Mighty kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindness blooms from acceptance.

Acceptance really is the solution to all my problems.

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

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

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

Three gifts in 2014

*My English Composition I students wrote their final exam essays about three gifts they received in 2014. Some of their essays were exceptionally touching, meaningful, or humorous. I believe you’ll enjoy reading a few of these–whose authors have granted permission for me to share on the blog–over the next few weeks. This essay is by one of my most hilarious (bless her heart–the drop grade just never happened and never will–and caring students, Shanna Huffine. I will definitely miss having her in class this spring!*

Mrs. Wallace hard at work eating Oreos during a classroom party, fall 2014.

Mrs. Wallace hard at work eating Oreos during a classroom party, fall 2014.

There have been many gifts given to me over the years, but 2014 has been one of the most significant in a while. Of all the gifts I have received this year, there are three in particular that I am most excited to have received. Bethany Wallace, my 2008 Kia Sorento Ex, and a free chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A have been the most valuable gifts I have been honored with in 2014.

My English Composition 1 instructor, Bethany Wallace, is a gift from the gods. She has taught me the true meaning of the English language, and she has pushed me through training in the ways of composition with her bronze-red, short hair that flows in the wind while she expertly struts through the hallow halls of the campus. Her eyes light up as she admonishes her terrified students for using to, too, and two in the wrong contexts. Mrs. Wallace’s velvety voice caresses my ears as the words, “You can choose to use your drop grade on your final, if you so wish.” She has guided me to become a better writer and person through her god-given English teaching abilities, and for this, I am truly grateful.

After trying to take my car swimming in July, my grandfather in Illinois decided to buy me another new-to-me vehicle. My 2008 Kia Sorento’s dark grey paint that sparkles and shines in the sunlight, and when I shimmy into the driver’s seat, the dark grey cotton seat material cushions my buttocks. The leathery steering wheel is smooth against my skin as the scent of cleaning products and Febreze fills my nostrils. I miss my old car, but I’ve come to love my Sorento. We are one.

chickfilaOn my way to Illinois the week before last, I stopped at Chick-Fil-A. I accepted the receipt from the drive-thru jockey, which had a website URL to access a survey. It asked a lot of questions about what kind of experience I had at my most recent visit to the restaurant. At the end I got a code to write on my receipt and redeem a free chicken sandwich from any participating Chick-Fil-A. Pulling up to the eatery in Jonesboro once again, I sauntered inside and waited in line forever.

The dull roar of people chatting and young kids talking 274829% too loud invaded my ear drums as they threatened to bust. The smell of chicken, fried potatoes, and burning oil constantly hit my smelling glands like a brick. The atmosphere was stuffy as people surrounded me on all sides as I nervously glanced around and prayed that no one accidentally brushed up against me. I finally handed my ticket to the cashier, thanked her for the sandwich, and elbowed my way through the crowd back to my car.

I instantly opened the paper bag. I reached in and clutched my small hand around the foiled sandwich. I awed at the savory goodness as I unwrapped it like a kid at Christmas and brought it to my mouth. The boneless, seasoned to perfection, juicy chicken breast instantly patted my taste buds softly. The crisp lettuce and sharp mayonnaise complimented the buttered bun and dill pickle chips perfectly. It was my first chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A, and it was pretty amazing.

I’ve had very few gifts this year. Wallace, my new car, and free food are the best gifts that I’ve gotten. They are also the ones that I am most grateful for in 2014. Hopefully I’ll have them in my life for years to come.

Dear Heather

*Today’s letter is written by my wonderful friend Betty Gail Jones, who has impacted countless children, teenagers, and college students over the years through her work in children’s ministry, collegiate ministry, mission work, and church planting. She is a fireball and someone God has certainly used in my life.*

Dear Heather,

BG blogI am calling you out!  There is no doubt that you deserve it!  Get ready for the truth!  I want you to know how what you have done has impacted me!

At a time in my life when I felt isolated and desperate, I found you though Facebook, of all places.  At times there seems to be an insurmountable barrier – namely the ocean – to knowing my grandchildren who live on the other side of the world.  You helped change some of that ever-present anxiety.  Yes, you stepped in when I needed you.  And as I get to know more about you, I find your availability to others to be significant, too.

