Simple as that

Yesterday my little sister piled up turkey, dressing, casseroles, bread, pie, and salad for a neighbor and walked across the street. We drank coffee while she spent an hour chatting with him; he’s not really into big family gatherings, but he probably appreciated the quiet conversation.

The day before Thanksgiving, I received a gift card in the mail for this same neighbor. I’d mentioned his home repair needs to some friends. His house caught fire years ago, and he’s been attempting to repair it here and there for years ever since.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This woman lives two hours away. She’s never met this man and probably never will. She doesn’t need to; she believes me when I tell her he is living in a shop building with no heat, no running water, and no electricity. She believes me when I explain that he has been unemployed and looking for work. She believes me, and she helps.

Not everything in life is this simple.

But maybe we have made things too complicated.

I’ve served on non-profit boards. I’ve organized fundraisers for organizations and helped raise $150,000 in a single evening. I’m not opposed to large-scale fundraising or development efforts.

There’s something refreshing, though, about hearing a stripped down, simplified “yes” to the question: Do you want to help this man?

My husband asked, “What is your plan once you gather these resources? What are you going to do exactly?”

“Well, I don’t have a plan. We’ll see what happens depending on how much money we can raise and how many people want to help.”

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t trust God enough to handle any details—details of a project or plan and certainly not details of my life. I don’t feel that way today. I know God loves this man. I know God loves me, too.

Simple as that.

 

Not so plain Jane

Jane, Jane, Jane,

You’ll probably kill me for this (or at least you’ll want to).

11952017_597555627432_4960712350773105577_nI can’t stop thinking about writing this letter to you, and when I can’t get something off my mind, I take action. I think you know this about me, so I’m pretty sure you’ll forgive me even though you don’t like being in the spotlight and would prefer to be the one snapping photographs instead.

In fact, this is one thing I love most about you and have come to admire about you–you are incredibly perceptive and have me pegged very well, even better than friends of mine who’ve known me for decades.

You recently interviewed a few students of mine during a mock interview session for Oral Communication class, and the feedback you provided me with about each of them was spot on. You described their personalities, assets, and liabilities almost exactly the way I’d describe them myself, and I’ve been teaching them twice weekly since August. This ability to cut through the bull and see people and situations realistically is one reason I often call on you for second opinions and came looking for “Jane’s brain” while trying to sort out my thoughts about my recent presentation proposal.

I also know I can trust you 100% with information, secrets, rambling thoughts, and feelings. Your trustworthiness is an attribute that every person aspires to possess, but let’s be honest–not all our friends are trustworthy, or this wouldn’t be worth mentioning. 11836790_595919815612_3466892458279554535_n

When our friends Chris and Tara moved to the big city of Little Rock, I felt lonely and wondered how God would fill the hole in my life. I relied on those two for companionship, entertainment, laughter, and confidential conversation time. Even though you and I were friends long ago, I think we have grown closer because of the space created by Chris and Tara moving away; God filled the empty space in my life with something new and just as meaningful. 1977343_584011455062_4121734977188759612_n

You’re a deceptive one, Jane. . . you might appear simple on the outside with that cream-colored cardigan, jeans, and bangs, but I’ve got you figured out! You’re the life of my party for two every time we hang out.

I love you more than chocolate with almonds, Seinfeld, freshly brewed coffee, and Big’s Restaurant.

Top that.

And happy Thanksgiving, my friend.

Bethany

 

Gifts

Today’s post is an essay written by one of my English Composition I students, Jessica Bacon. Jessica was a true blessing in my life this semester; she’s an ideal student, a loving mom, and a caring person. She is certainly a true elevator person to all those she encounters, lifting others up and not tearing them down. Not only that, but she also worked her tail off this semester and improved her writing skills by leaps and bounds. Merry Christmas, Jessica!

“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.” (Charles Dudley Warner)  Gifts come in many shapes and forms.  Some may only consider presents that can be unwrapped or objects that can be associated with a monetary value as gifts.  Others can see the gift in things they cannot physically hold.  I like presents just as much as anybody else, but the best gifts are those I cannot put a dollar sign on.  Reflecting on this year, I know I have so much to be thankful for, but the gifts that stand out are the ones with sentimental value that will leave a lifetime of memories.

