The gratitude word

*Today’s blog post is a guest post written by my lifelong friend and former neighbor Leslie Ferguson Thomas. I’m always thankful for Leslie’s contributions to my blog, but I’m more thankful for her ongoing friendship, her perspective on life, and her willingness to share it. Leslie’s husband is currently battling cancer; please keep them in your prayers this holiday season.*

On the day the surgeon told us he was pretty certain my husband Josh had cancer, I was anything but grateful. I was angry. For a few moments I was consumed by it. I wanted to scream, curse, and cry, so I did all three. This year has been crazy. I won’t spend time on all the details, but basically my husband has been diagnosed with two different types of cancer, had three different surgeries, and just started chemotherapy. That is not to mention all the other typical “life” things that have happened this year.

Josh and LeslieI have always considered myself a pretty positive person. People have even accused me of being the “Pollyanna type.” I try to smile often. I have never seen the point otherwise. I try to lift myself and those around me up. I do my best. I have always been one of those people who always thought my ship was about to come in, dreams were meant to be followed, and life was meant to be spent doing what you love. I believed that regardless of the cost.

I have always believed in God/a Higher Power.  I am in awe of all the things that happen in our world. All the perfect timing, the rhythm of everything. Sunsets leave me in awe. A sunset is a continual reminder to me that we are loved. Why else would so much thought and energy be put into simply coloring the sky at night? I am sure there is a scientific reason to it all, but still I am always humbled by the sunset.

This year my “positivity” has been rocked to the core. And honestly, I no longer see myself as a “positive” person. I am positive of nothing. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know what this next moment will bring. How will my husband feel today? What challenges will we face? Will the income situation work out? Will I be able to get clients when I start my counseling practice? Will Josh and I grow old together? Will we be able to have a family?  I don’t know any of that. I don’t consider myself negative either.  I just am!!! And today just is what it is!!!

So that shift left me feeling empty. Everybody kept saying be positive. I suddenly didn’t know how to do that anymore. I still don’t. I feel like something inside of me has changed. It has changed so deeply, and I don’t know that anything will change me back. This is where gratitude has come in and has truly helped me. To me positivity is about believing in a certain outcome. I am sure others may have a different perspective on it. I just can no longer cling to certain outcomes, but I can be in this moment. I can be grateful.

JoshWhat I have found is that even in the worst moments, I can list things to be grateful for. I can look at the sunset and be in awe. I can go to our favorite lake, and be in awe and grateful for the trees. I can sit beside my husband, and be grateful for our relationship. I can be grateful for the way life is changing me. The way I have become stronger, and am more driven than I ever been. I can be grateful for how Josh’s body has healed, how strong he is, and how our relationship continues to get better and better.

“Gratitude” is my new saving grace. I am grateful for the country I live in. I am grateful for possibilities. I am grateful for the people who have helped us, checked on us, and encouraged us. Gratitude has also taken a huge weight off me. I don’t have to believe in anything. I don’t have to be positive of anything. I just have to stop and look around. Gratitude is about being in the present.

So now even in my worst moments, I try to remind myself of all I have to be thankful for. There is so much, and gratitude helps me to immediately center myself into this moment. And this moment is really all we have.

I think the most important part of gratitude is to never make yourself feel guilty for having a hard time with it, being upset, or feeling whatever you feel. I try hard to even be grateful for the emotions I wish I had less of. Gratitude to me is about being gentle and just opening our eyes to all of the good stuff around us.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody- lots of love,

Leslie

Visit Leslie’s blog at www.anembracedlife.com

Three lessons from my mother

Today’s post is written by one of my students, Jesse Shoemaker. Jesse wrote this essay in response to the prompt: Write about your mother or someone who has acted as a mother figure in your life. Describe this person and share at least three lessons you’ve learned from her.

Painting By Luplau Janssen

Painting By Luplau Janssen

My mother is a great influence in my life. She has always been there for me when I needed her to be. No matter what the circumstances might be, she always tries to find a way to fix my problem, even though I am resistant to the idea of help or advice.

My mother is a small woman. She has shoulder length hair that is coal black with heavy fades of brunette and blonde blended throughout. Her voice is slightly shrill considering she prefers to yell across the house to talk to someone rather than walk in the same room as they are and speak in a normal tone. Her eyes and mine are the same, heavy brown hazel that can change from green to brown to gold.

My mother loves to sing and dance. I remember as a child, when we would finish a movie as a family and the credits were rolling, she would jump up and grab my hands, pulling me off the couch and into a little dance we would go. She is so full of life.

