Word of the year 2016

I have a confession to make, and as a graduate of a liberal arts university (with a minor in religion and philosophy), this is truly crawl-under-a-rock worthy. I made a classic Christian mistake. I interpreted a passage of Scripture (Nehemiah 8:10) a) entirely out of context and b) in light of—wait for it—a contemporary Christian worship song rather than the context of the passage itself, the Jewish culture, or anything else reasonable or helpful.

OneDay 2000

At OneDay 2000 (and yes, those are scrubs I’m wearing)

The embarrassing fact is this happened some time in college, and I’ve been running on the fumes of my lazy interpretation ever since. Has it caused me any major harm? Has it harmed others? Not necessarily.

At least one good thing came this Scriptural interpretation error for about 18 years. It opened my eyes to the truth that I’ve probably made similar errors numerous other times in my walk of faith over the years (incredibly humbling). Yikes—gotta keep my mental antennae up now every time I read the Bible for sure. What the heck was wrong with me? Were my emotions leading my brain or what? Who knows.

Here’s the problem.

I missed so much goodness by failing to see the big picture.

Each year since 2011, thanks to the prompting of my friend Denise Felton, I select a word as my focus or theme rather than making resolutions or setting specific goals. This helps me to stay centered and gives me something positive to meditate on; the appeal of choosing a word of the year also appeals to me since I’m a writer and have degrees in English—word nerd to the max, for sure.

This year, I felt compelled to focus on the word joy. If you read my previous blog post, you probably understand why. 2015 presented many challenges, and if I had to select a word in retrospect to represent my emotional state of being in 2015, it would likely be grief.

Who wouldn’t like a little relief from THAT? Joy hot fudge cake sundae with a little extra joy on top, please. And joyful cherry, too.002

I began researching joy and its word origins, reading articles online about the differences between happiness and joy, searching for quotes online and famous folks defining “joy,” and reading Scriptural passages about joy. All of this reading and research was helpful, but what stunned me—and quite frankly moved me to tears—was Nehemiah chapter 8. I knew I’d love verse 10 because, as I mentioned, I already felt attached to this verse because I’d belted out Matt Redman’s “Trading My Sorrows (Yes Lord)” more times than I can recall.

And I meant it—well, I meant that I WANTED the joy of the Lord to be my strength. Until the past few years, I didn’t even know how to allow God to be God in my life—I was my own god, managing and controlling and answering all my own questions and only turning to the real God as a last resort. So the whole “Trading My Sorrows” song and saying “Yes, yes Lord” thing was, at best, me paying desperate lip service to a noble concept I wanted to apply but simply couldn’t.

I recently purchased Sara Groves’ new album. The title track is Floodplain. I understand the song so well; the first time I listened to it, I gasped. She was describing the former Bethany.

Some hearts are built on a floodplain
Keeping one eye on the sky for rain
You work for the ground that gets washed away
When you live closer

Closer to the life and the ebb and flow
Closer to the edge of I don’t know
Closer to that’s the way it goes
Some hearts are built on a floodplain

And it’s easy to sigh on a high bluff
Look down and ask when you’ve had enough
Will you have the sense to come on up
Or will you stay closer

Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees
Some hearts live here

Oh the river it rushes to madness
And the water it spreads like sadness
And there’s no high ground
And there’s no high ground
Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees

Closer to the life and the ebb and flow
Closer to the edge of I don’t know
Closer to Lord please send a boat
Some hearts are built here

What happened to move me off the Floodplain is similar to what happened for God’s people, the Israelites, in Nehemiah chapter 8–God ultimately comes in for the win and fills them with more joy than they’d ever imagined. If I had taken time to read this chapter for myself slooowwwllyyy rather than rushing through it, latching on to the portion of the verse mentioned in the catchy Christian worship song all the cool kids were singing at the time, maybe I would have taken note of this as an 18 year-old kid… But maybe not. As Sara Groves states, “Some hearts are built here.” Mine certainly was.

