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.

Teaching me to mother

Lizard,

205302_503087736842_9842_nThank you for breaking me in back when I turned 22. There was nothing Taylor Swift about it. Your dad and I tied the knot three weeks after I graduated from college and three weeks after my birthday, and I frantically searched for employment while serving as your stepmom. I felt like I was playing house sometimes, the way my sisters and I played Barbies as kids. Ken and Barbie smooch and hug and ride in the Barbie convertible, and then they get married, and they have a baby, and then what?

I learned the then what from you. No matter what obstacles your dad and I faced in our marriage, I always enjoyed being your stepmom. I loved taking you grocery shopping when you were five years old and answering your bazillion questions about produce and spaghetti and magazines. I obtained a great repertoire of bumblebee, elephant, and duck songs because of you. I got a big kick out of playing Tooth Fairy and helping you learn how to do backbends and make macaroni and cheese and use the washing machine and dryer. I remember the summer after second grade when I realized you lacked some important skills, and I decided to make it my mission to teach you to become more self-sufficient. You were so open to learning new things. I remember you telling your mom and Meme and Papaw about every new accomplishment over the phone, beaming with pride from ear to ear.

262960_519156345222_5013781_nYour willingness to learn never waned. We had The Talk in bits and pieces beginning at age five. I was always candid with you, telling you enough to satisfy your curiosity but not enough to bore you to tears. That strategy seemed to work. I also promised to tell you the truth no matter what, and I never wavered on that promise, and I still haven’t, even though we both know there have been some times when it would have been easier and softer if I’d lied. Because of your willingness to learn, and my willingness to be honest, we’ve made a pretty good team.

Fast forward to 2015. You’re finishing up your sophomore year of college, and I teach students the exact same age as you, my Lizard. Of course, I also teach non-traditional students, too.

Talk about having my life flash before my eyes at work every single day.

I see you in so many of my students. Here are a few examples.

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Hannah and Joey 

There’s Hannah, a beautiful spirit who is seriously perpetual sunshine to everyone who knows her. She reminds me of how I feel around you from the first minute you pull into my driveway until the minute you drive away.

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Nathan

There’s Nathan, a jokester on the outside with a serious interior he tries to disguise from his classmates most of the time—sound like anyone you know? This guy even donned a tutu once during a demonstration speech to help a fellow student out. I have proof of this beautiful moment :). I only taught him for one semester, but he was certainly one of the most memorable students I’ve ever taught.

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With LCreighton and Charmstrong

There are Charmstrong and Lcreighton, two little cuties I came to know outside of class before they became my students. They are both just adorbs (are you proud of me for using that term, Liz?) and often send me pictures of Edna Mode of The Incredibles, who they believe I emulate, in the middle of my lectures. They have filled a little bit of the Lizard void in my heart and life by walking with me to class and laughing with me and reminding me that I’m not THAT old.

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Crystal

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Sheila

There’s Crystal, who I have known for decades and had the pleasure to teach last fall. She has faced more than her share of obstacles but has chosen to become better, not bitter.

There’s Sheila, a non-traditional student who loves her family more than anything. She is also a total survivor and fighter. She has earned her spot in my heart and has proven herself to be hard-working and diligent even when it would have been easier to drop out of school. These are qualities I see in you, too, Liz.

11149462_10153220074068826_6559028102695630203_nAnd then there’s Lauren, who lost her lifelong love this semester. She is now raising their baby alone and is persevering against all odds. She’ll graduate in two days with honors. She will not allow others’ choices and tragedies to dictate the direction of her life.

And this, my Lizard, is what I hope for you, too.

With all that you have taught me about being a teacher, Liz, and with all that my students continually teach me about being a mom, I’m not sure why I’m being paid to teach. The least I can do is pour my very best self into my teaching, and offer my very best self to Maggie every day as her mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Liz, to you and to all my babies.

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

 

You can go your own way

My boyfriend in college once told me that I reminded him of the female character in a Celtic song who was forever “chasing cannonballs.”

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

He was right.

I have been notorious for stubbornly making my own decisions. I often refer to this tendency as my “God versus Bethany” struggle. For years, mostly due to some tragic situations in my past, I chose to trust Bethany rather than God. Against all rationale, good advice, concerned friends, promptings from my conscience AKA the Holy Spirit of God, and even learned lessons from my past, I continued to choose to make choices based on Bethany’s will, not God’s.

