Change Through Darkness

“‘Praise, praise!’ I croak. Praise God for all that’s holy, cold, and dark. Praise him for all we lose, for all the river of the years bears off. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. Praise him for emptiness. And as you race to spill into the sea, praise him yourself, old Wear. Praise him for dying and the peace of death.” – Godric, by Frederick Buechner

“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.” – Till We Have Faces, by C.S Lewis

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” John 12:24-25, The Message

These quotes have been playing in my head, weaving a tapestry of thought across my mind. And on the tapestry there are two images.

One is the image of a New Moon. Darkness before rebirth.

The other is the image of a seed buried deep in the earth. Darkness before rebirth.

And then the wind blows and the sun beats warm around me and I can feel another image in the air. Winter turned to spring. Darkness before rebirth.

It seems the pattern of the world that change is heralded by darkness.

And then I’m captured by the inactivity in these images. The moon does nothing to change from darkness to fullness, in fact it isn’t really even a reality it experiences. It simple keeps it’s course navigating around the sun. The seed doesn’t determine to grow, it just sits in stillness in the earth and without effort it sprouts. Surrounded by exactly what it needs to grow – rick, dark, moist, soil – it grows of no effort of it’s own. Spring may battle with winter for a time, but it is a battle of play not of effort. Both know who the winner will be. Spring comes forth slowly or quickly at the time appointed to it, not by it’s own effort.

Soon other quotes are weaving their own layers over my mental tapestry…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

    I will be exalted among the nations,

    I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,

    in quietness and trust is your strength,” – Isaiah 30:15

I sit with this tapestry wrapped all around me, soaked in the images of darkness. I am still. And I wait for the change that I know is coming.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Where I’m At and A Moon Salutation Routine

NOTE: There’s a lot here and this might be one of my most random posts yet, but there’s so much on my mind lately I decided I just need to get it out. I’ve decide that rather than trying to make this into separate more well written posts or waiting till my thoughts were clearer or more coherent I would just put it out there and let you take from it what you will.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Yoga routine post here on the blog. In fact I think the last one was this one.

Honestly, it’s been a while since I shared anything on the blog (nearly a month). Most of you who have been around this space for a while, know that not writing it one of my warning signs. When I don’t write, something is wrong. There’s no need to worry yet, friends, but let me just say it’s been a tough few weeks for me.

For the first time in years life has been really busy. Like 15 things on my to-do list each day busy. And I haven’t handled it well. I’ve felt lost in it. A lot of it has been good things, really good, fulfilling things – like starting to teach yoga again. But, a lot of it has also been difficult for me. I never realized how much work would come with Sage turning three and having all of her services and therapys  change. Large portions of my day have been devoted to administrative tasks – making phone calls, filling out paperwork, scheduling appointments.

If you know me at all, you know that administrative tasks and me just don’t jive well together. It’s not that I can’t do them, it’s just that I hate doing them. I’m forgetful. I’m disorganized. And I have a hard time keeping all the balls in the air. Right now, though, dropping a ball and missing a step has some very personal consequences for my little girl.

So, I have been wrestling with my own failures, my own inadequacies to face this task, as administrator and advocate, that I was thrown into when given the title special needs mom.

But, most of all I’ve been trying to figure out how to translate the posture of openhanded surrender that I’ve fought so hard to obtain into this season of busy-ness. How do I surrender, and trust, and openhandedly let God be sovereign and do his work, when I have a mile long to-do list of things that won’t get done if I don’t do them?

How do I practically find my strength in God when I am running on empty, but can’t stop because there’s still one more call to make, or one more email to send, or one more thing to arrange? How do I find balance between the exciting things that I want to do, that fill me up, and the not so exciting things that I have to do? How do I find “white space” and “margin”? How do I listen to God’s spirit and follow his prompting when there is no space for flexibility?

I don’t have answers. I’m just asking questions.

For so long God and I related in this wrestling match over whether or not I would trust. REALLY truly deeply trust.

Recently I found a prayer journal where I had listed my biggest fears way back in college. I laughed reading the list, because in the past few years I have had to face nearly every single one of them head on. The biggest one being losing my husband. Bryan is thankfully still here, but this time last year the doctors gave him four months to live. And that hit hard. When Bryan’s cancer started growing again just a few months ago that hit hard too. But, I think I can finally say, sincerely, that I trust God. My hands are open. Whatever happens with Bryan I know that God loves us and is with us and is GOOD. Those aren’t just platitudes anymore. I know them. Not just in my mind, but deep in my soul.

