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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The question

coffee-1076582_1920

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I entered The Pinto, a trendy vintage coffee shop/eatery in downtown Batesville, and ordered my favorite caffeinated beverage—café breve—while waiting to meet with my FOFO (formerly online friend only) for lunch, coffee, and conversation face-to-face for the first time.

Half an hour later, deep into a great chat about grace and relationships, a mutual friend greeted us and stopped to talk. While discussing potential dates for this mutual friend, the topic of abstinence surfaced. The mutual friend asked us, “Did you have sex before you were married?”

This time, I only felt a slight sting before responding to this version of the age-old question, “Tell me about your first time.”

21 years ago, a family friend raped me when I was 16 years-old. It was the first time I’d had sex.

Immediately following this traumatic experience, I did what many PTSD-infected, confused, depressed teenagers do who’ve been sexually assaulted: I acted out. I used drugs and consumed too much alcohol, engaged in sexual activity with multiple people, and moved in and out of understanding God’s role in my life.

Prior to this horrible experience on July 11, 1995, I nearly bragged about my virginity, wearing it like a badge of honor while skating a thin line of promiscuity. I wore a freaking True Love Waits ring. I attended youth group twice per week and thought I really had it all together, and that if I just continued on the straight and narrow path, I would certainly succeed in absolutely everything I attempted. I believed that good things come to those who wait and that God rewards good behavior.

Obviously, those maxims proved themselves false. My world felt shaky, and I have plenty of poorly written poetry scribbled in my high school journals to demonstrate this.

One night, nine months after being raped, a boy I loved (who knew all about my assault) asked me if I believed in God and pointed me to the sparkling stars in a black, clear sky as evidence of His existence. I responded, “I do believe He exists. I just don’t believe He cares anymore.”

But that brief spiritual conversation served as a catalyst which sparked change in my soul, and a few months later I accepted Christ while standing all alone in an Oklahoma hay field, watching fireworks on Independence Day.

But I wasn’t set free right away from my past, my feelings, my PTSD, or my inability to make choices that reflected an ounce of self-worth. The chains were heavy. It was just the beginning of my spiritual journey.

I’m still taking it step by step.

I used to hate it when the topic of “firsts” came up in conversation. It isn’t so bad today, even though it’s still not the most pleasant thing to discuss. I’m content today to reflect on the past, knowing not even God can change the past and that I only have to mention my past wounds or mistakes if it will benefit someone else, for I “do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous).

I am not glad I was raped.

But I’m grateful for the many opportunities God’s given me to serve and love other sexual assault survivors.

I’m grateful for my brokenness because God proved His love to me by putting me back together again.

I pray He does the same for you.

2014 gift list

Over seven years ago, I started a painful journey toward becoming myself.

217491_505060962482_4965_nLately I have been contemplating some things I’ve learned since beginning this journey in 2007. So, in truth, my gift list this year is a compilation of lessons I’ve learned over the past seven and a half years but maybe only fully realized within the past year.

I consider these lessons learned to be great gifts I received from mentors in my life who are on the same journey. I get to place my feet in their footsteps, to ask them for help when I stumble, and to humble myself and ask for prayer when my own prayers seem insufficient and when my own faith feels feeble.

I have learned to be honest.

I haven’t always had the capacity to be fully honest with others, not even with God. I tried, rest assured, but I somehow seemed to come up short. As Sara Groves says, “Only the truth and truthfulness can save us.”

My inability to share my secrets kept me sick—really spiritually sick—for years. I was only hurting myself, but I couldn’t even see this realistically. I thought I was protecting people I loved from painful truths, in some cases, and in other situations, I thought I was sheltering the image of Christ or Christianity from being tarnished because of my sins and awful mistakes. The truth is that I was incredibly egotistical and unable to come clean with even myself regarding reality.

Bethany Dana 5 28 14Thankfully, because of the journey I began in 2007 and the mentors who’ve guided me every step of the way, I don’t live this way today. I live an honest life, even in the moments when it’s still hard today. I find people I trust to spill my guts to, and though they are few and far between, I do have people I trust with all of me today. I am who I am, and I make no bones about it, for better or worse. I work every day to keep a clean slate between myself and God, and as my main mentor says, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters what you and God know.”

I have learned to be faithful and consistent.

This ties in with learning to be honest for me, and this was a hard lesson to learn in multiple areas of my life. Fidelity is a valuable commodity in a fast food world. Until very recently, I didn’t even understand that for many years, I was afraid of being alone, and because of that fear, I replaced people, jobs, and even cities and homes at an alarming pace.

