Spiritual Growth

This Is Just a Season

She sat across from me in the food court as I scarfed down a Chick-fil-A breakfast biscuit and squeezed in words of anxiety between bites. I was a college freshman stressing about my spring final exams and wishing the week was already over. My college mentor offered to meet me for breakfast before an exam since it was the only free time I had in my busy study schedule before I left for the summer. She kindly listened as I explained the woes of each one of my classes and worried that I wouldn’t make it through till next week. Then she asked me the strangest question, “Did you survive your fall final exams?”

I thought back to that week five months ago and honestly couldn’t remember much. I knew I had been stressed, especially since it was my first finals week as a college student. Yet I had turned in every paper and passed every test (with only one all-nighter under my belt). “Yes, I made it through, and I even got the GPA I was hoping for,” I replied.

“Finals week is just a season of your life,” she wisely admonished me. “The pressure you’re feeling right now will not last forever. In fact, you probably won’t remember how you feel five years from now, and maybe not even by next semester’s finals.”

Though college finals week seems like a trivial example now, my mentor was teaching me an important lesson in spiritual maturity. Just as the weather changes from summer to fall to winter to spring, we will walk through various seasons in life. Finals week seemed overwhelming to 19-year-old me, but I have faced much harder seasons in newlywed life, newborn days, family illness, job transitions, and more. However, that lesson from my college mentor has stayed with me: this is just a season.

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Spiritual Growth

Lessons from a Recliner

It made its home in our apartment months before I did since my husband lived there with a roommate the semester before we got married. The center piece of his roommate’s bedroom was a tattered once-beige recliner. Its suede fabric had been rubbed raw on the seat and arms, and the handle to recline had been broken off, making it nearly impossible to open or close the footrest.

It was much to my chagrin then, when my husband carried me over the threshold into what was now our apartment, I found the remnants of his roommate’s furniture, namely, the hideous recliner. Evidently, he didn’t need furniture where he was moving next, so he left it to us as a “gift.” My husband sat down in the recliner, claimed it as the most comfortable chair in the world, and begged that we keep it. Knowing that we couldn’t afford a new living room set, I decided it could stay if I could get a slipcover to cover its threadbare appearance. He agreed, and I covered the recliner with an ill-fitting blue slipcover I purchased with Target gift cards from our wedding. My husband was happy, and I was already dreaming of the day we had enough money to afford new living room furniture.

That would continue to be my husband’s favorite place to sit in our home for the first five years of our marriage. It became known as his “exciting chair” after he had his wisdom teeth removed, and the anesthesia caused him to wax poetic about how much he loved to sit in his “exciting chair.”

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Spiritual Growth

Trusting the Unknown to An All-Knowing God

I just want to know. It was so much easier when the coronavirus quarantine orders were black and white. I didn’t go into a store for ten weeks; groceries were delivered. I went by myself to my OB appointments—face covered in a mask and hands covered in sanitizer. We declined weddings, parties, and dinners with friends. Sunday worship service, Bible study, and small group was relegated to a thirteen-inch screen sitting on our ottoman. My daughter still doesn’t understand why she hasn’t touched a swing set in more than three months.  

Now, as our communities are beginning to reopen and people are bursting to get out of their homes, I feel uncertain about our family’s path forward. At first, I felt alone in this—everyone but me seemed to know what the right thing was for their family. But as I shared my insecurity, I saw that we were all in the same boat. My friend wasn’t judging me for my family taking a socially distanced picnic; she was wondering if she should have done the same. I wasn’t being looked down upon for cancelling a girls’ trip; the other girls were wondering if they should go in the first place. We all are being tossed about by constantly changing recommendations by medical professionals, politicians, and Facebook know-it-alls. Who do we listen to? What are the right answers?

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Family

Thanking God for Hamburger Helper

My mom is not a “good” cook in the traditional sense of the way. She doesn’t have a famous pie or cornbread or salad recipe that is always raved about at Southern Baptist church potlucks. I don’t have an old tin recipe box filled with family heirloom recipes. Most of her meals are inspired by Pinterest, not Julia Child.

While I don’t remember homemade biscuits or gourmet meals, I do remember eating together as a family every night. My mom and dad both were teachers at my school and supplemented their teacher salaries with after school activities. My dad would coach teams year-round while my mom tutored for hours after the final bell rung. No matter how late they worked, we would always travel home together and eat dinner at our kitchen table. Some nights we ate spaghetti, other nights we had chicken with boxed mashed potatoes. Most nights, we ate a form of Hamburger Helper and canned green beans. We all pitched in to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour; my mom and dad both cooked while my younger sisters put out the condiments and I set the table.

