And so August Begins…

I couldn’t make it all the way down the hall. My bedroom felt too far away. I sunk to the floor with my back against the wall and the sobs shook my shoulders. I didn’t know what was wrong really. I just felt so raw, so on edge, so uncomfortable, but more than anything I felt insecure. Unsure of myself.

Bryan came around the corner followed closely by Thaddeus. My little son wrapped his arms around my neck and crawled into my lap. For once he didn’t wiggle or squirm. He just hugged me.

“What’s wrong, mommy?” he asked. “I… I don’t really know.” I choked out.

I calmed down a little and Thad started asking about the plan for the day. Bryan respond. They joked. I fought back more sobs and started crying a new.


My first day without social media was hard. So much harder than I expected. And it forced me to notice a few things.

The first thing I noticed were the feelings and moments that drove me to my phone.

It wasn’t what I would have expected. It wasn’t really to check the time and it wasn’t just boredom (although I did pick up the phone for those reasons sometimes). It wasn’t primarily a desire to share some great thing that had just happened or some little thing that had just occurred. It was insecurity.

I grabbed for my phone when I started to feel insecure about who I am, when I felt unsure about my actions or how I was doing as a wife, a mom, a friend, a creator, etc.

I reached for my phone when the kids were just “too much” and my nerves felt shot and rubbed wrong.

I grabbed for my phone when Bryan said or did something that hurt my feelings a little bit, or maybe when he didn’t say or do something quite the way I wanted him to.

I reached for my phone at the end of the day when I was frayed and tired and worn through.

On that first day I realized, rather shockingly, that I had started to use Instagram (in particular) as a pacifier, a security blanket, a regulator.

I remember when my son was little and we were dealing with some sensory processing problems he was having, I had a long talk with an occupational therapist about how there were certain things that he wanted to do in very particular ways that were often triggered by particular events. For example there was a season where every time he got really upset or threw a tantrum, afterwards he would want to watch this particular episode of Dora the Explorer and eat apples while watching. We must have watched that episode more times than I could count, and we went through a lot of apples. When I told the therapist about it, she told me, “He’s using it as a regulator, a way of self-soothing.”

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing with Instagram. And you know what, I’m not sure it’s all bad, not really. We all need ways of self-soothing. Figuring out how to calm oneself and regulate one’s nerves and emotions is a big part of learning how to manage life and the world. Especially when we are under stress. But, this self soothing can allow us to avoid and numb and ignore certain things that should make us uncomfortable. That’s when they can run the risk of becoming detrimental to our own growth, that’s when it might do us some good to set down the pacifier, put the security blanket in a drawer, and sit with ourselves and our discomfort for a while.

As I took a massive jump away from one of my primary methods of self-soothing I found myself very uncomfortable. Very raw.

I felt like my words of affirmation quota was far too low. I felt insignificant. I felt no escape from the stresses and fears that weigh heavy in my every day life. I felt confronted in a very heavy way with my own insecurities. I felt undefinable. Like somehow these curated boxes of my life mirrored back to me my own identity, they gave me a feeling of place in the world. They told me that I was a mom (a “good” mom, although an honest and sometimes struggling one), they told me I was a “good” wife with an ideal relationship (apart from my husband having cancer, of course), they told me I was a good yogi (though still very much in process), they told me I had a lot of stress and pain, but that I was dealing with it well and authentically, and they told me I had a strong faith despite my circumstances.

Without that mirroring, without that curating, I found all of that came into question. Not that those things don’t have truth in them, but I suddenly felt the truth also in their incompleteness. I felt unanchored in my identity and unsure where I could put my weight down.

In the afternoon, after many more tears, I laid down on my bed, closed the door, and set a ten minute timer. For ten minutes I focused just on my breath, and tried to meditate. As I lay there one question kept circling around my heart, “What if I was nothing more than this? What if I was nothing more than this breath? What if what I am wasn’t tied to my relationships, my roles, my performance, my dreams, desires, or expectations? What if I could just be?” Oh, the discomfort of that question.

