Remembering love

Thankful for the past three years!

Just wheat

In my past, when experiencing the sorrow and grief accompanying loss of relationships, I typically spent at least a week in what I call the “eating a gallon of ice cream straight from the bucket” stage. I was in one of those phases when my friend Tony invited me to his birthday party. He’d recently proposed to his girlfriend as well, so his party was a combination birthday/engagement celebration. I couldn’t and didn’t want to miss it.

But I also really just wanted to sit at home, cuddle my cats while wearing pajamas, and feel sorry for myself. Thankfully, by that point in my life, I’d come to believe that pity parties aren’t fun for anyone, even the hostess, so I decided to suck it up and attend Tony’s party in spite of my grumpy disposition.

Sitting next to Tony while sipping a blueberry mojito, I watched my long-lost friend Joey…

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Never say never

At the homestead, 2011

At the homestead, 2011

I’ve said NEVER about plenty of things.
And eaten my words plenty of times, too.

“I will NEVER get divorced.”

Done. Twice.

“I am NEVER going to be one of those people who moves back to the middle of nowhere as an adult!”

Done. Here.

“I’m never going to date another alcoholic or addict, EVER!”

Done. Remarried one. Subsequently divorced him.

“I am NEVER going to wear leggings. Gross.”

At my friend's infamous Festivus party, 2011

At my friend’s infamous Festivus party, 2011

All right, maybe I came close to holding true to this one, but I did don a sweet pair of leggings with the ugliest Christmas sweater EVER a few years ago.

When it comes to saying “never” these days, I try to catch myself and rephrase things.

“I can’t say I will NEVER have another baby, but I’m leaning that direction.”

Our daughter's christening, 2013

Our daughter’s christening, 2013

 

“I won’t say I will NEVER join another Baptist church, but I’m pretty happy attending our Methodist church right now.”

“I won’t say I will NEVER teach again. But I’d rather work as a waitress than teach again.”

Well. This has proven false.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to put my recently earned Master’s degree to work and to teach one course this fall at our local community college. Not only am I glad to be able to use my degree, but I’m excited about TEACHING. I can’t wait to wade through the text and create my syllabus, incorporating things I’ve learned and ideas I’ve mulled over the past few weeks. I look forward to being on campus, even for a few hours a week, and helping students in some small way to better themselves and prepare themselves for the world of work that lies ahead.

My first experience as a teacher left a bad taste in my mouth. I taught, as my second job out of college, as a high school teacher (teaching English and Religion/Philosophy) at a private high school in an affluent area of the city. I was the third teacher that year–and I started in the middle of September. That probably should have raised a red flag, but it didn’t. I was naïve and assumed that teaching there would be easier because the students would certainly be better behaved due to their upbringing. And the Christian environment would be really supportive, encouraging, and positive.

I do keep in touch with many of my students. And I built some great relationships with many of them. If I could have stayed inside the four walls of my classroom without any interruptions from the outside world–namely parents and administration–I think I might have stuck with it. But that didn’t happen.

I received a handwritten letter from a student threatening to bring a gun to campus after my first month teaching because said student was failing my course and wasn’t thrilled about it. The principal blew it off and suggested I change her grade so she would have fewer worries about graduating. I was not wise enough at that point in my life to simply report the incident to the police, so I just moved on. Countless parents scheduled conferences with me to voice their concerns about my zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating and plagiarism. Couldn’t I be a little more forgiving and overlook those things? When I sent students to the office or reprimanded them, they were often sent immediately back to my classroom, receiving no consequences for their actions.

I wasn’t a perfect teacher, but I tried my best to stick it out (and I did, for a year) for the sake of the students, who were a year away from heading to college, to improve their writing and reading and critical thinking skills. I knew that what I was doing would prepare them for what they would encounter in college. But dealing with the lack of support from parents and administration proved too stressful for me. I opted out of contract renewal in May and went back to working with emotionally disturbed teenagers. Believe it or not, the environment at that facility was much more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I felt the students truly appreciated my efforts to help them.

After that negative experience with teaching, I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs. And yet I continued to find myself in work environments and volunteer situations that demanded that I lead or teach. I led support groups for sexual assault victims. I taught summer courses for high school students as part of a grant-funded program. I led workshops for college students when I worked in career services. I created curriculum for training employees at multiple job sites. I led Bible studies for students.

