Love is Infinite

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I sat there wanting to crawl in a hole. Not wanting to talk to anyone. Not wanting to answer the questions asked. I felt disconnected when I arrived and felt like I had to hold myself together because no one else was going to do it for me.

What happened to the hopeful openness with which I had started the year? Suddenly February comes around and I’m exhausted. I always hate January, but this one felt brutal. I started the year excited to reach out, to give, to love, and then illness struck one family member after another and I felt robbed. Like all of my energy had been stolen from me. And it wasn’t just physical. It was spiritual. It was emotional. There was illness even in my relationships.

“I want to go back to that openness,” I thought. “I want to care about people and love people and give.” But, the thought was only half-hearted. Instantly a battle was raging inside me – why was I resisting this so much? Why was I being so protective of myself after I had just set such a strong intention not to be, after I had just determined that this would be a year of looking outward instead of just looking inward?

And then I found it. That thought, that fear, at the center of my being… the reason… “If I don’t take care of myself no one else will. I have to protect myself. I can’t give more love because if I do I’ll be empty. And no one’s going to fill me up.”

There’s a fear within me that says love is finite. That it can run out. 

I believe in self care, but I think this sort of thinking is different. This is a closing off. This fear – that if I give I will run out, I will be empty, I won’t get filled myself – this fear leads to building walls and shutting down. It leads to closing oneself off. It leads to a hardening. There has to be another way.

There is value in recognizing limits, in setting boundaries, in self care, but I think at some point you also have to open up your hands and say “I choose love.” At some point you have to step out and trust that the love you give will return to you in full eventually. Trust an infinite all powerful and loving God to meet your needs instead of trying to meet them yourself. Trust that showing up in love for another person will ultimately lead to others showing up in love for you.

This is the way of opening. I have friends who would call it the “feminine way”. This opening, this fluidity of giving and receiving love. I don’t want to harden myself, seal myself off, try to pull myself up by my own boot straps and fill my own holes and longings and emptiness – or worse yet pretend that I don’t have those empty places. No, I want to chose love. I want to surrender again and again. I want to open and give – not expecting something in return from that person, but expecting that God will pour out love to fill all my places of lack. Expecting that love won’t run out.

Love is not finite, it is infinite, because it is rooted and flows from a infinite God. 

Lately I have forgotten. I have turned my attention to myself. I have given love begrudgingly and not openly. I have played the part of caregiver, but instead of giving love freely I have held tightly to each ounce of love I give away. I have counted each act and kept a tally of my giving expecting to be reciprocated in certain ways and being disappointed when I’m not. And I have wondered why I have felt empty. Love doesn’t work that way. Love doesn’t keep a record. Love doesn’t give begrudgingly. I have played the continuous part of caregiver, but my attention has been so pointedly on myself, on my seemingly limited supply of love, that I have failed to see the abundance of love all around me.

I have forgotten that love is infinite. It doesn’t run out. The more we give love – truly give selfless love – the more we are open to receiving love selflessly in return. I have thought that it was my job and my job alone to demand the love that I want, but have forgotten that God is love and that I need only accept love to receive it.

I keep asking for the love I want in my marriage, but I have been greedy in giving love. I have been a hoarder. I have felt I had limited supply and needed to ration it out. I have worried that opening myself up would mean hurt. I have tried to be loving, caring, and giving, but I have done so with one eye towards what I might get in return and if I didn’t get anything in return quick enough I shut down, because I need to protect myself. That is no way to live and no way to love.

I felt cheated of love in my mothering. I felt used by my children and unappreciated, forgetting that they are just that – children. I felt obligated towards them, more than I felt love towards them. Oh, how selfish my heart! Who has been the child in this relationship and who the adult? I know I have not acted like a loving adult lately. I have begrudged them the love they demanded, no the love they needed, feeling that they were stealing what little I had, instead of remembering that love is infinite and abundant in Christ.