Our family dinners weren’t elaborate. There was no homemade bread or “secret ingredient” chicken dish. My mom would pull out cans and boxes instead of seasonings and sauces. Yet even into my teenage years, I loved those dinners no matter how basic they were. I knew that at the end of every day, my family would share a meal together—share our daily life together.

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Spiritual Growth

Busy is Not Bad

It had been a long day. My pregnant body ached from preparing three square meals, getting up and down to play with my toddler, and any movement in general. I was mentally exhausted from the hour of work I was able to squeeze in during naptime, and now, at 4:00pm, I was done.

So when my daughter asked me to build and get under a “fork” (a blanket fort, for those of you who don’t speak toddler), I was hesitant to oblige. But she kept persisting, so I laid the blanket over the couch and ottoman and squeezed my pregnant belly into the space in between. For some reason, she didn’t want to join me, so she continued to play with her Little People on the coffee table while I sat on the ground under a pink fluffy blanket.

To be honest, I didn’t mind. It was the first time that day I had slowed down. I didn’t have anything I needed to do, and there was nowhere I needed to be. I just sat there and let my body, mind, and (most importantly) my spirit un-wind. I breathed in the stale fort air and enjoyed the quiet.

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Spiritual Growth

A More Beautiful Picture

The cold, sterile environment of the “special care” nursery I knew had to be foreign compared to the warm, comforting womb she just exited. The nursery was always dark, and while I knew it was to help her adjust to this bright new world, I wanted to flip on the light switch and make everything brighter and better. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the smoothness of her skin, because we could only lay our hands upon her—no kisses, no rubs, no snuggles. My heart ached to soothe her anxiety as I watched her tiny belly tuck under her ribs every time she struggled for a breath. For hours we would listen to her heave air in through her tiny mouth surrounded by big beautiful lips. I wanted to hold her body close, smelling the sweet newborn scent, but a plastic wall smelling of antiseptic kept me from her.

When I think back, I really have so few clear memories of that week after giving birth. While it was one of the greatest milestones of my life—welcoming my first child into the world—it was also one of the hardest. It was spiritually, physically, and emotionally draining. Most of all, it was not what I had expected or what I had planned.

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Spiritual Growth

The World Doesn’t Need a Better Version of Me

Early in the morning, while light creeps through the blinds onto my comfy chair in the corner of my room, I pull out my goal planner and begin to fill in the boxes to demonstrate my progress. It’s how I remind myself of my goals each day. Some goals are more tangible (write a certain number of articles, acquire this many freelance clients) and some are more qualitative (spend intentional time with my family, keep good technology boundaries). Quite a few of my ongoing goals have to do with my spiritual life, such as having a morning quiet time, truly resting on the Sabbath, or having Gospel conversations with the lost. While all these goals are good—some even God-given—I recently have come to question my motivation behind them.

I know that exercising more often will help me to have more energy, especially as I’m a soon-to-be mom of a newborn and a toddler. I know that cleaning my home will make me a better steward of the possessions God has given me. I know that spending time with God before my day begins will make me less irritable and aimless. I know that writing every day will make me more creative. All these things are making me a better person. But does the world, does my family need, and do I really need a better Bethany?

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Resources

#Thursday Things — Books I Read During Quarantine

Without the constant travel to our church, library, playground, etc., I’ve had a little extra margin time in my day. While life is still busy—working from home while entertaining a toddler and serving three meals a day—I’m thankful that I’ve gotten the chance to make a dent in the pile of books sitting on my nightstand since Christmas. Here are a few books that I’ve read while in quarantine, and if you have a little margin, too, these days, I highly recommend you add any of these to your list.

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Spiritual Growth

Through Smudged Windows

My two-year-old daughter presses her open lips to the pane of glass then pulls back to yell, “Open! Open!” She matches her five little fingers up to the five little fingers on the other side. The faces of both toddler girls are confused as to why they can’t hold hands, share toys, or even go to the playground together. I look up at the woman’s face that’s staring at me from the other side of the glass. We, too, wonder why we can’t do the things that we want—that we should do, under other circumstances. I want to snuggle her newborn baby and hug her as she shares the woes of postpartum life. She wants to touch my growing belly and talk with me about plans for a baby shower. We want to sit next to each other on a park bench watching our daughters play together and dream of our baby boys doing the same one day.

Instead, a window keeps our two families apart, whose hearts long to be together. We shout encouragements through the double-paned glass and talk about what we will do one day when we can be within six feet of each other again. We talk about the parks we want to visit and plan the parties we want to throw. Our souls feel that there is something not right about this separateness, and we crave for the day that we are joined together again.

Until then, we have toddler tea parties and double dates via Zoom. I drop off coffee; she sends sweet notes. We celebrate Mother’s Day brunch three miles apart, but in our hearts, we know that we are together.

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