Why Am I Writing A Memoir?

October 17th, 2014

Every story has value. Every story is as unique as the soul that lived it. These are the things I say I believe. But, when it comes to my own story…well, my actions prove my disbelief.

I have written 23,021 words about my life. My story. We call it memoir, but today it feels like garbage. I’m tempted to throw it all out.

A month ago I felt so excited about this project. I even hired an editor to give me some feedback, but today all the excitement is gone. Maybe I just lost the momentum. Maybe everything else in my life has clouded my view. Or maybe this offering of story really is garbage. I’m not sure. I hope not.

Yesterday I heard from the editor. She was very encouraging and gave some very balanced, specific and helpful feedback. But somehow her “It really is a great story, and the world needs to read it” felt a little like it was coming from my mom. It felt a little like that statement “every story has value”. I don’t want my story to have value because every story has value. I want it to be something more than that.

I guess I’m realizing that I don’t actually believe that every story has value and that every story is unique. I don’t actually believe that every story should be told, even if I’ve said it in the past. Even if I want to believe it.

After talking with this editor friend the biggest thing I’m left with is questions.

I’ve known for a long time that my story lacks focus, a core, a thesis. It lacks clear direction. The editor picked up on that as well and gave me a few questions to think about:

Who is your ideal reader?

What do you want your readers to take away from the book?

I have been wrestling with these questions for nearly two years since I started writing and I feel no closer to having an answer. But, they have stirred up another question in my heart, a more fundamental question… Why?

Why am I writing this book? Why have I spent so many hours putting words on a page? Why do I have 23,021 words strung out together? Why do I keep working on it? Why do I want it out in the world? Why?

When I look at that question, and feel the uncertainty of my answer, I want to just press delete on the whole thing. I don’t know why I’m writing this memoir.

I think it started because I needed a way to process through everything that has been going on. But, I can process in blog posts. I do process in blog posts. Why memoir?

Because people asked me to. That’s a pretty poor reason, but plenty of people have read blog posts about what we’ve been going through and have said, “You should write a book.” So, I started writing, but if the only reason for writing was because other people wanted me to I would never have written more than a few pages. So, why have I written 23,021 words?

Because I’ve always dreamed of writing a book and being an author. Truth be told, I have a lot of ego hidden under my shy disposition. I secretly (or not so secretly) have always dreamed of some sort of recognition and acclaim. I wanted to be an actress, a dancer, a public speaker, and author – do you see a little bit of a theme here? I had other reasons besides recognition that I wanted to do all those things, but under the surface there was that quiet…”what if this really takes off?” Then there was the sly little smile that followed the thought. But, if that’s my reason I should be writing something very different from this memoir. I should be writing some pop culture inspired novel instead. Why memoir? Why this story?

Because there’s something that life has taught me, something this battle with cancer has showed me about myself and God and life in general that I want to share. Now we are getting closer to a real reason, but this is where I get stuck. What is it that I want to share? What is it that all of this has shifted and changed in me? The truth is that the things I’ve learned through these difficult seasons are incredibly hard to put in words, they can’t be summed up in one nice neat statement. They can’t be tied up into a nice little bow of a lesson. They aren’t easily crammed into a three point outline. It’s not a lesson. It’s a shift.

It has something to do with openhandedness and grace, with the image of the tide and the cycles of the moon. With spiraling non-linear mystery. It has something to do with the crashing waves on the shore and the boswellia tree. Something to do with expectations and not being in control. Something to do with the story of the Israelites in the desert and the resurrected Christ. But, I can’t quite put it all together.

This week I read Bellweather by Connie Willis. It’s a short, brilliantly written story about a scientist, a sociologist to be exact. Throughout the book she is on the edge of something, a break through, she keeps skirting around it, almost finding it, but not quite getting there. The chaos builds in the story, until it finally breaks and the discovery is made, there is an answer to the questions that have been raised, or at least a strong thesis emerges.

