All clear

Does anyone actually enjoy visiting their gynecologist?

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At my annual exam, August 2017

I didn’t think so. I dread this annual visit more than I detest dental checkups. The waiting room is always painfully still. Peeing in a cup isn’t my strong suit. The exam rooms feel pretty frigid. And then there’s the actual exam… At least my gynecologist is an old college friend whom I totally trust.

This August, when my annual exam popped up on my calendar reminders, I decided to approach it differently. I knew what to expect–I’d wait a while, feel uncomfortable because of the blasts of air conditioning, and move from anticipation to anxiety until my gynecologist walked in the exam room. I decided to do my best to take care of myself and ease my discomfort–and prevent whining.

I brought along coffee (AKA life juice), a daily reader/devotional book, and my old standby: my 12 year-old standard blue Snuggie. That’s right. I’d wear my Snuggie during the exam over the thin gown. Perfect.

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What I read moments before my exam, August 2017

It’s amazing how just a few tweaks can adjust my attitude. I felt nearly peppy when my doctor entered the exam room. We chatted about kids and life during the short exam.

Suddenly my doctor became quiet. Her eyebrows furrowed. Having seen that expression before while I birthed my daughter–during a time of distress–my mood moved from pleasant to ominous.

“Have you felt this before?”

She was conducting my breast exam.

“Um, I think so. But honestly I’m not very good about doing regular exams, so I didn’t know…”

I felt waves of death, chemotherapy, and “you will never see your daughter again” roll over me.

“Well, I’m going to order a diagnostic mammogram. I want to have it looked at.”

After that, I couldn’t muster up conversation. My mind hovered over the expression on my doctor’s face and the notion that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. Fear ate my lunch.

I held it together pretty well until I walked into my home. My husband was caring for my daughter (since I had a scheduled exam); they were enjoying an afternoon on the White River. The entire house was holding its breath. I let go and basically bawled for half an hour. I emailed my mentor and asked for prayer. Then I sat down and did the only logical thing a mom on the brink of cancer would do: I recorded a 30-minute long video of myself singing all my daughter’s favorite songs (just in case, you know).

I waited for a few days before calling my doctor to check about scheduling my mammogram and ultrasound. They’d told me to expect to hear from them and to call if I hadn’t. I try to follow orders. When they checked with the hospital about scheduling, the soonest available date was one month away.

That didn’t feel good. Initially I just jotted it down on the calendar and returned to business as usual. But I’ve learned from my mentors how to take care of myself and see that my own needs are met. The next day, I still felt uneasy about waiting a month. So I called and asked for help. My doctor’s billing director pulled some strings.

The mammogram and ultrasound experience was much less stressful than an annual gynecological exam (for all you ladies dreading yours). When the radiologist read the results, she told me I had nothing to worry about and that I should schedule another mammogram in two years when I turned 40.

My stomach knotted. How could my doctor and I have obviously identified an “area of concern” if there were no area of concern? I knew I couldn’t accept that as the final word. I drove immediately to my gynecologist’s office and asked them to help. Once again, they did. Bless those ladies. They scheduled a visit with a breast specialist. The knot loosened.

But the visit with the specialist only made matters worse for two reasons: I felt a creepy vibe, and he didn’t review my imaging results. I felt I’d been tortured pointlessly for another hour of my life. I was frustrated. I also felt exhausted emotionally.

For one month I thought about the follow-up visit with this specialist. Every time it came to mind, I prayed for God’s will, and I simultaneously felt sick.

One month was long enough to convince me to take the bull by the horns again. Once again, my wonderful gynecologist and her staff came through for me. They scheduled me with another specialist.

Last week when I visited the second specialist, I knew I was in better hands (I know, I know… pun intended). This doctor did an ultrasound immediately in his office and shared the images with me right away, explaining that he identified not one but two cysts.

Cysts.

That’s right. Not cancerous lumps.

“You’re fine. You are going to be fine. Come back in three months to see if my recommendations help with reducing your breast density.”

I could have kissed him, but I refrained. I floated out of the office, attempting to contain my joy since I was surrounded by patients whose results didn’t mimic mine. I recorded their faces in my mind so I could pray for them.

I was so thankful for clarity. I felt blessed with a caring, serious gynecologist and breast specialist. I understood that a decade ago, I would have been unable to advocate for myself properly, and I was grateful for the timing of the whole mess. And best of all, I knew God had me–the whole time.

When I closed my car door, I wept. This time, there was no bawling. I recorded no videos. I envisioned nothing.

I drove out of the parking lot, my soul’s gratitude expanding, and smiled.

I lived my life.

