I began last year by cleaning out my spare bedroom, preparing for my sister to come and live with me for three months. As I pulled books off shelves and clothes out of closets, the Lord impressed on me that 2011 would be the year of “Empty.” And so I set out to see what would come of it.
Early on, emptying my life became like a resolution, and I lopped off activities and obligations and possessions like I was really making it happen. I observed my life and the world through the lens of “empty” and saw that I could declutter my home, my inbox, my calendar and feel fuller on the inside, doing things that were a priority instead of wasting my time on what was filling my space and time.
Throughout the year, I wrote about this process of emptying, of being empty. Throughout the year until July, that is. As I looked back through my posts, I haven’t written one time since July about being empty.
Not once since my life actually was emptied by my cancer recurrence have I thought about the word, “empty.”

I am preparing for another sister to move in with me this year. My baby sister will come for her internship this year, and over the weekend, I’ll be checking the drawers to be sure they are empty and creating space in the bathroom cupboard for Skyann to put her things. I’ll probably make another pass over the book shelves that line her room, and I’ll probably get obsessive with the clutter in the closet like last year.
But empty is not my word for this year. (Been there, done that.)
Even as I was being emptied this year, fighting to stay engaged with real life as a cancer battle went on within me, the Lord was planting the seeds of 2012’s word. When the nausea and fatigue set in back in October, I wanted to just stay in bed many days, and even now, the fear that threatens to overcome me nearly crushes my spirit at times.
But truth swirls dreamlike in the back of my thoughts, and a voice tells me softly, “stay in this.” STAY IN THIS, I repeat to myself, because I’m dull and difficult in those moments of deep discouragement. And even now, when the voice speaks, and my self repeats, I usually ask back, “What does it mean to stay in this right now?”
What does it mean to stay in this when I feel pain in my abdomen and fear the cancer is back?
What does it mean to stay in this when I see happily married couples around me, and I go home alone?
What does it mean to stay in this when I make the same mistakes, waste the same amount of time on the same silly distractions over and over again?
What does it mean to stay in this when the projects assigned to me at work seem bigger than me, or smaller than me?
Recently, someone was asking me about the activity on my house, was it still on the market, had there been any interest.
“Not really,” I said. “But I am leaving it up until the end of March. That will be one year since I listed it, and then, if it hasn’t sold, I’ll just stay.”
To stay here in this house, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. I feel at home here; I’m figuring out how to get the help I need; I trust God’s sovereignty that if he wants me to leave there will be a buyer. So maybe it’s not what I was hoping, but it’s what is best.
But if I stay, I’ll have to continue to put money into the house, make improvements. Otherwise, the place is going to come down around me. Just this weekend, as my mom and I were talking about the coming year, I started making a list of things I will do to the house. If I stay.
Some of them I’ll do. Some of them won’t really make sense to do. But part of staying means hoping and planning for the future here. 
I’ve been dreaming and drawing plans for a new kitchen since I moved in here. Based on my neighborhood and the real estate market and my savings account, it will probably never make sense for me to put that kind of money into redoing the kitchen the way I’d like. But I don’t think I can live here unless a kitchen remodel is at least a possibility.
That’s what it means to “stay in this,” I think. From right where I am, I have to keep hoping and planning for the future. Otherwise, whatever I’m doing isn’t really living. 
It’s ironic really. When that voice tells me to “stay in this,” it seems like I am being locked in a prison of the present, forced to endure the pain of now, whatever “this” is. But the truth is if I run from “this,” I will never learn from it, I will never grow out of it, I will never get through it to the other side. 
To stay in this is to turn my present reality into a future possibility – not because God will always change my circumstances, but because He is changing me. Always.
So, my word for 2012 is really three words, “Stay in this.” And if this year ends and I’m still right here where I started, at least I will be different for having stayed.
Photo by Chris Tsangarides, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.