And now I find myself preparing to teach college students.

One of the wisest women I know repeatedly tells me that “always and never are God’s words.”

She is right. I NEVER know what my future holds because I do not hold it.

God does.

And He ALWAYS knows what’s best. And I won’t say NEVER, but it’s rarely what I had planned :).

Powerless

*Special thanks to my friend Debra Dickey for sharing her insights in today’s post.*

This is when we are lured to give up.  This is the time we want to quit.  This is the feeling that leads to defeat and sadness.  This is when our prayers become cries of despair.  This is the time we feel lost and abandoned.  This is the description of a cognizance, yet the thing we seek remains just out of our grasp.  We are exhausted, tired, broken, and struggling.

This is the time that temptations try us.  This is when we search for resources, answers, help, and strength, the time when our prayers are desperate, yet unfulfilled.  This is a test. This is the time that He is teaching us; that there is a lesson that He needs and desires us to learn.

I know that I am not all God wants me to be.  I acknowledge my spiritual and worldly weaknesses.  I recognize that my faithfulness, strength and obedience cannot compare to the courage displayed by Jesus.  I yearn for God’s Presence, His Wisdom, His Strength, His Mercy, His Care, and His Miracles.  What more is being asked of me?  What words do I use to pray?

I believe in God with every fiber of my being.  I continue to meet the challenges that God gives me, work through them, and seek His blessings.  I have offered myself as the vessel, I have walked my faith, I have put on the armor, I have toiled up the mountains, I have trudged through the valleys, I have praised God to the heights, and I have pleaded to Him from the depths.  Yet often I am fearful and my soul knows no comfort.

mustard seedI know His Word tells us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, that we can move mountains! (Matt. 17:20)  So I researched that.

And you know what! He actually says is, “if you had faith like or as a mustard seed.”  A type of faith, not an amount.  Jesus is saying that your faith should be like a mustard seed. That first, you have to sow it. You have to plant or sow your faith. Then, when you do, it will grow and grow and produce works in you that you never thought possible.  Jesus is speaking figuratively about the incalculable power of God when unleashed in the lives of those with true faith.  First, we know that the initial amount of faith is a gift from God.  Secondly, God gives all His gifts in seed form and He expects us to develop them.  Just plant the faith you have.  Because the results don’t depend on us, they depend on God.

A mustard seed is one of the smallest of seeds, yet the mustard plant grows to a remarkable size in comparison to the tiny seed, and will even grow abundantly in the most adverse conditions known to manIf your wilderness is fraught with woeful and grievous circumstances, then you’re living in the perfect environment for ‘faith as a grain of mustard seed’ to thrive!    ‘The bigger your giant, the closer you are to your promise.’  Mustard seeds need the same things other plants need to grow:  soil (your heart), air (Holy Spirit), water (Word of God), sunlight (Jesus), and one last thing…..time.   “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)  When you have done all that you can do, hold up your shield of faith. Believe.  God is good.  Period.  But only the mountains that God wants you to move.   [Mustard Seed Faith]mustard seed 2

“Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that worketh in us, to Him be the glory….”  (Ephesians 3:20)

I do get that!  My faith IS planted; I DO believe!  I pray unceasingly for the manifestation of His Power!  Be the seed — not powerless, rather imbued with the incalculable power of God.  Immense.   Say ‘yes’ to God’s ability.  It is the One that faith is directed towards that will make miracles happen.  I know that!  Yet, there it is, the theme in all my lessons . . . the “time” circumscription, the ‘harness’, if you will — the element in that process that I struggle with most in my walk of faith, and my beggarly pleadings.  Just be the seed.
I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.  Mother Teresa

This is my story . . .

Just wheat

*My friend Samantha Hogan has been gracious enough to share my life story with her followers on Facebook. I thought I’d share it on my own blog as well. A wise woman once told me, “The past is in the past. You don’t have to bring it up or talk about it ever again, unless you choose to, and unless it can help someone else.” 18 years ago, my reality was harshly altered. 18 years later, God has transformed me and refused to let ugly actions permanently alter my beautiful future. Here’s hoping God will do what He says He’ll do for YOU in Isaiah 63–transform ashes into beauty.*

What my life was like before

I was baptized in a creek when I was five years old. I had no clue what I was doing or what it meant. I just wanted to be like my dad. Months…

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You can go your own way

My boyfriend in college once told me that I reminded him of the female character in a Celtic song who was forever “chasing cannonballs.”

