Seeing love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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? 🙂 

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.

 

THIS is networking.

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

Working as Director of Career Development, 2005

The interview process for my new job began 10 years ago.

My new boss, Steven Rothberg, President/Founder of College Recruiter, presented the keynote address at the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers Conference in 2005. I’d just entered the world of higher education as Director of Career Development at my alma mater. At that conference, I met two people who later proved to be crucial in my career—my new boss, Steven, and my career mentor, Samantha Hartley.

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. :)

My boss, Steven Rothberg, circa 2008. 🙂

While listening to Steven speak at the AACE Conference, I soaked up his enthusiasm and insight like a sponge. His passion for College Recruiter made quite an impression upon me. I became a fan of College Recruiter’s work.

True to my networking-is-all-about-genuine-relationships mantra, I kept in touch with Steven over the course of the past decade. When I learned he was the keynote speaker at the AACE Conference this June, I had to be there, even though my role as an English faculty member didn’t afford me the opportunity to participate in AACE any longer. Thankfully, many of the speakers and workshops pertained to curriculum, so I made a case for my attendance and was able to drive to northwest Arkansas for the day.

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

At the AACE Conference in June 2015 with my friend and former student, Kelsey Lavigne

When I began teaching as a faculty member, I truly never planned on doing anything else. I felt I’d arrived. However, some switch flipped in me when I reconnected with Steven at the AACE Conference. Feeling inspired, I immediately came home and wrote a blog post, which Steven shared on Twitter. A few weeks later, he invited me to participate in a webinar with College Recruiter. The right doors kept opening, and I kept walking through them. I had a gut feeling that if I were ever to do anything other than teach, working for College Recruiter would be my dream job. What would that look like? What exactly could I do for them? I had no idea. I just prayed for God to work things out as He saw fit.

At the beginning of August, I saw opportunities for improvement in content on College Recruiter’s website. I felt torn about whether to mention this to Steven, though, since he was my “ideal boss.” My career mentor asked me if my ideal boss would be offended by my suggestions for improvement.

“I guess not.”

“Well, there’s your answer.”

So I emailed him. Several emails and phone calls later, Steven and his wife Faith, CEO of College Recruiter, offered me the position of content manager.

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

Morning view from my soon-to-be office

This morning, as I drank coffee on my back porch to the sound of a few chilly birds chirping in the distance, I realized that still, soft forest would be my vantage point every single day. In January, I’ll be exchanging my office on campus for my office at home, which is currently being constructed and greets the sunrise.

I won’t go on and on about the variety of ways my new employer rocks. I won’t tell you about how funny Steven and Faith are.. I won’t yack about how amazed I am each time they remind me how important it is to maintain balance and prioritize my family. I won’t brag about the flexibility, the support, or the leadership… okay, maybe I will… just a little bit.

This process has proven these three things to be true.

  • Networking pays off.
  • When in doubt, listen to mentors.
  • English majors can do much more than teach, and earn a great living, too.

Although I do not practice the Jewish faith, I did find it cathartic to give my official “I’m leaving” notice today, the day after Rosh Hashanah began. I have a feeling this will be a particularly good and sweet new year. Shana tovah u’metukah, my friends.

I can’t wait to get started.

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.

God will

There are some moments in life when I’m able to vividly recall exactly what I was doing at precise moments in time. September 11, 2001. 4:21 p.m., November 16, 2012. The moment when my daughter was born. And 10 a.m., May 12, 2014. The moment when my babysitter Keely called to tell me that she was interested in watching Maggie if I were offered a full-time English faculty position.

Dressing up as Velma for Halloween 2013, just to please my students who INSISTED  :).

Dressing up as Velma for Halloween 2013, just to please my students who INSISTED :).

That moment felt pivotal to me because I’d prayed for God’s will related to every aspect of my employment for almost an entire year. From the moment I heard the news that the community college where I taught as an adjunct English instructor would be hiring a full-time instructor in the coming year, I began praying. I prayed for nothing but God’s will, but I’ll admit that I sometimes resorted to fretting about the details in my mind. I wondered if I stood a fighting chance against other candidates who would apply, knowing that my experience in other workplace settings didn’t amount to much when stacked against years of collegiate teaching experience. I wondered if all of my hard work as an adjunct faculty member would pay off, or if I would find myself teaching one or two courses for the next five years before realizing that my dream of teaching full-time might never materialize. I wondered if I should apply for other full-time positions or go with my gut and stick to what I really had my heart set on—teaching full-time at the community college I’d grown to love and wanted to retire from someday. And lastly, but probably most important of all, I wondered if God would provide caring, qualified babysitters to come to our home. I’d worked in daycare settings as a college student, and daycare was a last resort for us.

