Beauty in Impermanence

I have never been much of a flower person. It’s not that I don’t love flowers, I do. Flowers are beautiful and all beauty stirs something in my heart. But here’s the thing…once that beauty was stirred I wanted to hold on to it, I wanted to keep it.

But a bouquet of flowers are the epitome of impermanence.

The practical side of me had a hard time spending money on something so fleeting. But there was something more than that going on in my heart. My heart didn’t want beauty to be impermanent. In fact I didn’t really care for anything that reminded me of impermanence.

Then I had to come face to face with the hardest of impermanences: the impermanence of love.

Because like it or not, try as I might to avoid it, Bryan is going to die. Not because he has cancer, but because he is human. He is going to die. I am going to die. My children are going to die. Everyone I care about is going to die. And before those final goodbyes our relationships will vary and change countless times, they will ebb and flow through innumerable variations. They will change. And be changed again. And I don’t like that.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about this in her beautiful book Gift from the Sea.

When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from  moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

The truth is we are creatures of little trust. Alhough we see the variability, the constancy of change, the impermanence, all around us, we try to deny it. We want beauty that is permanent. We want relationships that are constant. We fight against our temporal ever-changing surroundings.

For so long my heart had little trust. I was fearful and scared of change and impermanence. I desired beauty and love, but I desired to have them without the pain of inevitable loss. In fact, without any pain. It has only been in facing my biggest fear, the fear of losing my husband, that I have begun to understand the value in impermanence.

Trying to cling to beauty and love kills it.

The impermanence of flowers doesn’t lessen their beauty, any more than the impermanence of a sunset lessens it’s beauty. It actually enhances it. The same is true of love.

Now there is a added value to me in flowers. They remind me that impermanence is a message. When I embrace impermanence I embrace trust. Trust in a God who “set eternity in the hearts of men”. Because this denial of impermanence, this longing to hold on to things, this longing to keep things from changing, it is itself a longing for eternity, for the timeless, for the spiritual.

And so flowers and sunsets and all the fleeting, changing, varying beauty of relationship is a message to me, a reminder, that there is a better day coming. A resurrection day.

And every flower becomes for me twice a symbol of the resurrection. Once as it bursts forth in life out of dark soil, and twice as it withers and dies. It whispers even in death – there’s a better day coming.

And this is why I’m so excited that my friend Jenna is launching this amazing project to start a mobile boutique floral shop. She is doing more than just spreading flowers, beauty, and creativity. She is spreading resurrection.

I hope you take a second to look at her kickstarter campaign. Share some love and help her spread some of the wonderfully impermanent beauty of flowers.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany


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Change Through Darkness

“‘Praise, praise!’ I croak. Praise God for all that’s holy, cold, and dark. Praise him for all we lose, for all the river of the years bears off. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. Praise him for emptiness. And as you race to spill into the sea, praise him yourself, old Wear. Praise him for dying and the peace of death.” – Godric, by Frederick Buechner

“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.” – Till We Have Faces, by C.S Lewis

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” John 12:24-25, The Message

These quotes have been playing in my head, weaving a tapestry of thought across my mind. And on the tapestry there are two images.

One is the image of a New Moon. Darkness before rebirth.

The other is the image of a seed buried deep in the earth. Darkness before rebirth.

And then the wind blows and the sun beats warm around me and I can feel another image in the air. Winter turned to spring. Darkness before rebirth.

It seems the pattern of the world that change is heralded by darkness.

And then I’m captured by the inactivity in these images. The moon does nothing to change from darkness to fullness, in fact it isn’t really even a reality it experiences. It simple keeps it’s course navigating around the sun. The seed doesn’t determine to grow, it just sits in stillness in the earth and without effort it sprouts. Surrounded by exactly what it needs to grow – rick, dark, moist, soil – it grows of no effort of it’s own. Spring may battle with winter for a time, but it is a battle of play not of effort. Both know who the winner will be. Spring comes forth slowly or quickly at the time appointed to it, not by it’s own effort.

Soon other quotes are weaving their own layers over my mental tapestry…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

    I will be exalted among the nations,

    I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,

    in quietness and trust is your strength,” – Isaiah 30:15

I sit with this tapestry wrapped all around me, soaked in the images of darkness. I am still. And I wait for the change that I know is coming.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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…And Also Weary

Lately I’ve struggled with insomnia. As I lay in bed I stare at the ceiling, or at my husbands sleeping face next to me, and I think and pray. It’s given a lot of room to my thoughts. Sometimes more than I would like.

You’d think when my husbands tumors started to shrink the only feeling I’d feel would be gratitude. Or joy and elation. You’d think my heart would be filled with nothing but praise. You’d think that I’d start to be able to sleep at night. But, that’s not the case.

In the past three weeks since Bryan finished chemo the tumors that we can feel have shrunk a lot. They are back to where they were 4 months ago. This is amazing news. Good news. It’s news that breaths life into our days. It’s news that has enabled us to feel new freedom. The freedom to dream and pursue things on our bucket list. A month ago I didn’t think we had that kind of time. Now I do. That feels really good.

