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

Mama said, part 6

In junior high, I got grounded for a week for making a B in algebra.

Me at 13

At the time, of course, I thought my mom was the meanest, least understanding Tiger Mom in the entire world. I am sure I cursed her under my breath, to my friends, and in one of my many journals. Woe was me. It simply was not fair. I had All A’s and just one B on my 9-weeks report card. Why wasn’t that good enough?

During the week when I was grounded, I studied harder and did all of my homework. I wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone so I spent my time on schoolwork and brooding over my misfortunes instead. I daydreamed less often about the hunky boy I was obsessed with, who is now 35 and has very little hair and a gigantic beer belly. I thought the week would never end.

After taking my next test in algebra and scoring well enough to bring up my grade to an A, the shackles were loosened. I was able to have friends over, sit in the hallway twirling the telephone cord around my hand, and go back to cheering at basketball games again (an important privilege, considering the hunky boy played basketball). My hatred for my mom simmered to typical teenage angst.

Throughout the years, I’ve come to understand my mom’s reasoning regarding what seemed so unfair to me at 13. It wasn’t that a B was a bad grade–my mom just knew that I was capable of much more. She knew my true potential, and she wanted me to realize it. She was more concerned with my sense of accomplishment and my academic success than with being on my BFF list.

College graduation, 2001

Thank God. The discipline and drive my mom longed for me to have (and pushed me to obtain) eventually translated into intrinsic motivation. When I went to undergraduate school, I maintained a high GPA and graduated with honors. In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve not been satisfied with just earning a paycheck but have tried to excel at the tasks at hand and have sought to solve problems and fill holes with my abilities, talents, and hard work. As a graduate student, I admit I am slightly obsessed right now with maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. At the end of the day, and at the end of my life, I believe I’ll be able to rest well, knowing that I’ve done my best to “study to show myself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15), investing wholly in what really matters, whether it be my education, parenting, or serving and loving others.

I guess I better eat crow, call my mom, and tell her thank you once again.

 

2011 gift list

When I started blogging a few years ago, one of my first posts was published on Christmas Eve. Sniffling and wheezing with the flu while nursing my depression over separating from my ex-husband on December 23rd, I felt quite pitiful.

I’ve learned from wise souls that the best remedy for self-pity is gratitude. I decided to compose a list of gifts I’d received that year and post it on my blog. It helped me to see things that seemed so negative in a much more positive light, at least temporarily.

This Christmas season, I’m not going through a divorce, and I don’t have the flu (knock on wood!). In fact, 2011 has probably been the best year of my life in some ways. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the season of giving and receiving, I decided I’d share some of the gifts I’ve received this year with all of you.

  • The gift of education. After I’d worked part-time for about a month, I started toying with the idea of graduate school again. This wasn’t a new dream or fantasy of mine. I love learning, and given unlimited funds and time, I could easily become a career student. Given that I have unlimited funds, limited time, and financial responsibilities, I’d pushed aside the idea of higher education for years. One morning over coffee, I mentioned to James how much I’d love to take some graduate classes in English. “Well then why don’t you?”  Well, I don’t know, I thought. His encouragement motivated me to peruse programs, find one that worked for me, and go through the application process. A perceptive person once told me that when trying to make a big decision, it helped her to pray, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.” I prayed that prayer daily while going through the application process, and He just kept opening doors for me. Right now, I’m awaiting the arrival of my books for my first three classes.
  • The gift of learning. Call us nerds, but at our home, we really love the history channel, the documentary channel, Jeopardy, and crossword puzzles. By watching more educational television and less train wreck television (such as Flavor Flav’s fabulous shows), I’ve gained the gift of enlightenment. I’ve also started taking suggestions about what to read or what to research from friends of mine and people I admire. Rather than “put it on the list,” I’ve just done it. And I’m glad I have. By being a little more open-minded about how to spend my time, I’ve learned about things I knew nothing about last year, and I’ve learned that I enjoy things I thought I would abhor.
  • The gift of time. In September, I got a new job at a community college. I was ecstatic about returning to the world of higher education, but I was also elated about the part-time nature of the position. I’ve had a job since I was 14 years old, and at times, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist and workaholic. Now I’ve been given the gift of time. I can work part-time and not feel bad about it because I’m with someone who supports me and makes sacrifices to make that possible.
  • The gift of relaxation. Having functioned for so long while riddled with anxiety and stress, it’s taken me time to learn how to relax and give myself permission to do so. Learning how to enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it has been a process, and I’m still figuring it out, but I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds this year. Being able to snort-laugh while watching an animated movie or just cuddle my dogs for 15 solid minutes without feeling antsy about moving on to another task is a gift.
  • The gift of trust. In February 2010, I got my second tattoo, the Chinese symbol for “trust” on my left wrist. At the time, it symbolized the importance of the role of trust in relationships, but it was also an extended index finger to all those people who’d betrayed me throughout life and had proven themselves untrustworthy. Since then, I’ve realized how very little I really trust anyone, including God, and that angry finger has fallen. Through the counsel of a wise mentor and the prodding of God during my quiet reading, prayer, and meditation time each morning, my eyes have been opened to my severe lack of trust. In almost all situations, when things have gone wrong, I have chosen not to trust God and to trust myself instead, and my failure to trust God has separated me from Him time after time. Thankfully, I’ve determined to continue to do my part to get closer to truly trusting both God and others. I have in no way arrived, but I’m on the right path.
  • The gift of freedom. Finally, this year, I have gained freedom. I chose “freedom” as my word of the year for 2011, and whether through self-fulfilling prophecy or divine fate, I’ve certainly found it. I’ve gained freedom from the past, freedom to live in today, and freedom to dream about the future rather than dread it. This year, I realized that I could have been living this way ever since unlocking my heart to my Creator many years ago. I just hadn’t let myself open the door until now. What a gift it is to step outside.