Dream come true

A few weeks ago, in the stagnant heat of our storage building in July, I dug through boxes and crates. I hoped to find every last binder containing pertinent academic information that might help me teach college courses. I looked for the cute desk decorations I’d packed away in 2012 when I quit working at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) as an advisor mid-pregnancy in an attempt to focus solely on finishing graduate school. I searched every nook and cranny for books I knew I might want to reference or quote in class. I wanted to be prepared for anything. 

In my frenzied search for all things that might ever be of use to me at work, I came across a small white note card, a note card I’d  used while serving as Director of Career Development at Lyon College in 2006. The college emblem and my former name and job title were embossed on one side of the card. On the other side, though, was something of much greater significance. 

Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing

Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing

When I worked at Lyon College, I attended an event hosted by the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers; Samantha Hartley, the Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing, was the keynote speaker. I remember being completely energized by her presentation about social media and its benefits (and drawbacks). I felt compelled to share the information with other leaders on campus and to put into action her suggestions. 

After relocating to central Arkansas a year later, and finding myself somewhat disillusioned by the corporate world, I remembered how inspired I felt listening to her speak. I wondered if she would consider talking to me one-on-one about her ideas. As someone who takes the concept of networking seriously and doesn’t simply exchange business cards with people and move on, I sent her an email (thankfully I had maintained contact with her on Facebook and LinkedIn), and invited her to lunch. 

She accepted, but she suggested breakfast instead. It was a great suggestion–I’m still a fan of the place.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Samantha to talk about goals and career ideas. I knew she was a very busy entrepreneur and felt grateful for the chance to pick her brain. I needed help. Specifically, I needed guidance from someone I admired, from someone whose career path I wanted to emulate. I did not want to remain stuck in a job or career I disliked. I knew that Samantha had been there, done that–and she’d done something about it. In fact, she’d been hugely successful when doing something about it. So she was EXACTLY the kind of person I needed to talk to.

My "vision card"

My “vision card”

Samantha listened to me. And she offered extremely helpful feedback based on what she’d heard. She suggested that I create a vision board. Since I’m an English major, and a word nerd, I created a list instead of a vision board. 

That’s what I found that day in my storage building, tucked inside an old binder. When it fell onto the floor of my storage building, I picked it up and read every item on the list. I gasped a little and felt my chest tighten as I finished reading the list as I realized that the list has come to fruition.

Every single item on the list has been realized in my current position as an English instructor at UACCB. I have more flexibility with my schedule than I’ve ever had before. My job is about making a difference in students’ lives, not about numbers and dollar signs. There’s tons of room for creativity; I design my courses with very little input from others. My boss is kind, supportive, and serves as a great mentor, too. I believe in the organization I work for; I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say that wholeheartedly about any other employer, ever. Most importantly, I know that every day when I leave my house, I am going to do work that matters, work that impacts lives in a positive way. I’m doing what I am meant to do. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do it.

20140812_152712After I found my “dream come true” list, I sent Samantha a message and thanked her for her help and guidance. She reminded me that her own teacher once did the same for her; she believes in mentoring because “there have been pivotal people in my life who maybe said just one thing, but it was the breadcrumb that connected me to the next step on the path.”

She’s right. 

I had the chance to share this story with my Chancellor, Debbie Frazier. She encouraged me to share this story with my students. I think I will, and I know that by giving back to my students and by encouraging and supporting and teaching them over the years, I’ll be showing my gratitude to Samantha and to others who’ve encouraged me in the best way possible.

Merging

I’m pretty sure I’ve never cried so much in my life.

Maggie experiencing spring for the first time

Maggie experiencing spring for the first time

Since having my daughter in November, my perspective has changed. Everything old-hat seems new again. All the colors bloomed into brighter versions of themselves. Frowns and smiles and silly sounds thrill my soul. Seconds count. Life matters more.

This isn’t my first spin on the merry-go-round of emotions that motherhood entails.

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Me with Liz, summer 2011

I was lucky enough to be a stepmom to an amazing little girl for almost six years. And even luckier, she still likes me and wants to spend time with me, even though she is a month from graduating from high school and is practically an adult (who I am incredibly proud of) in every way. She gets embarrassed when I post mushy sentiments on Facebook about her, but she doesn’t delete them. She even suffers through a little cheek pinching now and then. She drives two hours to come stay with me, crawls through caves with me and my husband, licks the bowl after I concoct cookie dough, watches sunsets, kisses fish when she catches them, and opens her heart to me from time to time, too. She keeps me updated on celebrities, catch phrases, and other cool cultural trends. A few months ago, when I gave her a mini dress to wear with leggings, and explained that I was simply too old to pull it off, she responded, “Well, it’s good that you recognize that, Beef.” She makes me laugh and tells the truth and loves me.

