Fly This Whole Mess Into The Sea

“Cause I Know I got this side of me that
Wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just
Fly the whole mess into the sea.”

I’m changing freeways, driving up on a bridge that wraps around connecting the carpool lane from one freeway to the carpool lane of another. The road stretches in front of me turning away to the right.

…and I feel the urge to ignore the turn and plunge straight ahead and off the overpass.

A deep urge. I want to do it. In a daze I can picture doing it.

It’s not that I really want to die. I don’t really want my life to end. It’s not that I feel particularly depressed. I’ve been depressed before – I know what it feels like. I don’t feel particularly sad or frustrated.

In fact we’ve had a really good week. Last Tuesday our pastor from Seattle flew out and we had a deeply encouraging and healing time with him. We talked, we laughed we prayed, we shared communion. He brought cards and messages, prayers and love, from the whole community. He brought gifts for the kids. And he brought an abundantly generous sum of money from the community for Bryan’s treatment.

I was reminded of the verse in 2 Corinthians “…their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own…”

Our church did just that for us. It is not a rich church, it’s not a big church, but its a responsive church. A church that hears a need and prayerfully meets it. A church that loves people. And we were so encouraged by their love.

And then on Sunday we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. The kids stayed at my sister’s for the whole day and Bryan and I had the best day together. It was perfect and full of hope and dreams.

On Monday I got to spend a good deal of time talking with a beloved friend in Prague and celebrating the baby that is growing in her womb. Then that evening I got to see a much loved movie with Bryan and a very dear friend from High School.

It’s been a good week. Full of enjoyable moments.

For the most part I have felt hopeful. In fact I’ve even been fairly convinced that Bryan’s next PET scan will come back with very good results.

We had a bit of a blow this week when we learned that the woman who has been at the clinic with Bryan got a bad PET scan result. She left the clinic to go home with little hope. My heart hurts for them. Deeply.

But today I have felt hopeful, even relaxed. I’ve been looking forward to trying out the young adults group at my parents church and to my aunt coming to visit this week. I didn’t feel particularly down.

Tired, sure. A bit foggy, yes. But, down and depressed, no.

And then the urge hit. I wanted to send that car speeding over the edge and through the air. It was so strong I started to shake. My breathing grew heavy.

“If you do that your life will end.” I kept reminding myself of that, because somehow I felt disconnected from that reality. Despite the struggles we face I like my life. I don’t want it to end. But I wanted to crash over the side. Why?

Part of me said that it was just cause I wanted to feel it. I could picture it and I wanted to feel what it would feel like.

But another part of me kept whispering these words from an old Shins song:

“Cause I Know I got this side of me that
Wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just
Fly the whole mess into the sea.”

And I knew that was really what this longing was about.

I wanted to grab the wheel and for one brief moment be completely in control. Wanted the power and control to not follow the lines, to force my own destiny even if the only destiny I can force is a horrible death. I wanted… not to die, but to push against the unknown. To control.

I used to live under the illusion that I was in control of my life, that I could intentionally determine my days. I know better now.

I recently read C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands and was struck by the words Lewis wrote to a friend: “Of course, the sword of Damocles still hangs over us; or should I say, we are forced to be aware of the sword which really hangs over all mortals?”

The sword of Damocles, the mythical sword which was suspended by nothing more than a human hair.

There is really so little we can control in this life. Much happens by choices we or others make, but even more happens by chance, fate, or God’s providence (what you call it depends of course on your view of the world).

At that moment, driving over that bridge I felt caught in a net I couldn’t escape from, felt like my life was not my own, like I had no control. Like the sword of Damocles was hanging over me and those I loved and for a moment I was temped to snap the hair rather than wait for it to fall.

As I pushed my foot into the gas pedal and watched as the speedometer rose I felt the power of the heavy vehicle I controlled and I wanted to enjoy that control if even for a moment. I wanted to feel even more powerful and more in control and something whispered, “then drive it off the edge.”

Even after I was safely off the bridge, safely off the freeway, the urge still came on me like waves. Just crash. Just plow into the car in front of you.

My car was too quiet even with music playing. The annoying urge too loud.

I needed distraction. I called Bryan. “I need you to talk to me.”

I got where I was going and sat there for a long time. My body shaking. Feeling as if I should cry, as if crying would somehow help, but not being able to quite get the tears to come. But, mostly feeling sort of numb.

