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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Four Years of Cancer

Four years ago yesterday we found out Bryan has cancer.

Realizing it has been that long filled me with more feelings than I can express. Grateful. Thankful. Overwhelmed. Afraid. Sentimental. I could go on.

Then today I opened my Timehop app and found that 3 years ago yesterday Bryan was having the largest surgery he’s had so far, to remove a 15cm tumor and all of the lymphnodes in his right underarm. It was the first sign we had that the disease had spread and it wouldn’t be the last.

I decided today to share a few things I wrote about that day four years ago and also about that surgery three years ago. These are pieces, glimpses, vignettes, that I thought I might use for a memoir, but lately I haven’t felt so sure what to do with them. I haven’t written anything about cancer in months. I am no closer to knowing how to piece together a memoir now then I was eight months ago when I stopped actively working on one.

These pieces are unfinished, disjointed, but I think they need to see the light of day. I need to revisit them to remember what we’ve walked through, how far we’ve come, and how real this journey still is in our lives. I need to share them. I need to know that others see our story, and we aren’t alone in it.

 

Morning April 11, 2012

The phone rings. I ignore it and go back to nursing my daughter. My three year old son snuggles up next to me watching a show on the iPad. Bryan glances at the phone and asks if I know the number, I shake my head, and he answers anyway.

Within minutes I’m sitting straighter in my seat on the couch, racking my brain trying to figure out who my husband is talking to. His side of the conversation only adds to my confusion instead of lessening it. His voice doesn’t sound quite right. Something is wrong. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is.

He says goodbye and sets down the phone.

“Who was it?” I ask right away, eager to solve the mystery in my head.

“The dermatologists office. They got the pathology report back from that mass that was under my thumb nail.” His voice is controlled and calm. “It’s melanoma.”

The words crash over me like a wave. I feel adrift. I can’t seem to focus or completely grasp what that means.

“I thought they said it wasn’t cancerous. I thought they said it was some kind of common benign mass that pregnant women often get.” I don’t speak the words, but they bounce in my head.   

“What does that mean?” Are the words that actually escape my lips. I know it is bad. I know it is cancer, but I can’t wrap my mind around it. Bryan’s young, only 28. He’s healthy. It doesn’t mean what I think it means, right? It couldn’t mean that.

“They want me to see a hand surgeon and an oncologist. They agreed to set up both of those appointments for me so we won’t have to. They will call back in a little while to let us know when they are scheduled,” Bryan replies. I can tell that he is trying to keep the conversation matter-of-fact to protect my feelings.

He sits down next to my son and wraps his arm around him. They snuggle for a minute.

My head feels foggy and everything seems like a blur. Is this shock? Is this what shock feels like? I start to shake involuntarily.

“I have to go to work.” Bryan’s voice breaks through the fog.

“Yeah. Yeah. Ok.” It seems strange for him to leave so soon, strange that there would even be work to do after news like that. “Yeah, your mom should be here any time to pick up Thad for their play date.” The world seems to pick up spinning again and yet I only feel like I am half on it.

Bryan moves to sit next to me. He brings his arm around my shoulders, pulling me in close to his side. There are tears glistening in the corners of his eyes. “It’ll be ok,” he says as our daughter stops nursing for a moment and looks up at him with her biggest smile.

He kisses me and before I know it he’s gone.

Evening April 11, 2012

“I wasn’t able to concentrate and decided it would be better to come home early,” Bryan explains as he walks through the door. There is a sadness in his voice that I had never heard there before.

We walk up to the park by our apartment. Bryan chases Thad through the grass with a new relish, holding him extra tight and extra long when he catches him. When he is not holding the kids, he is holding me.

We put the kids to bed early and sit alone at the dinner table. Our hands clasped in their own sort of embrace as we attempt to eat.

Tears shine in both of our eyes as we talk. In quiet voices we begin to process the new ground we are now standing on.

“I don’t want Thad and Sage to grow up without a dad,” Bryan chokes the words out as the tears that had been glistening in his eyes all day finally spill over his cheeks.

I have never seen my husband touched by fear and grief like this. My own tears flow freely as I move over onto his lap and wrap my arms around him.

Our lips find each other in a tender kiss and we abandon our food as we move into the bedroom.

April 11, 2013

The doctor comes into the waiting room. It’s not Dr. B., so I assume he’s there to talk to someone else. He walks straight towards my mom and me.

“Are you Mrs. Stedman?”

“Yes.”

He introduces himself as one of the doctors who assisted Dr. B. in the surgery and pulls up a chair across from me. There’s only one other person in the waiting room right now, but I still feel a little awkward that he didn’t lead us into one of the private rooms off to the side.

“The surgery went great. Your husband is doing very well.”

I sigh and say a quiet prayer of thanks.

