So Deeply Beloved

Friends, today I have a little gift for you and it is from my heart.

This is the yoga practice I need right now, these are the words I need. This month I have come face-to-face with a lot of my own insecurity, my own false identities, my desires for approval and the fear it all produces in my life. It has been good hard work, and there’s so much more to be done, over and over again, so much more. Yet I’m realizing that I can’t go farther without first coming to a new starting point in my spiritual journey. This yoga video is that starting point.

I come from a tradition that determined the starting place for the spiritual journey, the starting place for conversion, the starting place for walking with God was recognizing your depravity. We started with sin. We started with darkness and our distance from God. We started with brokenness. And then added to that, “But, it’s ok, because God loves you anyway, despite all that.” Somehow it doesn’t feel much like love when someone adds “despite _____” does it?

But, that isn’t where God starts. He doesn’t start his letter of Love to us with the fall. He starts it with creation. He first establishes our identity as being created in the image of God, given us His own breath for life, and then he calls us “very good”. Not just good, very good.

The story goes on and says, “Yes, we disobeyed. We are broken.” BUT, even in that God is acting out love. It is as if he says, “Your value has not changed. My heart is broken over what you did, and what you do, and there have to be consequences, but you are still created in my image, enlivened with my breath, the most beloved of all creation, very good.”

What if we could start our spiritual journey there too? What if we could start from the belief that the very core of us, our deepest identity, is being the Beloved. God does not love us as an afterthought, his love is not despite our list of x, y, and z sins. He loves us, at our core, before any of our other identities were in place, before the creation of time He saw each one of us and loved us.

Can you see the outcome when we start with total depravity? When our theology has this starting place, when it starts with sin, and the utter depravity of man, the result is fear and shame. I’ve lived with these shackles for so long they feel like my own limbs. Shame and fear and guilt – these are not the fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patiences, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Spirit fruit is freedom fruit. It is the fruit of knowing with confidence that you are loved by God. It is the fruit of open handed surrender to the work of Love.

Yes, we are broken, oh, but, friends, I see my brokenness every single day. I know how far I am from perfect. I know how far I am from obedience. I know how far I am from God. What I need to hear is Love. What I need to enter into is being the Beloved. Because until I do, no matter how much I feel I need Jesus, I have a terribly hard time letting him in.

Recognizing our brokenness helps us to recognize our need. And we are in need. We need Jesus. Not just as a good teacher, but as a savior. There is a place for speaking about brokenness and sin. But, perhaps we would be best served if we could start by first recognizing how much we are Loved.

You are Beloved.

I am Beloved.

Everything else changes when first viewed through that lens.

This video is my attempt to start at a new place, to start with love. To strip away everything else and start with an identity rooted in being the Beloved.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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You are Beloved

Friends, there is a difference between transparency and vulnerability.

One is very easy for me. The other incredibly difficult… at times impossible.

It is easy for me to tell you about my struggles, to share from a distance about my weaknesses and hurts, my fears and internal junk. It is one thing to be “authentic” behind the safety of a screen. It is a completely different thing to actually vulnerably let someone into those rough spaces, to allow them to not only see from a distance, but to see from up close, to enter in.

Transparency can be a little scary at first, but often doesn’t cost a lot. Vulnerability feels absolutely terrifying.

There are two beliefs that have deep roots in my heart, that play into my fear of vulnerability.

The first says: “I am too much”

The second says: “I am not enough”

“I am too much” speaks to this believe that says people can’t handle me. If I really let them see and experience how insecure, and fearful, and needy, and hurting I am then they will withdraw. If I open my heart they will get all wide eyed and pull away. Fast. Cause, who wants to deal with all of that? It’s too much to handle. I’m too much to handle. My internal life is too complex, too messed up, too full of crazy thoughts and feelings, hurts and dreams. I dream too big and I fear too much. I ask questions people aren’t comfortable with and too many of them. My hunger for approval and love is often insatiable. It’s all too much. I’m too much. It’s not safe to be vulnerable. So, I should distance others from my internal life, distance myself from it even.

This started very young, but many of the real wounds of “I am too much” have come later in life, during seasons of confusions and upheaval, when I have fought to attempt vulnerability and been met, more often than not, with distance. Transparency is safer. I’ll go back to sharing my struggles through words on a screen from a safe distance.

“I am not enough” may seem at first in contrast to “I am too much”, but instead they are dear friends and play often together. “I am not enough” says simple you aren’t enough (skilled enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, nice enough, thoughtful enough, loving enough, organized enough, resourceful enough, successful enough etc.) to make your crazy worth it for someone. You don’t bring enough to your friendships to make it worth it for them to handle your vulnerability. You don’t bring enough to your relationships to make it worth it for them to put up with your crazy. You don’t bring enough to your creative work and ideas to make it worth it for someone to partner with you in your too-much-to-handle big dreams.

