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

 

 

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Hope: Between Desire and Surrender

I have wanted to write this post for a while. It turned over and over deep in my gut, but the words hadn’t reached my lips yet. Until today. Something shifted in my heart and I knew there were thoughts I needed to share.

In the past few years since Bryan’s cancer diagnosis and Sage’s cerebral palsy diagnosis we have run across a familiar philosophy over and over again. There are some Christian circles that it is particularly dominant in, but it permeates even the secular. This philosophy has one thing to say to us in the midst of dark seasons and difficult circumstances: Just Believe. Just Stay Positive.

When those touting this philosophy hear of Bryan’s cancer or my daughter’s cerebral palsy they say things like “You just have to have faith, you just have to believe and not doubt and the prayer offered in faith will cure the sick man. You just have to believe and it will all be ok.” The more secular version would say something like, “You just have to stay positive. If you stay positive you can change your energy. Envision what you want to happen.”

I wrestled with these statements. On a lot of levels.

A few weeks ago a woman stopped me at my son’s school and asked a few questions about my daughter, Sage. Then she asked if she could pray for Sage and I of course said yes. She didn’t get more than a few words into the prayer before I started to feel uncomfortable. She prayed the kind of prayer that prays “in faith”. She asked for my daughter’s healing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would sing loud songs of praise if my daughter was suddenly able to do the things which have so far been so difficult for her. If she could walk or talk my heart would dance.

But here’s the thing, my daughter isn’t a problem to be fixed.

I would love for God to step in and changing my daughters condition, but I am also ok if he doesn’t. And she is too. She is enough as she is. She is not a problem to be solved or a broken puzzle to be fixed. She is a beautiful, full, lively, and bright, little girl who has value exactly as she is. And I sing loud songs of praise every day and my heart dances happy steps just because I get to be her mama.

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So often, in the church especially, and western society particularly, we come at things from this industrial mindset of “fixing”. We aren’t comfortable with discomfort, we aren’t comfortable with grief, we aren’t comfortable with things that don’t fit our normal little boxes and so we try to fix them. We think that if we pray the right prayer, do the right thing, then things will be ok.

We would all say that we know being a Christian isn’t going to make our lives perfect, but when it really comes down to it isn’t that sort of what we believe? We believe we are owed something. Sometimes we put some prerequisites on it, like “if we have enough faith” or “if we’ve found enough favor” by doing the right things, but essentially we are saying if we have/do x than God will do y.

That is not the God I know.

The God I know doesn’t fit in my nice neat little boxes. He doesn’t make life perfect, or even comfortable, he likes to shake things up instead.

This whole philosophy of “having enough faith” never sat right with my heart, because it feels like putting God in a box. It feels like creating a formula for what we want.

I know there are verses that supported it, but I couldn’t fully understand them. It didn’t sit right with me because it didn’t feel like obedience to what I knew deep in my bones I was being called to do when it came to Sage’s condition, or when it came to Bryan’s.

Throughout the first few years of Bryan’s cancer diagnosis, and especially at this time last year, I didn’t feel like I could hope, and honestly I didn’t feel like I was suppose to.

I constantly felt God calling me to put Bryan (and Sage) completely and utterly on the alter, as Abraham put Isaac on the alter, completely ready for the worst to happen. I had to wrestle through all of my feelings associated with the worst happening. I had to come to a place where I could say “Yes, Lord, I will follow you even into that.” I had to wrestle with God’s faithfulness, his trustworthiness.

I had to go into the dark places. Not avoid them with nice platitudes or positive thinking.

Holding on to positive thoughts, holding hope and faith, felt fake. I couldn’t for the life of me make it feel honest. I knew in my heart that when I tried to be positive, tried to believe that Bryan was going to be ok, all I was doing was running from God, trying to cover over my fear in my own strength. When I forced myself to think of positive outcomes, when I forced belief that I didn’t have, I made it all about me instead of about God.