My experiences and emotions as a mother obviously multiplied when I had Maggie.

And my love overflowed in the form of messy snot and tears when my two favorite girls met, and my past and my present merged.

It’s hard to explain what it means to watch joy and adoration twinkle in the beautiful eyes of the two babies you love more than any others as they meet for the first time, the grown-up girl scooping up the baby girl into her arms, kissing her chubby cheeks, and holding her close.

Many times, people ask me if I regret decisions I’ve made in my past. Divorces, mega mistakes, traumatic events, financial turning points. Because I’ve spent half a dozen years taken a dozen steps over and over again, I can honestly say no. As the Big Book so aptly puts it, “I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”

I have no desire to wish away the things that have made me who I am today.

Liz and Maggie, March 2013

Liz and Maggie, March 2013

If I could change the past, I wouldn’t be here right now, tearing up yet again while remembering the most precious introduction I’ve ever had the privilege to initiate.

I would skip over much sorrow. But I would rob myself of even more joy.

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.

 

Drowning the crocodile

peterpan66gm1I feel like Captain Hook every day.

I hear the tick tock of an invisible clock, and at times, it’s nearly audible. When I’m nursing my baby, and she decides to turn meal time into play time, I hear the ticking, telling me that there are three people waiting for me to return their calls and emails. When I’m checking my newsfeed on Facebook and take a moment to “like” my friend’s photo of her adorable, chunky toddler playing with his new tractor, I hear the clock ticking, tying strings to the index fingers of my mind, reminding me of the stack of homework and bills atop my desk.  When I’m reading poems by T.S. Eliot (which, by the way, I’m still proposing be removed from the list of American classics), I hear the clock ticking, reminding me of the stack of laundry waiting to be folded.

The clock is always ticking. It never stops. At times, I worry that I’ll just jump ship like Captain Hook, right into that crafty crocodile’s open mouth, giving up on the idea of even halfway managing to get anything done.

Nothing against crocodiles, but I’d honestly like to slit that crocodile’s throat, yank out the ticking clock, and smash it on the plank into millions of tiny, unrecognizable pieces.

But time doesn’t work that way. And neither does my mind.

I’ve always had a keen–probably overly keen–awareness of time. I’ve even written about it before. At times, it serves a beneficial purpose in my life. It keeps me on track. It helps me accomplish tasks. It motivates me to arrive promptly and finish work ahead of schedule. It reminds me of the great chasm between our tiny little lives on earth and eternity.

But every asset can be a defect if I let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. And after having a baby, I have noticed the tick tock growing louder and louder and louder. I have allowed the pendulum to swing way too far in the direction of defective for me.

My very wise mentor reminded me last week that God will never give me more than I can handle, but that I will give myself more than I can handle every single time.

That wasn’t the touchy feely, fairy godmother type of reminder I was hoping to receive, but it was the truth.

All I’ve been given each day is one day. In fact, I don’t even know for certain that I will live past 10:09 a.m., March 21, 2013. All I know is that I’m here, right now. My daughter is here, right now, sleeping peacefully in her crib during her nap (which hopefully lasts until I finish writing this post). My husband is here, quietly crunching numbers on his computer and drinking his coffee.

Listening to the clock and attempting to hold way too many things in my hands at one time. FAIL :).

Listening to the clock ticking and attempting to hold way too many things in my hands while using tissue to stop my nose from running. FAIL :).

Yes, there are crumbs on my marble counter tops. Yes, there is an embarrassing collection of bark, leaves, and clods of dirt in my living room floor, thanks to our wood-burning stove. Yes, my collection of literature for my upcoming comprehensive exam for my Master’s degree lies next to me, waiting to be opened and reviewed (again). And yes, post-it notes reminding me of things to order, bills to pay, dates to prepare for, and topics to write about are slowly taking over my once-tidy bulletin board, having spread from a smidgen of hot pink to a blinding mass of fluorescent mess.

Yesterday, as my daughter performed a cacophony of coos and impressive wrestling and gymnastics moves while halfheartedly nursing, the clock ticked.

And I heard a Still Small Voice.

“Just enjoy her.”

So I did.

I remembered a note stuck to my bulletin board (still visible despite the mess of bright pink post-its). On it are two phrases, both phrases whispered to me during a meditation exercise at a women’s conference a few years ago.

020One of the phrases reads, “Time enjoyed is not time wasted.”

