gratitude

No room for failure

Each morning, I spend time reading, praying, and meditating. This morning I started reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. I came across a line in verse five that resonated with me.

“I will not fail you or forsake you.”

I underlined that portion of the verse and meditated on it briefly before gathering cookies for Maggie’s classmates, my cup of coffee, car keys, and cell phone. I whisked Maggie out the door and cranked up the heat. It’s that time of year when I feel false hope about autumn coming until about 10 a.m. By noon, I’m sweating and shedding my sweater.

63910_552312649722_1189983164_nAfter dropping Maggie off at school, I returned home to a peaceful, quiet house. We live in the woods, and the sunlight strives to shine through the grove of trees on the eastern hill. The verse I selected came back to me as I stood staring at the sun.

“I will not fail you or forsake you.”

God isn’t failing or forsaking the leaves on those trees and has provided them with exactly the right amount of moisture since spring. God doesn’t fail the trees either; the only trees that fall are those ready to die, decaying at the core. I looked at the light reflecting off the dew on our grass and spider webs in the forest. He maintains the smallest bits of creation we overlook.

Of course he is not forsaking me either.

He provides me with just the right clients at the right time. Last week, one of my favorite clients notified me that this year, funding wasn’t available to hire me. My heart sank. A few hours later, a potential client called me and said he was ready to start working together. Maybe that timing was coincidental; I prefer to view it as providential. God always knows what I need when I need it, even if it’s just to confirm that He’s going before me and planning in love.

God is not failing or forsaking me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI worried off and on for a year about how my daughter would adjust to starting kindergarten. Each time these fears came to mind, I attempted to let go and trust God. Sometimes I felt relief. Other times I wasn’t sure God would come through for me, even though His track record is stellar. But of course He came through. She was placed in a classroom with the most caring, committed, and well-trained teacher I know. She’s thriving. I’ve seen huge leaps in her ability to write and communicate in just three weeks’ time. And almost every day when I pick her up from school, she yells with glee, “This was the best day EVER!”

God is not forsaking or failing my child. 

There is no space for fear when I focus on the ways God has come through for me in the past.

There is no room for fear when I focus on how God is providing for me today either.

 

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.

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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.

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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

Maggie’s first job

My daughter earned her first $1 bill today. Is that legal? Surely not. Well, it happened, nonetheless.

We enjoyed lunch after church at a local diner. Our waitress, a young, cheerful woman who told me she had a five year-old son, went out of her way to express kindness to my daughter, and I was thankful. She brought Maggie chips before our meals arrived. Any parent understands the magnitude of this gift (if this doesn’t happen, your child morphs into some sort of monster in 5.2 minutes). She entertained all of Maggie’s detailed questions patiently. Maggie enjoyed her gigantic flower-shaped pancake, coated in margarine and syrup, and had a grand old time. After the meal, the waitress jokingly asked Maggie if she wanted to help clear the table to help pay for the meal. And lo and behold, Maggie agreed to help.

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She jumped up from the table and followed the waitress around, asking what she could do to help. My mama heart burst with love and joy, watching my daughter serve. She didn’t expect anything in return—she genuinely wanted to clean, serve, and assist our waitress. Our waitress allowed her to help clear the table and then gave Maggie a $1 bill as a gift for helping out. Maggie thought she’d won the lottery and beamed from ear to ear with pride, clutching the money and her stuffed puppy dog, Homer, as we headed to the car, waving goodbye to our new waitress friend.

I remembered all the times that week I’ve felt grumpy and cantankerous about doing laundry, cleaning up after dinner, and loading and emptying the dishwasher. How many times had I begrudgingly washed my daughter’s hair or felt annoyed that I couldn’t enjoy my coffee alone in the afternoon? I specifically recalled feeling disgruntled about trying to hurriedly finish editing a presentation while Maggie attempted to crawl in my lap. And while I have to extend grace to myself–because parenting is difficult, and I am not perfect–I can also learn a lot if I watch my daughter closely. Maybe if I attempt to approach life with just a little bit more of her attitude of service, enthusiasm, and joy over what seem to be tiny moments, I’ll feel less overwhelmed, less disgruntled, and less annoyed when I’m juggling parenting, housekeeping, friending, and working. And maybe if I find pleasure right where I am, I’ll also feel a little less brokenhearted when she slams the car door and walks into school morning after morning, year after year, in just a few short months.

 

 

gratitude

Sitting comfortably: Gratitude & couches

Last night, my friend Janet and I shared our dreams with one another.

I’m not talking about lofty dreams about life goals. No. I’m talking about couches. Yes. Couches. #MomGoals

“I just want a deep, rich blue couch. I love blue. Royal blue, you know, and textures. Lots of textures.” I think Janet might have begun drooling at this point. Pretty sure.

“I’ve always wanted an emerald-green couch, like dark emerald green… Oh! There! That color right behind you on that metal wheel. That’s it!” I, too, salivated a little while sipping my 8 p.m. cup of coffee while sitting on Janet’s floral sofa. The same sofa cushion Janet admittedly accidentally scorched on her wood stove that very week after one of her children peed atop it.

Yeah. Our lives are super glam.

While we dreamed about couches, we both recognized that we lacked gratitude for our current couches. Sure, the couches are worn. Our children have peed on the cushions. Do you know how to remove urine from couch cushions? It isn’t easy, and honestly, the smell never fully dissipates. And milk? Same. Then there’s the glue, the markers, the Sharpies, for the love of parenting.