Can you see how these two play so well with each other?

I am too much, and not enough, so I should withdraw before others withdraw from me. I should keep people at a safe distance. I still value community, deep connection, and authenticity – I long for these things – so I’ll fake them, or get as close as I can get to them with transparency, all the while knowing that transparency is a poor substitute for vulnerability.

Vulnerability takes time, it takes slowly putting a little of my weight on someone to see how they handle it, it takes conscious choice and effort on my part, and it generally only comes after I fight a large battle with fear.

When Bryan and I first got married I was terrified that he would leave me. I wanted an open, honest, authentic, vulnerable, naked relationship. I knew that was the ground marriage needed to grow. But, I was terrified. Every time something came up, it took me a long time and a lot of tears to finally spit it out and tell Bryan. I am so grateful now that those battles were fought, because now there is pretty much nothing he doesn’t know about me, no thought too shocking, no feeling too horrifying.

But, here’s what I’ve been noticing lately. I’ve been having those battles, the one’s like I had at the beginning of my marriage, with God. Those times when I cry for an hour, not wanting to share that feeling, that thought, for fear of the repercussion. For fear of the withdrawal. Only to finally spit it out and find freedom in the sharing, not in the sharing from a safe distance, but in the right there, in-you-face pain of entering in.

I fear I’m not enough. I find myself wanting to do something to “contribute” and fearing my lack of contribution disqualifies me from the prize. Fearing I am not enough to run this race and don’t have what it takes. Fearing that there is some secret something I haven’t done that I need to do in order to win God’s favor, love, approval, blessing, etc. So, I hide.

Logically it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to translate these wound messages of “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough” to God. He is love, if anyone can handle me He can. He made me, exactly as I am, if he thought I wasn’t enough he would have made me different, but he didn’t. Even my sin, my brokenness, he welcomes with abundant grace, covering over it by the blood of Jesus and making me into again the creation he intended through the work of sanctification.

Oh, but our hearts and our wounds are rarely logical.

I find myself wanting to let go of “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough”. Wanting to loosen their grip on all of my relationships, especially my relationship with God. Wanting to believe that God has already freely given me his favor, love, approval and blessing. Wanting to believe that his posture towards me really is love. Wanting to believe that he can handle me AND loves all of me.

I want to dig up the roots that “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough” have wrapped deep around my heart, so that I can enter into free honest, genuine, and vulnerable friendships with others. I don’t want to fear their disapproval or their withdrawal anymore. I want to trust that God has me, and that even if my fears of others pulling away become reality, it’s ok. I don’t have to carry that.

Oh, but I’m not there yet. Just this week I have rubbed up against these wounds multiple times. Little step out of my shell, trying to put my weight down just a little someplace, only to be greeted by “I’m too much” and “I’m not enough” rearing up their ugly little heads right in my face.

So, here I am. Again processing alone, again sharing transparently behind a screen.

Yesterday a friend asked me a question, “You’re willing to be broken to a certain point and I’m so proud of the work you’ve been doing. But, are you willing to be broken enough to really need Jesus?”

I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Because I do this transparency vs vulnerability thing with God too. It’s easy for me to recognize I need Jesus from a distance, it’s easy to say and even believe I need Jesus, but it’s like transparency. I can recognize and speak about the need without entering into the need. What does it look like to be vulnerable with Jesus? To enter in with him to all my junk? To really need him? I have moments of tasting it – often after yoga classes, after being on my mat and getting into my body and out of my mind, the mind that puts up so many protective barriers. But, really entering into it day-to-day, really being led by my need for Jesus… I’m not fully sure what that would be like.

But, I’m beginning to think the first step is a step of replacing the story I tell myself with a new one.

Currently two of the most central things I believe about myself are “I am too much” and “I am not enough”. I think the first step to loosening their grip isn’t trying with all my might to loosen them, it isn’t focusing on them, it isn’t rationally realizing the hold they have on me. I think the first step, the truest, most helpful step, needs to be looking to Jesus and asking Him to replace them with a new belief. If I could fill my heart with a new truth, perhaps there would be no more room for “I am too much” and “I am not enough”. I want to suffocate them with truth, the truth of love.

Last night I started reading Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. I had only recently heard about this little book, and I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it is shaking something in me. He writes:

“Fred, all I want to say to you is ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.’

