The skinny clothes I kept

023I gained 60 pounds when I was pregnant. I was pretty sure I’d never lose it all, and certain that I’d never get back to my “skinny clothes” from when I met my husband. You know which clothes I’m talking about—the cutest clothes I’d ever owned. The clothes I’d danced in, flirted in, and okay, honestly spent several lonely nights in while reading classic literature on my own couch with cats crawling around in my lap.

In college, I never gained the freshman 15, but I certainly gained the Wallace 15 when I began dating my husband. After going through a stressful divorce, and quitting a rather stressful job, and after ending a very stressful period of financial woe, I entered into a true state of relaxation and ease and began to understand what The Eagles meant when they sang about takin’ it easy. My butt grew that year, but it probably needed to grow.

One of the first pictures I have with my husband, just a few weeks after we met. We're pictured with the couple who introduced us, Tony & Sarah Wang. August 2010

One of the first pictures I have with my husband, just a few weeks after we met. We’re pictured with the couple who introduced us, Tony & Sarah Wang. August 2010

I eventually started feeling a bit self-conscious about my growing butt, and I started hiking with my dogs every day in the woods behind our house. I noticed a difference in my butt size, my heart rate, and in the way my clothes fit almost immediately. About a month later, I became pregnant with Maggie.

I decided I’d better come to terms with the idea that the “skinny clothes” would probably never fit again. I’d watched many of my friends and “Facebook friends,” many of whom are not much more than acquaintances (let’s be real about that), kill themselves over losing every single pound of baby weight just to fit back into their pre-baby clothes. I’ve just never been that kind of person. I knew that wouldn’t change. I also know that I have never enjoyed exercising very much, and that I love to eat. With those odds stacked against me, I decided to kiss the cute skinny clothes goodbye.

So I either sold them all or gave them all away, save a few items that were either too expensive to part with or too emotionally significant. I guess there was something inside of me that was holding on to a tiny bit of hope.

I couldn’t part with the outfit I was wearing when I met my husband. It wasn’t anything fancy—just a pair of shorts—very short white denim shorts, size 0, and a chartreuse button-up top. I can wear the top again, but the shorts… think fat guy in a little coat.

I tried selling my grey pants suit, but no one bought it. I’m now thankful it didn’t sell because it fits me now. Who knew?! There are a few more items that fall in this category of items I didn’t get rid of and never thought would fit (and now they do). Old scrubs from when I worked in a medical office with my friends (these make fabulous pants to wear around the house if you have a toddler, by the way). A gray pinstripe skirt that is the epitome of sexy librarian. A cute Asian print shirt that I have no need for but that I just can’t seem to part with.

_DSC1797I don’t know if I’ll ever have the occasion to wear it again, but I also saved a coral cocktail dress from our friends’ Tony and Sarah’s wedding. I wasn’t at my absolute thinnest when I wore this dress, but I was certainly completely happy. I can’t say I was at my happiest, because I believe I’m at my happiest now.

I believe I’m at my happiest every day because life gets better as it goes along. I am with the man I love, and we’re raising our daughter together, and I’m doing what I’m meant to do with my life, and God loves us.

Every day I am at my happiest because every day I’m growing and getting better, whether I’m wearing my skinny clothes or not.

Dear Bethany

Thank you, Henry Petty, for asking me to write a letter to my old self.

Spring 1996

Dear Bethany,

Prom night 1996

Prom night 1996

You look amazing—really and truly. You don’t like your thighs and think that your waist is terribly out of proportion with your hips. You hate the fact that you inherited your dad’s oily, acne-prone skin. Someday you will realize that your obsession with your legs is ludicrous and that you should be thankful for having strong, athletic legs. You’ll understand that oily skin is less likely to wrinkle, and in 2010, you will look younger than you really are. You will look back at pictures from tonight and wonder why in the world you didn’t see yourself as a total hottie in your floor-length, strapless, black velvet gown.

Tonight will be a big deal to you in 2010.

