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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Invest and Wait

 

My stomach did little flips as I walked to the front of the room for my holy yoga student teaching. Four girls from my group laid out their mats and looked at me. I tried not to think about what a disaster the last class I taught had been. I pushed it from my mind and said a quick prayer.

As I led them through the short class I could feel my whole body shaking, but my voice was steady.

When it was all over, the feedback was validating.

“I love that you did this…”

“I like how you said that…”

“You have the yoga part down…”

“You weaved the word well, but you are ready to go deeper and take your class further. You have a voice you need to share even more.”

And down in my gut I heard, “You are good at this.”

—-

She came along side of me as we walked, “I wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying the writing project you are doing on Instagram. There’s something really inviting about each piece.” She emphasized the word inviting and it lingered in my mind.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling as I gave her a sideways hug.

Deep in my soul the message rose up, “You are good at this.”

My hands shook a little as I spoke, “I am loving doing this, but I think I need to pull back. At least from the day to day.”

I leaned forward in my seat and took a sip of coffee. She was gracious and understanding and so very encouraging.

I left the coffee shop with her words ringing in my head, “You are good at this.”

—-

I sat in the quiet asking God for a word, one word, for my ministry in this season, asking how I should use what skills I have for his glory. It came quickly, but it was undeniable, unavoidable: “WAIT.”

Pull back. Not yet. Hold.

Tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn’t the word I wanted.

I wanted to come into my own, to bloom and blossom, and do something great. I wanted all these messages of “you are good at this” to mean something. I wanted to use these things for some great purpose or good. I wanted to hear NOW, charge the gate, it’s time.

Instead the message was “hold”. It wasn’t let go of these things, it wasn’t give them up, it was wait. Hold them. Keep them close to your heart. A time will come, but it’s not yet.

These desires aren’t bad, these dreams aren’t bad, these skills aren’t bad, but it’s more important that you follow. Follow were Jesus leads – in this season, in this day, in this very moment.

I was standing in the kitchen when I opened the email. My phone was tethered to the wall by the power cord as it sucked energy from the outlet. When I read the words I wished I was tethered as well.

“When Grief Masquerades as Hustle”

That was the subject line and it was enough. It struck me like an arrow.

Ever since last fall when Bryan’s tumors began to grow again I have fluctuated between inactivity and overactivity. I have thrown myself into new ventures, new work, new dreams, new projects, new trainings. And then I have ended up burned out and/or sick and unable to function at all. As soon as some semblance of energy returned I was back to hustling, but in a new area or realm.

There were good intentions, good ideas, good dreams. And a few good results. But, no margin.

Grief masquerading as hustle. Hustle as a drug for grief. Hustle as an avoidance for grief.

Hustle isn’t a healthy response to grief. And neither is inactivity.

This hit too close to home. I closed my email. I would finish reading later.

And so the message comes again: Hold. Wait. Slow. Steady.

And yet I wrestle. Because the message comes amidst open doors and words of validation. Because some dreams have been festering in my heart for five, seven, ten years now. I’m tired of holding them. I’m tired of hearing wait.

We didn’t plan on running into them. We were finished with our meal when they walked through the door. But we pulled up seats at their table and stayed because how often do you get to have a spontaneous meal with people you enjoy?

Throughout the conversation one word rose to the surface again and again…invest.

It’s risen to the surface of multiple conversations since. And I think somewhere in that word is a clue.

It’s not time for fruition, it’s time for investment.

Investing allows for margin. It’s devoting some portion of yourself or your resources to something with the hope of a future return. Not a current return, a future return.

Right now it’s not about fulfillment or completion, not about big dreams or accomplishments. It’s about intentional investment. Hold your time and skills with intention, and invest first and foremost in LOVE.

There are only so many hours in the day, so many days in a year. And all of it is fleeting. Our lives are short.

How do I value my time and use it wisely? How do I invest intentionally in myself, in my dreams, in my children, in my friends, in LOVE? How do I find balance in my ideas, pursuits, and responsibilities? How do I discover balance without resentment?

I can’t say I’ve found the answers, but I think it has something to do with listening and getting still enough to hear Love’s call. Then following that call for each day, each moment, into intentional investment.

