Teach Me To Pray

My muscles ached with it. My neck was tight with it. My heart felt heavy with it.

As I stepped onto my yoga mat my heart turned with it. Unrest.

The world’s unrest came rushing at me.

I carried it around in my muscles. No, deeper! It’s in my very bones.

There is no peace on earth. There is no rest on earth.

There is unrest in my own life and in my own heart. There is unrest in the relationships around me. But there is unspeakable unrest in the world, and on this day my thoughts turned to the Middle East.

As the rising sun hit my face I longed for Sabbath. For rest. For peace.

Peace for us all.

I pressed my hands together in front of my heart and wondered, “How do I pray for such pressing needs?”

How do I pray for those who are being tortured and persecuted?

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples asked.

My heart asked the same.

Lord, teach me to pray when peace is lacking on all sides.

As my body began to move to the simple rhythm of familiar sun salutations, my heart began to pray.

Our Father…

You are my father. You are their father.

Who art in heaven…

Whether it feels like it or not, you are in heaven, on your throne. You do reign.

Hallowed be your name…

You are set apart and holy. Your ways are not our ways.

Your kingdom come…

Let your kingdom break into their lives, our lives, the whole world.

Your will be done…

Not my will, but your will be done, Lord.

On earth as it is in heaven…

Bridge the vast difference between our world and heaven, and bring your peace here on earth.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Meet their needs. Meet my needs. Meet our needs.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…

May forgiveness be the wind that carries the oppressed to victory over their oppressors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

Plant our feet firmly that we might not fall to temptation or evil.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.

Amen.

Amen.
Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

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Extravagant Gifts and Unnecessary Signs

I’ve always thought it was sort of silly when someone was too proud to ask for or accept help. I’ve always thought that when someone offers you a gracious gift you should accept it with gratitude and the hope that one day you could graciously gift someone else.

But, today I’m sort of struggling with those concepts. Here’s why…

“We want to buy you a car.” My dad’s words where clear, direct and concise  but I am pretty sure I still responded by saying “What?” into the phone a number of times. I was stunned. And he wasn’t talking about just getting us any car, he was talking about getting us a new car, a minivan – something large enough for the wheelchair or other equipment Sage will most likely need eventually – something reliable that will last us a long time.

Only a week before they had told us they wanted to pay for our airfare to go back to Prague for a visit this summer.

It’s too much. It felt like too much to accept.

And for some reason it’s harder for me to accept right now. It feels excessive and unnecessary.

We have spent years of our married life living below what the US federal government considers the poverty line. We have in the past made choices to value time together, traveling and living abroad over building up some post-college career in a specific location. We have lost jobs unexpectedly. And we have made a few poor financial decisions (like buying a condo in Prague just before the market crashed everywhere).

Because of that we have had opportunity to accept help from friends and family alike in the past. We lived with another couple in Prague without them charging us rent, we accepted an older car as a gift from our church, and whenever my mom came to visit I let her buy groceries for me. These were not terribly difficult things to accept beacuse they were things we really truly needed and things that at the time we really truly couldn’t provide for ourselves.

Our financial situation is very different now. Bryan has a steady full-time job with a decent salary. We are slowly starting to build up our savings again. Sure, medical bills continue to come in and slow that process down, but we are doing well, really well, relative to past years.

Despite that, a trip to Prague and a new car are far outside what we can afford. They are things that we definitely can’t give ourselves. They are not necessities. They are extravagant.

We don’t need a trip to Prague. We want to go back to Prague and visit our friends and show the kids where we used to live, but it’s not a necessity.

And neither is a new car. Sure our present car is older and has had some problems in the past few months. It’s not completely reliable, but it works (most of the time). Sure eventually we will probably need a different car – soemthing that’s easy to get Sage in and out of even as she gets bigger without gaining much mobility and something that would allow us to carry around any equipment she may need, but for right now, at this season, our current car still meets our needs.

And that’s where my struggle comes in. I’m struggling to accept these extravagant non-necessary gifts.

I was thinking today about how I also struggle to accept God’s extravagant gifts. It’s not terribly hard for me to believe in a all-powerful God, or to accept that this God desires to save humanity – I need a God like that. I need saving and it feels necessary.

