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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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? 🙂 

2014 gift list

Over seven years ago, I started a painful journey toward becoming myself.

217491_505060962482_4965_nLately I have been contemplating some things I’ve learned since beginning this journey in 2007. So, in truth, my gift list this year is a compilation of lessons I’ve learned over the past seven and a half years but maybe only fully realized within the past year.

I consider these lessons learned to be great gifts I received from mentors in my life who are on the same journey. I get to place my feet in their footsteps, to ask them for help when I stumble, and to humble myself and ask for prayer when my own prayers seem insufficient and when my own faith feels feeble.

I have learned to be honest.

I haven’t always had the capacity to be fully honest with others, not even with God. I tried, rest assured, but I somehow seemed to come up short. As Sara Groves says, “Only the truth and truthfulness can save us.”

My inability to share my secrets kept me sick—really spiritually sick—for years. I was only hurting myself, but I couldn’t even see this realistically. I thought I was protecting people I loved from painful truths, in some cases, and in other situations, I thought I was sheltering the image of Christ or Christianity from being tarnished because of my sins and awful mistakes. The truth is that I was incredibly egotistical and unable to come clean with even myself regarding reality.

Bethany Dana 5 28 14Thankfully, because of the journey I began in 2007 and the mentors who’ve guided me every step of the way, I don’t live this way today. I live an honest life, even in the moments when it’s still hard today. I find people I trust to spill my guts to, and though they are few and far between, I do have people I trust with all of me today. I am who I am, and I make no bones about it, for better or worse. I work every day to keep a clean slate between myself and God, and as my main mentor says, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters what you and God know.”

I have learned to be faithful and consistent.

This ties in with learning to be honest for me, and this was a hard lesson to learn in multiple areas of my life. Fidelity is a valuable commodity in a fast food world. Until very recently, I didn’t even understand that for many years, I was afraid of being alone, and because of that fear, I replaced people, jobs, and even cities and homes at an alarming pace.

Last year, my self-selected word for the year was “still.” Part of my focus for the year, related to the concept of being still, was to practice spending more time in reflection and meditation with God—ultimately, to wake up earlier and to spend more time in the morning in prayer, meditation, and reading. I reset my alarm for 5 a.m. and began to up my coffee intake. This helped offset the lack of sleep. Becoming more consistent and faithful regarding my time with God led to numerous positive outcomes, too many to write about in one measly paragraph, but one of these is that I began to understand that if I showed up morning after morning, God was always going to be there waiting on me.

During all of the years when I had replaced people, jobs, cities, and homes repeatedly and quickly due to fear of being alone and fear of being unwanted, God had been there all along, waiting and wanting me. As Jennifer Knapp reminds me, “You’re the only One who’s faithful to me.” I know, I know… but I didn’t KNOW.

I hadn’t been willing to slow down long enough to look and listen—not long enough to let it sink in deeply enough to change the patterns of my behavior. Until my personal journey to becoming the real Bethany helped me see the truth about this matter, I just had to keep doing what I was doing for a little while longer.

I have learned that I have more to learn than I have to teach.

Kaleb and Mrs. WallaceI’ve learned this truth in the context of my personal life as a mentor of other women and in the context of my professional life as a college English instructor. This year, I had the privilege to teach approximately 230 students, both in the traditional classroom and online. Sure, I helped them to meet learning objectives, to improve their listening skills, to become better public speakers, to learn to write personal narrative essays, to compose their first research papers in MLA format, and to do all sorts of academic projects in class. I hope I helped them to accomplish much more than that, though.

As Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Having finished my first semester as a full-time instructor, I am thankful that I can say with a clear conscience that I did my absolute best to ensure my students learned well—not just about writing and speaking, but also about living.

I know one thing for certain—I learned at least 230 unique and beautiful lessons in 2014, and I’m grateful for each one of them.

The best part of the journey I’m on to becoming myself is that it has no end. There’s no graduation ceremony, no “I have arrived” moment. I get to keep growing as long as I’m breathing, because as long as I’m breathing, there’s hope.

“His mercies are new every morning—great is His faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:23

The real world

ImageSomeday, your father will
build me a sunroom
with his hands.

His sweat steadily
dripping, devoted to crafting
contentment in my soul.

And when the screens
keep the flies from filling
our minds with swarming,
buzzing reminders,

the three of us
will sit and sip
sweet tea together there.

And in the cool, quiet,
aqua dusk of summertime,
we will drift away

and sleep there,
the rhythm of cicadas
rocking away everything
but the world,

the real one,
the one God made
for the three of us.

How about a round of applause?

???????????????????????????????Last night, I had a more-trying-than-usual time lulling my baby into slumber. I nursed her. I changed her diaper. I needlessly lotioned her silky skin. I sang my entire repertoire of lullabies. I rocked her. Then I nursed her again. And changed her again. And put a different outfit on her little limbs.

