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.

#bestprobs

Let me give you guys a quick snapshot of my life right now.

11358743_1402053633454392_799305827_nI’m wrapping up my position as a full-time faculty member at a community college, grading finals like a demon while saying plenty of sad goodbyes to colleagues and students. I receive daily emails which I print  out to add to my “kudos” folder, all the while contributing to my guilty conscience (teacher guilt is a lot like mommy guilt, in case you hadn’t heard). In addition, I’m completing the most atrocious pile of exit paperwork I’ve ever seen in my life. Quitting this job is complicated!

Through a strange sequence of events, which I believe were divinely ordained, I obtained an amazing new job as content manager for an online job board. I have been working part-time this semester, which has been quite an impressive and comical juggling act, and I begin full-time in January. One of the best perks of the gig is working from home. However, I learned that I can’t actually work from my home; we can’t access broadband internet service here since we live in The Sticks. Thus began the speedy, desperate search for a small, affordable office space. My search ended soon after it began, and thanks to a local business owner, my husband and I have been working to order equipment and furniture and help prepare a space.

In the midst of this work-related hubbub this semester, I’ve been grieving some losses–losses by death of people I loved who’ve passed on, and losses of people who moved to other cities this year and who moved out of my life, too. It has simply been a heavy year in terms of loss. Carrying this weight while trying to “keep on the sunny side of life” has been a tough balancing act, to say the least.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And then there’s Maggie, who turned three last month. She’s a beautiful child and full of life, but she’s also full of pee, and I find myself needing to Google things like, “how to remove urine smell from couch cushions.” So it’s come to this, eh?

Apparently so.

But here’s the deal.

While everything I have written thus far, which is approximately 367 words, is true, it is also only one side of the truth.

Here’s the other side I haven’t told you about yet. I hoped you decided to wait for it.

I do have problems.

But I have the best problems.

I wrote this portion of an email to a friend of mine over the weekend.

Tonight I felt really stressed and was praying, and God somehow revealed to me a change of perception, and I said to God, “Thank you so much that I have the BEST problems.” My problems are so good. Genuinely, they are. I have all this office equipment I could afford sitting around my house ready to be put together taking up space, and I need help with it. That’s my “problem.” I have stuff to grade by students who love me and are sending me the nicest emails that I am printing out and saving. I have too many people who want to spend time with me and not enough time to fit them all in before I quit working at the college. I got to move my retirement into an IRA and had to find time to go to the bank and felt grumbly about it today! But I got to keep my money instead of losing my retirement funds! I mean, I could keep going, but really…. I needed this reality check and change of perception tonight, and after God snapped me back into reality, I felt about 400% better.

I talked to my boss on the phone a few days ago, and she genuinely sounded excited about my upcoming training visit. Of course I’m excited, but it floored me to hear so much excitement in her voice. Quite honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. How lucky am I to be working for people who can’t wait to see me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My three year-old daughter asked me to rock her tonight and sing songs to her. That rarely happens. Yes, I have a urinary tract infection, and the weight of her 35 pound body on my bladder didn’t really help with the urgency/frequency vibe I’ve got going on, but somehow I was able to be where my hands were rather than where my bladder was at that moment and look into her big, sleepy, hazel eyes for as long as she’d let me.

I have the best problems.

The only real problem I ever have is when I lose my ability to see things the way they really are.

There’s a lot of clarity in gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counterweight

I pulled into the driveway of my close friend’s small brick house one autumn afternoon, the air thick and humid, stuck in transition from summer heat. She wasn’t home, but her neighbors’ kids ran and yelled at one another in the front yard next door, enjoying their first few moments of freedom after school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I jiggled the doorknob and prayed it would open. It turned without hesitation—I exhaled and let myself in. I could have imagined it, but a strange hush filled the rooms as I determinedly made my way to her bedroom, contrasting with the intermittent boom firing in my chest.

