Confession of a Wounding Tongue

I am capable of great cruelty. I have spoken in anger, in fear, in judgement. I have spoken words that have cut and wounded others.

I have ignored. I have burned bridges. I have broken friendships that could never be fully mended.

I have justified my cruelty. Sometimes saying it was “right” or necessary, even saying it was guided by God.

I have been as a crusader. Blinded to the truth of God’s grace.

I have returned love with harsh words. Wounding words. I have returned kindness with burning silence. I have snubbed those who have pursued. I have judged harshly. I have bullied. I have yelled. I have turned my back on friends. I have spoken with the intention of wounding, and I have withheld with the intention of hurting.

From the overflow of a fractured heart, a fearful heart, a wounded human heart, a walled-off and hardened heart, I have acted rashly, aggressively, regrettably.

I like to justify and think that these things happened in my youth, in my immaturity. And although there were more severe episodes of this in my past, the truth is it continues.

I have used my words and my silences in destructive ways and in this I continue. My tongue is far from tame.

This is my confession. This is my apology.

To those I have wronged, forgive me.
To those I have made cry, forgive me.
To those I have called out harshly, forgive me.
To those I have ignored, forgive me.
To those I have given the silent treatment, forgive me.
To those I have wounded, hurt, and shown no grace, forgive me.

There have been apologies in the past and yet still I carry regret for these actions, pain for the pain I have caused others, hurt for the lack of grace I have extended, the lack of love I have shown.

Lord, I cannot change the past. I cannot change my tongue or my hearts propensity to forget how my words or actions might effect others. I cannot change anything on my own. But I can ask, I can beg, that you would take my heart and continue to teach it more and more grace. More grace, Lord. More and more Grace.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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A Story of Guilt, Hiding, and Grace

When I was nine years old I kept a picture hidden, buried, at the bottom of my top dresser drawer.

It was a picture from my seventh birthday party. As far as I can remember it is the only picture from that day. A picture of my friends and I standing under a tree with a piñata hanging from one of the branches. We were wearing swim suits and our hair was still wet from refreshing hours spent swimming in the pool.

I didn’t keep this picture in my dresser because it reminded me of a wonderful birthday party. I kept it there, because I couldn’t bare to look at it. I didn’t want to see it in the photo albums or framed in the hall. I wanted it hidden.

Every time I looked at it I was filled with guilt.

I felt guilty for my behavior at that birthday party.

Years later, thinking back to that day still made me feel like a terrible friend, and a terrible person. I didn’t do anything at my seventh birthday party that most seven year olds haven’t done at one time or another. My crime was simple and common.

I ignored all of my friends in favor of one particular friend: my cousin. She and I went off and played in the deep end pretending to be mermaids and refused to let any of the rest of my friends play with us. We were cruel in our rejection of them, like all little girls can be. Many would probably be able to shrug off a guilt like this with a simple “I was young.” Not me.

It took years before I could think of that party without feeling guilt. I wanted to be a good friend and that birthday party was the epitome of my failure at achieving that desire. It was a landmark proving that I wasn’t as good a friend as I wanted to be. And so I hid it away, not wanting anyone to be able to look at the picture and perhaps discern from it how far I had missed the mark. Not wanting to be reminded of my own ugliness of heart.

I didn’t want to show who I really was, or who I was capable of being: The mean girl.

This was one of my earliest experiences with guilt. It was also perhaps the first time I truly recognized sin, brokenness, ugliness, in myself instead of just in another.

For as long as I hid away that picture, nothing changed. My heart carried a heavy memory of guilt. But, it was not the kind of guilt that leads to healing and confession. It was the kind of guilt that eats away at you and creates its own form of ugliness.

In many ways I still struggle with this kind of reaction to the broken places in my heart and life. I hide them away, try to ignore and forget about them, while all the time carrying with me a guilt that eats at my soul. It’s the kind of guilt that leads to more hiding.

Over the years though, I have learned something profound, and it is part of why I write on this blog; part of why I write at all. Guilty hiding doesn’t lead to healing, but open confession can. It is only when I openly begin to recognize and admit to the broken potential in my own heart that I can openly begin to receive from God the grace that covers all.

When I can admit that I am capable of being the mean girl, I can come out of hiding and find that Christ clothes me with his grace.

So often I try to pretend that I am fine on my own. I try to pretend to others and to myself (and even to God) that I am the good girl. There are so many terrible things that I have never done, so I must be doing fine, right? Wrong. The truth is my heart is still so broken. I may not have done x, y, or z, but I am capable of doing x, y and z. And it is only when I begin to acknowledge how capable I am of being the lier, the hater, the abuser, the adulterer, that I can begin to fall heavy on the grace of God.