This led to many uncomfortable, painful, and costly consequences. Thankfully, with the help of my anonymous program of recovery and sponsor and growing dependency on God, deferring to God’s will seems to be my go-to more often than not these days.

God continues to give me opportunities to choose, though, and sometimes letting go and letting God is not easy for me.

After having my daughter nearly eight months ago, I decided to eat an elephant–all at once. Finish grad school, with all A’s, of course. Prep for comps and read countless pieces of in-depth literature. Nurse my baby 6-8 times a day. Care for her the rest of the day. Write posts for my two blogs. Volunteer to edit documents for several friends. Maintain a super tidy, clean home. Continue to work my program of recovery. And of course, lose all that disgusting baby weight that had bruised my ego to a deep, dark purple.

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

I learned the hard way–by trying to start running again (and having some success) while recovering from a blood transfusion, an injured back, and two rounds of strep throat–that losing weight at my age after having a baby is not easy. It does not happen quickly. And it should probably not be on my to-do list until I’m finished nursing.

As has been the case in the past, it took a painful “aha” moment for me to realize that I’d overfilled my own plate. No one had done this to me or for me. I was not a victim. I had done it to myself in an effort to do everything as perfectly as possible.

My husband and I are blessed with plenty of land and many hiking trails. After having wide fire lanes created with the help of the Forestry Commission, my husband offered to watch our daughter so I could hike the fire lanes and take some photos. I jumped at the opportunity for fresh air and alone time, even though I felt miserable, lacked anything resembling energy, and had multiple other to-do’s on my ever-important list.

As I hiked along, I quickly realized my body had not recovered fully from my recent bout with strep throat. Every step was torture. To make matters worse, searing pain radiated through every square inch of my back and neck. But I kept going.

I took a wrong turn along the way and wound up at the bottom of an incredibly steep ravine. The only way out was up.

What an order. I could not go through with it.

So I sat down in the dirt with my panting companion, my cat Shao Hou, and cried.

Then I mustered enough energy to hike back up the ravine and head back home. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know. I don’t do “east” or “north.” I do “left” and “right.” That’s it. I found myself turned around on our own land, feeling like an idiot, and physically beyond the point of exhaustion and nearly crippled with pain.

I decided to cut through the woods in the general direction of “DOWN.” I figured eventually, I’d either come to the road or to our house. I clawed my way through briars and piles of brush and finally reached one of our trails.

As I reached the trail, with Shao Hou still patiently panting alongside me, I noticed a huge rock covered in moss, shaded by a large oak tree. It looked like a cool, beautiful place to rest for a  moment to catch my breath.

But you know me.

I didn’t stop. Oh no. I was going to finish this darn hike if it killed me. So I kept going rather than allowing myself to let go of my standards for performance in lieu of realistic expectations for my sick, aching body.

I cried the whole way home.

I felt sorry for myself. I felt angry at my body. I felt out of control. I felt that I’d wasted my precious “me” time on a failed effort to enjoy nature and get some exercise.

After letting my husband hug me and taking a hot bath, the “aha” moment hit me.

I needed help.

A healthier version of myself... slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

A healthier version of myself… slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

I could continue to go my own way and potentially do long-term damage to my body. Or I could listen to my body and stop pushing myself beyond my limits. And visit my doctor. And find a physical therapist.

So I did. Slowly but surely, my body is recovering, but not without plenty of effort and some pain.

The difference is that the pain I feel now is due to making the right choices to take care of my body and get help to heal it versus the pain I felt due to my refusal to slow down and accept reality, which never mimics anything like perfection.

Next time I hike the fire lanes on our land, I’m going to stop at that mossy rock, pet my panting buddy Shao Hou, and drink some water while I admire the miracles of God’s creation surrounding me. And I won’t feel bad about taking a break, either.

 

 

New experiences

*Thanks to my friend Debra Dickey for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

If it hadn’t been for my kids, little people in my life, and even my pets, I would have missed out on an incredible amount of remarkable experiences in my life!  If you recall my previous posts, I have already mentioned that I am not a very adventurous soul, so to say that I am ‘new experiences’ challenged would be, hmmm, an understatement! 

