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.

…And Also Weary

Lately I’ve struggled with insomnia. As I lay in bed I stare at the ceiling, or at my husbands sleeping face next to me, and I think and pray. It’s given a lot of room to my thoughts. Sometimes more than I would like.

You’d think when my husbands tumors started to shrink the only feeling I’d feel would be gratitude. Or joy and elation. You’d think my heart would be filled with nothing but praise. You’d think that I’d start to be able to sleep at night. But, that’s not the case.

In the past three weeks since Bryan finished chemo the tumors that we can feel have shrunk a lot. They are back to where they were 4 months ago. This is amazing news. Good news. It’s news that breaths life into our days. It’s news that has enabled us to feel new freedom. The freedom to dream and pursue things on our bucket list. A month ago I didn’t think we had that kind of time. Now I do. That feels really good.

But, I have a confession to make.

Those really good feelings – gratitude, freedom, joy, thankfulness – aren’t the only feelings that flood my heart. There’s a weariness that enters in too.

Because here’s the truth. Losing Bryan would be devastating. I don’t want it to happen at all. But, somewhere in my heart I’ve started to believe that it’s coming eventually. I’m starting to believe the first oncologist we ever saw, who said, “Once it goes to stage 4 he will die of it. Treatments at that point will only be about keeping him alive as long as possible.” I’m starting to feel that, feel it deep in my core. We are just trying to keep him alive as long as possible.

And here’s my confession… somewhere deep in my heart… I sort of just want it over.

It’s the part of me that always wants to hear bad news first, the part of me that liked to finish my homework as soon as possible. It’s the part of me that doesn’t like having things I don’t like hanging over my head.

Next month it will have been three years since Bryan was diagnosed with melanoma. Three years that we have been living with this stress hanging over us. In September it will be two years since it went to stage four. That might not seem like a long time to you, but let me tell you, it feels like a long time. It’s a long time to live not knowing if you have another month together or another year.

So, here’s the truth. When I feel Bryan’s tumors shrinking I feel my grief lessen, but my stress level increase. I feel joy and gratitude that we have a bit more time to do things we want to do, that my children will have that much more time with their father, and that many more memories with him. But, I also feel like I know what’s coming and I’d rather just get it over with.

Part of me wants as much time with Bryan as I can get, wants my children to have as much time with him as they can get. And then there’s another part of me that just wants this whole nightmare over, wants to face the hard terrible inevitable that’s coming head on so that I can get it behind me.

It’s horrible. And it feels even more horrible to confess it in writing. To put it out there for all the world to judge. I feel incredibly guilty for feeling that way.

But, here’s the thing, it’s incredibly rare to feel only one emotion at any given time. That’s just not how we live this life. We are not simple beings, we are complex, and the feelings we feel about a given situation at any given time are equally complex. We mix joy with stress, worry with gratitude and confessing to one does not negate the other.

The part of me that wants it all over doesn’t make the part of me that wants to extend this journey with Bryan as long as possible any less valid or strong. One feeling does not over power or over shadow the other. My mix of feelings doesn’t mean that I love Bryan any less. It means I’m human. And we humans are really good at something, we are really good at carrying conflicting emotions around in our hearts. We all do it every single day.

But, we try to pretend that we don’t. We try to only acknowledge the emotions that we deem as “good”. When I first started to process through this feeling of “wanting it all to be over” I felt it was a horrible feeling. And yes, there is a lot of selfishness in it. But, the truth is it’s just a feeling. The problem only comes when I begin to act on it by closing off my heart. On it’s own it’s just a feeling, and when I deny that feeling I deny I part of myself. When I hide that feeling I don’t give God a chance to weed through and work through that selfishness with me. Hiding that feeling gives it the kind of power to make it “horrible”. But, bringing it out into the light, well, then it becomes just a feeling, a little bit of my truth in this moment, and fertile ground for God to step in and change me.

This road that we have been walking for three years has been long already, and it might be a lot longer. I hope it is a lot longer. But, staying in something this hard is, well, hard. Really hard.

This morning I was reading in Psalm 6 and I was stopped dead in my tracks by verse 3 – “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” That’s what I feel like crying out. How long? How long?

Each time that mix of feelings rises to the surface of my heart I draw to mind an image that my pastor always likes to use. He says that the picture that goes along with the word perseverance is the image of one of those greek columns that holds up an enormous amount of weight. It stands firm under the heavy load, under all of the pressure.

My confession is that there’s a part of me that wants out from under this pressure, this weight, this heavy load. I don’t want to be the column any more. I want the weight lifted even if that means I have to carry a heavier load for a little while. A part of me wants to run away, wants the easier way out, wants to get the grieving over with so I can move on. But, I pray for the peace to remain. I sent out a prayer email recently where I wrote this:

I have been thinking a lot about two different phrases, the first is “stand firm” and the second is “hold fast”. I think that’s sort of where I’m at right now, I’m needing to just stay in it, sit with it, stand firm, hold fast, despite the fact that I feel run down, beat down, weary. Despite the fact that I would rather run away from it all and loose myself in distractions. Despite the fact that life has picked back up a little more quickly than I would have liked. Despite the fact that there could still be curve balls thrown at me around any corner and I feel like I’m walking around with all my guards up expecting to be hit again at any moment. Just hold fast, heart. Just stand firm, faith. Just stay in it, soul. Just be still.”

