2014 word of the year

I have worked the 12 steps of recovery for six years, and the meditation part of the 11th step has never been easy for me.

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out”

Serious yogi, 2010

Serious yogi, 2010

I’ve sat through guided meditations and struggled to resist the urge to giggle and to wiggle away the ants in my pants. I’ve tried focusing on my breathing (with varying levels of success in achieving something like relaxation). I’ve done yoga, too, and while I’ve improved my flexibility, I haven’t found my mind floating on a cloud.

Even though my husband has never participated in a 12-step recovery program, he has the annoying and enviable ability to achieve what looks like nirvana after just a few minutes of lying down with his eyes closed, breathing. Being. Ugh.

I finally asked him one night, when I felt beyond frustrated with insomnia, how he manages to meditate so easily.

“Simple,” he said. “I focus on something that I like. I go to a place in my mind. When I start thinking about other things, I turn back to that place.”

Well, that might occur naturally for Mr. Smarty Pants, but it hasn’t proved simple for me—probably because I’ve taken a simple idea and contorted it into a complicated process—a terrible talent I have.

The past few months, I’ve given my husband’s method a try.

December 2012

December 2012

I’ve found some virtual places of rest. I’ve gone hiking behind my old house, snapped twigs and sat on thick tree branches, gathered firewood, and overlooked the ridge at the top of the hill with my trusty companion, my black cat Shao Hou, following closely behind, silently. I’ve walked up past our barn on a moonlit night, the light casting contrasting shadows through trees, reflecting off dirt and rocks coated in quiet snow. I’ve traced my own steps and watched Shao Hou’s paw prints step in the hollowed places left behind by my Muck boots.

Last month, after one of the most beautiful snowstorms I’ve seen (and I haven’t seen many since I live in the South), our entire property was blanketed in stark white stillness. The neighbors with noisy trucks were nowhere to be found. Even the 14 dogs owned by the animal lover living a quarter-mile away bedded down and shut their traps.

Nothing moved. No one spoke.

But God did.

My feathered friends, December 2013

My feathered friends, December 2013

That morning, dozens of birds found their way to a patch of grass outside my bedroom window and pecked through the ice in search of sunflower seeds scattered by my husband the day before. While my daughter napped, I sat in front of the open window and snapped photo after photo of bright wings and orange beaks and puffy feathers perched on thin frozen branches. Aside from clicking the camera’s buttons, I didn’t move for 30 minutes.

I’d found a place to go, a place to be still. A place to be with God.

Each year, I choose a word to reflect on, a virtue to behold and to strive to attain. This year, my word is still. Ironically, there’s nothing to strive for since stillness is the absence of striving.

This year, I’ll seek out places of rest. I’ll let myself be silent. I’ll seek to be free of turbulence, waves, or currents. I will listen to the absence of voices and absorb the hush.

God is in the hush.

 

100_4467The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

–1 Kings 19

 

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.

 

For all of it

My mom’s infamous bikini-clad turkey

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This year, we’ll celebrate it a little differently since we’ll be caring for a brand new baby and won’t be able to participate in family festivities. I’m hoping and praying that our families will feel sorry for us and deliver some of their delicious dishes to our doorstep :).

Regardless, we will have plenty to be thankful for–namely, our brand new baby girl who will undoubtedly change our lives.

A simple gratitude prayer has resonated within me the past few days. It seems that my husband and I have been bombarded with blessings, surprises, bad news, and challenges all at once. With our baby set to arrive any day now, we’ve been feeling overwhelmed, broken-hearted, and hopeful, all at the same time.

“God, thank You for all You’ve given me

For all You’ve taken away

and for all You’ve left me with.”

This prayer captures our lives right now–and really, it defines my life in general at any given moment. While most people tend to have an overabundance of things given, things taken away, or things left on any given day, sometimes the categories blur together. In fact, I find that my faith grows the most during blurry times when I simultaneously feel hopeful, desperate, and sorrowful.

In times when it seems He has taken away many things from me–or at least allowed things to be taken away from me–it’s easy for me to dwell on despair, depression, and grief. And while it’s healthy for me to spend some time grieving and even digging into pints of Ben & Jerry’s while watching old Humphrey Bogart movies accompanied by Kleenex, it’s not healthy for this season to last for too long. When I’ve lost the most significant things in my life–marriages, my role as a stepmom, my father to divorce and drugs, my innocence to rape at age 16, loved ones to death, and my own financial well-being–I’ve shamelessly participated in self-pitying-ice-cream-time on each occasion, in one form or another.

But I can’t stay there.

Because there are two other lines to the prayer. It’s not just about dwelling on the sad, pathetic things I’ve lost and throwing my own pity parties. It’s about recognizing and being grateful for all He’s given me–and after losing precious gifts, no matter the source of the loss or the identity of the taker–recognizing and being grateful for all He’s left me with.

Me and Beijing

Rather than spill my guts about one of the bigger losses in my life, I’ll share a story about my cats. I once adopted a kitten named Beijing. This kitten was seriously the most affectionate, infant-like kitten I’d ever known. He was neutered too early, and immaturity resulted, which is a common outcome when clinics don’t follow best practices for neutering. However, I accepted Beijing for the baby he was. He slept right next to my face. He nuzzled himself in fleece blankets and attempted to nurse corners of the blanket. He ate anything and everything (as his weight and size reflected). He played well with others and knew no strangers.

Unfortunately, his love for others might have led to his demise when he was attacked by some creature in the woods behind my house in 2009. Bleeding profusely, I wrapped him in his favorite blanket and drove maniacally to the after-hours vet clinic. After examining him, the vet concluded that his chances of survival–if he underwent surgery upwards of $4,000–would be about 15-20%. Not only did I lack the financial means to pay for said surgery, but I also knew that the odds were against him. I saw his pain and knew the best thing for him was to let him go. So I did.

I didn’t want to. He was a real source of joy and comfort to me. Losing him, and particularly losing him in the midst of my rapidly unraveling marriage, crushed me. I grieved his loss heavily for a few weeks. The feelings of sadness were never totally eradicated; I still feel pangs of grief and sorrow when I see pictures of him or when friends remind me of the funny things he used to do.

But I thank God for helping me to let Beijing go and to end his pain as quickly as possible. I don’t believe God killed my cat. I know that God’s in control, and He could have miraculously healed my cat, but for some reason, He didn’t. I don’t have to understand why; while my losses have been great in life, my gains have been greater.

Me and Tigger

In February, I awoke one morning to a tiny cry outside the back door. I still had two other outdoor cats, but I knew the cry was too tiny and too shrill to blame on either of them. I opened the back door in freezing temperatures to find a miniature tabby kitten hiding on the porch beneath objects. I brought him inside and fed him some milk and wondered how my then-boyfriend would react to this new addition to our family.

He loved him. This surprised me at first because he is not a cat lover; in fact, he has never enjoyed being around cats his entire life. But Tigger is different. From the moment I scooped him up into my arms, I recognized that there was an eerie resemblance between Tigger and Beijing. Physically, they resemble one another remarkably. But it’s more than that. Tigger is just as cuddly and playful and comical as Beijing was. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes when I realize that God might have given me Tigger to fill a hole left in my animal-loving heart after losing Beijing.

For everything that I’ve lost, there’s something greater and more beautiful I’ve gained, even if it takes time to see it.

How can I dwell on all He’s taken away when He’s given me and left me with so much?