gratitude

No room for failure

Each morning, I spend time reading, praying, and meditating. This morning I started reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. I came across a line in verse five that resonated with me.

“I will not fail you or forsake you.”

I underlined that portion of the verse and meditated on it briefly before gathering cookies for Maggie’s classmates, my cup of coffee, car keys, and cell phone. I whisked Maggie out the door and cranked up the heat. It’s that time of year when I feel false hope about autumn coming until about 10 a.m. By noon, I’m sweating and shedding my sweater.

63910_552312649722_1189983164_nAfter dropping Maggie off at school, I returned home to a peaceful, quiet house. We live in the woods, and the sunlight strives to shine through the grove of trees on the eastern hill. The verse I selected came back to me as I stood staring at the sun.

“I will not fail you or forsake you.”

God isn’t failing or forsaking the leaves on those trees and has provided them with exactly the right amount of moisture since spring. God doesn’t fail the trees either; the only trees that fall are those ready to die, decaying at the core. I looked at the light reflecting off the dew on our grass and spider webs in the forest. He maintains the smallest bits of creation we overlook.

Of course he is not forsaking me either.

He provides me with just the right clients at the right time. Last week, one of my favorite clients notified me that this year, funding wasn’t available to hire me. My heart sank. A few hours later, a potential client called me and said he was ready to start working together. Maybe that timing was coincidental; I prefer to view it as providential. God always knows what I need when I need it, even if it’s just to confirm that He’s going before me and planning in love.

God is not failing or forsaking me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI worried off and on for a year about how my daughter would adjust to starting kindergarten. Each time these fears came to mind, I attempted to let go and trust God. Sometimes I felt relief. Other times I wasn’t sure God would come through for me, even though His track record is stellar. But of course He came through. She was placed in a classroom with the most caring, committed, and well-trained teacher I know. She’s thriving. I’ve seen huge leaps in her ability to write and communicate in just three weeks’ time. And almost every day when I pick her up from school, she yells with glee, “This was the best day EVER!”

God is not forsaking or failing my child. 

There is no space for fear when I focus on the ways God has come through for me in the past.

There is no room for fear when I focus on how God is providing for me today either.

 

gratitude

Dissonance

I remember attending my first Twelve Step recovery meeting ever. It was an open meeting, and I attended with a friend. I listened. I learned a lot and felt that even though what people were sharing didn’t totally apply to me, there was something warm and familiar about it all the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

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With my friend Nicole in 2009, not long after I began working the Steps

A few months later, I understood that warm and familiar feeling to be home. I related to the feelings shared, even though the details were different, because I had been affected by similar problems and situations.

I never stopped the Twelve Step movement in my life after that. This summer, I celebrate my eleventh year in recovery. When I attended my first meeting, I was dating an alcoholic (I later married him, and subsequently divorced him). He insisted I find my own program of recovery because I was driving him crazy. Truthfully, I was probably driving him completely nuts, regardless of his behavior and his contributions to the chaos in our relationship.

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How I spend my time today

Fast forward 11 years. A lot has happened in the gap, but one thing has remained steady and constant in my life–my relationship with God and my growth in recovery. Divorce, financial ruin, relocation, grad school, pregnancy, major health concerns, marriage, legal stress, parenthood, entrepreneurship … you name it. Life happens to us, right? That doesn’t change just because we choose to align ourselves with healthier people, attend Twelve Step meetings, and pursue a better path for ourselves. Life keeps happening. Will we avoid as many potential pitfalls if we’re making better choices? Probably. But life rolls on, and we cannot prevent that.

I’ve observed something interesting over the past decade which sometimes seems strange. A dissonance, a distinct difference, even tension between the way I view (and choose) to view the world, and the way others view and choose to view it.

Why the dissonance? Why the difference? Why the vast chasm?

Yes, I follow Christ, and that certainly sets me apart from a large group of people who do not. But it’s not those people I’m referencing here. There are many of my friends and family members, most of whom follow Christ, who truly seem to be unable to relate to my perspective and worldview. What’s changed? Me or them? If it’s me, what is it about me that’s changed so much?

