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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…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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