Nehemiah, a servant of God who was serving as governor on behalf of King Xerxes, felt led to lead the Israelites who’d returned to Jerusalem out of exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He appealed to Xerxes, who granted him permission to oversee this task, and over a period of several months, Nehemiah worked tirelessly to make it happen but not without encountering numerous naysayers, some of whom threatened his life and tried to attack Jerusalem. While reading Nehemiah today, I felt exhausted at times—so I’m pretty sure he must have felt this way, too. There were times when the men did not even disrobe and disarm while sleeping for fear of being attacked at night. All this occurred while the people worked non-stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

When the Jewish people finally finished rebuilding the walls, Ezra, the priest, gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law. The people listened attentively, and Nehemiah and the priests said to the people, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law… “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated like this. And their joy was very great.  (Nehemiah 8:9-10, 17)

I never knew the back story—that the priests commanded the people to stop grieving and to find strength in the Lord via the avenue of joy that day.

And the back story goes WAAAYY back. These people returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to other nations, enslaved to nations and forced into God-knows-what kind of bondage. Many of their babies died from starvation before having a chance at life. I could go on and on. I’m not making this stuff up—read the books of the prophets in the Old Testament—it’s all there, and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people are horrific.

These people—the ones having difficulty holding back tears while the Book of the Law is being read for the first time after the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt—these people are the survivors. But the priests see the big picture, and while they empathize with the mourning of the survivors, they also want to help the survivors thrive and move forward. They don’t want the people’s spiritual feet to remain stuck in the muck of grief. They want them to move into the clear, clean dry land of joy.021

This story—the story of the completion of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah chapter 8—occurred in the seventh month on the Jewish calendar during the Feast of Trumpets. This is the Jewish New Year.

It’s my New Year now.

This story resonates with me because it’s a beautiful depiction of what God has done for me, and it’s what I’m asking Him to do for me again.

After a long, hard year in 2015, I certainly relate to the overwhelming feelings expressed by the Israelites in Nehemiah. Like the people of Jerusalem, I am ready to celebrate like I have never celebrated before in 2016. I want to say at the end of this year, “And my joy was very great.”

As the wise king Solomon once said, there certainly is a season and time for everything. And there has been enough grief.

Excuse me, please. I must go heed the words of Nehemiah 8:12.

“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

I know, I know… I’m taking the words out of context again… but for the love of chocolate…

 

Word of the year 2015

“Blessings fill your life.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have ruminated on this statement—which I perceive to be a truth given to me by God, not four short words typed on an index card and handed to me coincidentally by a random woman at a conference in October during a group meditation—for two months. I posted the card on my bulletin board in my bathroom, where all good quotes, verses, and cards wind up in my home; isn’t it where all mothers of toddlers spend their most reflective, quiet, serene, and precious moments during the day?

For the past two months—from the time I received the card through the remaining days of 2014—I assumed that God gave me this truth as my “thought for the conference,” which always evolves into something like my thought for the year, to help me stay focused on my blessings, or to keep my attitude in check and to help me focus on gratitude, a practice I hold dear.

“Blessings fill your life.”

I also had the fleeting thought—fleeting because my fall semester was so fraught with activity, mostly thanks to my stressful work schedule as a full-time English instructor—that perhaps this was a great reminder of a conversation I had with a young lady I mentor. This young woman recently graduated from college and embarked upon a career teaching high school this fall. We discussed her need to manage her time well, the need to carefully choose which meetings to attend, and which social activities to continue to participate in and which to discontinue.

“How do you do it, taking care of a toddler and teaching college and all that?” She asked in an exasperated tone.

“I say no. I say no a lot, and I don’t feel bad about it. I have just realized that I have a very full plate, and I only keep things on my plate which I enjoy, if I can help it.” I responded, without giving it much thought.

“Duuuuude.” She contemplated what I’d said, and we talked about the value of being picky about investing oneself in people, activities, organizations, and in anything that requires time. I told her that for me, I consider time my most valuable commodity because time is something I can never get back.

Looking back today, January 5, 2015, on that very conversation, I recognize my need to heed the wisdom from my own words five or six months ago.