Mt. LandI’ve always wanted to pretend to myself that maybe there was a bit of the wandering pioneer spirit in me, but I will tell you truthfully, that wherever I wandered, I mostly desired the comfort of being able to see my house from wherever I was standing!   But for a time, my world opened up –  often spit in my eye –  and my courage took wings . . . albeit at times, forcefully.

Initial lessons for getting me out of my comfort zones, were learned of course, with and for my children.  We have laughed and had the best times and the most fun just doing things together.  Some of those events were planned, others weren’t as much, and often, we were invited to create the experience for ourselves.  There have also been struggles, rough times, trials by fire, disappointments, and monumental obstacles which have required me to develop strengths that I never imagined I could possess, and doggedly test my resolve; but together, we somehow managed (and continue to manage) those ‘new experiences’ and challenges as well.  My kids have taught me so much, and continue to share so many insights, and such wisdom, strength, knowledge, joy and courage with me, that I cannot begin to imagine a life without the richness and depth which only they could have made possible — treasured experiences memorably shared, an endowment sweetly gained from these two remarkable people.

My most recent opportunity with new ventures has been my privilege and delight to spend time with my 8 year-old niece, who brings her own special brand of prospective, fun and laughter, and genuinely blesses my life with such a myriad of enjoyable hours.

All these experiences serve as an abiding reminder of what is really important, as well as help explain the reason and purpose for my existence, and my presence in the exact right spot at those exact right moments.

MeadowBut only by regular reminders, voluntarily or involuntarily, to make those conscious choices that will, time and again, propel me to step out of my comfort zones, have I been given the incredible opportunities to visit new places, see new sights, hear new music, experience new concepts, value new ideas, appreciate new cultures, share silly laughs, and regard, encounter, and enjoy the world through the eyes of my wise, courageous, and discerning companions.  What wonderful adventures for a homebody like me!  These days, even walks with my dog have prodded me to stray from my typical paths and discover fun tramps through the woods, which often call forward a bit of that wandering spirit.  And at this point in my life, I’ll say, that’s good enough for me.

Fireproofing

Garth Brooks, Warrant, Jason Mraz, The Foo Fighters, Donny Osmond, and even Pink Floyd have paid homage to the analogy of burning bridges. And who hasn’t burned a few bridges in her own lifetime–whether intentionally or unintentionally?

I’m not sure how or when, but somewhere along the way, I came to believe that with few exceptions, burning bridges was a pretty bad idea. I’ve deliberately and severely cut ties with a few people for various reasons; if the person or relationship is very unhealthy and/or harmful to me in some way, burning a bridge may be the best way to put permanent distance between me and that person or situation. But by and large, through much observation and experience, I’ve learned that you never know who you’re going to need down the road. If you’ve burned the bridge connecting the two of you, you won’t be able to get help or benefit from that person or relationship any longer.

I believe strongly in the power of networking. By networking, I mean REAL networking. Building lasting relationships. Showing concern and interest in others’ lives. Extending help when help is needed and when I’m able. I don’t mean collecting business cards and telling people, “we should do lunch!” but never following up. I haven’t perfected the skill of networking, but I’ve certainly grabbed hold of it and attempted to apply it to all areas of my life, not just to work relationships and professional settings.

I’ve watched countless disgruntled people act out and leave work situations in disarray to get back at co-workers or bosses. I’ve witnessed (and been on the receiving end of, unfortunately) friends pulling tantrums, behaving immaturely, or repeatedly neglecting to be responsible and courteous. I’ve observed many people who treated their family members by shamefully lower standards than they treated other people (or even strangers)  in their lives.

What’s the result?

Almost always, those disgruntled former employees don’t leave a pleasant taste in their employers’ mouths. Do you think the employer feels led to sing their praises when potential employers call checking references? I don’t think so. What happens to those friendships? They usually slowly fade away when the person on the receiving end of the bad behavior realizes she is exerting considerably more effort than the other person and grows tired of doing so. And how about family situations? Even if ties aren’t completely severed, they’re usually frayed and worn painfully thin, making every holiday or get-together somewhat uncomfortable.

