The American sky, 1874

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What would it be like?–

I wander, alone, in quiet woods one winter night

staring into the best sky I’ve seen in some time–

to see night like a true American

resting in silence, nestled in true tall whistling

prairie grass glittered with bison,

sure about the Source

of each shining white flame

flickering above?

 

No choking fumes

trespass illumination

muffling stars like fireflies

in dirty porch jars,

a muddled soup overhead,

misguiding hearts and eyes,

leading us to false stars,

cold drones,

unarmed constellations.

 

What it must have been like

to never wonder whether

sparks blaze or

man-made neon simply fades,

whether pale trails are

falling stars or just crowded rows

of first-class midlife crises

gripping sweaty glasses, closing our

minds on a red-eye flight

to nowhere

fast.

 

-Written by Bethany Wallace, March 2018

 

The life I always wanted

 

Us, spring 2013

Us, spring 2013

Tuesday didn’t seem extraordinary in any way.

I woke up to the sound of my baby calling for Daddy. I chugged coffee while feeding her in an effort to re-energize. I read Maggie her “good morning” book and then sat on the porch with her before nap time, thanking God for the birds, the sky, the grass, and all the other components of creation sprawled out before us in our beautiful middle-of-nowhere spot. I checked email, scheduled appointments, and worked on my course syllabus during Maggie’s nap time. I reluctantly removed my pajamas in favor of real clothing since I had appointments to make and errands to run. I visited with the eye doctor and learned that I didn’t need to see a specialist after all. And I ended the day by sharing experience, strength, and hope with some friends.

As I pulled into the driveway that evening, I saw Maggie and James sitting on the porch with our cats, waving at me and smiling. I waved and smiled, too.

As I parked my car, I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed with joy and excitement and gratitude.

Oh my gosh, I thought as I choked back tears. This is the life I have always wanted. I am living it.

It’s not that I have the things I’ve always wanted. I am grateful for what I have, but that’s not part of the dream I had about living a wonderful life. It’s about what really matters—it’s about who we are. It’s about family. It’s being married to a man who exceeds my expectations for love, companionship, laughter, and commitment. It’s about crawling into bed at night and turning toward each other instead of facing the wall. It’s seeing my beautiful baby girl’s face light up when I walk in the room every morning. It’s having priceless people I love in my life. It’s getting to teach English courses at our local community college and put my degree and my passion for writing to use to serve students. It’s being healthy enough to enjoy these things. It’s having a group of people in recovery to mentor me, hold me accountable, and walk with me as I make progress and let go of perfection.IMG_6819

It’s about looking around me and realizing that all the hopes I held silently within me, for fear they would never be realized, have become reality today. I don’t worry about finances or infidelity. I don’t allow fear to take the reins. I’m not leaning my ear to the door, waiting for the sad, heavy sound of the dropping of the other shoe. I don’t dwell on the what-ifs very often anymore. What is has become my focus instead.

This is the life I’ve always wanted because I am becoming the Bethany I’ve always wanted to be. Thank God for the evolutionary process, for the turning to the light.

“And I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” –Joel 2:25

Father envy

I think eye rolling in church might be inappropriate.

But I’ve done it my whole life—if not outwardly, inwardly.

With Kay and John Egan, circa 2000

With Kay and John Egan, circa 2000

Confession: Until recently, the two concepts of “God” and “Father” did not mesh well in my mind. A local preacher I know used to—and perhaps still does, but thankfully I don’t know—insert “dear Fathuh” every 12-15 words during his prayers, or maybe “Fathuh God.”

Ugh.

Why the disdain? There are plenty of references in the Bible to God as our Father. Of course, there are multiple other analogies and metaphors as well, but why should this one feel so ingratiating?

It’s hard to explain to people who have dads like John Egan, a family friend of ours who passed away a few years ago. He was the ultimate family man. Served on the school board. Always there for his family. Cracked jokes in his recliner, complimented his beautiful wife often, and barked at anyone who called the house after 9 p.m. Would definitely have taken a bullet for anyone in his family on any occasion. Took care of business.

