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.
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?