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 best and worst of 2015

The truth is I’ve never read The Tale of Two Cities.

After spending 20 minutes scouring SparkNotes—yep, SparkNotes (the shame of it)—and reading quick online plot summaries and popular quote interpretations, I found myself sitting at my white handmade desk at 11:15 p.m. the night before Christmas Eve, tissuing away tears. It might have been the mention of the Christ-figure Carton and his martyrdom, or maybe it was Manette’s inability to tear himself away from making shoes even after being released from prison that got me choked up. I don’t know. But I decided to order a copy of the old classic and conquer it in 2016.

What drew me to the text in the first place was my recollection of the infamous opening paragraph and how well it reflects my sentiments regarding 2015.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .

I won’t even begin to apply the quote to the universe or to philosophize about the state of the Union or the world at large, ISIS, global warming, technology and its effects on Generation Z (or the rest of us for that matter), or the countless other sociopolitical problems we face.

For today, I’ll stick to my own neck of the woods and my little life.

I wish I could not relate to the opening lines of The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I wish I considered these lines ridiculous and over the top. But I relate—I relate very well.

Each autumn, I attend a women’s conference that renews me spiritually. I participate in a group meditation that’s particularly meaningful to me and am handed a phrase which seems to always ring true in the coming year. Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, if you like, but I consider it a positive promise of sorts from God, or something hopeful to work toward or claim. In 2014, the phrase I was handed was “Blessings fill your life.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Indeed—blessings have filled my life this year. Some of them have overwhelmed me with their enormity. God has blown my expectations out of the water in many ways, redefined “miracle,” and allowed me to observe others’ miracles, too.

But this year also brought bone-crushing, soul-splitting grief. I lost several friends whom I dearly loved—and the means of loss were ugly, confusing, and left me with more questions than consolation. When I asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” I didn’t hear a pretty piano playing a sweet hymn in response. I heard nothing.

In those times, I tried to keep doing what worked for me spiritually—to daily maintain my spiritual condition. But sometimes, many times, I just sat outside at night and looked at stars and said nothing at all, and I think He was okay with that. Other times I hated Him and all but spat at Him. I’m pretty sure He was okay then, too. He is God, after all. He is a Big Boy and can handle my humanity, even when I am embarrassed by it.

During those times, I had no idea how “Blessings fill your life” applied to me, but the card emblazoned with the phrase haunted me from my bulletin board. I wanted to throw it in the garbage but never did.

I’m glad I didn’t.

The best of times made their way back around again, and when they did, they did not disappoint.

There’s too much of the best to spell it all out, and quite frankly, some of it is too personal to share. A long time ago God somehow explained to me that we’d share many amazing moments that would blow my mind and steal my heart along this journey together. I learned that if I shared all of them, or even most of them, they’d lose their power somehow. So I pick and choose what I share.

One of the biggest miracles and strangest turn of events occurred in relation to employment. In June, I reconnected with a friend/business acquaintance, and dozens of prayers, careful decisions, and two months later, he and his wife offered me my current position as Content Manager of their company. I’m not joking when I say that I’ve dreamed about working for this company for a decade; seeing God fit multiple pieces of a complicated puzzle together seamlessly this summer was nothing short of breathtaking.

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With my bosses/mentors/friends, Steven & Faith Rothberg

I recently traveled to Minnesota to train for a few days. We worked like dogs, but I never felt tired until I closed my eyes at night. While recalling specific conversations and moments with a team member recently, I realized that not once while training and brainstorming did my bosses say, “Oh no, we just can’t do that,” or “That’s not a good idea.” Perhaps THIS is why I’m overcome with gratitude every time I think about work.

This year I also realized that losses and flaws are often my greatest gifts.

While driving back from the airport after traveling to Minnesota, alone, tired, and ready to see my little Maggie who I knew would be ready to see me, I hurriedly drove at sunset while chugging cheap coffee. I suddenly felt a moment of panic when I realized I couldn’t recall if I’d taken the right exit or not. What if I didn’t, and I am heading in the wrong direction? I really have no idea where I’m going. I paused, took a deep breath, and prayed for guidance. I decided to call my husband for help even though I hated asking for his help while driving because believe it or not, he can be a little cocky at times.