Let me silence the clock today. Let me drown that crocodile (or slit its throat–whatever works) that keeps lurking around, encircling my mind.

Let me look at my daughter’s ever-changing face as I hold her in my hands.

Let me listen closely to what matters–the steady, quiet ticking of her tiny, growing heart.

 

How about a round of applause?

???????????????????????????????Last night, I had a more-trying-than-usual time lulling my baby into slumber. I nursed her. I changed her diaper. I needlessly lotioned her silky skin. I sang my entire repertoire of lullabies. I rocked her. Then I nursed her again. And changed her again. And put a different outfit on her little limbs.

And finally, after a few hours, she submitted to the beckoning sheep who begged to be counted, left her best friend (a stuffed lamb, Lambchop) in the bouncy seat for the night, and collapsed in her crib, arms spread out wide, embracing ten whole hours of uninterrupted sleep.

As I crept out of her room, my husband looked at me while browsing the Internet.

“I’m going to bed,” I stated emphatically.

I forced myself to brush my teeth, wash my face, and apply ointments and creams in places I’ve never cared about moisturizing until motherhood took its toll on my appearance. I checked my email one last time, hoping neither of my professors had sent me a single note. I hopped on FaceBook briefly and glanced at my newsfeed.

The “Just Wheat” page I’d just created days before hovered on the left side of the screen, an annoying reminder to write, write, write.

???????????????????????????????These days, all I want to do is write. Honestly, I can’t get enough of it. And literally, I can’t get enough of it. I simply don’t have time to record every rumination that runs through my brain. So, as I take 30 minutes to type this post, bright pink post-its scream out potential topics on the bulletin board in front of me. But my priorities are family and graduate school.

Well, that’s not entirely true. While my family and graduate school are my top priorities right now, I seem to be incapable of simplicity and ease. If I finish all my schoolwork two weeks ahead of time, and take great care of my baby and love my husband well, it’s still not enough.

I’ve also decided to start jogging again, partly in an attempt to lose post-partum weight and partly to provide a break for myself each day from parenting responsibilities. And when my daughter sleeps or plays happily in her bouncy seat, if I’m not doing homework or working on my fitness (just ask Maggie, she’s my witness), I’m cleaning. Endlessly. I’m a bit anal about maintaining a tidy home. I’ve evolved into a much less maniacal housekeeper since having Maggie, but I confess that seeing dirt, dust, and dishes piled in the sink drives me absolutely bonkers. And I attempt to maintain two separate blogs, which I love to write for even though they have moved down on my priority list.

???????????????????????????????I don’t just do what’s required of me. I take on more than I have to. All the time, and I always have. Why can’t I just do as my mentor recommended, and list five items on my to-do list for the day? Why do I stretch five into ten? Or why, when I don’t complete all five tasks, do I fail to recognize that my baby refused to take decent naps all day, so my time was reprioritized? And even if I’m able to cross off all five items at the end of the day, why do I plop into bed at night feeling as if it wasn’t enough?

That I am not good enough?

Ah, the real root of the problem.

Fear.

I’m afraid that I won’t be good enough. That I won’t graduate from graduate school with a 4.0 GPA. That I won’t parent my daughter in a way that’s conducive to joy, peace, health, spiritual fulfillment, and lifelong learning. That my guests will turn up their noses at the rings inside my toilet bowls. That it will take me longer than a year to lose this weight and that I will never look attractive again in my own eyes. That my husband will observe these obvious failures and revoke his love from me.

Ridiculous.

Not only are these fears irrational, for the most part, but even if they come to fruition, who cares? How important is it that I maintain a perfect GPA? If I graduate with two Bs on my transcript, I’ll still have accomplished the big-picture goal of earning my Master’s degree in English. How important is it that I manage to read daily to my daughter? Well, it’s important, but if I skip a day here and there, her brain will most likely not begin to atrophy. How important is it that my house pass the white glove test? Not at all.

What I’m afraid of—not being good enough, and not being loved—has roots that have attached themselves to the core of my being since childhood.

But I don’t have to allow my fears to dictate my actions.

My husband reminded me, as we discussed these very matters in a state of near-consciousness last night that I ought to just relax.

He is right.

I remember when I worked in a sales position, selling software and training opportunities to business owners and principal partners in a niche industry, that it felt so hard to get to work on time. My commute took 45 minutes, hauling tail while applying makeup during traffic jams, on good days. Barring any wrecks or hold-ups, I’d screech into the parking lot and lug myself into the building, gigantic mug of strong coffee in hand.

