To Follow

March 17th, 2014

I want a big life. I always have. I want to “change the world”. I want to build something that lasts. I want to be part of something bigger than myself.

But that’s not my life right now.

Right now what I’m called to is getting up with my daughter when she screams in the middle of the night (which lately she does often). Right now what I’m called to is making dinners, and cleaning dishes, and doing laundry. Right now what I’m called to is each therapy appointment, each doctors appointment, each changed bag on the G-tube pump. Right now what I’m called to is after-school conversations with a sticky-handed preschooler and bed time stories.

Being a mom isn’t glamorous. It’s messy, mundane, and monotonous. It’s thankless and all consuming.

But, this is where I work out my salvation.

This is where God strips me of my pride, which says that I should be doing something “greater”. This is where I learn the truth of the gospel, that I can do nothing on my own. This is where I loose my life so that I can find it.

Lately I have found in myself a lot of bitterness about my role, my place. It feels insignificant. I feel insignificant. I know lots of people say that being a mom is the most significant thing you can do, but I don’t really believe them. I hear of people, and know people personally, who are doing amazing things – working to raise people out of poverty, to save girls from slavery, to educate and provide for the least of these. I know people who are giving lectures and getting book deals. I know people who are radically changing the lives of the orphaned, the misplaced, the starved, the abused. And I cry every time I hear about it. Being a suburban mom seems cushy and pale in comparison.

But, God keeps whispering to me about what’s truly most significant, “You, follow me.”

It’s the same response Jesus had to Peter when he was envious of the role someone else would play in the world and the work of the gospel. His response to Peter is as clear as his response to me, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

“If I want her to change the world, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Follow.

It’s that simple, and yet that difficult, isn’t it?

I still want to be working big significant change on the world, and that’s ok. I don’t have to give up on the big dreams that are buried within my heart. God may still bring them to fruition. But whether He does or doesn’t isn’t what really matters. What matters is that in each moment I follow Jesus. What matters is that I listen to that still small voice of the Spirit.

My job isn’t to run off right away and immerse myself in some “ministry” and my job isn’t to hid away in my home and use “my family is my ministry” as an excuse while others continue to suffer. There is deep pain in the world and I do need to do what I can to help and eliminate that pain where possible. I need to respond as God prompts, that’s what following means. And I think the sort of change that is worked on the world by simply turning where God leads and following is the truly radical change.

A few weeks ago a friend shared a story with me about Mother Teresa.

In essence a charity organization was organizing an event and they wanted Mother Teresa to come and speak at the event. They weren’t sure how they were going to go about that, but it turned out that they ended up meeting someone who knew the Mother and gave them contact information for the sister who organized her speaking arrangements. When the man working for the charity called to see about getting Mother Teresa to come speak he was surprised by the conversation. It went a little like this:

The charity worker told the sister about his charity and about the event they were planning and said they would like Mother Teresa to speak.

Sister: “Yes, I think that will work.”

Charity worker: “Ok, great. Well, we were thinking we would have the event on {particular day}, will that work for the Mother?”

Sister: “It should.”

Charity worker: “Well, should I book a flight for her?”

Sister: “You can if you want.”

Charity worker: “Um, ok. Well, what time should we plan the event for? What time works for the mother.”

Sister: “Oh, maybe I should explain to you how the Mother works. You see, the Mother goes where the Spirit leads… You can plan the event and she might be there, but if she feels led to go somewhere else she will.”

Silence.

Perhaps that is an extreme example, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

Mother Teresa clearly had a profound influence on the world. Her work was well recognized and appreciated. She changed the lives of countless people. But, at the heart of it, was one thing, following Jesus. Following where the Spirit led. That’s it.

At this point in my life God hasn’t led me to the ghettoes of Calcutta, but he has led me to a little suburban neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has placed, right in front of me, a husband and two children who are in need of love, grace, and forgiveness. This work may not feel significant most days, but it does matter. God is not concerned with how significantly I change the world. He is not concerned with how recognized I am, or how influential my voice is. He doesn’t ask any of that from me.

