For her curls

As I gear up to go back to work full-time this fall, transitioning from an adjunct instructor to a full-time English instructor, I find myself fluctuating between excitement and eager anticipation and anxiety and grief as I let go of this period of my life–the stay-at-home mom phase. No longer will Maggie’s cute babbling on the baby monitor serve as my alarm clock. One month from now, I’ll entrust my child to babysitters three days a week and rely on them to fill me in on the brightest moments of the day, to keep me posted on her milestones and her tantrums and her patterns of behavior. Soon Maggie and I will both have to adjust to a new schedule, a new routine, and a new balance of people in our lives.

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I'd been selected for the full-time position

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I’d been selected for the full-time position

Don’t get me wrong–I’m beyond thankful for my new job. If you missed my post about my new job, reading that will certainly clarify any confusion about my feelings about that. For years, I didn’t even think I’d ever have the opportunity to go to graduate school; a few years ago, my husband (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to pursue my passion for English language and literature, regardless of the practicality of it all… talk about winning me over! I enrolled in a Master’s program a few weeks later, and I’ve never regretted that decision. I feel that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life right now;  it’s a wonderful feeling, and a great way to serve God and other people.

Still, I’m a mom, and I’m a mom who wears her heart on her sleeve sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me an entire year’s worth of prayer and meditation before I felt absolute peace about the decision to go back to work full-time at this point in my daughter’s life. But it does feel like the right time. If there’s anything God has repeatedly taught me, through practical experience, it’s that He is always right on time (if I yield to His will and don’t push and shove and insist on my own). There’s something easy and beautiful about letting God make things happen.

I would not trade the past 20 months of time I’ve spent at home with my daughter for anything; no amount of money and no thrill or prestige would entice me to reconsider how I’ve spent this period of time.

IMG_3763This morning Maggie and I took a walk down our quiet country road, admiring the bright morning sun reflecting off the surface of nearly every dew-covered leaf in the woods. We played with bubbles in the backyard. Every time Maggie popped a bubble, she excitedly exclaimed, “I gots!” Maggie played in her sandbox, silently scooping and shoveling sand into her little bucket over and over again, occasionally turning to glance at me sitting nearby, maybe to ensure that I was still watching her. The light reflected off her wild auburn curls. I found myself watching nothing but her hair, mesmerized by the light in her curls, the sun spinning around and twisting every time she turned and picked up her scoop and set it down again.

What is that worth, I wondered. What is this moment worth to me?

Everything. There’s nothing anyone could pay me to trade me for this moment, and nothing I’d exchange for the life I have lived with my daughter for the past 20 months.

I know that I haven’t wasted my time because I have chosen to be where my hands are; when I make that choice, I’m never wasting my time.

 

Here’s your sign

*Today’s post is written by my friend and regular contributor, Debra Dickey. Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Debra!*

I agree with Moses.  “God, if You are not coming with me, don’t make me go!”  …but if have to, then please, please, please give me a sign!!   [Moses actually says, “If Your Presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”  Exodus 33:15]

With each edict near or far, or for every crises, small or large, my dread-o-meter amps to warp-speed – what emotional expense, how much psychological toll, what mental, physical, or financial price am I looking at?    All the panic and fear of the unknown and my own very appreciable inabilities come crashing over me, landing with a thud in the pit of my stomach.  How will I ever be able to . . . . ?

Bowing #2In similar fashion to the conversation that God had with Moses regarding the arduous journey in front him, God has been having a long talk with me and the responsibilities He tasks me with also.  I truly believe in God with my whole being.  My continuing challenge is the part that gets me past the human need or desire to validate His power with my physical eyes!  But ‘might and power’ express human strength of every description – physical, mental, moral. (Biblestudytools.com)   What God tells us is:  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’  (Zach. 4:6)  Oh!  Wow.   ‘Let Your Presence go with us.’

