Counterweight

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

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

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

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

One small handgun never felt so heavy in my hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Day 21: A look back

*Thanks to my friend Brandon Davidson for serving as the guest writer for Day 21  of the Dear Gratitude project. His post is guaranteed to make you laugh. It will probably cause you to pause and give thanks for all the people and circumstances that brought you where you are in your own life, too.*

Dear Bethany,

When you asked me to write a blog post, I agreed without really thinking about what in the world I would share with your readers.

I typically fly by the seat of my pants.

This is the story of my life.

One week after watching Batman Forever, I packed a trash bag full of clothes and hopped in a buddy’s truck. We were moving to Hollywood. We didn’t have the bankroll to get to Hollywood, CA, so we went for the next best thing–Hollywood, FL. (Newsflash, this is NOT the next best thing.) I spent a few months there and then tucked my tail between my legs and decided to move back to Arkansas and go to college.

I lasted one semester.

It was the classic story. Boy goes to college. Boy doesn’t go to class. Boy drinks way too much. Boy wakes up completely nude in a field, only to realize that he is just outside the outfield fence of a softball field while two high school teams battle it out.

Nothing to see here, just a dude cupping himself waddling back to campus.

Don’t worry, I’ll get thankful soon.

A few weeks later, I was asked to leave the school after mooning the Dean of the school’s wife and daughter.

The next year was a blur of playing semi-pro rugby, naked Trivial Pursuit, and trying to get back on track.

1. KathyI went back to school only to leave again when my Mom became disabled. I moved back home to be with my mom and brother. It was while in Batesville that I met Kathy and knew that she was the one. I asked her to marry me a little over a month after I met her. People thought we were crazy. We were, but we were also in love. Almost 15 years later, I can tell you without a doubt that I am who I am because of her.

I am thankful for Kathy.

After we got married, I spent the next few years in full time ministry in the Church.

I felt like I had a purpose, and it was intoxicating.

 

2. EmilyKathy and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world in 2003.  From the moment I met Emily Grace, she has brought light into the world and filled my heart with love.

I am thankful for Emily.

When Kathy and I were first engaged, I was diagnosed with a pretty severe liver disease. The doctor told me that my prognosis was 10 years max and that I probably shouldn’t get married or have kids. I laid all this out for Kathy and told her that I loved her and that I had no plan other than to be with her. I asked her if she wanted to keep flying by the seat of our pants.

SHE SAID YES, YOU GUYS.

Not long after Emily was born, I got very sick. As a last resort the doctors tried a new treatment option. To my surprise, almost 20 weeks later I was cured. That was 10 years ago. Kathy had a newborn baby and a weakened husband, but we made it. She was unbelievably strong.

I am thankful for my family.

3. ChurchWorking for the church was demanding and I was horrible at balancing work/home. I was rewarded for being a bad dad and a shitty husband. Something had to give.

I walked away from my career in the church, and I haven’t looked back. I can always find another church if I want, but I can’t find another family.

A couple of weeks later, with no insurance and no jobs (Kathy was fired from her job at the church after I resigned. It’s a cool story; I’ll share it sometime), Kathy found out she was pregnant.

WHAT.

We had been trying for years. That miracle cure that healed my liver also supposedly made me sterile.

NOT SO MUCH.

I had a wife and a daughter and a baby the size of a strawberry on the way. (Side note: why do we use fruit when we are giving reference to babies’ sizes?)

4. buttJosh is 3 years old now and painted the most amazing Butt watercolor last night.

Pretty great, huh?

Josh is sweet, funny and a little bit of a dumpster fire. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 5. Josh

I sure didn’t plan it this way, but somehow I ended up with an amazing life.

I am thankful.

 

Plotting Hope,

Brandon

 

Brandon Davidson is stand-up comic and social media strategist based out of Tyler, Texas. He is a husband, a dad, and a disappointment to many. He used to have to drink to have a good time; now he doesn’t need to have a good time. Follow @brandondavidson on Twitter if you love carbs.

 

Day 16: Dear Mom

*Thanks to my friend Latresha Woodruff for serving as the guest writer for Day 16 of the Dear Gratitude project. This is a  letter Latresha wrote to her mom on Valentine’s Day.*

Mom,
Latresha with her mom and sister

Latresha with her mom and sister

I thought this Valentine’s Day I wouldn’t use a card to tell you how I feel about you.  It hasn’t always been easy for you, but you did everything you could to make sure your children got the things they needed.