Life gets busy no matter where one lives in the world.  If I could see pictures every day of my grandchildren who live overseas, I would be happy.  Yet, that is not to be, nor would it be a wise use of their parent’s time.  One day, as I were publicly pleading for more pictures on social media, you piped up and commented to me offering to accept my friendship if I requested.  You further explained that you often take pictures of Ajay, and sometimes Ari gets in the pictures, too.  As the local Kids Kamp teacher, you have access like no other to my grandchildren.  I realized that this was my opportunity for a view of their world that I had not had before, so I immediately went to your page and clicked out a request to be your “friend”.

BG blog 1What I found on your page was eye-opening.  I loved seeing the place where socialization and learning was taking place, not only for my grandchild, but also for the other children who are living overseas.  I recognized what a wonderful unique blessing your ministry is as I scrolled through the pictures and saw the wonder and joy on faces of such a diverse group of third culture kids.

Soon, your posts began showing up on my news feed.  Whether they were about everyday “mommy moments”, personal reflections, prayer requests for your kids, or funny quotes by those living in your home or attending your school, I enjoyed them all.  I even loved following your personal journey of the joys and challenges of your stateside visit.  I learned from each one.

bg blog 3One Sunday morning I stepped into my church and a friend looked at me with eyes of concern and said, “What about the landslide near Kathmandu?”  My heart sank into my stomach because I hadn’t heard of the tragedy and didn’t have any information.  My son-in-law and a friend were trekking at that moment, and I didn’t actually know where.  It was early in the morning on our side of the world and night where you live.  I knew I didn’t have access to my own children who aren’t as media driven as some, but I realized that you monitored Facebook more frequently and guessed that I could message you and would get an answer quickly.  Within a few minutes, I received a message back from you assuring me that everything was all right.  I was so grateful for your friendship, though we’ve never met, at that moment.

Through Facebook, I have learned of your own ministry to the nationals whom you call your “kids”, watched as you care for them and love them deeply, and joined you to pray for their needs.  I have grieved your losses with you as you have shared heartache, and I have rejoiced with you in victories.

bg blog 2At this time, I am enjoying the presence of my grandchildren for a season, but I know the impact you have had even now.  Ajay talks about his home and friends that he misses.  As I was listening in on a conversation between him and his cousin, Ajay told his older cousin about his school and how he misses it.

What a tremendous blessing you are to those young mothers who live in your country.  I would have never dreamed that these parents would have an opportunity to send their little ones to a pre-school situation where they are learning and playing in a social setting and their moms would have some time for other important things (and even a break from the constant responsibility of raising children without extended family or trusted friends’ help).

You do all of this with an attitude of joy.  You are a servant to others.  This, Heather, is why I am calling you out – to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I thank God for you and your family.

See you on Facebook!

Love,

Betty Gail Jones, aka Nanna

Untied shoelaces and lost gloves

Today’s post is written by my great friend, Debra Dickey. Thanks for the great reminder, Debra, that God is always faithful to me in the small things, too.

Glove #2I have had the honor of an unconventional amount of both during this past year.  At first, the phenomenon was a bit of a nuisance, but by allowing it to be so, soon it became a point of inter-communication, an inside joke if you will, an almost secret wink between me and the One Who watches over me, causing me to raise an eyebrow at the humor, as He reminded me to not be annoyed, but to be grateful and to take those moments to praise and thank Him.

Although I cannot begin to count how many times my shoelace has come untied, I can count how many times, at the moment when I needed to stop what I was doing, stoop down and bow my head to retie it, that I took that moment just to say ‘Praise God’… EVERY time.  Thank you. Simple, yet powerful.

I do know how many times I have lost that one glove from last winter to this one.  Three!!  Each time, I would get back to the house from walking Maddie, realize the glove was missing, and begin the back-tracking process in hopes that I would be able to locate it, in the snow, in the mud, or who knows wherever I had dropped it during the lengthy and meandering trek we had taken.  And every time, sooner or later, I was able to find it!  A glove?  Easily replaceable, you say.  Not a big deal, right.  But it was, to me anyway.  So I uttered hallelujahs and praises when I saw it, and gratefully said ‘THANK YOU!’

Oh but yes.  Someone is trying to get my attention.  In a comical way, huh?  So much the better!  Someone is trying to tell me that little things do matter.  “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much . . . . .” [Luke 16:10]  (‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much’ . . . . as spoken in the King James version.)

Although this parable from Luke was meant as a guideline for how God, and we, should try to identify a trustworthy approach to the world and its peoples, there is a converse maxim to that as well, a truism that Someone is trying to instill in me:  That He is faithful to me in the little things, therefore He will be faithful to me in the bigger ones.  In other words, if I can depend on Him to help me find a lost glove (and I do!!), He lovingly reminds me that I can surely trust Him in the “much” of my life too.  Ordainment and Promise of Perfect Comfort, Absolute and Supreme; I only need to own it.

