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 like this post please consider buying me a cup of tea (Suggested: $3 a cup)

On Turning 30 and Having a Long Way to Go

July 7th was my 30th birthday. I wrote a little bit about my thoughts on turning 30 here and about what i wanted for my birthday. And i can tell you now this birthday was not what I had envisioned. But, it was so good and I will never forget it.

The week before my birthday I stumbled upon this quote by Henri nouwen:

Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday, we do not say: ‘Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.’ No, we say: ‘Thank you for being born and being among us.’

My heart stirred reading this, but I didn’t realize till much later how appropriate this quote was going to end up being for me on my 30th birthday.

You see I have a deep struggle, I desperately want people to like me, but I don’t believe I’m worthy of being liked. I am a people pleaser. I devalue myself, I reject myself and think at times that all that matters is what others think of me.

I thought that I was making good progress in learning to accept myself, and confidently assert myself. Funny, how right when you start to feel you’re learning the lesson something comes along to show you how far you really have to go. My 30th was a little like that.

I tend to stuff my emotions, I tend to keep even my closest friends at safe distances, I tend to show only what I want to show. But, the weekend of my 30th, I found myself sick and stripped of some of my crutches to the point were I felt incredibly vulnerable and needy and in the end that resulted in some walls being broken and some realizations being made.

In some ways, and on the surface, my birthday was very much what I had planned. I had seven dear girl friends all spending the weekend with me eating, drinking, doing facials, doing henna, and talking, talking, talking. But, physically I was very sick with a fever of 102F. I could barely focus at times and I desperately wanted to just sleep. Internally there were intense people pleasing battles going on in my head. I felt deep guilt for asking people to spend time and money to come be with me on my birthday…and to then get sick…

And then it happened, and I’m not sure it would have if I hadn’t been so sick, so tired, so emotionally raw, a dear friend did some healing touch energy work (ok, mom, don’t freak out it wasn’t as new agey as it sounds), and suddenly I was sobbing. A purer, deeper, cry than I had in years. The emotion that I kept putting off, hiding, avoiding, suddenly came to the service. Grief from goodbyes said years ago in Prague, anger for friendships cut short, sadness for a life my daughter will never know, fear for the unknown that lays ahead for me and my small family. Tears that I didn’t even know I had came flooding out of me. Tears for my friends, tears for my family, tears for my children, and most of all tears for my husband and myself. I think if given the space I could have cried all day. Randomly sense then I find myself fighting back tears that still need to be spent, but can’t quite be released.

In my 30th birthday I saw myself for a moment free from the walls I so carefully construct and realized that I am so weak, needy, hurt, broken, and fearful – so much more so than I thought!

I may be 30 now, but in many ways I am still a child. A child who carries a lot of baggage and a lot of unexpressed grief. A child who is terrified of what the next decade may hold. A child who still struggles to see herself as “beloved” and strains to hear the call of a good God speaking her name.

So often I think that in order to be loved, recognized, and celebrated by people or by God I have to earn it. I have to do or say something to please people. That’s what struck me about that Henri Nouwen quote. And in a very tangible way I experienced that this birthday. I experienced it when my friends gave me big hugs, not caring at all if they got sick. I experienced it when my friend took care of me giving me herbs and other remedies for my congestion and fever. I experienced it when others made the meals and cleaned the dishes with smiles on their faces not caring at all that I didn’t do a thing. I experienced it when my friends reminded me over and over to tell them what I really wanted instead of making decisions based on what I thought they would want. And I experienced it as my friend held me while I cried. There are those who carry me in their hearts, who are thankful just that I was born and am with them. And I am so grateful for their love – an incarnation of the Spirit’s love.

