Hope fills holes

Yesterday, a friend and I baked our little hearts out in preparation for my husband’s birthday celebration. While we cored apples and blended spices, we talked about what’s going on in our lives . . .  pregnancy woes, impending birth of my daughter, financial issues, relationships with family members, and our unique struggles with letting go and letting God.

She struggles to let go of an addiction to a substance; I struggle to let go of my obsession to keep all my ducks in a row. At the core of our struggles, we’re both seeking to fill holes inside of us.

Ultimately, neither of us have completely surrendered ourselves to God in these matters, although we’re both working on it and making progress daily.

I told my friend that I’d been praying for her a few days earlier, and as I contemplated her struggle as well as my own, God brought to mind the fact that we were both feebly attempting to fill holes or meet needs in our lives.

The problem is that we seek to fill holes and meet needs that are meant to be filled and met by God. Tragically, or comically (depending on my perspective that day), I can look back and identify many moments in my life when I sought to fill countless holes this way. Like pits of quicksand, my efforts to fill the holes were useless. It wasn’t that I lacked willpower, effort, or passion.

I was just busy trying to fill holes that weren’t mine to fill.

I was taking on a God-sized job, and I wasn’t God.

Today I deal with holes and needs quite differently. While I must still daily lay aside my own controlling nature and lack of trust, I’m learning more and more to put down my shovel and allow God to fill the holes in my life instead. But how did I come to the conclusion that God could be trusted with these holes and these needs? Trial and error. The more I tried to fill the holes and meet the needs myself, the more I realized that my way wasn’t working well. I needed a new solution to an old problem.

Thankfully, by taking actions until my feelings followed, I learned to trust God. I started by giving him the tiny holes to fill up; after all, if He screwed up, I wouldn’t be that far behind in my work and could pick up where He left off. But He didn’t let me down. He met my needs and filled the holes in ways I’d never thought possible. Each time I saw Him successfully accomplish a task I’d relentlessly attempted to complete (in vain), my faith was strengthened. My trust in Him grew. And I began to hope that He would do it again.

And He did, again and again.

This morning, as I read Psalm 25, I noticed the themes of trust and hope recurring in the passage.

“I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame.” Psalms 25:2

“My hope is in You all day long.” Psalms 25:5

“My hope, Lord, is in You.” Psalms 25:21

I’m grateful that as I read these words today, they weren’t just words on a page. They echo the resounding faith that has welled up in me over the past few years. Because I stepped back, dropped my shovel, and allowed God to fill the holes in my heart and my life, I actually have hope that He’ll continue to do the same, for me and for people I love, if we can just stop digging.

 

 

 

 

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Silly prayers

Last week, our pastor shared a sermon about praying silly prayers.

My friend Mary’s sons, Carson and Jack, piped up every time the preacher said “silly prayers.” I could hear them giggling and repeating the phrase, “SILLY prayers!”

Basically, silly prayers are the prayers we pray reluctantly, hesitant to ask God for something that seems trivial, selfish, or minute in the grand scheme of things. Our pastor shared examples of silly prayers others had prayed–and how God had answered each of those silly prayers. He reminded us that God really does care enough to listen to and answer our prayers, no matter how silly they seem to us.

As he shared this sermon, I realized that many of my prayers could be categorized as silly prayers. I have come to believe in a Power Greater Than Myself and in His ability to do anything He wants to do, however He wants to do it. I trust Him enough to simply ask for His will be to be done. But I also know that He takes delight in fulfilling the God-given desires of my heart. So sometimes I ask Him for things that other people might scoff at or believe to be unimportant. God doesn’t scoff, though. He answers me. He doesn’t always say yes, but He always answers.

A few years ago, my husband (boyfriend at the time) took me hunting for the first time. I don’t know why it mattered to me, but I was determined to have a successful hunting trip–I wanted to kill a deer. And not just a deer–a deer with horns (technically referred to as a buck, but in  girly terms, “deer with horns” worked just fine). So I asked God for this, and He understood my lingo just fine. The next day, I killed a buck with one shot on my very first hunting trip. Trust me, this is nothing short of a miracle for me.

Recently, I asked God to give me an idea to pass on to a friend who was struggling with her daughter’s behavior. She’d asked for tips or suggestions, and my mind drew a blank. I’d had six years of experience as a stepmom, and I was very familiar with her daughter’s age-range and issues children have at that age, but I couldn’t think of a single thing at first. The next day, as I prayed for my friend and her daughter, God flooded my brain with questions and ideas and memories about my own childhood and children I’d helped care for who had similar problems. I shared all this information with my friend and told her I had no idea if it would be helpful or relevant. Turns out, the suggestions she implemented are working.

