All clear

Does anyone actually enjoy visiting their gynecologist?

IMAG3260

At my annual exam, August 2017

I didn’t think so. I dread this annual visit more than I detest dental checkups. The waiting room is always painfully still. Peeing in a cup isn’t my strong suit. The exam rooms feel pretty frigid. And then there’s the actual exam… At least my gynecologist is an old college friend whom I totally trust.

This August, when my annual exam popped up on my calendar reminders, I decided to approach it differently. I knew what to expect–I’d wait a while, feel uncomfortable because of the blasts of air conditioning, and move from anticipation to anxiety until my gynecologist walked in the exam room. I decided to do my best to take care of myself and ease my discomfort–and prevent whining.

I brought along coffee (AKA life juice), a daily reader/devotional book, and my old standby: my 12 year-old standard blue Snuggie. That’s right. I’d wear my Snuggie during the exam over the thin gown. Perfect.

IMAG3261

What I read moments before my exam, August 2017

It’s amazing how just a few tweaks can adjust my attitude. I felt nearly peppy when my doctor entered the exam room. We chatted about kids and life during the short exam.

Suddenly my doctor became quiet. Her eyebrows furrowed. Having seen that expression before while I birthed my daughter–during a time of distress–my mood moved from pleasant to ominous.

“Have you felt this before?”

She was conducting my breast exam.

“Um, I think so. But honestly I’m not very good about doing regular exams, so I didn’t know…”

I felt waves of death, chemotherapy, and “you will never see your daughter again” roll over me.

“Well, I’m going to order a diagnostic mammogram. I want to have it looked at.”

After that, I couldn’t muster up conversation. My mind hovered over the expression on my doctor’s face and the notion that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. Fear ate my lunch.

I held it together pretty well until I walked into my home. My husband was caring for my daughter (since I had a scheduled exam); they were enjoying an afternoon on the White River. The entire house was holding its breath. I let go and basically bawled for half an hour. I emailed my mentor and asked for prayer. Then I sat down and did the only logical thing a mom on the brink of cancer would do: I recorded a 30-minute long video of myself singing all my daughter’s favorite songs (just in case, you know).

I waited for a few days before calling my doctor to check about scheduling my mammogram and ultrasound. They’d told me to expect to hear from them and to call if I hadn’t. I try to follow orders. When they checked with the hospital about scheduling, the soonest available date was one month away.

That didn’t feel good. Initially I just jotted it down on the calendar and returned to business as usual. But I’ve learned from my mentors how to take care of myself and see that my own needs are met. The next day, I still felt uneasy about waiting a month. So I called and asked for help. My doctor’s billing director pulled some strings.

The mammogram and ultrasound experience was much less stressful than an annual gynecological exam (for all you ladies dreading yours). When the radiologist read the results, she told me I had nothing to worry about and that I should schedule another mammogram in two years when I turned 40.

My stomach knotted. How could my doctor and I have obviously identified an “area of concern” if there were no area of concern? I knew I couldn’t accept that as the final word. I drove immediately to my gynecologist’s office and asked them to help. Once again, they did. Bless those ladies. They scheduled a visit with a breast specialist. The knot loosened.

But the visit with the specialist only made matters worse for two reasons: I felt a creepy vibe, and he didn’t review my imaging results. I felt I’d been tortured pointlessly for another hour of my life. I was frustrated. I also felt exhausted emotionally.

For one month I thought about the follow-up visit with this specialist. Every time it came to mind, I prayed for God’s will, and I simultaneously felt sick.

One month was long enough to convince me to take the bull by the horns again. Once again, my wonderful gynecologist and her staff came through for me. They scheduled me with another specialist.

Last week when I visited the second specialist, I knew I was in better hands (I know, I know… pun intended). This doctor did an ultrasound immediately in his office and shared the images with me right away, explaining that he identified not one but two cysts.

Cysts.

That’s right. Not cancerous lumps.

“You’re fine. You are going to be fine. Come back in three months to see if my recommendations help with reducing your breast density.”

I could have kissed him, but I refrained. I floated out of the office, attempting to contain my joy since I was surrounded by patients whose results didn’t mimic mine. I recorded their faces in my mind so I could pray for them.

I was so thankful for clarity. I felt blessed with a caring, serious gynecologist and breast specialist. I understood that a decade ago, I would have been unable to advocate for myself properly, and I was grateful for the timing of the whole mess. And best of all, I knew God had me–the whole time.

