Benign

Trying out my baby's puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

Trying out my baby’s puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

“Will you make me some flan?”

I scribbled this barely legible note with my left hand while nursing my daughter a few hours after having my tongue biopsied.

“Flan?” My husband looked at my curiously.

“Oh. Custard. I have no idea why I wrote ‘flan.’ We’ve never made flan.” Apparently the nitrous oxide had a longer lasting effect than I’d realized, and I’d mentally tripped into the tasty world of the Food Network.

Banned from talking for a few days, aside from mambo-jumbo baby talk with my daughter, which mostly consisted of echoing her adorable noises, I found myself in quite a predicament.

Silence is no stranger to me. I’ve learned to be quiet and still and meditate on Scripture, particularly in the mornings. I love writing, and for me, writing requires complete silence and total concentration. I’m surprisingly introverted, and I relish the lack of shallow conversation and the peaceful sound of all things at rest. I once spent an entire year without watching television or movies in my own home, partly due to budgetary necessity, and didn’t miss the din one bit.

But in my younger days, particularly prior to much spiritual reflection, step-taking in my recovery program, and relational maturation, I used silence as a weapon.

“Silence is often the loudest voice.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes. Yet, like all things, silence can be used benevolently or maliciously. I mastered the silent treatment. I pity former partners and family members who witnessed my silent-treatment skills. You might cross me, lie to me, steal from me, cheat on me, or verbally abuse me, but by golly, you would suffer as a result. I withheld myself. For days, sometimes weeks.

Silence has served me well as a means to closer communion with Christ. And it served me all too well as a survival skill and crutch, a tool by which I slowly destroyed relationships and tore away layers of others’ self-esteem. Since I no longer allow myself to wallow in self-pity for any length of time, and since I do my best to avoid the passive-aggressive tendency to resort to the silent treatment in times of relational turmoil, the prescription to be silent due to my biopsy felt like a prison sentence.

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Although we live in a fairly isolated area, lovingly referred to as “The Sticks,” I relish every opportunity to communicate with my two favorite people, both of whom happen to reside in our home. We talk about everything. Well, my husband and I talk about everything. My daughter listens, I think, and attempts to respond by smiling, frowning, and creating a cacophony of amusing sounds.

Communication is the artery that keeps the soul of our family alive. If we stop communicating, which presents itself mostly in the form of verbalizing our thoughts and feelings, we cut off the flow of love and joy and laughter between us. Scribbling notes served its purpose for a few days, but it wasn’t the same as immediately sharing a joke or insight. Humming lullabies and hymns to my daughter pacified her need to hear my voice to some extent, but the puzzled look on her face spoke volumes to me.

Thankfully, the results of my biopsy were benign. My tongue has mostly healed, and I’m able to sing, chat, and pray aloud again painlessly.

I’m thankful, though, for the temporary hole in my tongue and for the silent treatment imposed upon me. Sometimes, you must lose a thing before you can fully realize its significant place in your life. Words are not simply words. They’re the glue holding the three of us together. I’m determined to choose mine wisely, to speak softly, and let nothing clog up the lifeline between us.

First

First time I had sex, I was raped.

First marriage failed.

First gymnastics meet, I dislocated my elbow.

First job in my field, teaching English, was perhaps the worst job I’ve ever had in my life.

debbie downer*Cue Debbie Downer waaah waaaah.*

Clearly, my track record of firsts isn’t necessarily full of gold star stickers and smiley faces.

That’s just not been my life experience.

Until I met my husband. I’m not sure, but I suspect that God has anointed him with an innate sense of what I need and the uncanny ability to meet my needs without my saying a word.

When I met him, things changed.

In reality, I think my perspective simply switched gears, probably thanks to three years in my twelve-step recovery program. I started noticing every first in our relationship, and I’d never done that before. I began to cherish all our moments.

On the porch of my old house, October 2010

On the porch of my old house, October 2010

First time we met at our mutual friend’s birthday party. First time he called me a few days later after my sister sent him a Facebook message, begging him to call me so I would shut up about him. First double date with that same mutual friend and his fiance.

And all the firsts he introduced me to–and still does. First time going to dozens of local landmarks and beautiful places. First time taking a road trip on a four-wheeler. First time on a boat on the White River. First time catching trout and going limb-lining for catfish. First time going hunting (successfully securing venison for future date nights, I might add). First time baking cupcakes from scratch. First time being serenaded by banjo.