What he asks is for me to lose my life, that I might find it IN HIM. He asks me to follow.

To follow.

To follow when I sense his prompting calling me to pick up the phone and invite that mom I’ve been wanting to get to know over for a play date. To step through doors that he swings open, despite my fear. To hold my son close and tell him stories of truth. To forgive my daughter and respond with grace when she wakes up again…and again. To clean up the kitchen because I know how it makes my husband feel loved. To drop off some cookies for the friend who’s been sick. To listen. To pray. To follow him in the way of LOVE. Right here, right now, in this place where I am. As I am going.

This is how I can work out my salvation. This is how I can have a big life. This is how I can become the change I want to see in the world.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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With The Snap of a Shutter

March 12th, 2014

A few months ago I smiled in this courtyard as the shutter snapped. My husband chased my son and tickled him into smiling.

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We played peek-a-boo and cuddled up with a blanket.


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And we stole kisses.


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All captured on film. This moment, this season, was precious, and it needed to be saved. Preserved.


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Only days after this my husband and I would fly to DC and he would begin a trial treatment for the aggressive cancer that had spread all throughout his body. I was keenly aware of what was coming. I knew the value of these pictures. I didn’t know what was ahead, but I knew our chances. As the shutter snapped I knew the very real possibility that these could be the last family pictures we would have of our family like this.


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Going into it I felt nervous. There was a lot hanging over my head and somehow a lot hanging on these pictures too. I changed more times than I could count. I even put on a little makeup (which I hadn’t done in years) and quickly regretted it and wiped it off when my face broke out in hives. These pictures had to be perfect.


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As I got closer I got more nervous. I hadn’t seen her in years. Tall and beautiful, she looked just like she had in high school, only now she held a camera so gracefully and naturally it looked as if it could be part of her. She smiled. We hugged. And instantly I felt at ease. Before long all of the pressure of the photos was gone. All that mattered was the moment.


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The look we shared. The smile our daughter flashed. My son’s laugh.


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It wasn’t a really long shoot. Thaddeus quickly lost interest despite our best attempts. But in that short time, even with a difficult preschooler, magic happened. The essence of our family was caught in the snapping of the shutter.

I stand in this spot now in a very different season, a very different place. Bryan’s cancer has shrunk by 75% since the time these pictures were captured. He lost his hair and it has begun to grow back – sprinkled white, the years this journey has put on us firmly visible to the world. The doctors remind us that we still aren’t out of the woods. The threat is still there. But it’s softening, fading, and not as prominent.

I stand here in this place now grateful for the precious season captured on film just a few short months ago. I stand here grateful for the hope of many more seasons to come.


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If you are interested in seeing more work from this talented photographer, who I’m glad to call my friend, visit her web site.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Singing Over Bones

February 25th, 2014

I’ve been fighting it. The call to write.

It came from a cavern deep in my heart. Too deep to enter.

It came from a mountain way up in the clouds. Too high to climb.

It came as a whisper. A reminder, “You haven’t written in days.” Becoming quickly, “You haven’t written in weeks.” Like a ruler being held up to measure my heart and finding it shrinking instead of growing.

It wouldn’t be a problem if it was just not blogging, but I haven’t written anything. Not this week. Not last week. Even the last post I shared had been written long before the unobtrusive “publish” button was pushed.

A few days ago a friend shared an old myth, a story, a fable about La Loba, “the wolf woman.” I can’t get this story out of my head.

La Loba is an old woman, who lives in a deserted place – like the witches and hags from Eastern European fairy tales. She spends her days searching for bones. Collecting bones. Gathering bones. Sorting through bones. She is particularly interested in wolf bones. Once she has collected all of the bones of a wolf skeleton she lays them out. Cold. White. Bare. Barren.

And then she stares at them.