Would I dissolve? Would I be nothing?


Later that night Bryan and I went out to dinner without the kids. I talked his ear off, attempting to process through each raw nerve from the day, and all of my discomfort. We talked about pieces of identity. We processed through my deep seated desire to be significant, capable, seen. We chewed on different hurts from the past.

Then we drove the car up to a hiking trail near our house. We parked and watched the sun set and we tried to dream together, to put words to desires, to put hopes onto paper.

And that’s when all of my raw nerves and discomfort became full on brokenness. Because I can’t look towards the future without being confronted with Bryan’s cancer. And there is an aspect to cancer that shakes at part of my identity and one of my biggest fears.

I had no where to hide from it, no way to ease or soothe the fear of it with supportive friends, pretty pictures, or inspiring words. It was just there. Staring me in the face. Hanging heavy about my shoulders.

The fear of being alone. Utterly alone. Having the one person who truly understands me, sees me, walks through everything with me, knows me better than anyone else…gone.

Facing it made me feel like there was already an impassible distances between us. A distance I couldn’t overcome.

I was overwhelmed and there was no escape.

Seeking escape, I fled the car. I didn’t get more than ten feet before I collapsed in tears again. Deep, angry, ugly, sobs. “FUCK!” was all I could think as I curled my shoulders over. “FUCK!” was all I could say as I clutched at my stomach. I wanted to scream it, but it only came out in course, choked, sobs.

Bryan followed me and wrapped his arms around my waist. I leaned my whole weight into him and we sunk into a squat in the dirt. “It’s ok,” he whispered brushing my hair out of my face.

“But, it’s NOT ok!” I said, finding my voice, “It’s not. Nothing about this is ok. You have cancer and it sucks! Fuck!” My voice broke into sobs again.

Out of the corner of my wet eyes I could see a couple coming down the hiking trail. For a moment I wondered what they thought of us, wondered what I would think myself, if I finished a hike to find a young man and woman squatting in the dirt and rocks, crying as the sun set in the background. The thought made me laugh through my tears, an awkward, uncomfortable laugh, and Bryan did too.

We stood up then and I wiped my tear stained face with back of my hands. Bryan kept one arm around my waist as we turned our backs on the setting sun and walked back to the car.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Shedding Skin

I remember sitting at coffee with a dear friend and mentor in college and she told me, “If you cut open a chrysalis you won’t find a caterpillar growing wings. You won’t find a caterpillar butterfly hybrid. You will find butterfly soup. The caterpillar doesn’t just change, it dissolves, it becomes completely broken down that it might become an entirely new creation.”

That image stuck to my heart for years. I felt that image. And in times of transition, in times when the world felt like it was being turned on it’s head, I would go back to it. Remember the chrysalis. Remember butterfly soup. You are being broken down. You are becoming something entirely different.

This season has felt very much like a season of deep work, of shifting, of radical change in my heart. And like past seasons of change I have come back to the image of the butterfly… and you know what? This time it’s not sticking. Something about that image doesn’t completely fit with this season.

There is a shift happening, a change, but the word I’ve been continually coming back to is shedding. As I process aloud with Bryan I often use the term “stripping down” – that of course leads to innuendos and jokes on his part, but the word use feels right to my heart.

Then today I read this in The Crossroads of Should and Must:

The snake is the ancient sacred symbol for transformation. In order to grow, it must shed its skin. This process is painful, dangerous, and necessary for growth. The snake’s insides are literally outgrowing its outsides, and it must remove its restrictive outermost layer.

The snake rubs and scratches, feeling that something’s not quite right. During the process, its coloring sometimes shifts to an indigo blue hue. If for some reason the snake cannot shed its skin, over time it will become malnourished, possibly even blind, and it will die from its inability to grow.

But when it successfully completes the process, the snake emerges stronger and healthier – a new incarnation.

I set the book down on my lap and stared at the page. This was the image. The image I’d been searching for, and skirting around, the image that was right there, but just out of reach. This is the picture for this season.