I have closed myself off from friends and relationships and stopped taking active steps to reach out in community for much the same reasons. I thought love was finite and I thought I didn’t have enough to give. I forgot that it is in the pouring out of love that we make room and space for more of that infinite resource.

This is my confession. This is my truth. This is my breaking. I will remember. Love is infinite.

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.

Thoughts on Building Friendships

C.S. Lewis famously said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””

 

But, I’d like to argue with Mr. Lewis a little bit, friendship may be born when one person says to another “What! You too?” But it will quickly die if it isn’t followed by an invitation and a “Yes”.

 

“Will you help me with this project?” “Yes.”

“Would you like to come over for dinner this week?” “Yes.”

“Will you go to this event with me?” “Yes.”

“Would you like to go to coffee tomorrow?” “Yes.”

 

These are the statements that really make a friendship. Because in order for a friendship to be developed and to grow you must have more than just shared interests and common ground (as Lewis supposes), you must have time. Lots and lots of time together. In fact I would argue that spending lots of time together can often cause friendship to spring up even where there isn’t a lot of common ground, or shared interests.

 

I have been thinking about the importance of time to relationship for a long time now and as we begin to settle into our life in a new city I find myself again contemplating the question, “How do you make friends? What does it take for two people to become close?” I agree with Lewis that shared interest is a good starting place, but I truly think it takes more than that.

 

We have had seasons of our lives where we have met people who we had shared interests with, people we got along well with and wanted to get to know more, and haven’t. I blame the lack of development in those friendships entirely on time. These were people we would see maybe once every six weeks, or less. Or they were people we would only see in passing at church. That isn’t enough time for a true friendship to form.

 

For me our time in Seattle was filled with many of these types of relationships. And it’s no wonder that I felt isolated there.

 

We have also had seasons when we have seen the same people multiple times a week. Prague was like that for us.

 

I often compare my friendships in Prague with my friendships in Seattle. Perhaps it is an unfair comparison, but I make it none the less, because I think it’s in comparing these two very different experiences of making friends that I can hopefully learn how to make friends in the future – something I’m very interested in, but not terribly good at.

 

I often comment about how quickly friendships were started in Prague – it didn’t take long to find a “What! You too?” moment with a group of expats. The type of person who would pick up and move overseas often already is a bit of a kindred spirit for me just for the very fact that they would do that. When you live in a foreign country and meet someone else who knows your home town, or grew up watching the same movie as you, or understands your struggles with the foreign culture, well, “What! You too?” moments are quick to come by.

 

It was easier to find common ground in Prague, but it was not all that difficult to find common ground in Seattle. The big difference was really time. In Prague we often saw our friends multiple times a week. We would see them at church. We would have them over for dinner. We would go grocery shopping together. We would have community group together. We would go to their house for lunch. We would go antiquing together. And that all in one week! Perhaps that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but there were weeks like that. And even on a quieter week it was not uncommon for us to see the same couple two or three times a week at various events or gatherings.

 

In Seattle that was never the case. The only people we saw even one day a week  (apart from Bryan’s family who we saw multiple times a week) were the people in our small group. Often in Seattle I would talk with someone and we would say, “We should get together sometime”, but these statements were always vague, and rarely a direct invitation. This meant that friendships did start there, but they developed at snail speed. That doesn’t exactly help a relationship develop. In fact it can come pretty close to killing it.

 

I’m starting to think that time might be even more important for the development of a deep and lasting friendship than shared ground.

 

But, time is a rare commodity in modern America. Especially for mothers.

 

Our time is already portioned out to our children and our husbands. What is left might be divided between our extended family (if they are in the area), already established friendships, church, work, and other responsibilities. Somehow this seems to be at it’s worst in our thirties, doesn’t it? Woman I know in my age group (myself included) have more responsibilities than they can safely juggle and on top of it all we often try (and rightfully so) to pursue some sort of fulfilling work, or personal goals for ourselves. All of this can be good, but it leaves little time for establishing and growing new friendships.