“Poincaré had believed creative thought was a process of inducing inner chaos to achieve a higher level of equilibrium. But did it have to be inner?…Chaotic systems create feedback loops that tend to randomize the elements of the system, displace them, shake them around so they’re next to elements they’ve never come in contact with before. Chaotic systems tend to increase in chaos, but not always. Sometimes they destabilize into a new level of order.” – Connie Willis, Bellwether

I’m dancing around the thesis and focus of this memoir, but I can’t quite find it, just like the the main character in Bellwether was dancing around her scientific discovery. Somewhere in the chaos the answer is there, but the chaos hasn’t “destabilized into a new level of order” yet. I haven’t found the order in the chaos yet.

Sometimes I don’t think I want to find it.

When people tie things up in neat little packages, I can’t help but think they don’t really get it. “This is what I learned from that experience”. “This is the one thing God taught me”. “Here is my three point summery of how God revealed x to me”. Statements like this get under my skin, like sandpaper they stick and rub and irritate. Oh, God is so much bigger than that. So much more mysterious. So much more complex.

Last night as I wrestled with the questions – why I am writing this story, who am I writing it for, what is the focus, the message, the core – I had a deep desire to just hop in the car and drive to the beach. To sit there in silence and solitude until the answer finally came to me.

Today as I process through these questions again I’m struck with a different solution. Perhaps all I need is more chaos, not less. Inspiration and innovation, ideas and discoveries, they often come in the midst of chaos and life.

I can’t imagine how my life could get more chaotic, but if I want to find my thesis, perhaps all I need to do is start paying more attention within the chaos.

Perhaps focus for the book doesn’t need to look like a linear thesis statement, or a three part outline, or a one sentence summary. Perhaps the core and focus can be more like a spiral, more like chaos itself. I don’t know. I’m just gonna sit with the question for awhile longer and see where it takes me.

For tonight I’m choosing not to push the delete button, and instead believe that this story really does have value. Even if I don’t yet know and can’t yet figure out, what it has to offer the world.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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Where I’m At and A Moon Salutation Routine

October 14th, 2014

NOTE: There’s a lot here and this might be one of my most random posts yet, but there’s so much on my mind lately I decided I just need to get it out. I’ve decide that rather than trying to make this into separate more well written posts or waiting till my thoughts were clearer or more coherent I would just put it out there and let you take from it what you will.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Yoga routine post here on the blog. In fact I think the last one was this one.

Honestly, it’s been a while since I shared anything on the blog (nearly a month). Most of you who have been around this space for a while, know that not writing it one of my warning signs. When I don’t write, something is wrong. There’s no need to worry yet, friends, but let me just say it’s been a tough few weeks for me.

For the first time in years life has been really busy. Like 15 things on my to-do list each day busy. And I haven’t handled it well. I’ve felt lost in it. A lot of it has been good things, really good, fulfilling things – like starting to teach yoga again. But, a lot of it has also been difficult for me. I never realized how much work would come with Sage turning three and having all of her services and therapys  change. Large portions of my day have been devoted to administrative tasks – making phone calls, filling out paperwork, scheduling appointments.

If you know me at all, you know that administrative tasks and me just don’t jive well together. It’s not that I can’t do them, it’s just that I hate doing them. I’m forgetful. I’m disorganized. And I have a hard time keeping all the balls in the air. Right now, though, dropping a ball and missing a step has some very personal consequences for my little girl.

So, I have been wrestling with my own failures, my own inadequacies to face this task, as administrator and advocate, that I was thrown into when given the title special needs mom.

But, most of all I’ve been trying to figure out how to translate the posture of openhanded surrender that I’ve fought so hard to obtain into this season of busy-ness. How do I surrender, and trust, and openhandedly let God be sovereign and do his work, when I have a mile long to-do list of things that won’t get done if I don’t do them?

How do I practically find my strength in God when I am running on empty, but can’t stop because there’s still one more call to make, or one more email to send, or one more thing to arrange? How do I find balance between the exciting things that I want to do, that fill me up, and the not so exciting things that I have to do? How do I find “white space” and “margin”? How do I listen to God’s spirit and follow his prompting when there is no space for flexibility?