Yet we are always looking for a sign, aren’t we?  Actually, God does provide signs for us. Granted, they aren’t like road signs, directional signs, billboards, or a writing in the sky, but when we walk with Him, they are all around us.  Interestingly, God never wrote Moses a message in the sky. He never laid a blueprint down.  Neither did He send a tweet or a text.   He did something better.  This was the better thing that God offered Moses –God promised Moses His presence.  [lifeway.com]

The certainty, the solid that I am being encouraged to learn from this very personal interaction is the deep-seated root of discipleship I so distinctly and unmistakably need to grasp, and that is:  He’s got this!

Each time I pray about a situation, a resolution, for a loved one, or for guidance, strength, and Providence, His Presence is all that is necessary to perform these miracles.  I know fully when I offer that prayer, that the Perfect outcome is in His Hands and already in motion!  (Do not be deceived, I’m frailly human.  Days and nights in ceaseless prayer, I still tend to fret and worry without end anyway!  How does one embrace such unconditional power??)  He even further promises, “. . .I will give you rest.” (33:14b)  Did I hear that right?   ‘A benefit of living in God’s presence is that we can snuggle up close to our Heavenly Father, knowing that we can rest confident, secure, and victorious.’ (lifeway.com)   Moses plainly, yet meaningfully, presented his heartfelt appeal, and God assured Moses, “I will do the very thing that you ask….” (33:17a)

I am slowly, not always surely yet, but bit by bit, investing faithful confidence, and asking God to “show me (His) Ways, so that I might find Favor in His Sight” (33:13), to trust God’s omnipotent capacity, then be rewarded with the beautiful, exquisite, and touching evidence that has been there all along.  It is most assuredly not a sign that I can see with my eyes.  It is better.  Described by Elijah in I Kings 19:12, it is the sheer Presence of God.  Just His Presence.   Not the wind, not the earthquake, not the fire.  God.  A palpable, cognitive, manifest Presence!  His essence being Divinely and lovingly written into every fiber of my life, day after day, concern after concern, prayer after prayer, miracle after miracle after miracle.  His Presence revealed in all that is.  It seems that my mistaken effort to equate earthly affirmations with heavenly confirmations is the very shortcoming standing between me and God’s Promises!

And finally Moses did something even more extraordinary!  He said to God, “Show me Your Glory, I pray.” (Exodus 33:18)  You know, I understand that part!  Probably not in the same parameters as offered there, but my take-away is almost the same.  After humbly approaching my Heavenly Father in prayer, presenting my appeal, seeking His Will, asking for Guidance and Help, then listening for His Assurance, there’s only one desire left: “Show me Your Glory, I pray!”  So with breathless expectance and a reverent flourish, I bow —–“You got this, God?” … “I’ve got this.” —–  then step back and watch His mighty Miracles to Perform!

For sure, I initially thought that my ‘word’ for this year should be strength (I SO need it!), but now I know that Presence encompasses that endangered sliver plus so much more:  strength, wisdom, ability, guidance, resources, help, protection, sustenance!  So I choose Presence as my word, because not only do I long for God’s Presence, His Presence shall be the path to all His mighty, mighty MIRACLES.

So…there it is.  That’s my sign!  The only one I ever have need of.  Stop looking . . . it’s already here.

My leap of faith, part one

*Today’s post is part one in a two-part series by my friend LaTresha Woodruff-Johnson. I’m thankful God places inspiring, compassionate women like her in my life. Stay tuned this week for part two.*

I love the LORD; I am not afraid to say it.  In fact, I’ll take any opportunity to tell people that I love the LORD.  But when you say that to some, they ask, “why?”  I say things like, “because HE first loved me,” or “HE gave his only son that we might have life.”  But more importantly “because HIS grace and mercy is new every day, and HE has done so many things in my life; HE’s made a way out of no way.” 

I have so many stories of what HE’s done for me, how HE’s changed my life, but there is one in particular that I find myself telling people over and over and over again.   You see, it’s a timely and timeless story about my “Leap of Faith.” 

