Gumberries

My love for crimson clover started my senior year in college. I’d never really paid them much attention before then. Every spring since, I’ve waited expectantly to see them blooming on the side of the road and in yards all over Arkansas in April. They have never failed to appear. Their grassy, earthy smell reminds me of everything alive and good in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we added two small rooms onto our house last year and repaired septic lines, the dirt work necessitated ruining most of the grass on one side of the house. My husband’s ingenious solution was to spread crimson clover seed across the area. His solution not only covered the muddy, ugly mess in the side yard; it also created a blast of color this spring for me to enjoy.

I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed the clover. Maggie loves learning names of plants and animals. She asked for the name of crimson clover, and then quickly rejected it, dubbing it “gumberries” instead. Gumberries it is. Maggie has frolicked in the gumberries almost every day since they appeared, chasing butterflies, listening to bumblebees buzzing, and picking select gumberries to share with our neighbor’s horse, dubbed Mr. Gray, when we walk down the road on sunny afternoons.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

I recently recorded her chasing butterflies in the gumberry patch. While watching the video later, I expected to be mesmerized by the clover brightly swaying in the breeze, the birds calling to one another, and the yellow butterfly gently resting atop tiny gumberries. Instead, I was captivated by one short moment in the brief video when Maggie clutches her belly in rapture, squealing in glee, “Dragonfly!” The joy in her heart took my breath away.

I watched this moment repeatedly. I felt so lucky to have been there to see my daughter amazed by something so small, something I rarely even notice. Almost immediately, I simultaneously wondered how many times I had overlooked magical moments like this because of my obsessions with being on time, minding our manners, learning the alphabet, or crossing items off my own to-do list. Don’t get me wrong—those things matter, and running a business while staying home with Maggie is more than a full-time job. The laissez faire approach sounds great, but at the end of the day, if no one’s being the Mama, Mama’s business, Maggie, and the household are pretty amuck. I have to be quite the juggler to manage work projects, keep in touch with clients, and provide Maggie with a fun, balanced, semi-educational day. Oh, and keep the house moderately uncluttered and clean, too; my expectations of perfection long since vanished. Then there’s the list of things swimming in my head that simply never get accomplished… exercise, grocery shopping, vaccinations, painting my nails, etc… :).

But nothing matters more than living.

I needed 60 seconds recorded–so I can watch them every time I fret over the list of things I never get accomplished–to remind me to open my eyes, turn on my listening ears, and dig in the dirt. To notice the dragonfly, the beetle, and the eight kittens growing stronger every day, which we’ll soon share with other families. To be where my hands are with my own little kitten, who is four-and-a-half-and-don’t-forget-the-half-part, while she’s here.

Word of the year 2017

In early December, it grew bitterly cold in Arkansas. I stoked the wood stove full day in and day out, wore my fuzziest pajama pants, and only went outside to feed and water the chickens, pups, and cats. The icy wind tunneled through Duncan Hollow, determined to freeze the fresh water I’d poured for the animals the moment I poured it.

Sometimes the weather matches my mood. It did then. My father-in-law died the first week of December. A few days later, every leaf clinging stubbornly to the tall oak trees in our woods fell silently. In my grief, I didn’t even notice them falling. One morning as I drank my coffee, I glanced out the glass door in my office, overlooking the trails where the old barn used to be. A week earlier, some of the trees held onto their crunchy brown jackets in stubborn refusal to let go of autumn. That morning, I was met by bleak winter.

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Gulin, China–One of the images I focused on 

During that cold, bitter time, God came to me through images of smooth lakes, calm water, and iridescent moonlit walks I took when I lived at my old house. He came to me through a specific song I’d long forgotten but dearly loved, a soothing song I listened to repeatedly when I first loved it and listened to again this December while meditating. I pictured my father-in-law beckoning me to follow him to a still, quiet, joyful place when I felt overwhelmed by grief. Christ came to me through a story of a group of very manly men who were scared to death by a storm, so scared they couldn’t help but wake up their Leader and ask Him for help in the middle of the night. Christ spoke to me by sharing a specific word with me which, for two months, I thought was my focus word for 2017, a word which tied all these things loosely together.