This sort of recognition does not lead to guilt, but frees from it. Guilt is a feeling of hiding. Confession clears the air of guilt and invites instead grace and hope for transformation. This is the work of the gospel. This is the gospel of grace.

I often think of that little girl I was so long ago, hiding that picture away in my dresser drawer. Trying to pretend that I was the nice girl, the good girl, the perfect friend, when deep down I knew all along I was none of those things. I wish I could tell her to open the drawer. Let in the light. Embrace the ugliness in your heart, because it is only in embracing your great need that you can embrace God’s abundant grace.

I send so much love and hugs to that little girl I was, and to the grown woman I am, who still struggles often with guilt and hiding. God’s grace is waiting. And it is so much bigger than I ever imagined. Big enough to cover all. And welcome all. Every fall, every sin, every thought, every potential thought. It can all find grace in the arms of Jesus. All we need to do is open the drawer, and step out of hiding.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Depression’s Edge

Yesterday was one of those days. One of those days when my heart played at the edge of depression. No, that’s not really true, it was really one of those days where I allowed myself to completely fall off the cliff.

I kept thinking about a conversation I had last week.

“Do you have a history of depression.” She asked.

“Well, yeah, kind of…”

“I won’t ask how you’re sleeping because I know Sage keeps you up at night, but are you eating? Are you hungry? Are you interested in food?”

“Well, not really. I mean I do feel hungry sometimes, but I haven’t felt very interested in eating much lately… It’s just too much work.”

“Do you think you’re depressed now?” She asked and then quickly added, “It would be totally understandable if you are with everything going on.”

“I think I’m on the edge. I’ve been depressed before. I don’t feel like I’m quite there… yet. But I can see myself heading that way.” That is how I answered her question last week, but ever since I’ve wondered if that was really an honest answer.

How do you know when depression sets itself on your soul? What are the warning signs?

Psychologists say “depression is anger turned inward.” I can see that. I can understand that. I’ve had those types of depressions where you turn on yourself and eat at your own heart, where your anger becomes self loathing, where you criticize and blame yourself, where you carry the weight and guilt and shame of the world on your own shoulders and it presses you down until you have lost all self dignity, all courage, and even all sense of reality.

But I think there is another type of depression. A depression that has more to do with grief than anger. A depression of hopelessness, helplessness, and loss of control. The depression that comes when one loss begins to color all of life with loss.

This second depression is the depression I felt after my first real heartbreak. It’s the depression I felt when one of my dearest friends moved away from Prague and the community we were involved in spiraled into change.

This depression of loss, of grief, of helplessness, this is the depression I can feel trying to creep up on me.

And I find myself asking a question…

How do I know when I’ve given into that depression? Have I already given in, even though I claim to be fine and just on the edge of it?

Psychologists, councilors, social workers and the likes, have clues and warning signs they look for, like if you are eating or sleeping. But, these things are general indicators. What I want to know is what are MY personal signs, what are MY indicators. What are the specific things I do when I get depressed and how can I be on the lookout for those things and preemptively work against them?

As I thought about this question I realized three things that I consistently do when I get depressed.

1. I stop doing, or finding interest in, the things that I usually love.

For me this specifically means I stop writing, or at least cut way back on writing. I have often tried to explain to my mom when she comes to me all worried about something I wrote on the blog – perhaps something like this post from a few weeks ago – that as long as I’m writing she doesn’t really need to worry that much. It’s when I stop writing, or when my writing gets sporadic (perhaps only two posts a month for example), those are the seasons when I’m really struggling. Even if I’m writing about things that are very difficult and painful the very fact that I’m writing about them means that I have not sunk so very far.

But, when I stop writing… when I can’t even find within me the desire to write, that is a clear sign that I am sinking into depression.

2. I completely stop carrying about what other people think.

Now there is a healthy level of disregard for what others think of you, but I also know that this can be taken too far. We can go to an unhealthy place when we completely abandon social norms. It can be a sign of an unhealthy disregard for others and for self.

For me this specifically looks like not showering, not brushing my hair, wearing pajamas all day, not doing the dishes or picking up the house, letting the laundry and trash and bills pile up indefinitely. These things show a lack of regard for myself, my possessions, my family, and anyone else who may come into contact with me. When I become depressed I lose all motivation to keep up with these things.

3. I show an obsessive escapism.

For me this has a very specific application of taking my deep love for story and twisting it into an unhealthy addiction to TV. I am not one of those people who thinks that television is bad or evil or even that it should be dramatically limited. I like television, and movies, just like I like books and plays and musicals. Really I love all means of storytelling and I think storytelling is a great gift.