The past few months, I’ve been praying that God would grow our little local recovery program. I asked Him to bless and double our efforts. The next week, we literally had twice as many in attendance. That trend has continued week after week. People have begun asking questions, unprovoked and without any effort on my part. The local newspaper offered to run a full feature article on our program, and all I’d asked for was a free temporary classified ad. Last night, a new participant at the meeting (who was obviously in considerable emotional pain) asked if she could borrow a book which contains daily readings relevant to recovery and the 12 steps. I eagerly loaned her the book. When I explained that most people read one page each day, she asked, “Is it okay if I read more than one a day?” Well, of course! On my way home last night, I thanked God for answering my prayer in a bigger and more comprehensive way than I’d prayed it.

God didn’t have to let me kill a deer. We certainly harvested and utilized all of the meat, but it wasn’t necessarily a nutritional need being met. He must have just known that I would benefit tremendously from His response to my prayer. And I did.

God didn’t have to give me ideas to share with my friend. After all, it wasn’t even my child I was praying for. But He did. And I know my friend well enough to know that she understands the Source of the successful ideas.

He didn’t have to bring more people to our recovery program. He could help them all in other ways and through other means. But for some reason, He continues to grow our program, and in turn, strengthen my belief in the power of prayer.

Right now, I’m praying a few silly prayers daily. I won’t share them yet–some things must remain between me and Him. One of my silly prayers (which I’ve been praying for about a month now) seems to have been partially answered today, through the help of a friend who had no idea that I’d been praying about the very thing.

I’m so grateful that I repeatedly took the action of praying and asking God for things I felt were silly, and that His responses to my prayers have changed my feelings and strengthened my faith. I’m grateful that I don’t consider anything too silly to pray about now.

As my friend Kathy says, “Nothing ‘just happens’ in God’s world.”

 

Happy early birthday, Margaret!

*Special thanks to my beloved former professor and friend, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, for writing today’s post in honor of her Margaret.*

16 October 2012

Dear Bethany,

Eighteen years ago I was where you are now – expecting a baby girl.  My daughter, Margaret, was due on Halloween, but she arrived a couple of weeks early.  Though I’d practically worn out my copy of WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING, I had no guidebook for my daughter’s first year, let alone her first eighteen.

On the day of Margaret’s birth, I got my first inkling that I might not need a guidebook at all, much less have time to read one!  Margaret was the only baby born in the hospital on that day, and I think the nurses were eager to rock her because every few minutes they would come to my room and ask me if I wanted them to take her to the nursery.

“Just a little while longer,” I said each time they came to the door.

That night I sang my new baby girl every song I knew.  I had no idea what to do with a newborn, but singing seemed right for Margaret and me at that moment. Over the past eighteen years, I’ve had lots of moments when I wasn’t sure what I should do.  In time, I’ve learned to take my cues from the person who knows her needs best – Margaret.

Dr. Murphy and Margaret

People gave me lots of advice on how to raise my daughter, and I suspect you will be given a lot of advice as well.  Some of it will be worth listening to, and some of it will be worthless.  The only advice I’ll give to you is this – when it comes to your daughter, you’ll know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  From the moment that precious girl is placed in your arms, you’ll know what to do.   After all, you’ll be holding the author of the only guidebook on raising your daughter that you’ll ever really need.

With gratitude and best wishes always,

Dr. M.

P.S. Margaret loves music and has become an accomplished singer.  I should have known!

Fireproofing

Garth Brooks, Warrant, Jason Mraz, The Foo Fighters, Donny Osmond, and even Pink Floyd have paid homage to the analogy of burning bridges. And who hasn’t burned a few bridges in her own lifetime–whether intentionally or unintentionally?

I’m not sure how or when, but somewhere along the way, I came to believe that with few exceptions, burning bridges was a pretty bad idea. I’ve deliberately and severely cut ties with a few people for various reasons; if the person or relationship is very unhealthy and/or harmful to me in some way, burning a bridge may be the best way to put permanent distance between me and that person or situation. But by and large, through much observation and experience, I’ve learned that you never know who you’re going to need down the road. If you’ve burned the bridge connecting the two of you, you won’t be able to get help or benefit from that person or relationship any longer.

I believe strongly in the power of networking. By networking, I mean REAL networking. Building lasting relationships. Showing concern and interest in others’ lives. Extending help when help is needed and when I’m able. I don’t mean collecting business cards and telling people, “we should do lunch!” but never following up. I haven’t perfected the skill of networking, but I’ve certainly grabbed hold of it and attempted to apply it to all areas of my life, not just to work relationships and professional settings.