When I was 11 years old, my mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a muscle disease, which later became neuropathy, a nerve disease. As I entered my teenage years, it seemed like she was at her worst. There were days that she could not get out of bed; most of the time she could not get around without the use of a walker, crutches, or a wheel chair. Even the softest touch from anyone could cause her to have an inflammation of tremendous pain. Even though she has endured so much pain on an everyday basis, my mother is still one of the sweetest ladies ever. I have had very few friends that dislike my mother, and the few who do just think she is too nice, and it freaks them out a bit.

One lesson I learned from my mother is to explore the world around me. When I was young and before she became sick, my mother would always take my sister and I on hiking trips, canoeing, or some other outdoor activity that we could do as a family. If it was not for my mother I would have never experienced the thrill of white water rafting or the rush of adrenaline I get when rock climbing.

The second lesson indirectly learned from my mother is to always let go of the past. When I was a teenager, and my mother was sick, my sister or I would have to stay home and take care of her while our step dad was working. Needless to say, I felt like part of my youth was taken away from me. I held a grudge for several years towards her, until finally we sat down and talked, and I finally vented what had been bothering me for so many years. It was as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I could finally see some happiness and joy coming back into my life.

The last lesson I learned from my mother is to never give up on yourself or your dreams. Like I mentioned earlier, she was very sick for several years; however, she never gave up on trying to get better. My mother overcame significant weight gain from her sickness and is now a little older woman who likes to dig in her garden and work on as many projects as she can. It is as if she is trying to make up for all the years of not being mobile enough to do the things in life she enjoys.

My mother is a great influence on me. She has taught me to explore the world around me. She always reminds me to let the past go and, most importantly, to never give up on myself. I cannot think of any better lessons a mother could teach her son.

Day 18: Dear Perfect Baby

*Day 18 of the Dear Gratitude project is really special; my former boss and friend, Jenny Cannon, shares her reflections on her decision to forgo having an amniocentesis procedure prior to delivering her daughter, Claire, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.*

It has been six months.  Six months since I anxiously timed contractions and took a warm bath to ease the pain.  Six months since my husband and I nervously laughed and joked about my labor starting one day before my scheduled c-section.  Six months since I delivered the most beautiful baby girl I had ever laid eyes on.  And six months since we received the diagnosis– Down syndrome.

Claire DSI have a lot to be thankful for in the last 6 months:  a healthy baby, no medical complications, an amazing husband and the love and support of my friends and family.  But one thing I’m surprisingly thankful for is that I did not have a prenatal diagnosis.  Don’t get me wrong; I did not feel this way in the beginning.  In fact, initially I was angry that I didn’t have a prenatal diagnosis.  I had 3 high-resolution ultrasounds–how did the doctors not know!?!  I said many times “if only I had known, I would have…”  But when it comes down to it, what would I have done if I had known that my precious little angel would have 47 chromosomes? I can say for certain I would not have terminated my pregnancy, but that’s where my certainty ends.

Would I have let the myths and stereotypes of Down syndrome negatively affect the remainder of my pregnancy?    Would I have let my tears and disappointment get in the way of the love growing in my heart?  Would sadness and depression have stopped me from decorating the nursery or buying every piece of baby gear available?  Would the nervous laughter and excitement I felt on the way to the hospital have been replaced by dread and fear?  Would grief have prevented me from truly celebrating my pregnancy or Claire’s birth?  Would a prenatal diagnosis have caused me to give up without giving her a fighting chance?  I don’t know.

What would have been different if I had a prenatal diagnosis . . .  I will never know, and for that, I’m thankful.

Claire pageant picA prenatal diagnosis could not have convinced me that my little baby would be perfect.  Or that her smile would light up every room she enters and that she would immediately calm all my worries and fears.  Or that the love I would feel for her and the pride I have for her accomplishments would equal the love and pride I have for my firstborn child.

Today I say thank you to the doctor who discouraged me from having an amnio; thank you to the nurse who emphasized the risks involved with having one; and thank you to the sonographers for maintaining their belief that there was nothing wrong with the little girl growing in my tummy.  They were right—there is NOTHING wrong with Claire.  She is perfect just the way God made her–all 47 chromosomes!

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.

 

 

Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013

The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.