“I am Beloved” that’s the story I want to enter into and claim. I think it is the only story that can uproot the tangles of “I am too much” and “I am not enough”, isn’t it?

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so,
Little one’s to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.

This simple song we teach our children is not just a simple song, is it? It is the core of our belief. God loves us. His story is a story of love. He seeks us, he calls us, he longs for us. He loves us.

“We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’
Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse…yes, even your child…wherever you are I will be.’” (Life of the Beloved)

“That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: ‘Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.’ Meanwhile, the soft, gentle voice that speaks in the silence and solitude of my heart remained unheard or, at least, unconvincing.” (Life of the Beloved)

Lord, I want to hear your voice louder than any other, louder than any wound, louder than any of my current beliefs about myself. I know I can not convince myself of my belovedness, other voices are too loud. Old convictions die hard. You, and you only, can do this work in me. I need you. I need Jesus. I need the person of Love, who by his life, death, and resurrection, acted out the deepest love of God. By your grace, would you meet me here? Would you speak love over me? Would you make your voice so loud and so clear that it drowns out all others? In Jesus name. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Abiding in Discomfort

It was the first yoga pose of the class and I wanted to get out of it already. There was no comfort here, we were going in deep, and my body and heart wanted to run away before we had even begun.

“You might already be hitting a wall. You might already be coming up against triggers in your body and in your heart,” she said. “Breath.”

I tried. But, my breath felt shallow and I just wanted to wiggle and squirm and get away from the tight places. “Hold,” my heart said, “Hold. Stay. Remain. Abide.” Wiggle. Squirm. Deep exhale. I tried to pray, “Lord, meet me in my discomfort, show me my triggers, my stuck places.” The words flowed through my mind to the background noise of internal screaming and protest. Protest. I don’t want this stuck place.

“Root both hips evenly into the mat and then slowly hinge forward, from the hips. Just until you meet your edge.” She instructed.

Oh, my edge came quickly. But, I could breath here. There was new space, just a little, but it was there. I reached my hands out on the mat in front of me. Everything in my heart and mind began to call out the same truth, “Listen. Right here, this is the heart of it. This is what you need to hear. Pay attention. Don’t miss it.”

I listened as Stephanie began to read words of Truth.

I opened my palms up towards the sky. And the protesting stopped. In that moment my heart bowed with my body. I was still uncomfortable. I still wanted out of the pose. I still didn’t want to face the triggers that I knew the Spirit was stirring up. Yet the fighting stopped. Ok, here I am. Bring it, Lord.

And He did.

My legs shook, and my heart shook more. As we came into the second, deep and low, wide legged chair pose tears flew more quickly then I could wipe them away. I covered my face with my arms and tried to hold the pose. I sunk down onto my heels, resting for a moment as my weary legs shook, then rose back into the pose, stretching my arms out straight in front of me as instructed, not caring anymore about the tears that fell or the loose hairs that stuck and clung to my wet cheeks.

The room was full of breath. Deep long, hard, full, loud breath. I could hear my own breath. I could hear the breath of my neighbor. I could hear the breath of my sisters and brothers all around the room.

“You hear that?” She asked, “That breath, that noise, it’s telling you something. It’s telling you that you are not alone. You are not alone in your triggers, in your hurt, in your pain, in those hard things you are carrying. That is a lie that our triggers tell us. That is a lie. You are not alone. God is right here. He meets us right here. In community. In this hard space, when we shake and quiver and want to give up. He meets us here with love. You are not alone. You are loved.”

I shook my head fast and hard and looked down at the floor as more tears came. I wanted to shake off the lie, but it was deep and strong and had roots that held fast around my heart. We moved into a new pose and I hung my head, my hair falling all around my face as a covering. That’s when my neighbor, the women with the kind smile on the mat next to me, reached out and gently touched my arm. I looked up and she handed me a white tissue. I nodded my thanks with more tears in my eyes as I took the tissue from her hand.

We came onto our backs and pulled our legs up into happy baby pose. A happy baby, a trusting, playful, open image. An uncomfortable position for me.

I had come up against a trigger just before class. Something innocent someone else said stirred up all kinds of fear, doubt, and hurt in my heart. I wanted to ignore it, dismiss it, say “oh it’s fine, it’s nothing.” I wanted to pretend that it wasn’t a trigger. I wanted to rationalize it and explain to my heart why I shouldn’t be hurt. I wanted to ignore the hurt, and run away from the deep work. Just like I wanted to squirm my way out of that yoga pose.

But, friends there is no freedom there. There is no freedom in pretending like things are fine, in stuffing things down, in dismissing them, in running away. Truth says we must enter in. The deep work of the soul only happens when we first open our hands and bow our hearts, when we say, “Ok, here I am. Come, Lord Jesus.”