Heading to work for the first time this fall, August 2014

Heading to work for the first time this fall, August 2014

I fiercely guard my time and schedule related to work and my life outside of the four walls of my home. For example, during the fall semester (my first semester teaching full-time as a college instructor), I carried an incredibly heavy load of courses. When it came time to submit scheduling preferences for the spring semester, I vowed one thing to myself: I would make more time for Maggie and for my husband, and I would never again burden myself with such a heavy grading load, either. One of the reasons I decided to pursue a career teaching college was the flexible schedule, which appealed to my desire to spend time with my family.

Many years ago, when I was much more motivated by external factors like money, power, and prestige, I would have been willing to work extra hours, take on extra projects, and do whatever it might take to impress every person on campus, even if it meant sacrificing time spent with loved ones. I’m simply not that person now. I love life, and nothing matters more to me than investing in my own life and in the people who matter most to me.

Thankfully, I work for an institution and supervisor who truly understand and appreciate that work-life balance. I can give my best to my students but still make plenty of time to give my best to my family, too. This spring, I am giddy about the schedule I have set for myself; I will actually spend my days off at home rather than at my computer in my office, endlessly grading essay after essay or speech after speech, relying desperately on my beautiful little blue Keurig for sustenance and support.

I have no problem saying no to appeals for my participation in social activities or non-profit organizations. I used to feel obligated to say yes to everyone who asked me to serve on a committee or board, to help organize a fundraiser, or to offer assistance planning an event. I love the camaraderie of working with volunteers. I enjoy helping others and the satisfaction of seeing events and projects completed. And let’s face it—I am an egomaniac. I love the recognition I receive when I do well and hear rounds of applause as a result.

But I have moved beyond that phase in my life, for the most part. I still write checks when God nudges me to support a cause. I volunteer for just two organizations—one is my church, and the other is an organization I will remain committed to for the rest of my life. I have come to understand that for me, there is more value in devoting myself in a full-fledged manner to this one organization than in volunteering a little for this and a little for that, spreading myself so thin that I never do any one thing very well or make any long-term lasting impact.

“Blessings fill your life.”

Our family, November 2014

Our family, November 2014

My plate is full. God has blessed me with a career that has exceeded my expectations. I didn’t even ask for it all, and I got it. God has blessed me with fulfillment in my friendships and mentoring relationships and commitments outside my job and family, too. And God has obviously blessed me with a beautiful daughter and great husband. And then there’s God Himself. If you read my blog regularly, you understand that God and I have a good thing going, contingent on the daily maintenance of my spiritual condition—no problems there.

As I approached New Year’s Eve, I began asking God for my focus for 2015 and praying for God to give me a word to focus on for 2015. He was silent. I hoped that some brilliant word would leap from the pages of one of the books I read during my morning quiet time. Nope. Silence.  I asked for prayer from two of my friends who regularly pray for me. I prayed for myself. Still nothing.

Then finally, on the morning of January 1, before my eyes opened, I awoke with words running through my mind. I don’t remember the exact words, of course, because it was 6 a.m., and I hadn’t even consumed coffee yet, but in the midst of the mental madness, I recall something to the tune of “Keep it simple.”

That’s it, God? Keep it simple? Are you sure?

Ever a doubting Thomas, I asked God to confirm this revelation to me in the Bible by playing Russian roulette with verses. I flipped open the Bible to various pages and read random verses. This rarely works for me, and it didn’t this time either. It was as if God were shaking his head and responding, “Really, Bethany?”

I sighed and picked up the two books I’d decided to read during my morning quiet time of reading, prayer, and meditation in 2015. At the end of the first section of the first book was the word “simplicity.” The whole passage’s concept was regarding unity or clarity of purpose. Hmmm.

I picked up the second book. On the opening page, a verse was featured in the center of the page, all alone. In the verse was the word “simple.” I read the introduction to the book. At the end of the introduction was an admonition. “We have found that this simple prayer helps.”

Okay. I’m with You. Thank You.

Some of us need gaping wounds to reach into before we’re willing to move forward. I’m one of those. God knows that about me.

“Blessings fill your life.”

Simple.

Oh. So this is the problem. Not until today did I make the connection between these two pieces of the spiritual puzzle that God asked me to play with Him. I couldn’t see the side of the puzzle with a picture—just cardboard.

See, I understand how to say no to outside requests for my time. I understand how to manage my work schedule pretty well and how to set boundaries and how to choose when working in my office makes more sense than working from home.