You’re about to meet someone who will later change your life for the better. Someone who will prove to you that John Eldredge’s depiction of the “Wild at Heart” man does, in fact, exist. Someone who will teach you to have fun again and to take yourself and life less seriously. Someone who will undo decades of damage. Someone who God will use to show Himself to you over and over again.

Stop.

Stand right there for a minute longer. Wait a minute before you turn to talk to your friend Paul who you asked to prom just so he could hang out with his friends.

See Jessica’s date? The one with dark hair, so dark it’s nearly black? The one smiling at you? That guy.

Go eat your dinner with your date and then ask that mystery man to dance. Let him put his huge hands around your disgustingly tiny waist. Let him apologize for his lack of dancing skills and listen to him talk about Nathan and Nick and Jordan and Tony. Talk about how funny it is that you’ve spent the past year spending time with Tony while dating his friend and missed meeting him somehow. Watch his hazel eyes light up and the corners of those eyes crinkle up when he smiles at you. Listen to him laugh. Do you hear how real his joy is?

Now lay your head on his chest. Close your eyes and let yourself breathe for a minute. Everything disappears.

Remember that feeling.

In 14 years, after you’ve both made plenty of mistakes and loved other people and learned how to live life, you will feel that feeling again—that I’m-safe-and-home-and-he-won’t-let-anything-hurt-me feeling—every day for the rest of your life.

He will be yours.

Not now and not any time soon. You have to kiss some frogs. Lots of frogs. You can’t do better until you know better, after all.

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.

You’ll know better in 14 years, and when you see this mystery man again, he will take your breath away. He will apologize for wearing ratty shorts and a t-shirt and $3 flip flops, and you won’t remember any of that. His hair will have turned from black to gray, and you’ll find it even more handsome and charming than before. You’ll remember thinking about how the light fell in through the glass doors of The Pantry restaurant behind him. You will feel silly for being so nervous on your second date; you will cry at your mom’s house, like a baby, at 31 years of age as you take a shower and painstakingly obsess over your still acne-prone skin. You will explain to your mom, as you bake an apple pie for your “fall party” themed date, that you have never felt nervous about a date before, but then again, you’ve never wanted a man to like you so badly.

Our wedding, 2012

Our wedding, 2012

Two years later, when you laugh hysterically and then weep uncontrollably after taking a pregnancy test, that man will simply take charge of the situation and propose to you while you lie in bed, feeling nauseous and unable to go to work. He will make you his wife and continue loving you, chili-cheese-fry-cravings and all. On your wedding day, you will close your eyes after he leans his tall frame down to kiss you. You will rest on his chest, just like you would tonight if you danced with him.

You won’t be able to take back those 14 years, but on July 31, 2010, you will wish that you could. And you will have grown wise enough to know that you can’t. You’ll just let him hold you now, today, in the moment, as often as possible.

You will believe that ending up here was worth all of the in-between.

And so will he.

And you will live happily ever after, just like you thought you never would.

Love,

Mrs. Wallace

First

First time I had sex, I was raped.

First marriage failed.

First gymnastics meet, I dislocated my elbow.

First job in my field, teaching English, was perhaps the worst job I’ve ever had in my life.

debbie downer*Cue Debbie Downer waaah waaaah.*

Clearly, my track record of firsts isn’t necessarily full of gold star stickers and smiley faces.

That’s just not been my life experience.

Until I met my husband. I’m not sure, but I suspect that God has anointed him with an innate sense of what I need and the uncanny ability to meet my needs without my saying a word.

When I met him, things changed.

In reality, I think my perspective simply switched gears, probably thanks to three years in my twelve-step recovery program. I started noticing every first in our relationship, and I’d never done that before. I began to cherish all our moments.

On the porch of my old house, October 2010

On the porch of my old house, October 2010

First time we met at our mutual friend’s birthday party. First time he called me a few days later after my sister sent him a Facebook message, begging him to call me so I would shut up about him. First double date with that same mutual friend and his fiance.