When I closed my car door, I wept. This time, there was no bawling. I recorded no videos. I envisioned nothing.

I drove out of the parking lot, my soul’s gratitude expanding, and smiled.

I lived my life.

IMAG3856

My beautiful life, November 2017

 

Real miracles

I am sick.

I am plagued by a disease which alters the way I view the world—the disease of perception.

God has provided me countless opportunities to feel better, to become whole, to heal. And yet the disease still rears its ugly head from time to time.

rain-1048936_1920

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

One of the symptoms of my disease is self-pity. I’m not talking about going through five minutes of feeling sorry for yourself because the restaurant screws up your order, or even the healthy sort of grieving you do when feeling sorry for yourself after a legitimate loss of a dream, a person, an animal, or an opportunity.

Since I have the disease of perception, when I get into self-pity, I get INTO self-pity. I have vivid memories of wallowing on my ex-boyfriend’s deck in a quilt and bawling my eyes out because he admitted that he didn’t have the same overwhelming feelings for me that I had for him. A little over the top, eh? I remember writing sad poetry for hours while listening to “My Friends” on repeat by Red Hot Chili Peppers. I recall lying on my green couch during a tumultuous time in my first marriage, with a small knife and a bottle of painkillers hidden beneath the pillow, planning a route to end my own inner turmoil.

Do you get the picture? I didn’t just FEEL self-pity. I LIVED it.

Behaving this way today isn’t an option for me, but at the time, it was the only way I knew to soothe my sick soul. I did the best I could at the time with what I had.

Since I began working to take actions against my feelings, my perception has gradually changed. Most days, I don’t feel sorry for myself, reflect on my worst moments in life, or relive sad memories like a sick Siren. When I do slip into self-pity, the fastest way out is to get into gratitude. One way I do this is by recalling miracles.

I’ve heard that a miracle is simply a change in perception.

This morning during reading and reflection time with God, self-pity crept in. I found myself feeling guilty about poor choices I’d made, remembering losses I’ve endured, and missing people who are no longer in touch.

The difference between how I cope with moments like this now versus a decade ago is my response to self-pity. I’m more likely to recognize it when it hits, and I quickly do something different.

I began reflecting on instances in my past when I’ve experienced a change in perception.

198985_503627120912_9363_n

Hamming it up with my little red car

There was a time when I was filing bankruptcy while working two jobs. I was actually earning more than I’d ever earned in my life, but the debt I’d accrued from living above my means for so long smothered me. I was driving a flashy red car with three year-old tires. When I had my oil changed, the technician asked me to sign a document admitting that he’d advised me to change the tires because he didn’t want to be held accountable if I wrecked due to their poor condition. I signed the document because I just didn’t have the funds to replace the tires, so I kept driving to and from work (a 45-minute commute each way), squealing and sliding all the way.

My spiritual mentor encouraged me to pray and ask God to provide new tires. I did, but my prayers were flimsy.

One July afternoon, the owner of my company asked to borrow my car. I felt immediately ashamed because I knew my tires were about to shrivel or explode. I warned him about the tires, but I handed over the keys. His car was in the shop for the day, and he needed to run errands.

A few hours later, he handed me my keys and went upstairs to his office. A coworker asked if I’d seen my car. I felt a moment of panic, wondering if the owner had a fender bender and failed to tell me about it. I walked out to the parking lot and found my little red car atop four brand new tires, the best tires available for that make and model.

Tears.

I rushed back inside, up the stairs, and thanked the owner profusely while attempting to avoid wearing emotions on my face.

“There’s no way you could know this, but you have just been part of a miracle for me. Thank you.”

I’m not sure what he thought of my words, but his facial expression looked a little puzzled (and amused).

“Consider it a bonus. You’ve been working really hard.”

But I considered it a miracle, and I still do. God has repeatedly used people in my life (some of whom never know they’re being used) to reveal truth to me and to change my perception. And a miracle is just a change in perception.

Once in high school, while driving around late at night with a boy I loved, we diverted our course and decided to turn off the truck for an hour or so while talking, musing, and kissing—just two teenagers innocently loving each other in hands-free fashion. When my curfew neared, he turned the key to start the truck. Crickets. We both panicked.

But he stopped panicking, took my hands, and said, “Let’s pray about it.”

So we did. He tried to start it again. Still nothing.

