Archive for the ‘thoughts on Christianity’ Category

A Story of Guilt, Hiding, and Grace

May 24th, 2014

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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On Anxiety, Anger, and Trust

December 16th, 2013

Slowly I put one foot in front of the other. To my right, windows reach from floor to ceiling. In the darkness of night I can see the snow on the rooftops below sparkling in the building’s light. To my left, a wall of glass looks down on the hospital entryway below. During the day the noises of people echo softly through this hall way, but now all is quiet.

From the top floor this hall circles the edge of the building, circles the entryway below, and as I walk it’s circles my heart circles around the same worries. Each lap taking me a little deeper into anxiety. I walk as if trying to shake off the day, trying to escape the fear that has gripped me, but with each circling lap it becomes more and more clear that it’s not working.

Only hours before I stood in the Urgent Care with my four year old son. He sat in a stroller nearly too small for his preschool body. His eyes glazed over in a motionless stare. His little face flushed with the fever which had reached 103 degrees only minutes before. He complained of a headache and begged me to hold him. My heart longed to sweep him up in my arms and cuddle his aches away. I wanted to hold him close and never let him go. But, my head recoiled. I would never hold back my love for my child just because I was fearful of catching whatever illness he had, or at least I had never thought that I would, but in that instant I had to. I had to protect myself as a means for protecting my husband.

Bryan is now half way through his chemo treatment. His white blood cells are starting to fall. The goal of this treatment is to bring his white blood cells as close to zero as possible. They literally want to destroy his immune system. Once he is neutropenic then the real treatment can be given. That is when they will give him the millions of white blood cells – his white blood cells – that they have grown and trained to fight his particular cancer. That is also when they will give him Interleukin 2 as a support for the cells they inject into him. During that time he will have no immune system, he will be dangerously susceptible to illnesses and infections of any and every kind.

I cannot risk getting sick now, because Bryan cannot risk getting sick now. I will not be separated from my husband during the most difficult thing he has ever walked through. So I say no to my son’s begging. I step back instead of stepping forward and my heart breaks. My sister flashes me an understanding and heartbroken look, before offering to hold Thad for me. “Thad, can I hold you? I’m not your mommy, but I am a mommy? Can I hold you?” My heart swells in gratitude for my sister – she has a beautifully mothering heart – but at the same time it aches for my son.

I had thought I understood stress. I thought I was already under as much stress as I possibly could stand, and then Thad came down with a fever and I felt my worst fears being realized. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t even think. All I could picture was myself coming down with whatever Thad had and being unable to be with Bryan and then Bryan getting it anyway because he had already spent time with Thad. This has been one of my worst fears since coming to NIH. And now I felt that fear knocking on my door, threatening to come in.

Looking back on the day as I walk I try to pray. I beg God to protect Bryan and keep him well, to protect me and keep me from coming down with anything, to heal Thad and restore him quickly. Lap after lap I lay the same request before Him. But, the hall is silent and my anxiety only grows. And then as I round the corner I hear a gentle voice, “You are worrying about something you cannot control.” And I only walk faster. I want to scream, “But I WANT to control it. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want Bryan to get sick! I don’t want anything to happen to Thad and I don’t want him to suffer through illness without his mom! I DON’T WANT THIS! It’s not right! I want to worry about this because I want to control this.”

The voice comes back again, “But you can’t control this.” And I remember my blog post from a few days ago about Worry. I remember how I had concluded that it seemed ok to me to worry about things that I could control, choices I could make – it seemed ok, and perhaps even right, to worry about the things that were within my free will.

I fight back again, “But there were decisions I could have made things I could have done to prevent this! I shouldn’t have let Thad come out here. I should have kept him home. Even today when my sister told me he woke up teary and seemed out of sorts I should have heard that as a warning sign and kept him away. I should have left him and sent him to urgent care with my sister instead of going myself and exposing myself to whatever other germs there were at the urgent care. I should have… I should have… I should have…”

The voice is gentle, “You did what you could. You made the choices that seemed best to you at the time. You took steps to protect both Thad and Bryan. You got Thad on antibiotics right away, even though that wouldn’t normally be your first course of action. You wore a mask yourself and used lots of hand sanitation and even showered before going back to see Bryan. You did what you could within your free will. So, why are you still holding on to this? Why are you still so anxious over something you can’t control?”

Finishing the lap I stop and stand still. Directly in front of me is the small hospital chapel. I move towards the doorway as if pulled by gravity. But I cannot step inside. There is a war going on within me and stepping inside would be acknowledging defeat.

In my head I know that I shouldn’t be holding on to this anxiety about something I cannot control. In my head I know that Bryan could get sick while he’s neutropenic and there could be nothing that I can do to stop it. In my head I know that I could get sick – not only from my exposure to Thad, but just from the fact that I’m hanging out in a hospital all day. I know that I cannot control whether or not those things happen. I can take steps to prevent those things from happening, but now that I have done that I should be able to let go of the anxiety and trust God to do for us what is best.

But, there is the clincher. There is the heart of the issue. Trust.

Standing in that doorway, unable to step forward and yet also unable to step back I know I face a choice. The same choice I have faced a thousand times before and will probably face a thousand times again. Will I trust?

I start to cry. Not the soft tears of acceptance, but the hard sobs of anger. I am angry that Thad got sick. Angry that there is an increased risk that I will get sick and that Bryan might get sick. But, more than that I am angry that we are here at all. It is the first time I feel it, really feel it deep in my bones, this anger at the injustice, the un-rightness, of cancer. “God, how can I trust when you are not trustworthy!?!?” The words spill out of my lips thorough desperate broken cries.