George Woolf and his daughters

George Woolf and his daughters

Or take George Woolf, for instance, who also moved on to heaven a few years ago. Best hugger in the world. Spiritual in a quiet, no-frills kind of way. Fun to the core. Always up for a new adventure with his wife and three daughters. Not afraid to take risks, and not afraid to deviate from the status quo if it meant being happy.

Mickey Jones, photo by Sandra Stroud

Mickey Jones, photo by Sandra Stroud

Or Mickey Jones, maybe. Married to the love of his life for several decades. Leads musical worship in a way that makes me cry every single time I’m lucky enough to be part of it. Passed on his passion for God to his two daughters, who are passing it on to their five children. Pays the bills, but more importantly, prays, laughs, and leads.

My dad wasn’t much like John Egan, George Woolf, or Mickey Jones. He struggled with addiction almost all of my life. He either wasn’t around or was temporarily a whirlwind of fun. The problem was that I never knew when That Fun Guy was going to disappear again. I wasted a lot of wishes on chicken bones over my dad, hoping he’d rejoin our family. I hosted many pity parties for myself because he never did.

To sit in church and have GOD, the Creator of everything beautiful, the Lover of my soul, the Redeemer of my life, the Light that cut through the blackest darkness to find me, the Peace that replaced quarter sacks of weed—to have that God compared to “father” felt a little sacrilegious to me.

Let me make myself clear—I have a wonderful stepdad, and as the years go by, we continue to

grow closer. He wasn’t very emotionally available when I was growing up, but as a former stepmom myself, I can cut him some slack for that now. Step parenting is tough—anyone who’s done it is nodding in agreement while reading this. And my dad was not the worst dad ever. My dad never abused me. My dad always told me he loved me and still does. His addiction just kept him from being the kind of dad I know he could have been. And it left me with a cynical perspective when it came to the father/God comparison.

I wanted a John Egan dad. I wanted a George Woolf dad. I wanted a Mickey Jones dad.

But God knew better.

He gave me just what I needed. He knows me, and He knows that due to my stubborn, controlling, and independent nature, He’d need to take the Father role into his own hands. Maybe He held back what He knew I’d never find in Him if He gave it to me any other way. Maybe He knew that someday, I’d need two dads in my life who have been total wrecks from time to time because I am often a total wreck, too. He might have known that I’d need to watch Him give them both countless chances at redemption because I’d someday need multiple opportunities to get it right myself. Maybe He knew that if I watched them grow into strong, spiritual people, I’d believe in His ability to carry me when I floundered, felt like I could not continue, and take me where I needed to go safely.

He is my Dad, after all. That’s what dads do.

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

Dirtiest bath ever

When I was in Beijing as a college student, I took the dirtiest bath ever.

At the Great Wall of China during one of four amazing trips

At the Great Wall of China during one of four amazing trips

After spending three weeks in a smaller city in Shandong Province working on ESL skills with college students and other community members, the group I traveled with spent three days in the nation’s capital, climbing the Great Wall, walking through the once forbidden gate of the Forbidden City, meeting Alanis Morissette in the gift shop, and other interesting touristy things.

But the best part about our final three days in China each year? The first long, hot bath I took in our lovely hotel.

After staying in a smaller city and in a nice but simple hotel for three weeks, the luxury of hot water at all hours of the day and night overwhelmed me. Our rooms in the simpler hotel were not really “roughing it” by Chinese standards. We had hot water for one hour a day, most days. Workers delivered boiled, potable water to us each morning in a vessel so we could wash our faces, brush our teeth, drink hot tea, and take sponge baths. And our rooms were carpeted and had air conditioning. Compared to the Chinese college students’ dormitories, we were in the lap of luxury.

Compared to our spoiled rotten American standards of living, we were suffering (and some of us had a tough time not whining about it along the way).

There is nothing like going without what you don’t need to bring you to the realization of what you do need.

Most days, I skipped the opportunity to take a hot shower during our one-hour window of opportunity in lieu of spending time with college students, practicing English, getting to know them as individuals, answering their probing questions, and performing a song or dance on occasion for a group of giggling roommates (eight to a room, by the way, as compared to two on American campuses). I don’t regret missing any of those showers. As we say in the Ozarks, “a little dirt won’t hurt.”

