2014 gift list

Over seven years ago, I started a painful journey toward becoming myself.

217491_505060962482_4965_nLately I have been contemplating some things I’ve learned since beginning this journey in 2007. So, in truth, my gift list this year is a compilation of lessons I’ve learned over the past seven and a half years but maybe only fully realized within the past year.

I consider these lessons learned to be great gifts I received from mentors in my life who are on the same journey. I get to place my feet in their footsteps, to ask them for help when I stumble, and to humble myself and ask for prayer when my own prayers seem insufficient and when my own faith feels feeble.

I have learned to be honest.

I haven’t always had the capacity to be fully honest with others, not even with God. I tried, rest assured, but I somehow seemed to come up short. As Sara Groves says, “Only the truth and truthfulness can save us.”

My inability to share my secrets kept me sick—really spiritually sick—for years. I was only hurting myself, but I couldn’t even see this realistically. I thought I was protecting people I loved from painful truths, in some cases, and in other situations, I thought I was sheltering the image of Christ or Christianity from being tarnished because of my sins and awful mistakes. The truth is that I was incredibly egotistical and unable to come clean with even myself regarding reality.

Bethany Dana 5 28 14Thankfully, because of the journey I began in 2007 and the mentors who’ve guided me every step of the way, I don’t live this way today. I live an honest life, even in the moments when it’s still hard today. I find people I trust to spill my guts to, and though they are few and far between, I do have people I trust with all of me today. I am who I am, and I make no bones about it, for better or worse. I work every day to keep a clean slate between myself and God, and as my main mentor says, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters what you and God know.”

I have learned to be faithful and consistent.

This ties in with learning to be honest for me, and this was a hard lesson to learn in multiple areas of my life. Fidelity is a valuable commodity in a fast food world. Until very recently, I didn’t even understand that for many years, I was afraid of being alone, and because of that fear, I replaced people, jobs, and even cities and homes at an alarming pace.

Last year, my self-selected word for the year was “still.” Part of my focus for the year, related to the concept of being still, was to practice spending more time in reflection and meditation with God—ultimately, to wake up earlier and to spend more time in the morning in prayer, meditation, and reading. I reset my alarm for 5 a.m. and began to up my coffee intake. This helped offset the lack of sleep. Becoming more consistent and faithful regarding my time with God led to numerous positive outcomes, too many to write about in one measly paragraph, but one of these is that I began to understand that if I showed up morning after morning, God was always going to be there waiting on me.

During all of the years when I had replaced people, jobs, cities, and homes repeatedly and quickly due to fear of being alone and fear of being unwanted, God had been there all along, waiting and wanting me. As Jennifer Knapp reminds me, “You’re the only One who’s faithful to me.” I know, I know… but I didn’t KNOW.

I hadn’t been willing to slow down long enough to look and listen—not long enough to let it sink in deeply enough to change the patterns of my behavior. Until my personal journey to becoming the real Bethany helped me see the truth about this matter, I just had to keep doing what I was doing for a little while longer.

I have learned that I have more to learn than I have to teach.

Kaleb and Mrs. WallaceI’ve learned this truth in the context of my personal life as a mentor of other women and in the context of my professional life as a college English instructor. This year, I had the privilege to teach approximately 230 students, both in the traditional classroom and online. Sure, I helped them to meet learning objectives, to improve their listening skills, to become better public speakers, to learn to write personal narrative essays, to compose their first research papers in MLA format, and to do all sorts of academic projects in class. I hope I helped them to accomplish much more than that, though.

As Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Having finished my first semester as a full-time instructor, I am thankful that I can say with a clear conscience that I did my absolute best to ensure my students learned well—not just about writing and speaking, but also about living.

I know one thing for certain—I learned at least 230 unique and beautiful lessons in 2014, and I’m grateful for each one of them.

The best part of the journey I’m on to becoming myself is that it has no end. There’s no graduation ceremony, no “I have arrived” moment. I get to keep growing as long as I’m breathing, because as long as I’m breathing, there’s hope.

“His mercies are new every morning—great is His faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:23

As sick as our secrets

Smiling through the sick secrets in my life, 2000

Smiling through the sick secrets in my life, 2000

“We’re only as sick as our secrets.”

I’ve heard friends say this phrase repeatedly in the rooms of recovery for almost six years.

This week, an old college friend of mine was arrested and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography. I sat through several religion and philosophy classes with him, sang worship songs alongside him, and watched him help start a campus ministry organization. When I learned about his arrest as I unrolled our copy of the local paper, I was not surprised.

Don’t get me wrong. This guy seemed to have his stuff together, serving his church and community by working as a youth pastor and teacher. He was recently married to a lovely lady and had a bright future to look forward to. Honestly, I always viewed him as better than me, more together than me, much more fundamentalist in his beliefs and behavior, and certainly more in control of his sinful nature.