“Look to Jesus.” She said. “Eyes on Jesus.”

The verse I had been sitting with for the past week came rushing back to my mind:

Consider him who hypomenō (remained, didn’t recede or flee, persevered, held up under, endured, bore bravely and calmly) from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or eklyō (weak, dissolved, enfeebled through exhaustion, tired out, loose) psychē (breath, the breath of life, the vital force that animates the body, life, the soul, the heart, the center/core of a person).

Look to Jesus, consider him, consider his endurance, focus on him, call to him, SO THAT you don’t loose your breath, so that the core of you – your very life force – doesn’t grow weak, so that you don’t get weary and exhausted as you run the race marked out for you.

These triggers, these trials, these hard places, where you feel stuck, where you have to endure and you don’t want to, and you wish it was over, and you wish it was different, these are not punishments. God allows these hard places out of LOVE, because of LOVE, because of His GREAT LOVE. They are grace.

I’ve always wrestled with the next part of that passage in Hebrews 12, where it talks about God’s discipline, but today as I read it and looked more closely at the words and thought about what holding in hard spaces does in my physical body, something new came alive in it.

Have you forgotten the paraklēsis (summons, encouragement, consolation, comfort, solace; that which affords comfort or refreshment) that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the paideia (training; the whole training and education of children; the training and care of the body; instruction which aims at cultivating the soul and increasing virtue; nurture, instruction, chastisement) of the Lord, nor be weary when elegchō (exposed, brought into the light, convicted, corrected, reproved) by Him. For the Lord paideuō (trains, instructs, teaches, chastises) the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for paideia (the whole training of your whole being, body, mind, heart, and soul) that you have to hypomenō (remain, abide, not recede or flee, persevere, endure, bare bravely). God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not paideuō (train)?

Oh, friends, remember that image I was talking about in the last post? The image of breaking down a muscle to make it stronger – it’s exactly what we do when we lift weights. This is that again, wrapped in a new image. Let’s consider the image of a race. We are running a race and that requires training. We have increasingly difficult workouts to improve and strengthen our bodies, does it not follow that someone training our souls would give us increasingly difficult “workouts” as well?

And how about the image of a child and a parent. The parent grooms, instructs, and trains the child. The parent gives the child more and more responsibility, sometimes pushing the child out of his/her comfort zone because the parent recognizes more clearly than the child what the child needs. Sometimes setting boundaries and not allowing things which the child wants, again, because the parent recognizes more clearly than the child what the child needs.

Or how about the image of a refining fire. Not a comfortable image. Painful. But, pain that produces good.

Breaking down, training, refining for the salvation of your souls, for the purifying of your faith, for your whole health and wellbeing. For your GOOD. How rarely I believe that! When faced with a hurt, when something triggers me, when I’m stuck in grief, or pain, I so rarely truly believe it’s for my good. I so rarely believe at my core that God is for me. That he loves me.

How different it would be if I did!

I don’t think I can get there just by realization, just by logically knowing, just be belief even. Because if you asked me I would tell you I do believe that God loves me and is for me, but in truth my belief is still wrapped in so much unbelief. This is the work of sanctification, isn’t it? Peeling back those layers of unbelief.

I need to sit with my hurts, in my uncomfortable places. Stay with them. Lean into them. I need the Spirit of grace to transform and change the very core of my heart, and that doesn’t happen overnight. It generally doesn’t happen without pain.

But, we are not of those who shrink back, who run from or dismiss their pain and discomfort, who shrug off the complexities of the hard places. We are those who abide. We are those who enter in. Because it’s in the surrender, in the entering in, that we are refined, that our faith is made genuine. When we hold, remain, abide, in those hard places, when we stay put and surrender when we would rather shake and fight and run away, we choose a backwards upside down kingdom. We shed our skin, we become butterfly soup, and we are changed.

These hard spaces are teaching me, training me, to truly believe in my deep heart with trust and conviction that God is Love.

As I walked out the door after class all of the tears which had been coming, broke open into sobs. I cried loud and hard as I sat in my car and as I drove to pick my daughter up from school. Tears of repentance, tears of pain, tears that healed and opened up new space for small bits of new freedom.

That’s what I’m praying right now, over and over again, freedom. Freedom from bondage. Freedom from fear. Freedom from past triggers. Freedom from guilt and shame. Freedom from the sin that clings so closely.