Emptying his pockets to purchase our new car :).

Emptying his pockets to purchase our new car :).

First time in my life that anyone has ever paid enough attention to my eyes lighting up at the sight or mention of things and then making those things happen–whether it be a rickety old farmhouse that no one else might want, a safe new vehicle for our baby, or a genuine Rambo knife.

He knows me.

And the most beautiful thing is taking place in our lives.

We have the opportunity, every single day, to create firsts with our daughter. And thanks to my husband’s hard work and his commitment to our family, I get to be here at home with her to see each first as it unfolds.

Maggie's first visit to Lake Dardanelle, 4/6/13

Maggie’s first visit to Lake Dardanelle, 4/6/13

First time petting our cats or letting our dog Clyde lick her chubby fists. First time seeing a tractor scooping up dirt. First time touching the base of an ice-cold glass. First time rolling over and shining with glee and pride in her accomplishment. First time seeing a river or a lake. First time going to church. First time dancing with her Papaw, waltzing through our kitchen. First time being held by the people we love the most.

Great memories. Positive experiences. Joyful smiles. God-filled goodness.

It’s like my life has started all over again.

 

Mama said, part 7

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Me and my sisters, 2010

My eyeballs automatically rolled back into my head at the recitation of this phrase which my mom repeated to me and my sisters so many times that I swore I’d never say it myself.

Yet a few days ago, as election season crept upon us in all its obnoxiousness, I found myself surprised by the number of negative comments and posts on Facebook regarding candidates, political parties, and ideological viewpoints. Election year seems to bring out the dark side of many normal, happy-go-lucky, non-partisan people. Lately, I find myself wondering if everyone had the benefit of learning the lesson, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Most of my “I will be kind and loving to my sister” sentences resulted from my failure to follow this maxim as a child. Each time, my mom would either lecture me incessantly or dole out the 500-sentences-punishment, which was obviously much worse. My sisters and I never got into physical fights, but we didn’t always get along, either. Resorting to ugly remarks or passive aggressive criticisms was one of my favorite vices. I wasn’t a mean little girl; on the contrary, I was pretty nice. From kindergarten to graduation, I was never sent to the office by a teacher or punished in any way. I generally helped other students as needed and tried to treat them the way I wanted to be treated.

However, I also mastered the knack of mulling over unsavory critical thoughts about people without ever allowing those thoughts to form audible sentences. I may not have SAID anything rude or negative, but I was certainly thinking it. This natural tendency to criticize and judge has only been quelled by constant self-redirection. And the awareness of my need for redirection has only come about as a result of acknowledgement of my own character defects and opportunities for growth. And acknowledgement of my defects and growth opportunities has only occurred due to my improved relationship with God, which evolved slowly over the years, thanks to an anonymous recovery program coupled with plenty of prayer, meditation, and Scripture absorption.

With people who’ve taught me to be positive

For me, saying nothing at all doesn’t fix the problem. Saying nothing at all is a great starting point–if I take the action, the feelings are more likely to follow. But I’ve found that I tend to sleep better at night and question my own choices less often if I don’t even let myself ruminate on nasty thoughts. Spitting those negative, critical words out while they’re still silent seems to produce a more genuine, loving Bethany. When I find myself prefacing a comment with, “I’m not trying to be mean, but… ,” I know that whatever’s about to slip out of my mouth would be better left unsaid. And if it’d be better left unsaid, then I might not need to be chewing on it so voraciously, either.

Today, I’m more likely than I used to be to think before speaking. I’m less likely to share juicy gossip that is really none of my business. I’m more likely to focus on positive, encouraging topics of conversation. I’m more likely to ask myself these questions before saying what comes to mind: Is it kind? Is it loving? Is it necessary? Is it beneficial?

I’m sure my mom is proud of my progress. I haven’t had to write “I will be kind and loving” sentences in years–thank God :).

Impeccable

As many times as I’ve doubted the impeccable quality of God’s timing (and trust me, folks, I’ve doubted it plenty of times . . .  Thomas might as well be my middle name), there have been as many times (or more) during the past few months when God has dispelled my misgivings.

With my tiny package, May 2012

This might surprise some of you, particularly those of you who are secretly judgmental but outwardly loving and supportive (as we all tend to be), who are wondering how someone who got married two months AFTER getting pregnant could possibly claim that God’s timing is impeccable.

