gratitude

Dissonance

I remember attending my first Twelve Step recovery meeting ever. It was an open meeting, and I attended with a friend. I listened. I learned a lot and felt that even though what people were sharing didn’t totally apply to me, there was something warm and familiar about it all the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

1936904_507215195382_3208537_n
With my friend Nicole in 2009, not long after I began working the Steps

A few months later, I understood that warm and familiar feeling to be home. I related to the feelings shared, even though the details were different, because I had been affected by similar problems and situations.

I never stopped the Twelve Step movement in my life after that. This summer, I celebrate my eleventh year in recovery. When I attended my first meeting, I was dating an alcoholic (I later married him, and subsequently divorced him). He insisted I find my own program of recovery because I was driving him crazy. Truthfully, I was probably driving him completely nuts, regardless of his behavior and his contributions to the chaos in our relationship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
How I spend my time today

Fast forward 11 years. A lot has happened in the gap, but one thing has remained steady and constant in my life–my relationship with God and my growth in recovery. Divorce, financial ruin, relocation, grad school, pregnancy, major health concerns, marriage, legal stress, parenthood, entrepreneurship … you name it. Life happens to us, right? That doesn’t change just because we choose to align ourselves with healthier people, attend Twelve Step meetings, and pursue a better path for ourselves. Life keeps happening. Will we avoid as many potential pitfalls if we’re making better choices? Probably. But life rolls on, and we cannot prevent that.

I’ve observed something interesting over the past decade which sometimes seems strange. A dissonance, a distinct difference, even tension between the way I view (and choose) to view the world, and the way others view and choose to view it.

Why the dissonance? Why the difference? Why the vast chasm?

Yes, I follow Christ, and that certainly sets me apart from a large group of people who do not. But it’s not those people I’m referencing here. There are many of my friends and family members, most of whom follow Christ, who truly seem to be unable to relate to my perspective and worldview. What’s changed? Me or them? If it’s me, what is it about me that’s changed so much?

I’ll never get inside others’ heads to figure this out entirely–and honestly, I don’t want to–but I do find it interesting. Here’s one thing God brought to my attention a few weeks ago: When two people have experienced reality entirely differently, it is nearly impossible for them to perceive the world similarly. 

I chatted with a friend of mine who works in Christian ministry a few weeks ago, and that’s when this really hit me. He shared with me a situation that occurred years ago when many folks in ministry conflicted over changing a denominational policy. Some of the people stood by their beliefs without becoming petty or criticizing individuals (maintaining a polite, cordial attitude toward others involved). But a few people lashed out at the group, posted hateful messages online, and demonstrated the exact behavior that makes Christians cringe in embarrassment. We lamented about the situation together.

“I don’t know why, but that’s just one of those hot button topics that always gets people going,” he mused.

“Yeah, I guess so. I can’t relate to that anymore. I think there was a time when I had an opinion about that stuff… not now. I can’t even muster an ounce of concern about that if I try.”

I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was serious. My entire perception of what really matters has completely changed. I really did join in on splitting doctrinal hairs in the past, and I enjoyed those conversations and would defend my soapbox to the bitter end. And not just that–I used to pride myself on serving as vigilante of almost everyone or anything. I loved that stuff. I LOVED THAT STUFF. If you’d asked me the question, How important is that, really? I would have responded, It’s VERY important!

Then I lived in alcoholism for a decade. And I faced PTSD during that time from multiple incidents of sexual assault and other situations. I finally sought counseling and help through the Twelve Steps, but not until my life began to crumble into bits at my feet. It was not the best time of my life.

When your reality has been lived in mire, in fighting dark spiritual battles for quite some time, your perception changes. First world problems aren’t problems at all. You don’t have room on your plate for things like bickering, gossip, and scandal.

Yet even when you move from darkness to light–and thank God, that has happened for me–you may still feel permanent dissonance between the way you see the world and the way others see it. Does that mean those who don’t see it the way you see it are wrong, or that something is inherently wrong with you?

