If this doesn’t cause gratitude to well up in your heart, nothing will.

celtic straits

(Updates follow article)

Four years ago today, I posted a blog about my emergency room “miracle experience” after the Aurora Theater shooting. The post went viral, and created some controversy. Does God really do miracles? Why for one person and not another? Does a good God even exist?

I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I saw the miracle with my own eyes. Thank you to those who have asked me to repost this story for a reminder: God is still at work.

July 23, 2012

At Columbine High School, I have seen this before. But not up close.  As a church pastor in Denver, I have worked as a chaplain alongside several police and fire departments. I was privileged to counsel parents just hours after the Columbine shootings. However, in this new tragedy at the Aurora Theater Dark Night shooting, one of the victims was a 22-year-old…

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Taking it easy

Recently, I wrote a post on my personal blog about the lessons learned from my mom regarding academic performance and pushing myself to do my very best.

On the flip side, I’ve also learned–maybe not from my mom, but from my own life experiences and shared experiences of others–that sometimes, it’s okay to make a B. In various areas of my life, the maxim “take it easy” has taken shape.

I used to be the most driven, career-minded person I knew. I’m sure there were others like me, but since I was stuck inside my own egocentric head, I really believed that no one could possibly care more about doing their absolute best at work than I did. This motivation to succeed at work had its advantages; I learned quickly, earned higher salaries, and became extremely flexible and well-rounded in the world of work. I was adept at finding and filling holes in whatever organization I found myself in.

However, after getting divorced and spending considerable time contemplating the direction of my life, I realized my motivation to be the best at work was negatively fueled at times and masking deeper desires. I lacked a significant connection in a healthy romantic relationship, even while married, so digging my heels in deeper on the job fulfilled a need to contribute, to be needed, and to succeed. Looking around, I saw myself surrounded by people who’d done the same thing for decades, and the end result was plenty of career success but very little else. I didn’t want that to be my destination.

I used to say “yes” to everything. I loved being the go-to person for the various non-profit organizations I volunteered for, and I found great satisfaction in spending countless hours raising funds and planning events. At church, if anyone needed a teacher or leader, they knew who to call. I would not only get the job done, but I’d do it well and with gusto. If I was invited to a social event, I’d arrive early and bring the nachos. If someone needed a listening ear, I was more than ready to listen to saga after saga of dramatic, repetitive monologues from friends and family.

Sure, I helped plenty of people in the process and contributed to some very worthy causes. But I realized, after similar contemplation and plenty of alone time with God, that my motives were driven, at least in part, by a desire to be needed, loved, praised, and acknowledged.

I had worn myself out trying to make everyone else happy, and at the end of the day, I felt exhausted and empty, with the same bottomless pit in my stomach and ache in my chest. I figured out that my efforts were futile, and that I would never find fulfillment by fighting for it or by begging others to provide it.

God filled my heart holes when I stopped seeking solutions and simply became still. I found that He had an innate ability to know just what I needed when I needed it and to provide it in miraculous ways. I discovered that I felt needed, loved, acknowledged, and successful not as a result of my own efforts but as a product of the most beautiful relationship I’d ever known. I was able to let go of the unrealistic expectations I’d set for myself and take it easy, leaning on His strong, capable shoulders which carried the weight of the world yet still had plenty of room for the oversized loads I passed to Him.

The jar

About six months ago, I invited my former college suitemates to spend the day at our home. We hiked, reminisced, and fried catfish with the help of my handy husband. One of the girls had the idea to create jars of encouragement for one another. Each of us decorated a jar, and then we spent a while in silence recording memories and listing positive attributes about each other. We filled the jars for each of us but didn’t read the notes that day.

My jar has been sitting on my desk in my line of sight since then. Until today, I had only read two of the notes on “really bad days” when I felt I needed a friendly reminder that people do, in fact, like me. As I read the notes today, I snort laughed. I got a little teary-eyed. And I remembered that there’s something invaluable about maintaining long-term friendships with people who, through all our ups and downs, continue to keep in touch, support us, and accept us.

