Weak Arms and Small Armies

Her voice cut out and I repositioned the phone to my other ear. 

“You cut out for a moment, what did you say?”

Her voice broke a little as she repeated herself, but this time I knew it wasn’t the reception. 

She told me she’d been praying for an army for us. 

I cried and told her I feel like we need an army. I told her how weary I am and how there’s still, always, so much more to do. 

“But I feel like our people are weary too.” I said.  

I think they are as tired of this battle as I am. I think they are as tired of me as I am of myself. 

And besides, they already have so much to carry. They are stressed and weary from their own battles. I don’t think they have the strength or energy to hold up my feeble arms. 

The weight of it all came rushing over me. My cheeks were wet now and I didn’t feel like wiping them dry. I looked out the window down into the UCLA courtyard and watched the people walking below. How many of them are here for oncology appointments? How many of them are in pain? How many of them feel the overwhelming weight of uncertainty and helplessness that I feel now? I’m sure many, many of them. 

It all felt so heavy and so hopeless. 

The moment washed over and past us. We said our goodbyes, and hung up our phones, and we were once again separated by thousands of miles. 

But I forgot something in that moment; something that slowly began to step towards my consciousness as small and big gifts of grace appeared throughout the week, and then began to knocked loud as we made the long drive between Arizona and California yet again. 

God likes small armies. 

As I drove, and Bryan wiggled restlessly in the back, and Thad played on the iPad, the story from Judges 7 kept coming into my mind. In the story, Gideon has an army and is going to go up against the Midianites, but God tells him his army is too big. So he sends home anyone who is afraid. Then he’s left with 10,000, but God says the army is still too big, least they take the glory for themselves and forget it was the Lord’s doing. So Gideon puts them to a test and determines that only the men who drink water from the river a certain way will go into battle. He ends up with only 300 in his army. And that 300 defeats the Midianites. 

My focus wasn’t drawn to this story as a metaphor or as a message about my life or our army (our support system is always getting bigger not smaller), but there was something here for me and I knew it right away. It wasn’t a message about our army, it was a message about our God, about who God is. A message I desperately needed to remember about God. 

God likes small armies, he likes poor odds, he likes the impossible. 

Our God is the God who fights our battles for us – whether there are tens of thousands in his army, or three hundred, or just one small boy with a sling shot. He brakes down stone walls with nothing but trumpets and shouts of praise. The “army” is always secondary to the presence of God. 

Our God is the God who provides – even when the oil is gone and the jug is empty, he provides enough for each day. Even when there is only a few small loaves and fishes, he provides food for thousands – and leftovers! Even when there are no matches, and the wood is wet, he provides fire for the alter. 

This is what he does. He takes nothing and makes something out of it. He takes small armies and weak arms and makes them victorious. He takes hungry bellies and fills them. He takes me – dry, tired, and shaky – and makes me enough for this day. Gives me enough to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep pressing onward. 

I don’t have to feel hopeless by how exhausted and overwhelmed I feel. I can feel exhausted and overwhelmed, I’m allowed! I don’t need to be strong. God loves winning with the weak. 

I don’t have to worry that my community will not have enough strength to help me hold my heavy burden. They don’t need to. God loves small weary armies. He will meet each of them with enough for today, just as he meets me with enough for today.

God loves small armies. So… 

“Be strong and very courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Grace and peace,
Bethany

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The Best Advice about school I was ever Told

When we first put Thad in school it didn’t go great. I had picked out this beautiful Montessori school and thought he would love it. Instead he screamed and threw tantrums everyday when I left. People told me it was normal and part of the process of learning how to separate. They told me it would stop if I waited it out. I knew in my gut something wasn’t right but I listened to those who said it would stop. It didn’t. He cried every day for 3 months. Then a dear friend gave me permission to listen to my own intuition. 

She said “Do you feel peace about the school he’s in right now?”

“No,” I replied right away.

“Well, then you need to listen to that and find something you can feel peace about.” 

I pulled Thad out of school and put him in a little one room Montessori preschool down the street. He still complained sometimes about going to school but he didn’t cry when I left and I didn’t feel that pit in my stomach. We had peace. 

