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? 🙂 

Doing motherhood like a dude

My closest friends may snort laugh in agreement when I admit that I’m a bit of a dude. I’m not just referring to my somewhat crude sense of humor or ability to belch with the best of them. I’ve also been accused of being cold and calculated when it comes to communication, choosing the content-only approach in terms of listening response styles, and often deferring to my analytical and critical nature, not just in the classroom, but in relationships as well. I will admit that I’ve been more in love with jobs than with men in the past and have found more fulfillment in climbing the ladder, corporate or not, and have thus poured myself into becoming smarter and better.

About eight years ago, my life took a turn for the worse—but ultimately for the better—when I faced challenging personal obstacles while going through marital and financial problems. I chose to become better, not bitter, and embarked on a journey of personal growth and recovery. Part of that journey involved me letting go of some of my die-hard defects of character which I’d never identified as defects—including that desire to run faster, jump higher, and fix every problem in the workplace. But old habits die hard, and I still find myself adopting that mindset in the here and now.

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Maggie savoring a cupcake from Mama, April 2015

A few days ago, I found myself scraping gunk from our hardwood kitchen floor beneath Maggie’s high chair while she ran back and forth between the kitchen and living room, pushing and slamming her huge yellow dump truck into the furniture and front door. I use the term “gunk” because I have absolutely no idea what the gunk consisted of. Yogurt? Maybe. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

After about two minutes of scraping gunk off the floor with a plastic putty knife—I’m not joking. It is the only tool that would remove the stuff.—Maggie decided I’d had enough of a break from play time. She grabbed my arm with her pudgy hand and forcefully demanded that we play together. I am sure there’s some fool in the world who would sigh and deny requests made by my precious princess, but it’s not going to be me. I give that baby what she wants.

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Maggie with one of her baby chickens, April 2015

So off we go to Maggie’s room, moving from books about rainbows and chickens to Melissa and Doug sound puzzles to pretending to blow bubbles from Easter eggs (I have no idea how she came up with that game, but it’s a cute one) to cooking potato chips in a skillet on her little kitchen stove… all in a matter of 20-30 minutes. I try to smile the whole time, come up with ways to insert little learning activities and lessons about life and emotions and God and the alphabet into conversations, and feel exhausted almost the entire time we are playing.

I am beginning to think I suck at this job of being Maggie’s mom; I used to think I was so good at it.

I remember when I worked at McDonald’s in high school, standing at the counter on a slow Friday night, our only customers choosing to use the drive-thru lane aside from a few families who’d come in to eat together. I remember wiping off the tables every 30 minutes and cleaning the bathrooms once an hour, only to have something to occupy my time and keep myself busy. For some reason, that feeling of killing time and staring at the clock in McDonald’s and waiting for the next shift to roll around reminds me of the feeling I often have as Maggie’s mom when I’m here alone with her—just waiting for her dad to get home from work, or waiting until nap time, or waiting until bed time so I can unwind and go to bed myself. I feel guilty writing this, but it’s the truth.

And then it hits me—I’m allowing the dude in me to be Mom.

Therein lies the problem.

I’m applying my analytical and critical, fix the problems in every workplace, run harder and jump higher and be smarter and better, lean in and dig my fingernails in and grit my teeth and work work work mentality to my RELATIONSHIP with my daughter. I’m approaching my relationship with my daughter as if it were a job.

But it’s not a job. It’s a relationship.

God did not interview me and hire me to be Maggie’s mom. I’m not being paid a salary to do the millions of things I do as her mom. I don’t undergo performance reviews, and no one manages me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaggie is not a product of my hard work or an end result or trophy for me to put on a shelf or parade around in Facebook photos. It’s not my job to ensure brilliance before she attends Montessori Christian Academy so the staff will be super impressed by my ability to educate Maggie while also working full-time.

I’m going to try to remember that I’m not on the clock. Every second I have with my daughter is a blessing, but if I’m viewing my relationship with Maggie as work, I’m going to approach it with a tight jaw and will most likely place ridiculous expectations on both of us. And life is too short for that.