I don’t have answers. I’m just asking questions.

For so long God and I related in this wrestling match over whether or not I would trust. REALLY truly deeply trust.

Recently I found a prayer journal where I had listed my biggest fears way back in college. I laughed reading the list, because in the past few years I have had to face nearly every single one of them head on. The biggest one being losing my husband. Bryan is thankfully still here, but this time last year the doctors gave him four months to live. And that hit hard. When Bryan’s cancer started growing again just a few months ago that hit hard too. But, I think I can finally say, sincerely, that I trust God. My hands are open. Whatever happens with Bryan I know that God loves us and is with us and is GOOD. Those aren’t just platitudes anymore. I know them. Not just in my mind, but deep in my soul.

I have been relating to God in seasons of big epic struggle for so long, though, that I suddenly find I am unsure how to relate to him in the mundane. In the details. In the busy-ness of day-to-day living.

I continually try to live day-to-day in my own strength, in my own power, by my own hand. And truth be told, I’m really not sure how NOT to live that way.

In the midst of these thoughts and questions and this busy-ness I keep hearing God whisper: “Am I enough. Do you want me more than you want sleep? More than you want yoga? More than all the things on your to-do list? More than you want your daughter to have the best equipment possible? More than you want your husband to live? More than you want to succeed at  your dreams? Am I enough?”

My only honest answer is no. No.

But, I wish it wasn’t. I hope that will change. And maybe there’s some key there to finding my strength in him? Maybe strength follows desire?

I don’t have answers. I’m just asking questions.

For now though, I’m sitting in it. Staying in the questions. Staying in my honest answer. Staying in this place of awkward busy-ness. This place where I feel weak, constantly doing things that are out of my comfort zone and not within my natural skill set.

Last week I went to a yoga class where the teacher had us hold these strong standing poses for long periods of time. Every muscle in my body was shaking and trembling. It didn’t hurt, my alignment was good. I could hold it. But, I didn’t want to. I was weak and trembling and I wanted to just move into the next pose already! But, I didn’t. I stayed with it. I stuck with it. I sunk a little deeper into it. And I shook. I felt embarrassed by my shaking, but then I was reminded. This is how you build strength. You don’t build it in your comfort zone, moving only through poses that are natural for you. You build it by doing those poses that are more challenging, those poses that you don’t want to do. You do it, by staying with it and not giving up.

This season I’ve found myself in. It’s caused a lot of trembling and shaking in my heart. I want to move past it. I want to outsource my to-do list. I want to get out of the pose. But, I don’t think that’s how I will learn to live from God’s strength. I think I need to stay in it, even if I shake and tremble and possibly fall. Even if my weakness causes embarrassment and I sometimes drop the ball. Because this pose, this season, this won’t last forever. And staying in it, that’s where I’m going to build and learn and absorb strength.

But, this staying in the pose, this is different than “pulling yourself up by your boot straps”. It’s different than trying to force yourself into a pose that your body isn’t ready for yet. It’s different than trying to do something in your own strength. This actually isn’t really doing much of anything. When I hold warrior II I’m not trying to force anything, all I’m doing is not giving myself an easy out.

A few weeks ago I felt like I was wound up tight like a clock, unable to calm down, unable to cool down. Often flitting and floating in a state of ungrounded stress. I even had to start keeping a small fan by the side of my bed to help with all the hot flashes I was having when I was up with insomnia. Not good, right? But, it wasn’t surprising considering the circumstances of my life right now. I may be able to trust God with the outcome of Bryan’s cancer, but it doesn’t make the reality of cancer go away. I may be able to trust God with my daughter and her needs, but it doesn’t make the reality of her needs disappear. I am still, and will be for quite some time, a care giver and trying to add my own work and dreams into that role has proved to be overwhelming at best.

I was trying to force so many things. I was working hard to make things happen. I wasn’t trusting the process. I wasn’t sinking deeper into the pose I was already in. Instead I was pulling on my own strength. It didn’t work well. I hit a wall. Big time. I had tried to push myself too hard. I tried to push into poses I wasn’t suppose to be in yet, and I didn’t want to just come back to the pose I was suppose to be in, I wanted to revert. To sink back down into child’s pose and just stay there.

