Change Through Darkness

“‘Praise, praise!’ I croak. Praise God for all that’s holy, cold, and dark. Praise him for all we lose, for all the river of the years bears off. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. Praise him for emptiness. And as you race to spill into the sea, praise him yourself, old Wear. Praise him for dying and the peace of death.” – Godric, by Frederick Buechner

“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.” – Till We Have Faces, by C.S Lewis

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” John 12:24-25, The Message

These quotes have been playing in my head, weaving a tapestry of thought across my mind. And on the tapestry there are two images.

One is the image of a New Moon. Darkness before rebirth.

The other is the image of a seed buried deep in the earth. Darkness before rebirth.

And then the wind blows and the sun beats warm around me and I can feel another image in the air. Winter turned to spring. Darkness before rebirth.

It seems the pattern of the world that change is heralded by darkness.

And then I’m captured by the inactivity in these images. The moon does nothing to change from darkness to fullness, in fact it isn’t really even a reality it experiences. It simple keeps it’s course navigating around the sun. The seed doesn’t determine to grow, it just sits in stillness in the earth and without effort it sprouts. Surrounded by exactly what it needs to grow – rick, dark, moist, soil – it grows of no effort of it’s own. Spring may battle with winter for a time, but it is a battle of play not of effort. Both know who the winner will be. Spring comes forth slowly or quickly at the time appointed to it, not by it’s own effort.

Soon other quotes are weaving their own layers over my mental tapestry…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

    I will be exalted among the nations,

    I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,

    in quietness and trust is your strength,” – Isaiah 30:15

I sit with this tapestry wrapped all around me, soaked in the images of darkness. I am still. And I wait for the change that I know is coming.

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.

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.

Love and Fear Dance Together

Today I read this post on Christine Sine’s blog. It was a great post and a wonderful addition to the recent synchroblog on Christianity and Immigration. At the end she quoted this poem by Michael Leuniq:

“There are only two feelings
Love and fear
There are only two languages
Love and fear
There are only two activities
Love and fear
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear
Love and fear.”

As soon as I read this I had this picture in my head of love and fear dancing together. I thought about the Christian life as being a journey from fear to love. There’s a long phase of the journey where love hasn’t totally conquered fear yet, and so they dance together for a while. Sometimes love leads, and sometimes fear leads, but hopefully over the course of the journey love leads more and more often until one day fear is completely transformed and Love is all there is. I’ve been sitting with this picture all day.

Here’s a little something I wrote in response to all these thoughts:

Lord, I reach out to you in my darkness and there is fear.

I speak to you in my pain and there is fear.

In me is fear, around me is fear, from me is fear.

I am fear.

But, Lord, you reach out to me in my darkness and there is love.

You speak to me in my pain and there is love.

In you is love, around you is love, from you is love.

You are love.

Perfect love drives out all fear.

You come

And your love begins to dance with my fear.

And slowly, ever so slowly

Fear is driven out by love’s dance.

And you begin to whisper,

“Come, and do likewise!

Reach out your hand in love towards those in darkness

Speak out in love towards those in pain

Drive out fear from all places where it has made its home.

Be love to the other, as I have been love to you.”

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.

The Best Way to Succeed

My husband and I were talking recently and he made a comment that has stuck with me. He said:

“The quickest way to succeed is to help others succeed.”

I thought about this for a long time and I think he’s really right. Of course, there are a lot of different ways to “succeed” and not all of them involve helping someone else succeed. But, meeting a need for someone else, helping them to be successful, well, that is a pretty good, and often very quick, way for you to be successful yourself. Maybe there are times when it’s not the “quickest” way to succeed, but I think it might just be the BEST way to succeed.

So often, I think we compete with each other when we should be helping one another. I know that I don’t usually think about how I can help someone else succeed. Instead I think about how I can succeed – how I can succeed at blogging, at being a mom and wife, at teaching yoga, or at whatever other projects and interests I’m currently trying my hand at. But, how different would my relationships be if instead of focusing on myself and my own success I focused more on others and THEIR success. And, at least according to my husband, doing that could very well lead to the success I want for myself. Even if it doesn’t, by focusing on others and their success I would have improved the world just a little bit by making it a more compassionate, gracious, and relational place. And isn’t that a beautiful form of success in and of itself?

What have you done today to help someone else succeed?

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.

Returning to Lent

The past few years I have found much encouragement and growth in following the Christian calendar and keeping my thoughts and spiritual journey somewhat in line with the church seasons. The cyclical nature of the seasons, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time, have drawn me deeper and deeper into my understanding of and relationship to the Triune God. But, during the past year of pregnancy and the early months of motherhood, I found myself in a season of my own and unable to fully relate to or participate in the church seasons. In fact I didn’t even have a single thought about Advent this year until it was over – really I didn’t have a single thought about much of anything accept my dear difficult child.

Today I woke up to realize that it is Ash Wednesday, and I felt suddenly like I need Lent this year. Need Lent like I have never needed it before. Lent is when we remember the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. Lately, I feel like I am wandering unknown territory, my own desert. Lent is also when we remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Lately, I feel tempted. I feel tempted to ignore God and focus solely on my immediate physical needs. I feel tempted to escapism instead of being present with where I am and what my life looks like at the moment. I feel tempted to despair and to feel like my life has no broader purpose or vision amidst the mundane of peek-a-boo and dirty dishes.

Lent is also a time of repentance and purification during which we prepare again to celebrate and remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I remember learning that for a time in the early church Easter was the only time that they baptized new believers and Lent was for these new believers a time of preparation for baptism. Lent was a time of preparing to enter into the family of God. Eventually “older” believers began to also celebrate Lent as a time to renew their faith and commitment to the resurrection life that God offers. This year I feel this subtle historical significance of Lent. I need this. I need to come to God anew. I need a fresh start with Jesus.

Thanks to Christine Sine I recently read this quote from Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year and it really spoke to me about why I need to participate in Lent yet again:

Lent is not a ritual.  It is time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out.  It is the moment when, as the baptismal waters flow on every Easter Vigil altar, we return to the baptismal font of the heart to say yes once more to the call of Jesus to the disciples, “Come and see” (John 1:39)  It is the act of beginning our spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.  (111)

I want to begin my “spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.” And so this Ash Wednesday I bow my head and heart and say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Come and draw me into Lent. Show me once again who you are. Teach me anew who I am. I am thirsty and weak, weary and confused. I don’t know how to listen to you. I don’t know how to speak to you. I don’t know how to follow you. I don’t know how to love you or obey you. Come, Lord. Lead me once again through the desert.

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.