No tissues

“Mama, I thought you were leaving!”

Maggie looked up from her short stack of wooden blocks where she crouched, smiling, next to her little best friend, Mary. She furrowed her brows at me.

Mary glanced at her own mother, who held it together with a smile, and gave her the same exasperated glance.

39186537_676483520302_2877237478224297984_nWe looked at one another in shock. This isn’t how we expected it to go! We’d stayed at home with these baby girls. We had delayed writing books to spend time with these girls. We’d missed countless coffee dates and outings in lieu of My Little Pony parties. And just one year ago we’d broken down and sent them hesitantly to Mom’s Day Out together. Even though the program only offered part-time preschool care two mornings per week, we’d still wondered if our girls would make it. They were both a bit clingy at four years-old—mama’s girls, happy at home, with family.

And here they were, shrieking with joy in the midst of their new kindergarten classroom first thing in the morning on the first day of school. We had no doubt kindergarten would suit them well. They basically shoved us out the door. We laughed as our egos deflated like Winnie the Pooh’s blue balloon.

“Well, I guess they’ll be okay,” I said reluctantly to Mary’s mom. “Hopefully we will, too.”

She wiped her eyes a bit with a tissue and laughed. We walked away from the classroom without looking back.

39192512_676483605132_8162394297312739328_nLetting go of someone you love can be incredibly difficult and even painful. But it’s made easier when God goes before us and plans in love. As soon as I learned that Mary would be right beside Maggie, learning and growing in the same classroom with the absolute best teacher available in the best district in our area, my fears faded.

God knows me so well. I’ve always felt like Thomas. I have never felt comfortable praying, “I trust you, God.”

I’m the woman praying, “God, I don’t trust you, honestly. But I want to. Please help me.”

And He shows me His hands and His feet and His side.

But I . . .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have never cared about holiness. When I read Scripture, sang songs, or heard conversations about God’s holiness, I felt wholly unmoved. It would probably be a stretch to characterize my reaction as unimpressed, but there was probably a little bit of the Makalyla Maroney face inside of me when I’d contemplate the concept of holiness.

Over the years, my reaction bothered me. Why did other Christians feel so awed, moved, and inspired by God’s holiness–while I felt nothing at all?

My personality type typically leads to a more analytical, critical approach to everything, including spirituality. So I tried not to hammer myself too harshly for my lack of sentiment. But regarding other aspects of God, and in other areas of my relationship with God, I experienced plenty of light bulb moments, ahas, and spiritual awakenings. I wanted to understand this holiness thing, too.

This year I decided to embark on a journey to “get it.” I studied root words in Greek and Hebrew. I devoured Scripture related to holiness and specific stories in the Bible which grabbed my attention. I also started reading A.W. Tozer again, an author I’d tried out in early adulthood but hadn’t found captivating at that point in life. I had too much drama swirling in my life at that point pulling my attention away from what really mattered. 15 years later, I’m able to concentrate. And I guess what they say is true–when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This time, God has shown Himself to me through Tozer in spades.

I’m finally grasping that the power of understanding anything about Who God Is lies in contrast. When I see who I really am, and compare who I am to Who He Is, then I understand the value in Who He Is.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for those of us who’ve struggled with playing God. Trusting God is difficult, particularly for those of us who’ve experienced trauma that  seems to demonstrate that God is not there for us, that God does not come through for us when the rubber hits the road, and that we must rely on our ourselves or be thrown to the wolves. We begin to develop our own plans, a sturdy sense of self-reliance, and an ego akin to a tumor whose mass increases at an alarming rate.

Therein lies tension.

But all is never lost when God’s in the mix. The beautiful thing is that while it’s true that what we’ve been through is often beyond horrific–and many of you reading this will not relate, and that’s okay, because many of you will, and you will find hot tears falling down your face as you read this just as mine are sliding into my coffee as I write this–it’s ALSO true that what we have been through is not who we are. Let me say that again so you can whisper it to yourself.

What you have been through is not who you are.

We often allow what we have been through to define us. That’s called spiritual warfare.

If we’re not what we’ve been through, then who are we? Ah, the journey really starts here. For some of us, we never knew who we were to begin with. For others, it’s a return to a better place.

Regardless, when I honestly and objectively look at who I am today, even on my best days and after years of diligent spiritual work, I can guarantee a few things. I’m broken. I’m incapable of total consistency to principles, excellent decision-making, perfection, or any other concept or spiritual practice/discipline. As much as I want to be, I’m not self-sufficient. I need help–I need God, and I need other people (mentors and accountability partners). I’m not going to last forever–I’m going to die. I wish I could say I know everything, but I don’t; I’m not that wise, and without Google and the library, I’d be pretty lost. And admittedly, I try my best to love others, but I don’t like several people. I attempt to be kind, gracious, and generous, but there are many times when I’m just going through the motions (and if you knew what was going through my head, you’d give me coal in my stocking next year for Christmas).

