Doing

14358915_618953765392_1589227780450859615_nMaggie will turn four in November. I watched her sleeping tonight (since I couldn’t seem to fall asleep myself). She was wrapped up in my fluffy gray throw blanket, her golden auburn hair almost glowing against the darkness.

I wanted to keep her this way forever—peaceful, still, and breathtakingly beautiful. And tiny.

But of course I can’t. Maggie is moving, growing, learning, and thriving—and I’m grateful. She fluctuates between telling me she wants a big girl cup and asking for milk in a baby bottle at bedtime. Even though she’s been potty-trained for almost one year, she still requests a “Celly-grelly diaper” (that’s Cinderella pull-ups) when she wants to pretend she’s still a baby. She knows all her numbers and loves practicing counting, and she loves reading even though she resists learning about letters.

I could go on and on. I’m in love.

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Maggie, August 2013

When I was pregnant with Maggie, I quit working as an academic advisor due to pregnancy complications. I didn’t return to work until Maggie was about 14 months old, and then I only worked part-time as an adjunct English instructor for one year before accepting a full-time faculty position.

During my stay-at-home mom days, I will be honest—I struggled. It was the hardest job I’d ever done; the work never ended, and the client was often unsatisfied with my performance even though I did my darndest to please her. I felt insecure about my lack of financial contribution to our household even though my husband gently reassured me that staying home with Maggie was much more significant and helpful than any salary I’d ever earned.

It was tough to be where my hands were. I’m all about productivity; I like to make things happen. Being a mama is not about making things happen; it’s about letting things happen. Sigh.

Sometimes I found myself daydreaming about more enjoyable things to do while changing diapers or nursing Maggie. Even though I often wished for Calgon to take me away, I felt fulfilled knowing I was with the most important people doing the most important things on my to-do list every single day. When I had the opportunity to teach full-time, though, and to put my degree to use, I couldn’t resist.

The day I drove away from my house to teach full-time for the first time, I had a sinking feeling in my chest.

“You’re going to regret this someday.”

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One of the rare afternoons we spent together during my first semester of teaching full-time

That inner voice was partly correct. Although I thrive in the classroom and felt I’d found my niche teaching English to college students whom I still adore, I have many regrets about that time during our lives. My first semester of teaching full-time was like running the gauntlet. I taught too many courses—my fault for agreeing to do so—and too many writing courses which required countless hours of grading (not my fault since I didn’t select my own courses that semester). In the fall of 2014, I rarely arrived home in time to spend more than 15 minutes with Maggie and James before the sun set. I don’t recall cooking dinner once, but I’m sure I did… didn’t I? During the peak of my daughter’s cuteness, I slaved away to prove myself in academia.

But I found this to be true: if I’m excelling at work, I’m probably sucking at home, or at best, barely holding the pieces together while gritting my teeth and smiling, pretending to have it all figured out.

At the time, my remedy to missing Maggie’s life was to spend more money on her. I can’t count the number of times I said, “Maggie, Mama will bring you something cool today, okay?” She loved getting a fun gift—maybe a new rubber duck or a balloon—but sometimes she had tears in her eyes when I left for work.

I regret that.

I can’t change the past—not even God can change the past.

If anything has proven true in my life, it’s that God always gives me second chances and redeems the worst decisions I’ve made. He redeems outcomes.

I left teaching in December 2015 to accept a position as content manager of a small business I’d admired for over a decade. Two months later, I felt incomplete even though I was certainly making things happen and doing a great job. I missed my students; I missed teaching and applied for my old job. But I didn’t get the job, and even though my student evaluations as an instructor demonstrated 99% positive feedback, and my faculty evaluations boasted almost all 5’s, I wasn’t even granted the opportunity to interview for the position. Just a few months before, when leaving the college, I’d received an email from my boss stating that, “People talk about the ‘five percenters,’ but that category is not fitting for you – you are a ‘one percenter.’”

This 1%’er felt baffled, disappointed, and hurt.

I got over it.