Your strength and faithfulness is admirable.  I always felt you were one of the strongest women I knew. Looking up at you as a little girl at Mt. Olive Church, how you would fan me until church ended,  I thought, “Does she ever get tired?”  When I became an adult I realized a mother would do anything for her child.  When life kicked you down, you didn’t stay there; you got back up because we depended on you.
I just wanted to take this time out to thank you for keeping me on the right path, and to thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made over the years for me.  Thank you for showing me by example, that no matter how bad things are, you have the power to change your circumstances.  Thank you for pushing me to go to college and supporting me while I was there.  Thank you for always letting me know you are proud of me because no matter how old we get, we need to know we’ve made our mama proud.  I love you from the bottom of my heart. Things haven’t always been rosy, but I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had because of YOU.  I thank GOD he blessed me with you.
You are the best – I LOVE YOU, TRESH

Day 13: Dear Donit

*Today’s post for Day 13 of the Dear Gratitude project is by another child, my best friend’s son, Dailen. Dailen reminds me that it’s right and good to be excited about and grateful for the small blessings that often get overlooked. I think I’ll get a doughnut for myself today :).*

Dailen and his "turkey in disguise"

Dailen and his “turkey in disguise”

Der Amandu,

Thank you for the ovr-stufted morshmellow crème filld donit!  I love it!  Its my favorit!

Thanks, Dailen James Horseman

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Day 11: Dear Peacemakers

*Big thanks to my friend and former college roommate, Sarah Donaghy, for sharing her grateful thoughts on Day 11 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

The hardest part about being a guest blogger this month was deciding to whom or what I should write my letter of gratitude. I dwell in gratitude. Even in times when nothing is going right, and I see challenges on every front, I still feel grateful. When I choose to sit in disappointment, anger, pain, or sadness, I still feel grateful. Living in gratitude is a choice, and it’s a practice that works for me. So, as I looked forward to writing this post, I’ve spent the last few days with lots of ideas rattling around my head… dear hugs, dear change, dear Mom, dear adventure, dear garden full of weeds, dear Mary Oliver, dear loss, dear name of friend, dear name of another friend, dear body, dear education, dear Louis CK, dear pets, dear modern appliances, and so on.

Over the past few days I have also received a number of reminders that Veteran’s Day is coming up. The first was when a member of the local food club asked if the Monday pick-up would be rescheduled due to the holiday. I looked at him blankly. “What holiday?” I thought. He read my mind. The second was when an aunt let me know that a package she mailed to me would arrive on Tuesday since the USPS won’t be making its rounds on Monday. The third was the cover of the Sunday newspaper’s magazine section promoting a special report inside titled, “What Did You Do in the War, Mommy?” about the challenges servicewomen who are mothers face in coming home after a deployment.

It then occurred to me that Bethany would be publishing my letter on Veteran’s Day. Thus began the second hardest part of my task… how to address my letter and what I would say in a letter expressing my gratitude.

 

Dear Veterans – Thank you.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – You talked about “the war” like New Yorkers talk about “the city”… sure, there are other cities, but none of them compare to your city. The war defined you, and the war never really ended for you, and thus, the war is something that defined and never really ended for my mom and her siblings as well. A generation removed, the war – your war – certainly impacted my life as it was a major influence in the way my mother lived and parented. While I remember many an afternoon sitting on the blue sectional couch in front of the picture window looking at the Bridger Mountains and listening to your war stories, the first things that come to mind when I think of you as my grandpa are your grilled cheese sandwiches, the way your jeans hung on you, your love of ice cream, riding in your truck to check on the cows, your hugs, and your incredible generosity – to me and to complete strangers. I hope there are no wars wherever you are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing you directly but I know it was a pleasure for those who did, particularly your family. You were also in the war… the same war and yet, it seems it was an entirely different experience for you. You rarely, if ever, spoke of your experience. In fact, one of the few “war stories” recounted on that side of the family is about your wife, my Grandma Lulu, taking the train across the country – from New York City (the city) to Seattle – to see you when you were stateside, a visit during which, I think the story goes, my father, your first child, was planted. So while I’m sure the war had more of an impact on your life than you spoke about upon return, it’s not what comes to mind when I think of you as my grandpa, and I’m confident saying it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when your children think of you as their father. I hope that you and my dad are enjoying each other again, and I hope there are no wars wherever you guys are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Man I Met in a Bar a Few Months Ago – I only met you once, but you have the honor of being someone I will likely always remember because I was celebrating the launch of RadSab that night. I only remember a handful of things you told me about yourself, and I don’t recall if it was Iraq or Afghanistan or with what branch of the military, but you said you were there a few years ago. I couldn’t help but think of how that must have been for your daughters – I remember you have two of them, girls old enough to have known you were away and likely why you were away and how hard that must have been for them… how hard that must have been for you.

