But I . . .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have never cared about holiness. When I read Scripture, sang songs, or heard conversations about God’s holiness, I felt wholly unmoved. It would probably be a stretch to characterize my reaction as unimpressed, but there was probably a little bit of the Makalyla Maroney face inside of me when I’d contemplate the concept of holiness.

Over the years, my reaction bothered me. Why did other Christians feel so awed, moved, and inspired by God’s holiness–while I felt nothing at all?

My personality type typically leads to a more analytical, critical approach to everything, including spirituality. So I tried not to hammer myself too harshly for my lack of sentiment. But regarding other aspects of God, and in other areas of my relationship with God, I experienced plenty of light bulb moments, ahas, and spiritual awakenings. I wanted to understand this holiness thing, too.

This year I decided to embark on a journey to “get it.” I studied root words in Greek and Hebrew. I devoured Scripture related to holiness and specific stories in the Bible which grabbed my attention. I also started reading A.W. Tozer again, an author I’d tried out in early adulthood but hadn’t found captivating at that point in life. I had too much drama swirling in my life at that point pulling my attention away from what really mattered. 15 years later, I’m able to concentrate. And I guess what they say is true–when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This time, God has shown Himself to me through Tozer in spades.

I’m finally grasping that the power of understanding anything about Who God Is lies in contrast. When I see who I really am, and compare who I am to Who He Is, then I understand the value in Who He Is.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for those of us who’ve struggled with playing God. Trusting God is difficult, particularly for those of us who’ve experienced trauma that  seems to demonstrate that God is not there for us, that God does not come through for us when the rubber hits the road, and that we must rely on our ourselves or be thrown to the wolves. We begin to develop our own plans, a sturdy sense of self-reliance, and an ego akin to a tumor whose mass increases at an alarming rate.

Therein lies tension.

But all is never lost when God’s in the mix. The beautiful thing is that while it’s true that what we’ve been through is often beyond horrific–and many of you reading this will not relate, and that’s okay, because many of you will, and you will find hot tears falling down your face as you read this just as mine are sliding into my coffee as I write this–it’s ALSO true that what we have been through is not who we are. Let me say that again so you can whisper it to yourself.

What you have been through is not who you are.

We often allow what we have been through to define us. That’s called spiritual warfare.

If we’re not what we’ve been through, then who are we? Ah, the journey really starts here. For some of us, we never knew who we were to begin with. For others, it’s a return to a better place.

Regardless, when I honestly and objectively look at who I am today, even on my best days and after years of diligent spiritual work, I can guarantee a few things. I’m broken. I’m incapable of total consistency to principles, excellent decision-making, perfection, or any other concept or spiritual practice/discipline. As much as I want to be, I’m not self-sufficient. I need help–I need God, and I need other people (mentors and accountability partners). I’m not going to last forever–I’m going to die. I wish I could say I know everything, but I don’t; I’m not that wise, and without Google and the library, I’d be pretty lost. And admittedly, I try my best to love others, but I don’t like several people. I attempt to be kind, gracious, and generous, but there are many times when I’m just going through the motions (and if you knew what was going through my head, you’d give me coal in my stocking next year for Christmas).

That’s just the honest truth about me. And it’s the honest truth about you, too, because we are people. If you believe those things are not the truth about you, you are likely incapable of being honest with yourself, and that’s another problem entirely (and another blog post for another time).

And here is the honest truth about God.

He does not need us, but He wants us. He is fully self-sufficient, but He loves to see/hear us serving and loving–doing God-like things which honor Him. God lasts forever, and God just IS–time as we know it isn’t the way God operates. God is not malleable; He doesn’t change, so He’s completely consistent and reliable. God knows everything–which isn’t the same as saying God causes everything. God is completely faithful, and is the only One we can depend on wholeheartedly no matter what. God really is good, just, and loving 100% of the time. And He is holy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod is the absolute antithesis of who I am. Because God is God–and I am not.

I have been rereading Isaiah. This morning, I got to chapter 49. I stopped at this verse and began imagining other ways God might speak to us similarly. The first portion is Isaiah 49:15-16. The rest is from me.

But I . . . 

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you
on the palms of my hands.”

Though they interrupted,
I hear you.

Though you were invisible,
Now you are seen.

