The good old college days

The good ole college days

One dark, starry, windy night—not unlike tonight, with temperatures drastically dropping, warning of winter storms approaching—I crouched alongside dozens of my campus ministry friends during the week of final exams as a college student, creating Christmas cards for shut-ins and hospital patients, humming along to familiar Christmas carols. Suddenly That Still Small Voice rang out clear as a bell.

“Go see her in her dorm room right now.”

I kept humming and coloring and designing my card. I also began arguing with That Still Small Voice. It made no sense to stop what I was doing—because what I was doing made perfect sense—to go make an unannounced visit to a fellow student whom I had barely befriended. This particular student knew my name, and we joined the same student organization simultaneously, but in truth, we barely knew one another. To show up at her apartment uninvited seemed not only rude but also a little nuts, quite frankly.

“Go see her right now, I said.”

I felt my heart pounding this time. I capped the Sharpies and stood up, pulling my best friend, Kelly, aside. I felt slightly irresponsible about leaving the card-making party since I helped plan it, but what could I do? When you get The Call, you answer.

“Kelly, I think God just told me to leave and go do something. I have to go.”

She looked at me quizzically but didn’t inquire about the details. Having lived with me for one year at that point, I guess she’d grown to accept that my brand of spirituality was untraditional, at best.

“Okay—is everything okay?”

“Yes. I’ll see you later.” I zipped up my grey wool car coat and headed in the direction of the student’s room, the wind whipping at my back.

When I arrived, I knocked on her door. A scruffy-looking male answered. I immediately attempted to bow out, apologizing and offering to come back another time, but she asked him to leave.

So there I was.

“I don’t know why I’m here. God just told me to come see you.”

And then her tears fell.

And her truth came rushing out in waves. And I listened.

Mostly, I cried. And we hugged one another.

And she told me that she felt she was on the verge of death, and that God must have sent me to her that night.

And ever since, we’ve remained friends, even when we aren’t able to see one another for long periods of time.

A few weeks ago, I reread 1 Samuel 3 in the Bible. It reminded me of my own life, of the many opportunities—just like this one moment in time when I made a choice to listen to That Still Small Voice—to either listen to God or to blow Him off. I wish I could say I’ve always listened, but I haven’t.

It reminded me that each time I’ve chosen to listen and take action—particularly when what I’ve heard from God requires me to take action—I have NEVER regretted it. I am always the beneficiary or witness of some type of miracle.

What if I had kept foolishly, stubbornly, and selfishly coloring Christmas cards that night? Well, I guess a few more shut-ins would have received Christmas cards that year.

But my friend—MY FRIEND—might be dead. Or she might have struggled for a longer period of time, feeling more isolated and alone, knowing that not one person understood or knew about her pain. My faith in That Still Small Voice would not have grown tenfold that night. I would not have shared in her sorrow and later in her joy when God renewed her spirit. I would have missed a miracle. I would have missed out on love.

Let me never refuse to move when That Voice moves me.

Choosing not to

When my friend Bruce invited me to his concert next weekend, I was stoked—and then immediately felt totally bummed. His band, Living Sacrifice, has impacted me spiritually for a decade and a half. I’d love nothing more than to watch them perform again on their home turf.

IMG_8757But I can’t. Not this time. My daughter, Maggie, is barely a year old and has not mastered bottles or cups yet. She still relies on me for some of her sustenance, and with a baby latched onto me (literally), I’m limited to what I can do and when. She has yet to fall asleep without first nursing and listening to me sing God songs to her, enveloped in my warm arms.

So I just can’t.

I can’t.

For the past year, those are the words I’ve chosen to use each time I’ve declined an invitation to a show, a party, a conference, or a big to-do. It wasn’t until I responded to the invitation to attend Bruce’s concert that I realized that those words weren’t completely honest.

Me at 26, with my friend's baby girl

Me at 26, with my friend’s baby girl

At age 21, I was an independent, strong-willed, adventurous young woman who proclaimed that she had no desire to have children. At 26, I seriously contemplated sealing the deal medically and making it impossible for me to conceive—that’s how sure I was that having a baby wasn’t the right life choice for me.

Then I met my husband. And everything changed. I began envisioning the beauty of creating life together and the joy of taking our child along with us while climbing mountains, watching sunrises, devouring Waffle House hash browns while traveling down Route 66, praying and reading classics aloud before bed, and catching trout on the White River. I began to imagine sharing our lives.

With my husband, 2010

With my husband, 2010

I changed my mind.

We began making choices to put our family in the position of being able to spend as much time as possible together in the future before we even knew that Maggie was on the way. I made different choices about jobs and turned down opportunities to interview for positions requiring me to spend lots of time away from home. I went back to school and earned my Master’s degree with the sole intention of teaching at our local community college—something I’ve always wanted to do. We found a great church. We bought a home and renovated it, even though we underestimated how much space we’d need when two became three.

We got ready.