But the moment I walk in the door of the four walls of our small 110 year-old house, the full plate concept, the saying no to more activity, the keeping it simple idea, and being still notion all become much more difficult. Sure, Maggie has something to do with that. Managing a two year-old is impossible, really; accepting the impossible nature of the task is the closest I come to sanity, actually.

But it’s more than that. The problem lies within me.

One example of why moms of toddlers must embrace chaos

One example of why moms of toddlers must embrace chaos

When I am here, I feel incessantly driven to tame the clutter beast, to clean the messy spills and disinfect the germs, and to organize the tiny space that is our house. I feel driven to spend my time doing these things—and these things are distractions from the main thing: Maggie. Maggie is not concerned with piles of books, laundry, dishes, or tools. She merely wants attention. She wants to play. She wants our presence. When we’re here, particularly when we are all three together, she wants all of us to be together. As she has grown in awareness over the past six months in particular, she is no longer satisfied with being cared for by one parent while the other one cleans or does chores around the house. She wants all of our love all the time. Of course, this isn’t always realistic. Somebody has to clean up after dinner, and someone has to take the laundry out of the dryer, and someone has to scrub the toilet at least once in a while. But most of the time, Maggie prefers that we hang out with her.

I know that investing in Maggie is the best use of my time, of course, because she is our only one. She’s it—I don’t want more children, and as I am already aware, I cannot regain moments with her. I may regret many choices I have made in life, but I do not regret any time I have spent with Maggie. But as cognizant as I am of this truth, I still struggle with my obsession to tame the clutter beast in our home. I want less clutter. I want more space. I want more bins and tubs for storing things. If only we could add on two more rooms… if only he could pick up this and that… if only I could figure out how to actually utilize those 32 tips for small spaces instead of just thinking they sound like great ideas… Sigh.

When I find myself in this stressful place, I realize that I am creating my own internal chaos. I am not accepting my life just as it is for today, and I am not recognizing that blessings fill my life. My perspective is skewed. I’m not seeing that my plate is full—I’m just throwing more unnecessary, calorie-laden, tasteless junk food on top.

And I’m certainly not keeping it simple. I’m complicating things, externally and internally. I am a total sucker when it comes to managing and controlling the space within these four walls. Do I just desire qi, and need to study feng shui, because I grew up in a home that was cluttered?

Who knows, and who cares? I have learned that contemplating why is mostly a waste of time for me. The bottom line is that I’m creating the problem here, so I need to do something about it. I will take actions and leave the worrying about why to someone with more time on their hands—to someone without a toddler.

This year, I’ll try to walk in the door after a long day’s work and keep it simple, no matter how many mustard-coated plates fill the sink—to focus on the fact that blessings fill my life, every part of my beautiful life, and that I can simply choose to seek the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

No fireworks

On the most memorable Independence Day of my life, there were no fireworks.

DSCN2680Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember glancing across the horizon, over hills and pastures in the Oklahoma prairie, and seeing traces of a firework show in the distance as tears and sweat mingled on my cheeks. I stood alone in a field on an American Indian Reservation, having spent the day helping my fellow volunteers nail shingles and paint rails and complete other tasks to help a growing congregation build a new place of worship.

I was a total phony. I’d been raised in church all my life. I memorized the books of the Bible at age six and had the bookmark to prove it. I led prayers and events for my youth group regularly, but all of the Scriptural knowledge I’d acquired had mostly remained stuck in my head; the bulk of it had not made its way into my heart.

When my life took a tragic turn, I didn’t know how to marry my religious beliefs with reality. I smoked pot, wrote in my journals, and listened to sad, pathetic music instead. This got me through the roughest year of my life, but it didn’t bring me true peace. So on Independence Day, after the longest and most painful and loneliest year of my life, I stood alone in that field, and said the most desperate prayer of my life.

“God, if you can give me real peace, please do it.”

???????????????????????????????And He did. He didn’t need to display Himself with any fancy colors, loud kabooms, or expensive displays. He just moved all of those meaningless words that were stuck in my head down the ladder of abstraction deep into my soul in one fell swoop.

They settled there heavily. I felt full. I felt peace.