But, is it necessary for him to love me in the daily bits of my life? Is it necessary for him to provide for us time and time again? Is it necessary for him to pour out grace upon grace on us? No not really. And honestly I often struggle to accept that God really loves me and cares about me. That the eternal creator, that the Spirit of life, wants to give me good things.

Even with Sage’s diagnosis and Bryan’s diagnosis too, I haven’t felt angry with God or even questioned why. He doesn’t owe me anything. He has every right to give AND to take and I don’t struggle to accept that. What it’s harder for me to accept is that perhaps he would want to miraculously give Bryan more time. Perhaps he would want to miraculously surprise us with Sage’s abilities.

I pray every day that God would grant Bryan and I more time together, that he would extend Bryan’s life like he did Hezekiah’s, but even as I pray this prayer I feel like God granting it would be so extravagant, that I struggle to accept that he might.

The other day I was talking to a friend about this and telling her how I feel like dispite the fact that I do pray for a miracle like Hezekiah’s what I really need is for others to pray for that, because I can’t fully enter into that prayer. I need someone else to hold my arms like Moses and intercede on my behalf in my weakness and unbelief.

A few days ago I was reading the story of Hezekiah again and was struck by the fact that after Isaiah told Hezekiah that God was going to extend his life for 15 years Hezekiah asked for a sign that it would really happen and God graciously granted it. Hezekiah didn’t really need a sign, Isaiah had already told him. Perhaps Hezekiah was a bit like me and struggled to accept God’s gracious gift. Remarkably God gave Hezekiah an extravagant gift – an extravagant sign – talk about an extravagant sign too! He added more hours to the day just like he was adding more years to Hezekiah’s life!

As I prayed and did the dishes that night I told God I wanted a sign. I wanted to know like Hezekiah knew. I wanted that sort of extravagant unnecessary gift of knowledge from God.

Then I started wrestling with myself about whether or not it was even right for me to ask for a sign. I thought of the verse in the Gospels, “A wicked and idulterous generation asks for a sign and none will be given it accept the sign of Jonah.” I felt guilty. It must be wicked of me to ask this of God.

But, as soon as I thought of that verse I looked up and saw our goldfish swimming in his bowl.

The sign of Jonah… three days in the belly of a fish. I know this is refering to Christ being burried for three days before rising again, but somehow I felt like God was trying to tell me something about this goldfish on my counter.

“Could that be my sign?” I wondered.

And then a thought came to me that didn’t feel like it was my own – perhaps it was my subconcious, perhaps it was just me, but it felt different, you know?

“This goldfish looks strong and healthy and there’s no reason to think that it will be dead tomorrow, but statistically goldfish don’t live very long. Bryan looks strong and healthy and there’s no reason to think that he won’t live long, but statistically people with melanoma don’t.”

“Lord, could this be your sign to me? If the goldfish lives or dies?” The question bounced around in my head as I got ready for bed and as I woke up the next morning to be greeted by a happy goldfish. I thought of it all that day.

That night as I lay in bed I asked God, “how would it work if this was your sign to me?” And instantly, clear as day, a thought popped into my head that again seemed not my own, “Every day is a year.”

“Starting from this morning or tomorrow?” I asked.

“Starting today.” The answer came.

It has now been eight days. And as each day has come I have felt more hopeful, but also more doubt. I can’t fully believe that God would grant us another eight years or more. It’s easier for me to believe that things won’t go well, than it is for me to believe that God would want to give us the gracious gift of more time. It’s easier for me to believe that I am making up this whole goldfish sign nonsense than to think that perhaps God would give us this clarity.

And so with each passing day that my fish lives I wonder, “Is this really God’s sign to me? Or did I just make it all up? Would God really be gracious enough to give us more time like he gave Hezekiah? Would he gift us as extravagantly as my parents want to? Would he gift us as extravagantly as to gift us with the knowledge of how much time we have? Is he really that extravagant in his love?”

 

Do you ever struggle to accept the extravagant love of friends, family, or God? Has there ever been something that has helped you to accept a really big, or unnecessary, or unbelievable gift?

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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Asking for The Impossible

I’ve been struggling to know how to pray for this upcoming PET scan.

