How to move

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI woke up humming a tune.

“Whippoorwills in the willows…” I love that little song. It takes me back to a sweet time in my life when I had fewer cares and responsibilities, a time when love enveloped me like the warm comforter I nestled in as I awoke with the June sunshine streaming in through my bedroom window.

I have always heard “be where your hands are.” My mentor wrote this line to me this week, “Let your head be where your hands and feet are.”

Same essential meaning, but it hit me differently. Yesterday morning, I found myself nearly paralyzed in bed. This inability to move (and unwillingness to get up–it was half inability and half desire) only lasted for about five minutes, thankfully, but it was long enough for me to pause and reflect on the cause. I was unable to get up and make my daughter a cup of strawberry milk and to make my coffee for five minutes because I was humming a little sad tune from a movie I watched during a beautiful time in my life. I was reminiscing. And I was grieving.

When my head and thoughts are reflecting on the past and meditating on memories, I am completely incapable of being in the present. I’m unable to move. I’m unable to go forward. I’m unable to take actions. I’m unable to do stuff. I’m unable to have fun with my kid. The entire time I was floating through the memories of hearing that song then—and humming it again 18 years later—my daughter tugged on my arm, jumped in my bed, and even told me jokes. I half-listened, half-smiled, and half-replied to her. I was half-there. But I’ve been taught that half measures avail me nothing. And living a half life isn’t really living my life, either.

If I’m grateful for the RIGHT NOW, I’m capable of getting up, getting out of bed, and making strawberry milk and coffee in the morning without any problem, without any hesitation. I can do that when I switch my thoughts and focus from back then to right now.

Sometimes I do that easily, as I did yesterday morning, by simply making a mental choice to stop thinking about the past. Sometimes it’s not as simple, quick, or easy. I need to reach deep into my toolbox for help. I pray and work through the Steps of recovery, admitting I’m powerless over my desire to live in the past. I admit that I’m incapable of being where my hands are and ask for God to restore me to sanity. That’s expressing willingness. I say, “Help me, God!” I’ve never known a time when I’ve asked God desperately for help, and He’s pooh-poohed my genuine, unselfish request to make a change.

Another practical way I focus on what I’m grateful for—which switches my focus from then to now—is by paying attention to what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. And I give thanks to God for those things right away, and usually aloud. Does that make me seem like a weirdo? Maybe, but usually I’m home with my daughter, so who really cares? I’ll thank God for the smell of hot coffee as it’s brewing, for the warm sunshine on my blanket, and for the sparkle in Maggie’s eyes every morning. When I’m thanking God with my mouth, my mind doesn’t have as much control over me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m then capable of reading, praying, and meditating and putting first things first. I can make homemade muffins for the cutest four and a half year-old girl in the world. When my head is where my hands are, I’m grateful for where my hands are. When my head is living in 60-second snapshots from the past, I’m not able to see our gray kitten’s fur standing up on end, chasing a bird. I’m unable to hear Maggie giggling while chasing him across the yard. I can’t laugh in response. I choke down fresh farm eggs and homemade chocolate cake; food is bland when I’m in a time warp, either reliving something sad and beautiful or wishing I’d made different choices.

Thankfully, I’ve been taught how to live here. I’ve been taught how to live HERE, where my hands are, where I exist, in reality, where the clock is ticking on the table next to me.

I’d rather be wrong

Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.

“You were right about him.”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In the pit of my gut, I winced.

There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”

Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.

A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.

Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.

If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.

I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.

It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.

And God, I want it.

It works!

My turkey painting by Michelle Young of MY Moments

My turkey painting by Michelle Young of MY Moments

I have a friend who sells fat-burning wraps which apparently really work–the name of the company is It Works, after all. I can’t personally attest to the company’s claim, and I don’t know anything about the science behind the products, but I do know one thing: whatever works for me is what I’m going to keep doing.

Recently I read an article by John Piper about gratitude and motivation. Piper reasons with readers and outlines a theological basis for his claim that gratitude is “a species of joy which arises in our heart in response to the good will of someone who does (or tries to do) us a favor.” He goes on to discuss what gratitude is, isn’t, and what it ought to be. And I agree with Piper.

At the same time, I’d like to go on the record by making the most important claim of all about the habit of gratitude: it just works.

That’s it. Is it selfishly motivated? Maybe, at times, depending on the person and circumstances. Is it right or wrong to be thankful for material things rather than people and higher concepts? I don’t know. If my motives for making a gratitude list are to improve my emotional state or attitude, am I being selfish?