That’s a freedom that I’ll carry with me forever.

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.

Benign

Trying out my baby's puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

Trying out my baby’s puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

“Will you make me some flan?”

I scribbled this barely legible note with my left hand while nursing my daughter a few hours after having my tongue biopsied.

“Flan?” My husband looked at my curiously.

“Oh. Custard. I have no idea why I wrote ‘flan.’ We’ve never made flan.” Apparently the nitrous oxide had a longer lasting effect than I’d realized, and I’d mentally tripped into the tasty world of the Food Network.

Banned from talking for a few days, aside from mambo-jumbo baby talk with my daughter, which mostly consisted of echoing her adorable noises, I found myself in quite a predicament.

Silence is no stranger to me. I’ve learned to be quiet and still and meditate on Scripture, particularly in the mornings. I love writing, and for me, writing requires complete silence and total concentration. I’m surprisingly introverted, and I relish the lack of shallow conversation and the peaceful sound of all things at rest. I once spent an entire year without watching television or movies in my own home, partly due to budgetary necessity, and didn’t miss the din one bit.

But in my younger days, particularly prior to much spiritual reflection, step-taking in my recovery program, and relational maturation, I used silence as a weapon.

“Silence is often the loudest voice.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes. Yet, like all things, silence can be used benevolently or maliciously. I mastered the silent treatment. I pity former partners and family members who witnessed my silent-treatment skills. You might cross me, lie to me, steal from me, cheat on me, or verbally abuse me, but by golly, you would suffer as a result. I withheld myself. For days, sometimes weeks.

Silence has served me well as a means to closer communion with Christ. And it served me all too well as a survival skill and crutch, a tool by which I slowly destroyed relationships and tore away layers of others’ self-esteem. Since I no longer allow myself to wallow in self-pity for any length of time, and since I do my best to avoid the passive-aggressive tendency to resort to the silent treatment in times of relational turmoil, the prescription to be silent due to my biopsy felt like a prison sentence.

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Although we live in a fairly isolated area, lovingly referred to as “The Sticks,” I relish every opportunity to communicate with my two favorite people, both of whom happen to reside in our home. We talk about everything. Well, my husband and I talk about everything. My daughter listens, I think, and attempts to respond by smiling, frowning, and creating a cacophony of amusing sounds.

Communication is the artery that keeps the soul of our family alive. If we stop communicating, which presents itself mostly in the form of verbalizing our thoughts and feelings, we cut off the flow of love and joy and laughter between us. Scribbling notes served its purpose for a few days, but it wasn’t the same as immediately sharing a joke or insight. Humming lullabies and hymns to my daughter pacified her need to hear my voice to some extent, but the puzzled look on her face spoke volumes to me.

Thankfully, the results of my biopsy were benign. My tongue has mostly healed, and I’m able to sing, chat, and pray aloud again painlessly.

I’m thankful, though, for the temporary hole in my tongue and for the silent treatment imposed upon me. Sometimes, you must lose a thing before you can fully realize its significant place in your life. Words are not simply words. They’re the glue holding the three of us together. I’m determined to choose mine wisely, to speak softly, and let nothing clog up the lifeline between us.

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

 

How do you know me?

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Me in 2010, about halfway into my 1,000 days of gratitude lists

About a year ago, I decided to create a second blog, Your Daily Dose of Gratitude. I’d already been writing daily gratitude lists for over 1,000 days in a row. Since this exercise had impacted me so positively, improving my outlook on life and my attitude towards others, I decided that sharing thoughts on the topic with others might do the same for them.

As I posted Henry Petty‘s guest blog posts on my gratitude blog, the past few days, I began reflecting on how I know him. We met in college, and I was immediately drawn to his chipper attitude about life. He did not have an easy life. Yet he seemed to always keep a smile on his face. He walked to work, and instead of whining about it, he just expressed gratitude when folks offered him rides.

Then I began thinking about the other guest contributors to this blog and how I came to know each of them.

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy was one of my professors in college and now serves as a sort of writing mentor. I took a children’s literature course from her as an English elective my senior year. I didn’t expect to discover a love for a genre of literature I’d largely overlooked. But her passion for the subject matter and the warm, interactive, and exciting way she managed the classroom discussions sparked a real interest in children’s literature inside me. I began collecting children’s books, and when I became pregnant with my daughter, I already had accumulated quite an awesome collection.