But at the end of the day, we both own two couches. We can sit on the couches and even sleep on them if we must. The couches serve a purpose, right? Yep. So even though we dream about luxe versions, we’re okay with what we have, ultimately.

Sometimes it helps to sound off to a friend. And sometimes it helps to have a friend remind you that she wants your worn floral sofa! Here’s a video capturing some of our conversation from last night.


If the video is not playing click here.

Maybe you can relate if you’re a mom struggling to get by with your crusty old couch for a few more years while your kids continue to trample over it. Or maybe you can relate because you don’t own a couch. You don’t own a home. You don’t even have a place to call home, and you’re reading this blog on a computer in the public library, wondering why this pretentious woman would ever find room to complain about a crusty old couch at all.

That’s exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I need to remember to maintain perspective. What I have really is enough. It’s not enough for me to accept that “it is what it is.” I must sink into my couch, smell its stench, and remember that it stinks because we’ve lived here. WE LIVE here. And thank God for our lives.

And then, only then, can I live in contentment and peace. In gratitude.

gratitude

Gratitude on a cardboard sign

Today’s post is written by one of my current college students, Kaleb Mendoza. I love his expression of gratitude in this essay. 

In everything you do and everything you accomplish, you should give grace for the opportunities you get in life. I am a very religious man, raised from two great parents who taught me the right way to life and to follow God. This one day changed my life for the greater good; it taught me to be thankful and to cherish my life, for some are struggling.

homeless-845709_1280In 2008, on a windy Thanksgiving morning, I was in a car with my family driving to my Grandma’s house. Like always, I had my headset on listing to old school hip-hop, preferably Notorious B.I.G. We finally came to a stop light after about 20 minutes, and I didn’t notice at first but saw a homeless man sitting there with a cardboard sign in his hand. As always, I really didn’t pay any attention to him. The light was taking forever to turn green. Then I noticed the man stand up from where he was at. As he stood up with his dirty blue pants, holey brown socks, red champion sweater, and a black beanie, I noticed him showing everyone his sign. While sitting in the car, I looked really carefully at the sign. I even squinted my eyes a little to get a good view. In light green sharpie, the sign said, “Be thankful, for some will do anything to be where you’re at.” Even though it was just some writing on a cardboard sign, that quote hit me real hard.

During the rest of the ride to my Grandma’s house, I sat there thinking about it. I started to wonder how that man had gotten to where he is at right now, or how much stuff he has been through. I then looked around in my car to see my sister asleep, then looked to my parents in the two front seats while they were talking. I couldn’t tell what they were talking about, because I was still jamming out to my music. Then I realized how blessed I was to have this wonderful family, blessed to be where I am at right now in my life. I could be in that homeless man’s position, watching families drive by on a Thanksgiving morning, lonely.

This one thing was running through my head the whole day, going from one family member’s house to another. I kept thinking about how blessed I was to have my whole family safe, in one place, healthy as can be. At the end of the day, I spoke to my mom about it. She told me, “There are some things that can’t be replaced, and you can’t take these things for granted. Be grateful, son, and give praise to the one who makes it all happen.”

Ever since that day, I have been so grateful for the things in my life that cannot be replaced. I see things differently now; I cherish life a lot more than I used to. I give praise to God, for he makes everything possible in my life.

This life-changing experience was one I will always remember. The outcome of this was very positive, and it affected me in a very strong way. It is positive for many reasons. It changed the way I viewed life, to not take things for granted. To love others, even though they don’t love you. For the rest of my life, I will tell this experience to my friends, family, and my kids so that they can see what I see in life.

 

 

 

gratitude

Fall into gratitude

 Today’s post is written by my friend Kimberly Studdard, a truly beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing this, Kim!
This is truly “that” time of the year. The summer begins to fade. In our area, we go from extremely hot and humid to cool then cold, sometimes in the same twenty-four hour period. The sun begins to shine less. Our surroundings can be somewhat gloomy. Fall awakens, and then winter awakens.
I am one who gets depressed or down in the dumps in the fall/winter of the year.
I have learned I cannot accept that for myself.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI will graciously put my flip-flops away and embrace the shoes. I can also be grateful for having warm clothing to wear during this transition. We heat with wood heat in our home. There is nothing like the fire from a wood stove. Some evenings on the weekends, we may bring the little people over. These little people we call our grand-kids. We build a fire in the fire pit.
The flames at times may be roaring and crackling. If we look closely, well, maybe not TOO closely, we can see smiles and happiness in the silhouettes of red and orange
bursting from the fire. Upon occasion, we may roast hot dogs and have s’mores. One of our family favorites is apple cider and just a touch of red hots added. There is nothing like apple cider with a kick.
My husband and I sit in the porch swing and watch the kids running and playing. They may get the glow in the dark football or darts out to play with. That is when there are no cares in the world.
During this time of the year, it can get very hectic. I have a tendency to allow myself to become entangled with the stress. I can step back from that and allow myself to realize during these crazy times (as I see them) that we can allow this to be the best of times. While we enjoy one another, we can also embark in the memories we are creating.
Our youngest son is just a few years older than our grands. He will be going off to college in a couple of years. He will still play, scream, and enjoy his nieces and nephew.
The times we create are to cherish now and later in life. Time changes; people change. Kids grow up. Any time I can be a part of creating a happy memory, I look forward to the opportunity.
This year I will set aside the negative and embrace what God has blessed me with. I will be thankful for the cold weather. I will be thankful for family. My gratitude will fill the cornucopia of the holiday seasons upon us.
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.