When he answered the phone, he was calm and helped me right away. I was heading in the right direction after all.

Something in my mind clicked; God seemed to be saying If you never felt fear, you would never trust Me.

Oh my God. You’re right. Thank You for my fear.

I couldn’t believe I was driving down the road thanking God for my FEAR. What a gross thing to be thankful for. But for me, an egotistical, independent perfectionist, a little fear may be necessary to keep me coming back.

That got me thinking about the rest of my “best of times and worst of times.” The most painful moments when I have been smothered by grief have felt the worst, but those moments led me to seek the Comforter, the only One who can fill gaps in me. I’ve felt frustrated and at a total loss when my toddler doesn’t comply and goes in the opposite preferred direction, but this reminds me I’m not in control and Who Is. There have been many times this year when I felt too overwhelmed to speak or write. I learned that God and I communicate just as well as two silent beings.

Blessings have filled my life after all.

 

God’s big hands

422175_481118075239410_57455172_nWhen I was 10 years old, I met Harmony Culbreath. She brought nothing but sunshine to my life. My mentor defines elevator people as people who lift you up and basement people as people who drag you down; Harmony lifted me up. She was constantly smiling, cracking jokes, and singing with her deep, one-of-a-kind beautiful voice that gave me chills. I’d still rather listen to Harmony’s voice than to anyone else’s voice if I had to choose one person to listen to for the rest of my life.

I remember—and still laugh every time I think about it—a long minivan ride home from Little Rock. I am not sure what the trip entailed, but Harmony had ridden in our family van, along with me and my slew of sisters and parents. On the way home, in the back of the dark van, my sisters and I begged Harmony to sing popular rock songs and hymns to us over and over and over again and were mesmerized by her voice. My mom, on the other hand, eventually became annoyed at the junior high a capella karaoke and finally yelled at us and asked us to shut our traps and play the silent game. We were sorely disappointed. This put an end to Mariah Carey, Wilson Phillips, and the other tunes Harmony belted out for us in perfect pitch.

Harmony never seemed to display fear. If she felt afraid, she didn’t show it. Once, when we went ice skating—which she’d never done before in her life—she attempted a single axel. She actually made it halfway around before the toe of her skate dug into the ice, causing her to fall face forward into the ice. She scraped her face on the ice, creating a fairly nasty gash on her cheekbone. That didn’t deter her for long. She slapped a Band-Aid on the spot and kept on skating. Harmony had guts when it came to playing softball, too. She slid and pushed and shoved and was so aggressive that other girls were often so intimidated by her that she was virtually untouchable on the field.

I remember moments when Harmony shared deeply personal and intimate stories and memories with me regarding personal relationships, first dates, family secrets, and other internal struggles. Harmony was a genuine human being—she had the capacity to be honest and real. This is a trait that many people do not come by easily in today’s world. In some ways, this made her a more vulnerable person, but in other ways, it made her stronger.

1544453_10202971807282635_577239659_nObviously, Harmony was a renaissance woman. If she set her mind to do something, she did it. I think she must have applied this same fierce determination to her career, and it’s probably why she found success singing and performing for years while juggling her full-time job of raising four children. She didn’t half-ass anything in life, including being a mama. Harmony loved her babies, and she loved them well. Anyone who vaguely knew her, even online, could clearly see that Harmony’s focus was on ensuring that her four children knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were loved by her.

You can’t lose someone like Harmony and expect that life is just going to move on. Clichés like “God works everything out for the best” or “There’s a reason for everything” mean nothing right now. In fact, those phrases piss me off in situations like these.

10610566_10205781782930270_3974353586199131000_nAs someone who does believe in God—and I know Harmony shared this faith–I do attempt to work to accept reality and life on life’s terms. The reality is that Harmony is not coming back, and the reality is that her children are without their mother. I have found that what helps me in times like these is to stop focusing on the problem and to focus on the solution. Part of focusing on the solution is to focus on God’s goodness instead.