I’m gonna pray it for each of you reading this as well. Freedom, friends. Freedom to expand. Freedom to breath. Freedom to stay, endure, abide.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany


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Breaking Down

I crossed my legs, but uncrossed my arms. I leaned forward in my seat and listened. He stopped reading the passage in Hebrews and began talking about muscles and how when we lift weights, to strengthen our muscles, we fatigue them and tear them in order to strengthen them. We break them down to build them back up. The knowledge about muscles wasn’t new to me, but the metaphor really hit home.

This week has been hard. It just has.

I feel like the pressure has been building for awhile, but this week, this first 9 days of August, it has come to a head. I am feeling torn, broken down, completely fatigued.

We had a tough decision this week. A decision I felt entirely unsure about, a decision I felt incapable of making. I sought guidance, prayed, quieted myself and tried to listen, but still all I felt was unsure. We had to decide whether we would continue with one more round of the treatment Bryan has been doing for the past 5 months or if we would stop it and move on to something else. In the end we decided to do one more round of treatment (starting tomorrow) and then after that we will move on to something new. Oh, something new, full of uncertainty and unpredictability.

The kids feel my uncertainty, my insecurity and they have been mirroring it back to me. They have been difficult, tiring, and parenting them has been full of frustrations and failures. Sage starts preschool tomorrow and though we have had a lot of clear guidance about where to put her this year and are feeling very good with the decisions we made, it is still a bit scary to send my baby off. Then there’s just been little things, logistics, phone calls with doctors that haven’t gone well, blown tires we didn’t expect. Oh, the little things.

But, the hardest thing for me is that my physical strength and ability to handle things has been dramatically compromised this week. I’ve been having a good deal of stomach pain off and on since early July. Well, really ever since that ER trip I had when Bryan’s diagnosis first moved to stage 4. But, mostly it’s been kept in check, minor, manageable… until recently. This week it’s been particularly bad. I’ve been seeing a doctor who suspects an ulcer or at least extreme irritation of the stomach lining due to stress.

Stress. That’s what we do to our muscles when we lift weights, when we work out. We put them under stress, until they start to tear and break down, until their fatigue reaches it’s edge. That’s how they grow strong.

I don’t feel like I’m growing strong. Quite the opposite I just feel like I’m breaking down, like all of the crud and junk and insecurity of my heart is right on the surface. And I can’t help but think of muscles again, as they are worked, don’t they begin to let off toxins that they’ve been holding on to? Those things which had sat sort of idle and hidden begin to come to the surface and pour our of our muscles. And you know what, it stinks.

That’s how I’m feeling right now, weak, broken down, fatigued, torn, smelly.

I carry the metaphor a little farther and I come face to face with a lot of my own toxicity. Muscles need to be worked to their edge, torn and broken, in order to be strengthened, but they also need rest. Rest. Sabbath. The exhale. The letting go and resting.

And this is where my junk get’s stirred to the surface… I can’t rest. Even if I don’t feel well, even if my stomach is crying out, “you need to stop!” I can’t. Or at least I feel like I can’t. My children need me. My husband needs me. My family needs me. I can’t stop. I can’t break. I can’t break down and then rest. I am the caregiver.

Logically, with my head, I can recognize that caregivers need to take care of themselves in order to care for others, but, there are other feelings at work in my heart. When I take breaks, when I go to yoga, when I take times to write, there is a price to my family and it’s a price I don’t feel deserving of, a price I feel guilty to put on them. It often requires Bryan having the kids (guilt – how can I ask my husband, who is in the middle of treatment, who is fighting cancer, to take the kids or take care of some of my other responsibilities without feeling LOADS of guilt), or it requires me to get a babysitter (guilt – spending more money when I’m not contributing money to our finances at all), or it requires asking family or friends to help out (guilt – they all already help so much and how can I ask them to help so that I can go do something restful when I really need them to help when I have to go to a doctors appointment with Bryan or Sage?).

When I do manage to do something to care for myself it never feels like enough. When it’s all done it never feels like it does enough. The stress is still there. Waiting for me.

Honest truth, I feel guilty even writing this. I feel like I’m complaining and I feel guilty for complaining. Seriously, if it’s not stress (feeling like there’s more than I can handle), or insecurity (feeling like I’m not enough to handle it all), it’s guilt (feeling like I’m handling it all wrong, feeling like I’ve done or am doing some wrong towards those I love – I’ve asked too much, I’ve demanded too much, I’ve put too much on them, I haven’t carried enough of the load myself, I’ve said to much, etc).