It didn’t. Each time I went to China, I experienced some of the most amazing, interesting, miraculous, and inspiring moments of my life. Not once did I rue missing a few baths. But every time the plane took off from the tiny airport, heading to the big city where we’d spend our last few days abroad, hot, salty tears created rivets on my dusty cheeks as I left people I’d grown to love and care about and pray for.

The first year I went, when I took the dirtiest bath of my life in Beijing, I remember being disgusted and amazed at the degree of dirtiness I had achieved in three short weeks of less-than-perfect hygiene. I scrubbed and scrubbed with a white washcloth, filling the white porcelain tub with so much dirt and grime that the water literally transformed from translucent to opaque, dark brown. The washcloth might never be white again, even with the help of bleach. And to this day, when I take a hot shower or bath, I thank God for the gift of endless access to hot water. And I remember the flood of warmth that washed over me during that very dirty bath in Beijing, along with the relief I felt, knowing that I was finally clean again.

Sunrise on the White River, 2012

Sunrise on the White River, 2012

The Ultimate Cleansing Agent did a similar dirty job for me–and for my fellow filthy humans–by washing away the nastiest, dirtiest, and most disgusting gunk of all. One time only, never needing to repeat this dirty job, He wiped off the darkness in our hearts to reveal who we really are. Souls created in His likeness, meant to reflect the Light of the world.

I’m so thankful He has scrubbed me–and the anyone else who lets Him–completely clean, once and for all.

Happy Easter.

 

This little light of mine

Our little light

Our little light

Since my daughter’s name, Margaret, means “daughter of light,” and since my 2013 word of the year is light, almost every night while nursing her, and other times during the day when I spontaneously break into song-and-dance (happens often, folks), I sing her a sunny compilation of light-themed songs. You Are My Sunshine. Shine, Jesus, Shine. And of course, This Little Light of Mine.

Maggie was named after both sides of our families. Margaret is her great-great grandmother on her father’s side of the family. Jacqueline is my mother’s name. When selecting her first name, I was torn between one name I absolutely loved the sound of. It was more trendier and cuter, really. But its meaning fell flat for me, even though I tried to repeatedly convince myself that it didn’t matter.

It did. Meanings matter to me. Words matter to me. So names matter even more.

When I learned that Margaret means “daughter of light,” I was sold.

My life’s love story has been one of Light piercing through what seemed at times to be impenetrable darkness. Over and over again. The passionate pursuit of Light, in search of my muddled soul’s heartbeat. Never thwarted by layers of stagnation, sadness, or sin, the Light has searched me out. It has found me. It loves me.

Maggie's room and her life verse hanging above her crib

Maggie’s room and her life verse hanging above her crib

As I painted the sign for my daughter’s room with her life verse on it, I had no idea that a few months later, I’d read the book Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson and that I was setting into motion a master plan, orchestrated by Someone much more omniscient,  to pray meaning and purpose into my daughter’s life.

“Arise, shine, for your Light has come. And the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” -Isaiah 60:1

That she would glorify God. That His glory would rise upon her. That she would reflect the Light her entire life.

She already does. My mom, not knowing at the time about her life verse, commented a few weeks ago that her smile lights up the room so brightly that there’s no need for electricity. Of course, this is a grandma speaking. But it’s true. Through bouts of illness since becoming pregnant, she has brought light and joy and hope to me countless times. I see her father’s countenance change, too, when their eyes meet.

And tonight I got to take my little light to church for the first time. Even though she wasn’t a fan of the music and also seemed to be missing her teething toy, Sophie the Giraffe, there was one brilliant moment.

As I swayed with her in the back of the room, hoping to soothe her, I noticed a woman crying. Not weeping softly. Crying. Sobbing. Holding onto her husband and shaking from sorrow. She reminded me of my stepmom, Jodi, a recovering addict whose health problems related to her addiction cost her to lose her life a few years ago.

I caught the woman’s eye. And that Still Small Voice reminded me of my daily prayer over my daughter.

“Let her be light.”