I’ll never get inside others’ heads to figure this out entirely–and honestly, I don’t want to–but I do find it interesting. Here’s one thing God brought to my attention a few weeks ago: When two people have experienced reality entirely differently, it is nearly impossible for them to perceive the world similarly. 

I chatted with a friend of mine who works in Christian ministry a few weeks ago, and that’s when this really hit me. He shared with me a situation that occurred years ago when many folks in ministry conflicted over changing a denominational policy. Some of the people stood by their beliefs without becoming petty or criticizing individuals (maintaining a polite, cordial attitude toward others involved). But a few people lashed out at the group, posted hateful messages online, and demonstrated the exact behavior that makes Christians cringe in embarrassment. We lamented about the situation together.

“I don’t know why, but that’s just one of those hot button topics that always gets people going,” he mused.

“Yeah, I guess so. I can’t relate to that anymore. I think there was a time when I had an opinion about that stuff… not now. I can’t even muster an ounce of concern about that if I try.”

I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was serious. My entire perception of what really matters has completely changed. I really did join in on splitting doctrinal hairs in the past, and I enjoyed those conversations and would defend my soapbox to the bitter end. And not just that–I used to pride myself on serving as vigilante of almost everyone or anything. I loved that stuff. I LOVED THAT STUFF. If you’d asked me the question, How important is that, really? I would have responded, It’s VERY important!

Then I lived in alcoholism for a decade. And I faced PTSD during that time from multiple incidents of sexual assault and other situations. I finally sought counseling and help through the Twelve Steps, but not until my life began to crumble into bits at my feet. It was not the best time of my life.

When your reality has been lived in mire, in fighting dark spiritual battles for quite some time, your perception changes. First world problems aren’t problems at all. You don’t have room on your plate for things like bickering, gossip, and scandal.

Yet even when you move from darkness to light–and thank God, that has happened for me–you may still feel permanent dissonance between the way you see the world and the way others see it. Does that mean those who don’t see it the way you see it are wrong, or that something is inherently wrong with you?

Not at all. It’s just a reminder that the world is varying shades, that not every human experiences trauma, and that God works through each of us differently. It’s a reminder that we cannot go to the bakery expecting to purchase hardware. That we can’t expect people who’ve never been in a pit to feel comfortable sitting next to us in the bottom of one while we work our way out, one Step at a time. It’s a reminder that God goes before us, plans in love, and converts what was meant for Evil into our Ultimate Good.

 

 

gratitude

Mighty kind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Kindness is the mightiest force in the world,” according to One Day at a Time (299).

In the past, I didn’t feel kind. I didn’t even feel like being kind. I felt like stabbing my ex-husband’s eyeballs with a handful of forks. If you know me now, you may be laughing and trying to imagine me doing this. You may be thinking, “Now Bethany… surely you’re exaggerating!” No. I am not.

That anger and resentment masked my disappointment, bitterness, depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear. I was in pretty sad emotional shape a decade ago (and in the preceding years as well). Thankfully I chose to reach out, get help, and get better.

I have learned I have a choice in every situation. The truth of this notion made me sigh (or gag) for a few years. Martyrdom had become a way of life. I couldn’t see the efficacy in changing my ways because it was tough to take actions and let feelings follow, and I was afraid to admit my part in problems, particularly in relationships. It was much easier to let men, bosses, or relatives take the blame, allow all of you to feel very sorry for me, and go on with life.

I didn’t just omit the truth of my mean part in situations. I also behaved in mean ways. Just ask one of my exes. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me… I’ve been cruel, cold, and calculating.

I haven’t just struggled with being kind in intimate relationships. I still find it tough to be kind—even courteous—to family members who don’t live life the way I do. When someone interrupts me repeatedly, or when a relative tells racist jokes in front of me, I absolutely do not feel motivated to treat them as God’s precious children or want to pinch their adorable cheeks and bless their little hearts. It’s really my problem because “when I am disturbed, it is because I find… some fact of my life… unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 417).