I have always sought the LORD’s guidance before making decisions, so when I started feeling my soul moving in a new direction or yearning for new direction, I thought to myself, “It’s time to leave the news business, put down my microphone, step away from the camera, the people/fans I’ve met in my 14 years as a reporter.”

LaTresha's last day as a reporter for Fox 16.

LaTresha’s last day as a reporter for Fox 16.

So I did what I do? I got on my knees and prayed to my heavenly FATHER.  I asked for guidance, I wanted to hear a clear word from HIM on what I should do.  I felt he was leading me to find something, a job allowing me to be more available to my husband, my church and my community.  I waited and waited and waited but heard nothing!  To me that meant it just wasn’t the time to walk away.  With that, I threw myself back into work. I changed my attitude and tackled each day head on; I started it by telling myself to, “Expect Good things,” and not to allow others to determine how I am going to feel today.  I took back that power.  Soon that burning desire to leave news reporting went away.

But GOD wasn’t done with me on this issue.  Two years later I got that desire in my soul that I was not where I needed to be.  I wrestled with it for a few weeks saying to myself, “I’ve gone through this before–it’ll pass.”  Well it didn’t, and I found myself on my knees one night praying to my Heavenly FATHER again.  But this time when I got up, there was a strange feeling that came over me.  A feeling of peace–my soul seemed to be at ease.  So I talked to my husband, and he supported my decision to resign from my reporting job.  That was April of 2010, but I didn’t have a new job. All I knew is that I had heard from the LORD, and I was following his will.  I ended up staying four more months because the news department was so short-staffed. Yes, I prayed about that, too, and the LORD moved me to stay and help out.

August 27, 2010, was a bittersweet day, bitter because I was leaving what I considered in 7th grade as my dream job, what I was meant to be, thought I’d retire from a big reporting/anchoring gig from CNN.  But it was sweet because I had faith that my GOD would supply all of my needs.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.  I did a great story, a child who was kidnapped but returned home safely.  What a happy ending to a great career; for me it was one of the happiest days of my life!

I gladly tackled this strange life of not constantly going and going from one end of the state to the next in one day, writing stories behind the eight ball and constantly being on alert.  Yes, my days were filled with sleep and thoughts of learning to cook, but they were just thoughts!  This all lasted about three weeks, and I was ready to get going.  See, as a reporter, I was always tackling numerous things at once, never an idle moment.   I started to get a little uneasy, and the LORD started dealing with me again.  I believed HE was saying, “LaTresha your idle time has come and gone; it’s time to get to work.”  By work I believed he meant, find a job, one that lets you help people, find time to volunteer, and honor Me through your works.

I ramped up my volunteering with one agency and became “a Friend” of two other non-profits.  While I started getting that feeling of fulfillment, my tank wasn’t quite on “F” so I started with Big Brothers Big Sisters and became a friend of Habitat for Humanity and Conway Cradle Care.  While I enjoyed being involved with these organizations, there was still something missing.  I could hear that sweet still voice of the Lord saying, “I want more for you. I want you to do more.”  So my job search kicked into HIGH gear.  I attacked the search ferociously!  I set my sights on what are called “Public Information Officer” positions.  I can’t tell you how many times as a reporter I interviewed Public Information Officers from various agencies and thought, “I could do that job with my eyes closed.” 

I applied for about 20 PIO positions; I had 5 interviews where I felt I had “knocked it out of the park!”  Slowly I started getting word that the positions had been filled.  Soon there was just one position left, and I thought, “This is the one.”  After all I had made it to the 3rd round of interviews. I didn’t even know there were 3rd rounds.  I just knew I had this one in the bag, so much so that I didn’t bother God with it anymore.  I remember the day that I got the call about the position, I had decided not to get up early and search the internet for jobs because I was so sure I was about to get this job.  The phone rang. I fumbled for it, cleared my throat, looked at the caller ID, and sure enough it was the hiring manager for the agency.  My heart leapt. I thought, “Here goes, about to enter the working world again,”  and I was excited.