Okay—so where is God’s goodness in this situation? I asked myself this question the night that I got the news about Harmony’s death. Searching… searching…. Searching… I’ve got nothing.

Today, as I stood outside during my own daughter’s nap, I drank a cup of coffee while the wind whipped through my hair and dried the tears that flowed down my cheeks, the tears that have somewhat steadily flowed down my face like molasses since hearing this news. I began asking myself a myriad of rhetorical questions…. Where are her children? Who is caring for them? Are they crying right now and missing their mama? Who is going to comfort them? Who is rocking them now and singing those sweet songs to them that Harmony used to sing to them? Will they be in safe arms? Will they be fed plenty of food, and when they go to bed at night, will they be in a home that keeps them free from danger of every kind? Are they all together so they can retain some semblance of normalcy since their primary caregiver has been ripped from their lives? God, are you hearing these questions??? ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME RIGHT NOW?

And while those molasses-like tears began picking up their pace, I felt Him respond.

Don’t you think I’m capable of holding all four of them right now? Don’t you believe that I Am their Mother and their Father?

Yes.

So one more time, I’ll choose to trust God. His hands are big enough to hold all four of those precious babies.

This is my story . . .

*My friend Samantha Hogan has been gracious enough to share my life story with her followers on Facebook. I thought I’d share it on my own blog as well. A wise woman once told me, “The past is in the past. You don’t have to bring it up or talk about it ever again, unless you choose to, and unless it can help someone else.” 18 years ago, my reality was harshly altered. 18 years later, God has transformed me and refused to let ugly actions permanently alter my beautiful future. Here’s hoping God will do what He says He’ll do for YOU in Isaiah 63–transform ashes into beauty.*

What my life was like before

I was baptized in a creek when I was five years old. I had no clue what I was doing or what it meant. I just wanted to be like my dad. Months before he left our family and became smothered by his drug addiction, he was baptized as part of a semi-charismatic revival or camp meeting. I don’t remember the details. I just remember my dad sitting me down on a big rock before we headed down to the creek, asking me why I wanted to be baptized.

“Because you are, Dad.”

So they let me. It didn’t hurt anything. I barely remember it.

After my parents divorced, my mom was stuck raising four girls, ages seven and under, by herself. She still managed to take us to church. For a while, she dropped us off for Sunday School and picked us up afterwards. Then she started going with us again. In Sunday School, I learned all the books of the Bible and earned a beautiful orange, shiny bookmark, the first of several hundred in my current collection. My Sunday School teacher must have understood the hardships my mom faced because she offered to pay to send me to gymnastics lessons, something I wanted to do but something a single mom on welfare cannot afford. Mrs. Gutshall was one of the first people to show me, not tell me, how to love others and give selflessly, for fun and for free.

My super cool friend Morgan, circa 1990-ish

My super cool friend Morgan, circa 1990-ish

When my mom remarried, and we relocated to Arkansas after her graduation from dental hygiene school, we started attending a small Southern Baptist church within walking distance from our house. During a lay renewal that September, my friend Morgan wanted to “get saved” when her grandma, our teacher, asked anyone who wanted to ask Jesus into her heart to say a prayer with her. Morgan grabbed my hand, so I decided I better pray the prayer, too, since Morgan was cool, and she was my BFF.

At that time, I gained a better understanding of what “church things” meant. I knew God was God. I understood basic Christian doctrine. I’m not sure I understood what the future held, and that in only six short years, having basic head knowledge of Christianity would not cut it. I would need more than that. I would need a passionate, desperate, trusting relationship with the Healer.

Growing up, I maintained that head knowledge and fostered it. I grew in understanding, memorized verses, and refused to have sex, drink, or do drugs. I wasn’t perfect, but I liked being the “good girl” in my group of friends. My churchy background taught me that if I did X, Y, and Z, I could basically guarantee an easier, more joyous, and safer life.

