Say yes

I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.

“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”

Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.

“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”

At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.

Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).

Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.

“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”

Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.

“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.

“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”

More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.

“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”

The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.

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Toga party for Oral Communication, 2015

Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.

Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.

In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.

“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”

I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.

“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”

I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).

I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

“Right here.”

Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.

Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.

 

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.

The golden ticket essay

*One of my students, Jared Tickner, in Comp II this semester gave me permission to share this essay with all of you. This is his first essay for the semester; I read it after reading a stack of other essays that were good essays but didn’t quite measure up in one way or another. Some of the essays contained interesting content and fit the assignment criteria (write a 2-3 page essay explaining your core beliefs and how those beliefs impact your daily choices) but fell short in the grammar, style, and mechanics departments, or were more polished grammatically but somewhat boring or unorganized. I kept looking for my “golden ticket” essay–a real winner in each category. 

Then I read the opening line of Jared’s essay. I was hooked. I literally stepped out into the hallway and did a happy dance and announced that I’d found my golden ticket. I’m sure my fellow faculty members were thrilled by my discovery :). The essay isn’t flawless, but it’s beautifully written and impacted me upon reading it. 

Thankfully Jared agreed to allow me to share this essay with all of you. Thank you, Jared, for your honesty and the sharing of your gift of writing. As my former professor (and wonderful poet), Andrea Hollander, used to always say, “Keep writing!”

 

I saw my first murder when I was four years old. I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember that. I grew up in a town of 100,000 people in central California. My family tree is not one that would be considered ideal. I come from a long line of addicts and abusers. I am the only male in my immediate family who has not been to prison; therefore, I never had any good examples when I was growing up. I did, however, have plenty of bad examples. I never noticed just how abnormal my life was when I was a child. I never expected or strived to be different from anybody else, but what I’ve come to understand is that I am not ashamed by anything that I have done or anything that I have been witness to. The events of my past have shaped me into the man who I am today. I am not proud of some of the things that I have done in order to survive, but I am not ashamed of any of my actions either. I was physically abused by my father, and I watched my brothers quite literally attempt to kill each other.

I was fifteen years old the first time that I realized that I was destined to be a failure in life. My father had come to visit me for the first time in five years (he had been in prison). I was excited because I was old enough to attempt to get into his head and try to understand why he made the decisions that he had. I had gone through a multitude of questions that day while I was waiting for him to come over. When he finally showed up, he said hello to me and then ignored me for the rest of the time that he was there. My father chose to sit outside with my half-brother and talk to him. I could not understand why he didn’t want me, why he chose my brother who wasn’t even his biological son. I had never felt more unimportant in my life, and it made me angry. I decided on that day that I was going to accomplish everything in life that he wanted and failed at. That was the day that I began to live my life for all of the wrong reasons. That was the day that I chose to let my inner rage control me, instead of me controlling my inner rage.

In November of 2005, I lost my ability to know love. That month, my grandmother died, and I felt my sense of normalcy die with her. My grandmother is the women who truly raised me. I lived with my mother, but I spent all day with my grandmother. My brother was born with a very rare bone disease in his left leg, and he had to have it amputated when he was eight years old. My mother spent the majority of her time in San Francisco with him. When she wasn’t at the hospital with him, she was at work. When my brother was a teenager and into his early twenties, he made life hell for all of us. He had been addicted to morphine since he was eight years old and spent the majority of his time fighting, drinking, doing drugs or stealing my mother’s car. Due to his misgivings, he received all of the attention which I perceived as love. The only person who ever showed me unconditional love was my grandmother, and once she passed away, I felt alone. At this point, I felt wronged by my family. I had never been in trouble; I had never done a fifth of the things my brothers did, and yet all of the love went to them. I now understand that my mother did the best she could, but at that time, it just made me hate the world. My trust issues come from this time in my life. I felt that I couldn’t trust those closest to me because I was not appreciated. I had nobody left to turn to for help, so I turned to prescription pills.

Being addicted to pain pills is what changed my life. I was numbed to all of the outside world. I did not care about anything, and it was amazing. All of that changed on January 9, 2008. My fiancé at the time left me and took my one year-old son across the country. It was the first time I openly wept since I was a toddler. As my depression grew, I sank deeper and deeper into my vice until one day I put a loaded nine millimeter pistol into my mouth and pulled the trigger.