The handgun lay exactly where she’d told me I might find it. My hands shook as I dismantled the weapon; I felt silly for this. You’ve killed a deer, for Pete’s sake, Bethany. This is just a handgun.

But I’ve never dismantled a handgun at my friend’s home and held it for safekeeping after she placed it next to her own head the night before, contemplating pulling the trigger.

One small handgun never felt so heavy in my hands.

It was just one moment in one afternoon, in response to one action taken in one moment on one evening, yet the impact of hearing Dickinson’s carriage wheels screeching to a halt has not yet faded. I will never know why my friend chose not to pull that trigger, but thank God she didn’t.

This week, the Ozarks were hit with a line of thunderstorms I’d categorize as a deluge. I waded to my car in my rain boots after a meeting and drove home at 7:30 in the darkness, listening to Iron & Wine’s Trapeze Singer.  Another dear soul I love deeply and had to release came to mind, and I literally could not breathe. This was a problem since I was in the process of operating a vehicle in the midst of a downpour. I nearly stopped driving and clutched my chest, tears falling. I’m sure I was making what my friend Tara calls “the ugly cry face,” but I couldn’t help it. For a few seconds, the grief of losing someone invaluable overwhelmed me.

282244_518566098082_1117807_nA few days ago while the sun rose and glistened across the horizon, I stood in my backyard, which is nestled deep in the woods, and I noticed the spindly spider webs connecting trees on the hillside waving and dancing in the wind, the dew on each silk thread reflecting light with every tiny movement. Dry leaves fell among them and rustled through the recently raked yard.

I thought about grabbing my camera and attempting to capture this beautiful moment, but I knew it would be in vain. Even the best photographs are poor mirrors of our experiences; life is meant to be lived.

As painful as it is to grieve, to remember, to work through and process trauma, to watch people suffer, and to suffer myself, I don’t want to stop living. I never want to lose the chance to experience beauty that can’t be captured.

Those brief, beautiful moments are enough to serve as a counterweight for me, and I’m grateful for that.

One of my favorite poems, which resonates with me, is “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa.

“… What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string
is beyond me.  Maybe the hills
grew weary &  leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.”

 

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.

The Ravine

*The following essay was written by one of my students, Samantha Jones, in English Composition I about a place of significance. While this essay is not in letter format, it does pay homage to the memories of her childhood and her sister. For that reason, I asked for her permission to share it with all of you this month.*

arkansas pinesThere are many places that make lasting memories, but there is one special place I will never forget. Lynn, Arkansas, is where that special place is for me. Take a right on Lawrence County Road 318. Pass the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and Dry Creek Cemetery on your left. Then there is the old Highfield place down the road. The next driveway leads to my childhood home. Behind the house there is a barbed wire fence. Crossing over the fence leads to a thicket of pine trees. Those pine trees enclose my special place, the ravine.

As children, my brother, sister, and I spent many days in that ravine. The pine trees surrounded the entire circumference of it like a security fence. This kept our hideout a secret. The pine needles blanketed the ground, making it a great place to take a nap. When I woke up I would smell of pine, and would have to pick the pine needles out of my hair.

We gathered old pots, pans, and other miscellaneous things from an old dump pile. Throughout our childhood we hoarded up quite a stockpile. We even had old tables and chairs. We used rocks, mud, and grass to pretend we were cooking. We made good use of the pine cones too. They made good baseballs and kick balls. The ravine was our own little paradise.

We would spend the entire day down in the ravine. There was not a game we did not play. Sometimes we would play house, school, or hide and seek. I liked hide and seek the best. I would cover myself in pine needles. When my brother or sister got close I would jump out and scare them. I can still remember how they would jump and giggle. We would also use the fallen branches as swords. That usually ended up with someone tattling to mom and the swords being confiscated.

