To Follow


I want a big life. I always have. I want to “change the world”. I want to build something that lasts. I want to be part of something bigger than myself.

But that’s not my life right now.

Right now what I’m called to is getting up with my daughter when she screams in the middle of the night (which lately she does often). Right now what I’m called to is making dinners, and cleaning dishes, and doing laundry. Right now what I’m called to is each therapy appointment, each doctors appointment, each changed bag on the G-tube pump. Right now what I’m called to is after-school conversations with a sticky-handed preschooler and bed time stories.

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Being a mom isn’t glamorous. It’s messy, mundane, and monotonous. It’s thankless and all consuming.

But, this is where I work out my salvation.

This is where God strips me of my pride, which says that I should be doing something “greater”. This is where I learn the truth of the gospel, that I can do nothing on my own. This is where I loose my life so that I can find it.

Lately I have found in myself a lot of bitterness about my role, my place. It feels insignificant. I feel insignificant. I know lots of people say that being a mom is the most significant thing you can do, but I don’t really believe them. I hear of people, and know people personally, who are doing amazing things – working to raise people out of poverty, to save girls from slavery, to educate and provide for the least of these. I know people who are giving lectures and getting book deals. I know people who are radically changing the lives of the orphaned, the misplaced, the starved, the abused. And I cry every time I hear about it. Being a suburban mom seems cushy and pale in comparison.

But, God keeps whispering to me about what’s truly most significant, “You, follow me.”

It’s the same response Jesus had to Peter when he was envious of the role someone else would play in the world and the work of the gospel. His response to Peter is as clear as his response to me, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

“If I want her to change the world, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Follow.

It’s that simple, and yet that difficult, isn’t it?

I still want to be working big significant change on the world, and that’s ok. I don’t have to give up on the big dreams that are buried within my heart. God may still bring them to fruition. But whether He does or doesn’t isn’t what really matters. What matters is that in each moment I follow Jesus. What matters is that I listen to that still small voice of the Spirit.

My job isn’t to run off right away and immerse myself in some “ministry” and my job isn’t to hid away in my home and use “my family is my ministry” as an excuse while others continue to suffer. There is deep pain in the world and I do need to do what I can to help and eliminate that pain where possible. I need to respond as God prompts, that’s what following means. And I think the sort of change that is worked on the world by simply turning where God leads and following is the truly radical change.

A few weeks ago a friend shared a story with me about Mother Teresa.

In essence a charity organization was organizing an event and they wanted Mother Teresa to come and speak at the event. They weren’t sure how they were going to go about that, but it turned out that they ended up meeting someone who knew the Mother and gave them contact information for the sister who organized her speaking arrangements. When the man working for the charity called to see about getting Mother Teresa to come speak he was surprised by the conversation. It went a little like this:

The charity worker told the sister about his charity and about the event they were planning and said they would like Mother Teresa to speak.

Sister: “Yes, I think that will work.”

Charity worker: “Ok, great. Well, we were thinking we would have the event on {particular day}, will that work for the Mother?”

Sister: “It should.”

Charity worker: “Well, should I book a flight for her?”

Sister: “You can if you want.”

Charity worker: “Um, ok. Well, what time should we plan the event for? What time works for the mother.”

Sister: “Oh, maybe I should explain to you how the Mother works. You see, the Mother goes where the Spirit leads… You can plan the event and she might be there, but if she feels led to go somewhere else she will.”

Silence.

Perhaps that is an extreme example, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?

Mother Teresa clearly had a profound influence on the world. Her work was well recognized and appreciated. She changed the lives of countless people. But, at the heart of it, was one thing, following Jesus. Following where the Spirit led. That’s it.

At this point in my life God hasn’t led me to the ghettoes of Calcutta, but he has led me to a little suburban neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has placed, right in front of me, a husband and two children who are in need of love, grace, and forgiveness. This work may not feel significant most days, but it does matter. God is not concerned with how significantly I change the world. He is not concerned with how recognized I am, or how influential my voice is. He doesn’t ask any of that from me.

What he asks is for me to lose my life, that I might find it IN HIM. He asks me to follow.

To follow.

To follow when I sense his prompting calling me to pick up the phone and invite that mom I’ve been wanting to get to know over for a play date. To step through doors that he swings open, despite my fear. To hold my son close and tell him stories of truth. To forgive my daughter and respond with grace when she wakes up again…and again. To clean up the kitchen because I know how it makes my husband feel loved. To drop off some cookies for the friend who’s been sick. To listen. To pray. To follow him in the way of LOVE. Right here, right now, in this place where I am. As I am going.