We had a similar experience when we first put Sage into school and again I had to learn to listen to my intuition and follow peace. We pulled her out of the first school we tried within two days. When we did finally put Sage back in school we ended up with the best teacher and team I ever could have imagined for her. I felt amazing peace about leaving her. 

All this past summer I have again been wrestling with school decisions.

I knew I didn’t feel good about keeping Thad at the school he’s been at for the past three years. It’s a good school and we’ve been well cared for there, but I knew the 2nd grade teacher there wouldn’t be a good fit for him.

We looked at other schools. I toured other schools. I even started filling out an application for another school, but couldn’t bring myself to finish it. A few weeks ago I was wrestling through the decision with a friend and she gave me again the same advice I had heard from that other friend so long ago when I first put Thad in school. 

Sometimes I’m a slow learner. 

She said, “You just have to go with whatever option you feel the most peace about.”

At that moment I realized I didn’t feel peace about ANY of the options we were looking at. A few days later I learned about online elementary schools.

Thaddeus has been asking to homeschool ever since he found out homeschooling existed, but I didn’t think I had it in me. I just didn’t think I could do it with everything else in my life. But I was intrigued by online schools and started looking into it. I liked the idea of him still having a teacher and someone else he’d be accountable to rather than just me.

And as I started looking into it more I felt peace, a lot of peace. 

But I didn’t think Bryan would ever go for it – especially right now while he’s in so much pain. Doing online school would mean no break for us and we really like having breaks from our kids. 

When I told Bryan about the idea he surprised me, though.

“I like it. I think it would be good for Thad,” He said. So, we decided to look into it some more. 

Soon after that conversation we made the decision that Bryan would enter a cancer trial at UCLA and we would go back and forth between AZ and CA for weekly treatments for at least the next 3 months. That sealed it. We enrolled this week in Arizona Virtual Academy through K12. 

So far we’ve been impressed with the whole process. They communicated with us clearly and often throughout the registration period. The schedule is fairly flexible and they individualize the curriculum for each student through regular evaluations and conversations with the parents. His teacher called and introduced herself on Friday and was very nice and very understanding about the need for flexibility in our schedule as we’re traveling. This weekend three boxes arrived on our doorstep filled with books and other school supplies. Thaddeus loved exploring all the different supplies and was especially excited about the things they sent for science experiments. 

I know it might not work out. I might not feel peace about it a month from now, but for right now it’s clearly the next best step. So we’re taking it. 

If you’re struggling with that unsettled feeling in your gut about your kids schooling let me do for you what my friends did for me and give you permission to pursue peace. Listen to your intuition. You know your kids better than anyone. 

You don’t have to stick with something because it looks good on paper, or because everyone else is going there, or because it’s exactly the type of school you dreamed about for your kid, or because it’s where they’ve always gone. Follow peace, friends, that’s it. Follow peace. 

I’m also learning that intuition is not always rational. Taking Thad back and forth with us to UCLA and adding teaching him to my already full list of caregiver activities doesn’t make sense in many ways. But, I know it’s right for us for right now. Following intuition, following peace, following that still small voice of the Spirit, hasn’t always been easy in the past, and it hasn’t always been rational, but I can look back and see how the rational choice hasn’t always served me, but the intuitive choice has led me to good, time and time again. 

We’ll try to document our own online school journey a bit more along the way for any of you interested. 

Grace and peace,

Bethany

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Revisiting and Retelling Our Histories

I realized something this week. Something I hadn’t known before, or at least hadn’t recognized.

We revisit old wounds, in order to tell new stories. 

We must retell our histories, especially the histories of our wounds, over and over until we find the story with which we can make peace. When we have parts of our history that unsettle us, that keep rubbing up against us and poking at tender triggers in our hearts, perhaps, maybe, it’s because we haven’t gotten the story right yet.

I came to this realization quickly this week, but it was a long time coming, like a paper that burns and burns until the last piece goes up in a quick and ernest puff of smoke. I had been re-telling an old story and I finally got it right.