Sits down by the fire and focuses all her attention on these bones. Deciding what song she will sing over these bare bones.

After a long while, once she is certain of the song, she begins to sing.

And as she sings the bones begin to rise up, to expand, to take on flesh and fur. And life. And breath. Until, with the last note of song, the living breathing wolf leaps through the air and runs out into the night.

I can’t shake this story.

There is an ebb and flow to life. A waxing and waning. There are different seasons. There are seasons of production and growth and also seasons of letting go, of quietness, of underground work that isn’t seen. There is day and there is night. There is a time for everything.

My heart has been gathering bones. No, my heart has longed to gather bones. To sit with bones in the quiet, darkness of night. But, I have fought that urge. I have wanted to rush right to singing the song over the bones. I have wanted to create. To create life. To produce. To show off my growth. To bring forth fruit.

I have forgotten that there is a time of waiting before the song comes. There is a time of waiting before a new spring dawns.

I have fought my place.

I have been discontent with my season.

I am an American suburban housewife. I drive a minivan. My kid goes to a private school. My days lately are marked by dropping him off and picking him up. My days are filled with the mundane tasks of caregiver, of housekeeper, of food-bringer, of diaper-changer. This life is smaller than the one I dreamed and wanted.

I have experienced deep pain in the past few years and deep growth. As a tree shedding it’s leaves and making room for new fruit, I have let go. But, I forget that fruit doesn’t come right away. Blossoms don’t even come right away.

La Loba doesn’t get a bone and start singing. She has to find all the bones first. Then she has to sit with them. Wait with them. Find the right song.

In our small group we have been talking about Moses. This week we talked about him fleeing into the desert. He was clearly the man to save the Israelites – it was as if he was groomed for it – and I think as a young man he probably knew that was his destiny. But, he wasn’t really ready. He rushed ahead of God. He killed and fled into the desert. He wouldn’t be ready until he was eighty years old. Until he had gone through the desert. The darkness. The waiting. He wouldn’t know the right song to sing until he was so old that he didn’t think he could sing it.

It’s that moment. When he had finally cycled through unknown seasons of letting go, when he had sat with his bones, with his dead spots, with his darkness, for years upon years. That’s the moment when God gave him the song to sing to bring life, to create freedom.

I don’t know what song God will give me to sing over the bones in my life, but for now I will sit. In this season. In this common, mundane place. In the desert. And wait.

And while my body does the work that is set before me, whatever that work may be, my heart will do the inner work that is set before it. I will gather bones. So that when the time comes and God gives me that song to sing, I will be ready.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Love is Like…

February 16th, 2014

Since it’s still Valentine’s weekend I thought I’d share two poems with you that I wrote recently. I don’t claim to be a poet and these are far from being really good, but in my own way I like them. They express some things I have experienced and thought a lot about lately. I hope you like them too.

 

Love is Like the Crashing Waves

Crashing waves,
coming closer,
nearer.
Suddenly to recede
before drawing near again.
We share a moment,
hands clasped in doctors office chairs.
A Chinese food picnic,
beer in paper cups,
wrinkled hotel room sheets.
A word is spoken,
misunderstood.
The wave recedes.
Kissed with tears
we partake in infinite rebirth.
A simple step forward -
the wave crashes in again.

 

Love is Like the Changing Moon

Light waxing
and waning.
Eclipsed.
One withdraws
a word,
a hand,
a thought.
One wonders
a perplexed “Why?”
The light wanes
and a wedge of distance returns.
Two so separate beings,
different in numerous ways,
distanced from time immeasurable.
A word breaks the silence,
a hand extends,
a longing returns.
Love waxes round and full again.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Love is Infinite

February 6th, 2014

I sat there wanting to crawl in a hole. Not wanting to talk to anyone. Not wanting to answer the questions asked. I felt disconnected when I arrived and felt like I had to hold myself together because no one else was going to do it for me.