Somewhere inside I don’t feel like I deserve to have a break, or to have others take care of me. Some part of me believes that I have to earn love, earn being taken care of, earn each precious break that I take. Some part of me believes that I haven’t done enough, that I’m failing too much in too many areas to deserve a break now. I can’t take a break now, not only are my stresses things I can’t get away from, not only would it damage my children too much for me to step away, but even if I could, how could I? How could I really, because I’m failing. Breaks are earned by those who are succeeding, those who have the time and resources, those who’s kids are stable and who’s lives are put together. I don’t have space for a break, to care for myself, to let other’s care for me, because I’m a wreck. I’m falling apart at every corner. I’m unraveling. I’m failing as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter. I’m too much to handle and I can’t put that on people.

There it is, my toxic.

And here is my confession, I believe that if I need people too much they won’t like me. I believe that if I am too needy they won’t want to be with me. But, I am needy. I’m a needy, clingy, wreck. I believe that if I don’t prove myself through skill, and capability, and strength, if I am weak, then people won’t want me on their team, in their circle. And I want to be in their circle.

But the real toxicity comes when I extent these thoughts, these beliefs, to my relationship with God. Some part of me believes I am not worthy of his care, of a sabbath rest. Some part of me believes that if I am too weak, too needy, too out of control, he won’t want me on his team either. Oh, how messed up is my heart!

I am a child.

I am whiney and self-indulged and, oh, so needy. I am hurting and in pain, physically and emotionally. I’m tired and run down. I’m broken and still a slave to so much guilt and fear and shame. I am stressed and tired of carrying burdens that feel too big for my insecure, frail, broken, little heart.

Perhaps that’s exactly the first step towards new strength… Confession. Recognizing where we really are. Everything coming to the surface where we can’t avoid it anymore, so it can be washed clean. The step before rest. The step in the middle of the breaking. Admitting our own weakness, allowing the tearing, the releasing of toxins, welcoming it. Crucifying self, little by little, muscle by muscle, so that we can be made new. So that there is space in our hearts for trust.

And there’s my second confession… I don’t trust. My faith is small and weak.

I have had big moments of opening my hands, surrendering in trust to the Spirit who is all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, just, and right. I have wrestled and laid down my arms when it comes to the big things. Multiple times. But, the little things, the day-to-day stresses… the submissions for equipment for Sage, changing respite providers, babysitters canceling, blown out tires, raising kids and worrying about their well-being, dealing with the countless questions and temper tantrums, running from one appointment to the next, the long repetitive list of to-do’s, etc, etc, … oh, it’s hard to trust in these things. I don’t always recognize my lack of trust in God when I’m dealing with the little things. They seem like things I’m suppose to deal with, I’m responsible for, things that are on me. And so I hold on to them. I clutch at them and as they add up, one on top of another, the stress builds.

Oh, how far I have to go!

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord… Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death…For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lord, remind me often of your care. Teach me how to accept it. Crucify the nature of guilt and fear and shame that rises so quickly in my heart, and bring me into new freedom through the guidance and tutelage of your Spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ, the one who stoops to serve, who offers to clean all our toxic hearts, and bring us safely into a better kingdom. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany Stedman


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You are Free to Expand

I felt frazzled and uncomfortable as I walked into the room and found out there was no childcare. There had been an announcement on Instagram, but I, of course, hadn’t seen it. Four days in to no social media and it was beginning to do more than just make my heart uncomfortable, it was beginning to make my life uncomfortable too.

I contemplated leaving, but there were other kids around, other’s who hadn’t know. I told Thad he needed to stay with the other kids and not disrupt the class, I gave him my phone to play with if he wanted. I left him and went into the other room.

I found Stephanie talking about how amazing the #thisisagoodbody challenge is already. She said something about how incredible the response has been and then about the authentic and powerful stories people were sharing. Then she ended with, “…and if you aren’t on IG you need to get on. You need to be a part of this.”

My heart rubbed up against one of my triggers. Being left out, not included, being amidst a group and not really knowing what they are talking about. I loved what I heard her say about this challenge. I wanted to be a part of it. I know I carry tons of body image junk that could use some working through (don’t all of us?), and I started to second guess my decision to be social media free for the whole month. Nearly as soon as those thoughts and feelings rose up I was reminded of all that has already been stirred in my heart during the past four days and the conviction held, “This is what I’m suppose to be doing. This is right for me.”

As class continued my discomfort grew. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on at first. It was just discomfort, irritation, an inability to settle. Then we did an exalted triangle pose with cow face arms. All of my discomfort came to a head. I felt stuck, stiff, rough and raw, and incapable of expansion. I didn’t want to expand. No, it was different than desire. I did want to expand. Desperately. Desire was for expansion, but I felt incapable of expansion. I felt unworthy of expansion. I felt undeserving of expansion. I felt like I couldn’t expand, wasn’t suppose to… That was for other people.