But when I get depressed I take my love for story to an unhealthy place. I want to avoid my own story and escape into someone else’s. Better yet I want to escape into a sci-fi or fantasy story – because when my own reality becomes too real, too painful, I want to surround myself with the impossible, the magical. I want to get as far from my reality as possible.

This leads me to watching hours and hours of ridiculous television – TV usually being the story medium of choice during my depressions, since it takes less imaginative energy than reading and is more ongoing than a movie or play. Often it gets taken to a level where I don’t want to do anything else all day long. Definitely unhealthy.

In the past week I have had a number of days where two or even all three of these things have been true. Add to that the fact that food sounds entirely unappealing and that even the rare moments when my daughter does sleep I often find myself staring at the ceiling, and, well, I guess it’s safe to officially confess that depression isn’t just something I’m flirting on the edge of. No, I’ve already fallen over.

As the reality of Bryan’s last PET scan sinks deeper and deeper into my psyche I feel myself falling farther and farther off that cliff called depression.

But, there are days, when none of those things hold the same pull. Days when I feel more balanced. Days when I shower, put on a nice dress, and do the dishes. Days when I am productive and don’t sink so deeply into a TV show. And most significantly, days when I write.

Perhaps there is a part of me that is still holding on to the edge, still fighting to stay on top of the cliff.

What about you? Have to ever been depressed? What are the unique warning signs you see in yourself when you are fighting depression?

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Barefoot and Braless in the ER: A Story

…And that’s how I ended up barefoot and braless in the ER.

Sounds like the ending to a great wild and crazy story, doesn’t it? But the reality was much less adventurous.

It all started right after breakfast when I developed a burning sensation in my upper stomach. Within fifteen minutes the feeling had grown so painful that I was unable to sit still. I wreathed on the floor. Trying to curb the pain with many of the same techniques I had used during labor. Nothing helped.

Soon a tight feeling in my chest was added to the burning sensation in my stomach. I tried to breathe slowly and deeply – inhaling through my nose and exhaling in long audible sighs.

Before long I began to experience the strangest and most disturbing physical sensation. Even though I was in constant agitated movement from the pain my extremities began to very quickly tingle with a completely numb sensation. My fingers and wrists began to involuntarily curl in on themselves. The numb tingly sensation stretched from my knees all the way down to my toes and from my elbows to my finger tips. It took extreme effort to even attempt to straighten out my numb and tingling fingers.

What is this? I thought. Am I having a heart attack? Is this what a heart attack feels like?

I instinctively called to Bryan asking him to bring me some cayenne tincture. Cayenne improves blood circulation and has the ability to push blood back into your extremities when they are numb.

I quickly took the cayenne and turned to Bryan, “I need to go the emergency room.” I struggled to get the words out between my attempts at slow regulated breathing.

By the time we got there some feeling had returned to my hands and feet, but I was far too light headed to walk. The pain in my abdomen was so intense that I continued to wiggle constantly around in the wheel chair I had hastily sat in.

I got checked in right away, but waited for more then thirty minutes, wiggling and crying out in pain throughout the waiting.

Then I threw up – we are talking epic throw up – all over my shoes, my clothes, my husbands sweatshirt and the floor. And still my stomach ached and burned. And still no one took us back to see the doctor. I sat in my filth, unsure what was going on with my body, and clung to my husband’s hand.

By this point I was getting seriously frustrated and desperate. If you’ve read the blog for awhile you’ll know that I’m not really a fan of doctors or medication. It takes a lot to get me to go to a doctor and I’ve never been to the ER before. I haven’t had pain medication of any kind (even Tylenol) in more than five years. And I birthed two children at home without any pain medication. But this was different. This was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. By this point I was ready to strangle someone if they didn’t give me pain meds and quick.

Thankfully it wasn’t long after this that they finally took me back into a room and after two doses of morphine the pain finally eased and I was able to sleep. We joked about how it was the best sleep I’ve had in weeks and how messed up it is if you have to go to the emergency room in order to get any rest.

We saw two different doctors. They ran multiple tests, including a CT scan. Everything came back fine.

In the end the doctor said it was all due to severe acid reflux and that the extreme numbness was just from hyperventilating (which I hadn’t thought I had been doing).

They asked if there was any stress in my life as that can often trigger acid reflux problems. Stress in my life? All I could do was laugh.

I felt ridiculous. Like a hypochondriac. The worst pain in my life, the thing that drove me to go to the ER for the first time ever and take my first naurcodics and have my first IV and all it was is essentially heartburn brought on by stress. Seriously? What is wrong with me?