That proved to be false.

What happened to change me

When I was 16, I was raped the first time I had sex by a family friend. I didn’t tell my mom, for reasons too confidential and complicated to explain in a few short sentences. I harbored the hurt, PTSD, and anger for years. I wrote in my journals, smoked a lot of marijuana, and engaged in risky behaviors. I didn’t care anything, most of all myself and my own well-being. “True love waits” was a joke. You can wait as long as you want, I thought, but someone can screw everything up for you anyway. So who cares?

Me "faking it" during the worst year of my life.

Me “faking it” during the worst year of my life.

I didn’t. Not anymore. A few friends reached out to me and recognized the drastic difference in my attitude, the look in my eyes, my decision-making. But for the most part, I kept up a fairly Stoic façade and did so well enough to fool my parents and most other people in my life.

When I went on a mission trip to help build a church in Oklahoma, something clicked. Maybe it was the feeling I got from helping others. Maybe it was putting some distance between me and the marijuana and friends and negativity back home. Maybe it was the Native American man who took me aside after I sang during a worship service and said, “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something special about you. You keep using that gift. You keep following God. He’s going to do something with you.”

On July 4, 1996, as the sun set and the fireworks began, I slipped away from the group and sat on an old rickety wooden fence and had a candid discussion with the God who I presumed existed but did not care too deeply about me personally.

Well, I’ve tried everything else. If you can give me peace and change me, please, please, PLEASE do it.”

That was it. No big words. Just a big moment in my soul.

I’d like to say that’s the end of the story, and that I lived happily ever after.

That’s not real life. It’s not my real life, anyway. Afterward, my faith grew exponentially. But my ability to let go of the coping mechanisms and go-to reactions I’d acquired as a result of trusting Bethany rather than trusting God were not easy to part with. My spiritual life was literally a roller coaster. I lived very much like the Israelites in the Old Testament who worshipped God, followed Him for a while, got cocky, did their own destructive things for a while, crashed and burned, repented, and started the cycle all over again. I spent almost two years free from the behaviors I’d engaged in to fill a void in me. Then I reverted right back to 16 year-old Bethany for a while. Then I spent another year clean and clear and growing like a weed spiritually. Then I reverted again.

I did this, with varying lengths of time between relapses, for years. It seemed that I could never fully trust God, although my heart really wanted to. It seemed that my mind wouldn’t let me. My tendency to over analyze, criticize, and cynically rip apart every pure intention only worsened when I became entrenched in the disease of alcoholism after marrying a man who could not stop drinking.

Years went by. I kept going to church. I kept reading my Bible. But I became less trusting, more cynical, and more bitter. Then, thanks to my second husband’s addictive behavior leading me to a point of crisis, I turned to an anonymous recovery program for help. And I got it.

I didn’t just learn how to change my actions and behaviors. I had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over, just me and God. No churchy religious mess in the way. Nobody telling me what to think and believe. No judgmental, self-righteous “we’re praying for you” whispers—translated as “we’re all talking about you”–around me.

Just me. And God.

What my life is like now

That was six years ago. Since then, I’ve continued to grow closer to God, little by little. I am far from perfect, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The more I lean on God, and the more I let Him have, the less the old Bethany shows up. And the more I like who I am.

Changing is a process, not a moment. It involves a lot of sweat and tears, a lot of falling down and getting up again, and a lot of forgiveness. It took giving up on church for a while and wrestling with God honestly. It took a recovery program, and it still does. It took Christian counseling, too, because some scars are deceitful, just scabs covering festering wounds from the past. Thankfully, God is patient, kind, and tender-hearted, and His kindness led me to repentance, over and over again. It still does, and it always will.

Today I choose to do the next right thing more often because I have a secret, precious, deep relationship with the Man Who Healed My Heart. I know I cannot lose His love, no matter what, and the more I make choices to trust Him, the more I trust Him, because He keeps proving Himself trustworthy.

cropped-009.jpgI have the Chinese symbol for trust and belief tattooed on my left wrist to remind me of what matters.