This is how I can work out my salvation. This is how I can have a big life. This is how I can become the change I want to see in the world.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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A New Twist on Candyland

There has been a lot of heavy stuff in my life lately. And that has spilled over to a lot of heavy stuff on the blog. So, today I want to share something light and fun.

This weekend Thaddeus made up new rules for playing Candyland and I want to share them with you all.

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Set the board up as you normally would. Then instead of everyone drawing cards and moving to the color they drew, you draw all the cards at once and the child gets to pick what player gets what card. Thaddeus would draw three cards and then pick which card I got, which card Sage got, and which card he got.

This way of playing the game doesn’t do much to teach the child turn taking, but it does help teach strategy, thinking ahead, and consequences. Thaddeus had to think, “if I give the blue card to mom what happens?” and then had to think again “If I give the blue card to myself what happens?” This way of playing the game caused him to use critical thinking skills. It took a game that is typically about nothing but chance and added an element of control to it.

I will admit that it made the game less fun for the other participants (namely me), but I felt the benefit of having Thaddeus think this way was worth it. I think next time perhaps I would have us take turns getting to draw all the cards and pick who got what card. This would make it more interesting for all of the players and would incorporate turn taking into these new rules.

Well, there you have it a simple way to modify a game you already have into a new game to teach new skills.

Enjoy some play time with your kids today!

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

 

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Spoken Word Poetry: Unbroken

Today my little boy, my first born, turns four.

 

Thaddeus made me a mama and he changed me forever. And he continues to shape me. He is a wonderfully bright, passionate, and enthusiastic child. He makes me laugh and makes my heart swell with pride. He is adorable and intelligent. He regularly surprises me and makes me marvel. He challenges me and pushes me to my knees before the throne of God. I feel honored and yet unqualified to be his mom.

 

Today I am trying my hand again at spoken word poetry. This time for my son.

 

I video taped myself saying this because, well, it is spoken word poetry – and as such, it’s meant to be spoken and not just read. But, even though this poem is for my son, I did not say it for him today. He’s four and I know that these words won’t mean a lot to him right now, but I hope that someday he will find this and watch it. Someday when he wonders what he was like as a child, when he questions and doubts my parenting and wonders why I did x, y, or z, someday when he needs to be reminded of who he is – I pray that on that day he would find this and know.

 

 

 

 

Wild
You run
Darting from one activity
To the next
Loud
You yell
Seeming to have only one volume
And it’s always
ON
Determined
You push your will
I say right
You go left
I say up
You go down
Yes becomes No
And
No becomes Yes
Like a wild stallion
bucking against the reigns
Refusing to be tamed
You fight
And time and time again
I pull
I pull in the reigns
I fight back
I set limits
I attempt to tame
And yet even as I do so
I hope I fail
Because someday you are going to need this fight
This fire
This passion
This determination
Someday you will be protector of those who no one else protects
Defender of the hopeless
Defender of the weak
That is your calling
Written in the stars,
Written on my heart when you were but a seed in my womb
Written into your very name
Thaddeus
Thaddeus –  strong heart
Courageous heart
The Lion Hearted
And as the stag bucks the lion roars
Roar on sweet boy
Roar on for the injustice of an early bed time
And the injustice of the child left alone
Roar,
Roar in protection of those who cannot protect themselves
Roar for the child who is teased
who is hurt
who is orphaned
Alone
Let your passionate heart roar
Roar on
I don’t know how
I don’t know how you will become that Lion Hearted protector,
What twists and turns your path may take,
But I am certain
More certain than anything else
that your path will lead you to protecting others
And I know something
Something vital
We can’t protect others if we are unwilling to fight
We cannot protect
Without having some of the wild stallion left in us
To protect
We must be willing to
Buck the system
Willing to look the oppressor in the eye and roar
“This far you shall come and no farther!”
No farther
We can’t protect if we are tame,
If we are broken
And honestly I long
At this time
To tame
To break
To domesticate you
But I do not wish for you to be broken in the time to come
I do not wish for you to enter the path ahead of you too tame to act upon your calling
And so I pick my battles
Sometimes letting you win
So that you know
You can
So that you know
You were made to win
Sometimes letting your yes mean more than my no
And your no mean more than my yes
So that you know
Your voice has power
So that you never doubt the value in the voice of another
I don’t want to raise a son who thinks he’s entitled to
The world
But I do want to raise a son who knows he’s entitled to his dignity
His voice
And that others are entitled to there’s
And I pray
I pray earnestly
For it is only through the hand of a loving God
That we will both emerge from
This season
This period of young childhood
Unscathed
Unbruised
Unbroken

 

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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A Very Unsettling Dentist Visit

It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

I held my sons hand as he wiggled and cried. He was scared. A dental assistant held down his arms and kept him in place. Another tried to show Thaddeus the tools they were going to use and explain to him the procedure of a polpotomy (sort of like a root canal) in childish language.

