2016 gift list

If I had a dollar for every cynical, ungrateful, and whiny social media post I’ve seen about 2016, I’d be covered in cashmere (and feeling fabulous). I’m baffled by the overwhelming negativity. Sure, things often don’t go our way. But what’s new? As Frank Sinatra crooned, “that’s life,” champ.

I’m quite certain that with the exception of a few people in dire circumstances, most of us are surrounded by beautiful people who love us and have all our needs met (and then some). A little gratitude goes a long way, baby.

Each year I create a gift list as I reflect on how God–and the world, the people in my life, and my circumstances–have given to me generously in various ways over the course of the year. Here’s my list for 2016.

 

1. I learned to take better care of myself.

While answering reflective questions earlier this year, I was asked, “Who modeled self-love for you as a child/teenager?” I felt stunned. What is this self-love you speak of? Really. I didn’t even know where to begin. I couldn’t think of one single scenario which might serve as an example of “self-love.”

Obviously, self and I had our work cut out for us in 2016. We forged ahead. Nine years ago when I began on my journey in recovery, I knew taking care of my own needs wasn’t my strong suit. I didn’t understand the depth of my deficit until this year. Thankfully my mentor helped me find ways to grow and learn to develop not just a better awareness of the problem but to practically improve, too.

556271_541819897282_1739318553_nI implemented nap time at home, which we call “rest time” because Maggie melts down at the word “nap.” For 20 minutes each afternoon, I relax in my own bed and read or close my eyes. I started spending time by myself in the morning, even on mornings when I don’t wake up before Maggie. I simply get her going and then tell her I need a few minutes to read in my special blue chair in the office. It’s amazing that she actually respects my time to myself (kicking myself for not starting that sooner). I’m choosing to call my mentor or friends when I need to talk instead of bottling up my feelings. I began taking better care of my back and neck. And I eat an orange every day.

I’m sure I’ll continue to take better care of myself next year; progress, not perfection, is my goal. That’s another way I’m taking care of myself today.

2. I stopped holding my breath.

In early 2016, I decided to break down and pursue help with my back pain from a local chiropractor who is also a friend. Chiropractic care wasn’t painful or harmful to me. It provided some temporary relief, and the staff in the clinic are fabulous, fun, professional people. It just didn’t turn out to be the magic solution I’d hoped for. However, as I told the chiropractor in my exit interview after my plan of care ended, what I learned through the process was probably more beneficial to me than anything I could have gained in terms of medical progress. I’m not sure if that’s what he wanted to hear as a medical practitioner, but you know me; I cannot withhold my truth.

The best thing I gained was something I hated at the beginning—three 10 or 15-minute timed intervals during each visit (on machines or on tables) which required me to be absolutely still (well, for the most part). While whining to my mentor about this, she suggested I focus on my breathing during this time. What I noticed during the very next visit is that I wasn’t breathing at all; I was holding my breath almost the entire time and tensing my entire body, almost lifting my body up away from the machine or board. I don’t know if I did that because I was in pain or because I carry so much stress constantly. That epiphany brought me to tears.

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Since then, I’ve worked on awareness of my breath and on breathing exercises. I still find leaning forward when I don’t have to, lifting my entire torso off the bed for no reason at all, or tensing other parts of my body for unknown reasons. I never knew how much my body reflects my state of mind until this year.

3. I invested more in what matters and less in what doesn’t.

In keeping with my own blog’s theme, I pull back when I recognize I’ve sunk time, energy, or money into irrelevant, unkind, toxic, or useless projects, people, or organizations. I also do the positive opposite—I pour energy, time, and resources into people, projects, and organizations I deem worthy, ethical, fulfilling, loving, and satisfying.

This year I pulled back from many things I discerned were interrupting my ability to live life in the most fulfilling way possible.

I noticed my babysitter was taking the most adorable pictures of Maggie during the day…. Pictures of her hiding behind a tree while armadillo hunting, finger painting at the table, or swinging with her eyes closed and hair whipping in the wind. I loved and treasured those photos. But I wanted to be present in her life. So I made that happen. I quit working full-time and started taking the pictures myself.

I started my own business and began applying everything I’d learned over the years about careers, the workforce, teaching, consulting, advising, and helping others. When people ask how it’s going, I usually smile because my definition of “success” has changed wildly. I have certainly not produced lots of income this year, but I still feel successful. I’ve stopped living my life by other people’s standards and determining success by others’ definitions–that’s freeing, I tell ya. I’ve forged a path, narrowed my focus, formed partnerships, and helped many people do more of what they love. And I love that.

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I’ve also invested more time in relationships I was neglecting. As a mom, I often find myself short-changing friends. I reconnected with several old friends and forged friendships with people I’d noticed but never made time to connect with, too. Even if I can’t meet up with every woman I know once a month over muffins, I know I’ve done better this year than last year.

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4. I trusted God with outcomes.

Many events and circumstances in 2016 didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped or planned. Before you skip this paragraph and roll your eyes, thinking I’m going to whine about how things didn’t go my way, slow your roll. Keep reading. That’s not what this is about.

This year was my year of joy; joy was my chosen word of the year. I expected to focus on finding and focusing on joy throughout the year. I didn’t expect it to be so difficult, honestly. What I discovered is that I couldn’t produce more joy in my life simply by focusing on it, by pinning quotes, by refusing to look back at sad memories or grief, or by being more grateful or positive. That just wasn’t cutting it this year. A few months into the year I learned if I wanted to find joy, I had to pursue it with no less determination than Frodo’s grim commitment to destroy The Ring.