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

He was right.

I have been notorious for stubbornly making my own decisions. I often refer to this tendency as my “God versus Bethany” struggle. For years, mostly due to some tragic situations in my past, I chose to trust Bethany rather than God. Against all rationale, good advice, concerned friends, promptings from my conscience AKA the Holy Spirit of God, and even learned lessons from my past, I continued to choose to make choices based on Bethany’s will, not God’s.

This led to many uncomfortable, painful, and costly consequences. Thankfully, with the help of my anonymous program of recovery and sponsor and growing dependency on God, deferring to God’s will seems to be my go-to more often than not these days.

God continues to give me opportunities to choose, though, and sometimes letting go and letting God is not easy for me.

After having my daughter nearly eight months ago, I decided to eat an elephant–all at once. Finish grad school, with all A’s, of course. Prep for comps and read countless pieces of in-depth literature. Nurse my baby 6-8 times a day. Care for her the rest of the day. Write posts for my two blogs. Volunteer to edit documents for several friends. Maintain a super tidy, clean home. Continue to work my program of recovery. And of course, lose all that disgusting baby weight that had bruised my ego to a deep, dark purple.

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

I learned the hard way–by trying to start running again (and having some success) while recovering from a blood transfusion, an injured back, and two rounds of strep throat–that losing weight at my age after having a baby is not easy. It does not happen quickly. And it should probably not be on my to-do list until I’m finished nursing.

As has been the case in the past, it took a painful “aha” moment for me to realize that I’d overfilled my own plate. No one had done this to me or for me. I was not a victim. I had done it to myself in an effort to do everything as perfectly as possible.

My husband and I are blessed with plenty of land and many hiking trails. After having wide fire lanes created with the help of the Forestry Commission, my husband offered to watch our daughter so I could hike the fire lanes and take some photos. I jumped at the opportunity for fresh air and alone time, even though I felt miserable, lacked anything resembling energy, and had multiple other to-do’s on my ever-important list.

As I hiked along, I quickly realized my body had not recovered fully from my recent bout with strep throat. Every step was torture. To make matters worse, searing pain radiated through every square inch of my back and neck. But I kept going.

I took a wrong turn along the way and wound up at the bottom of an incredibly steep ravine. The only way out was up.

What an order. I could not go through with it.

So I sat down in the dirt with my panting companion, my cat Shao Hou, and cried.

Then I mustered enough energy to hike back up the ravine and head back home. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know. I don’t do “east” or “north.” I do “left” and “right.” That’s it. I found myself turned around on our own land, feeling like an idiot, and physically beyond the point of exhaustion and nearly crippled with pain.

I decided to cut through the woods in the general direction of “DOWN.” I figured eventually, I’d either come to the road or to our house. I clawed my way through briars and piles of brush and finally reached one of our trails.

As I reached the trail, with Shao Hou still patiently panting alongside me, I noticed a huge rock covered in moss, shaded by a large oak tree. It looked like a cool, beautiful place to rest for a  moment to catch my breath.

But you know me.

I didn’t stop. Oh no. I was going to finish this darn hike if it killed me. So I kept going rather than allowing myself to let go of my standards for performance in lieu of realistic expectations for my sick, aching body.

I cried the whole way home.

I felt sorry for myself. I felt angry at my body. I felt out of control. I felt that I’d wasted my precious “me” time on a failed effort to enjoy nature and get some exercise.

After letting my husband hug me and taking a hot bath, the “aha” moment hit me.

I needed help.

A healthier version of myself... slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

A healthier version of myself… slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

I could continue to go my own way and potentially do long-term damage to my body. Or I could listen to my body and stop pushing myself beyond my limits. And visit my doctor. And find a physical therapist.

So I did. Slowly but surely, my body is recovering, but not without plenty of effort and some pain.

The difference is that the pain I feel now is due to making the right choices to take care of my body and get help to heal it versus the pain I felt due to my refusal to slow down and accept reality, which never mimics anything like perfection.

Next time I hike the fire lanes on our land, I’m going to stop at that mossy rock, pet my panting buddy Shao Hou, and drink some water while I admire the miracles of God’s creation surrounding me. And I won’t feel bad about taking a break, either.