One Good Phrase: Diana Trautwein (One day at a time)

I wish Diana Trautwein and I lived in the same town. If we did, I would force her to meet me for coffee every week and tell me what she’s reading. And then I’d make her be my spiritual director. And then I’d be really sweet and ask her to preach me a sermon. Every week. Until then, I love having her here today.


When I was 17 years old and a recent high school graduate, waiting to both lose and find myself in a very large university setting, I spent a good part of that last carefree summer volunteering as a camp counselor. One weekend, my supervisor drove me down the mountain to her parents’ home so that we could do a little laundry and breathe more heavily oxygenated air for a day.

And as we swerved our way along that curvy mountain road, enjoying the view from her vintage VW Beetle, she taught me a song, one I had never heard before. It was an old Swedish hymn called “Day by Day,” and in a way, that sweet and simple melody became a kind of theme song for the rest of my life, even though I didn’t sing it again for a long time.

About 13 years, to be exact. The year I turned 30, my husband and I and our three young kids (ages 3, 5 and 7 at the time) joined a neighborhood church that happened to be part of the very denomination that birthed the hymn I had learned driving down that mountain. As my children were growing to adulthood, as I was  discovering who I was without those children to tend, as my marriage morphed from very traditional to one of mutuality and partnership, I sang that song often. Each time, it touched something deep inside me. Each time, it called me to lean into trust — just enough trust for today.

God knows, if I’d tried to trust for all the days I’ve lived, I’d have crashed and burned long ago. I can just about manage one at a time. So often over the course of the last 50 years, I’ve found myself offering this phrase to people I love, people I counsel, people I write to, people I preach to, people I share life with. And most of all, I’ve whispered it to myself.

Over and over again.

Getting married while a college student? Traveling 14,000 miles to live in another land for two years, mere months after we said those vows? Birthing and raising three children in 4.5 years?

One day at a time.

Loving all my children through their various physical, emotional and spiritual crises, maneuvering the sometimes complicated interactions of a large (and nearby) extended family, seeking professional help for myself and my marriage when it was needed, entering seminary at 44, professional ministry at 48 — all of this could only be done . . . daily.

One day, and then the next.

For me, this is a lesson that is never quite learned, never perfected, one that needs repetition, reminders, re-hashing, and a whole lot of arguing, floundering, rebelling, sighing, misunderstanding, and mortifyingly feeble attempts to either a.) step away from the situation, whatever it might be, shrug my shoulders, throw my hands in the air and shout to the heavens, “Are you crazy? This is way beyond what I can manage;” or, b.) dive in and try to wrest control of the wheel, making plans and decisions that show no evidence of trust whatsoever. So often, I try either to control outcomes or to completely abdicate responsibility — to live too far ahead of the game, or to wallow in anxiety, peering out at life with a fear-stained, paralyzed heart.

Here’s the truth: either way I fall, the only thing that brings me back to center, back to the place where God and I are partnering through the conundrums of life together — is remembering to take it one day at a time.

Because, today is all we have. Really, it is. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We have ideas, we have plans, we have appointments on the calendar, for heaven’s sake. But we truly do not know what tomorrow will bring.

I had other plans the day my father died; the call came while I was in staff meeting, just before I needed to go home and cook dinner. I had other plans the day my son-in-law died; I had just washed my hair and was getting ready to lead in Sunday school the next morning. I had other plans the day my brother died; I was waking up and heading out to a fully scheduled day.  I had other plans when my husband was rushed to the emergency room with a massive blood clot in his lung, and one year later, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and five years later, when I ended up in the hospital with blood clots myself. I had plans.

In these, and so many other life-changing situations, today is all we’re given. Believing that God will provide what we need when we need it, learning to walk in step with the God who called us into being and saves us from ourselves, understanding more and more deeply what it means to trust — by the grace of God — we can do all of this. . . today.

Day by day, one foot after the other, one moment after the next: one day at a time.

Here is a link to that glorious old song.


Married to her college sweetheart for over 45 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes twice weekly on her own blog, JustWondering, monthly at A Deeper Family, occasionally for Prodigal Magazine, and soon, occasionally for She Loves Magazine. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?

  • Maria Alm

    Thank you for reminding me of this hymn, playde at my grandmas funeral! It is just what I needed to hear today, preparing for a school meeting for my special needs son.

    Diana, thank you for your Writing and Micha, thanks for hosting.

    Lots of love from Sweden!

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Maria. This old classic is still played at the funerals of many older members of our church. And occasionally (very occasionally!) we sing it in worship. It’s a lovely song and I’m grateful for it.

  • ro elliott

    Well…can I say I would love to invite myself to those coffee dates…what treasured times they would be….I love these words…a great reminder for where life is for me right now…just the next breathe…the next step…until we sleep…the gift of a day…thanks for the encouragement….blessing and grace to you both~

    • pastordt

      Thanks, Ro. I still have to remind myself of this truth when things get dense and intense, but these words have been powerful for me for a long time now. I’m glad you find them helpful today.

  • pastordt

    Thank you so much, Micha, for your invitation and for these kind and sweet words today. I’d love to meet with you on some kind of regular basis and that’s the truth. There’s this little problem of . . . time and, oh yeah. . . distance. Although you’re closer now than you once were!

  • Tanya Marlow

    I needed to sit at your feet and get me some wisdom today – thank you, Diana. I always have plans – so many plans… One day at a time. Okay.

    • pastordt

      Oh, Tanya! I know how deeply you know this truth. (Are you still writing on your blog? Or have you taken a leave for a while? For some reason, I get no email notices from you anymore except for comments on past blogs. Love to you this Wednesday morning — well, it’s morning here, at least!)