And all the firsts he introduced me to–and still does. First time going to dozens of local landmarks and beautiful places. First time taking a road trip on a four-wheeler. First time on a boat on the White River. First time catching trout and going limb-lining for catfish. First time going hunting (successfully securing venison for future date nights, I might add). First time baking cupcakes from scratch. First time being serenaded by banjo.

Emptying his pockets to purchase our new car :).

Emptying his pockets to purchase our new car :).

First time in my life that anyone has ever paid enough attention to my eyes lighting up at the sight or mention of things and then making those things happen–whether it be a rickety old farmhouse that no one else might want, a safe new vehicle for our baby, or a genuine Rambo knife.

He knows me.

And the most beautiful thing is taking place in our lives.

We have the opportunity, every single day, to create firsts with our daughter. And thanks to my husband’s hard work and his commitment to our family, I get to be here at home with her to see each first as it unfolds.

Maggie's first visit to Lake Dardanelle, 4/6/13

Maggie’s first visit to Lake Dardanelle, 4/6/13

First time petting our cats or letting our dog Clyde lick her chubby fists. First time seeing a tractor scooping up dirt. First time touching the base of an ice-cold glass. First time rolling over and shining with glee and pride in her accomplishment. First time seeing a river or a lake. First time going to church. First time dancing with her Papaw, waltzing through our kitchen. First time being held by the people we love the most.

Great memories. Positive experiences. Joyful smiles. God-filled goodness.

It’s like my life has started all over again.

 

How do you know me?

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Me in 2010, about halfway into my 1,000 days of gratitude lists

About a year ago, I decided to create a second blog, Your Daily Dose of Gratitude. I’d already been writing daily gratitude lists for over 1,000 days in a row. Since this exercise had impacted me so positively, improving my outlook on life and my attitude towards others, I decided that sharing thoughts on the topic with others might do the same for them.

As I posted Henry Petty‘s guest blog posts on my gratitude blog, the past few days, I began reflecting on how I know him. We met in college, and I was immediately drawn to his chipper attitude about life. He did not have an easy life. Yet he seemed to always keep a smile on his face. He walked to work, and instead of whining about it, he just expressed gratitude when folks offered him rides.

Then I began thinking about the other guest contributors to this blog and how I came to know each of them.

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy was one of my professors in college and now serves as a sort of writing mentor. I took a children’s literature course from her as an English elective my senior year. I didn’t expect to discover a love for a genre of literature I’d largely overlooked. But her passion for the subject matter and the warm, interactive, and exciting way she managed the classroom discussions sparked a real interest in children’s literature inside me. I began collecting children’s books, and when I became pregnant with my daughter, I already had accumulated quite an awesome collection.

My friend Linda Unger, another guest contributor, is an accomplished photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and also happens to be hilarious. I met her at a women’s conference about five years ago and found her enthusiasm for life to be contagious. She once spoke at that same conference and shared her life’s story and details about her spiritual journey. I will never forget the way she described how she came to know God; it resonated within me.

I met my friend Oona Love, another guest contributor, at a concert at Cornerstone Pub in North Little Rock, Arkansas, when she opened the show for my close friend, Cindy Woolf. Oona’s cover of a fabulous Fiona Apple song made me belly laugh non-stop for three minutes, and at that time in my life, I needed all the laughter I could get. Since then, I’ve come to know her a little better and respect her gentle, accepting way of loving others despite their differences.

My friend Erin Jennings, another guest contributor, once briefly dated a friend of my husband’s. While their dating relationship lasted only a short while, our friendship continued, and she became a very close friend and confidante. I’ve watched her as she has found the love of her life and expanded her family from three to six and do so with grace and ease.

Three of my guest contributors are brand new friends whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in person. I met two of them, Toinette Thomas and Mary Agrusa, through groups for Christian bloggers on linkedin.com. I met Sarah Klesko, a fellow blogger, by following her blog and finding her posts inspirational. Thankfully, all three of these talented writers were willing to share their musings with me, too.

Guest contributor Amy Driskill went to college with me back in the day. She’s one of many people I’ve reconnected with via Facebook. Since reconnecting, we’ve learned things about each other’s lives that we certainly didn’t know in college, and it’s bonded us as friends.