And finally, after a few hours, she submitted to the beckoning sheep who begged to be counted, left her best friend (a stuffed lamb, Lambchop) in the bouncy seat for the night, and collapsed in her crib, arms spread out wide, embracing ten whole hours of uninterrupted sleep.

As I crept out of her room, my husband looked at me while browsing the Internet.

“I’m going to bed,” I stated emphatically.

I forced myself to brush my teeth, wash my face, and apply ointments and creams in places I’ve never cared about moisturizing until motherhood took its toll on my appearance. I checked my email one last time, hoping neither of my professors had sent me a single note. I hopped on FaceBook briefly and glanced at my newsfeed.

The “Just Wheat” page I’d just created days before hovered on the left side of the screen, an annoying reminder to write, write, write.

???????????????????????????????These days, all I want to do is write. Honestly, I can’t get enough of it. And literally, I can’t get enough of it. I simply don’t have time to record every rumination that runs through my brain. So, as I take 30 minutes to type this post, bright pink post-its scream out potential topics on the bulletin board in front of me. But my priorities are family and graduate school.

Well, that’s not entirely true. While my family and graduate school are my top priorities right now, I seem to be incapable of simplicity and ease. If I finish all my schoolwork two weeks ahead of time, and take great care of my baby and love my husband well, it’s still not enough.

I’ve also decided to start jogging again, partly in an attempt to lose post-partum weight and partly to provide a break for myself each day from parenting responsibilities. And when my daughter sleeps or plays happily in her bouncy seat, if I’m not doing homework or working on my fitness (just ask Maggie, she’s my witness), I’m cleaning. Endlessly. I’m a bit anal about maintaining a tidy home. I’ve evolved into a much less maniacal housekeeper since having Maggie, but I confess that seeing dirt, dust, and dishes piled in the sink drives me absolutely bonkers. And I attempt to maintain two separate blogs, which I love to write for even though they have moved down on my priority list.

???????????????????????????????I don’t just do what’s required of me. I take on more than I have to. All the time, and I always have. Why can’t I just do as my mentor recommended, and list five items on my to-do list for the day? Why do I stretch five into ten? Or why, when I don’t complete all five tasks, do I fail to recognize that my baby refused to take decent naps all day, so my time was reprioritized? And even if I’m able to cross off all five items at the end of the day, why do I plop into bed at night feeling as if it wasn’t enough?

That I am not good enough?

Ah, the real root of the problem.

Fear.

I’m afraid that I won’t be good enough. That I won’t graduate from graduate school with a 4.0 GPA. That I won’t parent my daughter in a way that’s conducive to joy, peace, health, spiritual fulfillment, and lifelong learning. That my guests will turn up their noses at the rings inside my toilet bowls. That it will take me longer than a year to lose this weight and that I will never look attractive again in my own eyes. That my husband will observe these obvious failures and revoke his love from me.

Ridiculous.

Not only are these fears irrational, for the most part, but even if they come to fruition, who cares? How important is it that I maintain a perfect GPA? If I graduate with two Bs on my transcript, I’ll still have accomplished the big-picture goal of earning my Master’s degree in English. How important is it that I manage to read daily to my daughter? Well, it’s important, but if I skip a day here and there, her brain will most likely not begin to atrophy. How important is it that my house pass the white glove test? Not at all.

What I’m afraid of—not being good enough, and not being loved—has roots that have attached themselves to the core of my being since childhood.

But I don’t have to allow my fears to dictate my actions.

My husband reminded me, as we discussed these very matters in a state of near-consciousness last night that I ought to just relax.

He is right.

I remember when I worked in a sales position, selling software and training opportunities to business owners and principal partners in a niche industry, that it felt so hard to get to work on time. My commute took 45 minutes, hauling tail while applying makeup during traffic jams, on good days. Barring any wrecks or hold-ups, I’d screech into the parking lot and lug myself into the building, gigantic mug of strong coffee in hand.

I felt as if all my co-workers should applaud. Congratulate me for choosing not to hit snooze more than once. Pat me on the back for deciding to show up at work rather than stop paying my bills and move back into my parents’ house and eat frozen dinners while listening to my parents give me advice on relationships. Offer me an attagirl for taking a shower, blow-drying my hair, and appearing decently well-kempt.

But they didn’t. Of course.

I once shared this fantasy of applause with the secretary at the office. She laughed. Then agreed with me and told me about her average morning which entailed waking her teenage son, getting his lazy butt out the door for school, starting her car in freezing temperature with no husband available to scrape off the windshield for her, and finally braving almost the same commute I battled daily.

“I should be applauding YOU!” I remarked.