It’s not a dissolving. It’s an expanding. I am not experiencing a radical complete change. I am experiencing a shift, a shedding. An uncomfortable one. One that makes me itch, one that feels vulnerable and stirs up fear.

I am letting go of things. Letting go of alter egos, letting go of clutter, letting go of non-essentials, trying to get at the heart of things, the center of things, the inside being.

For weeks now I have been wearing my heart on my sleeve more than I ever have. I’ve ugly cried in public places, with friends and alone. I’ve let my heart be open and exposed in ways that I haven’t before and I’ve felt things, really felt things.

It’s like my skin is starting to break down.

I’m outgrowing old desires, old paradigms, old beliefs about myself. And yet I don’t know yet entirely what to replace them with. I’m just scratching and shedding, frazzled and uncomfortable, exposed.

Ready to grow larger, more real, more me, more authentic.

And I find myself thinking again of a quote I came across many years ago by Carl Roger:

Becoming a Person means the individual moves towards BEING, knowingly and acceptingly, the process which he inwardly and actually is. He moves away from being what he is not, from being a facade.

He is not trying to be MORE than he is, with the attendant feelings of insecurity or bombastic defensiveness. He is not trying to be LESS than he is, with the attendant feelings of guilt or self-deprecation.

He is increasingly listening to the deepest recesses of his psychological and emotional being, and finds himself increasingly willing to be, with greater accuracy and depth, that self which he most truly is.

And yet, I’m not actually there yet. Not even close. But, truly, closer than I’ve ever been. The shedding, must happen first, right? There needs to be room for that kind of growth. Space to expand.

Lord, strip away from me all that is not of You.
And all that is not of me,
for me,
mine by your calling and design.
Meet me here in this discomfort,
this shedding,
this letting go,
in new spaces of surrender.
Open my eyes to see clearly,
to know my own core,
to see clearly the sins,
distractions,
and facades that must go.
Grow me into a new creation,
the person I truly am,
the person you desire me to be.
Enlarge me.
Strengthen me.
Change me.
In Jesus name.
Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Step Back to Lean In

I was standing in my kitchen staring at my phone. Dinner was simmering near by and my kids were watching TV. I scrolled quickly through Instagram trying to catch up on my feed. I kept thinking I was almost caught up, but as I scrolled down I only saw pictures I’d never seen before.

That’s when the whisper came, “You need to take a break from this.”

“But, that’s not me. I’m not one of those people who blames social media for their lack of time or presence. I have seen only positives from the relationships and community that I’ve developed through social media. Why would I need to take a break from it? It’s where my people are right now. My community is there. My support is there.”

“You need to take a break from it.” It wasn’t a whisper any more, it was a pull.

“I can’t do that,” I instantly replied, “I am right in the middle of the 100 day project, I just started a new yoga challenge. I just committed to those things, and really feel like I should be doing them, like they are good for me to do.”

“They are good for you to do. But, you do need to take a break from this.” My heart said.

My breathing got fast, and I could feel anxiety rise a little. I pushed away the thought, the feeling, with a simple, “Maybe later, maybe after summer.”


“I feel unfocused in my writing.” I said. “I feel scattered. Unsure where to take open projects. Unsure which projects to work on. And really… I just don’t have words right now.”

I leaned forward on the couch and pulled the bowl of cherries up on my lap. I picked one up and twirled the stem between my fingers as I continued talking, “It’s not like other times, though, you  know? I mean sometimes I can’t write because there’s just negative feelings I have to get past first. I mean you know, I always struggle to write when I’m depressed and neglect the blog and other writing projects. This isn’t like that. It’s more like there’s these big good shifts happening in my heart that I can’t fully put into words yet.”

Bryan nodded his head as he put a cherry in his mouth.

“I think I need to do something different. Like I need to get this stuff out, these shifts, this energy…this deep heart stuff in some other way, like a different creative outlet.” I paused for a minute and chewing on a cherry, twirling the seed around in my mouth. “I feel like I need to paint, or dance, or something.”