I have been relating to God in seasons of big epic struggle for so long, though, that I suddenly find I am unsure how to relate to him in the mundane. In the details. In the busy-ness of day-to-day living.

I continually try to live day-to-day in my own strength, in my own power, by my own hand. And truth be told, I’m really not sure how NOT to live that way.

In the midst of these thoughts and questions and this busy-ness I keep hearing God whisper: “Am I enough. Do you want me more than you want sleep? More than you want yoga? More than all the things on your to-do list? More than you want your daughter to have the best equipment possible? More than you want your husband to live? More than you want to succeed at  your dreams? Am I enough?”

My only honest answer is no. No.

But, I wish it wasn’t. I hope that will change. And maybe there’s some key there to finding my strength in him? Maybe strength follows desire?

I don’t have answers. I’m just asking questions.

For now though, I’m sitting in it. Staying in the questions. Staying in my honest answer. Staying in this place of awkward busy-ness. This place where I feel weak, constantly doing things that are out of my comfort zone and not within my natural skill set.

Last week I went to a yoga class where the teacher had us hold these strong standing poses for long periods of time. Every muscle in my body was shaking and trembling. It didn’t hurt, my alignment was good. I could hold it. But, I didn’t want to. I was weak and trembling and I wanted to just move into the next pose already! But, I didn’t. I stayed with it. I stuck with it. I sunk a little deeper into it. And I shook. I felt embarrassed by my shaking, but then I was reminded. This is how you build strength. You don’t build it in your comfort zone, moving only through poses that are natural for you. You build it by doing those poses that are more challenging, those poses that you don’t want to do. You do it, by staying with it and not giving up.

This season I’ve found myself in. It’s caused a lot of trembling and shaking in my heart. I want to move past it. I want to outsource my to-do list. I want to get out of the pose. But, I don’t think that’s how I will learn to live from God’s strength. I think I need to stay in it, even if I shake and tremble and possibly fall. Even if my weakness causes embarrassment and I sometimes drop the ball. Because this pose, this season, this won’t last forever. And staying in it, that’s where I’m going to build and learn and absorb strength.

But, this staying in the pose, this is different than “pulling yourself up by your boot straps”. It’s different than trying to force yourself into a pose that your body isn’t ready for yet. It’s different than trying to do something in your own strength. This actually isn’t really doing much of anything. When I hold warrior II I’m not trying to force anything, all I’m doing is not giving myself an easy out.

A few weeks ago I felt like I was wound up tight like a clock, unable to calm down, unable to cool down. Often flitting and floating in a state of ungrounded stress. I even had to start keeping a small fan by the side of my bed to help with all the hot flashes I was having when I was up with insomnia. Not good, right? But, it wasn’t surprising considering the circumstances of my life right now. I may be able to trust God with the outcome of Bryan’s cancer, but it doesn’t make the reality of cancer go away. I may be able to trust God with my daughter and her needs, but it doesn’t make the reality of her needs disappear. I am still, and will be for quite some time, a care giver and trying to add my own work and dreams into that role has proved to be overwhelming at best.

I was trying to force so many things. I was working hard to make things happen. I wasn’t trusting the process. I wasn’t sinking deeper into the pose I was already in. Instead I was pulling on my own strength. It didn’t work well. I hit a wall. Big time. I had tried to push myself too hard. I tried to push into poses I wasn’t suppose to be in yet, and I didn’t want to just come back to the pose I was suppose to be in, I wanted to revert. To sink back down into child’s pose and just stay there.

The lesson in trembling and staying spoke specifically to this in my heart. It reminded me that all I really needed to do was stay in this place, in this pose. I didn’t need to try to take the momentum from this pose and push myself into a harder one. And I also didn’t need to fall back into something more comfortable and easy. What I needed to do was simply stay where I was, in the place God had me.

I wanted to stop the busy-ness altogether, but that was impossible so I felt frustrated. But, what I really needed to do, wasn’t to stop altogether, it was just to stay. To slow down and hold each pose as it came.

As I’ve thought of all this I’ve been reminded a lot of moon salutations.

Most practitioners of yoga are familiar with sun salutations, even if they haven’t been practicing for very long. The sun salutation is a series of poses which builds heat in the body. It’s often done at the beginning of yoga classes, and it’s not uncommon to find whole classes built around sun salutations. It’s a wonderful way to warm up and a great way to start the day.

Moon salutations, on the other hand, are much less common. It’s something that I only recently became familiar with and I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for nearly ten years.

The moon salutation series is a more cooling, meditative, grounding series. The emphasis is on flow and gentle movement, rather than the sharp jumps and strong movements of sun salutation. Poses are held for longer, with an emphasis on sinking more deeply into the postures.

