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.

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.

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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? 🙂 

Platitudes

In memory of my friend Tara’s father, Jerry, who recently relocated to The High Resting Place, and in celebration of National Poetry Day (October 8), I’ll share this poem I wrote today during my lunch break. 

Platitudes

I am tired of losing
good people.

Contaminated by asbestos, you never
even lounged around, smoking Marlboro Reds,
drinking Budweiser or downing whiskey shots.

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Tara and Jerry

You built a farm
while you were young
and able-bodied. You taught and led
countless lives.

You focused.

You were relentless.

You raised your girls
with all your might,
then turned back the clock
30 years later and fathered
your grandson in lieu of
cruises and red car pursuits.

You gave every ounce of yourself.

Praying over you, soaking your
hands with tears in silent sobs,
I only asked Him
to let you go.

Enough is enough.

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Liam, Jerry, and Tara

Platitudes make me puke. But I
understand this now:

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

–Bethany Wallace, 10/8/15

When will you be satisfied?

Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, in his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, that people always asked him the question, “When will you be satisfied?” His response was “We can never be satisfied… no, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like mighty waters.”540503_531704289042_1276471307_n

A year ago, I met a student with tremendous financial need, matched only by his sheer determination to overcome his impoverished background and limited opportunities for advancement in life. He walked to campus four days a week to attend class without asking for rides, never playing the martyr. He applied himself academically in class, and when provided with the chance to work on campus, he jumped in with both feet even though the situation may have proved intimidating at first. He grew personally and professionally.

When it came time for this student to move on to his next big academic adventure at a four-year university, I learned of some obstacles in his path. Faculty and staff rallied together to help him overcome these obstacles. Still, there were some hang-ups and huge boulders that seemed insurmountable, expensive, and impassable.

I literally had a dream about this student in May. I woke up the next morning feeling a little silly about the dream and about what God had told me to do to help this student. Like Jacob in the Old Testament, I wrestled with God over the ins and outs. Surely you don’t want ME to do that. There has to be someone else on campus who knows this student better than I do who can do that. I am not really the best person for this task, and also, that’s a little extreme. Plus, I’ve never even taught this student. I’ve just casually mentored him on a few things here and there. Really, God? Come on.

For two months, God did not relent. The idea continued to haunt me each time I interacted with the student online. In God’s subtle but persistent manner—God is a gentleman, you know, and not a dictator—He didn’t let it go. God is a lot like Martin Luther King, Jr., too, I guess. He will not be satisfied until justice rolls like might waters.

One July morning, I woke up and took action. It worked.

Something you should know about me is once I decide I’m in, it’s over.

I’m in. There is no going back, and I will not stop until I believe I have accomplished whatever it is God has asked me to do.

In my spiritual life, I believe in the concept of doing some things for fun and for free—and doing things without the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing. So I won’t share with you details of the actions I’ve taken and am taking to advocate for this student.

I share the gist of this story with you because maybe my dream wasn’t as grand or world-changing as King’s. Perhaps it won’t change the course of history. But I’m hoping it will help change the course of a student’s life, a student who deserves a chance in this world, a student who’s already proven himself worthy of assistance, attention, and love.

We all have a miracle or two waiting for us—what if we quit before the miracle happens? What if all the people who have believed in me, encouraged me, and been God with skin on for me over the years had shirked that responsibility? Where might I be today? Certainly not writing this post, and not able to reach out to help someone else, I can promise you that.

“When will you be satisfied?”

When I die.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” –Esther 4:14

Making the magic happen

I’m constantly keeping my antennae up for eye-catching bits regarding retention, the workplace, professional development, and careers. I came across an article by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt in Harvard Business Review entitled “How to Keep Your Top Talent” which identifies six common mistakes employers make in retaining employees identified as “top talent.” The article defines top talent as ideal employees with three primary characteristics—ability, engagement, and aspiration—and describes the magical sparks that fly when employers foster all three calling cards rather than focusing on one or two.

As a faculty member, I plan to use the article as a class exercise (spoiler alert for my Comp I and II students this fall) because it’s a great piece, is recent enough to be considered relevant to the world of work, and is interesting enough to avoid inducing lots of yawns and eye rolls from my students.

At the 2015 AACE Conference in Springdale, Arkansas

At the 2015 AACE Conference in Springdale, Arkansas

I benefited professionally as an instructor from reading the article. But I also read the article because as a former director of career development who is still enamored with the field, demonstrated by my choice to spend a day of my summer vacation at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers conference learning from experts in the fields of recruiting and career development, I must also think about how this applies to me, my journey, and my career circles in higher education.

I do believe there are some corporations, and perhaps some universities, with excellent recruitment strategies in place and with even better retention plans. These organizations value their employees and can afford to spend time recruiting great employees, training employees once hired, and then building the morale of their employees on a regular basis through various means. Perhaps these types of corporations read the article “How to Keep Your Top Talent” and belly laugh, point fingers at the other corporations with problems, and go enjoy a game of pool after work together.