Shelli White, a guest contributor, was a college student at my alma mater when I worked there as an academic coordinator for an Upward Bound program. Shelli worked as a tutor for us and used her math whiz kid skills to assist struggling high school students. Since then, her life has evolved, and she’s become a spiritually vibrant woman raising an adorable little boy.

One of my college suite mates, Zeda Paysinger-Wilkerson, served as a guest contributor once as well. Zeda and I were lab partners our freshman year of college. I vividly remember recanting our romantic tales to one another and giggling over the details. Zeda and I have remained close friends since then, even working together once at the same institution. She always reminds me that life is what you make of it.

I finally talked my former co-worker Jonathan Weigt into writing for my blog and am so glad he did. Jonathan worked with me through some pretty tough times in my life and has perhaps seen me at my worst; I’m really glad he now knows me at my best. His non-traditional take on spirituality and his sincere questioning of life’s most important questions challenge me. It also reminds me that even the most hilarious person (he’s quite funny) has a deeper side, whether it’s visible or not.

My nephew Jake (AKA Walter Pitts) agreed to write for my blog after his recent wild adventure in Eastern Europe. Jake’s on an extraordinarily fearless journey of faith. Having known him since he was just five years old, it’s been awesome to see how God has used each of his personality quirks and special gifts to serve others and make the world a better place.

I once had the honor of working with Debra Dickey-Liang. She served as the administrative assistant in my department, and she excelled at her job. She was dependable, loyal, trustworthy, and dignified. She still is, and seven years after working with her, I am delighted to consider her one of my closest friends. Despite the differences in our ages, we’ve found common ground in what matters. When she agreed to write posts for my gratitude blog, I discovered her hidden gift for writing and was thrilled to share it with the world via WordPress.

Then there’s my forever friend Mark Egan, who I first met when I was five years old. I watched him climb trees and emulated his skills. He taught me to shoot a gun for the first time (and didn’t get mad when I almost shot God-knows-what instead of the targets). He agreed to write for my blog after sending me some personal writing to proofread for him. I convinced him that he had underestimated his writing abilities so he agreed to allow me to share his piece with others. He will always be “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

As I contemplated on how I know each of these guest writers, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the other God-with-skin-on people who have walked with me through valleys, helped me climb over obstacles, and rejoiced with me as we enjoyed the view from the top.

With so much love in my life, having been surrounded by such diverse, beautiful, and invaluable people, I can’t help but believe that what Eckhart said is true:

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

 

Greener grass

This morning, I awoke to the adorable chatting and fussing of my nine week-old infant daughter.

Moans and groans followed–not from the nursery monitor. From me. I attempted to separate my eyelids from my eyeballs unsuccessfully several times before managing to pry them partly open. I turned my bleary gaze toward the alarm clock.

6:33 a.m.

ImageAbout 30 minutes later than the time of day I used to set the coffeepot for back in the day when I worked a “real job” and got paid in actual cash for showing up and performing tasks. I contemplated the drastic 180 degree pivot I’ve made since then as I hauled my pathetic parts out of our warm, fleece-laden sanctuary and plodded a few painful steps into my bathroom to hurriedly brush my teeth before trudging down the hall to feed our daughter.

Thud, thud, thud.

My daughter heard my heavy, aching feet, attached to my still-sore knees from the after-effects of swelling during pregnancy. She began cooing and turning up the volume on her hunger protests. I pasted a semi-smile on my face, recited her special verse to her, and leaned over to lift her out of the crib, cracking at least three vertebra in the process.

“Babe.”

Silence.

“James?”

Peaceful silence, the sign that my better half had chosen the better path and stayed in bed a little longer.

“Babe, babe, please….”

A tired voice croaked in response.

“Yes?”

“Coffee, please. I need it.”

The champ managed to drag himself out of bed long enough to get the coffee going before collapsing once again into bliss.

As I sat in the recliner about to nurse my daughter, a lamp illuminating her chubby little cheeks as they grinned at me in anticipation of the goodness coming her way, I reminisced about the green, lush grass of my former life.

