…And Also Weary

Lately I’ve struggled with insomnia. As I lay in bed I stare at the ceiling, or at my husbands sleeping face next to me, and I think and pray. It’s given a lot of room to my thoughts. Sometimes more than I would like.

You’d think when my husbands tumors started to shrink the only feeling I’d feel would be gratitude. Or joy and elation. You’d think my heart would be filled with nothing but praise. You’d think that I’d start to be able to sleep at night. But, that’s not the case.

In the past three weeks since Bryan finished chemo the tumors that we can feel have shrunk a lot. They are back to where they were 4 months ago. This is amazing news. Good news. It’s news that breaths life into our days. It’s news that has enabled us to feel new freedom. The freedom to dream and pursue things on our bucket list. A month ago I didn’t think we had that kind of time. Now I do. That feels really good.

But, I have a confession to make.

Those really good feelings – gratitude, freedom, joy, thankfulness – aren’t the only feelings that flood my heart. There’s a weariness that enters in too.

Because here’s the truth. Losing Bryan would be devastating. I don’t want it to happen at all. But, somewhere in my heart I’ve started to believe that it’s coming eventually. I’m starting to believe the first oncologist we ever saw, who said, “Once it goes to stage 4 he will die of it. Treatments at that point will only be about keeping him alive as long as possible.” I’m starting to feel that, feel it deep in my core. We are just trying to keep him alive as long as possible.

And here’s my confession… somewhere deep in my heart… I sort of just want it over.

It’s the part of me that always wants to hear bad news first, the part of me that liked to finish my homework as soon as possible. It’s the part of me that doesn’t like having things I don’t like hanging over my head.

Next month it will have been three years since Bryan was diagnosed with melanoma. Three years that we have been living with this stress hanging over us. In September it will be two years since it went to stage four. That might not seem like a long time to you, but let me tell you, it feels like a long time. It’s a long time to live not knowing if you have another month together or another year.

So, here’s the truth. When I feel Bryan’s tumors shrinking I feel my grief lessen, but my stress level increase. I feel joy and gratitude that we have a bit more time to do things we want to do, that my children will have that much more time with their father, and that many more memories with him. But, I also feel like I know what’s coming and I’d rather just get it over with.

Part of me wants as much time with Bryan as I can get, wants my children to have as much time with him as they can get. And then there’s another part of me that just wants this whole nightmare over, wants to face the hard terrible inevitable that’s coming head on so that I can get it behind me.

It’s horrible. And it feels even more horrible to confess it in writing. To put it out there for all the world to judge. I feel incredibly guilty for feeling that way.

But, here’s the thing, it’s incredibly rare to feel only one emotion at any given time. That’s just not how we live this life. We are not simple beings, we are complex, and the feelings we feel about a given situation at any given time are equally complex. We mix joy with stress, worry with gratitude and confessing to one does not negate the other.

The part of me that wants it all over doesn’t make the part of me that wants to extend this journey with Bryan as long as possible any less valid or strong. One feeling does not over power or over shadow the other. My mix of feelings doesn’t mean that I love Bryan any less. It means I’m human. And we humans are really good at something, we are really good at carrying conflicting emotions around in our hearts. We all do it every single day.

But, we try to pretend that we don’t. We try to only acknowledge the emotions that we deem as “good”. When I first started to process through this feeling of “wanting it all to be over” I felt it was a horrible feeling. And yes, there is a lot of selfishness in it. But, the truth is it’s just a feeling. The problem only comes when I begin to act on it by closing off my heart. On it’s own it’s just a feeling, and when I deny that feeling I deny I part of myself. When I hide that feeling I don’t give God a chance to weed through and work through that selfishness with me. Hiding that feeling gives it the kind of power to make it “horrible”. But, bringing it out into the light, well, then it becomes just a feeling, a little bit of my truth in this moment, and fertile ground for God to step in and change me.

This road that we have been walking for three years has been long already, and it might be a lot longer. I hope it is a lot longer. But, staying in something this hard is, well, hard. Really hard.

This morning I was reading in Psalm 6 and I was stopped dead in my tracks by verse 3 – “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” That’s what I feel like crying out. How long? How long?

Each time that mix of feelings rises to the surface of my heart I draw to mind an image that my pastor always likes to use. He says that the picture that goes along with the word perseverance is the image of one of those greek columns that holds up an enormous amount of weight. It stands firm under the heavy load, under all of the pressure.

My confession is that there’s a part of me that wants out from under this pressure, this weight, this heavy load. I don’t want to be the column any more. I want the weight lifted even if that means I have to carry a heavier load for a little while. A part of me wants to run away, wants the easier way out, wants to get the grieving over with so I can move on. But, I pray for the peace to remain. I sent out a prayer email recently where I wrote this:

I have been thinking a lot about two different phrases, the first is “stand firm” and the second is “hold fast”. I think that’s sort of where I’m at right now, I’m needing to just stay in it, sit with it, stand firm, hold fast, despite the fact that I feel run down, beat down, weary. Despite the fact that I would rather run away from it all and loose myself in distractions. Despite the fact that life has picked back up a little more quickly than I would have liked. Despite the fact that there could still be curve balls thrown at me around any corner and I feel like I’m walking around with all my guards up expecting to be hit again at any moment. Just hold fast, heart. Just stand firm, faith. Just stay in it, soul. Just be still.”

We still have a long way yet to go. Our oncologist encouragingly told us this last visit that we are not at our last option, we have lots of options left. We still have lots that we can try and in that we can be grateful… and also weary.

Recently two different people have sent me Hebrews 12:1-3 and I have been thinking on it often. There’s a few sections that have particularly stood out to me:

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Consider Jesus so that you do not grow weary and lose heart. Friends, after three years of this I am weary and my heart is heavy. So, tonight I’m confessing these feelings and then I’m leaving them here.