“The tumor was larger than we had suspected. It measured 15cm. We had to take out all the lymph nodes in his right underarm and some of the one’s up towards his neck on that side as well. I have a picture of the tumor if you want to see.”

My mom and I look at each other. “That’s ok,” we politely reply.

We continue to talk for a few more minutes and he discusses what the size of this tumor means. We ask more questions. We get more answers.

“Did it not all show up on the PET scan?” my mom asked.

“From the PET scan we thought it would be about 7cm,” he replied. “Are you sure you don’t want to see it?”

I feel terrified to see the picture, but also somehow drawn to it. “Ok.”

He pulls out his phone and shows us. Stretched out next to a ruler is a mass of my husbands flesh. I can see the cleaned off skin on the front edge and the whole tumor which had stretched half a foot back into my husbands chest. No wonder he had been in pain.

My sigh of relief is quickly stollen from my lungs. My chest is tight. How could they not have known that it was that big? How could something that big have grown so quickly? He had a PET scan just a few months ago and there was nothing there, or at least nothing that was big enough to be picked up. Wouldn’t the scan that he had last week have shown the size of the tumor? How could they not have known? How could it have hidden from them? What else could be hiding from them now? All these questions wrap themselves around my chest and make my breathing tight and shallow.

“The surgery went well. He’s doing great.” The doctor repeats. And I repeat it again in my head, like a mantra, over and over again. “The surgery went well. He’s doing great. The surgery went well. He’s doing great. The surgery went well…”

————

I pick up the phone and call Bryan’s mom. “The surgery went well. The doctor just came in and told us Bryan’s doing great.”

“Oh thank God.” I can hear the anxiety still linger as she breaths this authentic prayer of praise.

“Thank you for being with Thaddeus. I know you would rather be here with Bryan.” I continue on to tell her more about the surgery and we share our relief over the phone.

“So, this is it, right? There is a very good chance that we won’t have to deal with melanoma again.” She almost sounds like she’s holding her breath as she asks the question. Looking for reassurance, wanting it all to be over so she can go back to life as it was. Hoping she can breath again.

I’m not sure how to answer her. I understand her desire. I feel her desire. But, I’m also stunned and silenced by her words. Has she not done any research on melanoma? Does she not know what this diagnosis means? I am silent for too long. I take a deep breath. I try to control my voice as I slowly swallow my own fears and answer, “Well…that’s the thing with melanoma…it’s always likely to return or spread…no…there isn’t a very good chance that this is it.”

The line was silent between us for a long while then.

I feel like I just handed her the death sentence for her son, and swallowed the death of my own life and love in the process. I have to break this silence. I have to change the tone.

“The surgery went really great, though. He’s doing really well. You guys will come down later tonight, right?”

We finish up the conversation on a lighter note and say our goodbyes.

———

“Hey, thanks for coming down.” I hug my sister-in-law and feel genuinely, overwhelmingly glad that she and her husband are here.

“How’s he doing?” They ask.

“He’s doing well. He’s out of surgery and the doctor came and talked to my mom and I, but we haven’t seen Bryan yet. He’s still in recovery. They said they will call when they are ready for me to go back.” I lead them around the corner and into the waiting room as we talk. My mom is sitting there holding Sage, keeping her distracted with a toy.

We all sit down together. We visit and talk. The mood is casual and relaxed. We all feel relieved after the long day of waiting.

After about an hour and still no word on whether we could go back to see Bryan, Tamara and Raul decide they should go. They are going to take Sage home with them and get her fed and ready for bed. It’s getting late now and she clearly seems tired. I feel so grateful for their help.

As they prepare to leave the conversation turns back to Bryan and the surgery.

“This is it, right? It’s over.” Tamara asks.

I remember my awkward and emotional conversation with her mom, and again feel stunned and confused.

“It’s never really over with melanoma.”

Grace and peace,
Bethany Stedman

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Rest, Trust, And Freedom

My son chatted at me from the back seat of the car, but my mind wasn’t with him. I was reliving old wounds. I was repeating old accounts. I was telling myself the story of my life, or of certain significant moments in my life.

Weeks ago I had spent a drive doing much the same on the way to a yoga class, only to have the teacher speak this truth to the class once I got there:

We tell ourselves the same stories over and over because there’s still something there for us. Something we haven’t learned yet, or reckoned with. Something we still need to see.

Lately, I’ve been retelling a lot of old stories. Going over old ground. And it’s not always pretty. It’s often ground that is overrun with weeds and pot holes, dry ground that has long since been ignored. And the truth is I’d rather ignore it. I’d rather move on to a new place, a new story, a new path, new land. But, that’s not where God’s leading me.

Two weeks ago I was driving my daughter to a neurology appointment and praying over some heavy decisions with my husband’s cancer treatment and it was one of those rare moments where God reached down in the middle of my prayers and gave me a gift, a word: “Pray for a Year of Jubilee.”