When I relocated to my hometown, and returned to the realm of higher education, I shared this same fantasy with a really funny group of people who worked in an adjacent office. Recently, when I returned to campus for a “look at my adorable new baby” visit, I walked into the foyer of their office and immediately felt puzzled.

They were all clapping.

It took me a minute to realize that they were clapping for me. For showing up. On time. Clothed.

It made me laugh, but last night as I lay in bed, I wondered why we all don’t applaud ourselves. Daily. For whatever things we accomplish, no matter how minor they seem when we compare them to the books and albums published by our fellow alumni, the perfectly bleached bathrooms of our mothers-in-law, or the post-partum pictures of our incredibly thin friends.

Once a yoga instructor said something at the end of class which, I’ll admit, I scoffed at internally.

“Thank your body for what it was able to do for you today.”

Yada, yada, yada.

But maybe I will. Maybe I ought to apply those high school cheerleading skills to my own little life. Maybe I need to pat myself on the back when I submit an assignment, wrestle myself into my sports bra in order to go jogging in 45-degree weather, or successfully remove humungous boogers from my baby’s nostrils.

Maybe I ought to thank God for what I’m able to do today.

Period.

Rise and shine

As a college student, my trend of sweats and scrubs continued :).

As a high school student, I set my alarm clock for 15 minutes prior to school starting–not 15 minutes prior to time to leave for school. I often slept in sweats or something similarly slouchy to save time getting dressed in the morning and took a bath before going to bed. I woke up (often to a shot of cold water in the face, lovingly administered by my mom, who tried every method imaginable to convert me to a morning person), roll out of bed into tennis shoes, and stumble into the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, and pull my hair into a ponytail.

Done.

No breakfast, unless I grabbed something while walking out the door that could be eaten while driving to school. No makeup or concern over the way I looked–it was high school, and honestly, I didn’t care about folks at school enough to wake up earlier on their behalves. No prayer or time to read my Bible–I was doing well to put two thoughts or words together that early in the morning. I once tried to establish a jogging routine at 6 a.m. with my friend and neighbor Amanda (who was much more disciplined than I was). That lasted about a week until she grew tired of jogging to my house and banging on my bedroom window in vain in the frigid morning air.

Needless to say, I was NOT a morning person. I never had been, and as I grew up, it got worse. As a college student, I stayed up into the wee hours of the night, catching three or four hours of sleep before class, and then napped after class until lunch every day. It was not until I obtained my first “real” job after college, working as a behavior specialist at a treatment center for emotionally disturbed teenagers, that I established my own morning routine and began to see the benefits of waking up slowly.

Watching the patients I worked with motivated me to get myself into a merrier disposition before arriving at work. These kids had hard lives–about 75% of them had been physically or sexually abused. Most of them faced criminal charges. Many of them struggled with substance abuse issues. Almost all of them lacked role models or even encouragement from their families, and many of them were wards of the state. If I’ve ever met people who had legitimate excuses to be grumpy first thing in the morning, it was these teenagers.

Yet surprisingly, thanks to the therapeutic nature of the treatment facility, most of the patients managed to avoid cursing, acting violently, or grumbling in the morning. Since the staff woke the patients up and gave them plenty of time to rouse, shower, eat breakfast, and prep for the day, most of them evolved into decently mannered teenagers by the time they headed to school. Watching these teenagers–who had every reason to hate mornings but didn’t seem to–motivated me to improve my own attitude, wake up a little earlier, and arrive at work with a smile and a heart ready to serve them.

One of many sunrises I’ve been lucky enough to capture.

I’ve become more and more of a morning person as I’ve moved through life. I’ve grown to appreciate the silent beauty of a sunrise. I’ve learned to look for a special sign between me and God, expressed through nature and only occurring in the morning. I’ve watched the hand of God work its magic in my life as a result of early morning prayers for myself, my loved ones, and my enemies. I’ve retained Scripture and recalled it when I needed it throughout the day after reflecting on it early in the morning. I’ve accomplished chores and other tasks I might have otherwise procrastinated in completing. And yes, like most morning people, I’ve become a connoisseur of coffee and hot tea.

Our daughter’s sunrise paintings, courtesy of her cousins, and her name’s meaning and special verse.

This morning as I read Psalm 37 in the silence of our small country home while my husband slept soundly in our warm bed, I was overwhelmed with the desire to pass on this hard-to-learn lesson about the value of morning time to our soon-to-be-born daughter. I can’t wait to recite the beautiful words of Light to her as I wake her up. I look forward to modeling ways to make the most of the morning for her. I long to make French toast and homemade muffins for her and her dad while the sun yawns and stretches itself out across the horizon outside the kitchen windows. I want to share the treasure I’ve found with her so she will live up to the meaning of her name, Margaret–daughter of light.

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