Based on my experience—having worked in a fairly wide variety of non-profit organizations, large corporations, small businesses, and private and public universities—I’d guess the number of corporations able to react to “How to Keep Your Top Talent” in this manner is teeny tiny.

All companies and organizations have problems and are, whether we want to admit it or not, dysfunctional on some level. They’re just trying to do the best they can with what they have.

So if you’re top talent, what do you do with THAT? What’s your part in it, if you’re holding the three magic cards? Just accept that you’re part of a screwed up organization, and deal with it? Accept that the company you work for sucks, will never pay you what you’re worth, may never provide you with opportunities for growth or advancement, does nothing to boost the morale of its employees, and keep suiting up and showing up?

Not exactly, but sort of…

I know. That’s not what you were expecting me to say, is it?

First, as a disclaimer, let me state that I self-identify as top talent. I believe my current and former employers will cosign this statement. I have great ability, am highly engaged, and aspire to accomplish great things. I’m always labeled as the over-achiever (okay, super nerd, maybe). The “highly engaged” part has varied depending on the organization and its level of ethics and commitment to me. I’m probably most engaged with my current employer… and more on that later.

So back to the question at hand. If you’re top talent, and you’re in a not-so-ideal situation with a corporation making at least a few of the mistakes mentioned in this article, how do you deal? What are your options?

  • Get out. Pack your bags, give your notice, and go on vacation. Or at least begin searching for gainful employment elsewhere. I’ve gone this route before—multiple times, actually. It’s not a terrible plan. The problem is that wherever you go, there you are. If you think you’ll find a better fit, you might be right. However, having run the gamut of work environments as previously mentioned over a decade and a half, let me gently warn you that you might also be wrong. But go ahead and find out for yourself. Some of us—if you’re anything like me, anyway—have to learn things for ourselves, even if that means doing it the hard way, over and over and over again. And really, the worst thing that can happen is you wind up with a resume full of short stints you’ll have to explain later and lots of interesting work experiences. Join the club.
  • Look at ways to grow within your organization. Does your organization offer opportunities for professional development (which are often free or at reduced rates)? Many employers encourage employees to take courses, even on the clock, or go to graduate school. My employer, for example, will reimburse a certain percentage of college tuition if I attend a school within the University of Arkansas System. The AACE Conference I mentioned earlier? This is a professional development opportunity, too.
  • If you have ideas and feel your creative juices flowing, take that good stuff to your leader. If your leader isn’t receptive, take it to your leader’s leader. What do you have to lose? You’re bored anyway, and you were thinking about packing your bags and taking your talent elsewhere. You might as well try to utilize your ability and creativity where you are right now before moving on. Who knows what changes you could implement? My old approach when I took a new job was this: find the holes and problems, and fill them and fix them, and then move on. That typically took me one year to 18 months. I got bored very quickly. My new approach is to dig in and dig deep. I teach three courses. I might teach the same three courses for a decade or even longer. How can I become a better instructor within those constraints? How can I collaborate with other departments? How can I create better assessment tools from semester to semester? There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to teaching or interacting with students.
With one of my former students on awards night, spring 2015

With one of my former students on awards night, spring 2015

I often plop myself down in my Vice Chancellor’s office (when he’s available to talk, of course) and share my brilliant visions with him (I’m sure he’s thrilled to see me coming each time). He’s actually really supportive, encouraging, and motivational. If I bring him a bit of a concept for an event, like our first ever Summer Institute for Teaching Excellence (SITE) event I created, which we’re hosting next week on campus, he doesn’t balk and start rattling off reasons why it won’t work. He normally asks what is entailed, tells me to go for it, and asks how he can help.

This is one reason I have finally drawn the magical third card, with no tears or tatters this time, completing the top talent trio for myself and reaching what I believe is, for myself, the most fulfilled professional pinnacle. I am fully engaged with my division, fully engaged in academics, fully collaborating across the lines of staff/faculty, and fully engaged with my students. I’m also fully engaged outside of campus, attempting to maintain connections with recruiters, employers, and other contacts in order to better serve my students. Is my campus perfect? Absolutely not. I’m just making the choice to engage anyway.

So back to my personal response to the question: “What’s your part in it, if you’re holding the three magic cards, and your organization isn’t perfect?”

You get busy. You do something about it. You stop whining and gossiping and belly-aching and sitting on your tail in your office and doing the same old-same old-same old day after day. You accept the things you cannot change and ask for courage to change the things you can. And by all means, seek wisdom to know the difference. You smile often even if others don’t. You spend your time around elevator people who bring you up and avoid basement people who drag you down. You pour yourself into what you love.

The choice is ultimately yours. Sure, those around you will always make mistakes, including your company or organization. But are you going to let those mistakes determine and affect your daily choices regarding your own ability, engagement, and aspiration?

That’s your mistake to make—but since you’re top talent, I’m sure you’ll focus on making the magic happen.

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.

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