And that is exactly what that sort of “just have enough faith” thinking does, isn’t it? It makes it all about us. It makes it all about what we can do for God. I don’t want a faith like that.

The truth was that I couldn’t hold positivity and hold obedient surrender at the same time. Believing in the best possible outcome went hand-in-hand with trying to control my own future and I knew deep down that wasn’t what God wanted from me.

He wanted something entirely different. I heard it in every whisper of the spirit. I sensed it in every dark corner of my heart. I felt it with all my fear and all my broken humanity. We were waging a battle and the battle wasn’t for belief it was for control. It was for my very soul.

I didn’t need to pray the prayer that could move mountains, I needed to pray the prayer of Gethsemane. I needed to voice my desire to go another way. “Lord, if there is another way”, and wrestle with the God who says no.

I needed to lay down all my plans for the future in the hands of a sovereign God. I needed to abandon all of my idols, the most significant being my own way. I needed to come to the place where I could enter into my worst fear, go into the darkness of the worst possible scenario, and find God still there. I needed to come to a place where I knew that the Spirit would still be trustworthy whatever cross might be laid upon my shoulders.

I had a moment last Christmas when all of that wrestling with God came to a head. And something in my soul broke. Of course there have been other battles for control since, but I have lost them more quickly and laid them down more gladly.

But, now there is something new.

There are so many parallels between this Christmas season and last Christmas season when it comes to Bryan’s cancer, but this season feels so different.

Last Christmas at this time everything was uncertain, Bryan had tumors all over his body and we weren’t sure if the treatment we were pursuing would do any good. This year the same is true, Bryan’s tumors are growing slowly but steadily. The treatments we have been using don’t seem to be working and we don’t know if they will start to work.

But, my heart is in a different fight now.

In this season there has been another whisper that comes to me when I am quiet. At random times over dishes, or laundry, or on my yoga mat I feel it. Hope is rising. Without effort on my part, without contriving. It comes.

And I am instantly faced with a temptation. Will I let it in? Or will I doubt hope’s whispers? Will I only believe what my eyes can see or will I hold hope in faith?

When Bryan’s tumors stopped responding to the last treatment, when they started to grow again last fall, and we knew we had to pursue another treatment, I felt so clearly and strongly that this next treatment would work. Maybe not forever (probably not forever) but for awhile. Now we are pretty far into this treatment and there is no sign that it’s working. Bryan has a tumor in his stomach the size of my fist which isn’t getting any smaller. I can see things growing. I can feel new tumors appearing. There is a temptation to panic.

Yet that voice keeps calling me, “Will you listen to me instead of to what you see?” Hebrews 11 keeps coming to mind, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I come again to the story of Abraham and Isaac but with different eyes and a different struggle. I face now the faith of Abraham. And I hear the voice of Spirit with a loud and clear message, a message of hope.

I come again to the passages about faith which can move mountains and they don’t sit as awkwardly and uncomfortably in my heart.

Last year I couldn’t hope. Last year I couldn’t believe. And I don’t think God wanted me to, not then. Because last year, I couldn’t hold hope without holding on to the outcome I wanted. I couldn’t hold belief without holding onto control. I couldn’t hold faith without making it all about me and my own desires.

But, something is different now, and I feel it deep in my gut. Now that I know what it feels like to surrender to sovereignty, I can ask for faith without trying to force faith upon myself in my own strength. Now that I am not trying to escape from anything or fix anything, I can explore what it means to ask in hope. 

I had to let go of everything before I could begin to learn what it is to hold on to something with hope.

Now, I can feel the freedom to hope. Not with a childlike hope, which requires getting what it wants in order to be fulfilled, but with an mature hope. A hope that can hold desire with open hands, a hope that can hold the white space between desire and surrender.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Surrounded by Love

Friends, you all continually amaze me.