The lesson in trembling and staying spoke specifically to this in my heart. It reminded me that all I really needed to do was stay in this place, in this pose. I didn’t need to try to take the momentum from this pose and push myself into a harder one. And I also didn’t need to fall back into something more comfortable and easy. What I needed to do was simply stay where I was, in the place God had me.

I wanted to stop the busy-ness altogether, but that was impossible so I felt frustrated. But, what I really needed to do, wasn’t to stop altogether, it was just to stay. To slow down and hold each pose as it came.

As I’ve thought of all this I’ve been reminded a lot of moon salutations.

Most practitioners of yoga are familiar with sun salutations, even if they haven’t been practicing for very long. The sun salutation is a series of poses which builds heat in the body. It’s often done at the beginning of yoga classes, and it’s not uncommon to find whole classes built around sun salutations. It’s a wonderful way to warm up and a great way to start the day.

Moon salutations, on the other hand, are much less common. It’s something that I only recently became familiar with and I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for nearly ten years.

The moon salutation series is a more cooling, meditative, grounding series. The emphasis is on flow and gentle movement, rather than the sharp jumps and strong movements of sun salutation. Poses are held for longer, with an emphasis on sinking more deeply into the postures.

The most common variation of moon salutation is a series created in the 1980’s.  Shiva Rea also has a lovely variation that is based on a moon salutation from the 1960’s.  A friend just sent me this version this morning, which I also particularly like.

After looking over a number of moon salutations I decided to attempt to build my own moon salutation variation and I’m loving it.

I love how it echoes the phases of the moon, which also seems to echo how our lives cycle through phases. Moon salutations remind me that no season lasts forever. Even if this season is hard and causes trembling and lasts longer than I want, it won’t last forever.

This sequence starts out strong and full with goddess pose and then moves slowly through these arching poses until it comes to a grounding quiet squat, only to then move back through arching poses into the fullness of goddess pose again. That cycle, that rhythm, feels so natural to me. So right.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Mountain Pose

Side stretch (right side)

Side stretch (left side)

Goddess pose

High lung (right foot forward)

Down dog

Falling heart pose

Low lunge (left foot forward)

Triangle (left foot forward)

Spontaneous Flowing Half Squat (or Monkey pose)

Squat

Spontaneous Flowing Half Squat (or Monkey pose)

Triangle

Low lunge (right foot forward)

Melting heart pose

Down dog

High lunge (left food forward)

Goddess pose

Side stretch (left side)

Side stretch (right side)

Mountain

I had planned on sharing a little video of this routine, but, well, it felt overwhelming, so I opted not to. Sorry, friends! Maybe I’ll post a little of it on Instagram since that’s easy, so if you’re over there come find me.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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A Shaky Step

September 18th, 2014

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My finger hesitates over the send button.

There aren’t just butterflies in my stomach. There’s a whole parade of stampeding elephants. Elephants painted with big bold signs across their sides, which they prance proudly in front of me.

“Who are you?”

“Why would anyone want to read your story?”

“This is garbage!”

“You call this a memoir?”

“Your characters are flat.”

“Your dialogue is boring.”

“Why are you writing this?”

“What could it possibly add to the world?”

“You aren’t as good at this as her… or her… or her… or him… or her… or him.”

“Give up before you waste any more time on it.”

Oh, their messages are loud. My whole body feels riddled with them. I shake.

And then I breath.

“Hello, elephants. Hello, fear. Hello, insecurity. Hello, self-doubt. Hello. I see you. I hear you. I know my writing doesn’t live up to lots of other people’s talent. I know that others have told similar stories far more eloquently. I know that I’m still learning. But, for today, just for today, I’m not going to listen to you. I’m choosing something else.”

I don’t hesitate this time. My finger hits the send button and instantly more than 23,000 words race from their safe home on my computer, to the email of a woman I have never met.