God’s big hands

422175_481118075239410_57455172_nWhen I was 10 years old, I met Harmony Culbreath. She brought nothing but sunshine to my life. My mentor defines elevator people as people who lift you up and basement people as people who drag you down; Harmony lifted me up. She was constantly smiling, cracking jokes, and singing with her deep, one-of-a-kind beautiful voice that gave me chills. I’d still rather listen to Harmony’s voice than to anyone else’s voice if I had to choose one person to listen to for the rest of my life.

I remember—and still laugh every time I think about it—a long minivan ride home from Little Rock. I am not sure what the trip entailed, but Harmony had ridden in our family van, along with me and my slew of sisters and parents. On the way home, in the back of the dark van, my sisters and I begged Harmony to sing popular rock songs and hymns to us over and over and over again and were mesmerized by her voice. My mom, on the other hand, eventually became annoyed at the junior high a capella karaoke and finally yelled at us and asked us to shut our traps and play the silent game. We were sorely disappointed. This put an end to Mariah Carey, Wilson Phillips, and the other tunes Harmony belted out for us in perfect pitch.

Harmony never seemed to display fear. If she felt afraid, she didn’t show it. Once, when we went ice skating—which she’d never done before in her life—she attempted a single axel. She actually made it halfway around before the toe of her skate dug into the ice, causing her to fall face forward into the ice. She scraped her face on the ice, creating a fairly nasty gash on her cheekbone. That didn’t deter her for long. She slapped a Band-Aid on the spot and kept on skating. Harmony had guts when it came to playing softball, too. She slid and pushed and shoved and was so aggressive that other girls were often so intimidated by her that she was virtually untouchable on the field.

I remember moments when Harmony shared deeply personal and intimate stories and memories with me regarding personal relationships, first dates, family secrets, and other internal struggles. Harmony was a genuine human being—she had the capacity to be honest and real. This is a trait that many people do not come by easily in today’s world. In some ways, this made her a more vulnerable person, but in other ways, it made her stronger.

1544453_10202971807282635_577239659_nObviously, Harmony was a renaissance woman. If she set her mind to do something, she did it. I think she must have applied this same fierce determination to her career, and it’s probably why she found success singing and performing for years while juggling her full-time job of raising four children. She didn’t half-ass anything in life, including being a mama. Harmony loved her babies, and she loved them well. Anyone who vaguely knew her, even online, could clearly see that Harmony’s focus was on ensuring that her four children knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were loved by her.

You can’t lose someone like Harmony and expect that life is just going to move on. Clichés like “God works everything out for the best” or “There’s a reason for everything” mean nothing right now. In fact, those phrases piss me off in situations like these.

10610566_10205781782930270_3974353586199131000_nAs someone who does believe in God—and I know Harmony shared this faith–I do attempt to work to accept reality and life on life’s terms. The reality is that Harmony is not coming back, and the reality is that her children are without their mother. I have found that what helps me in times like these is to stop focusing on the problem and to focus on the solution. Part of focusing on the solution is to focus on God’s goodness instead.

Okay—so where is God’s goodness in this situation? I asked myself this question the night that I got the news about Harmony’s death. Searching… searching…. Searching… I’ve got nothing.

Today, as I stood outside during my own daughter’s nap, I drank a cup of coffee while the wind whipped through my hair and dried the tears that flowed down my cheeks, the tears that have somewhat steadily flowed down my face like molasses since hearing this news. I began asking myself a myriad of rhetorical questions…. Where are her children? Who is caring for them? Are they crying right now and missing their mama? Who is going to comfort them? Who is rocking them now and singing those sweet songs to them that Harmony used to sing to them? Will they be in safe arms? Will they be fed plenty of food, and when they go to bed at night, will they be in a home that keeps them free from danger of every kind? Are they all together so they can retain some semblance of normalcy since their primary caregiver has been ripped from their lives? God, are you hearing these questions??? ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME RIGHT NOW?

And while those molasses-like tears began picking up their pace, I felt Him respond.

Don’t you think I’m capable of holding all four of them right now? Don’t you believe that I Am their Mother and their Father?

Yes.

So one more time, I’ll choose to trust God. His hands are big enough to hold all four of those precious babies.

2013 gift list

Before I move on, I want to look back—not to dwell on the past or listen to Sirens, as I might have in years past, but to gaze upon the beauty.