Not at all. It’s just a reminder that the world is varying shades, that not every human experiences trauma, and that God works through each of us differently. It’s a reminder that we cannot go to the bakery expecting to purchase hardware. That we can’t expect people who’ve never been in a pit to feel comfortable sitting next to us in the bottom of one while we work our way out, one Step at a time. It’s a reminder that God goes before us, plans in love, and converts what was meant for Evil into our Ultimate Good.

 

 

gratitude

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.

gratitude

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.

gratitude

Say yes

I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.

“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”

Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.

“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”

At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.

phone-booth-1439052_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.

Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).

Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.

“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”

Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.

“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.

“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”

More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.

“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”

The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.

11224256_599790897932_7884299981922010780_n
Toga party for Oral Communication, 2015

Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.

Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.

In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.

“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”

I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.

“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”

I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).

I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

“Right here.”

Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.

Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.

 

gratitude

I’d rather be wrong

Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.

“You were right about him.”

cemetery-1500942_1920
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In the pit of my gut, I winced.

There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”

Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.

A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.

Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.

If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.

hipster-865300_1920
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.

I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.

It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.

And God, I want it.

gratitude

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.

gratitude

Dear Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

2013 year in review maggieThank you for helping me find my house. I resisted liking that house since it was more my ex-husband’s preference than mine. You might even say that I resented that darn house for a long, long time, actually. Slowly but surely, the longer I lived in it (particularly the longer I lived in it by myself), the more it grew on me. The house and I made our peace. I learned to love not only the house but the yard, the view from the front porch (thank God for the pasture and horses paid for by the neighbors!), and the woods behind my property. With lots of help, significant elbow grease, and minimal financial investment, I converted the house into a home.

Rhonda, thank you for introducing me to Cheryl and Henry Wilson. They became surrogate parents to me. I miss them so much, particularly this time of year when I just long to go home to their house and bake, bake, bake spicy pfefferneuse cookies with Cheryl. 252482_516930600632_6872391_n

Rhonda, when you offered me the opportunity to work for you as a sub-contractor six months after we closed on my house, doing odd jobs under the umbrella of real estate, I felt relieved and honored. The offer came in the nick of time. As my life mentor says, “God goes ahead and plans in love.” He certainly did that time. I was recently divorced and desperate for extra income with flexible hours. Working with you was much more classy and fun than serving drinks at the Underground Pub, and I gained experience in real estate for three years, picked your brain on a regular basis, and benefited under your leadership and guidance.

229694_506890022032_1308731_nRhonda, thank you for mentoring me and teaching me everything you could in every situation we encountered while working together. I never felt bossed around by you; I felt like a team member. I watched you open your own business. I learned how to be fearless and brave. I listened to you open and close deals while upholding high ethical standards. I observed you undergo difficult business and personal situations with grace and dignity.

I cannot even begin to list the lessons I learned from you in one measly letter. Thank you for going to lunch with me and going shopping with me and convincing me to serve on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters with you (not to mention the countless other non-profit service projects we tag-teamed on together!). It was refreshing to share my passion for non-profit fundraising and development with someone who approached volunteerism and fundraising from a business perspective. You helped me grow and develop my personal interests, weed out some of my potential career paths, and hone in on my real passion: writing, reading, and teaching these two things to others. 189672_502826380602_5699_n

I know that we don’t make or find time to talk over the phone or face to face now (shame on us!), and we live two hours away from one another, but I hope you know that you made a significant impact on my life. You helped shape me into who I am today.

Did you know that I actually LIKE who I am today, thanks to people like you? Did you know that I have direction in my life now, and that I absolutely love waking up every single day with the people in my house and going to work every day, thanks to people like you who chose to invest in my life? It’s true.

If it hadn’t been for people like you, Rhonda, I might still be floundering and trying to find my way. Thankfully, you cared enough to share your experience with me. You cared enough to share yourself with me; you shared your time with me, and that is a gift I will keep giving back to those I mentor and teach for the rest of my life.

Thank you, my friend.

I love you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Bethany