 

Day 25–A second chance

*Thank you to my friend Samantha Hogan for sharing her story and her husband’s story of how a selfless act by someone else gave him a second chance at life and love. Check out the video that documents this miracle.*

Photo by Bethany Wallace

Photo by Bethany Wallace

I am thankful for so many things in my life.  My God has given me so many blessings, so many do-overs, so many second chances at life.  One of my most prized second chances wasn’t exactly MY second chance, but rather, my husbands.  You see, my husband Curtis, was diagnosed at age 14 with something called Steroid Responsive Chronic Hepatitis Auto-Immune.  He went in to the doctor for a simple sinus infection and, a few weeks later, was having liver biopsies performed and multiple blood tests ran.

He was on medications off and on throughout his life.  He was healthy for a while and then got sick.  Very sick. Things that would make you and I need to miss a day of work and stay in bed hospitalized him for days or weeks at a time.  After several surgeries, procedures and medications, his disease had developed into cirrhosis of the liver.  So in May of 2008 he was put on the transplant list for a new liver.  We were told that even though he was sick, he wasn’t sick enough to quite need a new liver just yet, but he’d be at the bottom of the list- unless he got sicker.  Talk about not knowing how to pray! Do you pray for a new liver, which means your spouse gets sicker?

We waited, and time passed, and Curtis got sicker, then better, then a little sicker.  It was a roller coaster.  One week he’d spend in the hospital, one week at home. Back and forth. Then we got the call. June 21, 2009.  Father’s Day weekend.  We hurried and rushed to Memphis.  We had been told in our counseling and training classes that the first time we were called he would most likely be the back-up for the person who ACTUALLY received the organ.  For us, God had other plans.  The surgeon told us when we got there that he had called three other people who were higher on the transplant list before calling Curtis and all three had turned down the organ.  In case you’re wondering, you don’t turn down an organ if you’re on a transplant list.  The doctor told us in his entire career he’d never seen anyone say no, but three people did.  I believe it was divinely appointed to my husband.  For his second chance at life.

His surgery went better than expected with no complications.  We were told his hospital stay would most likely be 2-4 weeks.  He was there seven days from start to finish.  Now, three and a half years later, he is healthier than he has ever been.  He is able to work full time.  He plays out in the yard with the kids. He doesn’t get as tired.  He still has to be careful when the flu and illnesses come around, but overall, he’s as healthy (or more so) than I am.  What a faithful God we serve!  My most prized second chance was the second chance he gave to my husband.  The second chance to be a husband, son, and father.  Thank you God for your blessings!

I would like to note that it does not go unnoticed to my family that another family lost a loved one so that my husband could have his second chance.  They chose to turn their tragedy into hope for someone else.  I could never thank that family enough.  Although we do not know all of the details surrounding the donor, we know she was female, close to my husband’s age (32-33 at the time), and had a family of her own.  I am forever grateful to that selfless family who chose to give life in their time of sorrow.

 

Top 12 things I’m grateful for in 2012

Recently I wrote a blog post for my personal blog, My 2012 gift list, and listed the most significant gifts I received in 2012. I didn’t list tangible objects or even relationships on the list–I limited my gift list to the intangible yet priceless blessings I received in the form of lessons, inspirations, and virtues.

Today I thought it might benefit my soul to take a look back at 2012 and identify the top 12 things on my annual gratitude list.