I sent out a prayer email that night asking for our family and friends to join us in praying for a Year of Jubilee, a year of rest, restoration, and joy. But, there was this vagueness to the whole thing, I don’t think I fully realized what that word or prayer meant. I thought it was a prayer just for my husband’s cancer, for a season of rest, without treatment and without tumor growth, what I’ve come to realize in the past two weeks is that it was really a word for me.

We don’t have any historical evidence that the Israelites ever practiced a Year of Jubilee, but we know what it was to entail, and what it was suppose to look like. Every seven years there was to be a sabbath year when the land would rest, when they were asked not to work the land. That is a serious act of trust for a farmer! I can only imagine. But, every seventh sabbath year there was to be a Year of Jubilee. During this year they were required to give back the land that wasn’t for them, take the land that was for them, cancel all debts, set slaves completely free, and on top of that not work the land at all. This was a year of rest, but it was also a year of deep trust.

It was a year of saying publicly as a community, “God is enough.”

During this time they were suppose to act upon a belief that they didn’t need more than what God had originally given them, they didn’t need to horde, and a belief that what he gave was good and right. Those who had taken more than their share were to return to a posture of trust in God. Those who had given up land that should be theirs were suppose to claim it again in God’s name. Those who had become slaves were to go free. Those who had taken slaves were to trust God and set their slaves free. All were required to rest and surrender and trust God to provide rather than work for their own provision or position.

It was a year of saying, “I am free and so are you. I am a child of God, a citizen of his kingdom, and so are you. I have a place, a home, and so do you.” Oh friends, isn’t that like a year of Namaste? I year of saying, “The light in me recognizes the light in you.” I am not lord over you and I am also not slave under you. We are the same. We are free.

I am going over old ground, because there’s something for me there.

I’m being invited to ask God to show me what land is mine. What land have I claimed that isn’t mine, that I need to give back? What land is mine that I’ve given up and I need to claim again?

I’m being invited to ask God to show me who and what I am slave to and what it will take to get free. Who and what am I holding captive, taking into slavery, that I need to let go of and set free myself?

I’m being invited to ask God to show me where I am striving for my own provision. Where do I need to just rest, surrender, and let God do the work?

I’m being invited to ask God to show me who I am not viewing as the same, as an equal child of God. Who am I giving too much significance to, and who am I giving too little significance to? Am I giving myself too little significance or too much?

Show me. Show me. Show me.

And so he takes me to old ground.

Go over this again. Tell this story again. Look at this wound again. Dig up these weeds again. Because we’re mapping out your land. We’re mapping out your heart. We’re letting go of what’s not yours and taking claim to what is.

The Year of Jubilee is a year of rest from work, from striving, but it is also a year of deep work, of hard spaces. Because, friends, rest isn’t easy. We can not rest if we do not trust. In order to really rest we must surrender, we must trust, we must open our hands, we must put ourselves in a vulnerable position.

Right now we have decided to take a break from treatments for my husband’s cancer. His cancer has been stable since his last treatment and we are hopeful that this last trial drug we did will continue to work in his system for a while. But, we don’t know how long. We will act when things start to grow again, but for now we will just live with cancer. We will live our lives and do the normal day to day despite the tumors all throughout his body. We will trust that God knows how long of a season of rest we need, and that God will hold these tumors at bay for as long as this season of rest needs to last.

We will trust. We will hope. We will rest.

And I will do the work to get free, to take the land that is mine, and give up what is not for me.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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And so August Begins…

I couldn’t make it all the way down the hall. My bedroom felt too far away. I sunk to the floor with my back against the wall and the sobs shook my shoulders. I didn’t know what was wrong really. I just felt so raw, so on edge, so uncomfortable, but more than anything I felt insecure. Unsure of myself.

Bryan came around the corner followed closely by Thaddeus. My little son wrapped his arms around my neck and crawled into my lap. For once he didn’t wiggle or squirm. He just hugged me.

“What’s wrong, mommy?” he asked. “I… I don’t really know.” I choked out.

I calmed down a little and Thad started asking about the plan for the day. Bryan respond. They joked. I fought back more sobs and started crying a new.


My first day without social media was hard. So much harder than I expected. And it forced me to notice a few things.

The first thing I noticed were the feelings and moments that drove me to my phone.

It wasn’t what I would have expected. It wasn’t really to check the time and it wasn’t just boredom (although I did pick up the phone for those reasons sometimes). It wasn’t primarily a desire to share some great thing that had just happened or some little thing that had just occurred. It was insecurity.

I grabbed for my phone when I started to feel insecure about who I am, when I felt unsure about my actions or how I was doing as a wife, a mom, a friend, a creator, etc.

I reached for my phone when the kids were just “too much” and my nerves felt shot and rubbed wrong.

I grabbed for my phone when Bryan said or did something that hurt my feelings a little bit, or maybe when he didn’t say or do something quite the way I wanted him to.

