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? 🙂 

God will

There are some moments in life when I’m able to vividly recall exactly what I was doing at precise moments in time. September 11, 2001. 4:21 p.m., November 16, 2012. The moment when my daughter was born. And 10 a.m., May 12, 2014. The moment when my babysitter Keely called to tell me that she was interested in watching Maggie if I were offered a full-time English faculty position.

Dressing up as Velma for Halloween 2013, just to please my students who INSISTED  :).

Dressing up as Velma for Halloween 2013, just to please my students who INSISTED :).

That moment felt pivotal to me because I’d prayed for God’s will related to every aspect of my employment for almost an entire year. From the moment I heard the news that the community college where I taught as an adjunct English instructor would be hiring a full-time instructor in the coming year, I began praying. I prayed for nothing but God’s will, but I’ll admit that I sometimes resorted to fretting about the details in my mind. I wondered if I stood a fighting chance against other candidates who would apply, knowing that my experience in other workplace settings didn’t amount to much when stacked against years of collegiate teaching experience. I wondered if all of my hard work as an adjunct faculty member would pay off, or if I would find myself teaching one or two courses for the next five years before realizing that my dream of teaching full-time might never materialize. I wondered if I should apply for other full-time positions or go with my gut and stick to what I really had my heart set on—teaching full-time at the community college I’d grown to love and wanted to retire from someday. And lastly, but probably most important of all, I wondered if God would provide caring, qualified babysitters to come to our home. I’d worked in daycare settings as a college student, and daycare was a last resort for us.

I began to pray “God’s will” and “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones” every single day about my dream of teaching full-time, even before the job had been posted and long before other people on campus started talking about it. Slowly but surely, God answered my prayers and provided bits of confirmation through words other faculty members said to me, emails and gifts and notes from my students, student evaluation forms, and staff members who encouraged me in true Barnabas fashion.

When I interviewed for the position, I felt complete peace throughout the process. Some of my friends commented and asked me about my demeanor, questioning whether I was excited or not.

“I’m excited, but I’m not sure if I’ll be the person who gets the job. I’m just waiting to see what happens. I’ve just been praying for God’s will, so we’ll see.”

Walking with Maggie on campus last fall

Walking with Maggie on campus last fall

I really meant what I said. In truth, I probably would have cried if I’d not been selected; I wasn’t just applying for a job. I was applying for the opportunity to fulfill a personal dream and to share my passion for learning and literature and writing with students for years to come. By the same token, I trust God’s timing, and I don’t want anything that isn’t supposed to be mine anymore.

But on May 12 at 10 a.m., Keely called and told me she wanted to babysit for me. A weight lifted after she hung up the phone, knowing that if I got my dream job, my baby would be in good hands, too.

One hour later, my boss, the division chair for the arts and humanities division, called me.

She told me I had landed the job. I might have squealed.

I don’t remember 95% of what she said on the phone that day because after she said, “Bethany, I’m not sure if you realize it, but your students really love you,” I started crying silently.

I couldn’t hear anything else. I hope it wasn’t anything that she hasn’t repeated since then.

God knew that I needed my babysitter to call me that day before I got that second phone call. My mentor always tells me that God goes ahead and plans in love. I know that’s what He did for me that morning.

I certainly don’t want anything that isn’t supposed to be mine anymore. But I am so thankful for what is mine today.

The only five-leaf clover I've ever found. I found it three days before I got my job. This picture will soon hang in my office :).

The only five-leaf clover I’ve ever found. I found it three days before I got my job. This picture will soon hang in my office :).

Last week, I went to work in my office on campus even though I am not required to work on campus this summer. It helps me to focus and accomplish a little more since my beautiful toddler can be a little loud and difficult to work around at home. After sitting at my desk and grading speeches for my online summer course, I rubbed my eyes and decided to go to lunch.

While walking down the hall, I caught a glimpse at my own reflection in the window of an office door. Seeing myself, I smiled and instantly felt gratitude wash over me.

This is my life, I thought. Wow. Let me never take this for granted.

God, thank You
for all that You’ve given me
for all that You’ve taken away
and for all that You’ve left me with.

 

2014 word of the year

I have worked the 12 steps of recovery for six years, and the meditation part of the 11th step has never been easy for me.

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out”

Serious yogi, 2010

Serious yogi, 2010

I’ve sat through guided meditations and struggled to resist the urge to giggle and to wiggle away the ants in my pants. I’ve tried focusing on my breathing (with varying levels of success in achieving something like relaxation). I’ve done yoga, too, and while I’ve improved my flexibility, I haven’t found my mind floating on a cloud.

Even though my husband has never participated in a 12-step recovery program, he has the annoying and enviable ability to achieve what looks like nirvana after just a few minutes of lying down with his eyes closed, breathing. Being. Ugh.