It did not fire. Something greater kept me alive that day, and I started to realize that I have a purpose in this life. I dropped the gun and cried even harder. I then looked in the mirror and decided I was no longer going to accept the stigma that comes with my last name. I stopped taking the pills, I stopped drowning in self-pity, and I started looking for my purpose in life. The thing I believe in is that nothing can guide me down a path that I don’t want to walk. I am the creator of my own destiny, and I refuse to accept anything but redemption and success.

The most influential and guiding force in my life is my past. I am now able to reflect on the way I grew up and let all of the hate go. I am a better man than my father, and I have the ability to raise my children to better understand their emotions. My goal in life is to give my children every opportunity I had to sacrifice for. They will not grow up in a home where they are scared to go to sleep at night. My greatest fear is that my children will grow to be like me and not want to look at themselves in the mirror. That is a fear that will not come to fruition. I am no longer going to be part of a broken chain. I am starting a new chain with my family, and I will be the strongest link. I will raise my children to be confident and curious.

They will be loved, and they will know it.

–By Jared Tickner

 

Lost but not forgotten

Big thanks to one of my students, who is a vivacious and wonderful person, Jessica Nicol, for sharing her story in today’s post.

You know the point in your life where you just don’t feel like being angry anymore? I’m there.
I’ve found that in life there is always that one person who you never forget or stop loving… that is your first love. Don’t tell me you don’t remember. It’s the best and the worst love you will ever have in your lifetime. So, with that being said, here’s my story about my first love.
Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

It all started in second grade. I was 7 years old and had just moved to Arkansas, so I didn’t know anyone at school. Halfway through my first week at Southside, I saw him. I was going to the only available swing left on the whole playground, and he was in the swing next to it. I had never felt the way I felt at that moment. My heart kind of… sped up. He was short with blonde hair and blue-green eyes. I wasn’t as shy as I am now, so when he got off the swing I went up to him and asked if I could play with him and his friend. He said yes, and so it began. Weeks after, we continued to play together, and the feelings grew. It was such an amazing feeling to care about someone so much. Of course, at the age of 7, I didn’t understand what I was feeling. Later in life, though, I realized I loved him.

The next year, in third grade, I finally found out his last name because his class, which was across the hall from mine, posted the students’ names outside the door, and I already knew his first name. When I found out, I made a note asking him if he would be my boyfriend with a check box saying yes or no. I gave it to him after school let out, and we went home on our buses. The next day after school we met outside of the building, and he gave my note back. It said yes! I was so happy. Did I mention he had a very thick southern accent? That was a lot of the attraction, right there. I’m so attracted to accents.
Once we moved into higher grades, such as middle school, it was all up and down. We were starting to become teenagers, and we didn’t have much of a serious relationship in elementary school. After all, how serious could a third grade relationship be? We were best friends and inseparable, despite my constant love for him. We ended up back together in eighth grade, and that was the year I realized I had been so in love with him for all of this time. I decided I wanted to marry him and that we’d be together forever… ha! Moving into ninth grade we broke up again. So devastating. I simply wanted to be with him, but he wanted someone else. We remained best friends because, again, our relationships hadn’t been super serious.
At the end of freshman year we got back together. It was a joyous moment for both of us. We  felt the same way about each other, and we both agreed we were going to get married and have kids and be happy. Well, that summer his father had a terrible accident. He fell off his truck–he was a truck driver–and hit his head. He lived for two days in a coma, and then he died. I felt so guilty because I was on vacation in Branson and couldn’t be there to love my boyfriend and comfort him. I cried so much and enjoyed nothing. All I wanted to do was go home and be with him. Finally my vacation was over, and I rushed to his house. He was so happy to see me. I stayed strong and tried not to cry when I saw him and his mother. I loved his mother, too, by the way. She was like a second mom.
During the visitation, I could not contain myself. I cried to the point that people thought I was related. I felt my boyfriend slipping away from me, and I just wasn’t ready to give him up. At the funeral, I kept composed. I hugged him and his mother afterward, reassuring them that I was there for them always. Days passed, and our relationship was in turmoil. He closed off and started rethinking everything. I fell into a depression and stopped eating because I was losing him. I had to get a therapist to help me because I ended up with an eating disorder, and I was majorly depressed.
We ended up breaking up. That was a devastation I cannot fully describe. If I could have died, I would have. I went through my therapy, and about halfway through it, we got back together. At the time, I had no idea how bad that was going to be. It was verbally abusive and painful to stay in, but I wouldn’t leave him because I was dead set on marrying him. My therapist said that it was an abusive relationship and wasn’t built on anything, but being a teenage girl, I didn’t listen. I closed off from the world because all I had in my life, I thought, was him. We spent another year together and then we broke up. It was a bad break up, but I continued therapy, and I just finished this past December.
Though it sounds like it was a horrible tragedy, I took away from it a knowledge I could never have gained without it. I learned the essentials of a relationship and the kind of strength within myself that I never thought I had. I rose up from it and am now very happy with my life. I plan to become a therapist for teenagers who are in the same position I was in. I also have a very amazing boyfriend who treats me like I deserve to be treated. I am no longer bitter and sad about this. I take it as an experience. I loved, I lost, I lived.