My son wasn’t buying it. I tried to reassure him with my voice, “It’s ok, Thad. I’m right here. They are going…” I started to attempt to explain the process of a polpotomy in a way I thought my son would understand.

“We can’t have more then one person speaking at once.” The dentist said, giving me a look that clearly communicated that he wanted me to be quiet. I felt a little uncomfortable with that, but stopped speaking and just squeezed my sons hand more.

Then the dentist started to explain and asked Thad to open his mouth. He didn’t. He fought. He was scared. There was nothing familiar or comforting about this experience for him.

I tried to speak up and explain to him that he had to open his mouth, but before I could the dentist was speaking loudly and firmly.

“If you don’t open your mouth and cooperate your mom is going to have to leave the room.”

Thaddeus looked at me. I have never seen him look so completely terrified. He of course opened his mouth right away, although he continued to cry.

I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. This wasn’t right.

Then the drilling started and now Thaddeus was crying hard. He kept saying “It hurts! It hurts!” In a mumbled open mouth sort of yell.

I kept thinking about my dad. He has a rare condition where his nerve endings are crossed so when they numb his mouth it numbs the wrong side. He would always tell the dentist and his parents that it hurt, but they would all dismiss it and say that it was just in his head. It wasn’t till he was an adult that someone listened to him and found out the truth.

As I saw the distress on my sons face and felt his body tighten and cringe in pain I couldn’t help but think of my dad.

Even the dentist seemed to recognize that it wasn’t a positive experience as he recommended doing a simple cleaning for the next appointment so that it would be positive instead of capping the tooth and filling the other cavities next as planned.

By the time the whole thing was over I was shaking and felt like I was going to pass out.

I felt sick about how the whole thing had gone, but once the shock had passed I felt especially angry about the way the dentist had used fear to manipulate my son into cooperation.

As parents we all sometimes use threats and rewards and “if, then” statements to get our kids to cooperate. As much as I might not like these methods or I might try to avoid them I still use them. But there was something very different about the way this dentist used an “if, then” statement.

For example I might tell my child “if you don’t eat all your dinner, then you can’t have dessert.” Or I might tell him, “if you hit your sister with that car, the I have to take that car away.” In both of these examples I am threatening to with hold something from my child and I am communicating to the child that his good behavior will result in earning the thing that he wants. He wants dessert then he has to work for it by eating his dinner. He wants the toy, then he has to earn the toy by playing with it appropriately.

I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad message to give children. It’s sort of how life works.

But what the dentist did was to communicate that if my son wanted the comfort and presence of his mommy, then he had to earn it with cooperation. I don’t ever want my son to feel that he has to earn my comfort or presence with him when he’s scared. Those things are guarantees.

The dentist used fear, really terror, as his main motivational tool and that is definitely something I am not ok with. When I use if, then statements it is never with the intention of motivating out of terror.

Motivating through terror is exactly what bully’s do, what terrorists do. This dentist was bullying my child, and because he’s in a position of authority as the expert I let him.

I think what I was most upset about was how I handled the whole thing. I failed to stand up to this dentist when he bullied my son. I failed to protect my son. I failed to step in and say, “I am not comfortable with you using terror to manipulate my child. I am not leaving this room. I will not leave my child alone when he is scared and wants my love. If you want my son to cooperate than you need to let me talk to him and calm him down. Or we can go to another dentist.”

Instead I froze. And by doing so I communicated to my son that his voice doesn’t matter. I communicated to him that it’s ok for people in authority to force their will upon you and threaten you with things that scare you in order to gain your cooperation. That is not a message I want to communicate to my child.

His tooth was very infected. It clearly needed to be fixed. Thaddeus needed to cooperate. But I can think of at least ten healthier ways that the dentist could have gained his cooperation as opposed to the very unhealthy way he chose.

We won’t be going back to that dentist. And next time my son is bullied like that I will speak up.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Sometimes I’m a Bully

Sometimes I’m a bully, no better than my three year old.

