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.

 

Treat yo’self

Bethany,

I gotta hand it to you this year. I’m really proud of you for following through on the decision you made last year at this time to “treat yo’self,” as Donna and Tom proclaim on one of my all-time favorite shows, Parks and Rec.

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You deserve to be treated well. After all, Mother’s Day and your birthday always fall within a few days on the calendar each year (if not on the same day). You’re a mom. And you inevitably grow one year older each year, unless you’re not reading this since you’ve already died (*crossing my fingers that’s not the case*).

Your husband is a great man who loves you, protects you, ensures your safety and well-being, and would literally take a bullet for you. Holidays, however, aren’t really his thing. You should have accepted this the very first Mother’s Day you celebrated together when you were pregnant, when at 9 p.m. he admitted to having completely forgotten about the holiday (and your birthday), with a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his handsome face. But you’re always hoping for the best and expecting better things might be around the corner; holidays are no different. Last year, three years after that first Mother’s Day you celebrated together, you threw a miniature pity party, yanked on your big girl panties, and made a list of four things you’d do every Mother’s Day/birthday henceforth.

Here’s why: expectations are premeditated resentments. If you sit around waiting for him to treat you in a certain manner, you’re going to grow to resent him if he doesn’t.

11836789_595568329992_4649913107534984823_nLife is too short to live that way. And why expect someone else to do for you what you can do for yourself? You know your worth—you’re the best mom you know. You bend over backward (sometimes literally) for your daughter on a daily basis. You make sacrifices in every area of life for her. You think of every moment as a teaching opportunity. You pray for her continually and seek to guide her in the best way you know how. You give her all the love she could ever want.

You’re rocking the mom thing.

Of course you should celebrate Mother’s Day.

And life? Don’t even get me started…

I think we’ve established that there are a myriad of reasons you need to treat yo’self. And here’s how.

  1. You shall bake your own cake.

This cake is for you. It is not a Mother’s Day cake to share with the other moms you love. You are to bake a cake you like (or pie, because sometimes pie is better than cake) and eat as much of that fattening, sugary piece of work as you darn well please. And you are not to make excuses for it, feel guilty about it, or allow other people to talk you out of it.

2. You shall go out to dinner or lunch on the day of your birthday.

You deserve good food, regardless of the price, and you deserve a break from both cooking and cleaning up from other people who do the cooking (which inevitably happens if your husband does the cooking, even if he’s trying to be nice).

3. You shall purchase a gift for yourself.

You have to purchase something just because you like it. Don’t buy something you need and call it a “birthday gift.” That doesn’t count. This is treat yo’self time, Mama! You don’t have to spend a certain amount of money; it’s about purchasing something that makes you feel appreciated and a little extra special.

4. You shall write yourself a kind note or buy yourself a card and send it to yourself in advance.

Say some kind words to yourself. Force yourself to dig deep and express gratitude to yourself in the same way an outsider might. If you can’t acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

I’m glad to see that as you write this blog post, you have a little dab of chocolate cake batter under your fingernails; this means you’ll be able to mark two of these items off your “treat yo’self” to-do list after today.

Remember: you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life. You better like you.

Happy Mother’s Day/birthday, my friend.

 

THIS is networking.

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

The interview process for my new job began 10 years ago.

My new boss, Steven Rothberg, President/Founder of College Recruiter, presented the keynote address at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers Conference in 2005. I’d just entered the world of higher education as Director of Career Development at my alma mater. At that conference, I met two people who later proved to be crucial in my career—my new boss, Steven, and my career mentor, Samantha Hartley.

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. :)

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. 🙂

While listening to Steven speak at the AACE Conference, I soaked up his enthusiasm and insight like a sponge. His passion for College Recruiter made quite an impression upon me. I became a fan of College Recruiter’s work.

True to my networking-is-all-about-genuine-relationships mantra, I kept in touch with Steven over the course of the past decade. When I learned he was the keynote speaker at the AACE Conference this June, I had to be there, even though my role as an English faculty member didn’t afford me the opportunity to participate in AACE any longer. Thankfully, many of the speakers and workshops pertained to curriculum, so I made a case for my attendance and was able to drive to northwest Arkansas for the day.

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

When I began teaching as a faculty member, I truly never planned on doing anything else. I felt I’d arrived. However, some switch flipped in me when I reconnected with Steven at the AACE Conference. Feeling inspired, I immediately came home and wrote a blog post, which Steven shared on Twitter. A few weeks later, he invited me to participate in a webinar with College Recruiter. The right doors kept opening, and I kept walking through them. I had a gut feeling that if I were ever to do anything other than teach, working for College Recruiter would be my dream job. What would that look like? What exactly could I do for them? I had no idea. I just prayed for God to work things out as He saw fit.