I guess even with all the positive moments and encouragement lately I’m not doing as well as I thought I was.

As I sat in the parking lot I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Satan takes him to the highest point in the temple. Standing looking out over Jerusalem, high above it all, did he whisper or did he shout? Did he beg or did Jesus just feel a deep longing, an urge?

“Throw yourself down.”

Did Jesus feel the weight of Damocles sword hanging over his head? Did he ever resent submitting to the Father’s will?

In that moment, as he stood looking out over the edge did he long to seize control, to take the wheel and feel powerful? Was his temptation two fold? Jump and prove yourselves powerful by commanding the angels to catch you, seize control by taking a more recognized and notorious path. Or jump and allow yourself to fall peacefully to your death – jump and choose a better death than the one you know awaits you.

Jump and take control.

Today as I drove that same road to take my son to school the temptation was gone. I have made my choice, I know who pilots my life. And it’s ok that it’s not me. I will not grab the wheel. I will submit to God’s control. Whatever comes.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

A Nomadic Soul

I have a nomadic soul.

I get antsy after being in one place for too long. After about a year I start to long for change.

This weekend Bryan and I decided to move to Arizona so that Bryan could pursue some treatment there. We plan on being there for two to three months but the exact time frame will depend a lot on how Bryan’s body responds to the treatments.

The truly crazy part is that we decided to try to be back in AZ by Monday because the sooner Bryan starts the better.

Today as I stressed out over packing, Bryan and I smiled at each other a knowing smile of enjoyment. We like this. We like setting off on new adventures, changing things up, not getting stuck in the same old routine.

As I drove down town to pick Bryan up from work this afternoon it dawned on me why I long for change so often (or at least part of why).

My soul is not uniform.

My soul is divided.

I drove through the crowded streets of down town, looking up at the brick buildings towering above me and hearing the clatter and clash of the city and I breathed it all in. Soaking it into my soul thinking, “oh, yeah, I love this.” There is a part of my soul that feeds on the energy of a city.

But as I drove farther I saw the water, sparkling under the sun which just peaked out from the clouds for a moment. I thought of the beach and the way that the waves pounding on the shore speaks to my heart. I thought of long walks on the beach. The sand in my toes. The tides lapping at my feet. The rhythm and calm of the beach is home for my soul.

My mind then wondered to the dry warmth of the desert. I can almost feel the hot air embracing me in my mind. The open sky’s and powerful mountains call to me. The cactus blooming so rarely and yet so perfectly amidst the thorns reaches into my heart and teaches me truth. The desert holds a special place in my soul.

Oh, and then there’s the forest. The deep greens, the stretching canopy of trees, the mountain peaks. The cool refreshing air. The rain that sprinkles down it’s melancholy kisses. Yes, my soul is feed here too.

I long for the sprawling fields of the country AND the stimulation of the city. I long for the roar of the waves on the beach AND the pitter-patter of the rain on the leaves. I want to walk the streets that have stood the test of time and carried the great and the small before me. And I want to run away in hermit-like solitude.

I am never happy where I am because part of my soul always wants to be somewhere else. And yet part of me is content wherever I am because part of my soul wants to be there.

I am drawn to all places and cultures, drawn to all climates and environments. And yet part of me is not. I am divided. And so I can find peace in a place for only a short time before the other parts of me start yelling for attention. Too long in the cold and rain and the part of my soul that loves the dry warmth begins to revolt.

And so I long to keep moving. Keep experiencing. Keep feeding each part of my soul in turn.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

A Tattoo And a Philosophy

We have been thinking about getting tattoos.

I always felt like a tattoo needed to be not only symbolic, but also sort of commemeratory and up until now I never felt like I had just the right thing that I wanted to symbolze and memorialize on my body for the rest of my life.

This past year however, has brought us the most challenging and life effecting thing we have ever faced – Bryan’s cancer diagnosis. A tattoo suddenly seems very fitting and appropriate. This year has changed us and I want a symbol of that.

When we got married we got wedding rings to tell the world about how we had changed. When we had a kid, well, we got a kid to show that change (not to mention stretch marks, puffy eye circles from lack of sleep, a whole slue of accessories and toys, and now a minivan). Bryan’s cancer diagnosis has been as life changing as those events for me and it seems fitting to have something to symbolize our feelings about it and what we are learning through it.