Jessica Bacon fam picConsidering that there are 2,129 miles between my home in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and my mom’s house in Vancouver, Washington, we do not see each other often.  In June, my mom flew out to visit.  As she walked through the airport terminal, I could see her smiling from ear to ear with tears streaming down her cheeks.  I could feel the love radiating through her when she hugged me.  During the week she was here, we watched my girls’ softball games, shopped, swam, cooked, and laughed until our bellies hurt.  Our housed smelled like a Bath and Body Works store from the array of candles and body products she bought for us.  My mom made us her Puerto Rican rice, chicken, and beans.  The garlic, green olives, and tomato sauce in the rice made an interesting combination of flavors.  Because Mom was recovering from shoulder surgery, she had to do her physical therapy exercises while she was here.  I loved watching my youngest daughter Carly running around her yelling, “Can’t shit (how she said catch) me, Gamma!!” while Mom did her exercises.  We will forever cherish the memories we made with her.  The real gift was Mom’s presence rather than the presents that she bought us.

Having four kids and multiple crazy schedules to work around, date nights and alone time are far and few between for my husband and I.  In August, our friend Robyn offered to watch our four girls so we could go out for our eleventh anniversary.  I knew that my babies were in good hands, so I was able to relax and enjoy my childless evening.  We went to Patio Lino Latin Restaurant for dinner.  When we walked into the crowded building the aroma of the food tantalized my nostrils, and the buffet in the corner caught my eye.  The flavor of the shrimp was so amazing that I could not stop eating it despite the intense heat.  My mouth and lips were on fire, and it made my nose run.  After dinner we went to Wal-Mart and bought season six of Sons of Anarchy to watch at home.  I fell asleep on the couch snuggled up to my husband with the feeling of his heart beating against my back while listening to the story of Jax Teller and the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club.

I attended my first semester of college this fall.  On my first day, I was so nervous and worried that I would be the oldest one in my classes.  When I entered my first class I saw students of all ages and several who appeared old enough to be my parents.  At first Intermediate Algebra was a struggle.  I spent many hours in the Student Success Center where there was a constant bustle of students, the strong scent of coffee, and varying tutoring sessions could be overheard.

Knowledge is a gift, and my first semester was successful.

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.

We plan. God laughs.

pauseOur plans for the entire weekend fell apart.

A workshop I planned on hosting had to be rescheduled due to dangerous weather conditions. I felt so disappointed. I’d been looking forward to the chance to see old friends and benefit from the shared experience, strength, and hope during the workshop. I was elated that my new friends would have the chance to meet my old friends, too. But since safety was prioritized over excitement (wisely so), we cancelled the night before. At the last minute, I found myself frantically calling people who were planning to attend, letting them know about the cancellation and that the workshop would be rescheduled. In the hubbub of cancelling plans, I forgot to cancel our restaurant reservation and later apologized profusely to the woman who called to be sure they had the right date on their calendar.

The next day, we had plans to attend my sister’s 30th birthday celebration. I made some fabulous hummus and planned on picking up some veggies to go along with it. I picked out a yellow sundress for my baby to wear and my new shirt and khaki pants for myself. I even ensured I’d have plenty of time to bathe and genuinely fix my hair–and that’s rare these days, folks.

But Sunday morning, my niece fell victim to a stomach virus, and vomit was the cancellation culprit. My little sister changed her plans and went on a mini road trip instead. I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to celebrate her birthday with her and sad that I wouldn’t get to spend time with the rest of my family, either, especially on such a beautiful day.

My mentor reminded me over the course of the weekend that, “We plan. God laughs.”

This might be the theme of my life.

I am anal to the nth degree when it comes to planning. I do not like last-minute changes. I certainly do not like guests showing up unannounced. I want to know the date, time, and menu for holiday gatherings at least one month in advance, and preferably two. When I managed the career services department at my alma mater, I created a year-long to-do list, month by month, and my former administrative assistant still uses it to this day to keep herself and others on task and working ahead to avoid scrambling and last-minute chaos.

God knows all of this about me. And He certainly is amused by my inability to give in, flex my schedule, and let go of my plans. I believe this is why He has repeatedly put me in situations that require flexibility, adaptability, and total lack of control. I have made progress. But I’m still a planner by nature.

This weekend, I learned that there are always gifts to be discovered when plans go awry.