When we got older, we thought we would camp out in the ravine. I was scared out of my mind. My brother kept making coyote howls. He was trying to scare my sister and me. It sure did work. However, he did not know that a real coyote was going to visit us that night. We heard something moving around outside our tent. Even my brother was scared. So we unzipped the front zipper. That is when we saw the vicious coyote. All we had was a pellet gun. Thankfully, that was enough to scare it away. Needless to say we went running and screaming to the house. That was the last camping trip in the ravine.

As we grew, so did the pines around the ravine. It seemed as if they touched the skyline. We got too grown up to play the silly games we used to play. Even though we did not play there anymore, the ravine still served its purpose.  My sister and I would go there to talk about boys we liked and all the things girls talk about. I can still feel her head in my lap, and hear her talking about the cutest boy in school. We were at peace there. It was the only place we could go where it seemed as if the world stopped for us. Anything we said inside the confines of the pines stayed within them.

The biggest trouble we ever got into was in the ravine. We would ride the bus to school. After first period classes, a friend would drive us to a field that was near the ravine. We would climb over a fence and walk through a pasture. That is where we would all hang out and smoke. My brother even snuck us our first beer there. One day the school called our mom to ask her why we were not there that day. So mom waited at the ravine, and there we all came running through the pasture. She had gathered our empty beer cans, and cigarette packs, and was waiting inside the ravine. We were grounded for what seemed like months.

I guess you could say we grew with the pines. My roots are planted there just as theirs are. Every time I smell pine in the air I am instantly brought back to the ravine. With each memory I get to be a child again, even if it is just for a moment.

Now that we are all adults, it is hard to imagine what our childhoods would have been like without the ravine. My brother and I lost our sister in a car accident five years ago. The memories we made with her and the trouble we got into in that ravine are priceless. Even nowadays when I see those pines standing tall, I can still see her trying to get us to eat her famous mud pies. Those pines and that ravine gave me a place to make the happiest memories of my life.

God sent me a kitten

Big thanks to Debra Dickey for serving as today’s guest contributor and for another kitten post!

catI didn’t know it yet, but He was creating, protecting, and instilling a spirit of trust into the sweetest, funniest, prettiest little long-haired yellow kitten that I have seen in a long time, just for me, even before I knew how much she was going to mean to me.  She was born late last summer, the only one in the litter.  Her mom raised her in my carport, cared for her, taught her lessons, kept her safe, and shared her with us all fall. When she was older, she would come and go with her mom, then soon she was following her whole cat family to the places they go to find shelter and be warm, in the barns and sheds, or playing with the other cats high atop piles of tires and equipment that are close by.  I called her my little ball of sunshine.

Considering that all the cats around my house are purely outdoor cats and not the least bit interested in people except for food purposes, I never expected that this one would be any different!  But one day, while the weather was yet warm, as I was going into the house, the little furry thing ran inside, and began exploring.  She didn’t go far, and she didn’t stay long  — I think she was reconnaissance!   But she was cute and playful, rolling on the rug to be petted and cuddled, so I did.  Soon her mom was peeking in the back door, meowing for her to come out, not that the little one was particularly concerned, but after a time, she was ready to leave and return to her mom’s watchful care, only to occasionally dash in whenever the door happened to be open if she was around.  But most of the time, she seemed more happy outside than in.

However, when the temperatures dropped to very cold and brought along snow, her attitude changed very quickly.  She knew right away exactly where she wanted to be — inside!  By now, she and her mom have both become content with longer periods of her being on her own, so on the coldest of those days when I went to work, I left her inside and she did quite well. . .  by that I mean, nothing tipped over or broken!   Still, not being used to that much ‘alone’ time, on those days she was always really ready for me to come home so she could escape back to her natural habitat.  But, on the weekends now, when I am home and momentarily idle, her favorite pastime is being curled up with me on the quilt I keep in my chair, and there she will blissfully sleep all the day long.

