This Is Where We Are

These days have been about realizing anew my limitations,
recognizing again my overwhelming need for help,
grieving and letting go of expectations. 

There are certain common landmarks in the cancer journey. We past some of them a long while ago. But this week we past a new landmark, one we’d hoped we wouldn’t pass at all. 

This week we had to admit that Bryan can’t keep working. 

His pain is excruciating and getting worse all the time. He’s on some pretty heavy pain meds around the clock now and even that isn’t really relieving the pain. Between the pain itself and the medications for the pain it’s hard for him to hold a conversation or stay focused for more than a few minutes.

It was hard for Bryan to admit and recognize that he needed to stop working, but his company has been incredible about it. They agreed to hold his position and continue paying his insurance until the beginning of December. They basically met the FMLA requirements despite the fact that they didn’t need to as a small company. We are so thankful. 

But this is a new threshold we’ve now stepped across and the way in front of us is vague and unclear. 

I also had to admit and recognize something of my own this week. I can’t keep going the way I have the past few months.

The responsibilities on my shoulders are more than I can carry alone. Bryan needs more from me than I’ve been able to give lately. I’ve tried balancing Sage’s care, and parenting and schooling Thad, with still caring for Bryan and it’s too much. I can’t do it well without way more help than I’ve ever had or asked for. 

I’m so grateful for the help I have been gifted this past month during the worst of it. But I have to face the fact that Bryan’s not getting better right now, he’s only getting worse. I have to concede and admit I can’t balance all of this anymore. Something needs to give. 

And the first thing that needs to give is homeschooling.

I had hoped we would last longer than a month. There are things I really like about the online program we have been using. I feel like we are only just starting to figure it out and I am just starting to catch glimpses of how it could really work. But right now, at this season, with Bryan where he’s at, it’s not working. 

I followed the pull to homeschool and now I need to follow the pull to stop. 

It feels an awful lot like failure, but I’m trying to remind myself that honesty and vulnerability aren’t failure. I’m trying to remind myself that something being right for a time, even just a short time, and not right for another season doesn’t mean failure, it just means change. Change isn’t failure. It’s just the way of life. 

I don’t doubt the pull that led me to homeschool a month ago. And when I’m truly still and quiet, when I’m not thinking about what other people might think, I don’t doubt the pull that’s leading me away from it now. 

That doesn’t stop shame and guilt and comparison from rising up, but those are common companions for me and I’m slowly learning how to quiet them. 

When you walk a road you don’t want to walk there are these moments of acceptance when everything becomes clear and sharp and honest. They aren’t easy moments. 

It’s like when your driving along in the fog and the fog clears just enough for you to catch a glimpse of a road sign. It takes a bit to adjust, you’re not on the road you thought you were on or the one you wanted to be on, but then you say, “Ok, this is where I am. How do I move forward from here?” 

This week has been a bit like that. A bit like saying, “Ok, this is where we are. It’s not where we thought or where we hoped, but the truth of it is we’re here. Now, how do we move forward from here?” 

Grace and peace,
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.

Homeschooling and Recognizing again My Introversion

We’ve been homeschooling for a few weeks now and I’m still feeling my way through it, swinging between “this isn’t so bad” and “what the hell was I thinking” with the speed of a metronome. 

Yesterday was the first extended period of time I was without my kids for something other than a hospital stay in months…but it feels like years. 

I had forgotten how recharging those long stretches with them at school could be. For the first time in months I feel as if I can collect my thoughts. 

In many ways for me homeschooling has felt like a regression back to those long weary days of early motherhood, when your child clings to you every waking hour, when over-touched, over-needed, and over-exhausted you crawl to the end of the day.

There are sweet tender moments in this togetherness, but it is also draining in its excessiveness continuity. There is no break. There is no rest. The only alone time is found in a quick trip to the bathroom, which, more often than not, is interrupted. 

Maybe it’s just my kid. 

He has always been highly attached. He’s a “with” kid, who needs to be with someone at all times, and an external processor, who needs to hear the sound of his own voice. It’s a lot for this highly introverted mama. 

I need space and quiet and margins. And right now I have none. 

I have torn through the summer with zero awareness, very little internal processing, and only a minuscule amount of intentionality. This isn’t like me, but the noise and adrenaline and lack of space (or quiet) has served as a fairly decent coping mechanism for survival. If I don’t have the space or quiet to think, than I don’t have the space or capacity to really feel. So I’ve been walking around as a very functional robot, which has actually been a very effective way to function in the midst of Bryan’s cancer battle and the current life stresses that brings.  