“Do you really believe that?” “YES!” I cry back. And the truth is finally out. My head may proclaim God’s trustworthiness, but my heart tells a different story. In the depths of me there is not just questioning of God and his trustworthiness there is a knowing. There is a root within me that knows without a doubt that He is untrustworthy.

And now we can really talk. Now that the heart is exposed we can really begin the battle. In the silence a simple thought comes. How do you define trustworthiness? By who’s standards do you judge your God?

By my own, of course! By my own desires and goals and wills. I want what I want and when I don’t get it, like a small child, I holler and yell and believe that God is untrustworthy. Standing in that door way that is exactly what I do. I throw a classic tantrum. I fall to my knees. I play out all of my worst scenarios in my head and ask myself at the end of each “Would God be trustworthy then? How could God be trustworthy if that happened?”

God does not defend himself. He is silent, but more present than I have ever felt him before. And then when I have few tears left to cry the words come, “Will you follow me anyway? Will you follow as Abraham did, to an alter? Will you place Thad and Bryan and Sage and all that you care for in my care, on my alter, as Abraham placed Isaac?”

Remembering the story I suddenly felt calm, “Will you give them all back to me safe and sound, as you gave Isaac back to Abraham?” But, I know as soon as I speak the words that this is not a bargaining ground. This must be trust, real trust, complete trust, heart trust. I stand again and stare through the doorway, down the isle, at the simple alter in the front of the chapel. And suddenly something breaks within me and I take that first step singing through choked tears.

You are good You are good
when there’s nothing good in me.
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

(Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

 

It feels like a very long walk from the doorway to the alter, but is in reality only a couple of steps. By the time I reach the alter I fall to my knees again, arms raised in the empty chapel. This is what it means to surrender. This surrender costs something.  This is what it means to praise in the midst of darkness.

After a few minutes the tears ease up and I feel drawn to the podium. On the empty podium rests a large lectionary. I turn to the marked page – the reading for the second sunday in Advent:

 

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

I nearly laugh when I read the passage, but instead tears begin to flow again.

Many years ago when I was in college and going through a difficult season, questioning God’s goodness, I read a book called The Prisoner in the Third Cell . It was very transformative for me and centered around this passage of scripture when John the Baptist was in prison.

Here is John in the middle of his own dark night, questioning the very Jesus whom he had proclaimed. John was faced with the same question I just wrestled with in the doorway of this hospital chapel, “Will you follow me even though you don’t understand me? Will you follow me even though I don’t do things the way you want me to do things? Will you follow me even though it might cost you everything you hold dear? Will you follow me and trust me even though I may lead you to places you wouldn’t choose to go?”

The walk away from the podium, away from the alter, out of the chapel was entirely different from the walk in. My heart was light as I crossed easily through the doorway. I will follow. I do trust.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

 

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The Desire to Know

October 7th, 2013

 

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:4-5 (emphasis mine)

 

We want to know what God knows, don’t we?

 

We want to know good and evil.

We want to know why. Why does this happen, why doesn’t that happen?

We want to know the outcome of our days, the number of our days. We want to know what the future holds. We want to understand the past. We want to know what we should do in the present. What decisions should we make? Should we go this way or that way?

 

We want to know.

 

We don’t want to trust.

 

In my own life right now this desire surrounds me on all sides. We all want to know what the results of Bryan’s next PET scan will show. We want to know if the cancer is getting worse or getting better. We want to know what the outcome will be and what steps and decisions are best for us to make now. We want clear knowledge, assurance, and direction about what the best treatments will be going forward. We want to know the future and the number of our days.

 

And with my daughter we want to know how she will develop. Will she walk? Will she talk? We want to know the exact steps we have to take to make sure that she does do those things.

 

We want to know good and evil – we want to know what path is best to take (what path is good) and what path is not (what path would be evil for us). We want to know where we should live, where we should work, how we should spend our days.

 

We want to know… because we want to control.

 

But, the truth is we cannot be like God. We are not God.

 

Even with the knowledge of good and evil, even with our eyes being opened as Adam and Eve’s were, we are still not God. The serpent lied.

 

And yet the desire to be God, the desire to know, to control, to determine our own destinies, is not lessened, it has only grown greater.

 

Knowing may be desired, but it is not in our best interest. It is not what God desires for us. I am not sure we could ever understand or know as God does – we are not God (although we often set ourselves up as little gods).

 

And so God hides himself. He veils the future. He speaks in parables. Not to frustrate, but to help. To lead us to trust.

 

It is not knowing that God wants from us, it is trusting. Trusting in Him. Following Him with faith like a little child’s.

 

Today, as every day, I find myself surrounded in unknowing, surrounded in waiting. And God asks, “Will you trust? Will you stay in the unknown, will you be content in the waiting, will you live in the now?”

 

Adam and Eve’s story becomes for me a parable for my own season of unknown. Will I, as my ancestors before me, usurp control and grasp at knowing? Or will I trust?

 

I hope I trust.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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Sharing Somewhere Else Today

September 17th, 2013

Today I have the opportunity to share on a topic very near and dear to my heart over at the wonderful site Lark and Bloom. I’m sharing about severe mercy’s and when God gives you things you never wanted. Here’s the link.

If you aren’t familiar with Elizabeth and her beautiful site you should definitely take time to check it out while you’re there. She is constantly writing posts that inspire, encourage, and call me onwards and upwards towards our God.

Liz is currently running a series called the Dirty Gospel and it has been full of beautiful and thought-provoking posts. Very worth the read.

So, head on over there, read my guest post, say hi to Liz, and explore the rest of the site. It’s one of my favorites.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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Fly This Whole Mess Into The Sea

August 23rd, 2013

“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

 

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