“Maybe a combination of both.” Bryan said, “Like making big abstract art with  your whole body?”

“Yes!” My face lit up, “That sounds amazing.” I spit the cherry seed into a small ramekin. “I need something like that. But, I need space. I feel like there hasn’t been enough white space to fully work out this stuff. We’ve been going from one thing to the next lately, and I just… I need some space.”

“Maybe when the kids start school.” He suggested.

“Yeah, maybe.” I said, resting my back against the couch as I popped another cherry into my mouth.


I sunk a little deeper into the hot bath water as I read the words aloud in the quiet room:

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. There is only one moon in the sky. One double-sunrise is an event; six are a succession, like a week of school days. Gradually one discards and keeps just the perfect specimen; not necessarily a rare shell, but a perfect one of its kind. One sets it apart by itself, ringed around by space – like the island.

For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant – and therefore beautiful. A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side. A candle flowers in the space of night. Even small and casual things take on significance if they are washed in space, like a few autumn grasses in one corner of an Oriental painting, the rest of the page bare.

My life in Connecticut, I begin to realize, lacks this quality of significance and therefore of beauty, because there is so little empty space. The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.

I stopped and realized that I had been holding my breath through much of the passage. I sighed deep and long. Closed the book for a moment and looked at the little blue cover with the small shell drawn just above the title, Gift From the Sea. Then I opened the book again and continued to read.


I leaned on my kitchen counter with my phone in my hand, trapped by the pull of the plug in the wall. It was early and I was tired, I wasn’t ready to face the day. Thaddeus came into the kitchen and asked for breakfast.

“There’s muffins on the counter,” I answered as I continued to scroll, catching up on the hours of posts I had missed while asleep. I knew if I didn’t catch up now it would just make it harder later. That’s when I saw it, “Just be here with me” scripted on a solid white card. The words stared me in the face, like something I had forgotten that I was suppose to remember.

I clicked on the link in Morgan Day Cecil’s account with more info on these 5 simple words and read her invitation.

An invitation to unplug during August…

For one day.

Or one week.

Or the whole month.

“Whatever feels good to you.”

The invitation came full of grace and I knew right away it was for me.

For a moment fear rose up in all it’s ugliness, but it was so quickly squelched by grace. By peace. By a deep clarity that this was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time.

I am not against social media. I don’t feel burned out on social media. I don’t feel that I am overly absorbed in social media to the detriment of my day-to-day life.

Social media has made my life richer in many ways. I would not have my current yoga community, my current writing community, or so many dear people made dear friends without it.

However, I am feeling a longing for white space. For quiet. For prayer and processing and creating. For depth and slowness. For mindfulness and intention. For cleaning out, shedding, stripping down, limiting, and finding the center.

I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to caarry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact – to borrow from the language of the saints – to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be at one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God. – Gift from the Sea

For me, unplugging for the month of August feels like an act of obedience. Obedience to my heart, to the pull I heard way back at the beginning of the summer. I believe in following and answering the invitations that are clearly yours. And this invitation is clearly mine, it’s for me, it’s been building in me for weeks, months even.

So, for the month of August I won’t be on Instagram, or Facebook, or Pinterest, or Twitter (although I’m not on twitter much anyway!).

I will still be here on the blog… I think. Maybe. If I want to be. We will see.

And I will practice this with grace. So, much grace. Because this is the invitation I need to follow right now, but it might not be the invitation I need to follow half way through August. I just want to follow, one step at a time, one day at a time.

How about you? Where are you being asked to go? What are you being asked to do? To enter into? To give up? Are you being asked to step up or to step back? Have you spent time listening lately?

Do you want to join me in unplugging?

Do you want to meet me for a face-to-face coffee during August?

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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A Long Hard Climb

Friends, I’m tired. I’m physically tired, but it’s so much more than that. I’m tired of everything being harder than it should be, or than it seems to be for other people.