But I never felt solid about writing about this word or sharing specific details about these things on my blog. So I didn’t. I’ve grown to write less and less for my personal blog, partly out of necessity for lack of time, and partly because what matters most to me is deeply personal, so personal and spiritual I’m unwilling to splay it online unless I feel compelled.

I also hesitated to land on that word because its meaning, for me, denoted a lack of color and life. And while I knew I’d needed that word desperately during December and January, while grieving deeply and walking in quiet, solitary pain, I was ready for more.

Last weekend, I walked a labyrinth with my friends at a spiritual retreat and let my feet fall into rhythm, purposely following an earthen path countless others have trod in an effort to find 30 minutes of peace. Afterward, I chatted with two ladies while the afternoon sun warmed our faces on the way back to the lodge. One of them shared with me about the growth of her small business. This peaked my interest since I opened my own business less than one year ago. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she shared something about one of her associates mentioning that it was important to let things happen. I wish I could remember the exact words; maybe I’m not supposed to, and maybe those words don’t matter.

What matters is in that moment, God gave me my focus for this year.

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Ozark National Forest

I walked to the creek running beneath the bridge we crossed to return to the lodge and looked down. The water shone. Several bright yellow leaves lay in the water below.  Some of the leaves seemed still, and others moved at varying speeds in the water below, some in the current and others on the outskirts. Those leaves were not concerned with the temperature, the wind, the light, or the people around them. They weren’t concerned with the other objects in the water, not even logs or wild animals, because the water was powerful enough to maneuver the leaves around objects, even if it took a little time. They were simply being carried by the water, and they kept moving wherever the water carried them.

I am a leaf. He is the Water.

 

 

Living

On our last day, I knew something was askew with you. You were quieter. You didn’t tell as many jokes and stories. You didn’t make eye contact as often. You didn’t even wrestle the kids.

I couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Maybe you felt left out of our chitchat. Maybe you had more trouble hearing. Maybe your blood pressure was off. But something wasn’t the same, and I sensed it.

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With my best dad

Other parts of our last day were perfect.

 

We drank a glass of red wine together. We always did that. You commented on your failure to perfect the gravy’s consistency, and I insisted it was perfect already. I always insisted your cooking was great (it was). I scooped up a huge spoonful of succotash and claimed I loved it. I didn’t. But you made it, and you loved making it, and I loved you.

Our last day was the day after Thanksgiving, but it was our celebration of the holiday. For me, lover of gratitude and all things gushy inside, what greater gift than for our last day together to be a day of giving thanks?

I carried my coffee outside. I couldn’t stop yawning; it’s easy to relax at your house. The two of us were observers during the family baseball game, sitting on the sidelines, cheering for the kids and heckling the grown-ups. When the boys argued over taking turns at bat, and my little Maggie became distraught, you distracted her by inviting her to sit on the porch swing. You always had a way of making peace in a tense situation without sticking your nose where it didn’t belong, smoothing out hurt feelings like a delicate linen dress, nice and slow.

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In our woods, 2011

While you sat on the porch swing, rocking gently in the shadows of the late autumn sun, I regretted forgetting my camera, knowing my smartphone would never capture movement and light and real moments. I watched you whisper to Maggie, wondering what you were saying, so lucky to have a grandpa like you, something I never had.

 

When I left, I leaned in close so you could hear me, and said, “Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you. I love you.”

I didn’t take any pictures of our last day together.

But we lived it, the same way you lived 69 years of your life, dodging bullets in Vietnam, driving your truck home down dark highways to make ends meet, crooning radio tunes in your bride’s ear with your big hands around her waist, casting bait into the White River, tossing your little girl up in the air and smoothing her long brown hair at bedtime, heaving two shotguns over your strong shoulder before your son could carry his own up the long hill when you taught him to be a man.

Maggie has asked what you are doing in heaven. She asks if she can talk to you.