I’ve watched countless disgruntled people act out and leave work situations in disarray to get back at co-workers or bosses. I’ve witnessed (and been on the receiving end of, unfortunately) friends pulling tantrums, behaving immaturely, or repeatedly neglecting to be responsible and courteous. I’ve observed many people who treated their family members by shamefully lower standards than they treated other people (or even strangers)  in their lives.

What’s the result?

Almost always, those disgruntled former employees don’t leave a pleasant taste in their employers’ mouths. Do you think the employer feels led to sing their praises when potential employers call checking references? I don’t think so. What happens to those friendships? They usually slowly fade away when the person on the receiving end of the bad behavior realizes she is exerting considerably more effort than the other person and grows tired of doing so. And how about family situations? Even if ties aren’t completely severed, they’re usually frayed and worn painfully thin, making every holiday or get-together somewhat uncomfortable.

I can think of multiple times in my own life when leaving bridges intact proved beneficial to me.

Me and my former co-workers

I recently was blessed to be reunited with my former sponsor in a recovery program I’ve been part of for five years. When I relocated to my hometown a few years ago, it was no longer feasible to continue our sponsorship relationship (for either of us). I harbored some hurt feelings over the dissolution of our relationship, but ultimately, I knew it was best for us to end it at that time. Less than two years later, after praying about it, both of us feel at peace with reconnecting in this way. This is rare, and it wouldn’t have been possible if either of us had been mouthy, disrespectful, or neglectful of one another in the past. The smooth, calm ending made it possible for us to envision a truly beneficial relationship between us in the future.

Another time, I held a job with the fiscal agent for a large government entity as a technical writer. I honestly found the job to be quite boring. I never had enough work to do to keep me busy, and it was rarely challenging. I did, however, work with great people, and that made the situation bearable. After working there for a little over a year, an opportunity fell in my lap to try my hand at fundraising and development with a non-profit. The position was on an interim basis with the opportunity for it to become permanent if I chose to stay. After just a few months, I knew I needed out–the work environment was somewhat hostile, and I found myself more stressed than I’d ever been before. Because I’d left my previous employer on such great terms, had given them plenty of notice, and had trained others well to take over my tasks without halting production, my former boss didn’t hesitate for one second when I called her and asked for my job back. She met me that evening with a contract and even allowed me to negotiate for a salary increase. I know she would not have been so quick to consider rehiring me if I’d performed poorly or left on bad terms.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that it’s best to treat people the way I want to be treated–to apply the Golden Rule to all relationships. I’ve learned that I can be polite to anyone, no matter how much I disagree with them or dislike them. And I’ve learned that when I do these things, I almost always reap the benefits.

So ask for forgiveness and make amends. Go the extra mile to maintain smooth paths between you and your loved ones. Duct tape your mouth shut when you are concerned that hot angry words might spew out at any minute. Pray before acting. Act as if you care even on the days when you don’t.

You never know who you’re going to need at the next bend in the road.

Turn, turn, turn

As The Byrds so beautifully quoted in song, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Autumn has always been my favorite season. It marks the end of my least favorite season, summer, and reminds me that excessively sweaty armpits, mosquitoes swarming, and too-short shorts are about to be a thing of the past (at least for a while).

It also ushers in some of my favorite things–leaves changing and falling, baking aromatic desserts, wearing sweaters and scarves and all things cozy, and spending many nights around bonfires at our tiny, old farmhouse in the Ozarks, surrounded by the cold earthy smell of fall and countless cool stars.

I’m grateful to live in a climate that rotates through each season distinctly. There’s something about the weather turning our lives on end that reminds me that God’s in control, and that no matter how much I like or dislike it, nothing lasts forever here so I better appreciate it while it lasts.

I’ve gone through seasons of my life when enduring one more day seemed emotionally and physically impossible. And I’ve passed through seasons of life when I dreaded hearing the sound of the ticking clock, knowing that the happiness I felt was fleeting at best. The best moments of my life have been those in which I’ve been able to truly accept reality, embrace change, and celebrate the beauty of the moment, no matter how hard I had to look for it.

While baking sweet potato pies today, I sat at the kitchen table with a hot cup of tea and mused over the changes that will come in our lives very soon with the birth of our daughter. I’m grateful for the time I’ve had in my life to grow and develop and change into who I am now and look forward to who I will be as time goes on. I’m grateful that I’ve waited until now to have a child and have had the privilege of helping raise my stepdaughter, learning many lessons along the way. I’m grateful for the friends and family who’ve become parents before me–I’ve learned a wealth of knowledge (about what to do as well as what not to do) by spending time with them. I’m grateful that my husband, too, has had his entire life up until now to grow and explore his interests and become the wonderful person he is today. And I’m grateful for our daughter, who will inevitably alter our schedules and rearrange our priorities, reminding us that time is precious.