But, I have a confession to make.

Those really good feelings – gratitude, freedom, joy, thankfulness – aren’t the only feelings that flood my heart. There’s a weariness that enters in too.

Because here’s the truth. Losing Bryan would be devastating. I don’t want it to happen at all. But, somewhere in my heart I’ve started to believe that it’s coming eventually. I’m starting to believe the first oncologist we ever saw, who said, “Once it goes to stage 4 he will die of it. Treatments at that point will only be about keeping him alive as long as possible.” I’m starting to feel that, feel it deep in my core. We are just trying to keep him alive as long as possible.

And here’s my confession… somewhere deep in my heart… I sort of just want it over.

It’s the part of me that always wants to hear bad news first, the part of me that liked to finish my homework as soon as possible. It’s the part of me that doesn’t like having things I don’t like hanging over my head.

Next month it will have been three years since Bryan was diagnosed with melanoma. Three years that we have been living with this stress hanging over us. In September it will be two years since it went to stage four. That might not seem like a long time to you, but let me tell you, it feels like a long time. It’s a long time to live not knowing if you have another month together or another year.

So, here’s the truth. When I feel Bryan’s tumors shrinking I feel my grief lessen, but my stress level increase. I feel joy and gratitude that we have a bit more time to do things we want to do, that my children will have that much more time with their father, and that many more memories with him. But, I also feel like I know what’s coming and I’d rather just get it over with.

Part of me wants as much time with Bryan as I can get, wants my children to have as much time with him as they can get. And then there’s another part of me that just wants this whole nightmare over, wants to face the hard terrible inevitable that’s coming head on so that I can get it behind me.

It’s horrible. And it feels even more horrible to confess it in writing. To put it out there for all the world to judge. I feel incredibly guilty for feeling that way.

But, here’s the thing, it’s incredibly rare to feel only one emotion at any given time. That’s just not how we live this life. We are not simple beings, we are complex, and the feelings we feel about a given situation at any given time are equally complex. We mix joy with stress, worry with gratitude and confessing to one does not negate the other.

The part of me that wants it all over doesn’t make the part of me that wants to extend this journey with Bryan as long as possible any less valid or strong. One feeling does not over power or over shadow the other. My mix of feelings doesn’t mean that I love Bryan any less. It means I’m human. And we humans are really good at something, we are really good at carrying conflicting emotions around in our hearts. We all do it every single day.

But, we try to pretend that we don’t. We try to only acknowledge the emotions that we deem as “good”. When I first started to process through this feeling of “wanting it all to be over” I felt it was a horrible feeling. And yes, there is a lot of selfishness in it. But, the truth is it’s just a feeling. The problem only comes when I begin to act on it by closing off my heart. On it’s own it’s just a feeling, and when I deny that feeling I deny I part of myself. When I hide that feeling I don’t give God a chance to weed through and work through that selfishness with me. Hiding that feeling gives it the kind of power to make it “horrible”. But, bringing it out into the light, well, then it becomes just a feeling, a little bit of my truth in this moment, and fertile ground for God to step in and change me.

This road that we have been walking for three years has been long already, and it might be a lot longer. I hope it is a lot longer. But, staying in something this hard is, well, hard. Really hard.

This morning I was reading in Psalm 6 and I was stopped dead in my tracks by verse 3 – “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” That’s what I feel like crying out. How long? How long?

Each time that mix of feelings rises to the surface of my heart I draw to mind an image that my pastor always likes to use. He says that the picture that goes along with the word perseverance is the image of one of those greek columns that holds up an enormous amount of weight. It stands firm under the heavy load, under all of the pressure.

My confession is that there’s a part of me that wants out from under this pressure, this weight, this heavy load. I don’t want to be the column any more. I want the weight lifted even if that means I have to carry a heavier load for a little while. A part of me wants to run away, wants the easier way out, wants to get the grieving over with so I can move on. But, I pray for the peace to remain. I sent out a prayer email recently where I wrote this:

I have been thinking a lot about two different phrases, the first is “stand firm” and the second is “hold fast”. I think that’s sort of where I’m at right now, I’m needing to just stay in it, sit with it, stand firm, hold fast, despite the fact that I feel run down, beat down, weary. Despite the fact that I would rather run away from it all and loose myself in distractions. Despite the fact that life has picked back up a little more quickly than I would have liked. Despite the fact that there could still be curve balls thrown at me around any corner and I feel like I’m walking around with all my guards up expecting to be hit again at any moment. Just hold fast, heart. Just stand firm, faith. Just stay in it, soul. Just be still.”

We still have a long way yet to go. Our oncologist encouragingly told us this last visit that we are not at our last option, we have lots of options left. We still have lots that we can try and in that we can be grateful… and also weary.

Recently two different people have sent me Hebrews 12:1-3 and I have been thinking on it often. There’s a few sections that have particularly stood out to me:

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Consider Jesus so that you do not grow weary and lose heart. Friends, after three years of this I am weary and my heart is heavy. So, tonight I’m confessing these feelings and then I’m leaving them here.