The background to her felicitous and sunny appearance being so providential is simply stated:  mid-November through the first part of January in my life was a pretty bleak patch for me.  The loss of our second cat during the holidays, then only a couple short weeks later, add to that a terrifying mind-numbing six day emergency situation; numerous and challenging technical issues due to freezing weather, incredible exhausting illnesses; treacherous accident-waiting-to-happen driving conditions on ice-slicked roads; and one more family crises looming on the horizon, and you will have the brief three-week- time-span highlights that were going on in my life.  You see, He knew I was going to need her cheerful distraction…. at that precise moment in time … to lift my spirits…. user-friendly …. couldn’t have asked for anything better … she was just the right one-size-fits-all expression, a unique and timely Gift, Perfectly given.  Yes, her little funny face, her silly kitty antics, and her sweet nature, wrapped in this random act of caring, have stolen my heart.  Just a coincidence?  Not at all.

These days, she has become a permanent fixture in my life, a totally spoiled rotten fuzzy ball of Velcroed-to-my-slippers fluff, sometimes annoying, but mostly lovable.  I look for her every day, she also looks for me.  She’s quite independent — coming and going at her leisure, staying in at night, or not, eating on demand, romping through the house, then sleeps where she pleases.  She makes me laugh; she too often wakes me before it’s time; she asks for very little, yet she gives much in return.  She loves unconditionally.  She affectionately fills the hole that only He knew would come to exist.  We call her umm, him, Stinky  🙂 .

 

 

My mother’s Bible

*Thank you, Lorie Mink, for sharing your reflections and gratitude in this post.*

While searching my closet for a pair of slippers, I came across my mother’s Bible. It’s been sitting on the shelf since we moved in the house three years ago. And I can’t remember the last time I opened it. Mama’s been gone for ten and a half years now, and it’s been almost that long since I took it out of its case and looked through it. So I did.

My mother’s Bible is a treasure trove of memories. There are pictures of the grandkids, notes from the grandkids and from her former Sunday School students, bits of paper with Bible verses written on them, even old letters from family stuffed in between the pages.

Even the cover, with her name pressed in faded gold lettering, holds memories. The corners are ragged and chewed on, thanks to a Maltese Poodle mix named Critter, who passed away at 13, just two short years after Mama died. Rubbing my fingers over the jagged edges immediately brought forth the memories of that dog, who Mama swore she didn’t care that much about but loved as much as I, sitting at her feet on the porch, head resting on her house-shoed foot, while she drank her morning coffee and read the Word of God each day.

Ribbons and bookmarks were placed here and there by highlighted bits of scripture that she felt were important to remember. Even Valentines and inspirational cards could be found.

My mother’s life is held in this Bible. The scriptures she liked and highlighted, the bits of paper she felt important to keep, even her driver’s license, birth certificate, and marriage certificate are nestled in the pages.

As I leafed through her Bible, I immediately felt connected to my mother again, as if she sat beside me telling me the stories of what each piece of paper and picture meant. As I read over the highlighted passages, I also felt my connection to God rekindle.

God and I are just now renewing our old friendship. He’s been there patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. I stubbornly held myself aloof. I’ve always believed in God, thanks to my mom, who instilled this belief in me at an early age. But I kind of took a veering path, not necessarily away from Him, but distant to Him nonetheless. Shifting through the pages of Mama’s Bible seemed to shift things in my mind. And suddenly I saw God, sitting quietly beside me as if He’d been sitting there for a long time patiently waiting for my return. As if He had nothing better to do but wait for me to come to my senses.

It’s been a tough two years for me. I’ve had to deal with some situations I really wish I hadn’t. But I mistakenly believed I had to deal with them on my own. Now I know I don’t have to. I talk to God every day. Sometimes, He still seems distant. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to Him as if through a long tunnel, where the voices carry but are faint. I know this is me, not Him. I know He hears me perfectly and answers me in His way. I am the one who is distant, who is unable to hear Him clearly or understand all that He says to me. But I know that the distance is fading every day.

And though I am still going through troubled times, I know He is with me, drawing me nearer every day. I am truly grateful for all He has given me. Especially for leading me back to my mother’s Bible.