That’s just the honest truth about me. And it’s the honest truth about you, too, because we are people. If you believe those things are not the truth about you, you are likely incapable of being honest with yourself, and that’s another problem entirely (and another blog post for another time).

And here is the honest truth about God.

He does not need us, but He wants us. He is fully self-sufficient, but He loves to see/hear us serving and loving–doing God-like things which honor Him. God lasts forever, and God just IS–time as we know it isn’t the way God operates. God is not malleable; He doesn’t change, so He’s completely consistent and reliable. God knows everything–which isn’t the same as saying God causes everything. God is completely faithful, and is the only One we can depend on wholeheartedly no matter what. God really is good, just, and loving 100% of the time. And He is holy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod is the absolute antithesis of who I am. Because God is God–and I am not.

I have been rereading Isaiah. This morning, I got to chapter 49. I stopped at this verse and began imagining other ways God might speak to us similarly. The first portion is Isaiah 49:15-16. The rest is from me.

But I . . . 

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you
on the palms of my hands.”

Though they interrupted,
I hear you.

Though you were invisible,
Now you are seen.

Though no one applauded for years,
Here I AM, rejoicing over you.

Though they said ‘stop crying,’
I weep with you.

Though he stripped you of dignity,
I vindicate.

Though frailty ravaged your frame,
I make all things new.

Though dreams atrophied,
I restore years the locust has eaten.

Though cacophony and chaos cluttered days,
I still waves.

Though they’ve proven liars,
I will always be true.

Though they are,
But I AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American sky, 1874

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What would it be like?–

I wander, alone, in quiet woods one winter night

staring into the best sky I’ve seen in some time–

to see night like a true American

resting in silence, nestled in true tall whistling

prairie grass glittered with bison,

sure about the Source

of each shining white flame

flickering above?

 

No choking fumes

trespass illumination

muffling stars like fireflies

in dirty porch jars,

a muddled soup overhead,

misguiding hearts and eyes,

leading us to false stars,

cold drones,

unarmed constellations.

 

What it must have been like

to never wonder whether

sparks blaze or

man-made neon simply fades,

whether pale trails are

falling stars or just crowded rows

of first-class midlife crises

gripping sweaty glasses, closing our

minds on a red-eye flight

to nowhere

fast.

 

-Written by Bethany Wallace, March 2018

 

2017 gift list

Christ child 2017 giftsStill and reverent, I lay in bed Christmas morning before the sun reappeared. I listened to heart-stopping versions of my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and enjoyed hot coffee, wrapping my extremities tightly in blankets. The piano keys and cello sang out with my spirit.

Nietzsche once said, “Everything matters. Nothing’s important.”

Each year I make a list of gifts received. This morning I reflected on the year’s gifts, Nietzsche’s words, and another key phrase.

Either Christ is everything, or He is nothing.

Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor both echoed this sentiment—and both lived as if He were everything.

The entire year bore gifts.

gifts daughter father

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I held my mother’s shaking frame, soaked in tears, while she struggled to let my grandma go Home. I talked to my mentors for hours via video conferencing, on the phone, and face-to-face over the best hash browns I’ve consumed. I meditated on Truth while sipping fresh coffee every single morning, fueling my spirit and becoming better. I cradled countless kittens. I watched, panic-stricken, as my daughter barreled through a riding barn on an agitated racing horse at full speed. I rejoiced when I realized she and her little friend were holding one another in the saddle, God going before them and planning in love. I wiped away Maggie’s snot while she told me she wanted to keep riding, the bravest soul I know. I nearly skipped out of the breast specialist’s office, celebrating benign results. I applauded my tiny angel, proudly parading up the church aisle during the Christmas pageant. I walked away from my daughter’s preschool classroom for the first time and returned to find her too happy to leave. I led clients to greater joy. I shed tears. I shared silence. I waited for justice. I listened. I caressed my husband’s weathered crow’s feet, solidly at home. I stroked my cowgirl baby’s smooth forehead as she slept, whispering comfort and love in her ear, the most important part of my day.

Each night, as I tiptoed out and stumbled for my glasses atop piles of bedtime stories, I marinated in Light.

Christ shone beside me all year and carried me through.

Let me perceive You in every matter.