I started making a list a few weeks ago—my 2013 gift list. I’ve written a gift list ever since I started my blog at the end of each year as a way to express my gratitude for the growth and upward movement, for the blessings and kindnesses extended to me by others, for the truths I’d grasped. For God.

This year, I rattled off 10 items. Good things. Great insights. But I haven’t been able to write anything cohesive or clever. I’m sure this lack of creativity is partly due to lack of sleep, but I also came to the conclusion that I was struggling to elaborate because all the blessings are intertwined, with God being the tie that binds them all together into one beautiful year.

I remember specific moments that touched me, moved me, inspired me, and changed me. The memories are just snapshots of the big picture—reminders for me that this year, I would not change a thing.

015I remember sitting–for over 54,000 minutes this year—nursing and rocking my daughter, watching her miniature fingers and toes lengthen, her delicious fat rolls disappear, her eyelashes thicken. I resented nursing for at least half of those 54,000 minutes; I simply could not sit still in my soul, and sitting still in that chair drove me nuts. I’m not sure what changed, but when Maggie was about seven or eight months old, I suddenly found joy in nursing her. As she weans herself slowly but surely, I find that the fewer minutes we spend together in that chair, the more valuable they become. Each day, I thank God for the priceless seconds of warmth I share with my only begotten baby.

I remember feeling overwhelmed with pride while strolling with my daughter and husband 018on the sidewalks at Arkansas Tech University last spring, the sun setting and casting long shadows around us. Even though my baby didn’t sleep most of the night in the hotel full of teenagers—and neither did I—I managed to stumble through comprehensive exams the next morning and graduated with all A’s a month later. All the hours spent studying and reading and writing paid off, and I learned about much more than classic literature, theories of criticism, and teaching techniques. Amidst plenty of puking and ginger ale and crackers and swelling, I completed my course work ahead of schedule—just in time for Maggie’s arrival. I proved myself to be a tougher cookie than I thought I was.

I remember standing in my classroom at UACCB, a few months into my first semester as an adjunct faculty member, cramming textbooks, ungraded exams, and worksheets into my sleek black bag. One of my students, a tall, thin boy sporting a trench coat, sauntered up to me as the other students drifted out of the classroom. He began sharing his thoughts on the screwed up state of our society, and I listened, half intrigued by the depth of discussion and half annoyed that I would be late getting home. And then he transitioned into telling me a story about a confused, depressed teenage boy who tried to kill himself and about the lessons learned as a result. At that moment, I saw him through God’s eyes, and I knew in my gut that I’d made the right decision by choosing to teach English and “never get rich,” as my grandpa warned me when I selected my major in undergraduate school.

IMG_8379I remember receiving my six-year coin from my sponsor in my 12-step recovery program while my husband and daughter played on the soft blue carpet of her living room floor a few blocks away. I could scarcely eke out words when I accepted the small bronze coin, except to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you to the 50+ enlightened faces welcoming me around the folding tables in metal chairs, faces that I still see when I meditate on phrases like “let go and let God” and “forgiveness is me letting go of my right to punish you for hurting me.” Thank you to the woman who has held up the Light for me, showing me the steps to take to move closer to Christ.

I remember sitting on an old couch in the building where my local recovery group meets, seeing six of those faces of my old friends and sponsor smiling and interacting with the hungry souls in my local group. My two worlds melded together for a few brief hours; joy welled up in me as I listened to experiences and laughter and then watched the fruits of those hours blossom and grow in the months that followed.

I remember the moment when, after seeing the tears in one woman’s eyes as she discussed her desire to work the steps, I stood across from her in the dark parking lot and offered to be her guide. Relief and gratitude replaced the tension and fear on her face. We whispered in my kitchen one morning while my baby slept in her crib, sharing lives and starting the greatest journey together. Six months later, she opened her journal and cautiously explained her perception of God while my daughter crawled around us, scattering blocks and clapping her tiny hands. Astonishment appeared on her face when God shed light on some dark truths.

I remember watching Maggie roll over for the first time in her bedroom, her eyes shining IMG_8849with glee. I remember the first time she tasted snow this winter, her nose curling up in disdain. I remember the first time she said “mama” and “daddy” and “light” and a host of other words. I remember the first time we introduced her to our dogs, her eyes sparkling with amusement at their antics, totally devoid of fear or hesitation. I remember the first time she went to church with us, our wonderful pastor christening her with water from the Jordan River. I remember the first time Maggie ate peas, inhaling them and grunting with pleasure. I remember all of these moments because I was able to be with my daughter every single day in 2013.