I just wasn’t surprised to learn of his arrest because I’ve learned, through my own walk with God and personal struggles with right and wrong, that things are not always what they seem. And certainly people are not always who they seem to be.

Not long ago, a childhood friend of mine was convicted on similar charges related to filming minors and other women without their consent. I shared Skittles with this kid at church camp in sixth grade. I nailed roofing shingles next to him in Oklahoma on a mission trip in high school. I climbed the Great Wall of China with him as part of a service trip teaching English as a second language to college students. And I felt very proud of him as he became a pretty well-known local evangelist. He, too, had a beautiful young wife and had just started his own family.

And then the truth came out.

I don’t know the ins and outs of my old friends’ sins. I have compassion for their families, and I wish that I’d been able to offer some help or extend a way out to these old friends who are now facing legal consequences for their actions. As someone who was raped by a close family friend at the age of 16, I know firsthand how far and wide our secret sins can impact others. The man who raped me is a victim of childhood sexual abuse. The man who abused him is a victim of childhood sexual abuse. The cycle of secret sickness infects and wounds and scars all those caught in the tangled webs we weave.

Sometimes we only see part of a much larger and more complicated reality.

I faked my way through life while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average while smoking pot almost daily for a year. I served in campus ministry organizations while struggling with sexual sin on and off again in my own life. I pretended to have blissful marriages while being affected daily by alcoholism and drug addiction in my home. I have cheated, lied, and felt worthless, all with a smile plastered on my face.

007Until I got real honest with myself, with God, and with the people I love.

I’m thankful I don’t have to hide from the truth today. I have no desire to keep secrets. Secrets kept me sick for years. I’m not willing to pretend things are fine when they’re not. I’m not afraid to look at the past. Not even God can change the past. I’m not afraid to face who I am today head on—God has enlightened me and shown me time and time again that if I am willing to live in the light, the darkness will not prevail. Any time I’m tempted to do something and feel that it might be better to keep it to myself, chances are it’s something I’d be better off without.

It’s my prayer that I might become more honest with myself and less judgmental towards others. Just because I can see the horrible truths in others’ lives doesn’t mean I’m not harboring plenty of horrible truths myself, unless I choose to live in the Light and honestly look at the truth of who I am every day.

“Only the truth and truthfulness can save us now.” –Sara Groves

Pregnant pleas

I write this as I attempt to eat something which will not induce vomiting.

In case you didn’t read my latest blog post, I’m pregnant.

I’m excited about being a mom.  I was a stepmom for six years and loved it, and I still love my Lizard to death. I’ve worked with kids of all ages and have tons of kids in my extended family. I’m not worried about enjoying being a mom or concerned with some of the things people with little “kid exposure” might worry about.

But I’m going to be honest. So far, being  pregnant is not fun. It’s quite miserable, actually.

I expected it to be, based on what I’d watched my sisters and friends endure, but at the same time, I don’t hear many people giving honest assessments of the down sides to pregnancy. I believe our society encourages us to pretend we’re happier than we’ve ever been before–and quite honestly, I think we keep that cycle going ourselves. I’m not sure why we feel it necessary to sugarcoat the sour side of life. Anyone who knows me knows that I attempt to see the bright side, focus on the positive, and find things to be grateful for in the worst of circumstances. But pretending to be something I’m not is not who I am, and it never will be. While I am ecstatic that James and I are going to be parents together, I’m not ecstatic that I have to go through pregnancy and delivery in order to get to that end result.

I don’t want any pictures taken of my bare stomach. I  know lots of people do it, and that’s fine for them, but it’s not for me. For me, it’s just a little odd. Period.

I appreciate people taking an interest in our lives and in our baby, but I am growing weary of unsolicited advice (one of my top five pet peeves, in case you didn’t already know :).

I don’t feel well. I know pregnancy’s different for everyone, and that this stage may pass, but I feel nauseous about 90% of the time. I’m battling migraines without the few medicines that have ever worked in treating them.

So, friends and family (or anyone out there reading this who might someday encounter a pregnant woman), I implore you to do the following.

a) Let me sleep when I can.

b) Please don’t talk about gross things around me. I normally love gross things. Not right now.

c) Understand that I’m not trying to shirk relationships or responsibilities, but right now I am doing well to function halfway normally, and I have very little energy left for anything else.

d) Practice what I consider to be some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: it’s not your business if it’s past the tip of your nose. Keep this in mind when asking questions and doling out advice.

e) Don’t try to force me to love being pregnant. It’s really and truly just not a delightful experience for everybody.

So far, I’ve figured out that pregnancy is a growing process. A very awkward, painful one. Many times in my life, the process isn’t pleasant, but the outcome exceeds my expectations. I believe that’s how this will be–and I’m looking forward to it.