I couldn’t hold the pose, and yet desire and Spirit told me I needed to be in the pose, so I went as far as I could and then I came out a little bit, backed off. I went back into it, then backed off again. I sunk into the pose, then rose out of it, then sunk in again and rose out again.

It felt all too familiar, this backing off, this starting and stopping.

While at the beach a few weeks ago I had written this:

I’ve always thought about my creative life, my work life, like a car that stalls just when you get it into gear. I have an idea, I take some small steps towards realizing it, but nothing ever comes of it. Or maybe I have an idea and do see it through, but it only reaches one small level of what I dreamed for it and never fully takes off. Sometimes I get burned out quickly. Sometimes I just get bored quickly. Sometimes it’s no fault of my own that things fall apart. Sometimes everything works out and yet things just sort of fade for no explainable reason. My endeavors have all had a sort of start, stop, start, stop, start, stop pattern to them. And this has frustrated me to no end.

I want to see dreams brought into completion. I want a continuous hustle that results in continuous growth. Truth be told, I want success. Of some sort, of some kind. I am not even completely sure what that word means to me, and yet I know it has something to do with another word: significance.

As I look back I am not sure I have ever really felt like I succeeded at anything. I have done some things, I have finished some things, but success feels elusive.

Sitting here, on the beach, listening to the waves, watching them crash and recede, I’m starting to think I’m looking at everything all wrong.

Sure, some people have these seemingly straight paths. They have an idea and steadily grow it into a company. They have a vision and work and watch as it blooms into completion. But, perhaps that’s just not my path. Perhaps instead of looking at my creative life like a car that stalls I should start looking at it like the waves, like the tide that rises and falls, rises and falls.

I thought of that as I moved in and out of the pose. Now backing off a little. Now pressing in a little. And tried to give myself grace for receding, grace for pulling back from the expansion. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was coming against a wall here. Perhaps my image of the sea is correct, but my waves are hitting a stone wall that they can’t push past and it’s time for that wall to come down. Perhaps this stuck place I kept coming into with my body held some clue for my heart and my life.

As soon as I came into that stuck, uncomfortable, expansion, the feelings rose up. Deep feelings. They said, “Why should you do this? Why should you expand? You can’t handle expansion. You aren’t smart enough, wise enough, strong enough, organized enough, capable enough, powerful enough, skilled enough. Lot’s of other people could do the things you want to do FAR better than  you. Lot’s of other people ARE doing the things you want to do far better than you ever could. The world doesn’t need you. If you start to truly expand, you will only be disappointed. You don’t have what it takes. Other’s will ask you to step back. You’re voice doesn’t matter. You’re ideas don’t matter. You don’t matter. You are not significant enough. And if people really knew you, beyond all the curated things you put out, behind all the people pleasing you project, they would think you were too much to handle and unable to bring anything of real value to the table. You are unmarketable, inexperienced, and unskilled.”

Ugh. UGH!

Deep sigh.

I fear expansion. It’s too exposed.

…And yet at the same time there is within me a deep desire to expand, to grow, to lead and have influence. Here is my paradox.

I want to be part of the inner circle, yet I feel unworthy of being known. And I’m intimidated by people in leadership positions.

I want to lead, but I feel like I’m not good enough, capable enough, prepared enough, in touch with the Spirit enough.

I want my voice to have weight, my voice to have power. I want to share my voice, but far too often it comes out shaky and weak and lacking confidence. I worry I’m going to say something wrong. I believe my voice doesn’t deserve to be heard.

I have  believed, for far too long, that these desires (the desire to be part of the inner circle, the desire to lead, the desire for my voice to have weight) are wrong. Prideful. Sinful. Wrong. They should be shut down, I am not worthy of expansion.

I am broken, sinful, unworthy (wo)man and I don’t deserve a place at the table. God, in his grace, and holiness, grants me access to the room, allows me to be present at the banquet, but it’s a small place, and I should always seek to make it smaller.

Ok, stop. Friends, read that last paragraph again. Do you believe that? If  you, like me, have internalized that story I want to tell you that it’s missing something. It’s only a half truth, and it is FULL of lies. And this is hard for me, friends, I am fighting fear writing these words. All my old legalism and fascination with theology is rising up and saying, “Stop, don’t write this, what if you are wrong? What if this is heresy?” But, I need to go on.

My heart has been circling this for months, perhaps years.

A few months ago I read these words in an email Morgan Day Cecil sent out “Your heart is GOOD.”