May this decade bring me closer to love – to true unconditional, free from fear, incarnational love.
In my 30’s may I grow in seeing myself as I am, in truth, and grow in my ability to confidently be and show that truth to the world around me.
May this decade bring deeper freedom of identity, deeper freedom of expression, deeper freedom of being.
And as I discover that, may I grow more like the beautiful women who celebrated with me, freely loving others as I am freely loved.
And as my 30’s come to a close may I be a more whole, more open, more emotionally, spiritually and physically free to truly be, just be.
Amen.
Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

If you like this post please consider buying me a cup of tea (Suggested: $3 a cup)

Crying as a Spiritual Practice

Recently Christine Sine at Godspace asked the question “What is a Spiritual Practice?” This and another post “Reimagining our Spiritual Practices” lead to her inviting people to join her in talking and writing about Spiritual practices and ways that we connect with God in everyday life. I was intrigued by the thoughts she shared and have been thinking about what are ways that I personally sense God’s presence and engage in a spiritual practice?

I think I grew up thinking that the only real way to connect with God and the only real spiritual practices where reading your Bible and praying, maybe I would have also considered going to church (and listening to a sermon) and Bible study with other believers to be spiritual practices as well, but that was pretty much the extent of it. As I got a little older my repertoire of spiritual practices expanded just a little to include some other classic standards like solitude/silence and fasting. But, I think deep down I knew that I also encountered and experienced God in numerous other ways that didn’t fit into the box of traditional spiritual practices. And it wasn’t until I got even a bit older that I felt free enough to allow myself to engage in spiritual activities and spiritual practices that didn’t fit the normal model I’d grown up with.

Here’s how Christine Sine defines Spiritual practices for her: “for me a spiritual practice is any routine I perform on a regular basis that connects me more intimately with God and God’s purposes.

I like that. It got me thinking about what things in my regular, everyday kind of life connect me more intimately with God and God’s purposes. There are quite a few things that have come to mind and maybe I’ll write about some of the other one’s in the weeks to come, but for today I want to talk about crying.

For me crying is a spiritual practice, a spiritual experience that changes me and takes me closer to the heart of my Father. Allow me to explain and expand a little… To start with, understand that I’m not really the type who cries at the drop of a hat. You have to be a pretty close friend to have seen me cry as I usually only cry around people I feel really comfortable with. But, I do cry fairly regularly and when I cry I really cry. It usually starts with some little trigger and then grows until I’m crying about everything that I possibly could cry about.

But, there’s something that almost always happens at some point during my crying which I’m not sure is normal or not, maybe it shows my own weakness of faith, but almost always at some point my crying escalates and get’s turned on God. Suddenly it isn’t just about whatever it is I’m crying about, suddenly it’s about me and God and all my insecurities in my relationship with God. Suddenly, all of my doubt, distrust and fear, and all of my anger and accusations come out to play. Suddenly I’m face to face with all my ugliness, all the ugly deep thoughts and feelings I have towards God. Suddenly my sense of God’s sovereignty comes into play and it’s all His fault. Sometimes this moment leads to more tears and sadness, sometimes it leads to guilt and my disappointment in myself for my own distrust of God (which also leads to more tears), sometimes it leads to anger and outright yelling at God (again more tears).

The answer to these moments is always silence. In these moments God has never once defended himself. He hasn’t defended himself through someone else who was with me, or through bringing to mind scripture that I know, or in any other way. It’s always silence. But, I can feel him there, sometimes it’s so heavy that I feel like he’s standing right in front of me just silently looking at me, absorbing all of my accusations and confusion and doubt and just waiting.

But, just as surely as my crying sessions lead to that moment they also lead to another moment. Eventually I get to a place where I’ve cried it all out, where there is no fight left in me. I eventually get to a place where the sadness and anger and fear have run their course and I’m left feeling completely empty and vulnerable. My tantrum has run its course. My tears have done their job and have cleansed out of me all that ugliness and I sit there with it all exposed before me and God. There isn’t anywhere to hide anymore. It’s in this moment that God really comes close. Again he doesn’t answer my questions, ease my fears, or defend against my accusations. He just comes close and holds me in all my vulnerability. And in that moment I feel peace.

That is why crying is a spiritual practice for me. We all need moments like that. Moments that expose our ugliness. Moments that break down our defenses and leave us vulnerable. Moments that cleanse us and bring us to a new place of surrender to a God that we don’t understand. For me those moments happen when I really let myself fall apart and cry.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

If you like this post please consider buying me a cup of tea (Suggested: $3 a cup)