I began to pray “God’s will” and “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones” every single day about my dream of teaching full-time, even before the job had been posted and long before other people on campus started talking about it. Slowly but surely, God answered my prayers and provided bits of confirmation through words other faculty members said to me, emails and gifts and notes from my students, student evaluation forms, and staff members who encouraged me in true Barnabas fashion.

When I interviewed for the position, I felt complete peace throughout the process. Some of my friends commented and asked me about my demeanor, questioning whether I was excited or not.

“I’m excited, but I’m not sure if I’ll be the person who gets the job. I’m just waiting to see what happens. I’ve just been praying for God’s will, so we’ll see.”

Walking with Maggie on campus last fall

Walking with Maggie on campus last fall

I really meant what I said. In truth, I probably would have cried if I’d not been selected; I wasn’t just applying for a job. I was applying for the opportunity to fulfill a personal dream and to share my passion for learning and literature and writing with students for years to come. By the same token, I trust God’s timing, and I don’t want anything that isn’t supposed to be mine anymore.

But on May 12 at 10 a.m., Keely called and told me she wanted to babysit for me. A weight lifted after she hung up the phone, knowing that if I got my dream job, my baby would be in good hands, too.

One hour later, my boss, the division chair for the arts and humanities division, called me.

She told me I had landed the job. I might have squealed.

I don’t remember 95% of what she said on the phone that day because after she said, “Bethany, I’m not sure if you realize it, but your students really love you,” I started crying silently.

I couldn’t hear anything else. I hope it wasn’t anything that she hasn’t repeated since then.

God knew that I needed my babysitter to call me that day before I got that second phone call. My mentor always tells me that God goes ahead and plans in love. I know that’s what He did for me that morning.

I certainly don’t want anything that isn’t supposed to be mine anymore. But I am so thankful for what is mine today.

The only five-leaf clover I've ever found. I found it three days before I got my job. This picture will soon hang in my office :).

The only five-leaf clover I’ve ever found. I found it three days before I got my job. This picture will soon hang in my office :).

Last week, I went to work in my office on campus even though I am not required to work on campus this summer. It helps me to focus and accomplish a little more since my beautiful toddler can be a little loud and difficult to work around at home. After sitting at my desk and grading speeches for my online summer course, I rubbed my eyes and decided to go to lunch.

While walking down the hall, I caught a glimpse at my own reflection in the window of an office door. Seeing myself, I smiled and instantly felt gratitude wash over me.

This is my life, I thought. Wow. Let me never take this for granted.

God, thank You
for all that You’ve given me
for all that You’ve taken away
and for all that You’ve left me with.

 

Leaning

Our voices reverberated off the cold concrete walls of the isolation room. I held my favorite patient’s trembling hand, his wrists shackled to the hard restraint bed. He swallowed tears while he choked out the lyrics to his favorite song.

Lean on me when you’re not strong. And I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on . . .”

His deep chocolate-brown eyes welled up again as he glanced over at me. He gazed at the ceiling and wept without making a sound.

It was my first real job after graduating from a small, private liberal arts college. I’m sure no one deliberately saddled me with delusions of grandeur, but I somehow came to believe that I’d enter the world of work like a boss (literally), wear a suit every day, stomp around in fierce heels, and edit interesting novels while sipping gourmet coffee and eating fluffy muffins every morning. Think Anne Hathaway post-promotion in The Devil Wears Prada.

The site of my first real job :)

The site of my first real job 🙂

As is the case with almost all new college graduates, reality steamrolled me into submission rather abruptly. After applying for countless jobs and receiving not a single phone call or interview, my friend Mike told me about a treatment facility for emotionally disturbed teenagers. Sure enough, the facility was hiring behavioral staff. At first, I shunned the notion. I’d just spent four years studying English literature and creative writing. Babysitting bad kids could not be God’s will for me. However, after three weeks of relying on my graduation gift money to provide groceries, I desperately drove out to the campus for my interview, the winding, quiet road a reprieve from the busy interstate.