We have been talking about a lot of different ideas, and I have of course been searching pinterest for inspiration. But, of the things that we’ve talked about there’s one that I keep coming back to, one that sticks in my head and just seems to fit.

a simple symbol…the ampersand…

&

It’s a beautiful literary device that I have always been drawn to, but recently even more so.

I read something this week claiming that the essence of theological language is in the prepositions – in, of, with, to…and. I think that you could say that the heart of life is found in the prepositions – those things which place us in relation to something else.

When we live in the AND we live firmly in the life of abundance. AND is a word of abundance and continuation. & is a symbol of that abundance and continuation. A symbol that says that the sentence, the thought, the idea, the essence isn’t over; it continues. Not only does it continue but something is added to it, it increases, it expands, it extends.

AND is also a word of connection. & is a symbol of connection. It connects two (or more) things and tells us that these things are related, are connected, and belong together.

You & me

Bryan & Bethany

Us & our children

& our family, & our friends, & our community, & our God.

This year, this season, this experience & many more to come.

AND also acknowledges that we are more than we appear, we are one thing AND another. We are made of dust AND the breath of GOD. I am a wife & a mother. A daughter & a friend. A writer & a terrible speller. A creative & the doer of the laundry day after day after day. I am what I was in the past & what I am now & what I will be in the future – I am made up of glimpses of all of these things.

Together, Bryan & I are cancer fighters, waging a war against his melanoma AND we are so much more than that too.

We fight cancer AND we live our lives. Bryan recently pointed out this verse in Ecclessiastes to me and it has quickly become a bit of a theme for us:

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

When living in the AND we keep living our lives. We keep planting AND reaping. We keep moving forward AND pressing on.

& symbolizes all that to me.

It tells me that this isn’t the end of the story, this isn’t an OR, a period, or a exclamation point, this is an AND. The life God offers us, the abundant life of Christ is an AND. It’s an invitation into a relationship, us & God, that leads to a new connection between us & the world, AND gives us an eternal continuity of abundance that starts today.

The more I processed the idea of an ampersand tattoo over the past few weeks the more I liked it. I thought it was fairly original and unique and captured so much of what I want to remember and be about.

But, then today I decided to look for some more specific inspiration on Pinterest and searched for “ampersand tattoos”. I was kind of surprised by how many I found. I guess it’s not as unique an idea as I thought it was. One pinner made a comment about it being way hipster to get an ampersand tattoo. Suddenly it seemed slightly less appealing for a moment. But, as I looked at more and more ampersand tattoos I also found that I still really liked them, part of me didn’t want to still like it because it did seem so common, but I did.

And as I’ve thought about it more I think the fact that lots of others have “&” tattoos almost adds to the idea…

Us & so many others.

We are unique AND we are common.

We will sit with it for a little while, sit with our & to see if it is really what we want to symbolize this season, to see if it’s really something we want permanently on our bodies, but as of right now I’m liking it.

Us & the abundant life of our God

Us & whatever comes

AND…

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Grace and Grace Alone

It was after 8pm when we pulled into my in-laws drive way. Sage sputtered periodic cries of hunger and exhaustion from the back seat. Bryan and I were equally worn down from the hours spent at the car dealership. Our stomachs rumbled, but our hearts were full.

I cried when I walked out and saw the exact car my parents were buying us. I was amazed – awe struck. As I wrote before it felt like too much, far too much. And in that moment I fell completely undeserving upon their generosity.

But, I first felt myself choking up long before that. It happened as I told my mom about the radiation appointment Bryan had that morning.

I don’t want to do radiation – I don’t understand it, it doesn’t fit well into my ideology, and I just plain don’t like it. But, I can’t even begin to describe to you how clearly we’ve known that this is the right next step for us. I don’t want Bryan to do radiation, but I know that he’s suppose to.

As I sat in that very public car dealership telling my mom about the appointment we also looked at the modifications that can be made to the car to accommodate a wheelchair for my daughter, Sage, down the line, as she is likely to need one. I could feel the lump rising in my throat and I could also feel myself raising my voice to talk a little louder. I found myself wanting the sales agent and others to know our situation. I found myself wanting their pity, their empathy.

It was not the first time I’d felt this. There have been moments where I’ve wanted to play the victim, wanted the pity of those around me. Most of the time I don’t feel that, but every now and then that feeling rises up.