Our daughter napping during the rain this weekend

Our daughter napping during the rain this weekend

As my husband, daughter, and I waited for any stragglers who might show up at the cancelled workshop, I brewed a pot of coffee and enjoyed a doughnut we picked up on our way. A friend showed up to post a cancellation notice on the door, handmade by his daughter (and totally adorable). Two of his beautiful and rambunctious daughters accompanied him, and they had the chance to meet our baby and hold her and squish her cheeks for a while. As I nursed my baby in the next room, I heard through the old, thin walls my husband chatting with my friend, discussing landscaping and offering help to one another. The heavy downpour sounded light, steady, and calming to me as I sat right next to a large window, watching the rain cascade onto the shrubs, sipping a hot cup of coffee as my daughter nursed her way to sleep.

Sunday, after the birthday party was cancelled, I found myself with an entire day that required no plans, no schedule, and no need to wear real clothes. So I stayed in my comfy pajamas, wrote my teaching philosophy in preparation for a job interview, and took a much-needed nap that afternoon while my daughter did the same.

Sunset on the porch with my baby

Sunset on the porch with my baby

As I watched the sunset with her on our rickety old porch later that evening, I thanked God for the changes in our plans. I had needed time to breathe, time to write, and time to rest. I just didn’t know it because I hadn’t stopped moving long enough to admit to myself how totally exhausted I felt.

I plan. And sometimes God laughs.

This weekend, I think He just shook His head, orchestrated changes, and smiled as He watched me savor my coffee, gaze at my sleeping baby, cover myself with three blankets at three o’clock in the afternoon, and admire the damp, green life light up in our yard as the sun melted over 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.

 

Getting the morning back

Yesterday I had a relentless migraine that materialized before I ever got out of bed. My goal was to complete my last research paper for graduate school by bedtime yesterday; I finished six of eight pages, but I decided I’d be better off finishing it minus the nausea, pain, and throbbing which overwhelmed me. I went to bed last night after taking what little medication I’m allowed to take while pregnant and hoped–rather, prayed–for the best. Okay, let’s be honest–I BEGGED for relief!

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. (one of my many nightly breaks from sleeping) and ate a small snack, thinking a full belly would be more conducive to completing the six hours of sleep I had hoped for.

Fortunately, God had other plans. As I lay there attempting to get cozy enough to lull my exhausted self back to sleep, I found myself humming hymns to our baby, praying for people I hadn’t even thought of in months, and contemplating a potential plan to earn extra income after the birth of our baby. After making coffee and reheating my corn pillow heating pad, and realizing that attempting to fall back asleep for a mere 30 minutes was futile, I succumbed to my apparent refusal to sleep and got up out of bed.

Me in all my morning glory while camping with my family, 2010

As I poured my one tiny cup of coffee for the day, I found myself whispering, “Thank You!”

In that moment, I recognized that God did for me what I could not do for myself. He woke me up, without any nausea (which is no minor miracle for me these days), and gave me a reprieve from the unbearable pain I’d been feeling for over 36 hours. He wouldn’t let me go back to sleep, but in exchange for another hour of sleep, I gained valuable solace with Him and the opportunity to get my mornings back–even if only for today.

I wasn’t always a morning person, but the past two years, I’ve slowly evolved into one. Prior to pregnancy, I woke up every day, regardless of my plans or schedule, at least an hour prior to beginning my daily duties and routine. I spent this hour reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture, and blogging about the blessings in my life.

Since becoming pregnant, I’ve been plagued almost non-stop with a multitude of unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms forced me to adapt my schedule and sacrifice my precious morning time with God. I still found ways to sneak in time with Him, but for me, it hasn’t felt the same.

As I took my first sip of the one tiny cup of coffee I’ll have today, I literally almost cried. It actually tasted heavenly. Coffee, as many of you know, is one of the great loves of my life. Since becoming pregnant, I’ve often become nauseated at the smell of it brewing. The fact that I actually savored a sip of coffee this morning struck me as a gift from God.

Time to sing to my baby and pray for my friends. New ideas. A sense of physical well-being. Nuggets of wisdom from digging through God’s word. Enjoyment from a sip of coffee.

These are all gifts God has already given me today, and I haven’t even technically begun my day.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Thank You, God, for giving me the morning back.