Though no one applauded for years,
Here I AM, rejoicing over you.

Though they said ‘stop crying,’
I weep with you.

Though he stripped you of dignity,
I vindicate.

Though frailty ravaged your frame,
I make all things new.

Though dreams atrophied,
I restore years the locust has eaten.

Though cacophony and chaos cluttered days,
I still waves.

Though they’ve proven liars,
I will always be true.

Though they are,
But I AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American sky, 1874

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What would it be like?–

I wander, alone, in quiet woods one winter night

staring into the best sky I’ve seen in some time–

to see night like a true American

resting in silence, nestled in true tall whistling

prairie grass glittered with bison,

sure about the Source

of each shining white flame

flickering above?

 

No choking fumes

trespass illumination

muffling stars like fireflies

in dirty porch jars,

a muddled soup overhead,

misguiding hearts and eyes,

leading us to false stars,

cold drones,

unarmed constellations.

 

What it must have been like

to never wonder whether

sparks blaze or

man-made neon simply fades,

whether pale trails are

falling stars or just crowded rows

of first-class midlife crises

gripping sweaty glasses, closing our

minds on a red-eye flight

to nowhere

fast.

 

-Written by Bethany Wallace, March 2018

 

2017 gift list

Christ child 2017 giftsStill and reverent, I lay in bed Christmas morning before the sun reappeared. I listened to heart-stopping versions of my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and enjoyed hot coffee, wrapping my extremities tightly in blankets. The piano keys and cello sang out with my spirit.

Nietzsche once said, “Everything matters. Nothing’s important.”

Each year I make a list of gifts received. This morning I reflected on the year’s gifts, Nietzsche’s words, and another key phrase.

Either Christ is everything, or He is nothing.

Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor both echoed this sentiment—and both lived as if He were everything.

The entire year bore gifts.

gifts daughter father

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I held my mother’s shaking frame, soaked in tears, while she struggled to let my grandma go Home. I talked to my mentors for hours via video conferencing, on the phone, and face-to-face over the best hash browns I’ve consumed. I meditated on Truth while sipping fresh coffee every single morning, fueling my spirit and becoming better. I cradled countless kittens. I watched, panic-stricken, as my daughter barreled through a riding barn on an agitated racing horse at full speed. I rejoiced when I realized she and her little friend were holding one another in the saddle, God going before them and planning in love. I wiped away Maggie’s snot while she told me she wanted to keep riding, the bravest soul I know. I nearly skipped out of the breast specialist’s office, celebrating benign results. I applauded my tiny angel, proudly parading up the church aisle during the Christmas pageant. I walked away from my daughter’s preschool classroom for the first time and returned to find her too happy to leave. I led clients to greater joy. I shed tears. I shared silence. I waited for justice. I listened. I caressed my husband’s weathered crow’s feet, solidly at home. I stroked my cowgirl baby’s smooth forehead as she slept, whispering comfort and love in her ear, the most important part of my day.

Each night, as I tiptoed out and stumbled for my glasses atop piles of bedtime stories, I marinated in Light.

Christ shone beside me all year and carried me through.

Let me perceive You in every matter.

Seeing love

The minute I start thinking about how much work I’m getting done, whether I’m accomplishing enough in my business, if I’m on target to complete my goals for the month or year, or how clean the house is, I’ve lost the ability to exist in the present moment with my child. Worry robs me of enjoying life with Maggie. You’d think that acknowledging that would be enough to permanently rid me of obsessing over work, future plans, past failures, or to-do lists. But no. I still find myself wide-eyed with locked jaw, focused on matters which I know will not matter one single bit in 10 years… maybe not even in one year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we inch closer to the day she starts preschool—she’ll only go three mornings a week, so it’s not like she’s walking out the door and never looking back, but it still feels big to me—I am reminded that we’re turning a significant corner as a family. Every time she asks me to go sit on the porch with her in the evening to watch her turtle, a little box turtle my husband found for her, which she named, “Said,” I don’t want to say no. But I hesitate, knowing I have a client waiting for a resume. I hesitate because a friend is coming to stay with us for the weekend, and the house is far from clean or even sanitary right now. But I try to leave my worries behind and play anyway because I know I don’t say yes often enough.