As we pulled up to my in-laws house surrounded by new car smell everyone came rushing out. Bryan’s grandparents and aunt and uncle were there visiting from California as well as my parents who had left the dealership before us.

They all swarmed to see the new car. We were greeted with hugs and congratulations and Bryan’s grandma said a number of times, “You deserve it.” Perhaps my mother-in-law chimed into that chorus too and it seemed to be the general consensus of the group.

“You deserve it.”

As I heard that comment something about it just didn’t sit right with me, but I also felt the feelings I had felt sitting in the dealership, the desire for my struggle to be known and pitied, rise up again. “Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. We do deserve this.”

Bryan later sobered me up, when he commented on how untrue it actually was.

“We don’t deserve this car. That’s the whole point.”

That is the truth. We don’t deserve this car. That is the whole point. It is grace to us. Grace from God acted upon by my parents.

There is something about pain. We are incredibly uncomfortable with pain, aren’t we?

Because Bryan and I have experienced pain, and a twist in our road that seems completely unfair, those around us feel that we deserve and have earned some great tangible good. In fact I feel that too at times. I feel that my pain earns me the pity, help, and empathy of others. We are so uncomfortable with our suffering that we want to tip the scale back in the favor of those who suffer. We say it isn’t fair. We want things to be more balanced.

We want the “righteous” to prosper and the “wicked” to be swept away with troubles and when it doesn’t happen that way we feel that God has wronged us and those we care for. We believe that we are owed something better.

And when we see those who have been suffering given a massive blessing we feel they deserve it. It balances the scale for us a little bit.

In that moment of excitement, rushed upon by those who care for us, I felt we deserved it. We have been through a lot and in my pride I could say that we have walked through it gracefully and taken each hit in stride. I could cry out with Hezekiah and claim that I have “walked before [God] faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in [His] eyes.” Doesn’t that get me something? God owes me a good turn, right?

Oh, how very childish I am!

We all know on some level that our world is out of balance. That the suffering and pain we all have to face is wrong… is off…was not intended. We know in our souls that it wasn’t meant to be this way. And we are right! But, how wrong we become when we begin to think that we are entitled to something other than suffering. When we begin to think that we are owed, or that we deserve, grace.

We want the scale to be balanced and fair, but it is not and it never will be. Life is unfair. As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it “the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” We will all face suffering of one kind or another. We will all face death.

We all fall into the hands of a loving God and each of us falls undeserving on his grace.

Grace and grace alone.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Two-Part Invention

Today I cried at the playground.

Moms don’t have a lot of space for tears, and so they break their way through – unexpected, at undesirable times. I stand there, with Sage firming resting in the wrap at my hip, kids playing all around, mom’s chatting casually on the other side of the slide. And I turn another page.

It seems that I have cried with each page of this book. The more I get into it the harder it is to fight back the tears. You’d think I’d give up reading it, but these aren’t bad tears and somehow this book is woven from the fabric of my very being. I can’t stop.

I see in the writing my own hopes and dreams. My own tendencies and loves,

“The thought that I must, that I ought to write, never leaves me for an instant.” And I add: Nor me.

And I add: Nor me.

I read:

“I was struggling to write, to keep house, help in the store, be a good mother, and yet improve my skills as a storyteller. And that decade was one of rejection slips. I would mutter as I cleaned house, ‘Emily Bronte didn’t have to run the vacuum cleaner. Jane Austin didn’t do the cooking.’… In my journal I wrote: ‘There is a gap in understanding between me and my friends and acquaintances. I can’t quite understand a life without books and study and music and pictures and a driving passion. And they, on the other hand, can’t understand why I have to write, why I am a writer.”

And again flip the pages back to the first page I earmarked in the book:

“We do not know and cannot tell when the spirit is with us. Great talent or small, it makes no difference. We are caught within our own skins, our own sensibilities; we never know if our technique has been adequate to the vision. Without doubt this is true of my own work, too. I never know, when I have finished a book, how much of what has been in my mind and heart has come through my fingers and onto the page. This inability truly to assess one’s own accomplishment is what makes rejections so bitter. When I was receiving rejections from publisher after publisher, I wondered sadly if the book I had conceived in my mind had failed utterly in getting onto the page. This lack of knowing makes the artist terribly vulnerable. When I hand in a manuscript to agent or editor I am filled with anxiety until I hear: Yes, the book is there. It needs work, but it is there.”

And I think of my first attempt at a novel, which I only just days ago sent off to friends for editing.