All clear

Does anyone actually enjoy visiting their gynecologist?

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At my annual exam, August 2017

I didn’t think so. I dread this annual visit more than I detest dental checkups. The waiting room is always painfully still. Peeing in a cup isn’t my strong suit. The exam rooms feel pretty frigid. And then there’s the actual exam… At least my gynecologist is an old college friend whom I totally trust.

This August, when my annual exam popped up on my calendar reminders, I decided to approach it differently. I knew what to expect–I’d wait a while, feel uncomfortable because of the blasts of air conditioning, and move from anticipation to anxiety until my gynecologist walked in the exam room. I decided to do my best to take care of myself and ease my discomfort–and prevent whining.

I brought along coffee (AKA life juice), a daily reader/devotional book, and my old standby: my 12 year-old standard blue Snuggie. That’s right. I’d wear my Snuggie during the exam over the thin gown. Perfect.

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What I read moments before my exam, August 2017

It’s amazing how just a few tweaks can adjust my attitude. I felt nearly peppy when my doctor entered the exam room. We chatted about kids and life during the short exam.

Suddenly my doctor became quiet. Her eyebrows furrowed. Having seen that expression before while I birthed my daughter–during a time of distress–my mood moved from pleasant to ominous.

“Have you felt this before?”

She was conducting my breast exam.

“Um, I think so. But honestly I’m not very good about doing regular exams, so I didn’t know…”

I felt waves of death, chemotherapy, and “you will never see your daughter again” roll over me.

“Well, I’m going to order a diagnostic mammogram. I want to have it looked at.”

After that, I couldn’t muster up conversation. My mind hovered over the expression on my doctor’s face and the notion that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. Fear ate my lunch.

I held it together pretty well until I walked into my home. My husband was caring for my daughter (since I had a scheduled exam); they were enjoying an afternoon on the White River. The entire house was holding its breath. I let go and basically bawled for half an hour. I emailed my mentor and asked for prayer. Then I sat down and did the only logical thing a mom on the brink of cancer would do: I recorded a 30-minute long video of myself singing all my daughter’s favorite songs (just in case, you know).

I waited for a few days before calling my doctor to check about scheduling my mammogram and ultrasound. They’d told me to expect to hear from them and to call if I hadn’t. I try to follow orders. When they checked with the hospital about scheduling, the soonest available date was one month away.

That didn’t feel good. Initially I just jotted it down on the calendar and returned to business as usual. But I’ve learned from my mentors how to take care of myself and see that my own needs are met. The next day, I still felt uneasy about waiting a month. So I called and asked for help. My doctor’s billing director pulled some strings.

The mammogram and ultrasound experience was much less stressful than an annual gynecological exam (for all you ladies dreading yours). When the radiologist read the results, she told me I had nothing to worry about and that I should schedule another mammogram in two years when I turned 40.

My stomach knotted. How could my doctor and I have obviously identified an “area of concern” if there were no area of concern? I knew I couldn’t accept that as the final word. I drove immediately to my gynecologist’s office and asked them to help. Once again, they did. Bless those ladies. They scheduled a visit with a breast specialist. The knot loosened.

But the visit with the specialist only made matters worse for two reasons: I felt a creepy vibe, and he didn’t review my imaging results. I felt I’d been tortured pointlessly for another hour of my life. I was frustrated. I also felt exhausted emotionally.

For one month I thought about the follow-up visit with this specialist. Every time it came to mind, I prayed for God’s will, and I simultaneously felt sick.

One month was long enough to convince me to take the bull by the horns again. Once again, my wonderful gynecologist and her staff came through for me. They scheduled me with another specialist.

Last week when I visited the second specialist, I knew I was in better hands (I know, I know… pun intended). This doctor did an ultrasound immediately in his office and shared the images with me right away, explaining that he identified not one but two cysts.

Cysts.

That’s right. Not cancerous lumps.

“You’re fine. You are going to be fine. Come back in three months to see if my recommendations help with reducing your breast density.”

I could have kissed him, but I refrained. I floated out of the office, attempting to contain my joy since I was surrounded by patients whose results didn’t mimic mine. I recorded their faces in my mind so I could pray for them.

I was so thankful for clarity. I felt blessed with a caring, serious gynecologist and breast specialist. I understood that a decade ago, I would have been unable to advocate for myself properly, and I was grateful for the timing of the whole mess. And best of all, I knew God had me–the whole time.

When I closed my car door, I wept. This time, there was no bawling. I recorded no videos. I envisioned nothing.

I drove out of the parking lot, my soul’s gratitude expanding, and smiled.