Good thing, because before all our plans were cemented, Maggie came along and blew my expectations for what life could be like out of the water. I love being her mom more than anything. I didn’t have to stop working, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to nurse her, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to stay so close to home last winter in the midst of cold and flu season, but I wanted to. As I reflect on the past year, I feel at rest knowing I have tried to make the best choices.

When I was pregnant and unsure about whether to stay home with Maggie and for how long, my friend Vicky, who is a little older and much wiser than I am, said something that’s become a mantra.

“You may regret a lot of things in life, but you will never regret the time you spend with your kids.”

She was right.

I’ve missed out on some pretty wonderful opportunities since becoming pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t walk across the stage to receive my diploma when I graduated with my Master’s degree after working my tail off and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. One of my high school friends got married, and I missed quite possibly the most fun ever had at a wedding, complete with a live band and oodles of cowgirl boots. Right in the middle of Maggie’s worst teething crisis, I had to cancel plans to spend the weekend with one of my closest college friends and missed out on some Damgoode Pie pizza and beer and plenty of quality time. I had lunch with some of my friends from across the United States prior to a women’s conference I hated to miss, but a few short hours with them flew by, and I found myself missing them the rest of the weekend.

I’m sorry I can’t put Maggie first and still participate in every exciting event in life.

IMG_1744But I don’t regret putting my baby first, and although I have missed some special moments in my loved ones’ lives because of catering to my baby’s schedule and putting her health and well-being first, I don’t regret it. I can’t put my child on hold—she’s here, and today’s the only second day of December in her second year of life that I’ll ever get to spend with her.

It’s not that I can’t find a babysitter and check out for a few hours while watching a movie. It’s not that I can’t send Maggie to daycare tomorrow and go back to work full-time. It’s not that I can’t go to my friend Bruce’s awesome show on December 6th.

I just choose not to today.

The life I always wanted


Us, spring 2013

Us, spring 2013

Tuesday didn’t seem extraordinary in any way.

I woke up to the sound of my baby calling for Daddy. I chugged coffee while feeding her in an effort to re-energize. I read Maggie her “good morning” book and then sat on the porch with her before nap time, thanking God for the birds, the sky, the grass, and all the other components of creation sprawled out before us in our beautiful middle-of-nowhere spot. I checked email, scheduled appointments, and worked on my course syllabus during Maggie’s nap time. I reluctantly removed my pajamas in favor of real clothing since I had appointments to make and errands to run. I visited with the eye doctor and learned that I didn’t need to see a specialist after all. And I ended the day by sharing experience, strength, and hope with some friends.

As I pulled into the driveway that evening, I saw Maggie and James sitting on the porch with our cats, waving at me and smiling. I waved and smiled, too.

As I parked my car, I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed with joy and excitement and gratitude.

Oh my gosh, I thought as I choked back tears. This is the life I have always wanted. I am living it.

It’s not that I have the things I’ve always wanted. I am grateful for what I have, but that’s not part of the dream I had about living a wonderful life. It’s about what really matters—it’s about who we are. It’s about family. It’s being married to a man who exceeds my expectations for love, companionship, laughter, and commitment. It’s about crawling into bed at night and turning toward each other instead of facing the wall. It’s seeing my beautiful baby girl’s face light up when I walk in the room every morning. It’s having priceless people I love in my life. It’s getting to teach English courses at our local community college and put my degree and my passion for writing to use to serve students. It’s being healthy enough to enjoy these things. It’s having a group of people in recovery to mentor me, hold me accountable, and walk with me as I make progress and let go of perfection.IMG_6819

It’s about looking around me and realizing that all the hopes I held silently within me, for fear they would never be realized, have become reality today. I don’t worry about finances or infidelity. I don’t allow fear to take the reins. I’m not leaning my ear to the door, waiting for the sad, heavy sound of the dropping of the other shoe. I don’t dwell on the what-ifs very often anymore. What is has become my focus instead.

This is the life I’ve always wanted because I am becoming the Bethany I’ve always wanted to be. Thank God for the evolutionary process, for the turning to the light.

“And I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” –Joel 2:25

What I’m listening to

It’s hard to resist the temptation to listen to the Sirens of the past.

In fact, living in the moment is one of the hardest life lessons I’ve learned. I didn’t learn how to do it easily. It didn’t come to me naturally. And I certainly didn’t acquire the ability quickly.

It’s taken years.

Through a combination of catastrophic choices and traumatic trials, I came to believe that my life simply wasn’t going to turn out the way I’d wanted it to. And in truth, I had never had many visions of a pleasant life or goals for changing the world. After age 16, when many fundamental truths seemed disproved by my circumstances of sexual assault and the aftermath that entails, I discarded the notion that setting goals was even worthwhile. What’s the point, if someone can come along and rip your plans away from you? What’s the purpose in believing that if you do X, Y, and Z, God will bless you and work all things together for your good?