 

One of the things that made it so easy to make friends with other expats in Prague and spend large quantities of time together was that most of us didn’t have extended family in the area and we didn’t have already established friendships. Sure some of us still had husbands and kids competing for our time, but we didn’t have quite as many people competing for it.

 

Here, I find it harder. I may meet a woman here and share a “What? You too!” moment with her, but it is likely that she already has lots of friendships that fulfill her need for community in the area. It is likely that she already has a schedule that is full of things pushing and pulling for her attention and time. It is not likely that we will be spending large amounts of time together every single week.

 

And so friendships grow slowly. What may start with a shared moment of connection, might sit dormant for weeks or even months, before another shared moment occurs. Instead of multiple conversations happening in a weeks span, connections come one at a time, spread out over the course of a year. I am starting to think that in order to develop friendships as a mom in her thirties here in my own country I have to plan on it taking years before I have spent enough time with someone for my natural awkwardness to not feel so awkward anymore. Years before I am comfortable enough with someone to call them up in tears over some little inconsequential drama, or allow the goofy mischievous side of me to come out, or ask them for a favor without a tinge of guilt.

 

Perhaps it is just easiest to continue on with the friendships that are already established? Those that have already had time put into them. But, although I love those friendships and want to hold on tightly to them, I am also eager to build new friendships. How much would I miss out on if I don’t? What new points of view would I loose? What new experiences would I miss? What aspects of community would I lack?

 

If time is what it takes to develop relationships than I want to be a person who gives people my time. I don’t want my time to be eaten up by the mundane little details of life. I don’t want it to be eaten up even by appointments and errands. I want it to be spent in relationship. I want it to be spent in community.

 

So, if I call you up and invite you to come to the pediatrician with me or go grocery shopping with me, you now know why! Ha! Seriously, though I want to have good friendships and I want to be a good friend to others. And I believe that time is one of the (if not the most) important elements to developing friendships. So, I’m gonna put in the time. I’m not going to say “let’s get together sometime”. I’m going to invite you over and I’m going to say “yes” when you invite me. Because community is worth it. Friendship is worth it. And our time is too short and fleeting to spend it out of relationship with other people.

 

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.

My Biggest Cheerleader

Last week my dear friend, Sarah, came to visit. I wrote an Admiration Monday post about Sarah a few years ago, but I can’t help telling you a little more about this dear friend as I process through our time together. I think everyone needs someone like Sarah in their lives.

 

Sometimes I call Sarah my biggest cheerleader. Even though I have a lot of people in my life who support and believe in me and my abilities, I feel like Sarah is always the most consistent and most honest.

 

She believes in me and in my abilities unwaveringly. She see’s things in me that I don’t even see in myself. But she isn’t blind to who and where I am now. It’s like she really see’s me as I am now AND as I will be (it never seems to be a “could be” with Sarah it’s always a “will be”).

 

Once a few years ago Sarah gave me a gift that I will never forget. The gift of a name. Of calling me all the things that she saw in me.

 

She gave me a box of personalized business cards. They were simple and beautiful with just my name and my blog on them. And then at the bottom of each card was a word: Pastor, Artist, Writer, Blogger, etc. Each card said something different. Even things that I didn’t believe I would ever be Sarah believed I already was. And she called me them.

 

There is something really beautiful about having a friend like that.

 

While she was here I got to do my first official public speaking. I spoke in two elementary chapels at a local Christian school. It was really a wonderful experience and I enjoyed it so much. But best of all was that Sarah got to be there – the friend who had seen that ability in me so long ago and believed this dream for me got to be there as I took my first fledgeling steps into it.

 

Sarah also did something else for me while she was here – she broke through my writer’s block. She read the first three chapters of the memoir I’m writing and gave me some very honest feedback.

 

Her comments were like balm for my uncertain soul and yet also like lighting a fire that had dwindled. She gave both positive and negative feedback – always with gentleness and love, always with the firm reassurance and belief that I can and will do this.