I got over it because God gave me a new dream—to launch my own career coaching business and to harness my passions for career development, serving others, and mentoring. And thanks to my long-time mentor, my spiritual mentor, and professional friends and colleagues, I received ample encouragement and reassurance that I was more than qualified to help job seekers find their dream jobs. When I questioned whether I had enough experience to be considered an expert, and wondered if I should wait another five years before launching my business, my friend Dr. Steve Lindner said, “No, you’re ready now.”

I got over it because I found that since I have always believed in the power of networking, I’d made great alliances with various friends connected to other colleges and universities; these connections came through for me, and I was able to secure the chance to teach college part-time while growing my career coaching business.

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Maggie, spring 2016

And I got over it because while working as a content manager, I fell more deeply in love with my daughter. Each time our babysitter sent me photos of Maggie finger painting, hunting for armadillos in the woods behind our house, or eating Cheerios, I longed to be the one taking the pictures. I missed her.

And so I made right my wrong. I leaned out.

While listening to Natalie Merchant’s “Giving Up Everything” one day while driving home from work (in the dark, of course), I exhaled and made the decision to do just that.

I came home.

Today, I don’t earn enough money to spend extravagantly. I certainly don’t earn enough to buy myself an extensive fun wardrobe (complete with fabulous dresses with pockets) or trendy nail polish each season. Maggie rarely hears me say, “Mama will bring you something home.”

I’m already home, and I wouldn’t exchange time with my one precious girl for anything right now.

Instead of buying Maggie gifts, I’m giving myself to her.

When she wakes up in a few hours, I’ll say to her, “Mama has something fun for us to do today.”

Today we’re doing. We’re not buying.

And I’m feeling rich.

The best and worst of 2015

The truth is I’ve never read The Tale of Two Cities.

After spending 20 minutes scouring SparkNotes—yep, SparkNotes (the shame of it)—and reading quick online plot summaries and popular quote interpretations, I found myself sitting at my white handmade desk at 11:15 p.m. the night before Christmas Eve, tissuing away tears. It might have been the mention of the Christ-figure Carton and his martyrdom, or maybe it was Manette’s inability to tear himself away from making shoes even after being released from prison that got me choked up. I don’t know. But I decided to order a copy of the old classic and conquer it in 2016.

What drew me to the text in the first place was my recollection of the infamous opening paragraph and how well it reflects my sentiments regarding 2015.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .

I won’t even begin to apply the quote to the universe or to philosophize about the state of the Union or the world at large, ISIS, global warming, technology and its effects on Generation Z (or the rest of us for that matter), or the countless other sociopolitical problems we face.

For today, I’ll stick to my own neck of the woods and my little life.

I wish I could not relate to the opening lines of The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I wish I considered these lines ridiculous and over the top. But I relate—I relate very well.

Each autumn, I attend a women’s conference that renews me spiritually. I participate in a group meditation that’s particularly meaningful to me and am handed a phrase which seems to always ring true in the coming year. Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, if you like, but I consider it a positive promise of sorts from God, or something hopeful to work toward or claim. In 2014, the phrase I was handed was “Blessings fill your life.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Indeed—blessings have filled my life this year. Some of them have overwhelmed me with their enormity. God has blown my expectations out of the water in many ways, redefined “miracle,” and allowed me to observe others’ miracles, too.

But this year also brought bone-crushing, soul-splitting grief. I lost several friends whom I dearly loved—and the means of loss were ugly, confusing, and left me with more questions than consolation. When I asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” I didn’t hear a pretty piano playing a sweet hymn in response. I heard nothing.

In those times, I tried to keep doing what worked for me spiritually—to daily maintain my spiritual condition. But sometimes, many times, I just sat outside at night and looked at stars and said nothing at all, and I think He was okay with that. Other times I hated Him and all but spat at Him. I’m pretty sure He was okay then, too. He is God, after all. He is a Big Boy and can handle my humanity, even when I am embarrassed by it.