And everything within me rose up against that. I instantly thought, “My heart isn’t good, it is utterly and completely sinful. That’s why I need Jesus, right?”

I am beginning to think that I have internalized a one-sided story. A half-truth.

Here’s the deal:

Yes, we are sinful. But we are also created “very good”, the pinnacle of all creation. It’s like you took a beautiful vase and broke it. There are still beautiful pieces, expertly painted and crafted, they are just broken. They cannot be put back together on there own, they need an expert craftsman to do the job.

God is holy, he is set apart, he is other. We are not. We have disobeyed, we have put distance between ourselves and God and between ourselves and each other. We are broken. We need a way back to him. We need the body and blood of Jesus.

But, God doesn’t just offer us the cross. He doesn’t just offer us a way back to him and that’s it.

When I was in college there was something I needed to realize about God: He didn’t owe me anything. The cross was enough, he didn’t need to do anything more for me. And the cross was grace, I didn’t deserve it. He didn’t owe me a good life that worked out the way I wanted it to (sounds silly even writing it, but isn’t that why we get so angry with God when things go wrong in our lives, we think he owes us something different, we think we deserve something different).

But, today I need to realize something else about God: He may not owe me anything, but he loves me. And out of love he offers me FAR MORE THAN just the cross. He cleanses me, makes me white as snow, pieces me back together, set’s me right before him and again calls me his “very good” creation, his daughter. Worthy of a place not only in his kingdom, but in his inner circle, his throne room. He offers me abundant life, the very Spirit of God to indwell me. Through that Spirit he offers me his very thoughts. His heart is love. And he seeks us always. Not just two thousand years ago, but today.

He takes all those beautiful, good, yet broken pieces and starts to put them slowly back together.

He calls me valuable. What good news!

At the end of yoga class, as we came into Savasana, the music player broke. I lay there in the silence with all these thoughts swirling around in my head. Then someone began to sing…

…. I know you haven’t made your mind up yet,
But I will never do you wrong.
I’ve known it from the moment that we met,
No doubt in my mind where you belong.
I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue,
And I’d go crawling down the avenue.
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.

I could hear the Spirit join in the singing. Breathing love, singing pleasure and delight over me. Over me. Tears ran like a quiet stream down my cheeks and into my ears.

The cross is proof that there isn’t anything God wouldn’t do for us out of love, but he doesn’t stop there. The cross wasn’t enough. He continues to pursue, to invite, to draw near. He continues to sing love over his beloved. He desires for us to know his love in the deepest places of our hearts. He wants us to feel his love.

He calls us beloved. He calls us a very good creation. He deems us worthy of pursuit. He names us sons and daughters. He covers us in his righteousness. He invites us to the banquet AND gives us a seat at the table, a good seat, a seat near him.

He doesn’t ask us to degrade ourselves, to think of ourselves as little and worthless, he does ask us to see ourselves rightly. Not too highly, not forgetting our need for him, not forgetting our disobedience or brokenness, but not forgetting that he calls us a lot of good things too.

We are to be humble, we are to serve, we are to seek the good and advancement of others more than our own. But, that does not mean we need to shrink back from expansion.

Humility is seeing ourselves rightly. That’s it. Just seeing ourselves rightly, not exaggerating our good or our bad, just recognizing who we truly are and who we really are in relation to God.

Serving other’s doesn’t come from a place of seeing ourselves as worthless, just the opposite, it comes from a place of seeing all living beings as valuable, worthy, deserving, bearers of the breath of God (including ourselves) and as such those around us are deserving and worthy of our service, love, and respect (and we are worthy of theirs – and our own).

Seeking the advancement of other’s more than our own, does not mean we avoid expansion, shy away from it or refuse it, it means we seek to bring others up as well. It means we see the power and beauty in others and we call it out.

In yoga we have a word that we often end practice with and I think it captures some of this. The word is Namaste and it means “the light in me recognizes the light in you.” The breath of God in me recognizes the breath of God in you. The spirit of God in me recognizes the spirit of God in you. The beauty in me recognizes the beauty in you. We are the same. We are broken, but we are beautifully made, knit together with purpose and love, called children of God. The essence of me, the part of me that the creator called “very good” at the beginning of time, the part of me that God has pursued and continues to pursue, this good heart of mine, see’s, calls out, recognizes, and values that same part in you.

Namaste, friends. 

I want to stop shying away from expansion, shrinking back, hiding, degrading. I want to expand. And I want you to as well. I’m not sure how we get there, but I think it has something to do with seeing ourselves rightly, truly rightly.

So, Namaste, friends. I see you and I call out the good in you. You are free to expand.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman


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