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My beautiful life, November 2017

 

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? 🙂 

Snow, pianissimo

581291_556787911262_2008318683_nThe past few mornings the weather has deceived us. Jack Frost has made it impossible for me to leave the house without preheating my car for at least five minutes, deglazing the windshield while begging for three more hugs from my daughter while she watches Wallykazam wave words into existence with a magical stick. This morning I listened to JJ Heller’s new CD (which is her best yet, by the way) while making my way through the chilly countryside. As I approached the long, winding hill connecting our part of the world to what resembles a city, I snapped out of my piano-tuned trance-like state as I noticed what looked like huge, puffy, white snowflakes fluttering by.

Was it really cold enough to be snowing? I felt confused, but I tried not to think too long or too hard about the facts. It was breathtaking. I nearly gasped and appreciated the view. The feather-like snowflakes silently passed by my car.

Suddenly my gaze moved ahead to a large, ugly, black truck. Oh. A chicken truck.

The feather-like snowflakes were not snowflakes. They were feathers—chicken feathers.

I initially laughed out loud at my own mistaken perception.

Two seconds later I felt devastated by reality. Hundreds of helpless, frigid birds boxed inside the ugly truck blinked at me.

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With one of our chicks last spring

 

My mind immediately recalled a poem by Lola Haskins, “Playing Hiroshima.”

Playing Hiroshima

There are no finer audiences in the world
Andre Pogorelich, in 
Pianists Speak

Did you know the ones with colds wear surgical masks
so as to disturb no one?
They do.

Did you know their small hands lie folded in their laps
like boats?
They do.

Did you know they kneel kimonoed for etudes, as tea
cooled by a mother’s breath?
They do.

Did you know that skin can fall like snow?
Softly . . .  pianissimo?
They do.

–Lola Haskins, Forty-Four Ambitions for the Piano

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Why my brain made this connection this morning—15 or 16 years after studying as a college student at age 19 or 20 under the tutelage of poet Andrea Hollander–I do not know.

But I do know this: what happened to me this morning when Lola Haskins’ poem came to mind is my lifetime goal as a writer–to create such significant impressions through writing–to lend my readers experiences, nearly, while reading–that they might make connections to my words through their own experiences years later.

There is no higher compliment. So here’s to you, Lola Haskins. And to you, Andrea Hollander, for being my conduit to a world of beautiful words.

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.

Dream come true

A few weeks ago, in the stagnant heat of our storage building in July, I dug through boxes and crates. I hoped to find every last binder containing pertinent academic information that might help me teach college courses. I looked for the cute desk decorations I’d packed away in 2012 when I quit working at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) as an advisor mid-pregnancy in an attempt to focus solely on finishing graduate school. I searched every nook and cranny for books I knew I might want to reference or quote in class. I wanted to be prepared for anything. 

In my frenzied search for all things that might ever be of use to me at work, I came across a small white note card, a note card I’d  used while serving as Director of Career Development at Lyon College in 2006. The college emblem and my former name and job title were embossed on one side of the card. On the other side, though, was something of much greater significance. 

Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing

Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing

When I worked at Lyon College, I attended an event hosted by the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers; Samantha Hartley, the Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing, was the keynote speaker. I remember being completely energized by her presentation about social media and its benefits (and drawbacks). I felt compelled to share the information with other leaders on campus and to put into action her suggestions. 

After relocating to central Arkansas a year later, and finding myself somewhat disillusioned by the corporate world, I remembered how inspired I felt listening to her speak. I wondered if she would consider talking to me one-on-one about her ideas. As someone who takes the concept of networking seriously and doesn’t simply exchange business cards with people and move on, I sent her an email (thankfully I had maintained contact with her on Facebook and LinkedIn), and invited her to lunch. 

She accepted, but she suggested breakfast instead. It was a great suggestion–I’m still a fan of the place.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Samantha to talk about goals and career ideas. I knew she was a very busy entrepreneur and felt grateful for the chance to pick her brain. I needed help. Specifically, I needed guidance from someone I admired, from someone whose career path I wanted to emulate. I did not want to remain stuck in a job or career I disliked. I knew that Samantha had been there, done that–and she’d done something about it. In fact, she’d been hugely successful when doing something about it. So she was EXACTLY the kind of person I needed to talk to.

My "vision card"

My “vision card”

Samantha listened to me. And she offered extremely helpful feedback based on what she’d heard. She suggested that I create a vision board. Since I’m an English major, and a word nerd, I created a list instead of a vision board. 

That’s what I found that day in my storage building, tucked inside an old binder. When it fell onto the floor of my storage building, I picked it up and read every item on the list. I gasped a little and felt my chest tighten as I finished reading the list as I realized that the list has come to fruition.