I’m not referring to my lawn, trust me. I used to celebrate when the parched heat in August finally sucked the life out of my lawn; I could finally stop paying those men with Bad Boy mowers to spend 20 minutes on my acre of land each week or relying on my generous friend’s husband to mow it out of pity for me.

No, I’m referring to the “greener grass.”

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Three years ago, photo by Say Cheese Photography

The lifestyle I led as a single, sexy lady who’d just turned 30. The beer and wine imbibed on my front porch under a full set of stars while carrying on scandalous conversations with my friends.  The cigarettes I carelessly smoked as accoutrements to all of my fashionable ensembles that clad my skinny arse. The concerts and coffeehouses I frequented with friends, one of my many cashmere or hand-knitted scarves casually knotted around my neck. The countless novels I consumed voraciously, my cats perched on the edge of my couch. The miniature meals I cooked for myself, never needing to consider plating for more than numero uno. The insistence that monthly facials were not a luxury–they were an essential budget item. The notion that having lunch plans AND a meeting after work meant I was swamped with responsibility. The absolute silence that enveloped my home–always–since I chose to rid myself of the annoying din of the television for an entire year.

Aahhh.

My daughter’s bright eyes gazed up at me, and she cocked her head to the side and flashed me a genuinely joyous grin.

I suddenly recalled that the grass on the other side was also cluttered with weeds and required tedious maintenance. Working two jobs at times and still not making ends meet due to living way beyond my means and to the debt acquired by my frivolous ex-husband. Driving one hour each way to arrive at jobs I wasn’t truly passionate about and dealing with, let’s face it, the inevitable work drama and estrogen fest resulting from too many females in close quarters. The creaks and crunches outside my bedroom window that kept me awake night after night as I attempted to sleep in a house too big for just little ole me, keeping my bedroom door locked just in case. The horrible dating experiences that resulted from my countless attempts to find companionship. The quiet ticking of my clock, as I sat curled up under a quilt in my living room, pondering and praying and contemplating and wondering and waiting.

By myself.

ImageAs I sang one last morning song to Maggie, her heavy little eyes closing and opening more and more slowly, I sipped the cup of coffee my husband had poured for me. The mugshot on the cup captured a tiny moment in time when my three week-old newborn baby lay cradled in my arms, squinting her eyes at the brilliant sky, our 100 year-old barn behind us.

My life is different now. I can’t sit on my porch in the morning with a cup of coffee and spend an entire hour watching the grass grow. I can’t show up at the spur of the moment to enjoy my friend’s excellent guitar picking because the one pair of jeans I purchased postpartum now sag too significantly to avoid mooning the public. I insist on screening family members and friends prior to their visits since many of them pooh-pooh the flu epidemic. I don’t have the luxury of spending two hours waking up before arriving at work, listening to my own loud musical selections while downing an ungodly amount of caffeine.

I get about five minutes before it’s go time each day.

As I burped my baby this morning, the sunlight barely creeping in through the sheer curtains, I listened to the nearly inaudible ticking of the same clock that used to count the seconds spent in mostly meaningless, lonely ways.

My time is almost always accounted for these days. Thank God that how I’m spending it matters.

ImageIt’s the middle of January, and the grass has never been greener.

Impeccable

As many times as I’ve doubted the impeccable quality of God’s timing (and trust me, folks, I’ve doubted it plenty of times . . .  Thomas might as well be my middle name), there have been as many times (or more) during the past few months when God has dispelled my misgivings.

With my tiny package, May 2012

This might surprise some of you, particularly those of you who are secretly judgmental but outwardly loving and supportive (as we all tend to be), who are wondering how someone who got married two months AFTER getting pregnant could possibly claim that God’s timing is impeccable.

Nevertheless, it’s true.

First of all, I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s degree in October 2011, on somewhat of a whim, I might add. After mentioning the idea in passing, flippantly at best, I found that I had strong support emotionally and practically from my partner in life to pursue this dream. Pleasantly surprised, I decided to go with the notion that I’d keep walking through open doors until they closed in front of me. I prayed continually as each one swung open without any resistance.