And so I allowed my past to dictate my present–and in turn, my present dictated my future. I didn’t feel worth much, and my relationship choices reflected those feelings. I dated random people temporarily to fill emotional voids, using them as crutches and stepping stones. When I finally settled into a real relationship, it was with someone who was honest with me and told me he simply didn’t feel the same about me as I felt about him or was not as sure about our relationship as I was. I chose to ignore the warning and continued to pour my heart out, perhaps in hopes that I’d change his mind. I wanted to control my own destiny. I was determined to get what I wanted, perhaps because I felt I’d been stripped of other things I’d wanted.

That didn’t work, obviously. Although I didn’t see it at the time, God proved to me through that failed relationship that I was certainly not God and that I could absolutely not control another person’s feelings. I would refuse to heed this lesson–so God taught it to me over and over and over again over the course of an entire decade. Every time I tried to control my own circumstances–whether in relationships, at work, or otherwise–He thwarted my efforts and proved relentlessly that He was God. What a bummer.

Sometimes looking back is painful. The Sirens of the past sing the saddest, sweetest songs to me about things I left behind, things that might have been different if only, and things I could have done differently to change the tune of my life.

But I’ve chosen to turn my ear to different sounds now–to sounds occurring right now, all around me, not echoes of songs from what seems like aeons ago. I finally learned the lesson He’d been attempting to teach me for so long, slowly and painfully and not without much help from others who’d learned the same lesson already.

A week ago, my husband agreed to serve on a committee at church. A few days ago, he served communion during a church service. These might seem like small, insignificant life events to some people. But to me, having watched the years of my life rot before my eyes and people I loved fall apart and disintegrate right before my eyes, these were no small moments. This was seeing someone I’d dared to trust following God. It was seeing my prayers for him answered. It was seeing the disappointments of years gone by smeared away, the slate clean.

I could almost audibly hear Him whispering to me, “I will repay you for the years the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).

He has.

Things I never thought possible have occurred and continue to occur in my life today. Dreams I never allowed myself to dream have come true. Hopes I lacked the faith to hope for have been realized. And it just keeps happening this way as I listen to the laughter, the words of confirmation and love, and the quiet song of awe emanating from my heart today.

This new song is all I listen to now.

The Sirens might have drowned.



Wading through the grey

Lately, it seems like I’ve encountered multiple situations which have not presented me with an opportunity that is clearly black or white; instead, there seems to be an excess of grey matter floating around me.

In light of my pregnancy, I recently applied for government healthcare since I only work part-time and attend graduate school full-time. I felt sure I would qualify. However, I was denied Medicaid coverage because our assets exceed the limit. Basically, James owns his own truck, and it’s paid for. If we sold the truck, we would qualify. If he traded the truck in on a brand spanking new one which we could certainly not afford, we’d qualify. Does this make any sense to me? Absolutely not. Instead of rewarding American citizens for working hard to live below their means and pay debts down, the system seems to do the opposite. As a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen, I felt pretty frustrated when I was denied Medicaid.

Several people suggested that I appeal or look into loopholes. I did double-check the government’s decision, but everything I was told by other government employees and the things I learned in doing the research suggested that the decision was, in fact, in line with Medicaid policies.

At that point, many people I know suggested that we find some shady means of obtaining coverage. After all, wasn’t it my right to get my pregnancy paid for since I’d worked so hard and contributed so much over the years? While I saw the rationale behind this argument, the decision I was faced with was an easy one. I would accept the decision of the government and move on to find other financial means to pay for the pregnancy and delivery.

This was not a grey decision for me–it was black or white. It was easy. I used to be able to convince myself that it was okay to gloss things over a bit or hide little details in order to live with my marred conscience. I am just not capable of doing this anymore. And I’m grateful–the more I open my spirit to God and take actions to line myself up with Him, the more difficult it becomes to do the opposite without feeling incredibly guilty.

Other decisions aren’t so easy, though. Take my current work situation, for example. I have a job I absolutely love as a part-time advisor at a two-year college. My commute is less than 20 minutes. I work with great people, and I feel that I make a difference in the lives of the students I serve. The part-time nature provides me with lots of flexibility and the opportunity to focus on graduate school as well.

When I learned about my pregnancy, though, it was a black or white decision for me. I knew I would want to stay at home for as long as possible with my new baby.

What wasn’t so black or white was the choice to either disclose this decision to my boss now or wait until later. I weighed the pros and cons. I knew that it would be emotionally easier for me to disclose the decision because then I wouldn’t have to be vague about my future plans with my co-workers, many of whom I consider friends. At the same time, I have been in similar situations in the past, and disclosing future plans too soon to some employers is a kiss of early dismissal. I’ve never been fired, but sometimes the last two weeks of my employment at different companies was cut short to save the company money. I knew that if I decided to disclose my decision to stay home after having my baby, I’d run the risk of a similar outcome.

I decided that I would have a clearer conscience if I disclosed my decision now. So I did. I don’t regret it. I can sleep more soundly knowing that I have been an open book about what lies ahead. I just have to trust God with the outcome, and I have to believe that whatever the outcome is, God has me right in His hands, just as He always has.

I’m grateful that when I’m in the grey, I don’t have to stay there permanently. I just have to head toward the Light, and things become much less foggy.