We prayed again, and he said, “If it doesn’t start this time, I’ll have to find help.” It was cold and rainy, and walking to the nearest house didn’t sound enjoyable to me. We prayed again.

When he turned the key, it started. Magic. We ecstatically kissed.

This morning I remembered this moment. To me, it felt victorious. It felt genuine. And it felt beautiful to see someone I loved demonstrating faith in a crisis, stronger faith than I possessed. It changed my perception.

Remembering miracles—and expressing gratitude for them–IS a miracle for me; it changes my perception. When I see reality, I open my eyes anew, see my darling little girl wrapped up in a blanket watching Reading Rainbow, and hug my husband while we drink early morning coffee.

Embracing reality is the greatest miracle I’ve lived.

Will you be my friend?

In elementary school, I scribbled a few friendship invitations, carefully wrapped them 80’s origami style, and passed them to the girls I deemed interesting and trustworthy.

“Will you be my friend? Please check one: Yes, No, or Maybe.”

a0f0bb28519c347cd8063a6c40937768It was a trend, okay? A terrible one, but one which I still anxiously recall each time I choose to put myself out there to connect with new potential friends.

A male friend of mine once mentioned that when asking an older man to mentor him, he felt awkward energy, as if he were asking his mentor to prom. I laughed when he told me this.

But recently I found myself feeling the exact same way when I decided to step outside my comfort zone to invite my FOFO (formerly online friend only) to lunch. Kristi isn’t the first FOFO for me; as a writer, channel lean formats don’t feel threatening to me. I can truly connect with others without ever meeting them (to an extent). I enjoy reading others’ social media posts, commenting when appropriate, and browsing through their photos. As a career coach, it’s safe to say I’m a social media expert; I teach others how to use social media for networking and branding purposes.

Over the years, I’ve formed many solid work relationships and friendships in a virtual environment. I genuinely consider some of these people great colleagues and friends even though we’ve never met face-to-face. Some of them have offered me insights into running my business, advice regarding my skills and interests, and comfort and comradery during my darkest times.

But I don’t prefer to live and breathe in a virtual world.  There’s too much life to be lived, and living it together while breathing, talking, and of course, consuming great coffee is my preferred MO.

Sometimes life is easier when I stay on my side of the screen.

If I never meet you, and we never play the getting-to-know-you game, I invest much less time into what may or may not work. I don’t have to listen attentively. I don’t have to fix my hair or apply makeup. And let’s face it—I don’t have to be very vulnerable, allowing you to watch my facial expressions and body language while I tell you about my first marriage, explain my participation in organizations dear to me, or fumble through a political discussion.

If we never sit across the table and make eye contact, I don’t have to be the real me. I can be whomever I want to be—the best version of me—and keep the messes under wraps.

Yet when I met Kristi for the first time face-to-face at a chili supper, I knew we clicked. I also knew if I didn’t take action against my feelings and send the 2016 version of the “will you be my friend” note, I’d probably regret it.

So I did. I sent the cold Facebook message.

Fear followed. What if she politely blows off my invitation? What if she never responds? What if she rejects me?

14329935_1638992806431489_1245322492451712435_n

A reenactment of our first lunch date (The Pinto). Sorry for butchering your hair, Kristi.

She didn’t, and once again, my fears weren’t realized, and God reminded me of His love by meeting one of my deepest needs—genuine friendship.

She’s my current favorite FOFO. Each time we talk, my horizons expand. My brain wrinkles. And my heart fills with gratitude.

 

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.

IMG_7916

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.”

IMG_4819

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.

P1011311.JPG

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.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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? 🙂 

Treat yo’self

Bethany,

I gotta hand it to you this year. I’m really proud of you for following through on the decision you made last year at this time to “treat yo’self,” as Donna and Tom proclaim on one of my all-time favorite shows, Parks and Rec.

77300-treat-yo-self-meme-Bc7h

You deserve to be treated well. After all, Mother’s Day and your birthday always fall within a few days on the calendar each year (if not on the same day). You’re a mom. And you inevitably grow one year older each year, unless you’re not reading this since you’ve already died (*crossing my fingers that’s not the case*).