I lived my life.

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My beautiful life, November 2017

 

Important

Maggie’s obsession with carousels began six months ago when Nettie, her grandma, brought her a coloring book with sketches of horses. The cover featured an intricately adorned carousel in Tennessee. Maggie was hooked. She began begging to ride carousels and asked questions about them daily. I blamed Nettie for that.

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Maggie’s first carousel ride was a little anticlimactic; the carousel, a rickety three-horse ride at Wal-Mart, wasn’t working properly. We deposited coins while she giggled and shouted with glee. And nothing happened.

Maggie kept riding, though. She pretended the horses were whinnying, kicking, and dancing. She sat atop that broken carousel for at least five minutes while we watched, amused.

A few months later, she rode an antique carousel at the zoo. I’ll never forget her face while the breeze caught her golden hair, her eyes closed and tiny teeth shining in the June light.

part0_13 (1)Nettie brought Maggie a toy carousel a few weeks later. The carousel’s status surpassed that of her “snowballs,” globes swirling with white plastic specks, sparkling glitter surrounding Baby Jesus and his mother.

I knew Maggie loved her carousel, but I barely noticed it. When she pushed a red button, the Christmas-themed figurine played electronic carols. I couldn’t make it through two of them without distracting her to play with something else or leaving the room to finish loading the dishwasher.

Until last night, I had never heard all the songs the carousel carries. We lay in bed together, the three of us, watching the mirrored column in the center of the ride scatter its green and red lights around her bedroom. She showed me which horse she loves most on the carousel and explained why. I hummed along to the tunes and held her soft, squishy hand and rubbed her warm, smooth back.

Six months had passed, and I’d never heard the music.

How much beauty in small places do I miss?

I often ask myself, “How important is it?” I typically prioritize big, urgent, prominent things. Work. Marketing. Chores. Meetings. Writing. Scheduled events.

Last night, I saw the world through Maggie’s eyes once again.

From now on, my response to that rhetorical question when presented with moments like this will be “Top priority.”

 

Seeing love

The minute I start thinking about how much work I’m getting done, whether I’m accomplishing enough in my business, if I’m on target to complete my goals for the month or year, or how clean the house is, I’ve lost the ability to exist in the present moment with my child. Worry robs me of enjoying life with Maggie. You’d think that acknowledging that would be enough to permanently rid me of obsessing over work, future plans, past failures, or to-do lists. But no. I still find myself wide-eyed with locked jaw, focused on matters which I know will not matter one single bit in 10 years… maybe not even in one year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we inch closer to the day she starts preschool—she’ll only go three mornings a week, so it’s not like she’s walking out the door and never looking back, but it still feels big to me—I am reminded that we’re turning a significant corner as a family. Every time she asks me to go sit on the porch with her in the evening to watch her turtle, a little box turtle my husband found for her, which she named, “Said,” I don’t want to say no. But I hesitate, knowing I have a client waiting for a resume. I hesitate because a friend is coming to stay with us for the weekend, and the house is far from clean or even sanitary right now. But I try to leave my worries behind and play anyway because I know I don’t say yes often enough.

There are too many times I’ve hesitated in the past or said no. And I have carried regrets for all of those times over the past few years. I refuse to carry regrets with me related to saying no to my daughter and her requests for my time, love, and attention. Will I say no to her when she asks for material possessions, demands freedom to explore unsafe areas of the world, and permission to push boundaries which are in place to protect her? Absolutely—I will always say no if it’s in her best interest. But I will say yes, yes, yes if she’s begging for more of my love.

I once heard a speaker say, “Whatever the question, love is the answer.”

The other night I was feeling pushed to my limits with Maggie. She had a hard day that day, and I’d had one, too, dealing with repeated frustration with her demands and defiance. I took a breather and stepped out of the bathroom while she finished her bath. I glanced at the wall and saw an old portrait my dad gave me years ago hanging on the wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScripted on the portrait were the words, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do You love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ And He spread His arms and died for me.”

I took a deep breath and went back into the bathroom. Maggie splashed around in the water with her bath crayons happily and asked if I wanted to see the pictures she’d drawn of imaginary sea dragons, birds with their mothers, and Mama, Maggie, and Daddy. Of course I did.

I needed to see that portrait. I needed a reminder of just how much God loves me and my little Maggie, and to be reminded that there’s nothing I can do to mess that up. I needed to be reminded that there’s nothing Maggie can do to ruin my love for her and that’s all she needs to hear and see from me every day is a reminder of that Great Love, the kind of Love that holds out its arms all day long for us.