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

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Seek First God

I have been sitting with a question this week that has been serving as a mirror to my heart.

“Are you going to build your little kingdom, or are you going to build My kingdom?”

At first glance it feels like an easy question to answer, “Your’s Lord, of course. I’m not trying to build a kingdom.”

But, then the Spirit begins to dig deeper.

“Do you have a specific place in mind for yourself, or can you be content with the place I have for you?”

“Um, well…” I duck my head and look over my shoulder.

“Do you value certain places and positions more than others? Do you value certain people more than others? Do you want certain people to like you, to comment on and like the things you share? Do you want to work with certain people and not others? Do you want to be part of certain communities and not others?”

“Well, of course, we all have some people that we connect with easily, that resonate with us, that we want to have in our community more than others.” I can feel the excuse in it even as I make the argument.

“But, will you receive each person I bring your way with the same love, and grace, and openness? Will  you seek to build a following for yourself, a platform, a voice, among certain people, OR will you seek me and let me bring whoever I desire into your community, your circles, both in daily life and online? Can you find your value and place in me, not in who likes you or who doesn’t? Will you let me lead completely and utterly, or will you grasp at control even while saying you surrender?”

Oh. Poop. Seriously, that’s the best word for it. Hello mirror. There it is, all the poop and junk in my heart.

Friends, I want to be significant. I want my voice to have weight. I want a following and an audience. I want to feel valuable and important. And when I’m honest, I want a particular audience. I want to be seen as valuable and important to particular people and particular types of people.

When I don’t feel valuable and important to particular people, or groups of people, I internalize and generalize that feeling. I begin to think I am not valuable at all, no matter how many loving people tell me otherwise.

I do the same with place. I want a particular place and position within a community and when I don’t have it I begin to internalize and generalize. I begin to say I am worthless, without value, have nothing to give, am not needed. Ugh! See, poop. There it is.

Oh, but God… God pours out love.

I keep coming back to this quote from Spurgeon that Amy Scott recently shared on Instagram:

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine Love would have put you there.”

Oh, friends, what truth! You are where you are because of Divine Love. God’s sovereignty has placed  you exactly where you need to be and his sovereignty is driven by love. It is motivated by love. It is love to you.

Me being where I am, just where I am right now, is God’s divine love to me.

He is weeding my heart, so gently and carefully. Asking these questions, stirring up my heart’s soil with the answers. And always he ends with a gentle command:

“Follow me.”

I think that’s the key, friends. Following.

I can strive and push to build my own little kingdom, or a can follow Jesus. I can listen to the prompting of the spirit that says, “Don’t look at Instagram today.” Or I can ignore it. I can respond to the voice that says, “You need to go be with these woman today, even though you would rather go to yoga.” I can find peace in the prompting that says, “I know you’d like to be over there, but this is where I have you, this is the community I’ve placed you in today.” Or I can argue and wrestle and fight and ignore it.

So often I have doubted my ability to hear God’s prompting and follow His Spirit, but I’m beginning to think I made (make) it harder than it should be.

It’s like inhaling. We don’t really exert effort to force air into our lungs, all we really do is open up (stop fighting) and allow the atmospheric pressure that is around us all the time to fill us (thanks Stephanie for this imagery!).

I think it’s a little like that. Following becomes hard when I over think things, when I clutch at my own desires and ideas and grasp for control. When I surrender, and openly ask for God’s leading, he is right there. Often the response is just “There’s freedom.” Sometimes the response is more precise. And the more I listen the easier it becomes to listen.

That’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m asking a lot of questions in response to the questions God’s been asking me. I’m trying to respond, with a simple, open handed, “Where do you want me today? Where do you want me this moment?” Some days it’s hard, and there’s wrestling involved. Some days I fail. Other days there’s just peace.

Who knows maybe someday I’ll be that crazy lady who prays over the lost pencil and can’t do anything without seeking God over the most mundane and ridiculous aspects of life. Maybe. I’d like to think that I’m a little more down to earth than that. But, I’m also starting to think I’d rather be her, than go at it alone. I’d rather be sort of ridiculous and irrelevant, than build my own kingdom. I’d rather live in tune with the Spirit, even if that means a small, hidden, un-understood life.

Lord, take me where you will, use me as you will. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, in my heart as it is in all reality. In Jesus name.

(I made two meditation videos this week both centered on the themes in this post. You can see them here.)

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

A Long Hard Climb

Friends, I’m tired. I’m physically tired, but it’s so much more than that. I’m tired of everything being harder than it should be, or than it seems to be for other people.

I’m tired of a simple trip feeling like an insurmountable mountain. I’m tired of doctor’s appointments and therapists. I’m tired of equipment and feeding tubes. I’m tired of having to carry or push a 30+ pound 3 year old everywhere. I’m tired of guessing at what she’s trying to communicate.

I’m tired of cancer and cancer treatments for Bryan.

I’m tired of my own minor health problems that no one seems to fully be able to figure out and everyone keeps blaming on stress. I’m tired of stress.