Who cares?

I’m the first to admit that I have cared about lofty, heady issues way too much in the past. I cared more about being right than I cared about being happy. I minored in religion and philosophy. I’ve read countless articles, books, and blog posts arguing this point or that, providing plenty of rhetorical arsenal for people like the old Bethany who still need to search for the answers and convince others that their answers are incorrect.

That’s just not me anymore (most of the time, thank God!).

Six and a half years ago, I reached a spiritual breaking point. I found help climbing out of the pit through an anonymous 12-step recovery program for families and loved ones of alcoholics.

I had developed lots of bad habits. I’d become controlling, manipulative, judgmental, critical, cynical, depressed, anxious, and desperate. Ugh. Thankfully, the way of life I found worked for me, and today, the real Bethany keeps emerging little by little.

This program is one of action. It demands that I take action based on what is right, not based on my feelings. One of the ways I do this is by practicing gratitude.

God used the habit of gratitude to help change my attitude and outlook on life. The first step in developing this habit was to keep a daily gratitude list of three items–wholly unique every day. At first, it didn’t change any of my feelings or actions. I kept the list begrudgingly at first because I had been asked to do it. My attitude was not yet transformed :). After a few months, I noticed myself paying more attention to the good moments in my day, to the kind acts of the people around me, and to the beauty in the world. Why? I was looking for items for my gratitude list. I’d become accustomed to focusing on the good, and my focus on the good had minimized the appearance of the bad.

Lo and behold, a few years later, gratitude had become the norm, and grumbling, whining, pitying myself, and worrying began falling to the wayside.

The more I focus on what I have to be grateful for, and the more energy I expend thanking God and thanking others–either in words or actions–the less time and energy I have to dwell on things that bum me out, make me worry, or piss me off.

I make gratitude lists, in my head and on paper. I choose to bite my tongue when I want to whine and moan and try, instead, to say something positive–usually expressing gratitude for someone, or pointing out the good around me. I give gifts–whatever I have to give–because my heart is full of gratitude for God’s love and the miracles He’s done in my life. Giving to others gives me an outlet for that love. I deliberately look for opportunities to thank people who’ve made a positive difference in my life. I try not to post negative comments or updates on my personal social media pages or blogs; instead, I choose to share what’s good. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing negative in my life today. I just don’t feel like focusing on the negative anymore. I also encourage others to be grateful because if the people around me are positive and thankful and mindful of God, then they’ll encourage and motivate me in return.

Isn’t that selfish?

Probably. But that’s okay with me.

I just want to do what works–what helps me make progress.

glory of God quoteI’m primarily concerned with becoming more of who God wants me to be–more of who He made me to be. The Bethany I want to be  is happy, joyous, and free. She worries less and trusts more. She smiles in the face of adversity and laughs over spilled milk. She takes pleasure in spending time with people she loves and loves the people God has put in her life. She celebrates beauty. She is, as John Eldredge puts it, “the glory of God–[wo]man fully alive.”

Life is too short to spend my time picking apart something that works. Gratitude works.

I’ll take it, chalk it up as a blessing, and keep doing it.

 

 

 

 

Keep coming back

Today I sat on a puffy leather couch at a local coffeehouse, answering questions posed by a kind woman who’s writing a news article about our local recovery program. My enormously pregnant belly served as a great prop for my decaffeinated gingerbread latte. I curled my marshmallow-like feet up on the cushions.

Me in 2007, two months before I began my journey in recovery

What a difference five years makes. Five years ago, I attended my very first 12-step meeting out of total desperation; a crisis in my romantic relationship had alerted me to the possibility that I might not actually know as much as I thought I did. I might not be in control of every single thing. And I might need help to determine the next best step to make.

I began learning. SLOWLY. I was eager and willing to read my heart out, work through the 12 steps, and attend meetings. Changing my behavior–which, in turn, changed my patterns of thinking–was a more gradual and reluctant process. Old habits die hard, and I had several unhealthy habits clinging to life support (thus sucking the life from me every single day). Thankfully, the patient people in my group reminded me that they’d just keep loving me until I loved myself and encouraged me to “keep coming back.”

They told me to keep coming back because they knew that if I worked at it, the same miracles God had performed in their lives through recovery would duplicate themselves in my life, too.

They were right.

I’m so grateful I did not give up before the miracles began happening. And so grateful they’re still happening in my life, day after day.