What I say I want to teach my children and what I actually teach them by example are often two very different things.

The scene before church in Sunday morning was just such a battle zone. And both sides lost.

It started when I walked into the bedroom five minutes before we had to leave thinking that my husband was getting my son dressed and ready. What I found was my son still wearing his pajama top, pant-less and crying. I could practically see the steam coming out of my husbands ears. He was clearly frustrated. They had been in here for at least ten minutes with no progress.

My son sobbed, “I wanted mommy to take off my jammies!”

I reached for a clean pear of pants and said, “I’m here now Thad I can get you dressed.” But he started to fight. He refused to put his pants on, continuing to say that he wanted me to take off the pajama bottoms that were already on the floor next to him. He clutched his jammies in his hands trying to put them back on.

I could hear Sage crying in the other room. I had left her intending to just grab clothes from the bedroom and head back out. I could feel the tick of the clock as time past. We were going to be late. Again.

Frustrated and irritated, but knowing that it would be quicker if I just let him put his jammies back on and take them off again I consented. Throwing the pajama bottoms half on and immediately taking them off. This calmed him a little, until I started to put his pants on.

“NO!” He sobbed even louder. “I have to pee.” He pushed and shoved and tried to take the pants off again. My frustration was mounting more. In my best attempt at control I said, “Thaddeus we are running late, Sage needs me. We are going to get dressed first and then you can go potty.” A full blown crying tantrum followed. I tried to take his pajama shirt off so I could put on the clean orange one I’d picked for him. He kicked and squirmed. “Argh! Fine!” My voice was starting to rise.

My husband and I both wrestled Thad into the bathroom, but because we didn’t want to spend more time on him getting dressed we wouldn’t let him take his pants all the way off, something he protested with more crying.

After he was finished I pulled off his shirt and threw the clean one over his head. “Put your arms in the sleeves!” I barked. He refused.

By this time we were all feeling frustrated. I felt powerless having given in to Thad’s crying and protesting twice now. I felt out of control and un-listened to. Disrespected and disobeyed. I was angry. Am I the mom or not? Aren’t I in charge? What about obedience?

Thaddeus on the other hand also felt frustrated and, though I didn’t realize it until later, his tears were tears of violation.

He protested more and in anger Bryan shoved his arms through the holes of the shirt. Thad instantly protested that he wanted me to put his shirt on and began trying to pull his arms up out of the shirt.

At this point I lost it. I picked him up, yelling for him to keep his shirt on. Big mommy fail.

I have a lot of ideals about how I want to parent my children. I want to parent them gently from a place of respect and understanding, but Thaddeus’s unique temperament has often pushed the limits of that for me.

I often think through how I should respond in certain situations with my children. But lately, more often then I’d like to admit, the reality looks more like the scene above then my ideal. Quick, uncontrolled responses out of frustration more than centered, grounded, thought-though decisions.

Sunday morning was particularly hard for me though. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about respect and how to instill respect for others into my child. As I’ve thought about this I’ve realized that one of the best ways I can teach my children respect is by modeling it – by respecting them.

As I begin to send my son out into the world more I have also been thinking a lot about how I want him to view his body. I want him to understand that his body is his own and that others shouldn’t force their will on his body.

And then I go and do something like this morning.

I show no respect to his desire to control who helps him dress, what order he dresses in, and whether or not he wears pants while peeing. I allow him little to no autonomy over his own body and force my own will upon him – by physical force and verbal yelling.

Fail. Big time.

I want my son’s no to mean something to me, so that other’s no’s will mean something to him. I want to listen to it, so that he will listen when others say no. I want to model for him respect about his body so that he will know what it looks like to respect others bodies. These are my ideals.

But somehow I forget all that when I’m pressed for time, when I feel disrespected and pushed, when I feel un-listened to. Instead of responding like the older, wiser, adult, instead of responding with respect, I respond just like my three year old.

Oh, I have a long way to go!

Side note: I do realize that I can’t allow my son’s no to always have the final say. I realize that while I desire to teach respect and bodily autonomy I also need to teach some level of obedience to authority.

Just as there are times when Thaddeus’s desires and his no’s need to mean something to me there are also times when my desires and no’s need to mean something to him. There is a balance.

I am realizing though that my child is not just an extension of me that I need to control, when I think that way I begin to become more like a bully than a parent. He is his own unique person and try as I might I can not control him.

What I can do is control myself and change my own reactions to him. That’s where I need to focus. That’s where I have been failing lately.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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