And I have His Love wrapped around my heart, which is really all that matters.

2012 gift list

My first meal in 2012 on New Year's Day

My first meal in 2012 on New Year’s Day

Last year, I started a tradition of writing a gift list, recording the ways God had blessed me by teaching me a new lesson, adjusting my proverbial eyesight, or concreting an abstract concept. As I celebrated New Year’s over cabbage rolls with my then boyfriend and his family, I had no idea what gifts God had in store for me in 2012.

This morning, as I crept out of my newborn daughter’s nursery and quietly filled my mug with coffee, I reflected on how vastly different my world seems now compared to then. And yet one thing remains constant despite the myriad of changes whirling around me–God never ceases to surprise me. He blows my expectations away. He gives me what I do not deserve and withholds harsh and painful consequences that I do deserve. He dusts off places inside me I’d resigned as impossible to clean.

When I look back, I see His beautiful fingerprints all over my life.

These are a few of the gifts given to me in 2012.

  • The big picture. Throughout my life, God has allowed many negative and painful things to elapse. One of those things toward the top of that terrible list is the experience of being raped the first time I had sex at the age of 16. As many of you read about over the course of a series of blog posts on this topic, God did what He has rarely done for me before–He allowed me to see the big picture and brought many of the puzzle pieces together before my eyes, revealing to me various reasons and motives behind the question, “Why did this happen to me, God?”
    I am not sure why He chose to bless me with the information and insights He shared, but I am grateful nonetheless. I’m grateful for my good friend who shared his secret with me, which shed light on my own story due to the intricate connections between us and the man who raped me. I’m grateful for my counselor who led me through the valleys of shadow, death, and grief as I unearthed years of buried emotions. And I’m grateful for the clarity I found on the other side.
  • Forgiveness. As a result of this clarity, I found fuel to forgive the man who raped me. This sparked a series of revelations regarding sins and missteps I’d never forgiven myself for. Five years ago when I began the process of recovery in a twelve-step program for families and loved ones of alcoholics, God showed me in subtle ways that I must first forgive myself before finding fuel to forgive others. Since then, He has presented me with opportunities to apply this lesson learned to real life situations. Forgiving the man who raped me was a mountainous obstacle to overcoming this complicated roadblock to peace.
  • 001Timing. This year, God perfectly timed and ordered my circumstances for my maximum benefit. I believe He has always done this, but I haven’t always noticed. This year, I noticed. I noticed that He healed me from painful parts of my past just prior to surprising us with the news that we would soon be parents. I noticed that He pried the invisible calendar from my hands containing minute details of the order of MY plans for MY life and politely crushed it into a tiny paperwad before tossing it into the trashcan. I begrudgingly let go of my schedule, crossed out all the items on my to-do list, and let God reset the timer. I learned that it’s impossible to plan out every second of my life and that some of the most wonderful things occur when I stop trying.
  • About 30 weeks along, September 2012

    About 30 weeks along, September 2012

    Patience. Wise friends in recovery have warned me against praying for patience for years–if you ask God for patience, He gives you opportunities (which are often painful) to grow in patience rather than granting your wish and instantly filling you with the virtue. At least that’s been my experience. I did not ask God to let me become pregnant, but He blessed me with my baby anyway. As someone who has feared and loathed pregnancy my entire life, I did not look forward to spending 40+ weeks of my life dealing with the growing pains of pregnancy. Although I did not enjoy being pregnant and hope to avoid repeating that experience, I definitely gained patience as a result of the complications and symptoms I faced during pregnancy which were utterly out of my control. As I sat in my recliner for hours on end, I learned that letting the dust accumulate on the carpet for a few more days would not cause anyone any harm and that taking only one course in the fall semester would simply slow the rate of completion for graduate school, not stop it. I didn’t ask for patience, but I’m glad I got it.