I’m tired of feeling all these hard feelings for so long and I’m tired of these long uncertain roads.

Today, I showed up to yoga with Stephanie Moors and she talked about this mountain top experience and the abundant life God offers and the GOOD that comes from doing hard things. And tears crept from my eyes because I believe that, but I sure don’t feel it right now.

She told us to press into the deep places, to do the hard good things, in our practice and in our hearts.

Every ounce of me wanted to scream, “I’m tired of pressing in, of deep work, of hard things. I’m tired of climbing the mountain, I just want to be at the top already. I want that freedom and space already!”

There have been seasons since my husband was diagnosed with a terminal cancer and since my daughter was diagnosed with CP when I have stepped back, when I’ve said, “This is too hard.” There have been seasons I have numbed, avoided, placated, indulged.

This has not been one of those seasons. This spring and summer season have been a time of pressing in, or not letting how hard something will be keep me from doing it. This has been a season of feeling all the feels. This has been a season of tears. This has been a season of creative shifts.

But, it has been hard. Really hard.

I’m grateful that externally it has been a pretty mild season. Bryan’s doing pretty well right now. His body is slowly responding to this treatment. He isn’t terribly sick most of the time. He’s working and living. We just got back from a really nice trip. The kids are healthy and will both start school soon. Sage is learning new signs every day and communicating more all the time.

But, the constancy of these trials are hard. Three years of grief catching up to me is hard. Three years of stress weighing on me is hard. The fact that I don’t know how long Bryan will feel this well, or how long treatments will work weighs on me. The fact that Sage’s journey is only beginning, and the road ahead looks so unfamiliar and overwhelming is heavy.

It’s all just hard.

I wrestled my way through yoga class today. I struggled with my balance. I felt angry. I felt wildly unsettled. I felt resentment even. I wanted abundance. I wanted freedom and victory. I didn’t want to keep climbing this long, hard, super tall mountain.

I felt all of this as we laid down in Savasana at the end of class. Part of me wanted to cry, part of me wanted to throw something, part of me wanted to curl in a ball and hide. I pulled my arms over my face. I breathed fast and shallow and tried to hold back tears.

I knew in that moment. I could pull back. I could step away. There is grace for that.

I couldn’t change the circumstances, but I could make it slightly, momentarily, easier. “There is grace for that,” I heard. And I knew it was true, I had experienced it. I knew that in other seasons I wasn’t ready to enter in the way I have been recently, and that’s ok.

“You can step back, if you want. There’s grace for that. But you don’t have to…” The invitation came like a whisper. It was an invitation I didn’t want to answer. I pulled my arms a little tighter over my face.

It came again. “It’s your choice,” it said.

And I knew, I didn’t want it to be so hard. I wanted a path that was simple and clear, well lit, with big sign posts. I didn’t want this hard, steep, hot, climb. But, I knew right then I also didn’t want to stop or step back. I made my choice. I pulled my arms off of my face and laid them on the floor with my palms up. Opening my heart to the sky. “Ok, here I am. I don’t really like it, I’m not really comfortable, but I’m here.”

And that’s when Stephanie started to pray. Her prayer was general at first. I listened and took deep breaths and tried to fight back fear, anger, and tears. I chose openness in my body and fought to choose it in my heart.

Then Stephanie started to pray for me. Out loud, in front of the whole class. She prayed for Bryan. She prayed for our kids. She prayed for me.

Something shifted. The wrestling and battle stopped. The tears fell freely. I covered my face with my hands, this time not in hiding as I had covered my face before, but in humility. Her prayer felt like God’s personal response to my choice. It felt like God showing up and saying, “I’m here. I’m right here. I know it’s hard. I know you’re tired. I see. I see you fighting. I see you pressing in. I see you. Right here. Right now. I see you.”

My face was soaked in a bath of tears.

Two beautiful women I respect, who were in the class, came and placed their hands on me as Stephanie prayed. I wiped tears away constantly with one hand and with the other I reached out and squeezed the hand of one woman and then the next.

After class I gave Stephanie a long hug. There was so much I wanted to tell her, about the way God used her to speak to me, about the way she so often brings the truth I need to hear. But I just said, “Thank you.” There were doctor’s appointments to rush off to, kids to drop off places, errands to run.

As I left I felt a little lighter in my body and my heart, a little less tired.

I find now that I want to put a stake in this ground, to remember this choice. That moment. To remember that God doesn’t just offer an invitation to us, he shows up at the other end of it. To remember that when I am weary and tired and heavy burdened, the answer is always to look to him, to press in to Him, to trust and surrender, and open. That’s the way to get lighter.

And I want to remember that so often he gives us new lightness not in isolation, but through community, through others coming around us and holding up our arms, holding our openness, when we don’t have the strength to do it ourselves. This is what I believe. This is what I’ve experienced. This is the ground I’m claiming.

I’m putting a mile marker on this bit of the climb.

Because, tomorrow I will likely be tired again.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

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

 

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Dreaming With Open Hands

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

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.