You cannot imagine the heartbreak and devastation I felt when I heard the words, “We have offered the position to a more qualified candidate.”  It was all I could do not to start sobbing right there on the phone.  He went on to say things like, “You possess all the qualifications and would have done an excellent job but…”  And that’s the point I stopped listening.  I can’t even recall saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.  My pity party went on for the rest of the day.  I didn’t even get out of bed. 

It was only the next morning when I forced myself into the shower that I started thinking clearly.  Sitting in the shower I realized that I got ahead of myself.  When things looked like they were going in my favor I didn’t ask God if getting this particular job was His will.  I left him out of the equation.  He’d been there leading and guiding me through it all, but I decided I could handle it from here. When I put my hands on it, God took his hands off.  It was as if He was saying, “If you think you can do better than your Heavenly Father, go ahead give it a try, you don’t need me.”  I asked my heavenly father’s forgiveness and gave in to what I already knew–that He would take care of me no matter what.  I knew He didn’t bring me this far to leave me! 

So my journey continued. 

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.

 

 

Day 8–A family in the making

*Thanks to Michelle Young for serving as today’s guest contributor. Check out her artwork on her Facebook Page MY Moments.*

 

IMG_8168In November 2005, Jerry and Nancy Young opened up their home to two little boys named Kolby and Kaleb. It was the week of Thanksgiving when Joe and I met these boys for the very first time. Kolby had just turned two, and Kaleb was soon to be one year old. Throughout the following months, Joe and I saw Kolby and Kaleb often and spent a lot of time with them. They quickly became very special to us.

On March 13, 2006, as Joe and I were driving home from Jerry and Nancy’s house, I noticed that Joe was being exceptionally quiet. As we lay in bed that night, I asked if he had been deep in thought about something. He simply said “Yes.” So I probed further and asked what it was about. He said, “You probably don’t want to know… What would you think about trying to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb?”

My heart fluttered as I told Joe that I had already been thinking about it, but just hadn’t said anything yet. I also admitted that the idea of it all scared me. Joe had become concerned about his parents trying to raise these two small children at their ages, especially since it was beginning to look as if it might turn into a long-term, if not permanent, situation. That night, we discussed the possibilities of getting Kolby and Kaleb into our home and the ways in which our lives would be changed if it actually happened. We also discussed the reality of maybe only having the boys in our home temporarily while their birth mom met all of her requirements to get them back. This was going to be a huge decision and we knew that if we got involved, we would have to be prepared emotionally in the case that they be returned to Brittney later on down the road. No decision was made that night. After much discussion, we went to sleep.

The next day at lunch, Joe asked if I had enough time to make a decision about getting involved and offering to let Kolby and Kaleb come live with us. I told him that if we were to get the boys, I would be in it wholeheartedly. Joe said that was all he needed to know. We would make our decision known to Jerry and Nancy later that night. The rest of my work day was consumed with thoughts of our decision and the possibility of Joe and me going from no kids to two kids. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was scared, nervous, anxious, and yet excited all at the same time. I called and asked my mom to meet with me. I explained to her the entire situation and that Joe and I were planning to try to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb. She was surprised, but supportive of our decision. She said she was proud of us for stepping up and offering to take these boys in. She also told me that she had tried not to be selfish in her prayers for us and our desire to be pregnant. She had simply prayed that God would allow Joe and me the opportunity to share the love in our home with others.

Well, that opportunity had arrived! I told her that God never ceased to amaze me and that I am often reminded that my plans are not always God’s plans. Joe and I had been trying to have a child of our own for about seven months, but it hadn’t happened. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, we had been presented with a completely different plan. Looking back now, I can clearly see God’s amazing hands at work in our lives. I believe that I did not get pregnant during that time because God knew all along of two small boys who would be in need of a good, loving home. I honestly cannot say that we would have made the decision that we did had we already had a child of our own. That evening, Joe and I sat down with Nancy and told her of our recent decision to offer to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb. She said it sounded like a good plan to her. She thanked us and said that it was a relief to know that there was at least another option out there. She admitted that taking care of the boys 24/7 was really taking its toll on her. She assured us that she loved the boys and would continue to take care of them as long as she needed to, but of the two options, she felt that Joe and I getting custody of the boys would be the better scenario.