During those times, I had no idea how “Blessings fill your life” applied to me, but the card emblazoned with the phrase haunted me from my bulletin board. I wanted to throw it in the garbage but never did.

I’m glad I didn’t.

The best of times made their way back around again, and when they did, they did not disappoint.

There’s too much of the best to spell it all out, and quite frankly, some of it is too personal to share. A long time ago God somehow explained to me that we’d share many amazing moments that would blow my mind and steal my heart along this journey together. I learned that if I shared all of them, or even most of them, they’d lose their power somehow. So I pick and choose what I share.

One of the biggest miracles and strangest turn of events occurred in relation to employment. In June, I reconnected with a friend/business acquaintance, and dozens of prayers, careful decisions, and two months later, he and his wife offered me my current position as Content Manager of their company. I’m not joking when I say that I’ve dreamed about working for this company for a decade; seeing God fit multiple pieces of a complicated puzzle together seamlessly this summer was nothing short of breathtaking.

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With my bosses/mentors/friends, Steven & Faith Rothberg

I recently traveled to Minnesota to train for a few days. We worked like dogs, but I never felt tired until I closed my eyes at night. While recalling specific conversations and moments with a team member recently, I realized that not once while training and brainstorming did my bosses say, “Oh no, we just can’t do that,” or “That’s not a good idea.” Perhaps THIS is why I’m overcome with gratitude every time I think about work.

This year I also realized that losses and flaws are often my greatest gifts.

While driving back from the airport after traveling to Minnesota, alone, tired, and ready to see my little Maggie who I knew would be ready to see me, I hurriedly drove at sunset while chugging cheap coffee. I suddenly felt a moment of panic when I realized I couldn’t recall if I’d taken the right exit or not. What if I didn’t, and I am heading in the wrong direction? I really have no idea where I’m going. I paused, took a deep breath, and prayed for guidance. I decided to call my husband for help even though I hated asking for his help while driving because believe it or not, he can be a little cocky at times.

When he answered the phone, he was calm and helped me right away. I was heading in the right direction after all.

Something in my mind clicked; God seemed to be saying If you never felt fear, you would never trust Me.

Oh my God. You’re right. Thank You for my fear.

I couldn’t believe I was driving down the road thanking God for my FEAR. What a gross thing to be thankful for. But for me, an egotistical, independent perfectionist, a little fear may be necessary to keep me coming back.

That got me thinking about the rest of my “best of times and worst of times.” The most painful moments when I have been smothered by grief have felt the worst, but those moments led me to seek the Comforter, the only One who can fill gaps in me. I’ve felt frustrated and at a total loss when my toddler doesn’t comply and goes in the opposite preferred direction, but this reminds me I’m not in control and Who Is. There have been many times this year when I felt too overwhelmed to speak or write. I learned that God and I communicate just as well as two silent beings.

Blessings have filled my life after all.

 

Snow, pianissimo

581291_556787911262_2008318683_nThe past few mornings the weather has deceived us. Jack Frost has made it impossible for me to leave the house without preheating my car for at least five minutes, deglazing the windshield while begging for three more hugs from my daughter while she watches Wallykazam wave words into existence with a magical stick. This morning I listened to JJ Heller’s new CD (which is her best yet, by the way) while making my way through the chilly countryside. As I approached the long, winding hill connecting our part of the world to what resembles a city, I snapped out of my piano-tuned trance-like state as I noticed what looked like huge, puffy, white snowflakes fluttering by.

Was it really cold enough to be snowing? I felt confused, but I tried not to think too long or too hard about the facts. It was breathtaking. I nearly gasped and appreciated the view. The feather-like snowflakes silently passed by my car.

Suddenly my gaze moved ahead to a large, ugly, black truck. Oh. A chicken truck.

The feather-like snowflakes were not snowflakes. They were feathers—chicken feathers.

I initially laughed out loud at my own mistaken perception.

Two seconds later I felt devastated by reality. Hundreds of helpless, frigid birds boxed inside the ugly truck blinked at me.

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With one of our chicks last spring

 

My mind immediately recalled a poem by Lola Haskins, “Playing Hiroshima.”