My friend Linda Unger, another guest contributor, is an accomplished photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and also happens to be hilarious. I met her at a women’s conference about five years ago and found her enthusiasm for life to be contagious. She once spoke at that same conference and shared her life’s story and details about her spiritual journey. I will never forget the way she described how she came to know God; it resonated within me.

I met my friend Oona Love, another guest contributor, at a concert at Cornerstone Pub in North Little Rock, Arkansas, when she opened the show for my close friend, Cindy Woolf. Oona’s cover of a fabulous Fiona Apple song made me belly laugh non-stop for three minutes, and at that time in my life, I needed all the laughter I could get. Since then, I’ve come to know her a little better and respect her gentle, accepting way of loving others despite their differences.

My friend Erin Jennings, another guest contributor, once briefly dated a friend of my husband’s. While their dating relationship lasted only a short while, our friendship continued, and she became a very close friend and confidante. I’ve watched her as she has found the love of her life and expanded her family from three to six and do so with grace and ease.

Three of my guest contributors are brand new friends whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in person. I met two of them, Toinette Thomas and Mary Agrusa, through groups for Christian bloggers on linkedin.com. I met Sarah Klesko, a fellow blogger, by following her blog and finding her posts inspirational. Thankfully, all three of these talented writers were willing to share their musings with me, too.

Guest contributor Amy Driskill went to college with me back in the day. She’s one of many people I’ve reconnected with via Facebook. Since reconnecting, we’ve learned things about each other’s lives that we certainly didn’t know in college, and it’s bonded us as friends.

Shelli White, a guest contributor, was a college student at my alma mater when I worked there as an academic coordinator for an Upward Bound program. Shelli worked as a tutor for us and used her math whiz kid skills to assist struggling high school students. Since then, her life has evolved, and she’s become a spiritually vibrant woman raising an adorable little boy.

One of my college suite mates, Zeda Paysinger-Wilkerson, served as a guest contributor once as well. Zeda and I were lab partners our freshman year of college. I vividly remember recanting our romantic tales to one another and giggling over the details. Zeda and I have remained close friends since then, even working together once at the same institution. She always reminds me that life is what you make of it.

I finally talked my former co-worker Jonathan Weigt into writing for my blog and am so glad he did. Jonathan worked with me through some pretty tough times in my life and has perhaps seen me at my worst; I’m really glad he now knows me at my best. His non-traditional take on spirituality and his sincere questioning of life’s most important questions challenge me. It also reminds me that even the most hilarious person (he’s quite funny) has a deeper side, whether it’s visible or not.

My nephew Jake (AKA Walter Pitts) agreed to write for my blog after his recent wild adventure in Eastern Europe. Jake’s on an extraordinarily fearless journey of faith. Having known him since he was just five years old, it’s been awesome to see how God has used each of his personality quirks and special gifts to serve others and make the world a better place.

I once had the honor of working with Debra Dickey-Liang. She served as the administrative assistant in my department, and she excelled at her job. She was dependable, loyal, trustworthy, and dignified. She still is, and seven years after working with her, I am delighted to consider her one of my closest friends. Despite the differences in our ages, we’ve found common ground in what matters. When she agreed to write posts for my gratitude blog, I discovered her hidden gift for writing and was thrilled to share it with the world via WordPress.

Then there’s my forever friend Mark Egan, who I first met when I was five years old. I watched him climb trees and emulated his skills. He taught me to shoot a gun for the first time (and didn’t get mad when I almost shot God-knows-what instead of the targets). He agreed to write for my blog after sending me some personal writing to proofread for him. I convinced him that he had underestimated his writing abilities so he agreed to allow me to share his piece with others. He will always be “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

As I contemplated on how I know each of these guest writers, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the other God-with-skin-on people who have walked with me through valleys, helped me climb over obstacles, and rejoiced with me as we enjoyed the view from the top.

With so much love in my life, having been surrounded by such diverse, beautiful, and invaluable people, I can’t help but believe that what Eckhart said is true:

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”