Kindness blooms from acceptance.

Acceptance really is the solution to all my problems.

Another root of kindness is gratitude. “When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day” (Big Book, 419). Three long years of creating detailed, original gratitude lists helped instill this principle in my heart, but it’s still easier when I feel disgruntled to focus on the problem rather than the solution. When I choose to focus on the solution, I feel better. Many times the quickest way out of a grump is to create a gratitude list. Sometimes I write the items on paper. Many times I pray aloud and say, “Thank you, God, for the chance to stay home and spend time with Maggie right now. Thank you that she cared enough about my reaction that she asked me to quit writing and to come see her new space heater. Thank you for the 30 minutes to write this morning before James left for work.” Hearing myself express gratitude verbally brings me back to where my hands are; the present is where I find the solution.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I am thankful, I treat people around me with kindness and compassion. When I am thankful, I am more likely to accept others as they are. And lastly, when I am thankful, mindful, present, and accepting, I like myself. This is something I struggle with but am willing to grow toward today. In moments when I like myself, I’m kind to myself. I don’t lash out in my head with judgmental and critical statements. I smile more often. I relax. I listen well. I laugh. And when I love myself, I love others well.

And kindness and love really do cover a multitude of sins.

gratitude

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.

gratitude

The greatest love

Today’s post is written by my friend Betty Gail Jones. Thank you, Betty Gail, for the beautiful reminder of the greatest love of all.

There once was a man who lived in perfect paradise where he was surrounded by riches and beauty.  Every hour was filled with wonderful music, and he continually experienced peaceful serenity in his home.  He had servants who adored him and met his every need.

His heart, however, was overwhelmed with a longing to be with his love.  He had watched her and seen her struggles.  Her life was filled with grief and disappointment.  She was a victim of the chaos which surrounded her.  War and pestilence had torn her.  He was to be her “knight in shining armor,” her rescuer, and nothing could hold him back.  He would go to her – move into her neighborhood – and care for her like no other had done.  He knew the danger and the pain that he would be inviting into his life, but he loved her and nothing else would do.

So he left his protected palace and went to her.  He fought for her, and he created her anew.  He would stay with her forever.  His plan was to make her his bride.  He would lavish all of his own riches upon her and never let her go.  He changed her and made her whole by his love.

But then the unthinkable happened.  There were those who had wished to bring harm to his love and keep her for themselves as a slave.  They were very angry and began to plot against this man who had come to save his love.  And so they killed him.  He, who had given all – his very life – for the one he loved, was laid to rest and covered by the cold grave, which had been prepared for his body.

There is a fairy tale ending to this story of sorts, however.  The good guy wins.  And the best part is – it is not a fairy tale at all.  The story is true.  You see, the man of whom I speak was more than a man – He was God.  And the love that he came to rescue was his Bride, the church.  This is the greatest love of which I know.

Office pic 2God always had a plan for his church.  Though she has battle scars, has failed Him, and throughout history has been embattled and bruised, He loves her – enough to die for her.  He has made a plan for the day when His Bride will meet Him at the great wedding feast.  She will be adorned with the purest white attire, and He will await her at the alter.  At that time, all the scars and disfigurement caused by the hardships of this present world will be gone, and she will stand before her Greatest Love, in perfection.  He will make all of this possible, because of His great love for her – His most prized creation.

Now – THAT is a love story!

gratitude

Why gratitude?

I asked my Composition II students to write a brief essay explaining their motives for expressing gratitude and offering at least one example of a moment when gratitude was expressed to them or when they chose to express gratitude to someone else. This essay was written by my student Jessica Whitmire, who is always smiling. Students like Jessica make my job lighter and brighter!

My family has always instilled in me the concept of treating others the way I want to be treated. Generally speaking, if we are kind to others they will, in return, be kind to us. At times this does not always happen, but that cannot be helped.  The Bible tells us to help those who are less fortunate. I believe that it is my responsibility as a Christian to help others when it is needed. I know that at times I have needed a helping hand or encouragement, and there has been someone there for me.