At the beginning of August, I saw opportunities for improvement in content on College Recruiter’s website. I felt torn about whether to mention this to Steven, though, since he was my “ideal boss.” My career mentor asked me if my ideal boss would be offended by my suggestions for improvement.

“I guess not.”

“Well, there’s your answer.”

So I emailed him. Several emails and phone calls later, Steven and his wife Faith, CEO of College Recruiter, offered me the position of content manager.

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

This morning, as I drank coffee on my back porch to the sound of a few chilly birds chirping in the distance, I realized that still, soft forest would be my vantage point every single day. In January, I’ll be exchanging my office on campus for my office at home, which is currently being constructed and greets the sunrise.

I won’t go on and on about the variety of ways my new employer rocks. I won’t tell you about how funny Steven and Faith are.. I won’t yack about how amazed I am each time they remind me how important it is to maintain balance and prioritize my family. I won’t brag about the flexibility, the support, or the leadership… okay, maybe I will… just a little bit.

This process has proven these three things to be true.

  • Networking pays off.
  • When in doubt, listen to mentors.
  • English majors can do much more than teach, and earn a great living, too.

Although I do not practice the Jewish faith, I did find it cathartic to give my official “I’m leaving” notice today, the day after Rosh Hashanah began. I have a feeling this will be a particularly good and sweet new year. Shana tovah u’metukah, my friends.

I can’t wait to get started.

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.

Quantifiable

Quantifiable     

Love is certainly
not
girl’s best friend, glitter pawned
for tears
post-divorce.

It is not awkward
silence
holding its breath between
us, heavier than the other
shoe suspended above
me, ever threatening
to fall.

It isn’t laying my body down
for the sake of relationship
a live carcass
my soul featured as missing–
plastered on cardboard milk cartons and
glanced at during morning coffee
then forgotten.

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Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

But
love is

In the six hundred seventy two swings
of your axe, wood split
to stoke our stove
to kindle flames
into fires
inside our walls.

In the forty five thousand nine hundred
minutes spent smoothing
my only flesh
and blood’s auburn curls
while nursing her, singing dimly lit
tunes from Methodist hymnals.

In the three-pound
catfish, wriggling and flailing
its way to your parents’
house. In the smile you
kept while I showed
my prize-willing catch
to your dad, never deflating
my big-fish ego.

Our love is not
effortless.

By Bethany Wallace, 2015

                                                           

Channeling Ginger Rogers

I’ve read the Christmas story in the book of Matthew at least a dozen times—too many times, maybe. I mumble along with the verses, chanting a Biblical “yada yada yada.” My eyes normally become glassy as I gloss over the familiar words.

But this morning was different. It seems that not only had I glossed over the words, but I’d also missed part of the meaning. My memory recounted God warning Joseph in a dream about Herod’s ill intentions, and my memory recalled God—once again in a dream—giving Joseph the “all clear” to return to Nazareth. But this morning I picked up on verse 22 for the first time. I read about God speaking to Joseph once more in a dream—this time to say “never mind.”

How had I missed that third dream message?

Did God change His mind? Did He make a mistake the first time and had to correct Himself? Was this a case of human will interrupting God’s plans? Did Joseph’s fear cause him to misinterpret God’s will?

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I am not sure I would have heeded God’s warning that third time—I might have ignored him the first two times, too. I’m one of those stubborn souls who has to learn things the hard way—by trial and error and experience. The benefit of learning through my own experiences is that the lessons stick. I know what happens when I don’t yield to God, and I know what happens when I do. I like to think of my relationship with God—my life, really—as a dance between me and God.

TopHatFredAstaireGingerRogersI’ve been on an old movie kick lately—probably due to the classic Christmas movies playing repeatedly on Turner Classic Movies channel. Watching Fred Astaire dance alone is art in motion. I’m convinced that no other tap dancer will ever match Astaire’s level of skill, ease of movement, or natural rhythm. But watching Astaire partner with great female dancers is even more of a treat because he leads them so subtly, so gently that the leading isn’t even noticeable.

In my own life, my dance with God has had its graceful moments and its embarrassing moments, too, when my two left feet take over. When I don’t feel like holding His hand and following His lead, He behaves like a true gentleman and steps aside, allowing me to twirl and spin out of control and go in whatever direction I desire.