The most common variation of moon salutation is a series created in the 1980’s.  Shiva Rea also has a lovely variation that is based on a moon salutation from the 1960’s.  A friend just sent me this version this morning, which I also particularly like.

After looking over a number of moon salutations I decided to attempt to build my own moon salutation variation and I’m loving it.

I love how it echoes the phases of the moon, which also seems to echo how our lives cycle through phases. Moon salutations remind me that no season lasts forever. Even if this season is hard and causes trembling and lasts longer than I want, it won’t last forever.

This sequence starts out strong and full with goddess pose and then moves slowly through these arching poses until it comes to a grounding quiet squat, only to then move back through arching poses into the fullness of goddess pose again. That cycle, that rhythm, feels so natural to me. So right.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Mountain Pose

Side stretch (right side)

Side stretch (left side)

Goddess pose

High lung (right foot forward)

Down dog

Falling heart pose

Low lunge (left foot forward)

Triangle (left foot forward)

Spontaneous Flowing Half Squat (or Monkey pose)

Squat

Spontaneous Flowing Half Squat (or Monkey pose)

Triangle

Low lunge (right foot forward)

Melting heart pose

Down dog

High lunge (left food forward)

Goddess pose

Side stretch (left side)

Side stretch (right side)

Mountain

I had planned on sharing a little video of this routine, but, well, it felt overwhelming, so I opted not to. Sorry, friends! Maybe I’ll post a little of it on Instagram since that’s easy, so if you’re over there come find me.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

If you like this post please consider buying me a cup of tea (Suggested: $3 a cup)

Lessons From Yoga: Dispersed Progress or Peripheral Progress

Dispersed progress. That’s what I’m gonna call this lesson. Basically it’s the idea that progress in one area begets progress in other areas. Usually in a peripheral area – an area near or similar to the other area.

A few months ago I tried to do crow pose. It’s a pretty intense arm balance and requires a good deal of core strength to hold. I got in to it but my nose was only an inch off the mat and I couldn’t hold it. I fell. Immediately.

Then I didn’t try crow for months. Instead I started doing yoga more regularly in general. At first it was maybe once a week. Slowly it became daily, as desire grew threw play.

A few weeks ago I came back to crow again. This time I could do it and hold it. Not for long, mind you, but it happened. I took a picture to commemorate and fell out of the pose just after the shutter snapped.

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This week I returned to crow and I held it. Not for a short time, but for eight full slow breathes. It was controlled. I lifted into it with control and I came out of it with control. There was no falling, no stumbling, no shaking. Just strength and freedom.

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It got me thinking.

It made me think about how change happens in our lives, how growth comes, how we learn and develop new skills.

I could have learned crow pose by doing crow pose every day. It would have worked. Eventually I would have gained the strength needed in exactly the right muscles. But I think it might have taken longer that way.

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If I had done that, if I had dug in and worked on crow pose specifically, I would have ended up feeling discouraged. Each time I fell out of the pose my psyche would take a little beating. Eventually I might give up and decide I am just not capable of mastering crow.

It made me think about what other areas of my life I might need to approach this way.

There are plenty of things I want to learn and master in my life. Perhaps I need to learn them by focusing on other areas instead of directly on the desired skill or trait.

How about this for an example.

How many times have I thought, “I don’t want to yell at my kids anymore?” And then turned around to find that my child has just purposefully dumped two buckets of bath water on the bathroom floor after I just told him to keep the water in the tub. My voice raises. “I just told you not to do that?! What were you thinking?!”

I calm down, apologize for yelling, make my kid help clean up the water, and resolve to not yell again. Then my child throws a toy at his baby sister. The momma bear in me comes out. I’m pretty sure literal steam is rising out of me ears like one of those angry cartoons. I yell again.

I don’t know about you, but when I resolve not to yell it doesn’t really do any good. Focusing on learning patience with my children doesn’t result in developing patience with them.

I’ve noticed something lately though, I’m not yelling at my children as much. In fact I almost never yell lately.

This change happened not when I was trying to stop yelling and working on learning patience. It happened when I was focusing on other things. Particularly lately I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness and grace. I’ve been focusing a lot on surrender and acceptance of whatever God sends.

This is dispersed progress. Focusing on one area resulted in progress and growth in another area.

I was also thinking about how this concept might apply to another more tangible skill I want to improve.

Many people say that the best way to improve as a writer is to write. I don’t doubt that advice, but I’m starting to think it’s only one method and perhaps there’s another (dare I say better?) way.

Perhaps like learning crow, or growing in patience with my children, I need to apply some dispersed progress to my writing life.