Playing Hiroshima

There are no finer audiences in the world
Andre Pogorelich, in 
Pianists Speak

Did you know the ones with colds wear surgical masks
so as to disturb no one?
They do.

Did you know their small hands lie folded in their laps
like boats?
They do.

Did you know they kneel kimonoed for etudes, as tea
cooled by a mother’s breath?
They do.

Did you know that skin can fall like snow?
Softly . . .  pianissimo?
They do.

–Lola Haskins, Forty-Four Ambitions for the Piano

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Why my brain made this connection this morning—15 or 16 years after studying as a college student at age 19 or 20 under the tutelage of poet Andrea Hollander–I do not know.

But I do know this: what happened to me this morning when Lola Haskins’ poem came to mind is my lifetime goal as a writer–to create such significant impressions through writing–to lend my readers experiences, nearly, while reading–that they might make connections to my words through their own experiences years later.

There is no higher compliment. So here’s to you, Lola Haskins. And to you, Andrea Hollander, for being my conduit to a world of beautiful words.

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.

Taking a stab at it

Casey Punkin 1God has used several medical professionals in my life to be His hands and His voice—my counselor, my doctors, and my physical therapist. I’m thankful for my friend and physical therapist, Casey Bush, who earned my trust over the past year and has brought physical healing to me and reminded me to be patient with myself, to reach out and ask for help, and to be open to new ideas. Casey, this one’s for you :).

 

“Is that okay?” I asked my friend and physical therapist, Casey Bush, as she twisted my arm behind my back, handcuff style, coaxing my scapula out of its hiding place.

“What do you mean? What does it feel like?”

“Well, it feels like. . .” I took a deep breath before answering. “It feels like nothing. I mean, I really can’t feel anything. It just doesn’t hurt anymore.”

She laughed. “Yep, that’s what we’re going for.”

Having recently earned her certification for dry needling, my physical therapist—who’d also become a trusted friend—was utilizing my upper back and neck to try out her newly honed techniques.

I’m not normally a great crash test dummy for anything, much less an eyebrow-raising, little-known practice. I’m not a crunchy granola girl. I don’t make my own detergent, and I don’t slather oil on my acne in hopes of waking up with clear skin. Sure, I’ve paid for an occasional massage, and I’ve popped a few rounds of probiotics, but aside from that, I stick to pretty traditional, science-based remedies and treatments. Call me chicken, but I like predictability. I like proven methods. Honestly, if I’m spending money, I want to know what I’m paying for, and I want a moderate guarantee of a return on my investment.

So what in the world was I doing lying face down on a massage table with ten dry needles sticking out of my upper back?

I was desperate, that’s what. I was desperate, in pain, and out of options.

I first visited Casey for a physical therapy consultation in March of 2013, five months after the birth of my daughter. After gaining 60 pounds during a pretty horrible pregnancy, and undergoing a harrowing delivery experience that required a slow recovery process, I grew impatient with my body as I realized that due to a number of factors behind my physiological control, I had not recovered much at all, even though I’d lost much of the weight. One of the worst aspects of recovery was chronic back pain. I was a willing patient, and I did all the stretches, exercises, and treatments to the best of my ability, and I saw minor improvements.

As Maggie grew and became more mobile and required more bending, stretching, and lifting on my part, I found that my body was literally unable to keep up. I had to modify my activities to meet her needs, and I felt pathetic. Thankfully, my husband pitched in considerably and lightened my load. Still, the pain never left me; it was a constant annoying companion, like a soggy diaper that immediately soaks itself after changing—mamas will understand what I’m getting at.

Most mornings, I woke up and winced when turning my head, pain shooting down my spine. I stretched out on the heating pad, hoping for relief, even though I knew it wouldn’t do a bit of good. I usually prayed in silence. Ironically, I didn’t pray about anything related to my physical condition. I’m not sure why—I guess I have grown tired of throwing my own pity parties over the years. I just prayed about my day, for God’s will, for the ability to have a good attitude, and for the motivation to get out of bed regardless of my circumstances. Then I sucked it up and got up and went about my day.