Every single item on the list has been realized in my current position as an English instructor at UACCB. I have more flexibility with my schedule than I’ve ever had before. My job is about making a difference in students’ lives, not about numbers and dollar signs. There’s tons of room for creativity; I design my courses with very little input from others. My boss is kind, supportive, and serves as a great mentor, too. I believe in the organization I work for; I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say that wholeheartedly about any other employer, ever. Most importantly, I know that every day when I leave my house, I am going to do work that matters, work that impacts lives in a positive way. I’m doing what I am meant to do. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do it.

20140812_152712After I found my “dream come true” list, I sent Samantha a message and thanked her for her help and guidance. She reminded me that her own teacher once did the same for her; she believes in mentoring because “there have been pivotal people in my life who maybe said just one thing, but it was the breadcrumb that connected me to the next step on the path.”

She’s right. 

I had the chance to share this story with my Chancellor, Debbie Frazier. She encouraged me to share this story with my students. I think I will, and I know that by giving back to my students and by encouraging and supporting and teaching them over the years, I’ll be showing my gratitude to Samantha and to others who’ve encouraged me in the best way possible.

Walk and chalk

“Walk. Chalk.”

Each morning, as the hands on the clock tick and tock their way toward the number nine, Maggie’s tiny voice chimes in with these two words. I can literally tell time by them. Her soft, chubby fingers stretch out and grab hold of mine and pull me to the door. I reach for miniature socks before heading down the hall.

IMG_2635Armed with ice water, my trusty camera, tennis shoes, ball caps, and bug spray, we turn the knob and open the back door, beginning Maggie’s favorite part of every morning—walk and chalk.

After strapping Maggie into the sturdy stroller, we make our way through the wet grass, still glistening with dew. First we check on our pups, who are always elated to see the stroller lumbering through the yard. As we fill their bowl with food, they scratch along the fence, and Maggie pants and mimics their whimpers, egging them on. We say “bye bye” to the pups and hit the chip sealed pavement. The sun greets our faces, and Maggie blinks in response but refuses to wear her baseball cap or sunglasses.

IMG_2836Each morning, in the humid, Ozark woodlands, I attempt to keep moving at a fairly rapid pace in an effort to avoid both of us being drenched in perspiration by the time we return to the house. However, it never fails that after taking just a few steps forward, something gorgeous catches my eye on one side of the road or the other. This is the Ozark woodlands, after all—a lush, green, jungle-like wonderland.

I didn’t always see it this way. When I moved to the Ozarks at the age of 10 and lived a mere 25 miles from my current location, I both loathed and liked the place.

I liked my small school and having the opportunity to make new friends, and I loved our tiny church and the delicious potluck dishes prepared on a frequent basis by the elderly ladies. I liked the rickety house we rented in the country on an old dirt road, the rain pinging off the tin roof. I even liked the fact that my breath created puffy bursts in my own frigid bedroom as I gazed at the clear, star-filled sky during winter; sure, the house lacked any real heat source aside from a gigantic fireplace, but I felt like a real live Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I thought that was pretty darn cool. I liked running down the road to my friend Leslie’s house and eating hot popcorn and drinking cold sweet tea in her kitchen and pestering her brother John while he played basketball and imitating her cool older sister Sheryl who danced to Debbie Gibson songs.

I liked things about Arkansas. But I loathed other things. One of the things I loathed was the weather. Having been accustomed to a drier climate in Kansas, I simply hated the Arkansas summers for years. I referred to Arkansas as the armpit of America (in terms of weather, and perhaps in terms of other things, too). I detested the way the atmosphere caused me to sweat profusely from every single pore. I hated having to purchase new white shirts every single season, whether I’d stained the front of them or not, simply due to the sweaty armpit stains. I could go on and on. I just plain hated Arkansas summers.

But something changed. After living in a rural subdivision for five years, commuting for about an hour one way every day, I’d had my fill of “all that.” I’d worked downtown, worn plenty of flashy high heels and jewelry, made enough money to make me feel that I’d arrived, and secured enough jobs to prove to myself that if I made up my mind to do something, I could do it. I was done with that kind of life.

I wanted to go home.

One of my favorite creatures I ever captured in a picture on our front porch, October 2011

One of my favorite creatures I ever captured in a picture on our front porch, October 2011

I began praying about that very idea, and God worked out the details—a lot of details—and I headed home in December of 2010. In January of 2011, my future husband and I purchased our home—nestled in the woods in the foothills of the Ozarks. And I fell head over heels in love with the Ozark woodlands. I took pictures constantly and carried my camera with me everywhere I went, snapping photographs of the endless varieties of species of flora and fauna surrounding me. With a forester and wildlife biologist by my side, I had my own handsome nature Google by my side, too.