With certainty I always ‘know’ this in my heart/ my spirit being:   “But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” [II Tim. 1:12]  It’s my human existence that struggles with the essence of that kind of power, strength and ability.  So for my benefit, He cares enough to take that precious moment to kindly remind me, in the smallest of ways, even with a lost glove or an untied shoestring, to acknowledge His Omnipotence, not only to myself, but to Him.  He is able.  And my faithfulness to Him is nothing compared to His faithfulness to me.   Simple, yet completely overwhelming.

‘Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us’ [I John 3:1] because we are His.

Day 22: Dear Mrs. McGrath

*It’s hard to believe Day 22 of the Dear Gratitude project has arrived! Only eight more days of letters from eight more wonderful guest writers. Today’s post is by LaDonna Busby, a friend and fellow church member.*

This thank you is long overdue, and it is going to someone long dead.  Why do we wait to express our gratitude to those who cross our paths in this life?  We need to remember to say thank you, even if we have to send letters read by someone other than the intended person.  So here goes:

Dear Mrs. McGrath,

1ST GRADEI wonder if you ever knew what a wonderful gift you gave me – something that I have cherished my whole life long.  You introduced me to READING!  For that great gift, I want to say thank you, and I am sorry it has taken me over 50 years to express this gratitude.

Oh, the people and places you enabled me to meet and visit.  I still remember you patiently helping us to learn “Look Jane, look.  See Spot run.  Oh, look Jane, see Spot.”

Thus began my adventures with some sweet characters, some not so sweet.  Many are like dear friends when I think of them.  Amy, Beth, Meg and Jo from Little Women – each one a different personality woven into a story that young girls can enjoy even today.  I still have a treasured copy of that book.  There were so many others – The Bobbsey Twins (Bert and Nan, Flossie and Freddie); Laura Ingalls;  Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter”, Jane Eyre; David Copperfield; Romeo and Juliet; Tom Sawyer, and the list could go on and on.

Not only did I get to know some wonderful characters, but I also got to travel without even leaving my cozy chair. Through reading I have traveled the world over, learning many interesting things, seeing so many beautiful places – even if only in my mind and imagination.  Of course not all places are wonderful, but I traveled where the books took me.  Nowadays, a lot of my reading is about places of trouble and sadness.  Places of war, poverty and cruelty – but I read on filled with hope that some time I will read that things have improved for some country or its people.

Your gift has blessed my life in so many ways.  Reading is so important to me.  I have been able to read the letters sent by my brother when he was in Vietnam.  There have been cards – birthday, anniversary, get well, thank yous, invitations, and notes of sympathy.  Just think what I would have missed if I had not been able to read.

I am able to read the Bible.  Through my reading of scripture, I have become stronger in my faith.  My faith is so important to me, and I cannot imagine being unable to read the Word of God.  The Bible is filled with stories, characters and places.  You can read it over and over, each time getting something new and powerful from the reading.

I passed on this gift to my daughter, Susan, who loves to read.  I don’t quite like her choice of books – she loves the author Stephen King – but I am happy to see her read.  Now we are passing this love along to her sons.  The oldest had quite a struggle learning to read – but thanks to a compassionate and caring teacher, like you, he conquered that mountain and now loves to read.  So, you see your gift to me just keeps going and going.

I wish I had gone back to Mitchell Elementary and thanked you.  When we are young, we don’t think to do things like that; it is only as we begin to mature that we realize what has been given to us.  Thank you, Mrs. McGrath, for being my 1st Grade teacher.  You were a kind and gentle woman who helped many children to begin a journey that will last their whole lives.  Please know, there is at least this one student who will forever be grateful.

Fondly,

LaDonna Wittke Busby

Day 14: Dear students

*It’s Day 14 of the Dear Gratitude project. Today, I’m sharing a letter to my students. There is no way I could ever thank each of them individually for all they’ve added to my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach today, and I look forward to teaching for years to come, hopefully!*

Dear students,

Humoring my students, Halloween 2013

Humoring my students, Halloween 2013

Thank you for teaching me. At Youth Home, you taught me that playing softball and Skip Bo is more therapeutic than sitting around in a circle and rehashing your childhood trauma. At Arkansas Baptist High School, you taught me that sometimes, my initial judgments are dead wrong. I remember thinking that you, the girl in my English class with long, dark hair and glasses who sat quietly in the back of the room, were surely naïve. I later learned that you were struggling with trying to end an illicit relationship. And the boy with red hair and sullen attitude who drew pictures of poop for me—you taught me that bad kids might require more work, but they’re often more fun to teach.