Of course she can, we tell her. We tell her she can talk to you any time she likes.

scan_20161204-2We tell her you are fishing with your new fishing reel and taking care of her two cats and baby white chicken. She loves seeing this in her mind before she drifts off to sleep.

Many people, when they pass on unexpectedly, might have regrets. I imagine you have none.

You 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?

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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.

 

Grief, personified

Grief is nearly a person.

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He pulls up his small rickety
wooden chair and sits
quietly beside me.

He is my ill-mannered guest.

He never arrives
promptly, showing up at the most
inopportune moments, scratching his
chair legs across marble tiles
during grand openings, portraits gawking.

Or shoving the splintery old chair
right in the midst of our crowded
Thanksgiving table last year, just after
laughter filled our bellies.

What a bastard child, Grief.
Wanted by no one, really.

Grief is my pseudo friend
who wears out his welcome,

My whining toddler
his yearning insatiable
even after countless
tears, tissues, Ben & Jerry’s,
pounds.

Grief is my fifth half-brother
little known yet blood-close,
watching me rest my weary
forehead upon her shoulder
tonight, staring rudely
from the corner.

Grief sometimes has palpable
clay-covered palms, a ghost-like
lover, whispering memories on
wings of blue and black butterflies
at dawn in my backyard, or piercing
through winter’s horizon across
my frozen windshield.

Grief has never written
me a long, perfumed goodbye
letter. He simply stops
dragging his rickety chair
legs across my floor,
leaving me
with silence
again.

–Bethany Wallace, 10/14/2015

Going off the grid

IMG_0505Last month, I sat at home with my daughter one chilly spring morning. Before my husband left, I had an eerie feeling that the power might go out. We live in the middle of nowhere, and our electricity often misfires when the wind blows a little too hard, or when the rain falls for longer than five minutes, or when lightning strikes. Against his better judgment, my husband caved to my whining and built a quick fire in our wood stove before leaving at 6:30 a.m., pulling his blue flannel jacket tightly around his body, holding onto his thermos full of hot coffee.

A few moments later, the house was dark and still. We lost power and went without it all morning, the wind howling outside, the temperatures steadily dropping into the low 50s, uncharacteristic for late spring in Arkansas. I was thankful for the fire in the wood stove and added logs to it periodically in spite of Maggie’s protests every time I stepped onto the porch to grab more firewood.

At noon, I curled up in a fleece throw next to my bedroom window, Maggie sleeping soundly in her dark bedroom. The house was blanketed in utter silence–stillness. Living in the middle of the country, surrounded by woods in the foothills of the Ozarks, I thought I’d grown accustomed to silence. But this sort of silence was almost daunting–even deafening. I hadn’t realized how commonplace the buzzing of the HVAC unit had become, how I’d learned to turn a blind eye to the little bright lights on the answering machine, the dishwasher, the coffeemaker, the stove, the alarm clock, how often I’d relied on this sort of background music of daily life to fill the vacant spaces–to entertain me, to keep me going.

As I sat next to the window, I realized that the birds at our feeder certainly recognized the difference that day. In particular, my favorite–the red-bellied woodpecker with the brilliant red head–seemed to understand. All day long for months, I watched the same birds through our windows, feeding at the same feeder, perched upon the same branches. That day, the woodpecker was not startled by anything, not aloof, unafraid. I’m no ornithologist, but I wondered if the woodpecker sensed the change in stillness, the lack of the motors running and the heaters kicking on and off around him. I wondered if he felt at rest.

Why don’t you be like that, Bethany? Why don’t you just be still and show up?

I couldn’t audibly hear God talking to me that day, but I felt Him say something like that to my heart.

That morning, as I frantically added wood to our stove (my wilderness girl skills are not stellar), I worried about the hundreds of dollars of food we’d lose if the power didn’t come back on soon that we had stored in our refrigerator and freezer. I felt nervous about being at home alone with Maggie. I felt restless about not having electricity, even though Maggie was perfectly content.