Day 5–Remembering rightly

*Big thanks to Brandon Davidson for agreeing to serve as today’s guest writer in my “28 days of love” project. His post speaks to me personally; I can relate to his story. I’m sure some of you can as well. I’m grateful for the chance to see love bloom in unlikely places.*

Remembering Rightly.

emilyMy Daughter loves my Dad. I’m learning to love him again. It’s hard.

Not long ago I went back to my hometown of Batesville, AR. 

I had just finished reading Miroslav Volf’s book: The End of Memory. Simply put, it is brilliant.

Volf is now Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He has also been a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.

You’re probably wondering what this book by a Croatian theologian has to do with this picture taken in the second oldest town in Arkansas? (If you’re not wondering, you should probably stop reading.)

Volf was once considered a national security threat in Yugoslavia. He was tortured and interrogated for months.

My parents didn’t get married until I was three. My mom then 18, loaded me on a Greyhound bus and headed toward San Antonio, Texas. My dad was in his early twenties and had strong doubts as to whether or not I was his son. He still does.

My brother was born when I was five. I was sexually and physically abused for the next few years by family members and neighbors. Both of my parents used drugs, and my dad had a problem with alcohol and his temper. I often found myself being beaten with whatever was handy. I still scratch at these wounds. Mental illness is no stranger to my family tree.

Volf found himself confronted with his memories of abuse during the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal. He replayed the hours of interrogation and saw the faces of the perpetrators.

In his book he talks about “remembering rightly.”
Not adding anything to it. He said he found himself having imaginary conversations with his accusers.

I have had more imaginary conversations with my dad than real ones.

I cannot change what happened to me. I will not forget it either. But, I would be repaying his mistakes with a double mistake of my own.

To be honest, I am not sure what kind of relationship Emily will have with my dad, if any.

I know that I will never leave them alone together. I know what little time they have been together has done great things for my soul. I watched them collect “rollie-pollies” and construct a habitat for them. All of Emily’s memories of my dad are positive. 100%
It doesn’t change who he is. It doesn’t change what he’s done.

I am forever grateful for seeing him through her eyes.

I will remember a tyrant.

She will remember a “rollie-pollie” catching old man.

We’re both right.
me[Brandon is a New Media Journalist at the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Tyler, Texas. He tries his damnedest to be a loving husband and father. He also performs stand-up comedy across Texas and hopefully close to you soon. He’s sorry this post isn’t funny. Follow him on twitter for that stuff @brandondavidson] 

28 days of love

Photo by Phoopla Photography in Dallas, Texas

Photo by Phoopla Photography in Dallas, Texas

Starting February 1st, I’m stoked to announce that almost 27 of my favorite people will be serving as guest writers for the blog. They were asked to submit posts related to love and gratitude and to run in any direction with that topic. I can’t wait to read the variety of posts as they come pouring in, and I’m really grateful to all the writers who’ve agreed to take a stab at it and join me in this endeavor.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I believe very strongly in focusing our minds, hearts, and eyes on what we have to be grateful for–to focus on the solutions, not the problems, and to choose gratitude over grumbling.

Love is a touchy subject for many people. Some people never feel that they’ve been loved at all, or they beat themselves up for mistakes they’ve made that have cost them relationships with people they loved. Or they have been victims of abuse by people who “loved” them.

I’m hoping that, by reading 28 different perspectives on love by people from varying walks of life, you’ll find something to relate to, some hope to hold onto, or inspiration to love others well. And ultimately, I hope that this month, you’ll come to believe that True Love has been there waiting for us all the time–we just have to open our hearts and our eyes.

So happy loving, folks!