  • Security. I’m not sure why, but ever since I was a child I’ve had an unfounded fear of someone breaking in to my house at night and hurting or murdering me and my family. I didn’t watch horror movies or even scary television shows as a child, so I’m not sure where this fear originated. After circumstances surrounding my experience of being raped, my fear of this increased and seemed logical rather than irrational. I have been known to refuse to sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door, to check the locks on doors and windows countless times, and to lie in bed for hours on end, listening to every little creak and groan of the floors, wind, and tree limbs. I’ve been too scared to sleep, literally and not so literally. In July of 2010, when I met my husband, the number of sheep required for counting each night began lowering.
    Tying the knot at our home, April 2012

    Tying the knot at our home, April 2012

    As I watched him choose good over evil, right over wrong, and truth over deception repeatedly, I believed his declaration of love for me more and more. I learned to trust him. This year deepened my trust for him in many ways. He cared for me selflessly during the roughest patches of my pregnancy. He encouraged me to quit my job in order to focus on finishing graduate school and resting during my pregnancy, promising me that he would take care of me financially. Having started working at age 13 as a tutor and never remaining unemployed for more than a few weeks ever since, trusting someone else to meet my needs felt foreign. But as I learned to still my worried mind, and close my watchful eyes, I found myself finally able to rest.

  • With my darling, November 2012

    With my darling, November 2012

    Fulfillment. I thought I’d felt fulfilled before. I’d accomplished plenty. I made all A’s in high school. I graduated from college with honors. I have maintained a perfect GPA in graduate school so far. I have held great paying jobs and managed people, events, and departments. I’ve donated my time and energy to serving others overseas and in my local community. I’ve reached out and helped others and experienced the joy of being used by God as a catalyst for growth and revelation in others’ lives. I had no idea that I’d never felt as fulfilled as I could, and I certainly didn’t expect that I’d feel completely fulfilled by becoming a mother. But I do.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the unexpected gifts are always the best.

 

The table legs

A much younger version of my Chumbles

A much younger version of my Chumbles

I’m lucky enough to have several half-brothers, but I don’t see most of them often or at all. I’m fortunate to have a nephew by marriage who is now a big college kid, but he’s busy traveling the world and engineering monstrous machines and dating cute girls. I’m also blessed with another nephew, my firstborn niece or nephew, Joshua AKA Chumbles. At the mature age of almost 12, I’m sure he might be appalled that I’m sharing his nickname with the world via the internet.

I like to think that Joshua and I have a special bond. I was there when he was born (well, almost… apparently my antics and attempts to ensure my sister received an epidural and other drugs were not well-received by the medical staff, and I was relegated to the waiting room for the final moments of her delivery). For several years, I lived in the same town and was able to be THAT aunt–you know, the aunt who attends soccer practices, not just games. The aunt who takes more pictures than the exhausted mother. That aunt.

One Christmas, when Joshua was almost two years old, my family and I celebrated and sipped on cider together at my mom’s house. Joshua toddled around, entertaining all of us with his rendition of Frosty the Snowman, leading the entire family in a parade, carrying paper towel rolls to mimic the musical instruments of the boys and girls on the cartoon he loved watching so much. During post-dinner conversation in the dining room, our quiet chat erupted into a caterwaul. Joshua’s panicked screams filled the room–well, the house, really–and everyone came running to see what was the matter.

Joshua had cleverly discovered, by careful crawling maneuvers, that he could position himself directly in the center of the base of my mom’s retro dining table–you know, the type with the metal hoop connecting all four legs at the base. The hoop served as the perfectly sized circle to encase a curious two year-old boy. Unfortunately, once Joshua had managed to crawl inside the hoop and stand up, grasping onto two sides of the circle, he discovered that he had no idea how to reverse his actions and get out of the ring of terror surrounding him.

So he cried. Desperately. He was inconsolable. Being THAT aunt, I quickly dropped to the floor and tried to rescue my precious little guy from this predicament. I tried prying his hands gently from the metal hoop to no avail. I talked to him and reassured him that we would get him out of the precarious predicament. Finally, my mom and sister lifted up on the table, raising it off the floor while I simultaneously lifted Joshua up and quickly loosened the death grip his hands had on the table legs. I pulled him to my chest and held him. His sobs instantly subsided.