I want to pray that everything comes back clean. I don’t want this to be melanoma. I don’t want to deal with another surgery. I don’t want Bryan to go through radiation and the other things they said might be on the table if this is melanoma again.

But, if the scans come back clean it won’t be a complete relief. The lump will still be there. Bryan will still be in pain from it. The doctor already told us that even with a clean scan he will still think it’s melanoma and want to do a biopsy and follow it closely.

Just having a clean scan isn’t enough. I want more than just a clean scan. I want this whole lump to just be gone, disappear, suddenly vanish.

But, I’ve struggled with asking God for that.

It’s easy enough for me to tell God that’s what I want, but asking him to do that…well, that’s harder.

I struggle with asking for a miracle. I mean, a clean scan would be pretty miraculous according to our doctor, but it is still a possibility, within understanding. But, the lump just going away, disappearing completely, well, that wouldn’t be in the realm of understandable, that would be a clear miracle, and I really struggle with asking for that.

It feels a bit like asking God for a magic trick.

It feels a bit like indulging in avoidance and denial of the path that God has set before us.

It also stirs up my own doubts about God, doubts that say “God might be good, but he’s not going to be good enough to me.” Doubts that question the ability, character, and very existence of God.

And it feels a bit selfish, self-centered, and unaligned with “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Last night a friend emailed me after I had shared some of this and reminded me how Paul asked God to take away his thorns and stumbling blocks and how Jesus asked God to “remove this cup” before going to the cross.

Then I got to thinking about all the other people throughout the stories of the bible who asked God for really big things. Who asked God to part waters, heal illness, send fire from heaven, even raise the dead. Sometimes God did what they asked and sometimes, like in the cases of Paul and Jesus, they didn’t get what they asked for. And yet they still asked, in fact Jesus asked so fervently that he sweat blood.

In other areas of my life I’ve been thinking a lot about asking. Before I turned thirty I wrote this post about communicating desires and asking for what I wanted in regards to my birthday, but these thoughts have lingered with me throughout the whole year.

I struggle with asking people for what I want and what I need, much as I struggle with asking God for what I want. But, I’m finding that clearly communicating my desires to those around me has only been a positive experience. The old saying “it never hurts to ask” is really deeply true. At worst you are no worse off than you were before you asked and at best you get your needs and desires met. I’ve realized as I’ve started pushing myself to ask people around me for what I want that most if the time it has worked out greatly in my favor. It’s still hard, but I’m learning and I’ve come a long way in the past year.

Perhaps now, God is pushing me beyond just asking other people for what I want and challenging me to ask him for what I really want – even the really big, seemingly impossible things.

I deeply value openness and I always thought that I was very raw and honest in my prayers, but perhaps that has only been true up to a point. I haven’t struggled asking God for things, but there’s always been a line I felt I couldn’t cross, there’s always been a few things that seemed un-askable.

Too big.
Too impossible.
Too unrealistic.

But perhaps those are the very things God wants me to ask for? Perhaps I have never really experienced the extent of God’s power because I have never pleaded with God to pour out that power in an impossible situation?

So, I’m trying.

Lord, I believe that you are all powerful. I ask and pray that you would touch Bryan with your mighty hand and heal whatever is malfunctioning in his body. I pray that the next two days would see a dramatic reduction in the lump in his underarm. I pray that it would miraculously go away. That this cup would be removed from us. That this path before us would be traded for a smoother one. I pray for a PET scan that is completely unquestioningly clean and a biopsy that is equally clean. I pray that the pain would stop. That the tumor would disappear. That you would work a miracle. For your glory and your renown, heal Bryan. Heal him completely and give us many, many more years together. We trust you to answer in the way that is best for us, we believe that your way is perfect and yet we put our desires before you and ask as your son asked “if there is any other way, let this cup be taken from me.” In Jesus name. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

 

 

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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

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Liturgy of Blessing for Sage Eleanor

When my son was born my husband and I wrote a liturgy capturing things we hoped and prayed for him. It was our way of blessing him and claiming certain qualities that we wanted for his life. We have prayed it with him on each of his birthdays, each time making minor adjustments to it to capture our prayers for that current year. It has been a really beautiful and powerful experience. As soon as I found out I was pregnant with Sage I knew I wanted to do the same for her. So, we started talking, praying, dreaming and, of course, writing. And we again ended up with a liturgy of blessing that captures so much of our heart for this child.