Throughout the day, I found ways to make it through. I don’t mean that I took ibuprofen or pain pills all day. I mean that I leaned back on the couch when reading to Maggie, or I rested on the floor and stretched while she built towers of blocks, or I did pelvic tilts and planks while watching her dance. During her naps, if I could sneak away from grading essays or responding to urgent messages, I rested on a heating pad and hoped for relief. I just tried to make it through the day. In addition to the back pain, the muscle tension triggered even more migraines than usual, and while nursing, I was unable to take preventive migraine medication. All day long, my back burned and ached, and about 10-15 days out of the  month, a migraine accompanied the back pain. Sometimes this combination brought me to tears, but mostly it frustrated me, kept me from enjoying my life and accomplishing tasks, and reminded me that despite my efforts to care for myself, it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t working.

That desperation and realization—acceptance that what I was doing wasn’t working—is what led me to the point of lying face down on Casey’s massage table with needles sticking out of me. I felt like Po in Kung Fu Panda and wondered if my face would wind up contorted in some silly position. Casey assured me it would not as she gently poked and prodded my muscles for almost an hour as the sun set.

Casey left, and while I felt instant relief, I was hesitant to become too hopeful. I wasn’t sure if the dry needling or the massage had provided more help. I washed dishes, cleaned the kitchen, cuddled Maggie, and headed to bed as usual.

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of Maggie calling sweetly and insistently for Daddy.

Perfect, I smirked.

“Sounds like she wants you and not me!” I laughed.

He smiled and agreed to get her up. I turned over in the bed, pulling the plush gray, satin comforter over my shoulders. I yawned and stretched, weighing my options. Should I lie in bed and rest for the next 20 minutes? Should I scurry into the kitchen before Maggie sees me, grab a mug of coffee, and rush back to bed to read and spend some quiet moments with God? Or should I turn the heating pad on and spend a few minutes easing my aching back muscles before I have to—

My back muscles.

Oh my gosh!

I nearly sprinted to the kitchen, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed back to bed with a grin on my face, settling back in bed with my book. Before I opened it, I sat in a near-stupor, fascinated at the lack of pain, amazed at my ability to turn my head from side to side without coming to a single point of pain. I performed a series of stretches which usually made me grimace. I felt nothing but a moderate muscle tension, a feeling that I assumed is what normal people feel when they stretch.

Tears of joy smeared the pages of my book.

I had no idea how much pain I was living with until the pain was removed.

I felt like an old soul in a new body, and I was overcome with gratitude.

 

 

2013 gift list

Before I move on, I want to look back—not to dwell on the past or listen to Sirens, as I might have in years past, but to gaze upon the beauty.

I started making a list a few weeks ago—my 2013 gift list. I’ve written a gift list ever since I started my blog at the end of each year as a way to express my gratitude for the growth and upward movement, for the blessings and kindnesses extended to me by others, for the truths I’d grasped. For God.

This year, I rattled off 10 items. Good things. Great insights. But I haven’t been able to write anything cohesive or clever. I’m sure this lack of creativity is partly due to lack of sleep, but I also came to the conclusion that I was struggling to elaborate because all the blessings are intertwined, with God being the tie that binds them all together into one beautiful year.

I remember specific moments that touched me, moved me, inspired me, and changed me. The memories are just snapshots of the big picture—reminders for me that this year, I would not change a thing.

015I remember sitting–for over 54,000 minutes this year—nursing and rocking my daughter, watching her miniature fingers and toes lengthen, her delicious fat rolls disappear, her eyelashes thicken. I resented nursing for at least half of those 54,000 minutes; I simply could not sit still in my soul, and sitting still in that chair drove me nuts. I’m not sure what changed, but when Maggie was about seven or eight months old, I suddenly found joy in nursing her. As she weans herself slowly but surely, I find that the fewer minutes we spend together in that chair, the more valuable they become. Each day, I thank God for the priceless seconds of warmth I share with my only begotten baby.