I finally asked him one night, when I felt beyond frustrated with insomnia, how he manages to meditate so easily.

“Simple,” he said. “I focus on something that I like. I go to a place in my mind. When I start thinking about other things, I turn back to that place.”

Well, that might occur naturally for Mr. Smarty Pants, but it hasn’t proved simple for me—probably because I’ve taken a simple idea and contorted it into a complicated process—a terrible talent I have.

The past few months, I’ve given my husband’s method a try.

December 2012

December 2012

I’ve found some virtual places of rest. I’ve gone hiking behind my old house, snapped twigs and sat on thick tree branches, gathered firewood, and overlooked the ridge at the top of the hill with my trusty companion, my black cat Shao Hou, following closely behind, silently. I’ve walked up past our barn on a moonlit night, the light casting contrasting shadows through trees, reflecting off dirt and rocks coated in quiet snow. I’ve traced my own steps and watched Shao Hou’s paw prints step in the hollowed places left behind by my Muck boots.

Last month, after one of the most beautiful snowstorms I’ve seen (and I haven’t seen many since I live in the South), our entire property was blanketed in stark white stillness. The neighbors with noisy trucks were nowhere to be found. Even the 14 dogs owned by the animal lover living a quarter-mile away bedded down and shut their traps.

Nothing moved. No one spoke.

But God did.

My feathered friends, December 2013

My feathered friends, December 2013

That morning, dozens of birds found their way to a patch of grass outside my bedroom window and pecked through the ice in search of sunflower seeds scattered by my husband the day before. While my daughter napped, I sat in front of the open window and snapped photo after photo of bright wings and orange beaks and puffy feathers perched on thin frozen branches. Aside from clicking the camera’s buttons, I didn’t move for 30 minutes.

I’d found a place to go, a place to be still. A place to be with God.

Each year, I choose a word to reflect on, a virtue to behold and to strive to attain. This year, my word is still. Ironically, there’s nothing to strive for since stillness is the absence of striving.

This year, I’ll seek out places of rest. I’ll let myself be silent. I’ll seek to be free of turbulence, waves, or currents. I will listen to the absence of voices and absorb the hush.

God is in the hush.

 

100_4467The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

–1 Kings 19

 

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

Right where I belong

“What’s one feeling you’ve had since having her that has surprised you?”

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

One of my best friends posed this question to me a few days ago as I rocked my drowsy five week-old baby girl.

How’s she doing? Are you recovering from the delivery? How do you like breastfeeding? Isn’t it crazy how fast they grow?

I’ve been asked these questions countless times lately. Maggie’s doing well. I’m recovering well. Breastfeeding is complicated but worth it, I think (ask me a month from now). And yes, it’s insane how quickly she grows, changes, and develops adorable rolls of baby chub.

But my friend’s question caught me off guard. Not many people have asked how I feel about being a mom.

Honestly, I hesitate to write about it. I hesitate because when I was pregnant, I felt skeptical of all the women I knew who believed that pregnancy was beautiful and the most wonderful experience of their lives. I doubted their statements about how the negative moments would one day vanish from memory. I admit that I often rolled my mind’s eyes while listening to them recant their fond recollections of pregnancy.

I hesitate, expecting to elicit eye rolling from those of you who can’t relate, to tell you that while I still detest the pregnancy process, I love being a mom.

I don’t just adore my little darling because she’s sweet and beautiful when she’s sleeping. I don’t just love her because she is the product of the most precious relationship I’ve ever had. I don’t just like her when she’s smiling, cooing, or cuddling me.

I mean that I love being a mother in the core of my being.

Most of my life, I’ve found meaning and significance in my career and educational journey. I’ve prided myself on making perfect grades. I’ve patted myself on the back for being an expert problem solver, finding holes and filling them in every job role I’ve ever held. I’ve planned out my days based on making meaningful contributions to others through work and volunteer efforts. That worked for me very well. It made me feel complete and significant.

Until now.

004I am most surprised that right now, I feel more like I am right where I’m supposed to be, doing precisely what I’m supposed to be doing, more than I’ve ever felt that way in my entire life. More fulfilled than I could have possibly imagined I’d feel. More perfectly aligned with God’s goals for me than I’d dreamed.

Even at 2 a.m., while sopping up projectile vomit and wiping away my own tears of pity for my daughter. Even after changing five diapers in 15 minutes while nursing a 48-hour migraine that I can’t alleviate with medication while breastfeeding. Even during the afternoon when I plop my exhausted pajama-clad self into the recliner and gaze around the room at the unswept floor, the pile of laundry to fold, and the Christmas cards to address.

Always, I am where I belong.