One of the notes said, “Bethany, I really admire how comfortable you are in your own skin.”

This is generally true of me. Lately, as I collect pounds like baseball cards in light of my pregnancy, it’s not reflective of how I feel. Yet reading these words admonished me to straighten up and fly right–to be myself.

In some ways, these women know me better than I know myself. They see things in me that, clouded by self-judgement and cynicism, I cannot see. Reading their notes today reminded me of who I really am.

Words are powerful, and I’m grateful for friends who don’t hesitate to share their feelings, speak the truth, and exhort me to be the Bethany they know and love.

Just wheat

In junior high, I got grounded for a week for making a B in algebra.

At the time, of course, I thought my mom was the meanest, least understanding Tiger Mom in the entire world. I am sure I cursed her under my breath, to my friends, and in one of my many journals. Woe was me. It simply was not fair. I had All A’s and just one B on my 9-weeks report card. Why wasn’t that good enough?

During the week when I was grounded, I studied harder and did all of my homework. I wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone so I spent my time on schoolwork and brooding over my misfortunes instead. I daydreamed less often about the hunky boy I was obsessed with, who is now 35 and has very little hair and a gigantic beer belly. I thought the week would never end.

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Like sides

“Just remember that like sides always go together.”

My very patient friend sat across from her dining room table, patiently pinning together fabric to fashion a throw pillow for our baby’s nursery. Not only was she patient with the fabric and with the process of learning a new technique, but she was also patient with me.

Unfortunately, the small hand-eye coordination thing wasn’t one of the gifts God granted me. Dancing? I can do that with my eyes closed. Gymnastics? Easy. Knitting? No. Crocheting? Not even after lessons from one of my mom’s friends. Scrapbooking? Not for more than 15 minutes at a time. Small pieces and objects don’t coincide with the way my hands works, much less the level of patience I possess.

Yet my friend answered all my ignorant sewing questions and let me watch her seemingly seamlessly create useful, beautiful objects from huge swaths of fabric.

When I told her that I didn’t understand how she could just throw things together and make them work, she explained that sewing actually has several constants, and if you get them right, you normally wind up with a nice finished product. Like sides go together. Take your time pinning the first time, and you won’t have to redo your work. Save your scraps for other projects.

She might not have meant to, but she gave me food for thought and life lessons to chew on while I nibbled on chocolate chip cookies, watching her work. I felt grateful when I realized that these lessons resonate within me now, rather than falling on deaf ears. I understand the importance of spending my short, precious time on earth with people whose values and interests coincide with mine. I have acquired the ability to take my time the first time when cleaning, writing, and living, eliminating much of the frustration I used to feel in my younger days when I’d wind up redoing a task three times before I got it right. I’ve learned the benefit of thriftiness since I was a child, and as I spend my time finishing graduate school without the added stress of holding down a job in order to pay for expensive possessions, I give thanks for those who taught me to be content.

So maybe sewing isn’t that bad. Or at least watching someone else sew while eating chocolate, anyway.




Girly gratitude

Monday, we learned that we are having a baby girl in November. Both of us have been praying for a healthy baby, regardless of the sex. I will admit, though, that I’ve also thrown in a few “God, if you don’t mind, I’d kind of REALLY like to have a baby girl” prayers along the way. I know that I’d enjoy having a boy, too, though. I have thoroughly been enamored with and amused by all of my nephews.

Having experienced some of the joys of raising a daughter already with the blessing of my former stepdaughter, who’s still a huge part of my life, I am biased. I love girls. I love the emotional and sensitive nature most girls possess. I am drawn to lavender and other pastels. I look forward to watching my daughter grow and develop into her own person, whether she likes climbing trees, playing with dolls, or going hunting and fishing more. I can’t wait to answer all the “why’s” and build trust between us.