I’m tired of a simple trip feeling like an insurmountable mountain. I’m tired of doctor’s appointments and therapists. I’m tired of equipment and feeding tubes. I’m tired of having to carry or push a 30+ pound 3 year old everywhere. I’m tired of guessing at what she’s trying to communicate.

I’m tired of cancer and cancer treatments for Bryan.

I’m tired of my own minor health problems that no one seems to fully be able to figure out and everyone keeps blaming on stress. I’m tired of stress.

I’m tired of feeling all these hard feelings for so long and I’m tired of these long uncertain roads.

Today, I showed up to yoga with Stephanie Moors and she talked about this mountain top experience and the abundant life God offers and the GOOD that comes from doing hard things. And tears crept from my eyes because I believe that, but I sure don’t feel it right now.

She told us to press into the deep places, to do the hard good things, in our practice and in our hearts.

Every ounce of me wanted to scream, “I’m tired of pressing in, of deep work, of hard things. I’m tired of climbing the mountain, I just want to be at the top already. I want that freedom and space already!”

There have been seasons since my husband was diagnosed with a terminal cancer and since my daughter was diagnosed with CP when I have stepped back, when I’ve said, “This is too hard.” There have been seasons I have numbed, avoided, placated, indulged.

This has not been one of those seasons. This spring and summer season have been a time of pressing in, or not letting how hard something will be keep me from doing it. This has been a season of feeling all the feels. This has been a season of tears. This has been a season of creative shifts.

But, it has been hard. Really hard.

I’m grateful that externally it has been a pretty mild season. Bryan’s doing pretty well right now. His body is slowly responding to this treatment. He isn’t terribly sick most of the time. He’s working and living. We just got back from a really nice trip. The kids are healthy and will both start school soon. Sage is learning new signs every day and communicating more all the time.

But, the constancy of these trials are hard. Three years of grief catching up to me is hard. Three years of stress weighing on me is hard. The fact that I don’t know how long Bryan will feel this well, or how long treatments will work weighs on me. The fact that Sage’s journey is only beginning, and the road ahead looks so unfamiliar and overwhelming is heavy.

It’s all just hard.

I wrestled my way through yoga class today. I struggled with my balance. I felt angry. I felt wildly unsettled. I felt resentment even. I wanted abundance. I wanted freedom and victory. I didn’t want to keep climbing this long, hard, super tall mountain.

I felt all of this as we laid down in Savasana at the end of class. Part of me wanted to cry, part of me wanted to throw something, part of me wanted to curl in a ball and hide. I pulled my arms over my face. I breathed fast and shallow and tried to hold back tears.

I knew in that moment. I could pull back. I could step away. There is grace for that.

I couldn’t change the circumstances, but I could make it slightly, momentarily, easier. “There is grace for that,” I heard. And I knew it was true, I had experienced it. I knew that in other seasons I wasn’t ready to enter in the way I have been recently, and that’s ok.

“You can step back, if you want. There’s grace for that. But you don’t have to…” The invitation came like a whisper. It was an invitation I didn’t want to answer. I pulled my arms a little tighter over my face.

It came again. “It’s your choice,” it said.

And I knew, I didn’t want it to be so hard. I wanted a path that was simple and clear, well lit, with big sign posts. I didn’t want this hard, steep, hot, climb. But, I knew right then I also didn’t want to stop or step back. I made my choice. I pulled my arms off of my face and laid them on the floor with my palms up. Opening my heart to the sky. “Ok, here I am. I don’t really like it, I’m not really comfortable, but I’m here.”

And that’s when Stephanie started to pray. Her prayer was general at first. I listened and took deep breaths and tried to fight back fear, anger, and tears. I chose openness in my body and fought to choose it in my heart.

Then Stephanie started to pray for me. Out loud, in front of the whole class. She prayed for Bryan. She prayed for our kids. She prayed for me.