  1. DSC_0075_edited-1Margaret Jacqueline. This year, my husband and I were surprised to learn that we had unintentionally created a human being. We were ecstatic to learn that we would be parents, and we are overcome with joy to share our lives with her each day. I’m truly grateful for her health throughout my pregnancy, for a safe delivery, and for her health and happiness every day since then. At six weeks old, she’s already living up to the meaning of her name and bringing sunshine into every moment of our lives.
  2. Health. Going through a somewhat rough pregnancy fraught with rough patches, complications, and negative symptoms made me much more aware of how blessed I am to be healthy most of the time. As I recover from delivering my baby, I continue to pause each time I realize just how good I have it. I can clean my house myself. I can bend over and pick things up and exercise. Not everyone I know can do these things, and I’m grateful I can.
  3. A’s. This year I completed 24 hours of graduate school and somehow, in spite of five months’ worth of morning sickness, ten months’ worth of migraines, and severe lack of sleep, I managed to make A’s in all my classes. I am so thankful God enabled my brain to function well in the absence of sleep, but more amazingly, in the absence of caffeine :).
  4. 033My husband. This year I married the one man who encapsulated the wish list I wrote months before I met him. I call him my “Wild at Heart” man; as an avid John Eldredge fan, I decided (one month before I met my husband) that I would ask God for a man like the one described in John Eldredge’s book. I knew it was a long shot–I’ve been divorced twice and knew I might be asking for something I’d never receive. But God blew my expectations out of the water, brought my husband into my life, and has blessed us with a trusting, peaceful, romantic relationship that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
  5. Real friends. I’ve always learned when going through trials and tribulations which friends were true friends. This year, I also learned which friends love me enough to celebrate the blessings in my life despite their own schedules, difficult circumstances, or limitations. All year long, I felt showered with blessings by my friends in various forms–phone calls, messages, cards, gifts, visits, acts of service and kindness–and I’m really thankful for each real friend in my life.
  6. Reality. I often live in fear of things out of my control–I worry and fret over things that most often never come to pass. This year, I learned that what I fear is not as scary as I thought, and that all the time I spent worrying could have been spent positively–writing, praying, or laughing. When I was pregnant, I worried that I’d wind up covered in stretch marks on my stomach. I didn’t get a single one. I was afraid of various complications during and after delivery, including prolapsed bladder. I’m happy to report that I pee perfectly well. I’m grateful that in many cases, reality is much kinder than I give it credit for.
  7. Our church. I spent over two years searching for a church that fit not only my credo but also my picky preferences. This year, God matched us up–and used a persistent friend of mine in the process–with a church that matches our needs and wants and then some. We already had our own personal relationships with God–we just didn’t have a group of people to share those relationships with. Now we do.
  8. Gratitude. It seems funny to list gratitude on my gratitude list, but I really am grateful for it. In 2012, I listed “be more grateful” as one of my bucket list items. In order to motivate myself, I started this blog. Since then, and about 125 blog posts later, I’m pleased to report that it worked. Writing blog posts has served as a catalyst for my personal growth. I find myself contemplating my blessings in order to create new blog posts; I spend more time focused on what I have to be grateful for and less time mulling over what I’m missing.
  9. Recovery. I’ve been a member of a twelve-step recovery program for family members and loved ones of alcoholics for over five years now. This year, I committed myself a little deeper to developing our itty bitty local chapter of the program and to attempting to share some of the experience, strength, and hope I’ve found with people around me who might benefit from it. I started praying for our local group and asked God to multiply our efforts; He has. The group has tripled in the past few months in membership, and new people show up periodically, too. I reconnected with my sponsor who lives in another town and continue to experience insights and growth as a result of our relationship. I’m sure this item will be on my gratitude list for years to come.
  10. My employment status. Having been willfully unemployed since July, I’m super grateful for the opportunity to not work. I’ve worked since I was 13 years old. I’ve tutored children, taught gymnastics, served french fries, cared for emotionally disturbed teenagers, taught classes, edited resumes, sold software, and advised college students. But this year, my husband decided to give me a break and let me focus on graduate school instead of on earning an income. Now that I’m caring for our newborn daughter, I’m continuing that hiatus from the world of paid employment and am thankful for the chance to do so.
  11. RPM’s. For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to have reaped the spiritual benefits of a recovery program, RPM stands for reading, prayer, and meditation. Some of you who foster your own personal relationship with God might refer to RPMs as devotional time. No matter which way you slice it, spending time with God is one thing I’m most grateful for this year. Having gone through some very tough spiritual valleys earlier in the year, which I thankfully found my way out of with the help of a great counselor, I learned to depend even more on my time alone with God. Each morning, I spend a little (or a lot, depending on the day) time with God reading Scripture, praying, and meditating on what I’ve read and on the nuggets of wisdom He imparts. Life without RPMs for me means spiritual atrophy. I’d rather keep growing.
  12. Prioritization. This year, I learned to let go of some of my priorities in lieu of more important things–namely, my own health, my marriage, my daughter, and my education. I could have kept working in order to earn more money to pay for more things that I really didn’t need to begin with. I could have opted to continue shopping, running errands, and eating out after my doctor advised me to spend more time with my feet up to reduce swelling and heal my injured back. I could have invited our entire family, church body, and list of friends to visit us at the hospital and come by our house in order to keep myself from feeling lonely. But I think I chose more wisely instead. I decided to stay home and focus on what matters most right now. I decided to take care of myself rather than take care of others or entertain myself. And I decided to limit my daughter’s exposure to a very germy world in the midst of flu season. And I’m grateful I made these choices.

It’s been a pretty wonderful year. I’m thankful for the chance to share it with each of you.