And then as I lay there and tried to sleep all I could think about is my poor mom watching my kids. I lay there in pain and felt guilt that someone else had to cover my responsibilities. How messed up is that, that I felt guilty and like I needed to apologize for the inconvenience I was causing by being in the worst pain of my life? Yup, I have issues.

After a number of hours they finally released us. My dad brought me clean clothes since mine were covered in throw up, but he didn’t think to bring a bra or shoes.

And that’s how I ended up barefoot and bra-less in the ER.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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Movin’ Out

I have been struggling a lot with the need to move out of my parents house. I call it a need because it feels necessary, but it is not what I desire.

My parents have been incredibly gracious to let us stay with them for the past three (nearly four) months, but it has not been ideal for them. In fact it has been really difficult for them.

Over the years since my siblings and I moved out my parents have found ways for coping with their high stress jobs, ways which involve keeping a structure and orderliness to their lives that is greatly disrupted by me, my husband, and our two children. They have been gracious (incredibly gracious), but this living arrangement is taking its toll on them, on their work, on their sleep, on their stress level.

They have begun to voice that.

And my response has been entirely emotional. It’s not that I don’t hear and understand their concerns, it’s that those concerns flood me with my own emotional responses.

I hold within me an internal battle. On the one hand I understand all of my parents reasons and justifications for wanting us to get our own place. I feel for them, I am concerned for them, I want them to have their needs for stress management, order, and structure met. And on the other hand I have a deep desire to continue living here.

I am a 31 year old married mother of two who wants to live with her parents.

My dad thinks something is wrong with me. He can’t understand why I would want to live here. He would never have wanted to live with his parents, or my mom’s parents either. He can’t understand my emotionality over the situation. And so he gets frustrated with it. He makes comments about me being irrational and unrealistic. He says I’m not understanding what he’s really saying and I’m jumping to conclusions that I shouldn’t jump to.

What my father doesn’t understand is that you can’t change or even effect how someone will feel about something you do. Your intentions can be entirely pure, healthy, and straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t hurt someone else. Ultimately you are not responsible for how someone else receives your actions or words.

In starting the conversation about us finding our own place to live, my dad is acting in the best interest of his sanity and the health and sanity of his wife. He is continuing to reach out a helping hand to us, offering to help us find that new place and even help us with the expense of it if necessary. He is doing everything he can to communicate love while also setting a boundary for himself.

But, despite the fact that I understand (and can even respect) that, it still makes me feel hurt. It still stirs up feelings in me that my dad doesn’t seem to understand or validate. It still stirs up old feelings of rejection from my father.

My dad is not responsible for keeping me from feeling that, in fact there is probably nothing he can do that will keep me from feeling that. What he can do is give me space and freedom to feel that emotion without taking it personally. What he can do is validate to me that it is an understandable and ok emotion to feel. What he can do is show acceptance of me by accepting this emotion that I feel. Because when he doesn’t validate this emotion, it is an easy jump for me to feel more rejection and feel like he doesn’t validate me.

I, on the other hand, have a deep responsibility to process these emotions I’m feeling. To look them square in the face and ask why moving out of my parents spurs such a visceral response in me.

I need to sit with the feeling of vulnerability that moving out floods me with. I need to sit with the worries about what moving out might mean for me if Bryan’s cancer gets worse. I need to sit with my desires to not live alone and to have community with me during this time (and pretty much always). I need to sit with the feelings of homelessness that moving out fills me with.

You would think that getting a place of our own again would make me feel more settled and more like I have a home. But, I think a true feeling of home only comes from a place that has both history and a future for you.

I never felt truly at home in our apartment in Seattle. I never felt truly at home in either of our homes in Prague. There was always a sense of restlessness in those places. A sense that they were temporary and would not be long lasting homes for me. There was always both a lack of roots and an inability to see a future there. And I know that if we move out the same would be true of our new place. But, in an odd way that isn’t true of my parents house.

They have lived in this house for something like sixteen years. I have a lot of history in this house. It has been a safe-haven for me for a long time. And I am fairly certain that it will be for a long time to come. My parents aren’t going anywhere. They are stable. This house is stable.

And with all of the instability in my life right now I cling to this house as a security blanket. Unhealthy? Yes, perhaps. But, when you are in survival mode, when your world is spinning unstably, you seek whatever you can to help you stabilize, to help you regulate, to help you keep going.

Living at my parents house, with other people, being cared for in one of the only places on earth that really feels like home for me has been enormously stabilizing for me. And even though I know that it can’t last, that it shouldn’t last, that it’s not entirely healthy for me or my parents, I am still scared to let it go. Is that so wrong?

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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