There are too many times I’ve hesitated in the past or said no. And I have carried regrets for all of those times over the past few years. I refuse to carry regrets with me related to saying no to my daughter and her requests for my time, love, and attention. Will I say no to her when she asks for material possessions, demands freedom to explore unsafe areas of the world, and permission to push boundaries which are in place to protect her? Absolutely—I will always say no if it’s in her best interest. But I will say yes, yes, yes if she’s begging for more of my love.

I once heard a speaker say, “Whatever the question, love is the answer.”

The other night I was feeling pushed to my limits with Maggie. She had a hard day that day, and I’d had one, too, dealing with repeated frustration with her demands and defiance. I took a breather and stepped out of the bathroom while she finished her bath. I glanced at the wall and saw an old portrait my dad gave me years ago hanging on the wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScripted on the portrait were the words, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do You love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ And He spread His arms and died for me.”

I took a deep breath and went back into the bathroom. Maggie splashed around in the water with her bath crayons happily and asked if I wanted to see the pictures she’d drawn of imaginary sea dragons, birds with their mothers, and Mama, Maggie, and Daddy. Of course I did.

I needed to see that portrait. I needed a reminder of just how much God loves me and my little Maggie, and to be reminded that there’s nothing I can do to mess that up. I needed to be reminded that there’s nothing Maggie can do to ruin my love for her and that’s all she needs to hear and see from me every day is a reminder of that Great Love, the kind of Love that holds out its arms all day long for us.

Word of the year 2017

In early December, it grew bitterly cold in Arkansas. I stoked the wood stove full day in and day out, wore my fuzziest pajama pants, and only went outside to feed and water the chickens, pups, and cats. The icy wind tunneled through Duncan Hollow, determined to freeze the fresh water I’d poured for the animals the moment I poured it.

Sometimes the weather matches my mood. It did then. My father-in-law died the first week of December. A few days later, every leaf clinging stubbornly to the tall oak trees in our woods fell silently. In my grief, I didn’t even notice them falling. One morning as I drank my coffee, I glanced out the glass door in my office, overlooking the trails where the old barn used to be. A week earlier, some of the trees held onto their crunchy brown jackets in stubborn refusal to let go of autumn. That morning, I was met by bleak winter.

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Gulin, China–One of the images I focused on 

During that cold, bitter time, God came to me through images of smooth lakes, calm water, and iridescent moonlit walks I took when I lived at my old house. He came to me through a specific song I’d long forgotten but dearly loved, a soothing song I listened to repeatedly when I first loved it and listened to again this December while meditating. I pictured my father-in-law beckoning me to follow him to a still, quiet, joyful place when I felt overwhelmed by grief. Christ came to me through a story of a group of very manly men who were scared to death by a storm, so scared they couldn’t help but wake up their Leader and ask Him for help in the middle of the night. Christ spoke to me by sharing a specific word with me which, for two months, I thought was my focus word for 2017, a word which tied all these things loosely together.

But I never felt solid about writing about this word or sharing specific details about these things on my blog. So I didn’t. I’ve grown to write less and less for my personal blog, partly out of necessity for lack of time, and partly because what matters most to me is deeply personal, so personal and spiritual I’m unwilling to splay it online unless I feel compelled.

I also hesitated to land on that word because its meaning, for me, denoted a lack of color and life. And while I knew I’d needed that word desperately during December and January, while grieving deeply and walking in quiet, solitary pain, I was ready for more.

Last weekend, I walked a labyrinth with my friends at a spiritual retreat and let my feet fall into rhythm, purposely following an earthen path countless others have trod in an effort to find 30 minutes of peace. Afterward, I chatted with two ladies while the afternoon sun warmed our faces on the way back to the lodge. One of them shared with me about the growth of her small business. This peaked my interest since I opened my own business less than one year ago. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she shared something about one of her associates mentioning that it was important to let things happen. I wish I could remember the exact words; maybe I’m not supposed to, and maybe those words don’t matter.

What matters is in that moment, God gave me my focus for this year.

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Ozark National Forest

I walked to the creek running beneath the bridge we crossed to return to the lodge and looked down. The water shone. Several bright yellow leaves lay in the water below.  Some of the leaves seemed still, and others moved at varying speeds in the water below, some in the current and others on the outskirts. Those leaves were not concerned with the temperature, the wind, the light, or the people around them. They weren’t concerned with the other objects in the water, not even logs or wild animals, because the water was powerful enough to maneuver the leaves around objects, even if it took a little time. They were simply being carried by the water, and they kept moving wherever the water carried them.