I have an entire journal of all that we went through once our decision was made public. The boys remained with Jerry and Nancy while all of the phone calls, paperwork, and court hearings were being handled from county to county. There were doubts. There were tears. There was bad news. There was good news. It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least! Finally, on July 26, 2006, the boys were moved into our home as foster kids. This began a whole new chapter for Joe and me as well as for Kolby and Kaleb. More doubts. More tears. More bad news. More good news. Another emotional roller coaster.

IMG_5274On February 21, 2007, Joe and I went to court in Little Rock where both birth parents signed the consent to waive parental rights. This began the actual adoption process. It was a very happy time for our family. And then one month later, God revealed another surprise…I was pregnant. Wow! At this point, we had been trying to get pregnant for a year and a half. Joe and I were now in the situation of going from no kids to THREE kids all in one year! Glory was born on November 17, 2007. She was 5 months old when we FINALLY went before the judge in Little Rock on April 28, 2008, and legally became Kolby and Kaleb’s permanent family. Despite the long, difficult, emotional journey, I am thankful for my family and for our story. God has truly blessed us!

What will be on your gratitude list in 2013?

*Special thanks to Henry Petty for serving as today’s guest contributor, AGAIN! He’s such a huge help to me in keeping this blog going during times when I’m busier. I am so thankful for him and for other friends who have stepped up and written posts for the blog. As you read this post, contemplate what your gratitude list will look like at the end of 2013. Remember, gratitude’s a choice. I hope you choose it today!*

Henry’s 2013 gratitude list

ImageI will focus on being grateful in 2013 for opportunities.  I will come up on my 5 year anniversary where I work, and that will open a lot of doors to positions that I really didn’t get a shot at before.  I think it’s time to move on from what I’ve been doing the past 5 years, and if the Lord allows me to and it’s in His plan, I will pursue that and show off my other talents.

I will focus on being grateful for a new and improved Henry.  I am bringing back the old Henry that I grew to love so much, yet grew so far apart from.  I have learned about “being a man”, but this year I am going to take control of it.  It’s taken me a while to realize what works and doesn’t work in this world.  Let’s just say – I replaced the super Mario bros keychain with a Swiss army knife.  No, I’m not going all “mountain man” on you, but I am maturing into a more resourceful and scrappy dude.

I will focus for being grateful for what I have, and grateful for the things I cannot change that bring harm or good to me – for those things exist for an unexplained reason.

I will focus on being grateful for the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  The idea that the almighty God our creator is willing to just put Himself out there right in front of us, humbled, as the Priest hands us the unleavened bread at Communion is…. breathtakingly awesome. 

For more from Henry, check out his blog!

Timing

For me, life’s all about timing.

I could list multiple examples of moments when I made poor decisions, or when the decision wasn’t necessary bad, but the timing was off. That trend seems to be more prevalent when I’m doing my own thing and not really open to listening to what God has to say about my life.

But I’d rather focus on what I’m grateful for–the times when I’ve let God hold the stopwatch and determine the right time for changes, decisions, and big moments. I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago from a wise person I know. She told me that the best prayer in any situation is “God’s will be done.” I honestly did not like hearing that. I fancied myself as a master puppeteer of my own life and the lives of those I loved, able to pull the strings, move the little characters around on stage, and begin and end the play at any point in time.

And I did that for a long time.

It just didn’t work that well for me. It also left me feeling guilty, depressed, and strangely helpless and out of control despite all my best efforts to be in charge.

Oddly enough, when I stop watching the clock and pray for God’s will, and for God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones, He does exactly that. It is rarely in line with my schedule or agenda. It’s typically not at what I’d consider to be “the right time.” But it always works out beautifully when I pray, wait, and watch what happens.

There’s a lot of life to be lived while I’m waiting, too.