Your husband is a great man who loves you, protects you, ensures your safety and well-being, and would literally take a bullet for you. Holidays, however, aren’t really his thing. You should have accepted this the very first Mother’s Day you celebrated together when you were pregnant, when at 9 p.m. he admitted to having completely forgotten about the holiday (and your birthday), with a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his handsome face. But you’re always hoping for the best and expecting better things might be around the corner; holidays are no different. Last year, three years after that first Mother’s Day you celebrated together, you threw a miniature pity party, yanked on your big girl panties, and made a list of four things you’d do every Mother’s Day/birthday henceforth.

Here’s why: expectations are premeditated resentments. If you sit around waiting for him to treat you in a certain manner, you’re going to grow to resent him if he doesn’t.

11836789_595568329992_4649913107534984823_nLife is too short to live that way. And why expect someone else to do for you what you can do for yourself? You know your worth—you’re the best mom you know. You bend over backward (sometimes literally) for your daughter on a daily basis. You make sacrifices in every area of life for her. You think of every moment as a teaching opportunity. You pray for her continually and seek to guide her in the best way you know how. You give her all the love she could ever want.

You’re rocking the mom thing.

Of course you should celebrate Mother’s Day.

And life? Don’t even get me started…

I think we’ve established that there are a myriad of reasons you need to treat yo’self. And here’s how.

  1. You shall bake your own cake.

This cake is for you. It is not a Mother’s Day cake to share with the other moms you love. You are to bake a cake you like (or pie, because sometimes pie is better than cake) and eat as much of that fattening, sugary piece of work as you darn well please. And you are not to make excuses for it, feel guilty about it, or allow other people to talk you out of it.

2. You shall go out to dinner or lunch on the day of your birthday.

You deserve good food, regardless of the price, and you deserve a break from both cooking and cleaning up from other people who do the cooking (which inevitably happens if your husband does the cooking, even if he’s trying to be nice).

3. You shall purchase a gift for yourself.

You have to purchase something just because you like it. Don’t buy something you need and call it a “birthday gift.” That doesn’t count. This is treat yo’self time, Mama! You don’t have to spend a certain amount of money; it’s about purchasing something that makes you feel appreciated and a little extra special.

4. You shall write yourself a kind note or buy yourself a card and send it to yourself in advance.

Say some kind words to yourself. Force yourself to dig deep and express gratitude to yourself in the same way an outsider might. If you can’t acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

I’m glad to see that as you write this blog post, you have a little dab of chocolate cake batter under your fingernails; this means you’ll be able to mark two of these items off your “treat yo’self” to-do list after today.

Remember: you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life. You better like you.

Happy Mother’s Day/birthday, my friend.

 

Word of the year 2016

I have a confession to make, and as a graduate of a liberal arts university (with a minor in religion and philosophy), this is truly crawl-under-a-rock worthy. I made a classic Christian mistake. I interpreted a passage of Scripture (Nehemiah 8:10) a) entirely out of context and b) in light of—wait for it—a contemporary Christian worship song rather than the context of the passage itself, the Jewish culture, or anything else reasonable or helpful.

OneDay 2000

At OneDay 2000 (and yes, those are scrubs I’m wearing)

The embarrassing fact is this happened some time in college, and I’ve been running on the fumes of my lazy interpretation ever since. Has it caused me any major harm? Has it harmed others? Not necessarily.

At least one good thing came this Scriptural interpretation error for about 18 years. It opened my eyes to the truth that I’ve probably made similar errors numerous other times in my walk of faith over the years (incredibly humbling). Yikes—gotta keep my mental antennae up now every time I read the Bible for sure. What the heck was wrong with me? Were my emotions leading my brain or what? Who knows.

Here’s the problem.

I missed so much goodness by failing to see the big picture.

Each year since 2011, thanks to the prompting of my friend Denise Felton, I select a word as my focus or theme rather than making resolutions or setting specific goals. This helps me to stay centered and gives me something positive to meditate on; the appeal of choosing a word of the year also appeals to me since I’m a writer and have degrees in English—word nerd to the max, for sure.

This year, I felt compelled to focus on the word joy. If you read my previous blog post, you probably understand why. 2015 presented many challenges, and if I had to select a word in retrospect to represent my emotional state of being in 2015, it would likely be grief.

Who wouldn’t like a little relief from THAT? Joy hot fudge cake sundae with a little extra joy on top, please. And joyful cherry, too.002

I began researching joy and its word origins, reading articles online about the differences between happiness and joy, searching for quotes online and famous folks defining “joy,” and reading Scriptural passages about joy. All of this reading and research was helpful, but what stunned me—and quite frankly moved me to tears—was Nehemiah chapter 8. I knew I’d love verse 10 because, as I mentioned, I already felt attached to this verse because I’d belted out Matt Redman’s “Trading My Sorrows (Yes Lord)” more times than I can recall.