FullSizeRender-2My Granddad passed away two years ago but was in the hospital for two weeks before he passed, and the amount of love that was poured out on my family was immeasurable. People sent food and cards, constantly for those two weeks he was in the hospital and the week following his death. They came by the hospital and prayed with us and so much more. Without all the love and support I do not know if I would have ever made it through that difficult time. From that moment I knew that I needed to repay all the generosity and love that was given to me and my family.FullSizeRender

I feel that if everyone worked together and lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down, our country would be a much better place. There is too much hate and not enough love. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, and no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.

gratitude

Chasing rabbits

I must be brief this morning.

maggie napping while sick 9 11 13My toddler is still quietly sleeping in her crib, curled up in a little pink ball. Last night, she resisted her normal 7:30 p.m. bedtime and wanted to watch an extra episode of Curious George, her current favorite cartoon. After that, she pitter-pattered around the house, dragging her “Good Dad” by the hand, insisting that he follow her and accompany her the entire time. An hour later, after exhausting both of us, we coaxed her back into her crib (not without shedding of tears), sang a song, and reassured her that we’d see her again in the morning.

5:15 a.m. felt early today. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the notion that getting out of bed was a good idea and that spending time reading, praying, and meditating would benefit me. However, having benefited from reading, praying, and meditating and spending chunks of time alone with God each morning for several years in a row now, I knew that getting my tail out of bed was the best decision.

decaf._Cat._prod._pg.So I did. My sister recently gave me a one-cup instant coffee maker, and today was its christening. The chance to use my new gift was almost exciting enough to motivate me to get out of bed without a grumpy attitude. One minute later, presto! I got back into my warm bed with my hot cup of coffee, my Bible and other reading material, and my glasses. I was ready to go.

My normal RPM time–reading, prayer, and meditation time–takes about 30 minutes. I normally read a short passage.  If I read the Bible, I read about one chapter or less. I don’t try to digest too much information because I want to retain something and carry it with me throughout the day. If I read other devotional material, I read a one-page devotional entry, and I read it three times: once quietly, once aloud, and once again, looking for one piece of good orderly direction to jot down to carry with me on a slip of paper. I learned to do this from a woman who is my mentor. This method really works for me, so I continue doing this daily.

This morning, and other mornings when I happen to have lots of extra time to devote to my RPMs, I allowed myself the luxury of chasing spiritual rabbit trails. I did my normal RPMs, and then I just started reading whatever I found interesting. I opened the Bible randomly, and the pages fell to Psalm 84. The entire chapter is beautiful and contains some of my favorite verses, but this morning verse 5 stood out to me. Last night at a meeting of friends, we talked about the fact that one of the definitions for salvation in the Hebrew language is to come home. Verse 5 and the reference to going on a pilgrimage seemed to relate to this in my mind, and I was intrigued. I decided to look at the footnotes; they referred me to Jeremiah 31:6.

It would be silly to read just one verse, right? So I read the entire chapter. And man, what a tearjerker. Jeremiah 31 was chock full of language that spoke to my heart. It must have spoken to my heart many times before, too, because there were several verses underlined, marked, and highlighted. Some of the same passages that brought tears to my eyes this morning were marked, but many of the passages that were significant today were not underlined or marked, which let me know that God is continually showing me new things and deepening my relationship with Him (if I let Him).

At 6:50 a.m., I finally finished my time of reading, prayer, and meditation and had nothing but a few sips of cold coffee left in the bottom of my mug.

At 7:08 a.m., I’m thankful that I decided to get up regardless of my grumpy attitude this morning. I’m thankful for the coffee maker my sister gave me that helped me overcome my grumpy attitude. I’m thankful that I learned how to benefit from doing RPMs from my mentor, and I’m thankful that I developed the habit of spending time with God every morning since starting out my day with God not only benefits me but also benefits everyone who comes in contact with me, too. I’m thankful for the insights God gave me this morning. And I’m thankful that my toddler slept all this time.

I might still have time to brush my teeth.