I’m re-learning myself today, acknowledging again how I’m wired. I’m realizing again how much I need space and quiet in order to live and feel and create. But also noticing how in some ways I function “better” when moving quickly and under stress. I oddly drop less balls when I’m trying to juggle more. I get more done in less time and handle the logistics of my life much more efficiently when there are more things to handle. It seems backwards but somehow it’s true. My internal life, the essence of who I am and want to be suffers under pressure but my external life, and my ability to run a family and make sure everything gets done actually improves a bit somehow. 

For now I’m not sure what that means. In this season of life there isn’t much I can do to create more space and quiet for myself. And in this season it’s probably more important that fewer balls get dropped than it is for me to have a rich inner life of awareness and creativity. So for this season I am trying to embrace the busyness, the noise, the lack of alone time, the constant need of all three of the people currently in my care.

And when I am gifted a rare moment of quiet, like yesterday, using it to the best of my ability to process what I can, feel what I need, and create whatever desires to be created. 

Grace and peace,
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.

Revisiting and Retelling Our Histories

I realized something this week. Something I hadn’t known before, or at least hadn’t recognized.

We revisit old wounds, in order to tell new stories. 

We must retell our histories, especially the histories of our wounds, over and over until we find the story with which we can make peace. When we have parts of our history that unsettle us, that keep rubbing up against us and poking at tender triggers in our hearts, perhaps, maybe, it’s because we haven’t gotten the story right yet.

I came to this realization quickly this week, but it was a long time coming, like a paper that burns and burns until the last piece goes up in a quick and ernest puff of smoke. I had been re-telling an old story and I finally got it right.

I have an old wound, I’ve been chewing on and mulling over and over in my mind for more than a decade. It stems from a season in my history that shaped my identity. A part of my journey that changed me and named me, in good and not so good ways. At various seasons this old wound would ache and call for my attention yet again. And I, I would poke and prod at it.

What happened? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? What did others do wrong? Why does it still hurt and ache? What in my current life is causing this old wound to flare up? Why now? Why then? Just why?

Each time this old wound has called for my attention I come to new realizations about my history, about who I am, and about who I want to be. Each time I have faced these questions I come to new realizations about the story itself, how I tell it to myself changes. The labels I give myself, and the names I call myself, change with each retelling. The names and labels I give to others in the story change as well. When these names and labels change for the better the wound aches a little less. When they change for the worse it only calls my attention to the story more.

This week I retold this same old story again, and in a flash of recognition and insight I saw a part of the story I had been neglecting for a long while. I realized there was part of the story I’d been jumping over, skipping, down playing, and making assumptions about. For the first time, I saw that part of the story clearly. I realized that the way I’d been interpreting my actions wasn’t accurate, there was another way to see it. The name I had placed over myself and my actions at this part of the story was very negative and it didn’t need to be.

I could see a place in the story that felt familiar to other stories from my past. I saw a decision I made in this story and recognized how I’ve made that same decision at many other points in my history, a decision that has almost always led to heart ache and rarely led to good. And I recognized a point in the story where I did something right, a point in the story where I could take back power and give myself a better more respectful label.

So I retold the story to myself again. And the wound didn’t ache. At all. It was gone. I knew in that moment that I had finally worked through everything about that story that I needed to at this point in my journey. I realized that I could tell the story rightly now. Without regret, without shame, without hesitation or awkwardness. I could own my actions. I could own my power and my lack of power in the story.

It made me think of a quote I saw on Instagram a few months ago, I can’t remember who said it, but I think it is so perfectly true:

“Feeling old wounds is the soul’s way of looking for what else can be healed.”

Often when these old wounds ache and hurt and draw our attention, we want to brush them aside, telling ourselves we shouldn’t still be hurt over something that happened so long ago, or over something so insignificant, or over something we’ve already worked through with a counselor or therapist or mentor or just good friend. Why does this still hurt? Why do I still feel so awkward whenever this comes up? Why can’t I move past this? We feel shame that this pain still stings. Or at least I have often felt shame that I still carry so many bruises and aching wounds.

But, we don’t have to feel shame that our wounds ache. Healing takes a long time, and learning to tell our stories rightly can take years or even decades. Our souls want to heal and so they draw us back to old stories we think we shouldn’t need to revisit, but the truth is healing requires that we not only revisit them, but that we re-feel them, and then re-tell them more clearly, sometimes many times over.

So now when old wounds hurt, I’m gonna let them. I won’t fight it, or feel shame about it, or tell myself I shouldn’t feel this because it’s “old” or I already dealt with it. Instead I’m gonna pull up a chair and listen. Lean in and ask the questions.