Thank you for making me laugh and helping me relax. When I walked into my classroom and saw one of you hanging out the window chasing after sneakers tossed outside by another boy, I threw my hands up and laughed (before meting out necessary detention duty). When I tried to punish one of you, a troublemaker and rebel with absolutely no cause, by commanding you to pull your desk to the front of the classroom next to mine, you smiled and were genuinely excited about the opportunity to sit next to me and tell me stories. I had to smile back. When I showed up to class the first day this semester, one of you mentioned that I bore a scary resemblance to Velma from Scooby Doo. You proceeded to ask me to incorporate the phrase “Jenkies!” into my lectures. I had much more fun lecturing that day than I would have otherwise.

Thank you for reminding me that I’m not perfect. When I gave you a handout with a typo on it, and then counted off for the same errors in your essays, you called me on it and accepted my apology (along with corrected scores, of course). Thank you for asking me really difficult questions that I could never anticipate. You force me to go home and reread the textbook and to dig through every nook and cranny of every piece of literature before presenting it in the classroom. You keep me humble and remind me that six years of studying English doesn’t give me all the answers.

Thank you for owning up to your mistakes. When you, the vivacious and tender-hearted 16 year-old girl who’d plagiarized her entire paper, admitted to plagiarizing and begged for a second chance, I believed that your generation might not be so misguided after all. When you begin whining about how difficult it’s been to prepare your speech, and then admit that you stayed up all night playing video games, I’m relieved by your honesty.

Thank you for refusing to own up to your mistakes. When you, the boy with the big blue eyes who seemed to be on a mission to make my life miserable that year, stood in front of me and denied using SparkNotes, even though I held an identical copy of your paper (printed out from SparkNotes) in my hands, I felt incredibly disappointed and angered. But I learned, from you and others who made similar choices, that I couldn’t control you, and that was okay. I had to let you learn from your mistakes, whether you admitted them or not. And when I saw you 10 years later, same blue eyes minus the negative attitude, you told me you were sorry for being such a turd. That apology meant more to me than if you’d admitted to cheating way back when.

Thank you for persevering. I have watched you, my sole student from Central America, go to the writing lab over and over and over again to earn points missed due to grammatical errors. This boosts my spirit. You embody the American dream. You remind me that no matter where my students start, they can improve and become better writers than native English speakers who don’t put forth the same effort. Thank you, single moms in my English Composition class, for staying up late to write your essays and for showing up to class even though you have difficulty juggling class with bottles and sniffles. You remind me of my mom and her amazing journey through college as a single mom of four young daughters.

Thank you for hating English. Thank you, boy who never makes eye contact with me and who dons a baseball cap to class every single day, for sighing in disgust when asked if you enjoyed reading the poem “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa. Thank you, boy with curly blonde hair who complains that reading interferes with your fishing time, for reminding me that not everyone in the world enjoys the arts and humanities as much as I do. All of you who hate to read and write push me to find ways to make learning more interesting and engaging.

Thank you for loving to write. When you, the quietest student in class, submitted a personal narrative essay about owning your first car, I was blown away by your innate ability to write well. You incorporated allusions I’d never fathomed. I am grateful for my own professors who saw raw talent in me and encouraged me to keep writing. I am motivated to do the same for you.

Thank you for making me feel younger and for simultaneously reminding me how old I really am. Thanks, APPLE students, for laughing at my dance moves in the van on field trips. Thanks, college students, for complimenting me on my hipster dress and boots combo and, on the same day, for staring at me blankly when I asked all of you if you remember Milli Vanilli or not. Thank you for assuming that I use Snapchat. I’d never heard of it. Thanks for being surprised that I do not own a smart phone. Thank you for referring to me as “an old English teacher.” I view all of you the same way I view my former stepdaughter, Liz. Seeing the gigantic oyster of a world splayed in front of you reminds me that, though I may be 15 years older than you, I’m not too old to have more adventures, to travel the world again, or to try something new.