IMG_2603This morning, after Maggie and I finished the walking portion of our “walk and chalk” time, I pushed her gently in the swing on the back porch. A quiet hum filled the air. The hum slowly transitioned into a noisy, vibrating whine. I stopped pushing Maggie in her swing for a moment and stepped off the porch, glancing around the corner of the house.

I gulped when I saw a small green tractor in the distance with a mower attachment, driving along the roadside. Tears filled my eyes quickly before I had a chance to form thoughts.

My husband stepped outside to see what the commotion was about.

“Oh, they’re mowing the sides of the road. Good,” he said blankly before noticing my tears.

“I know,” I replied in a weepy voice.

He stopped in surprise and stared at me.

“But they’re taking away all of my pretty things that I take pictures of every day and all of the things that we see on our walk and chalk every day.” And then tears actually fell.

“It’s okay, babe. They will grow back.”

I didn’t wipe away my tears. I’m a shameless flower-loving, picture-taking, Ozark-woodland-obsessed, nature freak.

Us, May 2014

Us, May 2014

I wasn’t actually crying over flowers. I was crying because I realized something important—that I was grateful for every single second I’d taken to pause and thank God for what He’d created, for the seconds I’d taken to notice those beautiful things, for the seconds I’d spent teaching my daughter to praise God for all things bright and small.

Because just seconds after we’d seen those beautiful things that very morning, they were gone.

I was crying because I am thankful that this morning, I have no regrets about how I spent my seconds.

Going off the grid

IMG_0505Last month, I sat at home with my daughter one chilly spring morning. Before my husband left, I had an eerie feeling that the power might go out. We live in the middle of nowhere, and our electricity often misfires when the wind blows a little too hard, or when the rain falls for longer than five minutes, or when lightning strikes. Against his better judgment, my husband caved to my whining and built a quick fire in our wood stove before leaving at 6:30 a.m., pulling his blue flannel jacket tightly around his body, holding onto his thermos full of hot coffee.

A few moments later, the house was dark and still. We lost power and went without it all morning, the wind howling outside, the temperatures steadily dropping into the low 50s, uncharacteristic for late spring in Arkansas. I was thankful for the fire in the wood stove and added logs to it periodically in spite of Maggie’s protests every time I stepped onto the porch to grab more firewood.

At noon, I curled up in a fleece throw next to my bedroom window, Maggie sleeping soundly in her dark bedroom. The house was blanketed in utter silence–stillness. Living in the middle of the country, surrounded by woods in the foothills of the Ozarks, I thought I’d grown accustomed to silence. But this sort of silence was almost daunting–even deafening. I hadn’t realized how commonplace the buzzing of the HVAC unit had become, how I’d learned to turn a blind eye to the little bright lights on the answering machine, the dishwasher, the coffeemaker, the stove, the alarm clock, how often I’d relied on this sort of background music of daily life to fill the vacant spaces–to entertain me, to keep me going.

As I sat next to the window, I realized that the birds at our feeder certainly recognized the difference that day. In particular, my favorite–the red-bellied woodpecker with the brilliant red head–seemed to understand. All day long for months, I watched the same birds through our windows, feeding at the same feeder, perched upon the same branches. That day, the woodpecker was not startled by anything, not aloof, unafraid. I’m no ornithologist, but I wondered if the woodpecker sensed the change in stillness, the lack of the motors running and the heaters kicking on and off around him. I wondered if he felt at rest.

Why don’t you be like that, Bethany? Why don’t you just be still and show up?

I couldn’t audibly hear God talking to me that day, but I felt Him say something like that to my heart.

That morning, as I frantically added wood to our stove (my wilderness girl skills are not stellar), I worried about the hundreds of dollars of food we’d lose if the power didn’t come back on soon that we had stored in our refrigerator and freezer. I felt nervous about being at home alone with Maggie. I felt restless about not having electricity, even though Maggie was perfectly content.

IMG_1850That morning, God sent my favorite bird to remind me to savor the stillness, to show up in the moment, and to rest with God. My favorite bird reminded me that God would meet all of my soul’s needs. That day, because we lost power for eight hours, I was more thankful for many of the amenities I normally take for granted. I gained confidence in my ability to take care of myself and my daughter. Because we lost power, I spent more time watching my daughter smile, laugh, read books, play silly games over and over again, wear hats, and kiss her face.

I can never get those moments back again.

There is no amount of money I can pay anyone to get those moments back again. All the buzzing and clicking and blinking drowns those moments out, I’m afraid. If I don’t unplug my soul from the grid once in a while, I’m going to short-circuit. If I’m not careful, I’m smothering what matters in my life–strangling the stillness out of my life.

Let me put off what so easily entangles me, God, and just listen to Your quiet, still voice more often.