I can think of multiple times in my own life when leaving bridges intact proved beneficial to me.

Me and my former co-workers

I recently was blessed to be reunited with my former sponsor in a recovery program I’ve been part of for five years. When I relocated to my hometown a few years ago, it was no longer feasible to continue our sponsorship relationship (for either of us). I harbored some hurt feelings over the dissolution of our relationship, but ultimately, I knew it was best for us to end it at that time. Less than two years later, after praying about it, both of us feel at peace with reconnecting in this way. This is rare, and it wouldn’t have been possible if either of us had been mouthy, disrespectful, or neglectful of one another in the past. The smooth, calm ending made it possible for us to envision a truly beneficial relationship between us in the future.

Another time, I held a job with the fiscal agent for a large government entity as a technical writer. I honestly found the job to be quite boring. I never had enough work to do to keep me busy, and it was rarely challenging. I did, however, work with great people, and that made the situation bearable. After working there for a little over a year, an opportunity fell in my lap to try my hand at fundraising and development with a non-profit. The position was on an interim basis with the opportunity for it to become permanent if I chose to stay. After just a few months, I knew I needed out–the work environment was somewhat hostile, and I found myself more stressed than I’d ever been before. Because I’d left my previous employer on such great terms, had given them plenty of notice, and had trained others well to take over my tasks without halting production, my former boss didn’t hesitate for one second when I called her and asked for my job back. She met me that evening with a contract and even allowed me to negotiate for a salary increase. I know she would not have been so quick to consider rehiring me if I’d performed poorly or left on bad terms.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that it’s best to treat people the way I want to be treated–to apply the Golden Rule to all relationships. I’ve learned that I can be polite to anyone, no matter how much I disagree with them or dislike them. And I’ve learned that when I do these things, I almost always reap the benefits.

So ask for forgiveness and make amends. Go the extra mile to maintain smooth paths between you and your loved ones. Duct tape your mouth shut when you are concerned that hot angry words might spew out at any minute. Pray before acting. Act as if you care even on the days when you don’t.

You never know who you’re going to need at the next bend in the road.

The small stuff

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I agree. Now whether I’m always able to avoid stress-related perspiration . . . well, nobody’s perfect.

I was thinking yesterday when a friend of mine commented on how clean my house is that in some ways, the small stuff does matter.

I’m not referring to stressing out over every nook and cranny being dust-free and sanitized. I’m not implying that I think it’s wise to over analyze every single aspect of each of my relationships until I’m exhausted from aiming at perfection. Nor am I insinuating that I prefer to spend seconds of my precious life painstakingly dotting every i or crossing every t.

When I looked around our home last night, I certainly did not see a perfectly kept house. There was a stack of mail which needed to be tended to in the living room. A broom in the corner of the kitchen. A few dishes in the sink. But overall, the house was the way I like it–generally tidy and clean. At the end of a long, hot day, there’s nothing more relaxing than walking into the house, looking around, realizing there are no chores urgently calling my name, and enjoying time with my husband.

That would not be possible if I didn’t pay attention to the used paper towels left sitting on the coffee table. The pile of clean towels waiting to be folded. The pair of flip-flops flung into the corner of the wrong room. Lots of daily and hourly decisions to maintain the home combine to produce the desired end result: a comfortable, relaxing, and stress-free place to prop up my feet.

I suppose I could ignore all the little hourly messes and live in squalor, maybe even achieving hoarder status. But I’d rather make those small, daily decisions that are simple and quick than allow the clutter in my life to compile and overwhelm me. I’d ultimately have to dig through the rubble, and as I’ve learned, the easier way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to apply the same principle to the hours of my life in other ways–spiritually, psychologically, mentally, and physically. I’d rather choose water over soda pop today than wind up attempting to burn a ridiculous number of calories after letting my weight go berserk. I’d rather make the daily, sleepy decision to talk to God every morning and meditate on Scripture rather than turn on the television right away. I’d rather face the bitterness I feel toward someone who’s hurt me while the wound is still small and stinging than allow it to fester, become infected, and poison my attitude and relationships.

Sometimes, making the simple decision–over and over again–to pay attention to the small stuff helps me avoid the inevitable consequence of eventually wading and sorting through waist-high garbage in my life.