Thank you for showing me who you are. Thank you, Jewish student whom I have not heard from in over a decade, for explaining your beliefs to me and accepting our differences of opinion so deftly. Thank you, sweet student with bipolar disorder, for opening up to me and letting me be part of the path that healed you. Thank you, gay student who needed guidance, for allowing me to listen to you. You had no idea that you were allowing me to make a living amends to my friend who I’d responded to so horribly years before in a similar situation. Thank you, turtle-loving girl, for visiting me repeatedly and serving as a ray of sunshine during a truly dark time in my life. Thank you, my Andrew who was taken from this world much too soon, for explaining to me why dead white men were your heroes. As a young, troubled black man, I’m still astonished at your ability to put your own pain aside long enough to care for others and to lead your peers. Thank you, nerdy gamer boy, for confiding in me last week about trying to kill yourself in high school. You broke my heart. But when I listened to you explain the importance of communication, and the reasons you now refuse to sit around texting, I felt surprised and proud of you. When you talked about how much joy you feel when you volunteer at church, I understood that you are no longer an empty shell of a person. And please don’t worry about only having two dates thus far—someday, women will appreciate your interest in having real conversations, and your luck will turn around.

Thank you for proving to me that there’s still some good in the world.

Thank you for giving me hope.

Thank you for teaching me more than I could ever teach you.

 

 

 

Day 12: Dear Bethany

*Today’s post is written by a frequent contributor, former co-worker, and wonderful friend, Debra Dickey. When Debra sent this to me yesterday, it surprised me, it humbled me, and it overwhelmed me with gratitude for HER. That’s the beautiful thing about gratitude–when someone expresses it to me and thanks me for being me, I naturally want to do the same in return, and to others as well.*

Dear Friend,

FriendHow are you?  Fine, I hope.  All’s well here.  Trust the same with you.  You know, the other day I was thinking about how fortunate I have been to know you, and that you should know how grateful I am for the generous opportunities that you have shared, and continue to share, with me that have been integral in the direction and flow of the path that a certain part of my life has taken.  Your unselfishness, exuberance, strength and integrity are beacons that shine clear and bright on any given day!  I enjoy conversations with you, as well as spending time with you – whenever our schedules allow for that.

This pretty much began when I first got to know you — your work ethic and positive personality impressed me right away!  And who wouldn’t notice your laughter and wonderful sense of humor!  All too soon you moved to a different position, and then, as now, I rarely saw you anymore.  Hmm, obviously there was a ‘plan’ already in place (imagine that!) — I just didn’t know it yet.    But I knew you were doing great things.   Although I was new and didn’t quite have my bearings yet, in time, you encouraged and supported me as I wrestled with the ‘loyalty vs. new setting’ decision to make the timely move to your office and begin working with you.  My friend, it was one of the best decisions I ever made!!!  I will always be grateful that you were the reason for that excellent opportunity.

BethanyI LOVED working with you!  You were fun, and made the job fun.  Not only did you teach me the practices and protocols for our essential job functions (while having fun!), but this was also the time frame when I got to know the extraordinary people who are so very important in my everyday work environment, as well as the ins and outs of this particular community to optimize those professional interactions that will always be so critical in creating efficiency and positive outcomes in my job.  Who could ask for better on-the-job training?  Awesome!

I will tell you that I initially wrestled with that decision because I was going through some dreadful mind-numbing stuff in my life and did not want that baggage to leak over and create issues in my work life … only later did I learn that you were struggling with your own heavy burdens and encumbrances that were creating a terrible heartache and sadness in your own life.   Incredibly, you still always gave 110%, and never failed to exemplify professionalism with your positive attitude, your innovative and creative ideas, and your daily acts of kindness.  I’m infinitely grateful for such a great work and mentoring experience.

Never to be the same, this association ended way too soon, as you were off to other places in pursuit of more suitable climates.  I understood, but I missed you!  However, in your graciousness, you continued to stay in touch with me, which almost made up for your absence.   I was very glad that you found time in your busy life to stay connected – so thoughtful!  It meant a lot to me.

My friend Debra with my daughter

My friend Debra with my daughter

After some ramblings combined with a wonderful new life, lo and behold, you are back, almost next door – Yay!  And continuing in your typical style of generosity, you are now allowing me the amazing opportunity to broaden my horizons yet again by accepting my attempts at creative writing to post on your blog. Thank you for this, before now, unrealized opportunity.  Another heartening endeavor for me at this point in my life.

I am grateful for all these things and more – I am grateful for you. I delight in your successes, I cherish how much you have shared with me, I am touched by your experiences, and I am your biggest cheerleader!

I appreciate your friendship through it all.  Thank you, Bethany,

Love, Debra