      • Tanya Marlow

        Oh no! I missed a week last week, but otherwise there have been regular posts on my blog. I wonder why they are not getting to you? Grrrr. I think I may have to switch to a more reliable system…

        • pastordt

          Well, I’m glad you’re still writing!! I’ll go over and resubscribe. I’ve had the same problem with Ed Cyzewski’s blog, too. Weird.

  • Leigh Kramer

    Diana, I often use this phrase for myself but also with the people I worked with during my medical social work days. As we talked through their circumstances and brainstormed self-care ideas, I’d tell them to take it one day at a time or one hour at a time or even one minute at a time. Whatever it took. I know for myself, it gives me the right amount of perspective and motivation to keep plugging on, no matter what I face.

    Micha, I feel the same way about Diana!

    • pastordt

      This does not surprise me, Leigh. In that line of work, as in any caregiver role, you just about have to live like this. There is too much, just too much. So one footstep at a time, one day at a time. (Still loving that pixie cut, girl. Loving it.)

  • kelli woodford

    Your words and your stories, Diana? They go farther than you will ever know. This one – to my deep places.

    And btw, I’m with Micha – if you lived in my town … oh, what a thought! ;)

    • pastordt

      Thank you so much, Kelli. The words have been stymied for several weeks now, at least in my own space. So I’m glad these have found their way into you. Would love to meet with you, too, dear Kelli.

  • phyllis lorenz

    Oh so lovely. I sang “Day by Day” in college and it was the “theme song” of my particular major. The harmony is wonderful.

    I also am a Mid-Life-Career-Changer, whilst raising young-ish kiddoes. Living in the moment is what got me through then as it continues to get me through.

    Coffee, why, yes, thank you. I think we’d have a lot to share. My new career is “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist” but it feels like a “call” and often veers into spiritual realms.

    These past 20 years have been challenging, to be sure, but oh so satisfying. When something fits, one is able to navigate the challenges. In my experience at least.

    • pastordt

      Amen to that ‘fitting’ thing – it does make all the difference. Congrats on the midlife transition (and all the work that went into making it happen!). And thanks for reading and commenting – I appreciate it.

  • sethhaines

    It’s good to read this from someone who has done a bit of living. It’s good and right that D and M should be hanging out, slinging truth out there. Thanks to you both.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Seth, for reading and commenting. The phrase has been overused so much (thanks for the Psalty tweets, BTW) that it’s become trite. But here’s the thing about trite – it’s so often based on TRUE. And this one just is.

  • Glenda Childers

    Micha, I feel the same way about Diana. Maybe we could all be neighbors.

    Day by Day is one of my top favorite hymns, too. I was just listening to the link (thanks, Diana), and Dave came in and said, “That is one of my favorite hymns.”

    I love it when you share your story, Diana.


    • pastordt

      I’m hoping there’ll be a nice, big Great Room in heaven, with comfy sofas and chairs and a humungous table with coffee/tea available with a snap of our fingers. And unlimited amounts of time to just dish with one another. But then, that’s pretty much what heaven is, right? Unlimited time? Love that you and Dave know and love this song – it’s such a good one! Thanks for your encouraging words, Glenda. I’m always glad to see you.

      • Glenda Childers

        That is what I have longed for my whole life. Even as a child I wanted to live in a commune. :)

        • pastordt

          My middle daughter dreams all the time of all of us living in the same neighborhood, maybe a street apart or so. Even sometimes, a huge piece of property with houses for each of us adjacent to one another. I think it’s the dream of a lot of people – and I consider myself blessed that my kids think that might be fun. There are many whose family stories would never lean in that direction, that’s for sure.

          • Glenda Childers

            Yes, it is a huge blessing to have good relationships with our adult kids.

  • David Rupert

    Hey. Lookie where my friend landed! This is exciting.

    The walk you speak of — a step at a time — is really the best way to be. We trust him for our daily bread, for our every breath, for this day alone. To be in the moment is the purest way to live.

    My mother’s lifetime expression is “For this we have Jesus”.

    • pastordt

      Well, hey there, David! I love your mom’s expression. Love it. My mom quotes a friend of hers all the time and his phrase was, “The Lord’s been good.” In the midst of cancer treatments, slow death, the loss of his wife and both of his stepsons, “The Lord’s been good.” I’m glad Mom’s got that phrase as she fades slowly away from this life. And I’m glad your mom had her lovely words, too. I think that’s why I’ve loved this series so much – it is a rich gift to learn how others use words to center and anchor themselves in the midst of all kinds of turmoil and transition. We serve a God who is Word, so this is a very good thing Micha is doing in this space and I’m honored to be here.

  • Patricia W Hunter

    Love this, Diana. What a beautiful faith story. It’s the only way to live, isn’t it? “I had plans.” Reminds me of the woman I knew who would always leave with the words, “I’ll see you…….if the Lord wills it so.” Much love to you, friend.

    • pastordt

      Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend. And yes, it is the only way to live. Oh, I still make plans. Couldn’t make it through a day without ‘em. But I try (and often fail) to hold them lightly and look for where the Spirit might be ruffling those plans around the edges a bit.

  • jim

    Thanks for sharing some wonderful thoughts everybody. Today is the day. In a earthly sense, and a factual sense according to the word of God, time is running out for all of us. I was reminded by the second stanza of this hymn from 1847.

    Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
    change and decay in all around I see;
    O thou who changest not, abide with me.

    • pastordt

      Thank YOU, Jim, for leaving this kind comment and those wonderful words from “Abide with Me.” Love that old hymn