Last year, my self-selected word for the year was “still.” Part of my focus for the year, related to the concept of being still, was to practice spending more time in reflection and meditation with God—ultimately, to wake up earlier and to spend more time in the morning in prayer, meditation, and reading. I reset my alarm for 5 a.m. and began to up my coffee intake. This helped offset the lack of sleep. Becoming more consistent and faithful regarding my time with God led to numerous positive outcomes, too many to write about in one measly paragraph, but one of these is that I began to understand that if I showed up morning after morning, God was always going to be there waiting on me.

During all of the years when I had replaced people, jobs, cities, and homes repeatedly and quickly due to fear of being alone and fear of being unwanted, God had been there all along, waiting and wanting me. As Jennifer Knapp reminds me, “You’re the only One who’s faithful to me.” I know, I know… but I didn’t KNOW.

I hadn’t been willing to slow down long enough to look and listen—not long enough to let it sink in deeply enough to change the patterns of my behavior. Until my personal journey to becoming the real Bethany helped me see the truth about this matter, I just had to keep doing what I was doing for a little while longer.

I have learned that I have more to learn than I have to teach.

Kaleb and Mrs. WallaceI’ve learned this truth in the context of my personal life as a mentor of other women and in the context of my professional life as a college English instructor. This year, I had the privilege to teach approximately 230 students, both in the traditional classroom and online. Sure, I helped them to meet learning objectives, to improve their listening skills, to become better public speakers, to learn to write personal narrative essays, to compose their first research papers in MLA format, and to do all sorts of academic projects in class. I hope I helped them to accomplish much more than that, though.

As Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Having finished my first semester as a full-time instructor, I am thankful that I can say with a clear conscience that I did my absolute best to ensure my students learned well—not just about writing and speaking, but also about living.

I know one thing for certain—I learned at least 230 unique and beautiful lessons in 2014, and I’m grateful for each one of them.

The best part of the journey I’m on to becoming myself is that it has no end. There’s no graduation ceremony, no “I have arrived” moment. I get to keep growing as long as I’m breathing, because as long as I’m breathing, there’s hope.

“His mercies are new every morning—great is His faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:23

Irisis

-I rarely post my own poetry because, let’s be honest, it’s more difficult to write, if you want to write it well. I’m sure I could revise it endlessly, but I’m happy enough with it to share it, especially since it relates to my feelings about Easter and why it’s always been my favorite holiday. Enjoy.

Irises

Ashes silently sway like snowflakes
all the long, hard winter
through dark, bitter nights.

I sit and burn
alone. Smoke and stars mingle
overhead. A lone coyote cries.

He creeps through broken
brush and limbs, hoping for fate
to fill his emptiness.

I know spring will come.
Not soon enough.

Maybe Mary felt this way,
too, her rotting brother Lazarus
wasting away for four days’ worth
of eternity.

She waited and wept and lost
hope.

011This Easter, the tightly wrapped
tips of the irises planted
decades ago in my flower bed,

Purple tips like paintbrushes
dipped in royal blood

Wait

Ready to color the whole world,

To unfurl themselves,
to live again.

–Bethany Wallace

 

Channeling Ginger Rogers

I’ve read the Christmas story in the book of Matthew at least a dozen times—too many times, maybe. I mumble along with the verses, chanting a Biblical “yada yada yada.” My eyes normally become glassy as I gloss over the familiar words.

But this morning was different. It seems that not only had I glossed over the words, but I’d also missed part of the meaning. My memory recounted God warning Joseph in a dream about Herod’s ill intentions, and my memory recalled God—once again in a dream—giving Joseph the “all clear” to return to Nazareth. But this morning I picked up on verse 22 for the first time. I read about God speaking to Joseph once more in a dream—this time to say “never mind.”

How had I missed that third dream message?

Did God change His mind? Did He make a mistake the first time and had to correct Himself? Was this a case of human will interrupting God’s plans? Did Joseph’s fear cause him to misinterpret God’s will?

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I am not sure I would have heeded God’s warning that third time—I might have ignored him the first two times, too. I’m one of those stubborn souls who has to learn things the hard way—by trial and error and experience. The benefit of learning through my own experiences is that the lessons stick. I know what happens when I don’t yield to God, and I know what happens when I do. I like to think of my relationship with God—my life, really—as a dance between me and God.

TopHatFredAstaireGingerRogersI’ve been on an old movie kick lately—probably due to the classic Christmas movies playing repeatedly on Turner Classic Movies channel. Watching Fred Astaire dance alone is art in motion. I’m convinced that no other tap dancer will ever match Astaire’s level of skill, ease of movement, or natural rhythm. But watching Astaire partner with great female dancers is even more of a treat because he leads them so subtly, so gently that the leading isn’t even noticeable.