I have an old wound, I’ve been chewing on and mulling over and over in my mind for more than a decade. It stems from a season in my history that shaped my identity. A part of my journey that changed me and named me, in good and not so good ways. At various seasons this old wound would ache and call for my attention yet again. And I, I would poke and prod at it.

What happened? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? What did others do wrong? Why does it still hurt and ache? What in my current life is causing this old wound to flare up? Why now? Why then? Just why?

Each time this old wound has called for my attention I come to new realizations about my history, about who I am, and about who I want to be. Each time I have faced these questions I come to new realizations about the story itself, how I tell it to myself changes. The labels I give myself, and the names I call myself, change with each retelling. The names and labels I give to others in the story change as well. When these names and labels change for the better the wound aches a little less. When they change for the worse it only calls my attention to the story more.

This week I retold this same old story again, and in a flash of recognition and insight I saw a part of the story I had been neglecting for a long while. I realized there was part of the story I’d been jumping over, skipping, down playing, and making assumptions about. For the first time, I saw that part of the story clearly. I realized that the way I’d been interpreting my actions wasn’t accurate, there was another way to see it. The name I had placed over myself and my actions at this part of the story was very negative and it didn’t need to be.

I could see a place in the story that felt familiar to other stories from my past. I saw a decision I made in this story and recognized how I’ve made that same decision at many other points in my history, a decision that has almost always led to heart ache and rarely led to good. And I recognized a point in the story where I did something right, a point in the story where I could take back power and give myself a better more respectful label.

So I retold the story to myself again. And the wound didn’t ache. At all. It was gone. I knew in that moment that I had finally worked through everything about that story that I needed to at this point in my journey. I realized that I could tell the story rightly now. Without regret, without shame, without hesitation or awkwardness. I could own my actions. I could own my power and my lack of power in the story.

It made me think of a quote I saw on Instagram a few months ago, I can’t remember who said it, but I think it is so perfectly true:

“Feeling old wounds is the soul’s way of looking for what else can be healed.”

Often when these old wounds ache and hurt and draw our attention, we want to brush them aside, telling ourselves we shouldn’t still be hurt over something that happened so long ago, or over something so insignificant, or over something we’ve already worked through with a counselor or therapist or mentor or just good friend. Why does this still hurt? Why do I still feel so awkward whenever this comes up? Why can’t I move past this? We feel shame that this pain still stings. Or at least I have often felt shame that I still carry so many bruises and aching wounds.

But, we don’t have to feel shame that our wounds ache. Healing takes a long time, and learning to tell our stories rightly can take years or even decades. Our souls want to heal and so they draw us back to old stories we think we shouldn’t need to revisit, but the truth is healing requires that we not only revisit them, but that we re-feel them, and then re-tell them more clearly, sometimes many times over.

So now when old wounds hurt, I’m gonna let them. I won’t fight it, or feel shame about it, or tell myself I shouldn’t feel this because it’s “old” or I already dealt with it. Instead I’m gonna pull up a chair and listen. Lean in and ask the questions.

What is my soul trying to tell me?
What is my heart trying to heal?
What have I not yet noticed in this story?
How can I reframe this story and tell it more truthfully?
How can I take back power in this story?
How can I rename myself, and others, giving labels that are more deeply true and honest, names that are more compassionate and loving?
How can I see my past self with compassion and understanding?
How can I tell this story in a way that brings grace and peace?

Grace and peace, friends. Grace and peace over all our past wounds, all of yours and all of mine.

Grace and peace,
Bethany Stedman

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Follow the Pull

Today I got together with a friend who I hadn’t talked to in almost a decade. Neither of us had stayed up on each other’s lives very well, so there were lots of gaps to fill in. We swapped highs and lows. We talked about the big moves and the big changes.

I loved hearing about the ways in which he followed curiosity and intuition and the places that has taken him. And though, in many ways his life, like my own, has been different than he expected or anticipated or perhaps at times even wanted, his life has been full and rich with experiences. And as I listened there was some envy that stirred in me, and some desire that woke from sleep and whispered for my attention.

