Spiritual Growth

Home for the Holidays

My husband texts me that his office’s Christmas party is cancelled. While it’s not my favorite Christmas event, it’s another reminder of how different this holiday season will be. I erase the event from my calendar and flip the pages of my calendar back to November and December of last year (though 2019 feels like ten years ago at this point). Every block has something written in colorful Sharpie and coordinating holiday stickers. Pumpkin patch. Holiday markets. Christmas parties. Church dinners. Visits from family. Christmas light shows. Advent services. Add to that long trips to see family out of state, and we had a busy Thanksgiving and Christmas season last year.

I return to this month’s calendar page. While definitely fuller than April 2020 in the heart of the pandemic, the boxes for this November and December are less cluttered than years past. Only a couple of socially distanced parties and outdoor events scattered throughout these next six weeks. There are more celebrations planned in our own home, and everything is written in pencil instead of pen (because 2020). The first wave of emotion hits me as I remember the precious traditions we won’t get to experience this year. Singing Christmas hymns in our church. Watching Christmas movies in a local historic theater. Attending parties in friends’ homes every other night of the week.

The sadness subsides and is surprisingly replaced with peaceful contentment. I look at the remaining events on the calendar for 2020, and I’m grateful that I still have family to celebrate with. That I can still decorate our home. That my two-year-old daughter will only know delight instead of my own disappointment.

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Spiritual Growth

Look Up

I massage the back of my neck after laying my son down in his bassinet. Three months of nursing and constantly looking down to check on him has worn my weak neck muscles. I stretch out my neck and shoulders one more time then walk towards to the kitchen to begin preparations for the day, but my muscles find little relief.

I look down as I mix oatmeal and scramble eggs.

I look down as I rinse the same dishes I washed yesterday.

I look down (and bend down) to help my daughter go to the potty.

Laundry. Emails. Another nursing session. In only a few hours, my neck and shoulders are even more tense than before I massaged them that morning. Wearied, I sit down on the couch and look down once more, but this time at my phone. Even if it strains my neck a little more, maybe my brain will receive some relief as I scroll, tap, and skim.

“Mommy, will you look at me?” my daughter says, standing right in front of me with her princess dress, fairy wands, and messy blonde curls.

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Spiritual Growth

Not Just Another Day

I wake up before my toddler, waddle my pregnant body to the kitchen, and begin prepping my morning luxury—a hot cup of French press coffee. I’ve lost count of how many weeks we’ve been quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic, and if you ask me, I’d have to think hard to remember what day of the week it is.

It’s Sunday, I remind myself. The only difference between today and tomorrow is that I’ll have to keep my daughter occupied as I attempt to watch the virtual church service this morning. I already have a strategy of snacks and games to keep her occupied, but I know that we’ll have at least one meltdown in the middle of the sermon.

Other than that hour balancing my own spiritual health and my daughter’s needs, it’s like any other day of the week. During the pandemic, my husband has been working from home in our upstairs office, and as an officer in the Army Reserves, he sometimes has to work weekends. But, really, there is no weekend anymore; COVID-19 has leveled out our schedule into daily uniformity.

What is even the point of Sunday right now? I think to myself as I savor my coffee and watch my daughter squirm in her bed on the baby monitor. Only weeks into this “unprecedented time,” I already feel the daily drudgery overwhelming me. I do the same work I’ve been doing the last six days; how is this supposed to be my Sabbath rest?

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Spiritual Growth

The God of All Comfort

On this day last year, I sat on my couch anxiously scrolling through Instagram posts filled with sonogram photos and vulnerable captions. It was the first time I was truly aware of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15), and as I read each woman’s experience, I wondered about the tiny baby in my own belly.

Only five weeks pregnant, I had begun to have symptoms of a miscarriage. Yet because of an unclear sonogram, my doctor wanted to wait a week to do another ultrasound to see if the pregnancy was viable. So for a week, I continued experiencing miscarriage symptoms. For a week, I studied the single sonogram image the ultrasound tech had given me. For a week, I read every Facebook post and blog shared about miscarriage. For a week, I oscillated between celebrating the new life in me and grieving the loss of that life. For a week, I prayed miscarriage wouldn’t be a part of my family’s story, but at the same time I saw hope and strength in the mothers who were sharing their stories online.

Three days later, I would get the call that my hCG level was negligible, and I was no longer pregnant. I was shocked. I had sobbed when I first started bleeding a week earlier, but now I didn’t know what to feel. The words of all those women came back to me, especially those who had found hope in God throughout their loss. Even though I had not talked to a single one of those women in person, their stories reminded me that I was not alone. Not only was God with me, but those who have also experienced miscarriage were with me as well.

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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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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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