What is my soul trying to tell me?
What is my heart trying to heal?
What have I not yet noticed in this story?
How can I reframe this story and tell it more truthfully?
How can I take back power in this story?
How can I rename myself, and others, giving labels that are more deeply true and honest, names that are more compassionate and loving?
How can I see my past self with compassion and understanding?
How can I tell this story in a way that brings grace and peace?

Grace and peace, friends. Grace and peace over all our past wounds, all of yours and all of mine.

Grace and peace,
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.

Follow the Pull

Today I got together with a friend who I hadn’t talked to in almost a decade. Neither of us had stayed up on each other’s lives very well, so there were lots of gaps to fill in. We swapped highs and lows. We talked about the big moves and the big changes.

I loved hearing about the ways in which he followed curiosity and intuition and the places that has taken him. And though, in many ways his life, like my own, has been different than he expected or anticipated or perhaps at times even wanted, his life has been full and rich with experiences. And as I listened there was some envy that stirred in me, and some desire that woke from sleep and whispered for my attention.

Before meeting this friend I had woken up already processing through a certain aspect of my story, and I held that part of me as I listened, and she joined her voice with the voice of envy and desire.

Before Bryan and I got married my parents expressed one concern: they weren’t sure that Bryan would be able to give me the “big life” that I wanted. It sounds a little silly perhaps. But, it wasn’t an invalid concern, you see my husband has a fairly contented nature. Sometimes I think his ideal life would maybe look like a little cabin in the woods, all on his own, or maybe with a few close friends walking distance away. Somewhere he could live a simple minimalist life and rarely leave the house except for long walks.

I, on the other hand, have always longed for more, for change, for experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are times, especially during seasons of stress (which most of the past few years have been) when a little minimalist house in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty good. But, the overarching theme in my life is not for a simple, quiet life.

I want my life to be unique. I want to matter, to influence people, to change things, to build something, to be part of something bigger than myself.

In high school I didn’t just want to go to school, I wanted to influence my class in such a way that they would all love God and continue to walk a spiritual journey even after graduation. I didn’t just want to be part of a church, I wanted to change the church, or start a new kind of church. In college when I studied education I didn’t just want to teach, I wanted to change the education system, I wanted to start my own school, I wanted to teach differently.

I had dolls as a little girl, and I did play house, but I preferred to set up shop with my sister and best friend and create our own little company. I preferred playing with the boys. I preferred reading about great adventures and brave heroines. I preferred playing with Lego or to sketch out elaborate architectural plans. I preferred reading poetry while daydreaming outside. I wanted to do something, build something, create something. I wanted to feel inspired and I dreamed about one day being inspiring.

When I dreamed about my life, it never looked like life in suburbia with two kids and a picket fence. I wanted more than that.

My life now looks a lot like life in suburbia with two kids and a picket fence (although our fences here in AZ are cement brick rather than picket). But, I still want more. I still want unique. I still want different. I still want big.

I woke up this morning with this desire in my hands. So I started to look it over, examine it, and ask it some questions. Why do I want this? Is it part of me, part of who I am and who I’m called to be? Or is it an alter ego? How do I define the words unique, important, and big? How might I pursue some aspects of that desire even while staying faithful to the responsibilities I have and the place in life I’ve been given?

It was amidst processing through these thoughts and questions that I met with this friend, who by all outward standards has had a big life. He’s lived and studied and worked all over the world. He’s started a non-profit. His life is fluid and changing and full of experiences and creativity. I have no doubt that he’s touched and changed people’s lives.

And yet over and over throughout our conversation he kept making comments about how he hadn’t expected his life to go this way, how it was different than he had planned, how life took him towards things he hadn’t wanted.

Themes kept popping up in the conversation; themes of trusting the path that comes for us, of trusting that life takes us where we need to go (even if it’s not where we thought or wanted), of trusting that what is for us will come for us, and that all of the twists and turns and unexpected are preparation for what’s to come.

I have to admit, when I first left our time together, I felt the smallness of my life. Driving my minivan to pick my daughter up from school, stopping by the store to get groceries, coming home to laundry and dishes. It all felt so mundane, so repetitive and pointless. I didn’t feel like I was building anything, creating anything, leaving a mark on the world in any way, apart from maybe the three humans that trust me to care for them. It felt small. I felt small.

But, then I started to sit again with these questions, and with the conversation.

I started to wondered. What might it look like to live fluidly in the live I already lead, to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and respond even if it feels small, trusting that what is for me will come?