Last weekend we prayed through this liturgy with a small group of people and today I wanted to share it with all of you.

Blessing for Sage Eleanor Stedman

Celebrant:
“The blessing of Christ comes to you in this child.
His blessing is mercy and kindness and joy.
Blessing comes to home and to family.”

Celebrants together:
Joy come to you through this child.

Mother and father together:
Joy come to all through this gift.

Mother:
Begotten through love she is birthed into loving arms.
Shaped in darkness she comes forth in light.
Formed in secret she is fully known.

Celebrant:
May She smile with the light of the sun.

Celebrant:
May She dance to the song of the stars.

Celebrant:
May She move with the grace of the moon.

Father:
She is light, joy, and wisdom.

Celebrant:
Light shines on the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11

Grandmother:
God’s light shine on you, child.

Father and Mother:
We bless you, sweet daughter.

Father:
I bless you, my daughter, may you laugh joyfully with the sun.
As the warmth of the sun Brings health, growth, energy, and delight to all those who bath in it’s rays,
may you bring healing to the hurting,
inspire growth in the floundering,
lend energy to the weak,
and bring delight to all those who meet you.

Mother:
May your judgement be unclouded, your intuition vivid, your contemplations enlightened.

Celebrant:
Joy of salvation be upon you.

Celebrant:
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:3

Father and mother:
We bless you, loved child.

Mother:
I bless you, my daughter, May you dance lightly with the stars.
As a stars light only reaches it’s full potential when combined with the light of others,
may you always surround yourself with others who shine of light and love and equality.

Father:
May you be open and inviting towards all you meet, welcoming all into your heart with a gentle and contagious joy.

Celebrant:
The light of Gods presence be upon you.

Celebrant:
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
they celebrate your righteousness. Psalm 89:15-16

Father and mother:
We bless you, precious gift.

Father:
I bless you, my daughter, may you sing wisely with the moon.
As the light of the full moon is luminous, reflective, and far seeing,
may you be luminous with a subtle yet radiant beauty,
insightful and keen to pick up on things that are missed by others,
and far seeing in your ability to comprehend and understand that which is beyond comprehension.

Mother:
May you be wise beyond your years and joyful beyond your circumstances.

Celebrant:
Wisdom of heaven be upon you.

Celebrant:
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes. Psalm 19:7-8

Father and mother:
We ask that Gods blessing be upon this child and His loving arms always around her.

Grandfather:
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
May the foot of the proud not come against [this little one],
nor the hand of the wicked drive [her] away. Psalm 36:7-11

Father and Mother together:
We lift up this child to you, Lord.
We recognize that she is your gift to us and that we are only stewards of her.

Grandparents:
“The blessing of Christ comes to you in this child.
His blessing is mercy and kindness and joy.
Blessing comes to home and to family.”

Father and mother:
We lift up this child to you, Lord.
And give her the name Sage Eleanor Stedman
And pray that she would live up to the meanings and significances of her name.

Father:
Sage means wise, prophet, and aromatic herb. We ask that God fill this child with wisdom. That she would be prophetic, and insightful. We also ask that she would be a sweet fragrance going up to the throne of grace. That she would be an aromatic blessing of joy and comfort for all who come in contact with her.

Mother:
Eleanor means light, or one who is bright, or God is my light. We ask That Gods light would fill and radiate out of this beautiful little girl. May she be a shining beacon of light amidst a world that can at times seem dark and disheartening. Eleanor also has another meaning. In Greek it can mean pity. You are not a pity, my daughter, and it is not a pity that you have entered our family. But, we do claim this as part of your name in a very specific manor. We pray that you would take pity, compassion, on all those who live in the darkness of hurt, anger, and discouragement, and that you would bring light and joy into their pain.

Celebrants together:
Welcome, Sage Eleanor Stedman,
child of love.
We welcome you with open arms and hearts of love.

(Open prayers for baby – whoever wants to can pray as they feel led)

Father:
Gods favor be upon you, daughter.

Celebrants together:
Gods favor be upon us all.
Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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