Sucking it up and overcoming my germaphobic tendencies, I slowly walked up to the woman during the worship music with my four month-old daughter and hugged that woman close and whispered words of encouragement in her ear. She stopped crying and touched Maggie and smiled. And of course, Maggie smiled that smile that wins everyone over who is privileged enough to witness it.

Maybe Jesus wants some of us for sunbeams, but Maggie’s the moon, reflecting Light in even the darkest moments.

That little light of mine shone bright tonight.

Crying over spilt coffee

Finally napping

Finally napping

After performing crib gymnastics and break dancing for half an hour, Maggie finally crashed and began her brief nap. I painstakingly held the alarmingly loud button in on our microwave door in order to retrieve my cup of coffee, which I’d reheated three times due to lack of opportunity to properly enjoy a cup of coffee while caring for an infant.

Apparently my memory of how to correctly use a microwave oven has also been affected by a syndrome commonly called “baby brain.” The coffee was bubbling inside the mug, and the minute I touched the handle, I dropped the half-full cup of coffee all over the floor. Molten brown java sludge covered my floors and soaked into my socked feet. I danced around while silently cursing, trying to remove my hot socks in order to prevent any real burns on my feet. I saved all but one of my big toes.

I laughed at myself, grabbed a dish towel, and crawled around my kitchen floor, cleaning up my messy mistake. Then I noticed the dark brown speckled cabinets surrounding me. The day before,  I’d carefully scrubbed each cabinet door and handle with a clever combination of Lysol disinfectant wipes and a Magic Eraser, removing all traces of crumbs, drips, and crud. All my work was in vain. I’d have to spend another 20 minutes cleaning the bottom cabinets.???????????????????????????????

That’s when the laughing turned to crying.

That day, which happened to be a Monday, of course, was not my day. Honestly, ever since getting pregnant last February, I’ve struggled to maintain my faith, my attitude of gratitude, my decision to be kind and loving toward others, and at times, my sanity. Pregnancy was tough on my body, not to mention my emotions. I did not have a beautiful, wonderful, happy experience. I worked through repeated physical setbacks over the course of 41 weeks before giving birth to my beautiful daughter. The delivery was ugly and complicated as well. The recovery was not terribly painful, but after undergoing a blood transfusion after giving birth, it took my body a few weeks to return to anything resembling normal. I never knew that having the right quantity of blood in my body made such a big difference in my sense of well-being. Who knew having plenty of blood would help me avoid episodes of blacking out and fainting?

I wish I could say things are all peachy keen now, and that I feel like I’m on top of the world, but that would be dishonest. I love being Maggie’s mom. I would not trade that for the world. But being a new mom is tough sometimes. I get frantic when I can’t immediately detect the reason for Maggie’s tears. I detest looking in the mirror because my once absolutely perfect abs are not so perfect anymore. I often feel overwhelmed by the stress of managing motherhood, graduate school, and homemaking. And life has also thrown me some additional lovely curve balls lately. I’m not referring to the tiny ticks and fleas of life; these are serious, private, heavy matters.

The speckling of my stark white cabinet doors didn’t really merit tears. The speckles were just the cherries atop my terrible turd sundae.

As I scrubbed the floor as quickly as possible in order to prevent the molten java from oozing into the cracks in our hardwood floors, I heard God say to me, in that mysterious voice that assures me that I’m not just talking to myself, “Think about how many times you’ve done this to me, right after I cleaned up your mess.”

Touche, God. Touche.Goo

He has. Countless times. I’ve made those stubborn Hebrews wandering in the desert due to disobedience look like saints. I’ve been battered and bruised and scraped and scarred, and He has been my Good Samaritan, bandaging me, paying my bills, and sending in the Great Physician to heal me. He has scrubbed clean more than just the surface of my life. He’s renovated it.

Photo by Bethany Wallace

Photo by Bethany Wallace

I can cry over spilt coffee. But then I must clean it up, stand up, change my socks (after applying aloe vera to my throbbing big toe), and take the next step forward.

If I’ve learned anything in the past 12 months, it’s that if things seem dark, it’s not because there’s no Light. It’s because I’m not looking at It. It’s always there waiting to transform my perspective.

“This is your time of grief. But I will see you again. You will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy.” –John 16:22