I don’t want my focus to be on my weariness at a long journey ahead, OR on my joy that the tumors are shrinking. I want my focus to be on Jesus. Because, that’s really the only way for me to hold up under the pressure, for me to run with perseverance this long race. I need Jesus. That’s it. I don’t need this cancer journey to be over more quickly. I don’t need Bryan by my side for always. I just need Jesus. So very much.

Rejoicing in the journey,

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Lent Begins with Listening to Where God is Leading…

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and today we enter fully into Lent. This year I am joining Christine Sine and many others in going through this Lenten Guide. Over the past few months I have been really excited about this. Bryan and I have been talking a lot about really entering into Lent and about using it as a time to cleanse our bodies, our lives and our hearts. We had been talking about some pretty extreme disciplines we wanted to try and engage in – including going Vegan for Lent. But, as Lent drew closer we started to hear a different message from God…

We started to hear God asking us to be present with where we are – to not try and make things happen – to accept that we can do nothing on our own and in our own strength and to open our hands and hearts to where he wants to lead us and the place in life that he has given us right now.

Over the past little bit I have been thinking a lot about this verse from John 15:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

The question, “What does it mean to remain in Christ?” has been circling in my head a lot lately. I can’t say that I’ve figured it out – I haven’t. But, I think that one part of it is to rest in trust and allow him to work instead of trying to force things myself. I realize that I do a lot in my own strength and power. I like being in control. I don’t like trusting others, and I especially don’t like trusting God. But, that’s exactly what I feel like He’s calling me to right now. He keeps reminding me that apart from him I can do nothing.

In the past few months God has slowly taken away a lot of security from my husband and I. He has slowly lead us to a place in various areas of our lives where we’ve had to trust him, and wait on him and where we haven’t been able to just do things in our own strength or timing. But, there were still things I was holding on to, I still felt like there were things that I could bring and offer and do. But, the past few weeks something has happened that I have no control over that I can’t do at all. And it’s made that phrase “apart from me you can do nothing” sink in for me in a new way. In this situation I can’t make anything happen, I can’t control the outcome, but there are small things that I can do to help create a fertile environment for God to work and I think it’s given me a picture of how God wants to work with me in other areas of my life. He wants me to stop grasping for the outcomes that I want, stop trying to control things and instead just remain with him, dwell with him and in doing so create a fertile environment for him to move and work and lead me on this journey.

The call of Lent for me this year is a call to let go, to stop striving, to trust and lean back into God’s open arms with reckless abandon. It is a call to remain in him and dwell intimately with him. It is a call to let go of my nagging doubt and distrust and to fall fully into Christ. It is a call to stop striving and fully recognize that it is only in Him that I move and breathe and have my being and apart from him I can do nothing.

That is what I feel God is calling me to this Lent. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I want to follow.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas: O Rex Gentium

The O Antiphons are a set of liturgical prayers prayed during evening prayers over the last few days of Advent. They are a beautiful way to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, so I’m sharing them with you each day for the next week, along with some scripture verses and my own short prayer for each day.

Read this post to learn more about the O Antiphons.

December 22nd: O Rex Gentium

“O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.”

Click here to hear this antiphon in Latin.

“For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

May the King of ALL, Christ Jesus, who alone has been given authority over all, the bearer of power and the bringer of peace, come to each of us this day.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas: O Radix Jesse

The O Antiphons are a set of liturgical prayers prayed during evening prayers over the last few days of Advent. They are a beautiful way to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, so I’m sharing them with you each day for the next week, along with some scripture verses and my own short prayer for each day.

Read this post to learn more about the O Antiphons.

December 19th: O Radix Jesse

“O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.”

Click here to hear this antiphon in Latin.

“A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1)

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10)

May the root of Jesse, the only true King from the line of kings, he who rules over all the earth, come to each of us this day.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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

Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas

Personally I had never heard of the O Antiphon’s until recently, and I am guessing that many of you have never heard of them either. So, since today is the day when the Advent Antiphons begin being read during Vespers (evening prayer) I thought it would be a good time for us to learn about them together.

The word antiphon means response (the literal Greek is “opposite” “voice”). Antiphons are a form of call and response usually song or chanted during a religious service (such as Vespers or Mass). The O Antiphons are a specific set of liturgical prayers said or sung during the last few days of Advent. There are 7 parts to the O Antiphons and traditionally one part is said each of the last 7 days before Christmas Eve. Each antiphon focuses on a particular name of Jesus taken from the prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly the prophecies of Isaiah. Here are each of the seven in order:

December 17th: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18th: O Adonai (O Adonai)
December 19th: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20th: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21st: O Oriens (O Morning Star)
December 22nd: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
December 23rd: O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)

The first letters of each of the titles taken backwards spell out the Latin “Ero Cras” which means “Tomorrow, I come.” You may have recognized as you read these that the song “O come, O come, Emmanuel” was written based on these antiphons.

The history of the O Antiphons is not entirely clear, but we do have references to them as far back as the 6th century and we know that by the 8th century they were commonly used in Rome and many other churches and monasteries.

I think this tradition of the O Antiphons is a truly beautiful way of engaging in Advent and calling forth the coming of Christ Jesus. So, over the next seven days I will post each of the seven antiphons along with scripture verses to go with them. I hope you find them as meaningful as I do.

Here’s the first one…

December 17: O Sapientia

“O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.”

Click here to hear this antiphon in Latin.

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2-3)

“…he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.” (Isaiah 28:29)

May Jesus, wisdom himself, the origin and keeper of all insight and understanding, come to each of us this day.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

photograph by Beth Stedman

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