I don’t want my focus to be on my weariness at a long journey ahead, OR on my joy that the tumors are shrinking. I want my focus to be on Jesus. Because, that’s really the only way for me to hold up under the pressure, for me to run with perseverance this long race. I need Jesus. That’s it. I don’t need this cancer journey to be over more quickly. I don’t need Bryan by my side for always. I just need Jesus. So very much.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Numbering Our Days

Three men invaded my home last weekend. Brothers, who’ve been more than friends to my husband since before I knew him.

They have their own way of talking. Subjects that they circle and come back to again. They have their own words and inside jokes.

My husband loves them. Each one of them. Being with them breathes life into his heart.

I love them. Because, for more than a decade, I have watched them love my husband. I have seen their loyalty and their care. They are guys, and they don’t always communicate as much, or as regularly, as I would like. But they show up, and they make my husband feel connected and known.

They and a few others helped shape my husband into the man he is today. I have seen the value of choosing good friends during formative years and my husband had that. He was surrounded by guys who were (and are) trustworthy and loyal, guys who laughed and had fun and goofed off, but who also stood firm in their faith and sought wisdom. My husband would not be the same without these friendships and I will always feel grateful for each of them.

It was so sweet to have them here. So bitter sweet.

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I couldn’t listen to my husband laughing with these friends without thinking, “Will this be the last time?”

I couldn’t see them playing with my children without thinking, “Will the next time be at a funeral?”

I couldn’t join them in planning another visit for next year without wondering, “Will we make it till then?”

Maybe this seems pessimistic to you, maybe it seems like I’m being ridiculous or jumping the gun. Bryan’s tumors shrunk after our last round of chemo. They are back to being about the size they were 3 months ago. We have bought ourselves some time.

We will start another experimental trial treatment at the beginning of March. Our oncologist said that we still have options – he listed off three things we could try after this trial if it doesn’t work. I know we are not at the end yet. But a year feels like a long time. Statistically, I know it’s a long time.

I try to fight those thoughts, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes they come more quickly than I can push them away. And honestly, I’m starting to think that maybe they have their value. Despite the bitter undertone these thoughts gave the weekend, they also added an addition of sweet preciousness.

A desire rose in me with each thought, a desire to soak in the whole weekend, to hold on to it, to remember.

I wish I had taken more pictures while they were here, but I was too busy. I was too busy standing back and letting it all wash over me. Soaking it in.

Most of the time this thing called cancer taints my life with a whole lot of fear and anxiety. But sometimes, it paints a precious sweetness across my days. When you truly know your days are numbered you savor them a little more. It’s cliche but it’s true.

“Teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Psalm 90:12

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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A Decade of Yes

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Ten years ago today this man asked me to marry him. I don’t know how to put into words the past ten years.

We were so young then. Yes, young is really the only word for it. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. And, oh, there was so much we didn’t know.

I don’t feel so young now. Life and circumstances have aged us and changed us a lot. We are not the same people who said yes to love a decade ago. And yet every day that we keep saying yes we find a love that is infinitely sweeter than when we began.

We have grown and changed together. We have learned and questioned and shifted together. We have cried and fought and wounded together. We have made choices together. And we have found in one another part of ourselves.

This man, that I said yes to ten years ago, is part of me now. Because of all the yeses that we have said to one another since that day, we are now one.

And today I want to cling to him. Fiercely.

I want to cling to the life that I have with him and because of him.

Last night I rubbed his back with tears streaming down my face as he swallowed a pill full of poison. Chemo has been hard this week. He’s tired and nauseated. He’s slept through most of the week.

This morning he left for his chemo infusion without saying goodbye and my sensitive heart cried soft tears. All I could think was I should be going with him. I should be with him. I can’t not be with him. I don’t know what I would do without him. I don’t know what I would be without him.

I imagine that couples who’ve spent multiple decades together feel this even more. But, we’ve done a lot of living in our one decade of marriage. We’ve said a lot of yeses. And each yes has knit us closer together. We’ve shared a lot of life and love, hurt and hope. We are connected. And this threat of separation called cancer, it rips at me.

I had no idea what I was getting into a decade ago. But I knew that Bryan and I fit and a I know that even more now.

Marriage can be tough. Really tough. And marriages can die while both partners live on. Each “no” that we say to one another, each time we turn away, connection is cut and severed just a little bit.

I am so grateful that is not our story. I am so grateful for all the yeses that we have said to one another since that first yes. I am so deeply grateful for the ways that we have said yes to adventure and love and romance, in all the nitty gritty daily ways of real life. I am so grateful that even in the tough places, the heart crushing days, we can turn together and breath a sigh of gratitude to be together in the muck. 

There really is no one I would rather walk through this muck with than Bryan. Thank you, Bryan, for turning toward me a decade ago and every day since. Thank you for all the yeses you’ve said to me and all the opportunities you’ve given me to say yes to you.

I’m praying fiercely for another decade of yeses today. 

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Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

photo credit: Mikel Anne Photography


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