And I remember the most beautiful moment of my life, aside from the moment I married James and the moment I met Maggie for the first time.

One long night, James and I awakened to the sound of Maggie screaming in terror, most likely from a bad dream. I stumbled into her room as quickly as possible, not even taking time to find my glasses. I reached into her crib and lifted her into my arms, resting her head on my chest and encasing her as I sat down on the couch in her room, swaying and singing softly to her. Her tears slowly subsided.

Then I felt a large, rough palm covering the smooth skin on my own hand; I turned my head to see my husband sitting beside me on the couch in the darkness, leaning in to the hug I’d started with our daughter. Maggie crawled out of my arms and nestled herself in the exact middle of us, her head resting on both our shoulders, her arms splayed out on both our chests. And we held her until she fell asleep, our love complete there in the silence.

 

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.

 

Mama said, part 5

“TV rots your brain.”

I don’t actually recall my mom saying this. But I know that she believed that spending too much time parked in front of the television was not healthy or productive. We had a TV set in the living room; we just weren’t allowed to watch more than one hour of TV each day, except on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Each Friday night, my stepdad handcrafted homemade pizza for us, and sometimes doughnuts, and we’d all pile into the living room to watch T.G.I.F. on ABC.

Growing up, we didn’t have many battery-operated toys, either. She encouraged us to use our imaginations and to entertain ourselves with Barbies, skates, and forts made with old sheets and dining room chairs. We never owned any video-gaming equipment, even though all our friends owned a Nintendo gaming system. When my stepsister Sarah brought a Nintendo set home with her one Christmas, we thought it was the best thing since the jambox. However, just like the TV, Mom limited the time we spent playing Nintendo, too.

Instead of being mesmerized by battery-powered toys and electronic or digital media, we spent most of our time playing with each other (which sometimes resulted in fighting with each other), reading books, writing stories, inventing intricate games in the backyard, cuddling our pets, and prancing around in my mom’s old high school prom dresses and discarded heels. Since most of our time was spent face-to-face, we learned how to interact. We learned how to argue. We learned how to resolve fights. We learned how to persuade each other to give up the cuter Barbie in exchange for two ugly ones. We got plenty of exercise, and in spite of our initial stage of whining each time we were sent outside to play, we all gained an appreciation of the outdoors and found joy in nature.

Whether my mom intended to teach us any of these lessons, or to buck up against technology, or to foster our social and intellectual growth, I’m not sure. She might have just wanted some peace and quiet in a house full of five girls. But I have a feeling she knew that we’d grow up to be healthier, more productive, and more creative adults someday if we didn’t let TV rot our brains.

Of course, she was right :).

 

Mama said, part four

My mom wasn’t very tolerant of  me and my sisters treating each other poorly. We never had the chance to get into big fights because if my mom heard one whisper of pinching, biting, pulling hair, name calling, or dirty looks going on, she’d whip us into shape pretty quickly.

One of my least favorite consequences for this type of behavior was to write sentences. Yes, I love to write, but I love to write what I WANT to write. Writing sentences was awful. She’d sit us down at the table with a pencil and notebook and order us to write, “I love my sister, and I will treat her with respect,” 500 times. Without taking a break. The monotony was awful, but the actual content of the sentence was worse. Who wants to write about love and respect 500 times after getting into an epic battle over skates or Barbies with one of your arch enemies (AKA sisters)? Not me. But I did it anyway because my mom was in charge. That was not up for debate.

In retrospect, I’m grateful for her diligence in emphasizing the value of loving family members unconditionally. While every child makes her own choices once she reaches a certain age, I did hold on to many of the things my mom instilled in me. I feel fiercely defensive of my family members, whether I agree with their personal choices and lifestyles or not. I pray for them continually. I truly believe there are no cuter munchkins on the face of the planet than my nieces and nephews. I look forward to the times when our family is together and savor memories of shared laughter, conversation, and meals.

Even though I logged many a mention of “hating my mom!” in my middle school diary, I now love her for the same things that led me to despise her then. Something must have clicked in me after writing all those sentences.