We still have a long way yet to go. Our oncologist encouragingly told us this last visit that we are not at our last option, we have lots of options left. We still have lots that we can try and in that we can be grateful… and also weary.

Recently two different people have sent me Hebrews 12:1-3 and I have been thinking on it often. There’s a few sections that have particularly stood out to me:

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Consider Jesus so that you do not grow weary and lose heart. Friends, after three years of this I am weary and my heart is heavy. So, tonight I’m confessing these feelings and then I’m leaving them here.

I don’t want my focus to be on my weariness at a long journey ahead, OR on my joy that the tumors are shrinking. I want my focus to be on Jesus. Because, that’s really the only way for me to hold up under the pressure, for me to run with perseverance this long race. I need Jesus. That’s it. I don’t need this cancer journey to be over more quickly. I don’t need Bryan by my side for always. I just need Jesus. So very much.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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 Decade of Yes

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Ten years ago today this man asked me to marry him. I don’t know how to put into words the past ten years.

We were so young then. Yes, young is really the only word for it. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. And, oh, there was so much we didn’t know.

I don’t feel so young now. Life and circumstances have aged us and changed us a lot. We are not the same people who said yes to love a decade ago. And yet every day that we keep saying yes we find a love that is infinitely sweeter than when we began.

We have grown and changed together. We have learned and questioned and shifted together. We have cried and fought and wounded together. We have made choices together. And we have found in one another part of ourselves.

This man, that I said yes to ten years ago, is part of me now. Because of all the yeses that we have said to one another since that day, we are now one.

And today I want to cling to him. Fiercely.

I want to cling to the life that I have with him and because of him.

Last night I rubbed his back with tears streaming down my face as he swallowed a pill full of poison. Chemo has been hard this week. He’s tired and nauseated. He’s slept through most of the week.

This morning he left for his chemo infusion without saying goodbye and my sensitive heart cried soft tears. All I could think was I should be going with him. I should be with him. I can’t not be with him. I don’t know what I would do without him. I don’t know what I would be without him.

I imagine that couples who’ve spent multiple decades together feel this even more. But, we’ve done a lot of living in our one decade of marriage. We’ve said a lot of yeses. And each yes has knit us closer together. We’ve shared a lot of life and love, hurt and hope. We are connected. And this threat of separation called cancer, it rips at me.

I had no idea what I was getting into a decade ago. But I knew that Bryan and I fit and a I know that even more now.

Marriage can be tough. Really tough. And marriages can die while both partners live on. Each “no” that we say to one another, each time we turn away, connection is cut and severed just a little bit.

I am so grateful that is not our story. I am so grateful for all the yeses that we have said to one another since that first yes. I am so deeply grateful for the ways that we have said yes to adventure and love and romance, in all the nitty gritty daily ways of real life. I am so grateful that even in the tough places, the heart crushing days, we can turn together and breath a sigh of gratitude to be together in the muck. 

There really is no one I would rather walk through this muck with than Bryan. Thank you, Bryan, for turning toward me a decade ago and every day since. Thank you for all the yeses you’ve said to me and all the opportunities you’ve given me to say yes to you.

I’m praying fiercely for another decade of yeses today. 

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Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

photo credit: Mikel Anne Photography

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.

Surely Goodness and Mercy

I was already sick when it happened. Sicker than I’d ever been. High fever, cough, aches all throughout my body.

He went from having no pain to intense pain in a matter of hours. He went from walking fine and taking care of me in my illness to limping and barely being able to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. And it happened over night. Quick.

He put on a pretty good face when others were around, but even they could tell. He took pain meds when he never takes pain meds. He was hurting.

And it broke my heart.

The tumor in his leg bone suddenly started to cause him intense pain. And the reality of cancer sunk a little deeper into my bones, or more accurately into my lungs.

In Chinese medicine the lungs are the seat of grief, and it’s no surprise that my grief-heavy lungs were unable to fight off the illness which quickly turned into pneumonia.

This was the first time that cancer itself really caused my husband pain. He’d had small superficial tumors which had annoyed him before, and he’d had pain from drug side effects, but this was the first real intense pain from cancer itself. And that, my friends, was scary.

We’ve been very lucky, blessed, grateful that Bryan really hasn’t felt too bad since starting this whole cancer journey. His quality of life hasn’t suffered much. We’ve had nearly three years of cancer and only short seasons of pain mostly caused by drugs. But, this was different.

Cancer has been something that I knew theoretically he could die from, that I knew he was likely to die from. But even on those days when it felt very real and when I was being very realistic, it still felt sort of far off. This pain in his leg made it feel close.

I realized suddenly that cancer causes pain, that cancer eats and kills and destroys. It’s not just that drugs and treatments cause pain, it’s that cancer itself can.

The speed at which the pain came on also terrified me. It didn’t happen slowly or gradually. It was sudden. It was quick. And I found myself asking could this cancer attack his heart, his liver, his kidneys, just as suddenly? Could he wake up tomorrow with unbearable pain in a vital organ? Could he wake up tomorrow without the use of a vital organ at all?