And in some ways, the blessing of having a baby girl feels like the most redemptive opportunity. Having missed out on a relationship with my biological father, and really only developing a close relationship with my stepfather as an adult, I am thrilled to know that my daughter will have the best father in the world from the very beginning. She will understand what a real man is, and she will have no doubts that her daddy would do anything for her. She will not stare blankly when preachers give sermons about God as our Father; she will think the analogy is perfect. She will never wonder if her father loves her or cares for her and will never seek the love of other men to fill emotional holes inside her. She will be loved.

My daughter already has the best life ever, along with one very grateful mom.


The unexpected storm

The unexpected storm

*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for serving as today’s guest contributor to Your Daily Dose of Gratitude. For more from Teresa, check out her website.

On Friday evening, June 29th, my husband and I were expecting a thunderstorm to pass through the Washington, D.C., area where we live.  We were not expecting the June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest Derecho.  The derecho, a fast-moving thunderstorm with violent winds, hit our area around 10:30 p.m.  We were on the third floor of our house watching television when everything went dark.  Assuming this was merely the thunderstorm that had been forecast, we thought the lights would flicker back on momentarily.  Nevertheless, having been raised in Arkansas, an area where lots of tornadoes occur, we took no chances.  We grabbed a flashlight and headed downstairs.

As soon as I reached the second floor of our house, I could see the trees outside swaying furiously as if someone had aimed a giant hair dryer at them and was sending a line-drive blast of wind their way.  I had never heard the term derecho, Spanish for “straight ahead,” applied to weather before.  Clearly, this storm was heading straight for us – full steam ahead, and I was more than a little wary about passing in front of the huge window that stood between me and those feverishly flailing branches.  It was a relief when we made it to the bottom floor of our house and found a spot that didn’t put us in the path of any potentially flying glass.  As the trees swooshed in the wind and the thunder rattled our nerves, giant bursts of otherworldly lightning lit up the room every few seconds.

When the storm was finally over, I came back upstairs and looked out the window.  I live in a community with hundreds of other people, and someone always has a light on.  The only light I could see was the glow of a flashlight, much like mine, coming from a neighbor’s house behind ours. I wandered around the house for a while, looking out the windows and trying to see what was going on outside.  Emergency rescue sirens blared in the distance, but it was too dark to see anything. I finally fell asleep on a couch on the second floor, expecting that when I woke up the next morning the electricity would be on.  I was wrong.

All day Saturday while we were waiting in the sweltering heat for our electric power to come back on, we experienced a different kind of power – the power that people and a fortunate chain of events often generate in stressful times.  I will always be grateful for several things that happened while we waited for the power we had become so accustomed to relying on to return.  I am grateful for the tenuous cell phone connection that enabled me to let my parents know we were okay.  I am grateful that our car had not been smashed by the tree standing next to it and that we could drive it to the grocery store. I am grateful that a grocery store near our house was open and that we were able to get food and access to a Wi-Fi connection that allowed me to let our daughter, at camp, know we had made it through the storm just fine.  I am grateful to our next-door neighbor who loaned us a battery-powered radio so we could stay abreast of what was happening in the world from which we’d been so abruptly disconnected.  And, I am so very grateful to those emergency rescue teams and the employees of the power companies who worked, and continue to work, in the intense heat hour after hour.

My husband and I spent an uncomfortable Saturday inside our house until around 6:30 that evening when our air conditioner surged back on. We were extremely lucky.  The June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest Derecho left a vast swath of destruction in its wake.  At least 22 people were killed.  As I’m writing this, people in our area are still without power, suffering in heat that continues to be stifling.

Like a lot of storms in our lives, this one brought unanticipated challenges and opportunities.  I thought about how unexpected events can change us as I was walking around my neighborhood on Monday morning.  Other than a few broken tree branches and a downed transformer, everything looked pretty much the way it had when I walked on Friday morning before the derecho hit.  But everyone I passed on that walk seemed to be more alert, aware that opportunities to be grateful come our way daily.  It just may be that the memory of those positive experiences will be what sustains us when future life experiences are more virulent than predicted, providing us with the power necessary to weather storms that seem insurmountable.

*For more from Teresa, check out her website.