Outcomes

My three year-old daughter has been waking up around 2 a.m. for weeks now, tossing and turning in tears, crying out for us. A few weeks ago when my husband went into her room to console her, she cried out, “I want to go home!”

Over coffee, after she embarked on a playground adventure with our wonderful babysitter, we discussed Maggie’s recent bout with nightmares. What is the root cause? What does “I want to go home” mean? She rarely leaves the house without us, and when she does, it’s only for a few hours at a time. We were baffled. Had she been watching a cartoon that was troubling her? While we try to avoid helicopter parenting syndrome, I’ll admit to hovering over the remote. We don’t even let her watch the portion of My Little Ponies featuring the witches from 1985. Toddler nightmares are tough on toddlers, but I’ll admit that I avoid them for selfish reasons, too. At a loss, we agreed the best solution was to pray for her and comfort her. We shrugged our shoulders and moved forward with the day.

Later that morning, over my second cup of coffee on the porch, while listening to chirping birds and watching the sun continue to rise over the hilltop, I prayed for Maggie and asked God to relieve her of her bad dreams. God, please help her to sleep more soundly. Please help her to remember that we love her, and that she IS home, even when she’s sleeping.

Suddenly it hit me—God already answered her plea by refusing to answer one of mine.

That’s not exactly accurate, but I’ll explain.

Last fall, my longtime friend—the founder of the company I now work for—offered me the opportunity to join his company as Content Manager. At the time, I was happily working as an English faculty member for a community college. I wasn’t looking for another job, but the opportunity to write full-time, manage content for a company I’d admired for years, and earn a significantly higher income sounded wonderful. I accepted and worked part-time as Content Manager while finishing up the fall semester.

IMG_2836While I certainly enjoy my job, after working full-time for about two months, I found myself aching to mentor my students, teach in the classroom, and do all the things faculty members do. I knew my truer passion was connected to directly serving college students. I sucked down my pride and applied for my former position, even though doing so meant taking a huge pay cut. In March, before I even knew the outcome of my application, I opened up to my boss (and her husband, our company founder) about my feelings. They were completely supportive of my decision. In fact, they allowed me to begin working part-time in May to pursue my passion.

I began praying for nothing but God’s will. I’ve learned, through experience and through working the 12 steps of recovery, that any other prayer with any other intention is somewhat useless. If I pray for specific goals and wishes, I’m putting God in a box and rubbing on a little lamp, waiting for God to appear in a swath of sheer fabric. In my life, I’ve found more contentment and witnessed more miracles when I let God be God and do His thing in my life.

Wouldn’t it be a great Cinderella story if I were able to tell you that this fall I’ll be grading papers in my old office, brewing coffee in my Keurig, and forcing 200 students to listen to my horrible jokes again? But alas, that isn’t the case. I wasn’t offered my old job; in fact, I wasn’t even offered the opportunity to interview for my old job.

Is this God’s will? God’s “perfect will” that I’ve read about in countless Bible studies?

I don’t really think so. I believe we live in a broken, sick world full of corrupt people who make poor choices. As a result, God’s plans aren’t always implemented; we all make choices. Sometimes I make the right choice, and you make the wrong one (and vice versa). That combination doesn’t result in Plan A’s implementation.

But what I choose to believe is this, and I believe this because my life experience has never proven this wrong: regardless of the situations and circumstances that transpire, and regardless of choices made, God always makes the best of everything because He loves me and wants the best for me.

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Because God is able to work all things together for my good, I get to pursue a portfolio career. I get to continue working for people who respect my decision to pursue my passion. I get to work part-time doing professional work as Content Manager, from home, on a flexible schedule. My husband and our family members are working their tails off to complete an addition to our home, which includes my new office. I also get to pursue adjunct teaching positions online, which will provide me with continued teaching experience but plenty of flexibility. I get to pursue my dream of starting my own business as a career coach, which is something I thought would only come to fruition after my daughter had graduated from high school—and instead, it’s happening right now, a few days after my 37th birthday. Since my husband owns his own business, our family will be able to take an occasional fishing trip during the day if he’s not busy. This is a privilege we haven’t been able to enjoy until now.

The best part is that God has answered my Mama prayer about Maggie’s cry—I want to go home!—by not giving me what I thought I so desperately wanted.

Since I’m not going to be teaching full-time, I’ll be here with her every day. She will be home, and I’ll be here, too, helping her learn and grow. We’ll hunt for armadillos and skunks in the woods, and when she watches Peter Rabbit before lunch, I’ll hop on the computer to manage social media or edit resumes (hopefully).

I always come back to the simple prayer that never fails to ring true for me.

God, thank You

For all You’ve given me,

For all You’ve taken away

And for all You’ve left me with.

 

*Disclaimer: We recently learned that “I want to go home” refers to a cute playhouse Maggie’s babysitter took her to visit a few times. My husband has, therefore, agreed to construct a similar playhouse for Maggie on our property so that when she is literally home, she can “go home.” Kind of ruins the whole analogy I used here, huh? 🙂 

Keep fishing

My husband, fishing on the White River

My husband, fishing on the White River

There’s a reason so many old men sit down by the river after they retire for hours each day, staring into the water. They cast lines, bait hooks, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, wear sunglasses, and nod silently at one another in greeting. Most of them don’t have much to say.

Fishing is a great metaphor for life, and if you’ve never spent much time fishing, you might be rolling your eyes right now. That’s okay. Maybe you didn’t have a grandpa who took you fishing in a rusty old pickup truck with a can of worms. You might have never learned how to bait your own hook. And you might have never pitched a tent or slept in a sleeping bag under the stars while on a bonafide camping trip.