In my own life, my dance with God has had its graceful moments and its embarrassing moments, too, when my two left feet take over. When I don’t feel like holding His hand and following His lead, He behaves like a true gentleman and steps aside, allowing me to twirl and spin out of control and go in whatever direction I desire.

Joseph’s dance with God seems a little more graceful than mine. Joseph listened to God and paid attention to his dreams, which God used to speak to Him. But throwing plans to the wind and changing directions—literally, in Joseph’s case—wasn’t a small decision. Two other people were affected—Mary and Jesus (and maybe more children, who knows).

I wonder if Mary recognized how lucky she was to have Joseph by her side. When Mary became pregnant, Joseph listened to God and never left her side. Joseph led their little family through a few years of nomadic existence, fleeing danger and eking out a living in foreign lands. Even though each of his decisions might have incited cynicism, sneering, or rejection by others, Joseph stayed close to God and moved only when God moved.

Mary’s not the only lucky dame in the world. I’m lucky to have my husband, James, too. His life dance with God is a little less frenetic than mine. There have been fewer highs and fewer lows. He’s a bit of a rock. He isn’t the most vocal, outwardly pious person in the world (thank God). He doesn’t let fear dissuade him, and he doesn’t allow input from outsiders to change his mind, but he listens to God—and then he moves. For four years, I’ve been praying Psalm 1 for my husband—that he would be like a tree planted by the water, with roots going deep, deep to the core of God so that he would be strong and secure.

He is.

_DSC1797He’s rooted in God, but he’s not afraid to let God uproot him any time he pleases, and he lets God shine light onto the path in front of him, highlighting only one step at a time. When it comes to God and James, God is Astaire, and James is Ginger Rogers (minus the beautiful curly hair and flowing evening gown, of course).

It’s a beautiful effect—God leading Joseph, and Joseph leading his family. God leading my husband, and my husband leading our family. God as the choreographer, guiding us through the steps and creating beauty in motion.

And all I have to do is dance.

Remembering love

In my past, when experiencing the sorrow and grief accompanying loss of relationships, I typically spent at least a week in what I call the “eating a gallon of ice cream straight from the bucket” stage. I was in one of those phases when my friend Tony invited me to his birthday party. He’d recently proposed to his girlfriend as well, so his party was a combination birthday/engagement celebration. I couldn’t and didn’t want to miss it.

But I also really just wanted to sit at home, cuddle my cats while wearing pajamas, and feel sorry for myself. Thankfully, by that point in my life, I’d come to believe that pity parties aren’t fun for anyone, even the hostess, so I decided to suck it up and attend Tony’s party in spite of my grumpy disposition.

Sitting next to Tony while sipping a blueberry mojito, I watched my long-lost friend Joey and his wife walk in the door, followed by a tall, gray-haired, handsome man in shorts and flip-flops. The light literally surrounded his silhouette as he approached the bar and stuck his hand out—I kid you not.

“Bethany Klonowski!”

Our first photo together a few weeks after meeting, with the friends who introduced us.

Our first photo together a few weeks after meeting, with the friends who introduced us.

I had to ask Tony for help in identifying this handsome man who apparently already knew me. I was flattered and flabbergasted. I’d really intended on just attending the party, half-heartedly drinking with my friends, and heading home to crawl sadly back into bed with my cats. I had not expected to meet a hunka hunka burnin love.

But I did.

That was three years ago. This morning after making French toast for breakfast, I watched my husband and baby playing together on the front porch, a slow, quiet rain falling down around us.

Life isn’t perfect for us, but thank God for the perfect moments. It’s so easy to take the best things in my life for granted. It’s tempting to seek more—only to find that when I’m on the other side, I wish to climb back over the fence. It’s hard to stoke the fires of romance amidst teething toys, short naps, and abundant exhaustion. It’s tiring to keep trying to connect when the hubbub of the world buzzes in my ear, a distracting din.

In the difficult, strenuous moments of our relationship, I remember the words of Christ in Revelation.

“Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love. Go back and do the things you once did.”

Our family, three years later

Our family, three years later

Christ may not have been addressing me or referring to my marriage, but these words still impact me as I reflect on the past three years. I will never forget my love, no matter what kind of problems and losses and stressors permeate our lives and fuzzy my focus. I will never stop looking at him the same way I did when he walked into that restaurant, with silent hallelujahs reverberating in my heart. I will never stop thanking God for the best gift He’s ever given me, surprising me with the man of my dreams as I trudged off to celebrate someone else’s joy in the midst of my misery. I will never allow myself to stop caring for and serving him, the same way he cared for me the night we met, rubbing my aching shoulders and piling my plate with hors d’oeuvres.  I will never let go of my husband’s hand , no matter where life leads us.

We’ll be together.

In love.