And I meant it—well, I meant that I WANTED the joy of the Lord to be my strength. Until the past few years, I didn’t even know how to allow God to be God in my life—I was my own god, managing and controlling and answering all my own questions and only turning to the real God as a last resort. So the whole “Trading My Sorrows” song and saying “Yes, yes Lord” thing was, at best, me paying desperate lip service to a noble concept I wanted to apply but simply couldn’t.

I recently purchased Sara Groves’ new album. The title track is Floodplain. I understand the song so well; the first time I listened to it, I gasped. She was describing the former Bethany.

Some hearts are built on a floodplain
Keeping one eye on the sky for rain
You work for the ground that gets washed away
When you live closer

Closer to the life and the ebb and flow
Closer to the edge of I don’t know
Closer to that’s the way it goes
Some hearts are built on a floodplain

And it’s easy to sigh on a high bluff
Look down and ask when you’ve had enough
Will you have the sense to come on up
Or will you stay closer

Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees
Some hearts live here

Oh the river it rushes to madness
And the water it spreads like sadness
And there’s no high ground
And there’s no high ground
Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees

Closer to the life and the ebb and flow
Closer to the edge of I don’t know
Closer to Lord please send a boat
Some hearts are built here

What happened to move me off the Floodplain is similar to what happened for God’s people, the Israelites, in Nehemiah chapter 8–God ultimately comes in for the win and fills them with more joy than they’d ever imagined. If I had taken time to read this chapter for myself slooowwwllyyy rather than rushing through it, latching on to the portion of the verse mentioned in the catchy Christian worship song all the cool kids were singing at the time, maybe I would have taken note of this as an 18 year-old kid… But maybe not. As Sara Groves states, “Some hearts are built here.” Mine certainly was.

Nehemiah, a servant of God who was serving as governor on behalf of King Xerxes, felt led to lead the Israelites who’d returned to Jerusalem out of exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He appealed to Xerxes, who granted him permission to oversee this task, and over a period of several months, Nehemiah worked tirelessly to make it happen but not without encountering numerous naysayers, some of whom threatened his life and tried to attack Jerusalem. While reading Nehemiah today, I felt exhausted at times—so I’m pretty sure he must have felt this way, too. There were times when the men did not even disrobe and disarm while sleeping for fear of being attacked at night. All this occurred while the people worked non-stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

When the Jewish people finally finished rebuilding the walls, Ezra, the priest, gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law. The people listened attentively, and Nehemiah and the priests said to the people, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law… “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated like this. And their joy was very great.  (Nehemiah 8:9-10, 17)

I never knew the back story—that the priests commanded the people to stop grieving and to find strength in the Lord via the avenue of joy that day.

And the back story goes WAAAYY back. These people returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to other nations, enslaved to nations and forced into God-knows-what kind of bondage. Many of their babies died from starvation before having a chance at life. I could go on and on. I’m not making this stuff up—read the books of the prophets in the Old Testament—it’s all there, and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people are horrific.

These people—the ones having difficulty holding back tears while the Book of the Law is being read for the first time after the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt—these people are the survivors. But the priests see the big picture, and while they empathize with the mourning of the survivors, they also want to help the survivors thrive and move forward. They don’t want the people’s spiritual feet to remain stuck in the muck of grief. They want them to move into the clear, clean dry land of joy.021

This story—the story of the completion of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah chapter 8—occurred in the seventh month on the Jewish calendar during the Feast of Trumpets. This is the Jewish New Year.

It’s my New Year now.

This story resonates with me because it’s a beautiful depiction of what God has done for me, and it’s what I’m asking Him to do for me again.

After a long, hard year in 2015, I certainly relate to the overwhelming feelings expressed by the Israelites in Nehemiah. Like the people of Jerusalem, I am ready to celebrate like I have never celebrated before in 2016. I want to say at the end of this year, “And my joy was very great.”

As the wise king Solomon once said, there certainly is a season and time for everything. And there has been enough grief.

Excuse me, please. I must go heed the words of Nehemiah 8:12.

“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

I know, I know… I’m taking the words out of context again… but for the love of chocolate…