That’s all right. Someday, you might decide to embark on one of these adventures. Maybe someone else’s dad or husband or grandpa will wrap his sun-battered arm around you and invite you to hold a fishing rod. You might have difficulty being still for longer than five minutes. It might feel like a total waste of time. You might find yourself itching to take pictures with your iPhone.

Liz, fishing for crappie, January 2012

Liz, fishing for crappie, January 2012

Then you’ll feel a tug on your line, and your iPhone will suddenly seem insignificant, smaller than the crappie thrashing about in the water.  A thrill will fill your chest, and you’ll yelp as you yank a little too hard on the reel. You’ll lose the fish.

Your patient teacher will rebait the hook, and you’ll watch. You’ll feel a little sorry for the worm, but after experiencing the thrill of catching your own fish, you can’t wait to feel it again. You wait. This time, you watch the water cascading over the side of the dam. You have forgotten about taking pictures, and the imaginary world of Facebook fades into oblivion. You watch an old man reeling in what appears to be a gigantic trout. It must weigh 50 pounds, you think. You ask him how much it weighs. Maybe six pounds, sister, he mumbles.

You sit on the precipice of the dam, the damp concrete seeping through your jeans, wind whipping through your hair. You don’t talk to the people you drive down the gravel road with, packed like sardines into the gray pick-up truck, because the noise of the crashing waves drowns out every other sound anyway. You hear water, and you hear your own thoughts. Maybe you hear God for the first time in years.

019After thirty minutes of roaring silence, interrupted by intermittent casts and worms and sips of beer, a shiny trout gobbles up your bait. It seems too good to be true, but you follow directions, and somehow reel him in—this time without overreacting—and land him on the cold, hard surface of the bank.

He stares at you and stops flailing. The sun reflects off his beautiful shimmering body, showing the world one last time all of his colors. You smile at him, and the old man with the six pound trout peers down at you over the rim of his cheap gas station sunglasses. He’s a keeper, sister. That’s dinner.

And he is.

White River damAnd every time you cast your line into the river, you think about what it is that keeps you going back there, that keeps you fishing. It’s not dinner, although trout is certainly tasty, a wonderful local sustainable fish. It’s not the chance to spend time with people you love, even though that happens, too. And it’s not to escape a nagging wife or husband at home, although you might know a few folks who fish for particularly that reason. And it’s not the thrill of the tug and the bragging rights, although many people fish to feed their own egos.

It’s the beauty, the flash in the water, the colors and the light. It’s the silent cry from the trout and river and the rock, the don’t you remember Who I Am?

Six months later, someone asks you what you like to do for fun. Fishing, you say, without batting an eye. I like going fishing.

You might want to try it.

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.

 

I wrote this today for the other blog I manage, “Daily dose of gratitude,” but I thought the folks who read my personal blog might like it, too. Subsistence living has become a big part of who I am today, and this might surprise those of you who’ve known me for a long time.

Daily dose of gratitude

Last night, as I told my friend Alison (who is an amazing pastry chef) that I’d just eaten trout from the White River, caught this summer, and mashed turnips from a local farmer’s land, she commented that I was a locavore.

I’d never heard the term before, so I did what all of us do when we hear new terms–Googled it. I found this definition:

A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market. The locavore movement in the United States and elsewhere was spawned as interest in sustainability and Eco-consciousness became more prevalent.

This  is true about me now. However, the reasons for my locavore-ness might surprise you. I’m not what I’d consider an environmentalist. I don’t even recycle at home. I don’t visit the farmer’s market, carry my own grocery bags around, or eat all organic foods.

I…

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Cheesy love

Lizard is an integral part of my life.

By “Lizard,” I mean Elizabeth, the girl formerly known as my stepdaughter. I met her when she was three years-old, shivering in a beach towel at her cousin’s swimming party. I’ve found her to be undeniably adorable ever since. I had the pleasure of spending more time with her and mentoring her when I was her stepmom for almost six years. Since then, thanks to the cooperation of her parents, we’ve been able to maintain a close relationship that’s grown and evolved over the years.

When I started dating, I decided that anyone who wanted to even consider being with me must make the decision to accept Liz as well. This decision was met with mixed reviews–some friends and family lauded my choice to include her so wholly in my life, and some people suggested that I needed to cut ties with her and let her go.

That’s easy to say if you’ve never loved someone completely for several years, helped raise them, watched them grow, and created an inseparable bond with them. So I pooh-poohed those people and continued pursuing time with Liz. When one guy I dated told me he thought it was “weird” that I still had a relationship with my former stepdaughter, I immediately crossed him off the list. I was serious about loving Liz, and I knew that anyone who chose me had to also open his heart to her.

One of the most selfless ways I’ve seen James express his love for me is through accepting Liz. He has not only been “okay” with us spending time together, but he’s gone along for the ride and has gone out of his way to ensure her inclusion in our lives. The first time he met her was at her high school homecoming football game last year. I was impressed by his ability to be at ease around her entire family and support me in my support of her. Since then, he’s been nothing but loving, generous, and welcoming toward her. Every time we see her, I watch them develop their own rapport and respect for each other.

On my way home from work Friday, I called him to check on what time we’d be leaving to pick up Liz for the weekend.

“I’m heading home right now,” he said. “I had to pick up a few things.”

When his truck pulled in the driveway, he smiled and waved, and my heart leaped, the same way it always does when I see him coming home. He stepped out, grocery bags in hand, and hugged me.

“I thought Liz might want some cheese dip because she liked it so much last time, and I bought some fishing hooks so we can take her trout fishing tomorrow.”

Tears came by my eyes as I saw, in action, how he’d opened his own heart and home to someone else’s child, all because he knows that she’s so much more than that to me.