Part of “accepting my life as it is” this year meant accepting my absolute lack of control over outcomes. I tried to make the best of a job with a company I loved, but it wasn’t for me even though I’d had my heart and mind set on it working out. I then thought I was meant to return to teaching. I applied for my former position, which hadn’t been filled yet, at a local community college. I wasn’t even interviewed for the position. I was crushed. After talking to my mentor and a few colleagues, I realized it was the perfect time to start my own career coaching business so I did. Starting a business while staying home with my daughter has been slow going, but it’s going.

And making the decision to stay home with Maggie while starting my business and teaching part-time has been a huge financial adjustment and lifestyle change. But I’m ultimately happy rolling with the punches because I watch the sunrise in my own office every morning while my daughter sleeps. I make her breakfast without rushing off to work. I take her to story hour at the library every week myself and clumsily glue tiny objects to construction paper right along with her. I’m living life with her rather than paying someone else to live life with her.

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This year I finally not only stopped trying to play God and manage outcomes, but I also simply stopped thinking about outcomes. I can’t explain why this happened except I know this: I have learned to practice trusting God by placing people and things and situations in God’s hands. The more I place what I love in God’s hands and watch Him work magic, the more likely I am to give Him what I love next time around.

5. I loved.  And I gained.

In 2015, I walked through the valley of the shadow of death with my friend Tara as her father went on to that High Resting Place. I watched him suffocate slowly in his last days from mesothelioma which he acquired from asbestos exposure, having never smoked a single cigarette. I felt very bitter about his death. God and I had some words over that one.

I didn’t know God was teaching me how to let go of great men like Jerry throughout 2016; Tara is one of my closest friends, and we talked about her dad, her family’s experience with grief, and her own grief almost every week.

When my favorite dad left this world and joined Jerry on December 2, I knew how to grieve a father.

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Big Jim (what I called my father-in-law) and I had what I like to believe was a unique bond and special relationship. We talked about some quirky and interesting things. Sometimes I liked talking to him about pretty deep subject matter but only when it was just the two of us. I don’t really want to write about details because I’d rather keep them between the two of us.

Big Jim kept his God thoughts pretty quiet. When we were spending time one-on-one, I asked him what he thought about spiritual things. Instead of giving me direct answers, he told me stories, kind of like that great Carpenter and Fisherman we all know and love… stories about Vietnam or growing up poor with lots of kids or football. It didn’t take many stories for me to figure out we were on the same page about what matters. This is one reason I had no questions or feelings of anxiety about his departure from this world when he died a month ago.

When great people die, we tend to feel a hole.

My life was better with Big Jim as a daily, living part of it. That’s obvious. In that sense, I’ve certainly lost out. We all have.

But one of the greatest gifts he gave me–and this is just one of many ways I gained by loving him–is a rugged determination to look on the bright side, find the funny, and to live my life in today. I already valued those principles before I met him, but that man lived that way with such ease—but who knows, maybe so doggedly he made it look easy?—that I want to live that way, too. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, thank You

For all You’ve given me,

For all You’ve taken away

And for all You’ve left me with.

 

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

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.

 

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.

God will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with Maggie on campus last fall

Walking with Maggie on campus last fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

First

First time I had sex, I was raped.

First marriage failed.

First gymnastics meet, I dislocated my elbow.

First job in my field, teaching English, was perhaps the worst job I’ve ever had in my life.

debbie downer*Cue Debbie Downer waaah waaaah.*

Clearly, my track record of firsts isn’t necessarily full of gold star stickers and smiley faces.

That’s just not been my life experience.

Until I met my husband. I’m not sure, but I suspect that God has anointed him with an innate sense of what I need and the uncanny ability to meet my needs without my saying a word.

When I met him, things changed.

In reality, I think my perspective simply switched gears, probably thanks to three years in my twelve-step recovery program. I started noticing every first in our relationship, and I’d never done that before. I began to cherish all our moments.

On the porch of my old house, October 2010

On the porch of my old house, October 2010

First time we met at our mutual friend’s birthday party. First time he called me a few days later after my sister sent him a Facebook message, begging him to call me so I would shut up about him. First double date with that same mutual friend and his fiance.

And all the firsts he introduced me to–and still does. First time going to dozens of local landmarks and beautiful places. First time taking a road trip on a four-wheeler. First time on a boat on the White River. First time catching trout and going limb-lining for catfish. First time going hunting (successfully securing venison for future date nights, I might add). First time baking cupcakes from scratch. First time being serenaded by banjo.

Emptying his pockets to purchase our new car :).

Emptying his pockets to purchase our new car :).

First time in my life that anyone has ever paid enough attention to my eyes lighting up at the sight or mention of things and then making those things happen–whether it be a rickety old farmhouse that no one else might want, a safe new vehicle for our baby, or a genuine Rambo knife.

He knows me.

And the most beautiful thing is taking place in our lives.

We have the opportunity, every single day, to create firsts with our daughter. And thanks to my husband’s hard work and his commitment to our family, I get to be here at home with her to see each first as it unfolds.

Maggie's first visit to Lake Dardanelle, 4/6/13

Maggie’s first visit to Lake Dardanelle, 4/6/13

First time petting our cats or letting our dog Clyde lick her chubby fists. First time seeing a tractor scooping up dirt. First time touching the base of an ice-cold glass. First time rolling over and shining with glee and pride in her accomplishment. First time seeing a river or a lake. First time going to church. First time dancing with her Papaw, waltzing through our kitchen. First time being held by the people we love the most.

Great memories. Positive experiences. Joyful smiles. God-filled goodness.

It’s like my life has started all over again.