“God, thank You

for all You’ve given me

for all You’ve taken away

and for all You’ve left me with.”

What I hold in my hands today, with open palms–knowing it’s really all His anyway–is greater than everything that has passed through them in the past.

 

Bearable

34 weeks and counting…

Some of you may remember reading my blog post about my personal experience with pregnancy. I caught a lot of flack for that post from people who seemed to misunderstand me. These are typically the same people who encourage every woman, regardless of her personal experience with pregnancy, to just be happy, never mention the misery that ensues with carrying another human being in one’s body, and feel ashamed for even thinking of anything remotely negative related to pregnancy. Many of these people have lost children–and my heart goes out to them. I cannot relate to that experience, but I can certainly imagine that if I were in their shoes, I’d find it a bit easier to focus on the positives during subsequent pregnancies and to be even more grateful for the miracle of it all. Other people simply have wonderful pregnancies–their bodies respond well to the changes, and they don’t recall a single day of feeling miserable. I also cannot relate to these experiences, but I certainly wish I could.

For me, pregnancy has been a trying time in every way. I won’t begin to list the odd physical issues I’ve faced or other symptoms that have plagued me while pregnant. Suffice it to say that one night when I could not sleep–which is every night, but this particular night I decided to write–I compiled a list of reasons to have only one child and to avoid getting pregnant in the future.

Without taking a moment to pause and reflect, I typed out 35 reasons, or “cons.”

Since making that list, I’ve tried to counter it with positives or pros. So far, there are three.

However, even though the pro list is quite short, I can find many things to be grateful for in the midst of the 35 cons. This is a list of what I call “bearables,” which are not the same as pros. These things have made pregnancy more tolerable, even if just for a moment, and for that I am truly grateful.

  1. My true friends have been nothing but empathetic and prayerful. They know me well enough to avoid clichés and empty phrases like “Oh, but just wait until you hold that little baby” or “When you have her, you will forget all about the bad stuff, trust me.” Instead, they pray for me, send me messages inquiring about my health to let me know they’re mindful of what I’m experiencing, and send me gifts and cards to brighten my days.
  2. Humor. Friends have also sent me hilarious links and quotes and books to pass the time and to remind me that the best way to get through something miserable is to find the funny in it.
  3. Science. I may be strange, but I’m strangely comforted by scientific information regarding my baby’s growth and development. Having read upwards of 1,000 pages of scientific goodness–not just books containing suggestions and common sense advice, which I have not found as helpful–has really reminded me of the absolute miracle of my child growing inside me. So thank You, God, for the Mayo Clinic :).
  4. My husband is a lifesaver. Really. I could not have made it through many of the physically trying times–or emotional ones, for that matter–without his support, practical help, and constancy. He has already proven his worth as a father to our baby by performing countless acts of service in love.
  5. Children’s responses to my pregnancy. There is something charming and humorous about seeing each child’s reaction to the burgeoning belly. One of my nieces was completely spooked by the notion of her cousin floating around in utero. The others were fascinated and still cannot seem to stop poking and rubbing my belly and talking to Baby Maggie when I’m around.
  6. Great food. I feel fat all the time now. Since I feel fat, I might as well just give in and eat ice cream if I really feel like it. Not the whole carton . . .
  7. Baby gifts. Opening and touching countless incredibly soft, pink items has been a total pleasure for me. I look forward to using all the gifts we’ve received, but for now, it’s plenty enjoyable to be surrounded by piles of plushness.
  8. Two great doctors. I’ve been blessed with truly caring medical staff who continue to try to help me and never make me feel ridiculous despite how many questions I ask or what sort of odd symptoms I mention.

Diaper cake from my excellent sister-in-law

I’m grateful for the bearables–with them, it’s a little easier to find reasons to smile and items to add to my gratitude lists.

Just wheat

It’s hard to resist the temptation to listen to the Sirens of the past.

In fact, living in the moment is one of the hardest life lessons I’ve learned. I didn’t learn how to do it easily. It didn’t come to me naturally. And I certainly didn’t acquire the ability quickly.

It’s taken years.

Through a combination of catastrophic choices and traumatic trials, I came to believe that my life simply wasn’t going to turn out the way I’d wanted it to. And in truth, I had never had many visions of a pleasant life or goals for changing the world. After age 16, when many fundamental truths seemed disproved by my circumstances of sexual assault and the aftermath that entails, I discarded the notion that setting goals was even worthwhile. What’s the point, if someone can come along and rip your plans away from you? What’s the purpose in…

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