I remember feeling overwhelmed with pride while strolling with my daughter and husband 018on the sidewalks at Arkansas Tech University last spring, the sun setting and casting long shadows around us. Even though my baby didn’t sleep most of the night in the hotel full of teenagers—and neither did I—I managed to stumble through comprehensive exams the next morning and graduated with all A’s a month later. All the hours spent studying and reading and writing paid off, and I learned about much more than classic literature, theories of criticism, and teaching techniques. Amidst plenty of puking and ginger ale and crackers and swelling, I completed my course work ahead of schedule—just in time for Maggie’s arrival. I proved myself to be a tougher cookie than I thought I was.

I remember standing in my classroom at UACCB, a few months into my first semester as an adjunct faculty member, cramming textbooks, ungraded exams, and worksheets into my sleek black bag. One of my students, a tall, thin boy sporting a trench coat, sauntered up to me as the other students drifted out of the classroom. He began sharing his thoughts on the screwed up state of our society, and I listened, half intrigued by the depth of discussion and half annoyed that I would be late getting home. And then he transitioned into telling me a story about a confused, depressed teenage boy who tried to kill himself and about the lessons learned as a result. At that moment, I saw him through God’s eyes, and I knew in my gut that I’d made the right decision by choosing to teach English and “never get rich,” as my grandpa warned me when I selected my major in undergraduate school.

IMG_8379I remember receiving my six-year coin from my sponsor in my 12-step recovery program while my husband and daughter played on the soft blue carpet of her living room floor a few blocks away. I could scarcely eke out words when I accepted the small bronze coin, except to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you to the 50+ enlightened faces welcoming me around the folding tables in metal chairs, faces that I still see when I meditate on phrases like “let go and let God” and “forgiveness is me letting go of my right to punish you for hurting me.” Thank you to the woman who has held up the Light for me, showing me the steps to take to move closer to Christ.

I remember sitting on an old couch in the building where my local recovery group meets, seeing six of those faces of my old friends and sponsor smiling and interacting with the hungry souls in my local group. My two worlds melded together for a few brief hours; joy welled up in me as I listened to experiences and laughter and then watched the fruits of those hours blossom and grow in the months that followed.

I remember the moment when, after seeing the tears in one woman’s eyes as she discussed her desire to work the steps, I stood across from her in the dark parking lot and offered to be her guide. Relief and gratitude replaced the tension and fear on her face. We whispered in my kitchen one morning while my baby slept in her crib, sharing lives and starting the greatest journey together. Six months later, she opened her journal and cautiously explained her perception of God while my daughter crawled around us, scattering blocks and clapping her tiny hands. Astonishment appeared on her face when God shed light on some dark truths.

I remember watching Maggie roll over for the first time in her bedroom, her eyes shining IMG_8849with glee. I remember the first time she tasted snow this winter, her nose curling up in disdain. I remember the first time she said “mama” and “daddy” and “light” and a host of other words. I remember the first time we introduced her to our dogs, her eyes sparkling with amusement at their antics, totally devoid of fear or hesitation. I remember the first time she went to church with us, our wonderful pastor christening her with water from the Jordan River. I remember the first time Maggie ate peas, inhaling them and grunting with pleasure. I remember all of these moments because I was able to be with my daughter every single day in 2013.

And I remember the most beautiful moment of my life, aside from the moment I married James and the moment I met Maggie for the first time.

One long night, James and I awakened to the sound of Maggie screaming in terror, most likely from a bad dream. I stumbled into her room as quickly as possible, not even taking time to find my glasses. I reached into her crib and lifted her into my arms, resting her head on my chest and encasing her as I sat down on the couch in her room, swaying and singing softly to her. Her tears slowly subsided.

Then I felt a large, rough palm covering the smooth skin on my own hand; I turned my head to see my husband sitting beside me on the couch in the darkness, leaning in to the hug I’d started with our daughter. Maggie crawled out of my arms and nestled herself in the exact middle of us, her head resting on both our shoulders, her arms splayed out on both our chests. And we held her until she fell asleep, our love complete there in the silence.

