling, new friends, a new church home, and a renewed relationship with my husband have helped walk me through healing my bitterness.

So now, as 2019 comes to a close and I continue to heal, my focus is changing. Bitterness has released me and I can look to my past and know that without it I would not be who I am today. And without my words, I wouldn’t have made it through the struggles in the same way.

As I write this, on the day my father died one year ago, I am thankful for his life, for the wonderful things he taught me and gave me. The legacy he was in my life. I can take in the not so great parts and know that they built me into who I am today. Each toxic person I have removed from my circle in the last 4 years has been a stepping stone for me to reach the life God has for me. The words He has shown me brought true hope, joy, and a deeper consciousness of what life can become if I let bitterness hold on.

A new season has begun and I know a new word will come, like an imaginary friend, when I need it the most. For now, I will focus on the Lord and who He wants me to be.