Nevertheless, it’s true.

First of all, I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s degree in October 2011, on somewhat of a whim, I might add. After mentioning the idea in passing, flippantly at best, I found that I had strong support emotionally and practically from my partner in life to pursue this dream. Pleasantly surprised, I decided to go with the notion that I’d keep walking through open doors until they closed in front of me. I prayed continually as each one swung open without any resistance.

I’m so grateful I decided to go back to school. When I found out I was pregnant at the end of March, I had moments of this-was-not-planned-and-I-am-a-planner panic attacks, but ultimately, I realized that I’d be able to very easily complete my Master’s degree within 18 months, despite the arrival of our bundle of joy this coming November. I know myself, and I know that if I’d hemmed and hawed any longer before going back to school, I would have managed to rationalize my way out of it. God knows this about me, and He hewed together the perfect combination of inspiration, confirmation, and support to nudge me in the direction of “DO IT!”

The beauty of completing my degree before my child is a year old is that it will allow me much more flexibility in career options, allowing me to teach as an adjunct and stay at home to raise my child, which has always been my Plan A if possible.

With my friend Nancy at Weaver Family Medicine, February 2011

Secondly, after relocating to my hometown in December 2010 in order to be with the love of my life and my family, I felt God discouraging me from accepting a follow-up interview for a grant-writing/fundraising position with a great local organization. Anyone who knows me knows that this is precisely the kind of position suited for me. However, something didn’t feel right, and I declined going any further in the process. I’d spent the past 10 years pursuing higher paying, more impressive jobs (which resulted in higher stress and a diminished ability to enjoy life). I knew it wasn’t right for me. Instead, I accepted a lower-paying but much more flexible and fun position at a friend’s medical practice. After less than a year, a part-time position opened up at the community college where I’m now employed. This was a no-brainer, and again, after praying for God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones, He guided me into the place I currently reside. Had I taken the grant-writing position or kept applying for similar jobs, I’d be tied to working full-time, relying on my job for its salary and benefits, and afraid to take the plunge into full-time motherhood this fall.

Lastly, those who’ve known me for years may recall countless times when I scoffed at the idea of having children, or at best, questioned the logic of doing so. While I have been cursed with a healthy dose of tokophobia, the true root of this fear of having children stemmed from two places deep inside of me: the lack of a strong, healthy, and supportive partner, and the untended weeds of grief choking out my inner joy and contentment, subconsciously and quietly. This grief grew from unbearable sorrow inside of me, a sorrow unto death, that I’d buried within me after being raped at 16 the first time I had sex. The grief continued to rear its ugly head in all sorts of sad ways throughout my life for 16 more years until finally, after hearing God very clearly urging me to uproot it, I sought counseling. I finally told my mom, which was honestly harder for me than any counseling session I’ve ever experienced. I made peace with the rapist in an odd turn of events, thanks to someone very brave who knows him well. God effectively excavated the grave I’d dug inside myself years ago and cleared away the debris, making room for new life.

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography, April 2012

Finally, going through two divorces didn’t entirely fix my partner-picking problem. I also benefited from a few years of intense soul-searching and behavior-modifying in a twelve-step program and am eternally grateful to the people who repeatedly assured me that if I took the actions, the feelings would follow. I did, and with the help of the program (and God, who worked seamlessly through it), I found myself making better choices. A few years later, I’m married to the man of my dreams. By writing that, I’m not exaggerating or throwing in a cliché in order to avoid searching for a more accurate description. He is literally who I have always hoped for and never believed God would provide me with; I didn’t even believe men like my husband existed. A month after we started dating, I tentatively showed him my “list” of qualities I preferred and needed in a man, which I’d worked on for months after getting divorced in 2009. He met all 32 of my criteria, even the silly ones.

I would never wish to erase my past experiences because they taught me invaluable lessons about myself which I desperately needed to learn. I also gained the love of a 16 year-old girl, formerly my stepdaughter, who I will always consider my first child, who I will always support and never abandon.

But I do believe there’s a reason I never conceived a baby until now, and part of that is because I believe God was watching over me and doing for me what I could not do for myself. He miraculously fit the pieces of this complicated life puzzle together so that when He began knitting together the priceless creature in my womb, there would be no need for a plan. And no unrequited dreams.  And no room for fear.