You have given to our family in so many ways, time and time again. It is truly humbling to be given so many gifts that could never be repaid, to be surprised by generosity over and over. So often I think “we must have exhausted our support base by now” only to find you all turning around to give again. Sometimes I worry that our needs will be so long standing that people will tire of hearing about them eventually. I worry that people will grow weary of hearing from us.

Today I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted casually for about an hour. She asked about Sage and Bryan. In the course of the conversation some needs were shared, a new medical bill for Bryan, a new prescription insurance won’t cover for Sage. We talked about the kinds of needs Sage might have throughout the rest of her life and on into adulthood. She mentioned setting up college funds for kids and only half joking I said Thad would have to pay for his own college because all of our funds will most likely go towards Sage’s care.

By the time I got home she had set up a GiveForward account for us. It feels like it’s for an exorbitant amount of money to me.

I know there are so many other people with needs far more pressing than ours. I know that there are others more deserving of your financing, and my heart breaks for them. We have been so blessed to have good insurance and good family around us to help when needs arise. I think often of those who don’t have that. Medical expenses add up so quickly even with good insurance, even with a stable income, and family support. I can’t imagine not having those things. I feel like I should tell you to go find someone who doesn’t have those things and give to them first, and then if you want to come back and give to us we would be so deeply grateful.

I know though that generosity pours out of love, and love comes most quickly for those you know in some way, those you’ve journeyed with in some form. We are blessed and grateful to be surrounded by love.

We are so deeply and continually grateful for the love you all have already shown us. It feels like more than enough. It feels like more than we could ever repay. It has been and is overwhelming grace towards us. Your generosity has multiple times humbled us as it replaces fear with gratitude and desire with thankfulness. Thank you.

We are and ever will be gratefully yours.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Ask.

EDIT: Thanks to the quick generosity of so many we have fully funded and ordered Sage her very own Zipzac. The love that was shown to my daughter really blew us away. We are so thankful and so humbled that she has such a wonderful and caring support system around her. I know she’s going to need it as she continues to grow and develop. Thank you all for your care, your prayers, your support, and your generosity!

About a month ago a kind physical therapist let us borrow a Zipzac. And we fell in love with it.

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Sage loved being low to the ground where she could reach her toys more easily. She loved using it to get into the cupboards in the kitchen. The first time she got into the cupboards I wanted to cry.

Best of all it positioned her in such a way that she opened her left hand more. My daughter has an extremely hard time keeping her left hand open, let alone using it. But when she was in the Zipzac she would randomly relax her left hand and place it on the wheel. It was very rare for her to actually use that hand to push the wheel, but just the fact that her left hand was open felt like a victory and a step in the right direction.

Best of all it enabled her some small bit of self determined movement. She couldn’t move far in it, and she mostly just used the right hand, but by the end of the month she got pretty good at scooting very small distances just maneuvering with the right wheel. Sometimes I would leave the room for a minute and come back to find that she had completely turned herself around, or that she had moved a foot or two in either direction. It always made me want to do a little happy dance when I saw that she wasn’t in exactly the same place that she was before.

Sage has a wheelchair, which has been wonderful, but it is much harder for her to move the wheelchair than the Zipzac. The zipzac is lighter, more maneuverable, and it takes less effort for her to propel the wheels forward or backwards.

All this to say, we really loved it and were so grateful for the chance to try it out.

Yesterday I had to return it so that another family could use it. I am glad that others are going to get to try it out, but I dragged my feet the whole way there. I wasn’t ready to give it back.

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As I drove back home a simple word buzzed around my head and wouldn’t leave me alone…Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.

So, I said a short prayer, “Lord, would you provide another Zipzac for Sage?”

And the word kept buzzing. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.

I don’t like talking about money. I don’t like asking for money. Or for help. Sage’s diagnosis, and Bryan’s, have given me much more practice at those things, but it’s still hard for me. I carry a lot of guilt.