 

Or

 

Dear Couple I Recently Had the Opportunity to Reconnect With – You were amazingly open and honest with a group of mostly strangers, and having your participation was my favorite part of our discussion course. You guys are a reminder to me that people’s stories don’t start at the point where I meet them. Something I didn’t know about you, Mr., was that you were a Marine, and I appreciate what you shared about that experience. I’m not sure if that was before or after the Mrs. became such, but I couldn’t help but think of how that recent part of your young life must factor into your marriage. I love how brave you are with each other, and I look forward to knowing both of you more.

 

Those are all important things to say, especially thank you, to people who have touched my life in one way or another. And thank you is always enough, but it’s simply too short when Bethany the Blog Boss has asked for a page.

Drawing on some loosely planted Quaker roots, I’ve decided to go with…

 

Dear Peacemakers,

Thank you. You have my gratitude.

I think peace begins within each of us. For me, dwelling in gratitude, practicing mindfulness, and cultivating joy are essential.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

 

014When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

With our voices, our wallets, our votes, and our service, we each have opportunities to sow seeds of peace in our communities, in our country, in our world.

Thank you, Peacemakers. You have my gratitude.

Love and good wishes,

Sarah

2013 November “Dear Gratitude” project coming soon!

In the woods, October 2013

In the woods, October 2013

It’s that time of year again. Turkey, dressing, and pie. Leaves making a big color statement. Football season.

And Thanksgiving. Gratitude. Lots of talk about giving back, sharing with others, and counting our blessings.

Yada, yada, yada, right?

Not for me. November’s my favorite month. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Fall is my favorite season. And my favorite baby just happened to be born on November 16th last year. All the cynicism and nay-saying in the world can’t get me down this month. I love focusing on what’s beautiful, positive, and hopeful. These things remind me of God, and God is the ultimate source of my gratitude.

Me and my November blessing

Me and my November blessing

One thing I’ve learned about gratitude after making it a real habit for several years is that gratitude, as a habit, works best when I take action and express it. Keeping gratitude to myself is better than being grumpy and whiny, but if I keep it to myself, I am missing out on opportunities for blessings that come from sharing my blessings with others.

Even though I focus on gratitude all year long–partly by maintaining this blog–I wanted to share the opportunity to express gratitude with people I know and love. So this November, 28 of my favorite people–whom I’m very thankful for!–will share gratitude through writing letters to people, places, things, entities, and institutions they’re thankful for. If you don’t follow this blog yet, you might want to start following it now so you don’t miss out on the Dear Gratitude project this month.

If you get inspired by the letters you read, write some of your own. It’s a simple practical idea with big spiritual potential.

 

Who’s who

Knowing who’s who makes a big difference–specifically, knowing Who is God and who is not.

Me sporting a pretty sassy mullet in 3rd grade

Me sporting a pretty sassy mullet in 3rd grade

I memorized Psalm 100, a psalm for giving thanks, in first grade in order to earn a special ribbon-like bookmark in Sunday School class. This bookmark was the first in a collection of hundreds. Each time I look at the bookmark, I fondly recall the Sunday School class at Olivet Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, and my teacher, Mrs. Gutshall, who a few years later generously provided the financial means for me to pursue my love for flipping and twirling via gymnastics. I remember running up the stairs of the church, clickity clacking in my new shiny black patent leather mary janes, excited about what crafts we’d concoct out of empty tuna can lids and construction paper.

I recite Psalm 100 each time I pull out the faded ribbon. It’s amazing how my memory has clung to the psalm’s vibrant words for decades.

Today as I read the psalm yet again, I noticed that before it instructs us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise,” it admonishes us to “know that the Lord is God.” It then goes on to clarify, in case any of us are feeling confused about who’s who, to state that “it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.”

Well duh.

But how many times a day do I attempt to take the reins and control my own destiny, often steering myself off the best course for my life? How often have I clearly been instructed by God to do X and did Y instead?  How many times do I worry and fret over situations out of my control without turning those worries over to God, who is very much in control? How often do these actions result in additional anxiety, missteps, and self-pity?

All the time.

The Psalmist–or God–must have known that stubborn folks like me would read these words and need to be reminded of who’s who.

God’s God. I’m not.

If I understand that, I can let go of my worries, release my fears, stop trying to fix everything, and rest knowing that Someone more capable has things under control.

Then, and only then, can I wholeheartedly and single-mindedly focus on thanking Him for being Who He Is and making me who I am. When I know Who He Is and who I am, I’m more likely to feel gratitude for what I have because I understand that all my blessings are gifts and that my futile efforts and the fruits of my labor could never amount to a fraction of what God provides me with.

Maybe I’ll remove that old orange satin bookmark from my collection box and tack it onto my bulletin board to remind me of who’s who.