Today I’m taking a step towards honoring my dreams. Today I’m taking a step towards believing in myself. Today I’m taking a step towards valuing my writing, that thing which I can’t stop doing, which is so close to my soul that to stop doing it would be to stop breathing. Today I am choosing not to compare my day one with someone else’s day 1,567.

I am taking that step even if my feet shake while I take it. I am taking that step even though the elephant parade marches on all around me.

Today I am not just taking a step and working at my writing, I am paying for help. I am saying this is important enough to me that I will put something valuable towards it.

Today I sent a very rough version of my memoir off to an editor so she can help coach me through where it needs help and where I should take it from here.

I just sent a piece of my heart and my creativity out into the world, and although the elephants haven’t stopped their stampeding, my breath tells me a different story.

“This is a GOOD step.”

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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On Following Intuition and Taking Sage Out of School

September 11th, 2014

I think the decision to put your child in school, and in which school, is always challenging for parents. We all want to do what’s best for our children. We want them to learn, succeed, be safe and happy.

Sending your child off to school always requires a great deal of trust. Suddenly your baby is out in a world that is unknown. You are no longer the only one protecting and guiding them. School is the first giant step they take away from you.

Every parent feels a tinge of sadness and fear, mixed with the excitement of freedom, as they hug their child goodbye on the first day of school.

But when your child has special needs, that sadness and fear is magnified tenfold.

I started having anxiety about sending Sage to school when she was barely one. In Seattle we were told that if she didn’t enter the public school system at three she wouldn’t get therapy. When we moved to Arizona we learned that because Sage got into long term care she was eligible for therapy even if she didn’t go to school. My relief was tangible. At least some of the pressure was lifted, but not all of it.

I still knew that Sage would get more therapy if she was in school than out of school. She would get more mental stimulation in school than out of school. She would get more social interaction in school than out of school. I felt I had to put her in school in order to provide these good things for her.

But, that didn’t make me feel better about sending her off.

How could I really send my non-mobile and non-verbal daughter into the world at only three years old? She can’t come home and tell me what happened at school. She can’t come home and tell me about the kid that bullied her or the teacher that scolded her. She can’t defend herself. She can’t even move from point A to point B on her own.

She is highly susceptible to illness and anytime she gets sick it disrupts her feeds, which has often landed us in the hospital.

She is vulnerable. On so many levels.

Throughout the summer, as her third birthday drew close, my unrest and unease grew. “We are doing the right thing, we are doing what’s best for her,” I kept telling myself. But I couldn’t quite believe it.

I thought it was just fear and I don’t ever want my decisions to be determined by fear. But today, in the quiet, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This feeling of unease is more than fear, that’s why I can’t shake it.

If it was just fear, then my self talk, reminding myself of all the reasons why school would be good for Sage, would help quiet my unease. But it hasn’t.

If it was just fear than facing my fear, sending her to school, having some of those fears become reality, would diminish the power of this uneasy feeling. But it didn’t.

As I drove Thaddeus to school I suddenly remembered, what I’m shocked I could have forgotten. The lesson I learned about intuition when I put Thaddeus in preschool.

The first school we put Thad in looked perfect on paper. It was a well known, well established, Montessori school in our area. The campus was beautiful, complete with a lovely garden the children helped tend. The owner of the school was a kind, structured, earth-loving grandmother figure. The teachers where knowledgable and highly trained. But I felt conflicted, torn, and uneasy the whole time he was there. I never felt peace about it. For six months I tried to rationalize away that intuitive feeling. For six months Thaddeus cried every single day that I dropped him off.

Then over Christmas break I finally listened to my heart, and to the voice of the Spirit that had been trying to get my attention. I pulled Thad out of that school and found another school for him. The new school was small, and much less shiny on the outside, but the teachers really cared about their students and Thaddeus did well there. He stopped crying when I took him to school. And I felt peace.

I realized today that the feeling I had with Thad at that first school is exactly the feeling I have about school for a Sage right now. I don’t want it to take six months before I listen to that feeling. I have too often ignored that still small voice and come to regret it. I want to respond more quickly now.

