Sharing Somewhere Else Today

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

“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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God and My Three Year Old

“There is no God.”

The words fell heavy in the room. A cringe of shock shook me and I’m sure a rush of blood flooded my cheeks. Embarrassed, I averted my eyes from my parents. And tried to respond as slowly and gracefully as I could.

“Well, Thaddeus, mommy and daddy and Nona and Boppa believe that there is a God. But, you get to choose what you believe.”

We were sitting at the table about to have dinner. My dad had started to pray and my son had, as always, interrupted with screaming, “NO! I want to pray!” My dad said ok and my son preceded to pray the same prayer he prays every time,

“God our father, thank you for the food. Amen”

On this particular day I was feeling a bit frustrated with his repetitive, shallow prayer and decided to take it as an opportunity to have a conversation about prayer.

“You know what, Thaddeus, we can thank God for more than just the food.”

A chorus of suggestions sprung up from around the table.

“Like the cousins”

“Or grandma and grandpa”

“Or baby sister”

I continued, “And we can also pray about things we feel, or things we want. God wants to hear about all of it.”

I had barely gotten out the last sentence before he was yelling “No!” again. And just as my voice silenced his words fell echoing across the table,

“There is no God!”

He said it with the conviction of a full grown atheist who’s made the argument a hundred times. There was passion in his voice.

I used to think that children’s spirituality mimicked their parents until they reached a certain age at which point they would have to wrestle with their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. If their parents said there was no God they would believe that. If their parents said there was a God their belief would follow their parents.

If a child told me “There is no God” I would wonder where they heard that and who they were parroting. Now I know differently.

Bryan and I would never tell Thaddeus there is no God. None of our family would tell him that. He’s been to church, learning about God, since he was a baby. Most of our friends have at least some form of belief and spirituality. He is not parroting. He has come to this belief on his own.

At three years old his little mind insists that there is no God.

But I sense something different in his heart. His heart seems scared of God.

And that breaks my heart even more than his statement of disbelief.

Because I know that fear. That fear of punishment. That fear that if God exists he isn’t good. He is harsh. He is vengeful. He is not safe. He is something to fear.

I felt that fear. It was the defining characteristic of my spiritual life for most of my childhood. And it still rattles and drives me at times.

For me that fear drove mto trying to be the perfect Christian. It drove me to pray “the sinners prayer” while trembling in the shadow of the hell that I had been told awaited me. Ultimately that fear drove me to God, but it also meant that it took me a long time to find the grace and love of God. At times when I feel that fear I still fight the desire to try to perfect myself for the sake of protection.

It has been a long journey for me to come to a place where I can experience and know that God is love.

I see that fear in my son. And yet, I see in him an attempt to alleviate that fear through an entirely different path than the one I took.

He is trying to relieve his fear by determining there is no God. By deciding that God doesn’t exist. By refusing to let me pray with him any time I attempt it apart from meals, by keeping prayers at meals shallow and without heart. By yelling anytime I talk about God.

His little heart is hiding.

And a part of me is glad. Perhaps his fear driving him away from God will enable his journey towards God to be led by love instead of fear.

But, a part of me fears where this path may lead if he continues on it. In my fear I tried to save myself, and having maintained a “good Christian” status most of my life grace took me a long time to learn. But, the path I took protected me from some pain and harm. I don’t want my son to have to experience that harm in order to find his way to God.

Part of me is also confused and frustrated. How do you share your own theology and spirituality with a child who refuses to have anything to do with God? How do you teach him the love of God? How do you show him the grace of God?

This is all so new for me. And not at all what I thought it would be.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

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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

 

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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

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