Something shifted. The wrestling and battle stopped. The tears fell freely. I covered my face with my hands, this time not in hiding as I had covered my face before, but in humility. Her prayer felt like God’s personal response to my choice. It felt like God showing up and saying, “I’m here. I’m right here. I know it’s hard. I know you’re tired. I see. I see you fighting. I see you pressing in. I see you. Right here. Right now. I see you.”

My face was soaked in a bath of tears.

Two beautiful women I respect, who were in the class, came and placed their hands on me as Stephanie prayed. I wiped tears away constantly with one hand and with the other I reached out and squeezed the hand of one woman and then the next.

After class I gave Stephanie a long hug. There was so much I wanted to tell her, about the way God used her to speak to me, about the way she so often brings the truth I need to hear. But I just said, “Thank you.” There were doctor’s appointments to rush off to, kids to drop off places, errands to run.

As I left I felt a little lighter in my body and my heart, a little less tired.

I find now that I want to put a stake in this ground, to remember this choice. That moment. To remember that God doesn’t just offer an invitation to us, he shows up at the other end of it. To remember that when I am weary and tired and heavy burdened, the answer is always to look to him, to press in to Him, to trust and surrender, and open. That’s the way to get lighter.

And I want to remember that so often he gives us new lightness not in isolation, but through community, through others coming around us and holding up our arms, holding our openness, when we don’t have the strength to do it ourselves. This is what I believe. This is what I’ve experienced. This is the ground I’m claiming.

I’m putting a mile marker on this bit of the climb.

Because, tomorrow I will likely be tired again.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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In The Presence of Tsarar

“God doesn’t need to vanquish your enemies, because He’s greater than your enemies.” As soon as the words came out of her mouth something deep within me groaned, “Yes.”

I quickly came out of my child’s pose and scribbled the words onto the notecard sitting next to my yoga mat. As I wrote them another part of me rose up in rebellion against each letter.

He’s God, he can take it away, so he should take it away. He can change it, so he should change it. But, oh, how quickly that argument fell void.

Then she referenced a section in Psalm 23 that I had never liked before and suddenly it clicked. This half-sentence that always felt out of place to me suddenly felt at home. An overwhelming feeling overcame me, the feeling that I had fallen at last into the words I needed.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”

I looked up that word for enemies when I got home, it’s tsarar. Though it is most often translated as enemy, it is sometimes translated as distress, afflict, vex, trouble, bound, or bind up. So, these things that bind me, that I’m stuck with, that wrap around me and hold me captive, these troubles, these afflictions, the things that cause me distress, my enemies, God prepares a table for me in the midst of them. Right there where they can see me and I can see them. In the presence of my enemies.

At the beginning of class we were asked to set an intention for the summer, to ask God for a word that we could hold intentionally for the coming weeks. I knew the word that was mine before she had even finished speaking, it came fast and hard and I didn’t quite understand it. “Stay,” it said.

A few weeks ago another woman had asked me to sit quietly with God and ask Him for one word to describe my ministry at this time, that word had also come fast and hard and I rebelled against it with every fiber. “Wait,” it said.

At the beginning of the year I had asked God for a word for the year and the word I couldn’t shake, that followed me around like a lost puppy wanting to be mine, was “Hope.”

Today in class all these words came flooding over me. They were richer, fuller, deeper.

Stay here. Just sit here. Stay in the hard places, in the presence of trouble, in the presence of enemies, in the presence of things you don’t want and didn’t ask for. Stay. Keep waiting. Keep hoping. I know you are tired of waiting, tired of hoping, tired of surrendering, tired of these enemies. But, I’m right here with you. And I’m not tired. I have a table for you, a kings table, a sacred table, filled with bounty and goodness. And I offer you this table right here, in the presence of your enemies.

“When you are ready, come into chair pose.” She spoke the words from the front of the room and slowly we all bent our knees as if sitting in imaginary chairs.

“Sit down at the table, friends. Pull up a seat. God has prepared a place for you.” I heard the words and couldn’t keep the tears back. The water rose from deep in my heart with a loud rumble, but the tears fell silently down my cheeks.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

 


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