I have a hypothesis that focusing on other things besides writing – for example reading, observing people, involving myself in relationships, living life fully and presently, etc – might do just as much (if not more) to improve my writing than just working on writing regularly.

Dispersed progress results in well rounded progress. It results in progress that is almost surprising in how it sneaks up on you. It results in a road to progress that is encouraging instead of discouraging.

Next time I feel stuck as I try to learn something or try to enact some change in my life I want to remember to step back and work on something else. Step back and find some peripheral area on which to focus.

What do you think? Are there areas of your life were you’ve seen dispersed progress at work? Areas were working on one thing resulted in learning another?

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Shadows on Mountains

Today I drove quickly from school to home. Speeding past houses, as other cars sped past me. Distracted. My heart wandered and left my mind behind.

My son talked incessantly in the background, but I struggled to grasp the words. “mmm, yeah, ok.” My lips made the mantra of the mindless mommy acting the part of the listener.

But, in an instant I was jilted awake. Present. Here.

The picture before me causing my breath to catch in my throat. It wasn’t anything particularly abnormal or unique, but there was meaning here. Meaning I was ensnared by.

The clouds speckled the open desert sky and as they did they cast shadows on the mountains in front of me.

Shadows on mountains.

Mountains, strong and stable. Unchanging.

Shadows, fragile and fleeting.

The mountains feel the darkness of the shadows, but despite their attempt, no matter how hard they try, shadows can’t shake mountains.

And yet mountains can not keep the shadows away either.

These two things touch and yet they cannot move each other.

They kiss… ineffectively.

I wish I was more like the mountains. Strong and stable, despite the shadows cast on my life.

But I am not a mountain. The shadows in my life shake me. They move me to quake, quiver, and fall.

I am more like the water acted upon by the moon, then a mountain unaffected by the cold cast of a shadow.

And yet I am reminded, or closer still, I remember, a simple truth.

Shadows dance on the mountain of the most high God.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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Holy Smudging

Today my little girl turned two. As I wrote the last blog post, struggling with her birthday, I realized that I needed to celebrate Sage. Even though her birthday is hard for me I need to remember and celebrate the beautiful unique little girl that she is. And of course the only way I really know how to celebrate someone is by writing something about them.

So I decided to try my hand at spoken word poetry. Feeling inspired by greats like Anis Mojgani and Sarah Kay I set to work. What I ended up with is not really very good or very poetic, but I’m pleased with it. It sums up a lot of thoughts and feelings I’ve had about Sage in the past year and paints a little bit of a picture about who my little girl is.

Because its spoken word poetry and meant to be spoken and performed I am sharing it in video form instead of just writing it out. Please forgive the poor lighting, the place where I stumble and need to correct myself, the pauses that are too long, my weird hand gestures and just generally be kind. This is a first attempt after all.

 

 

The native Americans
have a ritual,
they call it smudging – not a great name I know. But by it, they cleanse a space,
A room, a person.
And they do it with sage –
That sweet tasting treasure of the Itailian’s
That herb whose Latin name means ‘to heal’,
The herb of which Thomas Cohgan wrote in the 1500’s ” such is the virtue of sage that if it were possible, it would make a man immortal.”
Immortal!
And so they take this herb,
This magical sage
And bundle the leaves together into a stick
The smudge stick
And they light it aflame,
the smoke rises up, circling its way around the space,
expanding
filling
driving out the negative, the undesired, the evil,
trading it for the sweet smell of leaves grown out of earth
leaves given life by the light of the sun.
You, Sage, have been for me as a smudge stick –
you burn
and yet you cleanse.
730 days you have been with me.
730 days which have been filled by the negative,
Surrounded by fear,
Surrounded by diagnosis after diagnosis.
Into this your fragrance penetrates
The cleansing smoke of your presence does its work
To drive out, to eradicate
To replace and fill.
And while your mother panics
And your father fights
You smile.
Out of your large curious eyes shines a soul filled with stardust so fresh that anyone who gazes in there long would swear they could swim in it.
And though wordless you sing,
A song of beauty and hope
a song of praise.
Praise for the one who hears the cries of the wordless.
Praise for the one who runs to the immobile.
Praise for the one who set the stars in their place and guards the souls of those who cannot guard themselves.
Praise. Praise. Praise.
Praise for the darkness and the light.
Praise for the little girl I asked not to have.
For by you,
By the twinkle of knowing in your eyes,
And the smile that dances across your lips
God has blown holy smoke into my soul
And healing fragrance has come into all our lives.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

If you like this post please consider buying me a cup of tea (Suggested: $3 a cup)