 

Choosing not to

When my friend Bruce invited me to his concert next weekend, I was stoked—and then immediately felt totally bummed. His band, Living Sacrifice, has impacted me spiritually for a decade and a half. I’d love nothing more than to watch them perform again on their home turf.

IMG_8757But I can’t. Not this time. My daughter, Maggie, is barely a year old and has not mastered bottles or cups yet. She still relies on me for some of her sustenance, and with a baby latched onto me (literally), I’m limited to what I can do and when. She has yet to fall asleep without first nursing and listening to me sing God songs to her, enveloped in my warm arms.

So I just can’t.

I can’t.

For the past year, those are the words I’ve chosen to use each time I’ve declined an invitation to a show, a party, a conference, or a big to-do. It wasn’t until I responded to the invitation to attend Bruce’s concert that I realized that those words weren’t completely honest.

Me at 26, with my friend's baby girl

Me at 26, with my friend’s baby girl

At age 21, I was an independent, strong-willed, adventurous young woman who proclaimed that she had no desire to have children. At 26, I seriously contemplated sealing the deal medically and making it impossible for me to conceive—that’s how sure I was that having a baby wasn’t the right life choice for me.

Then I met my husband. And everything changed. I began envisioning the beauty of creating life together and the joy of taking our child along with us while climbing mountains, watching sunrises, devouring Waffle House hash browns while traveling down Route 66, praying and reading classics aloud before bed, and catching trout on the White River. I began to imagine sharing our lives.

With my husband, 2010

With my husband, 2010

I changed my mind.

We began making choices to put our family in the position of being able to spend as much time as possible together in the future before we even knew that Maggie was on the way. I made different choices about jobs and turned down opportunities to interview for positions requiring me to spend lots of time away from home. I went back to school and earned my Master’s degree with the sole intention of teaching at our local community college—something I’ve always wanted to do. We found a great church. We bought a home and renovated it, even though we underestimated how much space we’d need when two became three.

We got ready.

Good thing, because before all our plans were cemented, Maggie came along and blew my expectations for what life could be like out of the water. I love being her mom more than anything. I didn’t have to stop working, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to nurse her, but I wanted to. I didn’t have to stay so close to home last winter in the midst of cold and flu season, but I wanted to. As I reflect on the past year, I feel at rest knowing I have tried to make the best choices.

When I was pregnant and unsure about whether to stay home with Maggie and for how long, my friend Vicky, who is a little older and much wiser than I am, said something that’s become a mantra.

“You may regret a lot of things in life, but you will never regret the time you spend with your kids.”

She was right.

I’ve missed out on some pretty wonderful opportunities since becoming pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t walk across the stage to receive my diploma when I graduated with my Master’s degree after working my tail off and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. One of my high school friends got married, and I missed quite possibly the most fun ever had at a wedding, complete with a live band and oodles of cowgirl boots. Right in the middle of Maggie’s worst teething crisis, I had to cancel plans to spend the weekend with one of my closest college friends and missed out on some Damgoode Pie pizza and beer and plenty of quality time. I had lunch with some of my friends from across the United States prior to a women’s conference I hated to miss, but a few short hours with them flew by, and I found myself missing them the rest of the weekend.

I’m sorry I can’t put Maggie first and still participate in every exciting event in life.

IMG_1744But I don’t regret putting my baby first, and although I have missed some special moments in my loved ones’ lives because of catering to my baby’s schedule and putting her health and well-being first, I don’t regret it. I can’t put my child on hold—she’s here, and today’s the only second day of December in her second year of life that I’ll ever get to spend with her.

It’s not that I can’t find a babysitter and check out for a few hours while watching a movie. It’s not that I can’t send Maggie to daycare tomorrow and go back to work full-time. It’s not that I can’t go to my friend Bruce’s awesome show on December 6th.

I just choose not to today.