Before meeting this friend I had woken up already processing through a certain aspect of my story, and I held that part of me as I listened, and she joined her voice with the voice of envy and desire.

Before Bryan and I got married my parents expressed one concern: they weren’t sure that Bryan would be able to give me the “big life” that I wanted. It sounds a little silly perhaps. But, it wasn’t an invalid concern, you see my husband has a fairly contented nature. Sometimes I think his ideal life would maybe look like a little cabin in the woods, all on his own, or maybe with a few close friends walking distance away. Somewhere he could live a simple minimalist life and rarely leave the house except for long walks.

I, on the other hand, have always longed for more, for change, for experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are times, especially during seasons of stress (which most of the past few years have been) when a little minimalist house in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty good. But, the overarching theme in my life is not for a simple, quiet life.

I want my life to be unique. I want to matter, to influence people, to change things, to build something, to be part of something bigger than myself.

In high school I didn’t just want to go to school, I wanted to influence my class in such a way that they would all love God and continue to walk a spiritual journey even after graduation. I didn’t just want to be part of a church, I wanted to change the church, or start a new kind of church. In college when I studied education I didn’t just want to teach, I wanted to change the education system, I wanted to start my own school, I wanted to teach differently.

I had dolls as a little girl, and I did play house, but I preferred to set up shop with my sister and best friend and create our own little company. I preferred playing with the boys. I preferred reading about great adventures and brave heroines. I preferred playing with Lego or to sketch out elaborate architectural plans. I preferred reading poetry while daydreaming outside. I wanted to do something, build something, create something. I wanted to feel inspired and I dreamed about one day being inspiring.

When I dreamed about my life, it never looked like life in suburbia with two kids and a picket fence. I wanted more than that.

My life now looks a lot like life in suburbia with two kids and a picket fence (although our fences here in AZ are cement brick rather than picket). But, I still want more. I still want unique. I still want different. I still want big.

I woke up this morning with this desire in my hands. So I started to look it over, examine it, and ask it some questions. Why do I want this? Is it part of me, part of who I am and who I’m called to be? Or is it an alter ego? How do I define the words unique, important, and big? How might I pursue some aspects of that desire even while staying faithful to the responsibilities I have and the place in life I’ve been given?

It was amidst processing through these thoughts and questions that I met with this friend, who by all outward standards has had a big life. He’s lived and studied and worked all over the world. He’s started a non-profit. His life is fluid and changing and full of experiences and creativity. I have no doubt that he’s touched and changed people’s lives.

And yet over and over throughout our conversation he kept making comments about how he hadn’t expected his life to go this way, how it was different than he had planned, how life took him towards things he hadn’t wanted.

Themes kept popping up in the conversation; themes of trusting the path that comes for us, of trusting that life takes us where we need to go (even if it’s not where we thought or wanted), of trusting that what is for us will come for us, and that all of the twists and turns and unexpected are preparation for what’s to come.

I have to admit, when I first left our time together, I felt the smallness of my life. Driving my minivan to pick my daughter up from school, stopping by the store to get groceries, coming home to laundry and dishes. It all felt so mundane, so repetitive and pointless. I didn’t feel like I was building anything, creating anything, leaving a mark on the world in any way, apart from maybe the three humans that trust me to care for them. It felt small. I felt small.

But, then I started to sit again with these questions, and with the conversation.

I started to wondered. What might it look like to live fluidly in the live I already lead, to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and respond even if it feels small, trusting that what is for me will come?

I don’t know how to live the big influential life I sometimes dream about, I’m still not entirely sure if it’s even something that is for me, but I think perhaps the way there isn’t found in pursuit of the desire itself, but instead in pursuit of curiosity, in pursuit of intuition and the voice of the Spirit that urges and prompts and pulls us forward into what is for us.

Perhaps I don’t need to change a whole system,
or build something that lasts,
or even make people’s lives better,
perhaps I just need to follow the pull,
listen and obey,
and trust that in so doing I will change what I need to change,
build what I’m intended to build,
and make better the lives of the people I’m called to love.