I felt as if all my co-workers should applaud. Congratulate me for choosing not to hit snooze more than once. Pat me on the back for deciding to show up at work rather than stop paying my bills and move back into my parents’ house and eat frozen dinners while listening to my parents give me advice on relationships. Offer me an attagirl for taking a shower, blow-drying my hair, and appearing decently well-kempt.

But they didn’t. Of course.

I once shared this fantasy of applause with the secretary at the office. She laughed. Then agreed with me and told me about her average morning which entailed waking her teenage son, getting his lazy butt out the door for school, starting her car in freezing temperature with no husband available to scrape off the windshield for her, and finally braving almost the same commute I battled daily.

“I should be applauding YOU!” I remarked.

When I relocated to my hometown, and returned to the realm of higher education, I shared this same fantasy with a really funny group of people who worked in an adjacent office. Recently, when I returned to campus for a “look at my adorable new baby” visit, I walked into the foyer of their office and immediately felt puzzled.

They were all clapping.

It took me a minute to realize that they were clapping for me. For showing up. On time. Clothed.

It made me laugh, but last night as I lay in bed, I wondered why we all don’t applaud ourselves. Daily. For whatever things we accomplish, no matter how minor they seem when we compare them to the books and albums published by our fellow alumni, the perfectly bleached bathrooms of our mothers-in-law, or the post-partum pictures of our incredibly thin friends.

Once a yoga instructor said something at the end of class which, I’ll admit, I scoffed at internally.

“Thank your body for what it was able to do for you today.”

Yada, yada, yada.

But maybe I will. Maybe I ought to apply those high school cheerleading skills to my own little life. Maybe I need to pat myself on the back when I submit an assignment, wrestle myself into my sports bra in order to go jogging in 45-degree weather, or successfully remove humungous boogers from my baby’s nostrils.

Maybe I ought to thank God for what I’m able to do today.

Period.

Mama said, part 7

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Me and my sisters, 2010

My eyeballs automatically rolled back into my head at the recitation of this phrase which my mom repeated to me and my sisters so many times that I swore I’d never say it myself.

Yet a few days ago, as election season crept upon us in all its obnoxiousness, I found myself surprised by the number of negative comments and posts on Facebook regarding candidates, political parties, and ideological viewpoints. Election year seems to bring out the dark side of many normal, happy-go-lucky, non-partisan people. Lately, I find myself wondering if everyone had the benefit of learning the lesson, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Most of my “I will be kind and loving to my sister” sentences resulted from my failure to follow this maxim as a child. Each time, my mom would either lecture me incessantly or dole out the 500-sentences-punishment, which was obviously much worse. My sisters and I never got into physical fights, but we didn’t always get along, either. Resorting to ugly remarks or passive aggressive criticisms was one of my favorite vices. I wasn’t a mean little girl; on the contrary, I was pretty nice. From kindergarten to graduation, I was never sent to the office by a teacher or punished in any way. I generally helped other students as needed and tried to treat them the way I wanted to be treated.

However, I also mastered the knack of mulling over unsavory critical thoughts about people without ever allowing those thoughts to form audible sentences. I may not have SAID anything rude or negative, but I was certainly thinking it. This natural tendency to criticize and judge has only been quelled by constant self-redirection. And the awareness of my need for redirection has only come about as a result of acknowledgement of my own character defects and opportunities for growth. And acknowledgement of my defects and growth opportunities has only occurred due to my improved relationship with God, which evolved slowly over the years, thanks to an anonymous recovery program coupled with plenty of prayer, meditation, and Scripture absorption.

With people who’ve taught me to be positive

For me, saying nothing at all doesn’t fix the problem. Saying nothing at all is a great starting point–if I take the action, the feelings are more likely to follow. But I’ve found that I tend to sleep better at night and question my own choices less often if I don’t even let myself ruminate on nasty thoughts. Spitting those negative, critical words out while they’re still silent seems to produce a more genuine, loving Bethany. When I find myself prefacing a comment with, “I’m not trying to be mean, but… ,” I know that whatever’s about to slip out of my mouth would be better left unsaid. And if it’d be better left unsaid, then I might not need to be chewing on it so voraciously, either.

Today, I’m more likely than I used to be to think before speaking. I’m less likely to share juicy gossip that is really none of my business. I’m more likely to focus on positive, encouraging topics of conversation. I’m more likely to ask myself these questions before saying what comes to mind: Is it kind? Is it loving? Is it necessary? Is it beneficial?

I’m sure my mom is proud of my progress. I haven’t had to write “I will be kind and loving” sentences in years–thank God :).