I am a leaf. He is the Water.

 

 

The question

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I entered The Pinto, a trendy vintage coffee shop/eatery in downtown Batesville, and ordered my favorite caffeinated beverage—café breve—while waiting to meet with my FOFO (formerly online friend only) for lunch, coffee, and conversation face-to-face for the first time.

Half an hour later, deep into a great chat about grace and relationships, a mutual friend greeted us and stopped to talk. While discussing potential dates for this mutual friend, the topic of abstinence surfaced. The mutual friend asked us, “Did you have sex before you were married?”

This time, I only felt a slight sting before responding to this version of the age-old question, “Tell me about your first time.”

21 years ago, a family friend raped me when I was 16 years-old. It was the first time I’d had sex.

Immediately following this traumatic experience, I did what many PTSD-infected, confused, depressed teenagers do who’ve been sexually assaulted: I acted out. I used drugs and consumed too much alcohol, engaged in sexual activity with multiple people, and moved in and out of understanding God’s role in my life.

Prior to this horrible experience on July 11, 1995, I nearly bragged about my virginity, wearing it like a badge of honor while skating a thin line of promiscuity. I wore a freaking True Love Waits ring. I attended youth group twice per week and thought I really had it all together, and that if I just continued on the straight and narrow path, I would certainly succeed in absolutely everything I attempted. I believed that good things come to those who wait and that God rewards good behavior.

Obviously, those maxims proved themselves false. My world felt shaky, and I have plenty of poorly written poetry scribbled in my high school journals to demonstrate this.

One night, nine months after being raped, a boy I loved (who knew all about my assault) asked me if I believed in God and pointed me to the sparkling stars in a black, clear sky as evidence of His existence. I responded, “I do believe He exists. I just don’t believe He cares anymore.”

But that brief spiritual conversation served as a catalyst which sparked change in my soul, and a few months later I accepted Christ while standing all alone in an Oklahoma hay field, watching fireworks on Independence Day.

But I wasn’t set free right away from my past, my feelings, my PTSD, or my inability to make choices that reflected an ounce of self-worth. The chains were heavy. It was just the beginning of my spiritual journey.

I’m still taking it step by step.

I used to hate it when the topic of “firsts” came up in conversation. It isn’t so bad today, even though it’s still not the most pleasant thing to discuss. I’m content today to reflect on the past, knowing not even God can change the past and that I only have to mention my past wounds or mistakes if it will benefit someone else, for I “do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous).

I am not glad I was raped.

But I’m grateful for the many opportunities God’s given me to serve and love other sexual assault survivors.

I’m grateful for my brokenness because God proved His love to me by putting me back together again.

I pray He does the same for you.

Doing

14358915_618953765392_1589227780450859615_nMaggie will turn four in November. I watched her sleeping tonight (since I couldn’t seem to fall asleep myself). She was wrapped up in my fluffy gray throw blanket, her golden auburn hair almost glowing against the darkness.

I wanted to keep her this way forever—peaceful, still, and breathtakingly beautiful. And tiny.

But of course I can’t. Maggie is moving, growing, learning, and thriving—and I’m grateful. She fluctuates between telling me she wants a big girl cup and asking for milk in a baby bottle at bedtime. Even though she’s been potty-trained for almost one year, she still requests a “Celly-grelly diaper” (that’s Cinderella pull-ups) when she wants to pretend she’s still a baby. She knows all her numbers and loves practicing counting, and she loves reading even though she resists learning about letters.

I could go on and on. I’m in love.

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Maggie, August 2013

When I was pregnant with Maggie, I quit working as an academic advisor due to pregnancy complications. I didn’t return to work until Maggie was about 14 months old, and then I only worked part-time as an adjunct English instructor for one year before accepting a full-time faculty position.

During my stay-at-home mom days, I will be honest—I struggled. It was the hardest job I’d ever done; the work never ended, and the client was often unsatisfied with my performance even though I did my darndest to please her. I felt insecure about my lack of financial contribution to our household even though my husband gently reassured me that staying home with Maggie was much more significant and helpful than any salary I’d ever earned.