 

Grace and peace,
Bethany

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A Country Called Cancer

There’s something they don’t tell you, something you don’t realize when you’re first diagnosed with cancer or when you first have an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer. You aren’t just entering the “worst club with the best people” as they sometimes say, you are crossing a border. You’re becoming an expat in a new land, a war zone. 

You hope that you can live there a short time, fight in the battle you’ve been recruited into, and then move on, move out, make a new home in a city called Survivor, in a town called Remission. What you don’t realize though, is that Survivor and Remission are just border towns in the country of Cancer. Once you cross the borders into Cancer, you can never go back. There are always check points, check ups, and always the chance of being recruited back into the battle again.

You also don’t realize that sometimes, for many soldiers, Survivor and Remission will never open their gates. These solders will fight in the battle and live in the war zone for the rest of their life. They may have weeks, or, God willing, maybe whole years, when they can visit or even set up home in the small neighborhood of Stable Disease. But, leaving the war zone is never an option. They’ve been drafted for life.

Often those on the outside don’t realize that you are a resident in the country of Cancer now. They think you can leave, they pray for your return, they expect you to move home someday, to be completely free of the battle. But this is a battle that leaves permanent scars, this is a citizenship that is irrevocable.

Bryan is one of those soldiers that’s been drafted for life and as his wife I’ve been drafted along with him. And we’re tired.

You see there’s something else that you can’t really understand until you’ve experienced it: sometimes the periods of reprieve, the times when tumors are shrinking or stable, the times when you aren’t fighting head on and you can take a little breather on the side lines, those times are harder than being in the heart of the battle. It sounds ironic and ridiculous doesn’t it? But, let me tell you it’s true.

In the middle of the fight, in the height of the struggle, Adrenaline comes to the rescue. Fight kicks in and takes over. At the height of Bryan’s pain during the past few months I was more productive than I’ve been in ages. There was something to do, a battle to fight, and I fought it and then some extra ones too. Adrenaline carried me.

After almost three months of intense and growing pain, last week Bryan’s tumors started to shrink. His pain stopped. Thanks to lots of prayer, three tiny little pills, and God’s unending grace, we experienced our own little miracle.

Friends and family celebrate, and praise, and scatter.

And I wish I could join them, but I sit on the sidelines feeling the bruises that adrenaline kept me from feeling before. Now Adrenaline has said it’s goodbyes and left us feeling wasted and weary. With more breathing room, anxiety has space to come to the surface and yell. It lobbies for my attention at every turn. It keeps me awake at night with it’s voice in my ear.

We are grateful. And we do rejoice. We are relieved and we continually count this season a blessing we weren’t sure we were going to get. But we are still in the war zone and the quiet is deafening. We have no idea when the next raid will come, when the next battle will break in, when the next air strike will drop. And all the fight has gone out of me.

This yo-yoing back and forth, this being relieved and then being struck down again, and again, and again. It takes a toll.

Next month it’ll be five years since Bryan was drafted into this battle and we moved into the Country of Cancer. Five years. We are grateful that it has been so long. Grateful that each season of battle has been followed by a season of reprieve. Grateful that we have lived long by melanoma standards in the land that many don’t last long in. But we are weary of this citizenship.

I see the walls my little heart has built after 5 years and I wonder what sort of armor I’ll wear after a decade. Could I do a decade? I pray for a decade. I pray for more. Yet at the same time fearing the bruising and battles that a decade of this would bring.

They say “bloom where you’re planted”, but I still haven’t figured out how to bloom in the the country of Cancer. These battles take everything from me, the fear that gets stirred up each time my husband’s cancer grows again demands my full attention. And when the bombs stop falling and these battles leave me space to breathe and imagine, I always find I’m too weary and beat down to do the work. To do any work.

Today I’m reminding myself that though I have been a citizen of Cancer for five years, and a citizen of another battle ridden country (Special Needs Parenting) for just as long, these are not my only citizenships. 

I am also a citizen of another country,

a country with a promise, 

a country ruled by the King of Grace,

the God of Love. 

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

Grace and peace,

Bethany

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