These questions take my already labored breath right out of my lungs. They rip at my heart and make me want to choke back tears every time I look at Bryan. Every time he pulls me close. Every time he smiles at me.

His leg is better now, thanks to a strong dose of radiation. The pain is better. But his tumors aren’t shrinking. At this point the doctors are just guessing at what might work. It’s all theory. No one knows.

On Monday Bryan will start a round of chemo just for one week. There’s a theory that it could help. Not to cure the cancer – no one really thinks chemo can do that with melanoma – but help set his system up for success for the next treatment we will try. An experimental drug trial.

Another experiment.

I want to keep trying whatever we can try. I want him to do whatever they will let him. I want to follow whatever theory we can, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of them will work. But I’m also tired of feeling like my husband is a lab rat. Tired of it all being guess work and theory. I wish I knew something would work.

I really thought this last treatment would work. I had so much hope for it. But, it hasn’t worked. It’s not working. I’m having to face that head on. And my body hasn’t handled it well. I’m sick and I’m tired. And I feel broken.

But I keep coming back to 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I feel like that. I feel like a clay jar. Fragile. Chipped. Weak. And I pray that God’s power might be revealed in my weakness. Because although I am hard pressed, perplexed, struck down, I am not abandoned. I am not alone. My soul knows that so well. I am hurt, I am grieving, I am scared, I am frightened, I am weary, weak, and sick. But I am not destroyed. And no matter what comes I know we will not be destroyed.

To say that death has no sting feels like a lie. Even just the threat of death and separation stings my heart and lungs with pain. But I know, I trust, I believe, I feel that there is victory even in the sting of death. That the victory is just as real as the sting and the pain.

I carry around death, but I also carry around life.

And though I walk through a valley of death I know that I am not alone, the spirit of the living God walks with me. There is comfort there. Even in the pain. Even in the hurt. My cup is full. Full of life and love and so much gratitude.

I have the best husband a girl could ever ask for and it has been goodness and mercy and grace to me that I have had more than ten years with him.

And I know, surely, no matter what comes that goodness and mercy and grace will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of The Lord forever.

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.

Rain in the Desert

When we first moved to Arizona we had a lot of dust storms. It was a very dry year and the dust threatened to swirl up around our faces, and our hearts, regularly. It felt synonymous with where we were at in our own journey. Dry, confused, swirling.

This year has been different. This year there has been a lot of rain in the desert.

There’s lots of interesting things about rain in the desert. It’s not like rain in other places. It doesn’t come very often, but when it does it comes with intention. Hard. Heavy. Fast. A flood of nourishment.

Where the ground is ready to receive, quick growing prairie grasses will sprout after rains. They are short lived growth, but beautiful in their own way. They don’t last long, but they still serve their purpose as food for wildlife, food for longer lasting dreams.

Most of the growth that comes from the rains in the desert is small and slow. The plants here respond to rain differently then plants in other landscapes. They draw it in and hold on to it. They suck it up in to their core and store it away for when they need it. Even when there is lots of rain in the desert they don’t forget that they are still in a desert.

Again this has felt so synonymous with my heart and the season I have been walking.

In the past year we had lots of rain in the desert. We had eight months of good test results from Bryan. We had visits with friends and family that were really filling. I had dreams quickly come into fruition. We had sweet moments together as a family.

And especially at the end of December and beginning of January I had the presence of God heavily surround.

I think there are seasons to our walk with God. Seasons where it is easy to feel him, where scripture and everything else as well seem alive with presence, where prayer feels like breathing, where it just feels right and filling to follow him.

And then there are seasons when he is very quiet. Seasons where there is no nourishment from the heavens, no rain in the desert, just parched thirst. And in those seasons we are asked to keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow anyway.

Not long ago I was driving alone at night, a rare occurrence, and it was raining. My heart felt flooded with gratitude for the ways God had been filling me up, the ways he had been so present lately, for the ways he has been nourishing my heart. I felt flooded with gratitude for the life that I live – it’s not the easiest life, but it’s good, and there’s a lot of stability in it, despite the unstable. I wouldn’t trade it.

And then as I watched the windshield wipers pick up the drops of water and fling them away God brought to mind the cactus. How it holds on to the rains and doesn’t let go.

How can I do that? How can I cling to and remember this feeling of fullness, this nourishment, this gratitude, even once it isn’t pouring down all around me.

Because the truth is I live in a desert. I live in a hard place. A dry place. A place that doesn’t often see lots of rain.

But I am also constantly being nourished. And what I receive I need to hold on to, remember, store up, because there are more barren days coming.

Even this week the rains have stopped. I came down with a very bad case of the flu, Bryan’s tumor in his leg grew to the point of causing him intense pain. It’s been a dry and weary week. But I’m trying to hold that rain in my heart. Trying to remember the hope I started the year with.

That’s my word for this year: hope. Brave Hope. It feels like a hard thing to hold on to right now, a fleeting, fragile thing – hope. But, I’m clinging to it, holding it close, deep within… like a cactus holding on to the rain.

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.