It was tough to be where my hands were. I’m all about productivity; I like to make things happen. Being a mama is not about making things happen; it’s about letting things happen. Sigh.

Sometimes I found myself daydreaming about more enjoyable things to do while changing diapers or nursing Maggie. Even though I often wished for Calgon to take me away, I felt fulfilled knowing I was with the most important people doing the most important things on my to-do list every single day. When I had the opportunity to teach full-time, though, and to put my degree to use, I couldn’t resist.

The day I drove away from my house to teach full-time for the first time, I had a sinking feeling in my chest.

“You’re going to regret this someday.”

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One of the rare afternoons we spent together during my first semester of teaching full-time

That inner voice was partly correct. Although I thrive in the classroom and felt I’d found my niche teaching English to college students whom I still adore, I have many regrets about that time during our lives. My first semester of teaching full-time was like running the gauntlet. I taught too many courses—my fault for agreeing to do so—and too many writing courses which required countless hours of grading (not my fault since I didn’t select my own courses that semester). In the fall of 2014, I rarely arrived home in time to spend more than 15 minutes with Maggie and James before the sun set. I don’t recall cooking dinner once, but I’m sure I did… didn’t I? During the peak of my daughter’s cuteness, I slaved away to prove myself in academia.

But I found this to be true: if I’m excelling at work, I’m probably sucking at home, or at best, barely holding the pieces together while gritting my teeth and smiling, pretending to have it all figured out.

At the time, my remedy to missing Maggie’s life was to spend more money on her. I can’t count the number of times I said, “Maggie, Mama will bring you something cool today, okay?” She loved getting a fun gift—maybe a new rubber duck or a balloon—but sometimes she had tears in her eyes when I left for work.

I regret that.

I can’t change the past—not even God can change the past.

If anything has proven true in my life, it’s that God always gives me second chances and redeems the worst decisions I’ve made. He redeems outcomes.

I left teaching in December 2015 to accept a position as content manager of a small business I’d admired for over a decade. Two months later, I felt incomplete even though I was certainly making things happen and doing a great job. I missed my students; I missed teaching and applied for my old job. But I didn’t get the job, and even though my student evaluations as an instructor demonstrated 99% positive feedback, and my faculty evaluations boasted almost all 5’s, I wasn’t even granted the opportunity to interview for the position. Just a few months before, when leaving the college, I’d received an email from my boss stating that, “People talk about the ‘five percenters,’ but that category is not fitting for you – you are a ‘one percenter.’”

This 1%’er felt baffled, disappointed, and hurt.

I got over it.

I got over it because God gave me a new dream—to launch my own career coaching business and to harness my passions for career development, serving others, and mentoring. And thanks to my long-time mentor, my spiritual mentor, and professional friends and colleagues, I received ample encouragement and reassurance that I was more than qualified to help job seekers find their dream jobs. When I questioned whether I had enough experience to be considered an expert, and wondered if I should wait another five years before launching my business, my friend Dr. Steve Lindner said, “No, you’re ready now.”

I got over it because I found that since I have always believed in the power of networking, I’d made great alliances with various friends connected to other colleges and universities; these connections came through for me, and I was able to secure the chance to teach college part-time while growing my career coaching business.

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Maggie, spring 2016

And I got over it because while working as a content manager, I fell more deeply in love with my daughter. Each time our babysitter sent me photos of Maggie finger painting, hunting for armadillos in the woods behind our house, or eating Cheerios, I longed to be the one taking the pictures. I missed her.

And so I made right my wrong. I leaned out.

While listening to Natalie Merchant’s “Giving Up Everything” one day while driving home from work (in the dark, of course), I exhaled and made the decision to do just that.

I came home.

Today, I don’t earn enough money to spend extravagantly. I certainly don’t earn enough to buy myself an extensive fun wardrobe (complete with fabulous dresses with pockets) or trendy nail polish each season. Maggie rarely hears me say, “Mama will bring you something home.”

I’m already home, and I wouldn’t exchange time with my one precious girl for anything right now.

Instead of buying Maggie gifts, I’m giving myself to her.

When she wakes up in a few hours, I’ll say to her, “Mama has something fun for us to do today.”

Today we’re doing. We’re not buying.

And I’m feeling rich.