What happened to the hopeful openness with which I had started the year? Suddenly February comes around and I’m exhausted. I always hate January, but this one felt brutal. I started the year excited to reach out, to give, to love, and then illness struck one family member after another and I felt robbed. Like all of my energy had been stolen from me. And it wasn’t just physical. It was spiritual. It was emotional. There was illness even in my relationships.

“I want to go back to that openness,” I thought. “I want to care about people and love people and give.” But, the thought was only half-hearted. Instantly a battle was raging inside me – why was I resisting this so much? Why was I being so protective of myself after I had just set such a strong intention not to be, after I had just determined that this would be a year of looking outward instead of just looking inward?

And then I found it. That thought, that fear, at the center of my being… the reason… “If I don’t take care of myself no one else will. I have to protect myself. I can’t give more love because if I do I’ll be empty. And no one’s going to fill me up.”

There’s a fear within me that says love is finite. That it can run out. 

I believe in self care, but I think this sort of thinking is different. This is a closing off. This fear – that if I give I will run out, I will be empty, I won’t get filled myself – this fear leads to building walls and shutting down. It leads to closing oneself off. It leads to a hardening. There has to be another way.

There is value in recognizing limits, in setting boundaries, in self care, but I think at some point you also have to open up your hands and say “I choose love.” At some point you have to step out and trust that the love you give will return to you in full eventually. Trust an infinite all powerful and loving God to meet your needs instead of trying to meet them yourself. Trust that showing up in love for another person will ultimately lead to others showing up in love for you.

This is the way of opening. I have friends who would call it the “feminine way”. This opening, this fluidity of giving and receiving love. I don’t want to harden myself, seal myself off, try to pull myself up by my own boot straps and fill my own holes and longings and emptiness – or worse yet pretend that I don’t have those empty places. No, I want to chose love. I want to surrender again and again. I want to open and give – not expecting something in return from that person, but expecting that God will pour out love to fill all my places of lack. Expecting that love won’t run out.

Love is not finite, it is infinite, because it is rooted and flows from a infinite God. 

Lately I have forgotten. I have turned my attention to myself. I have given love begrudgingly and not openly. I have played the part of caregiver, but instead of giving love freely I have held tightly to each ounce of love I give away. I have counted each act and kept a tally of my giving expecting to be reciprocated in certain ways and being disappointed when I’m not. And I have wondered why I have felt empty. Love doesn’t work that way. Love doesn’t keep a record. Love doesn’t give begrudgingly. I have played the continuous part of caregiver, but my attention has been so pointedly on myself, on my seemingly limited supply of love, that I have failed to see the abundance of love all around me.

I have forgotten that love is infinite. It doesn’t run out. The more we give love – truly give selfless love – the more we are open to receiving love selflessly in return. I have thought that it was my job and my job alone to demand the love that I want, but have forgotten that God is love and that I need only accept love to receive it.

I keep asking for the love I want in my marriage, but I have been greedy in giving love. I have been a hoarder. I have felt I had limited supply and needed to ration it out. I have worried that opening myself up would mean hurt. I have tried to be loving, caring, and giving, but I have done so with one eye towards what I might get in return and if I didn’t get anything in return quick enough I shut down, because I need to protect myself. That is no way to live and no way to love.

I felt cheated of love in my mothering. I felt used by my children and unappreciated, forgetting that they are just that – children. I felt obligated towards them, more than I felt love towards them. Oh, how selfish my heart! Who has been the child in this relationship and who the adult? I know I have not acted like a loving adult lately. I have begrudged them the love they demanded, no the love they needed, feeling that they were stealing what little I had, instead of remembering that love is infinite and abundant in Christ.

I have closed myself off from friends and relationships and stopped taking active steps to reach out in community for much the same reasons. I thought love was finite and I thought I didn’t have enough to give. I forgot that it is in the pouring out of love that we make room and space for more of that infinite resource.

This is my confession. This is my truth. This is my breaking. I will remember. Love is infinite.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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