My sweet baby girl, three weeks old

My sweet baby girl, three weeks old

Last night, as I collapsed into bed under mounds of covers, I found myself doing what any good insomniac does–thinking, mulling over, contemplating, ruminating, and worrying. As I contemplated the fact that my daughter would turn one month old in two days, I felt overcome with sadness and fear. Where had the time gone? Had I spent it wisely? Had I appreciated each and every smile and sound emanating from her adorable body? If one month had elapsed so quickly, would I wake up tomorrow and realize six years had passed? Would she still love me when she became a teenager? What if something happened to her? What if I couldn’t prevent it? What if? WHAT IF?

Suddenly, the memory of Joshua crying and clenching those metal table legs came to mind. In the mysterious way that God does, and in a way I can’t rationally explain, I heard Him whisper to me.

“You have to let go before I can get you out.”

My fears and anxiety have kept me encircled and self-contained for years. And just like Joshua that day, my cries and worries and pleading are all in vain if I don’t release my grip on those table legs so that He can raise me up, pull me out, and hold me.

And when I let Him, the sobbing in my soul instantly subsides.

Lighting fire

I have walked by the light of my own fires for too long.

This explains why I’ve repeatedly fallen on my face.

I’ve struggled with trusting God rather than trusting Bethany most of my life. I’ve tried understanding my own struggle. Perhaps I just don’t have an innate ability to trust God, like “doubting Thomas” who needs to see the scars to believe. Maybe the tragedies and sadness in life have blinded me to the merit of choosing to follow Someone Who Knows the Way. I can speculate and analyze myself to death, but at the crucial juxtaposition of two roads in the woods, I’ve often chosen the one that seemed best at the time rather than the one with the Guide.

Recently, while reading up on the topic of trust, I came across Isaiah 50. I’ve read Isaiah many times; in fact, it’s one of my favorite books of the Bible. Somehow verses 10-11 never penetrated the seemingly impenetrable wall between my sight and my soul. When I reread the verses today, after being drawn to them repeatedly over the past few days, the words welded a hole in that wall, and they stuck to me.

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with
flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set
ablaze.
This is what you shall receive
from my hand:

You will lie down in torment.”Isaiah 50:10-11

While reading these lines this morning, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave flashed before my eyes. I envisioned myself as a cave dweller, chained and unable to turn around, with only shadows of real light to reflect on. In Plato’s Allegory, the true philosopher is the person who is freed from the cave, unchained, and able to recognize true light from shadow. The freed philosopher then works to free the other prisoners by enlightening them.

Why have I relied on my own fires for so long?  Why have I stared at shadows with the Light at my back? Why have I not embraced freedom?

I think the key is in verse 10. “Who among you fears the Lord?” In this context, “fears” does not refer to shaking, trembling, and cowering before God. It’s a term used to describe “true religion,” as termed in my Bible’s commentary, or real reverence to God. It’s used in Proverbs 1:7 to explain the foundation of knowledge. If real recognition–and reverence–of God is the beginning of knowledge, and if real reverence of God is required to trust in and rely upon the Lord for Light and guidance, then there’s my missing link. I have not really believed God is Who He Is, at least not consistently. Instead, I’ve believed what I could see–that the world is a dark, lonely, and cruel place. And to let my guard down is to make myself prey to it. If I can’t see Who He Is, or if I’m blinded to the truth of Who He Is by the realities of the world around me, then how can I follow Him through the darkness? I just can’t. Instead, I’ve relied on my own itty bitty ability to rub two sticks together in a feeble attempt to keep myself warm for a little while.

I’ve been freezing to death for years.

All this time, He’s been standing outside the cave, shining the Light at my back, waiting for its warmth to turn my head away from the shadows to see what’s real.

“Arise, shine, for your light
has come.

And the glory of the Lord rises
upon you.”  –Isaiah 60:1

Thank God I don’t have to keep rubbing those sticks together.