I’m so grateful I decided to go back to school. When I found out I was pregnant at the end of March, I had moments of this-was-not-planned-and-I-am-a-planner panic attacks, but ultimately, I realized that I’d be able to very easily complete my Master’s degree within 18 months, despite the arrival of our bundle of joy this coming November. I know myself, and I know that if I’d hemmed and hawed any longer before going back to school, I would have managed to rationalize my way out of it. God knows this about me, and He hewed together the perfect combination of inspiration, confirmation, and support to nudge me in the direction of “DO IT!”

The beauty of completing my degree before my child is a year old is that it will allow me much more flexibility in career options, allowing me to teach as an adjunct and stay at home to raise my child, which has always been my Plan A if possible.

With my friend Nancy at Weaver Family Medicine, February 2011

Secondly, after relocating to my hometown in December 2010 in order to be with the love of my life and my family, I felt God discouraging me from accepting a follow-up interview for a grant-writing/fundraising position with a great local organization. Anyone who knows me knows that this is precisely the kind of position suited for me. However, something didn’t feel right, and I declined going any further in the process. I’d spent the past 10 years pursuing higher paying, more impressive jobs (which resulted in higher stress and a diminished ability to enjoy life). I knew it wasn’t right for me. Instead, I accepted a lower-paying but much more flexible and fun position at a friend’s medical practice. After less than a year, a part-time position opened up at the community college where I’m now employed. This was a no-brainer, and again, after praying for God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones, He guided me into the place I currently reside. Had I taken the grant-writing position or kept applying for similar jobs, I’d be tied to working full-time, relying on my job for its salary and benefits, and afraid to take the plunge into full-time motherhood this fall.

Lastly, those who’ve known me for years may recall countless times when I scoffed at the idea of having children, or at best, questioned the logic of doing so. While I have been cursed with a healthy dose of tokophobia, the true root of this fear of having children stemmed from two places deep inside of me: the lack of a strong, healthy, and supportive partner, and the untended weeds of grief choking out my inner joy and contentment, subconsciously and quietly. This grief grew from unbearable sorrow inside of me, a sorrow unto death, that I’d buried within me after being raped at 16 the first time I had sex. The grief continued to rear its ugly head in all sorts of sad ways throughout my life for 16 more years until finally, after hearing God very clearly urging me to uproot it, I sought counseling. I finally told my mom, which was honestly harder for me than any counseling session I’ve ever experienced. I made peace with the rapist in an odd turn of events, thanks to someone very brave who knows him well. God effectively excavated the grave I’d dug inside myself years ago and cleared away the debris, making room for new life.

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography, April 2012

Finally, going through two divorces didn’t entirely fix my partner-picking problem. I also benefited from a few years of intense soul-searching and behavior-modifying in a twelve-step program and am eternally grateful to the people who repeatedly assured me that if I took the actions, the feelings would follow. I did, and with the help of the program (and God, who worked seamlessly through it), I found myself making better choices. A few years later, I’m married to the man of my dreams. By writing that, I’m not exaggerating or throwing in a cliché in order to avoid searching for a more accurate description. He is literally who I have always hoped for and never believed God would provide me with; I didn’t even believe men like my husband existed. A month after we started dating, I tentatively showed him my “list” of qualities I preferred and needed in a man, which I’d worked on for months after getting divorced in 2009. He met all 32 of my criteria, even the silly ones.

I would never wish to erase my past experiences because they taught me invaluable lessons about myself which I desperately needed to learn. I also gained the love of a 16 year-old girl, formerly my stepdaughter, who I will always consider my first child, who I will always support and never abandon.

But I do believe there’s a reason I never conceived a baby until now, and part of that is because I believe God was watching over me and doing for me what I could not do for myself. He miraculously fit the pieces of this complicated life puzzle together so that when He began knitting together the priceless creature in my womb, there would be no need for a plan. And no unrequited dreams.  And no room for fear.