So, today I officially decided to take Sage out of school. Right away, I felt peace in regards to her schooling for the first time in months. I have to follow that peace.

Throughout the day I slowly came to realize ways that I could meet the needs of my daughter that school would have fulfilled.

I had a wonderful talk with a friend who’s starting a preschool co-op, which seems like it could help with my desire to give Sage more social stimulation. I talked with the pediatrician about a service in the area where the school district sends a teacher to the home of medically fragile kids for two hours a week to provide learning and mental stimulation. I got some necessary paperwork done so Sage can continue to receive physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy every week.

I worried that if I didn’t put my daughter in school she would be suffering and wouldn’t get what she needs. I don’t worry about that anymore.

Sage is thriving and she will continue to do so even outside of school.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Dreaming With Open Hands

August 30th, 2014

I nearly fell to the floor of the shower. Hunching my body over into child’s pose with hands extended, palms up, palms open. I’ve been striving, and reaching, and going a hundred miles a minute, and all in a moment I knew it needed to stop.

My body felt sick. My eyes itched. My nose ran. My stomach turned. My muscles ached. It was trying to tell me something and I hadn’t been listening.

All week I had feared if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get going again. I didn’t want to process. I didn’t want to think. I just wanted to keep moving. And it was catching up to me.

I stayed there for a long time with the water pouring over my back.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to grasp and strive. I don’t want to seize back the control that I struggled so long to surrender. I want to live with more grace. I want to live with open hands. I want to continue to dream and work towards those dreams, but not from a place of desperation or urgency. I want to step towards my dreams with an attitude of curiosity and openness instead.

Lately I’ve had a lot of dreams. I lot of things that I want to start and do. Perhaps it’s a way for my heart to throw it’s attention into something else, other than Bryan. Perhaps it’s just the season – autumn has always stirred lots of longing in my soul.

Many of my current dreams are projects that I hope will make me an income of my own. Projects that I hope will turn into jobs of sorts. They require planning and marketing, and for the first time I have run headfirst into those grey areas that have for so long scared the hell out of me.

In the past, when I would get a new idea I’d always test it out – I’d see who was interested. I’d timidly (though also excitedly) tell a few friends and ask them if they were interested. Let’s just say that this never worked out very well. Not because my friends were not encouraging – they often were. But my timidity worked against me, their encouragement always came with caution. With my fragile sense of self and self worth, this caution usually caused enough self doubt for me to not continue with the idea. I pitched ideas timidly to friends, seeking their approval before continuing, and I know I don’t want to do that anymore.

I am finally at a place where I can recognize this pattern, and don’t feel the need to repeat it. These new ideas I’ve been brewing – I’m not doing that with them. I am stepping out in faith to pursue them, I am planning launches and valuing myself and my skills.

That being said, I realized, as the water fell around my tired body, that something was wrong. These steps to value my ideas were good steps, but they had also come with something else – a sense of urgent panic that wasn’t good. I felt this urgency to finish these ideas, to get them to a launch point as quickly as possible because I had no idea what next month would bring. I knew that I might have to set them down, abandon them, to care for Bryan, and I wanted to get as far as I could on them before that. I was in a desperate frenzy.

I bought into the philosophy of scarcity and allowed it to lead me to close my grip tightly around MY plans. I said that I was fine with whatever happened with these ideas, I said I was approaching them openhandedly, but the truth was something very different.

The water from the shower splashed onto my open palms and something broke and shifted in my heart.

Lord, I don’t want to strive for the things I can create in my own power. I only want the things you create in your grace.
Lord, I don’t want to build my own tribe. I want the tribe that you build for me.
Lord, I don’t want to seek acceptance from others, for my ideas or my self image. I want to seek you.
Lord, I don’t want fear to drive me. I don’t want urgency and desperation to drive me. I don’t even want desire to drive me. I want to be driven and guided by the Spirit of Love.

I lay all these ideas. All these desires at your feet. Bring what you will.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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