“Now this job’s not for everybody,” Don Ray, the supervisor, mumbled through his thick beard. “You just follow me around for an hour, and you’ll know if you can take it or not.”

He fumbled with a monstrous set of keys as we approached one of the houses where 10 female patients resided. As he turned the knob, incessant shrieks and a cacophony of curse words assaulted my ears.

“What in the world is that?” I gasped, turning to Don.

He half-smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

“Your job.”

The door opened, and one of the female staff members greeted us, her legs propped up on a metal folding chair, arms crossed as she faced a closed door with Plexiglas separating us from the screams, insults, and punches of a wild-haired 13 year-old girl.

I couldn’t help but stare. This was the stuff of Girl, Interrupted.

A week later, I tried on a straight jacket for the first time during training. It was not exactly the type of suit I’d envisioned myself wearing at work.

I’m not sure if it was due to my petite 120 pound frame, Don Ray’s infinite wisdom, or God’s intervention, but I luckily landed my first stint at the facility in a boy’s house working alongside a slew of former football players and one woman, a middle-aged mother figure beloved by all the patients. I watched those former football players mentoring the male patients in every arena of life. They epitomized the father figures and role models the boys had missed before developing severe behavioral and emotional problems. They taught the boys to play basketball and Spades, to fold their laundry and dust the tops of shelves, and to treat others with the same respect they desired. They also didn’t hesitate to dish out serious consequences for undesirable behavior.

One of the male patients quickly became my all-time favorite. His cheerful smile, polite words, and hopeful attitude melted my somewhat Stoic—but ultimately fearful–exterior. “The Reverend,” as he liked to call himself, dreamed of becoming a preacher someday or a modern Martin Luther King, Jr. He inhaled history books and recanted stories of heroic men like Abraham Lincoln. He kept his room tidy and prided himself on his neat, well-groomed appearance. If I’d met him on the street, I would have assumed he had been blessed with a loving family who had taught him how to live the life of a model citizen and future change maker.

But he had no father, and his mother had abandoned him. Aside from his pastor and church family, whom he occasionally visited on outings, he was alone in the world.

And though he did his best to avoid dwelling on the truth of his situation, it occasionally got the better of him.

And so we found ourselves in that concrete room the week after his birthday. Six days in a row, after several apologetic conversations with his mom over the phone, he waited and watched for her face to appear through the tiny pane of the locked metal door to the house. But it never did. So for six days in a row, the two other staff and I winced as we watched the anger, hurt, and loneliness work its way out.

Even though singing with patients was unorthodox at best, I couldn’t help myself that day. I had to reach out to him with a thin thread of hope, just enough for him to grab hold of for a few moments. I wanted him to remember the people who were there with him and to help him forget about the faces that never materialized outside the door.

That day we developed a closer bond than before, and after that, he always held the door for me and went out of his way to make me laugh. He was different from the other boys.

One afternoon, while walking back to the house after playing cards in the gymnasium on campus, I heard him whispering to another male patient in a stern voice. I almost corrected him for reprimanding his peer, but when I heard the words, I paused.

“Look at that ass. Dang.” The other male patient snickered.

“Stop that. That’s Miss Bethany you’re talking about. She’s a lady.”

I smiled and kept walking.

At my 30th birthday party, a fundraiser in memory of my favorite patient

At my 30th birthday party in 2009, a fundraiser in memory of my favorite patient

That boy, that abandoned boy who loved God and held out hope in the midst of his messed up life, was special to me. So special that I once tried to find a way to bring him home with me for Thanksgiving or Christmas break. I guessed that the facility’s rules wouldn’t allow it, and that the red tape of the government agencies responsible for his care wouldn’t even consider it, but I asked anyway.

When that boy died a year later, I was glad I’d tried. Seeing his dignified, lifeless body lying in a casket broke my heart. I held his hand again one last time. This time, it was my tears that spilled over, leaving dark stains on the satin lining surrounding his still frame.

I stood there for a long time, just leaning on him.