 

She believes that there is a story worth telling here and that I can tell it. But, she believes in my ability too much not to be honest and push me forward where I need pushing.

 

Do you have a friend like that? A friend who knows your deep dreams. A friend who see’s in you potential that you only hope is there and calls you forward into that potential. A friend who believes that you are great and that you can do great things. If not, get one.

 

There is something so precious, so valuable, so helpful, in having someone cheer you on.

 

I hope I can be for at least a few people what my friend, Sarah, has been for me.

 

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.

TED Talk about Vulnerability

This past week I had two friends both talk about (blog/facebook about) the same TED video. This morning I finally watched it and all I can say is WOW. I will be thinking about this one for a while. I cried through most of it, and laughed through a good deal of it too. I could write more about it, but for now I’ll just leave you to watch it because I think it’s really worth the watch.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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.

Prague: The Good and The Bad

Yesterday I found myself thinking about what I like and don’t like about Prague and my life in Prague. As I thought I realized that many of the little things that I like and don’t like are opposite sides of the same coin.

I like that there are four distinct seasons in Prague. I like that the city feels like a completely different place with each season. In the summer the atmosphere is crowded and animated as the city comes alive with festivals as well as tourists. In the fall the leaves change colors, there’s a crispness in the air, and the city seems itself to speak of bygone days and ancient stories. In the winter the snow on the rooftops, the charm of the Christmas markets and the lights that shine through the dreaded darkness give the city a magical ambiance. And in the spring everything aches with new life and the new birth that even the very buildings seem to have longed for throughout the cold winter.
…But, having four distinct seasons means there is a bitter cold winter that lasts far longer than I would like. I really hate being cold and I often feel like I’m always cold here.

I like living in an expat community. I like that when I meet other Americans we have an instant connection, and a whole set of shared experiences right from the start. There is something instantly bonding just because we are from the same country and culture. And there is something bonding about the fact that we have both experienced what it is like to move overseas and live in foreign Prague. I like that most (if not all) of the expats I’ve met seem to be always on the lookout for friends and “family” here in Prague. Expats usually aren’t in closed circles, they aren’t ingrained in the same circles of friends that they’ve had for years upon years. Instead they are constantly looking for friends and open to meeting people. We have all uprooted from our friends and family and we know that the only way to survive here is to establish strong bonds and friendships. I like that. I like that people are really open to one another and looking for friends. It all makes getting to know people a lot easier in a way.
…But, I also really dislike living in an expat community because it means that you live in a constantly transient community. Most expats don’t stay long in Prague. They come for all different reasons – to teach, to preach, to work. Some come just for the experience and the adventure of it. But, no matter what their reason is most don’t stay longer than a few years. Bryan and I are still fairly new to Prague (we’ve only been here for 3 years) but we have been here long enough to say good bye to good friends and those who could have been good friends. It’s hard to live and build community when you never know how long someone will be around, or even how long you will be around.

I love not having a car. I love that I don’t have to pay for gas or car insurance or deal with fixing it when it brakes. I love that I get more exercise without even trying here just from all the walking. I love that my transportation doesn’t use up as many resources and I’m not having as negative of an effect on the world around me.
…But, I don’t really like actually using public transportation. I don’t like that it takes me twice as long to get across the city as it would with a car. I don’t like that if I miss the tram I have to stand out in the cold sometimes for 10 or 15 minutes. I don’t like squeezing onto a crowded tram or metro, worrying about pick-pockets, or the smell. And I don’t like that my husband doesn’t like to talk on public transportation so we rarely are able to have conversations on the way to and from places.

I love the friends we have here and I love living life with them. We do know some really amazing people here. We have friends here who really care about us as individuals and as a couple and who already really love Thaddeus. We have friends here who by their very lives and generosity have poured out blessing after blessing upon us and we are so grateful to know them and be in community with them.
…But, living life with these friends means not living daily life with other friends and family in the states, who also care about us deeply. I don’t like that.

Well, Thaddeus just woke up from his nap so… that’s all for now, folks!

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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.