I reached for my phone at the end of the day when I was frayed and tired and worn through.

On that first day I realized, rather shockingly, that I had started to use Instagram (in particular) as a pacifier, a security blanket, a regulator.

I remember when my son was little and we were dealing with some sensory processing problems he was having, I had a long talk with an occupational therapist about how there were certain things that he wanted to do in very particular ways that were often triggered by particular events. For example there was a season where every time he got really upset or threw a tantrum, afterwards he would want to watch this particular episode of Dora the Explorer and eat apples while watching. We must have watched that episode more times than I could count, and we went through a lot of apples. When I told the therapist about it, she told me, “He’s using it as a regulator, a way of self-soothing.”

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing with Instagram. And you know what, I’m not sure it’s all bad, not really. We all need ways of self-soothing. Figuring out how to calm oneself and regulate one’s nerves and emotions is a big part of learning how to manage life and the world. Especially when we are under stress. But, this self soothing can allow us to avoid and numb and ignore certain things that should make us uncomfortable. That’s when they can run the risk of becoming detrimental to our own growth, that’s when it might do us some good to set down the pacifier, put the security blanket in a drawer, and sit with ourselves and our discomfort for a while.

As I took a massive jump away from one of my primary methods of self-soothing I found myself very uncomfortable. Very raw.

I felt like my words of affirmation quota was far too low. I felt insignificant. I felt no escape from the stresses and fears that weigh heavy in my every day life. I felt confronted in a very heavy way with my own insecurities. I felt undefinable. Like somehow these curated boxes of my life mirrored back to me my own identity, they gave me a feeling of place in the world. They told me that I was a mom (a “good” mom, although an honest and sometimes struggling one), they told me I was a “good” wife with an ideal relationship (apart from my husband having cancer, of course), they told me I was a good yogi (though still very much in process), they told me I had a lot of stress and pain, but that I was dealing with it well and authentically, and they told me I had a strong faith despite my circumstances.

Without that mirroring, without that curating, I found all of that came into question. Not that those things don’t have truth in them, but I suddenly felt the truth also in their incompleteness. I felt unanchored in my identity and unsure where I could put my weight down.

In the afternoon, after many more tears, I laid down on my bed, closed the door, and set a ten minute timer. For ten minutes I focused just on my breath, and tried to meditate. As I lay there one question kept circling around my heart, “What if I was nothing more than this? What if I was nothing more than this breath? What if what I am wasn’t tied to my relationships, my roles, my performance, my dreams, desires, or expectations? What if I could just be?” Oh, the discomfort of that question.

Would I dissolve? Would I be nothing?


Later that night Bryan and I went out to dinner without the kids. I talked his ear off, attempting to process through each raw nerve from the day, and all of my discomfort. We talked about pieces of identity. We processed through my deep seated desire to be significant, capable, seen. We chewed on different hurts from the past.

Then we drove the car up to a hiking trail near our house. We parked and watched the sun set and we tried to dream together, to put words to desires, to put hopes onto paper.

And that’s when all of my raw nerves and discomfort became full on brokenness. Because I can’t look towards the future without being confronted with Bryan’s cancer. And there is an aspect to cancer that shakes at part of my identity and one of my biggest fears.

I had no where to hide from it, no way to ease or soothe the fear of it with supportive friends, pretty pictures, or inspiring words. It was just there. Staring me in the face. Hanging heavy about my shoulders.

The fear of being alone. Utterly alone. Having the one person who truly understands me, sees me, walks through everything with me, knows me better than anyone else…gone.

Facing it made me feel like there was already an impassible distances between us. A distance I couldn’t overcome.

I was overwhelmed and there was no escape.

Seeking escape, I fled the car. I didn’t get more than ten feet before I collapsed in tears again. Deep, angry, ugly, sobs. “FUCK!” was all I could think as I curled my shoulders over. “FUCK!” was all I could say as I clutched at my stomach. I wanted to scream it, but it only came out in course, choked, sobs.

Bryan followed me and wrapped his arms around my waist. I leaned my whole weight into him and we sunk into a squat in the dirt. “It’s ok,” he whispered brushing my hair out of my face.

“But, it’s NOT ok!” I said, finding my voice, “It’s not. Nothing about this is ok. You have cancer and it sucks! Fuck!” My voice broke into sobs again.

Out of the corner of my wet eyes I could see a couple coming down the hiking trail. For a moment I wondered what they thought of us, wondered what I would think myself, if I finished a hike to find a young man and woman squatting in the dirt and rocks, crying as the sun set in the background. The thought made me laugh through my tears, an awkward, uncomfortable laugh, and Bryan did too.

We stood up then and I wiped my tear stained face with back of my hands. Bryan kept one arm around my waist as we turned our backs on the setting sun and walked back to the car.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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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

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