IMG_1850That morning, God sent my favorite bird to remind me to savor the stillness, to show up in the moment, and to rest with God. My favorite bird reminded me that God would meet all of my soul’s needs. That day, because we lost power for eight hours, I was more thankful for many of the amenities I normally take for granted. I gained confidence in my ability to take care of myself and my daughter. Because we lost power, I spent more time watching my daughter smile, laugh, read books, play silly games over and over again, wear hats, and kiss her face.

I can never get those moments back again.

There is no amount of money I can pay anyone to get those moments back again. All the buzzing and clicking and blinking drowns those moments out, I’m afraid. If I don’t unplug my soul from the grid once in a while, I’m going to short-circuit. If I’m not careful, I’m smothering what matters in my life–strangling the stillness out of my life.

Let me put off what so easily entangles me, God, and just listen to Your quiet, still voice more often.

 

Dirty dancing’s not THAT bad

The class of 97, on the White River, April 26, 2014

The class of 97, on the White River, April 26, 2014

Last weekend, I said a fond farewell to a former high school classmate whose life was recently cut short. His sister hosted a “Celebration of Life” service at a local restaurant; the White River rolled and roared along beside us as we recalled living memories of our friend driving recklessly while listening to rock-n-roll music, or sending $100 to someone desperately in need of gas money for a trip home, or talking about his love for fashion and his desire to design clothing someday.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect–clear blue sky with a few puffy clouds here and there, a warm breeze, the bright sun blinding us as we took a picture together, with just one of us missing.

Some of the original Dirty Dancing crew a few years after the watch party :)

Some of the original Dirty Dancing crew a few years after the watch party 🙂

As I chatted with my classmates after giving my spiel about my friend, one of them reminded me about her birthday party in sixth grade, a fabulously naughty slumber party, complete with ghost stories and the movie my mom had banned me from watching, Dirty Dancing. I laughed as I remembered blaming the entire incident on my friend at the time; of course, I was THRILLED to have the opportunity to watch Patrick Swayze sway and kiss–all shirtless, of course. I might have had no idea about sex yet, but I had some idea about kissing, having kissed my New Kids On The Block poster of Jordan Knight every single night for about 367 days in a row.

The movie met my every expectation. The best part was the soundtrack. I still have yet to find a better soundtrack to a movie. Maybe it’s just the nostalgic junior high kid in me, but every time I hear the songs from Dirty Dancing, I can’t help but smile and sing along.

This morning, like a real grown-up woman, I helped my husband get my baby ready for the day, fried up turkey bacon and eggs for my family, spent time alone with God, and settled down at the computer to grade research papers. I glanced up at the calendar hanging on the bulletin board above my desk and noticed a date, seven days from today, with a big “35” jotted in red ink.

Oh yeah, I remembered. My birthday is a week from today.

And I’m not sure why, but suddenly the thoughts of saying goodbye to my friend washed over my mind–not with sadness, just with a sense of contemplation. And then for some reason, I caught myself humming the tune to one of those great songs on the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing.

Now I’ve had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes I swear. It’s the truth
And I owe it all to You . . . 

If someone ended my life and murdered me today, God forbid, or if my life ended for some other random reason today, I think this might be the song–or at least the stanza–that would capture how I feel about my life today–how I feel about God today.

Introducing Maggie to my alma mater, May 2014

Introducing Maggie to my alma mater, May 2014

This is the miracle–that if you’d asked me five years ago, or 10 years ago, to summarize my life with one song, I probably would have selected either some depressing hardcore rock song or an equally depressing gospel hymn disguised as a hopeful look toward heaven. Either way, I might have kept up the appearance of someone peppy and happy and carefree, but I carried around debts and burdens and pain nonetheless.

And then I started taking some steps, 12 of them, actually, that have helped me to just lay those burdens down one by one, piece by piece, and to give God what is God’s and to “not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”

What a life, and what a God.

So maybe watching Dirty Dancing wasn’t THAT bad.

And turning 35 isn’t bad at all. It’s a blessing.

 

–Quote from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83