I don’t know how to live the big influential life I sometimes dream about, I’m still not entirely sure if it’s even something that is for me, but I think perhaps the way there isn’t found in pursuit of the desire itself, but instead in pursuit of curiosity, in pursuit of intuition and the voice of the Spirit that urges and prompts and pulls us forward into what is for us.

Perhaps I don’t need to change a whole system,
or build something that lasts,
or even make people’s lives better,
perhaps I just need to follow the pull,
listen and obey,
and trust that in so doing I will change what I need to change,
build what I’m intended to build,
and make better the lives of the people I’m called to love.

 

Grace and peace,
Bethany

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

A Country Called Cancer

There’s something they don’t tell you, something you don’t realize when you’re first diagnosed with cancer or when you first have an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer. You aren’t just entering the “worst club with the best people” as they sometimes say, you are crossing a border. You’re becoming an expat in a new land, a war zone. 

You hope that you can live there a short time, fight in the battle you’ve been recruited into, and then move on, move out, make a new home in a city called Survivor, in a town called Remission. What you don’t realize though, is that Survivor and Remission are just border towns in the country of Cancer. Once you cross the borders into Cancer, you can never go back. There are always check points, check ups, and always the chance of being recruited back into the battle again.

You also don’t realize that sometimes, for many soldiers, Survivor and Remission will never open their gates. These solders will fight in the battle and live in the war zone for the rest of their life. They may have weeks, or, God willing, maybe whole years, when they can visit or even set up home in the small neighborhood of Stable Disease. But, leaving the war zone is never an option. They’ve been drafted for life.

Often those on the outside don’t realize that you are a resident in the country of Cancer now. They think you can leave, they pray for your return, they expect you to move home someday, to be completely free of the battle. But this is a battle that leaves permanent scars, this is a citizenship that is irrevocable.

Bryan is one of those soldiers that’s been drafted for life and as his wife I’ve been drafted along with him. And we’re tired.

You see there’s something else that you can’t really understand until you’ve experienced it: sometimes the periods of reprieve, the times when tumors are shrinking or stable, the times when you aren’t fighting head on and you can take a little breather on the side lines, those times are harder than being in the heart of the battle. It sounds ironic and ridiculous doesn’t it? But, let me tell you it’s true.

In the middle of the fight, in the height of the struggle, Adrenaline comes to the rescue. Fight kicks in and takes over. At the height of Bryan’s pain during the past few months I was more productive than I’ve been in ages. There was something to do, a battle to fight, and I fought it and then some extra ones too. Adrenaline carried me.

After almost three months of intense and growing pain, last week Bryan’s tumors started to shrink. His pain stopped. Thanks to lots of prayer, three tiny little pills, and God’s unending grace, we experienced our own little miracle.

Friends and family celebrate, and praise, and scatter.

And I wish I could join them, but I sit on the sidelines feeling the bruises that adrenaline kept me from feeling before. Now Adrenaline has said it’s goodbyes and left us feeling wasted and weary. With more breathing room, anxiety has space to come to the surface and yell. It lobbies for my attention at every turn. It keeps me awake at night with it’s voice in my ear.

We are grateful. And we do rejoice. We are relieved and we continually count this season a blessing we weren’t sure we were going to get. But we are still in the war zone and the quiet is deafening. We have no idea when the next raid will come, when the next battle will break in, when the next air strike will drop. And all the fight has gone out of me.

This yo-yoing back and forth, this being relieved and then being struck down again, and again, and again. It takes a toll.

Next month it’ll be five years since Bryan was drafted into this battle and we moved into the Country of Cancer. Five years. We are grateful that it has been so long. Grateful that each season of battle has been followed by a season of reprieve. Grateful that we have lived long by melanoma standards in the land that many don’t last long in. But we are weary of this citizenship.

I see the walls my little heart has built after 5 years and I wonder what sort of armor I’ll wear after a decade. Could I do a decade? I pray for a decade. I pray for more. Yet at the same time fearing the bruising and battles that a decade of this would bring.

They say “bloom where you’re planted”, but I still haven’t figured out how to bloom in the the country of Cancer. These battles take everything from me, the fear that gets stirred up each time my husband’s cancer grows again demands my full attention. And when the bombs stop falling and these battles leave me space to breathe and imagine, I always find I’m too weary and beat down to do the work. To do any work.

Today I’m reminding myself that though I have been a citizen of Cancer for five years, and a citizen of another battle ridden country (Special Needs Parenting) for just as long, these are not my only citizenships. 

I am also a citizen of another country,

a country with a promise, 

a country ruled by the King of Grace,

the God of Love. 

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

Grace and peace,

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.