So much of the life I want to lead is portrayed in these pages.

But so much also of the life I feel creeping up on me and hope never to be mine.

The struggle to write and become a writer are interwoven with the story of her marriage and ultimately the story of her husbands cancer. My own fears swell up as I turn the page.

I read:

“I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when the good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”

As I read this book I feel it. It lodges itself deep in my heart on so many levels. It is as if it was written for me and as if it was written for me at such a time as this.

I’ve been drawn to Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention for years. I remember as quite a young woman seeing it on my parent’s shelf and wanting to read it. And yet, somehow, I never did. I must have picked it up to read a dozen times and yet as much as I wanted to read it, as much as I knew that I should read it and would one day read it, I also knew that it wasn’t time yet.

After Sage was born, when we were packing to move up to Seattle, our boxes were stuffed full and yet somehow I managed to squeeze it in – stollen off my parent’s book shelf.

When we moved into our apartment in the small town of Bothell, just north and east of the sprawling metropolis that is Seattle, I carefully looked at each book and then promptly packed almost all of them back up in boxes to store in our small attached storage. I didn’t pack Two-Part Invention back up. It was one of only about a dozen books that have sat on my shelves over the past year, and yet despite that I have never picked it up to read, until this week.

I feel almost as if it audibly called out to me. “Read me. Read me. Now.” It whispered.

And so I did. And it feels serendipitous to have picked up this book at this time and not before.

If I had read it when I was younger, I do not believe that it would have been anything more to me than a touching story book and a good book. If I had read it last year in the midst of Bryan’s melanoma diagnosis I do not think I would have been able to finish. It would have hit too close to home.

But, now, at this season, when my heart is still largely filled with thoughts of cancer and what that terrible foe might hold for us in the future, and when I am more firm in my identity as a writer than I have ever been before, this book comes as a God send. One of those rare books that I know I will look back on as formative, even life changing.

I turn another page:

“Prayer. What about prayer? A friend wrote to me in genuine concern about Hugh, saying that she didn’t understand much about intercessory prayer. I don’t, either. Perhaps the greatest saints do. Most of us don’t, and that is all right. We don’t have to understand to know that prayer is love, and love is never wasted.
Ellis Peters, in A Morbid Taste for Bones, one of her delightful medieval whodunits, gives a beautiful descriptions of what I believe to be intercessory prayer: ‘He prayed as he breathed, forming no words and making no specific requests, only holding in his heart, like broken birds in cupped hands, all those people who were in stress or grief.’
And George MacDonald asks, ‘And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only reply, Why should my love be powerless to help another?’
I do not believe that our love is powerless, though I am less and less specific in my prayers, simply holding out to God those for whom I am praying.

What happens to all those prayers when not only are they not ‘answered’ but things get far worse than anyone ever anticipated? What about prayer?

Surely the prayers have sustained me, are sustaining me. Perhaps there will be unexpected answers to these prayers, answers I may not even be aware of for years. But they are not wasted. They are not lost. I do not know where they have gone, but I believe that God holds them, hand outstretched to receive them like precious pearls.”

And I cry.

Each tear drop a separate prayer escaping up to heaven.

A prayer without words, a prayer deeper than words.

I cry for my friends, Jane and Martin, fighting cancer far across the ocean. I cry for friends whose aching wombs have lost babies. I cry for friends who are struggling with job loss and financial crisis. I cry for my daughter, Sage, who may never walk or talk. I cry for myself for the threatening loss I fear. I cry for Madeleine and the battle her husband, Hugh, fought with cancer all those many years ago.

 

And tears become prayers. And the prayers echo.

 

And I turn back a few pages:

 

“I do not want ever to be indifferent to the joys and beauties of this life. For through these, as through pain, we are enabled to see purpose in randomness, pattern in chaos. We do not have to understand in order to believe that behind the mystery and the fascination there is love.
In the midst of what we are going through this summer I have to hold on to this, to return to the eternal questions without demanding an answer. The questions worth asking are not answerable. Could we be fascinated by a Maker who was completely explained and understood? The mystery is tremendous, and the fascination that keeps me returning to the questions affirms that they are worth asking, and that any God worth believing in is the God not only of the immensities of the galaxies I rejoice in at night when I walk the dogs, but also the God of love who cares about sufferings of us human brings and is here, with us, for us, in our pain and in our joy.”

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.