What do you think?

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Embracing Discomfort

“Buuut, nooooo.” His drawn out whine turns quickly into grunts and groans. His little body tense. His breathing shallow and quick. He reaches out for me in desperation, begging me not to leave. “Mooooooommmmmy!”

I sigh and sit down on the edge of the bed again. “Take a deep breath. Use your words.” I instruct. My voice is gentle, but firm, and I can hear the weariness creeping in at the edges. He calms a little and struggles to find the words. “Are you afraid?” I ask.

“Yes…No.” He shakes his head and the corners of his lips turn down slightly. Then in his matter of fact voice, the one he uses when he’s trying to explain something to me as if I’m the child, the voice he uses when he’s trying to figure something out, “Well, it’s not really that I’m afraid. It’s not like I’m scared something will happen…” He pauses, “It’s different. But, it’s sort of like fear. I just…” His voice lowers, “I don’t want…” He begins to work himself up again, “I don’t want to be aloooooone.”

A sympathetic smile stretches across my lips, “It’s loneliness. The feeling is lonely. You don’t want to feel lonely.”

He latches onto the word right away. “I’m lonely. Don’t leave. It’s noooot faaaaair!”

That term grates on my nerves for what feels like the hundredth time that day. My fatigue begins to win out over my sympathy. “It’s ok to feel lonely. I need to leave now.” I make it half way down the hall before he starts crying and calling after me. I don’t want him to wake up Sage. I take a deep breath and lower my shoulders before going back in. This time I have to make a conscious effort to keep the impatience from taking over. “Thaddeus, I already read and laid down with you for a long time. It’s late now. I know you are lonely and I know that is an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t like feeling lonely either. But, it’s ok to feel lonely. It is not ok to yell and call after me. You might wake up Sage. It’s time for me to go now.”

He begins to work himself up and get loud again, and I resort to the one thing I know will work, “Thaddeus, if this continues I’m not going to be able to lay down with you tomorrow. I’m sorry. I really want to lay down with you tomorrow, but I can’t reward this kind of behavior and I need to know that you will listen and let mommy go when I say it’s time.”

“Nooooo! I want you to lay down with me tomorrooooooow.” He whines.

“And I want to lay down with you too. It’s entirely in your power to make that happen.”

“Buuuut, I’m loooooonely.”

“I know. Try singing a song, or playing a game in your head, or you can count quietly, or tell yourself a story.” I list off a few options, and it dawns on me that I am just giving him distractions. “It’s ok to be lonely.” I say the words again and really hear them. “It’s ok to be lonely.”

I leave the room eventually with this quote playing in my head.

“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight

Has made my eyes so soft,

My voice so tender,

My need of God

Absolutely

Clear.” – Hafiz

And I realize that I do exactly what Thaddeus did tonight. I throw a tantrum when I start to feel lonely, afraid, confused, or any other number of “negative” emotions. And if I can calm myself down from my tantrum I do exactly what I advised him to do, I avoid those feelings, distracting myself with other things. I surrender my loneliness too quickly as Hafiz wrote.

What if instead I just sat with those feelings? The feelings that are uncomfortable. The feelings I don’t want. What if I was able to make friends with them? Invite them to do their deep work. What if I embraced the discomfort instead of trying to get away from it? What if I allowed these feelings to soften my eyes, soften my voice and drive me to recognize and understand my deep need for God?

What would that look like. I think perhaps it would look a little like Holy Saturday.

This is the work of Holy Saturday, isn’t it? The disciples scared, confused, locked away, huddled together in the upper room. Sitting in the dark, in the unknown, in the liminal space. Sitting with those uncomfortable feelings, sitting with our failed expectations, sitting with the “it isn’t fair” that rises up in our hearts. Sitting in-between death and resurrection.

I pray that whatever liminal, threshold, space you find yourself in would be ripe with hope. That even in the darkness you would feel the strong arms of grace. I pray for grace in the waiting, grace in the uncomfortable feelings you don’t want to feel, grace in the unknown. Grace in your tantrums and grace in your distractions. Grace to sit in the awkwardness of silence. Grace be with you, friends. And grace be with me as well.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany


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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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