Honestly, I have been blessed so much already, who am I to ask for more? I mean there are much larger needs in the world. There are people living on the streets who have nothing. There are children longing for homes. There are families starving. There are those who are thirsty and hungry and in prison. And here I am asking for another chair for my daughter when she already has a wheelchair and a highchair and a specially made foam positioning chair. There are children with special needs similar to my daughters in third world countries who would love just one of those things.

Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.

There’s that word again. So, here I am. I’m asking, not for a zipzac. I’m asking for something much more. I’m asking you to listen. Take a second to listen to your heart, to that still small voice inside. What’s it saying? What makes it beat a little faster in sympathy?

When I mentioned children longing for homes did your breath catch in your throat? Listen to that and respond to it however you can.

When you hear about people living out in the cold without shelter, without home, does it make you shiver? What is that leading you to.

Do you ache for the hungry? Hurt for the sick? Have a tenderness for the lonely?

Does your heart go out to those with special needs like my daughter? Could you help with those who face the same problems in a very different environment? If that is your heart there is an organization I know of starting a special needs school and providing much needed support for special needs children in Africa. Maybe your heart is pulling you to partner with them.

Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.

So, this is me asking you to listen. And respond wherever your heart is leading you today.

Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.

And maybe, just maybe, my beautiful daughter is exactly who pulls on your heart. Maybe you want to be the one to give her abundantly more than she really needs or can ask for. If that’s the case we would love your help to raise the $1,100 dollars for a Zipzac. If you are interested in that there’s a link to my paypal at the bottom of every blog post. We would be so grateful.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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On Venting and Needing Understanding

Sometimes as a mama to young kids you just need to vent. It’s therapeutic.

You need to call up your girl friend, or your sister, or your mom, or send out a holler to all of your social media mama’s and tell them the horrible thing your toddler just did.

“He colored all over the wall!…With PERMANENT marker!”

“She smeared a chocolate all over the couch.”

“He threw a tantrum right in the middle of the grocery store. Everyone was staring.”

“She flushed a brush down the toilet.”

Oh, yes, we need to share these things. We need to share the sentences we never thought we’d say, the experiences we never thought we’d have, the things we never thought OUR kid would do.

We do it partly to express, to let off steam in a safe place, but there are other reasons we do it too.

We do it to for the encouragement. Like an athlete who is feeling weary and worn and looks to the crowd, because they need to know the crowd believes in them, you look to your crowd.

But, I think mostly we do it for the camaraderie. We need to know we aren’t alone. We need to know that others have been in this same place as we have been. We need to hear that they are in it too, or that they got through it. We need to feel like part of a team.

Or maybe I should say those are reasons why I vent about mama frustrations.

Sometimes I choose to share some of those frustrations on social media, usually Instagram since that feels more like an actual community to me. But sometimes I do it on facebook or twitter too. I do this because I want my social media to be an honest and holistic picture of my life and that means not just sharing the good stuff. It means allowing others to enter into the struggle with me. It’s the same way I approach this blog.

But, lately I’ve run into a problem with sharing and venting, especially online. I’m finding that sharing and venting about Sage doesn’t result in connection and camaraderie and often gets taken in a completely different way than sharing and venting about my son.

The other day I shared about a difficult day I’d had with Sage throwing lots of tantrums. I got lots of very kind responses, but something rubbed me wrong about the way people responded. I couldn’t put my figure on it until I realized how different the responses to my venting where from the responses to my venting with Thad when he was a toddler.

When I shared about a difficult day with Thaddeus I got some encouragement and a few “praying” responses, but mostly I got commissary and even humor.

I got “Oh my goodness that is too funny!”

Or “oh I know! My son did that too!”

Or “ugh I hate when that happens!”

Or “today my daughter did…”

I don’t get that anymore. And I guess I can’t. I mean it would probably be a little weird, and almost hurtful, if my friends with normally developing children tried to say that they know exactly what I’m going through. They don’t. So they don’t say that they do.

Instead I get pity and prayers.

It’s good intentioned, but it’s not really what I want in those moments. I want understanding and camaraderie.

And humor…I could go for some humor.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

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