Joseph’s dance with God seems a little more graceful than mine. Joseph listened to God and paid attention to his dreams, which God used to speak to Him. But throwing plans to the wind and changing directions—literally, in Joseph’s case—wasn’t a small decision. Two other people were affected—Mary and Jesus (and maybe more children, who knows).

I wonder if Mary recognized how lucky she was to have Joseph by her side. When Mary became pregnant, Joseph listened to God and never left her side. Joseph led their little family through a few years of nomadic existence, fleeing danger and eking out a living in foreign lands. Even though each of his decisions might have incited cynicism, sneering, or rejection by others, Joseph stayed close to God and moved only when God moved.

Mary’s not the only lucky dame in the world. I’m lucky to have my husband, James, too. His life dance with God is a little less frenetic than mine. There have been fewer highs and fewer lows. He’s a bit of a rock. He isn’t the most vocal, outwardly pious person in the world (thank God). He doesn’t let fear dissuade him, and he doesn’t allow input from outsiders to change his mind, but he listens to God—and then he moves. For four years, I’ve been praying Psalm 1 for my husband—that he would be like a tree planted by the water, with roots going deep, deep to the core of God so that he would be strong and secure.

He is.

_DSC1797He’s rooted in God, but he’s not afraid to let God uproot him any time he pleases, and he lets God shine light onto the path in front of him, highlighting only one step at a time. When it comes to God and James, God is Astaire, and James is Ginger Rogers (minus the beautiful curly hair and flowing evening gown, of course).

It’s a beautiful effect—God leading Joseph, and Joseph leading his family. God leading my husband, and my husband leading our family. God as the choreographer, guiding us through the steps and creating beauty in motion.

And all I have to do is dance.

Remembering love

In my past, when experiencing the sorrow and grief accompanying loss of relationships, I typically spent at least a week in what I call the “eating a gallon of ice cream straight from the bucket” stage. I was in one of those phases when my friend Tony invited me to his birthday party. He’d recently proposed to his girlfriend as well, so his party was a combination birthday/engagement celebration. I couldn’t and didn’t want to miss it.

But I also really just wanted to sit at home, cuddle my cats while wearing pajamas, and feel sorry for myself. Thankfully, by that point in my life, I’d come to believe that pity parties aren’t fun for anyone, even the hostess, so I decided to suck it up and attend Tony’s party in spite of my grumpy disposition.

Sitting next to Tony while sipping a blueberry mojito, I watched my long-lost friend Joey and his wife walk in the door, followed by a tall, gray-haired, handsome man in shorts and flip-flops. The light literally surrounded his silhouette as he approached the bar and stuck his hand out—I kid you not.

“Bethany Klonowski!”

Our first photo together a few weeks after meeting, with the friends who introduced us.

Our first photo together a few weeks after meeting, with the friends who introduced us.

I had to ask Tony for help in identifying this handsome man who apparently already knew me. I was flattered and flabbergasted. I’d really intended on just attending the party, half-heartedly drinking with my friends, and heading home to crawl sadly back into bed with my cats. I had not expected to meet a hunka hunka burnin love.

But I did.

That was three years ago. This morning after making French toast for breakfast, I watched my husband and baby playing together on the front porch, a slow, quiet rain falling down around us.

Life isn’t perfect for us, but thank God for the perfect moments. It’s so easy to take the best things in my life for granted. It’s tempting to seek more—only to find that when I’m on the other side, I wish to climb back over the fence. It’s hard to stoke the fires of romance amidst teething toys, short naps, and abundant exhaustion. It’s tiring to keep trying to connect when the hubbub of the world buzzes in my ear, a distracting din.

In the difficult, strenuous moments of our relationship, I remember the words of Christ in Revelation.

“Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love. Go back and do the things you once did.”

Our family, three years later

Our family, three years later

Christ may not have been addressing me or referring to my marriage, but these words still impact me as I reflect on the past three years. I will never forget my love, no matter what kind of problems and losses and stressors permeate our lives and fuzzy my focus. I will never stop looking at him the same way I did when he walked into that restaurant, with silent hallelujahs reverberating in my heart. I will never stop thanking God for the best gift He’s ever given me, surprising me with the man of my dreams as I trudged off to celebrate someone else’s joy in the midst of my misery. I will never allow myself to stop caring for and serving him, the same way he cared for me the night we met, rubbing my aching shoulders and piling my plate with hors d’oeuvres.  I will never let go of my husband’s hand , no matter where life leads us.

We’ll be together.

In love.