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)

Yoga and Prayer: Breathe in, Breathe out

Today is another Thursday and that means I led a group of women in a yoga and prayer time again this today. You can see what we did last week, here.

This week we focused on our breath. So often we don’t even realize the influence our breathing has over our health and well being. Even our attitudes and emotions can change through our breathing. Take a second and try to speed up your breathing – take quick shallow breaths. How does it make you feel? Hurried, stressed, anxious, nervous, fearful? Now, slow your breathing down. Take a few deep, calm, cleansing breaths, filling your body with fresh life giving air. How does that make you feel? Better?

So often as we hurry about our day we allow our breathing to become shallow and stunted. We don’t slow down enough to pay attention. During yoga today we slowed down and we paid attention to our breathing. We noticed subtle changes in our breath as we moved and we did some pranayama (breathing exercises) to engage our breath. Most of all we focused on when and how we breathed in and when and how we breathed out.

We listened to Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music for Airports
throughout our time today.

Yoga and Prayer: Breathe in, Breathe out

Easy Pose

“Breathe in the breath of God
Breathe out your cares and concerns
Breathe in the love of God
Breathe out your doubts and despairs
Breathe in the life of God
Breathe out your fears and frustrations
We sit quietly before the One who gives life and love to all creation,
We sit in awe of the One who formed us in our mother’s wombs,
We sit at peace surrounded by the One who fills every fiber of our being.
Breathe in the breath of God
Breathe out your tensions and turmoil
Breathe in the love of God
Breathe out your haste and hurry
Breath in the life of God
Breathe out your work and worry
We sit quietly before the One who gives life and love to all creation,
We sit quietly in awe of the One who formed us in our mother’s wombs,
We sit at peace surrounded by the One who fills every fiber of our being.” (written by Christine Sine)

Skull Brightener Breath

Cat/Cow Pose

Downward facing dog on an inhale

Plank pose on an exhale

(Repeat downward facing dog and plank 3 times – moving smoothly from one to the other as you breathe)

Sphinx pose

Child’s pose

Mountain Pose

Upward Salute

(Repeat mountain pose and upward salute 3 times)

Chair pose

Upward Salute on an inhale

Mountain pose on an exhale

Eagle Pose (without crossing the legs)

Upward Salute on an inhale

Mountain pose on an exhale

Gate Pose on both sides

Hero Pose

Lion Pose

Childs pose

Bharadvaja’s Twist (twisting to the right)

Half Lord of the Fishes with the left leg over the right

Staff pose

Bharadvaja’s Twist (twisting to the left)

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose with right leg over left

Bridge pose (dynamic – moving up into bridge pose on the inhale and down again on the exhale)

Knees-to-chest pose

Happy Baby Pose

Corpse pose

Breathe on us Breath of God
Breath for us Breath of Life
Fill our Lungs with life
Fill our Beings with Love
Remove from us all guilt and shame
Fill our Hearts with Grace
Fill our Beings with Love
Remove from us all fear and distrust
Fill our Minds with Truth
Fill our Beings with Love
Remove from us all discouragement and discontentment
Fill our Bodies with Rest
Fill our Beings with love
Remove from us all stress and worry
We Breath in that which is of Life
We Breath out that which is of Death
Breathe on us Breath of God
Breath for us Breath of Life

Easy Pose

“The man who lives from God’s breath can recognize with joy that the same breath sinks into the lungs of his fellowman, and that they are both drawing from the same source. At this mutual realization, the fear of another disappears, a smile comes to the lips, the weapons fall, and one hand reaches out for the other. He who recognizes the breath of God in another can truly let another enter his life, too, and can receive the gifts which are given to him.” Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands

Peace be with you.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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

Mother’s Day

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. It will be my first Mother’s Day with a Baby and I’ve really been looking forward to it.

Today as I was quickly flipping through a few blogs I found this video about Mother’s Day on Tall Skinny Kiwi. It really challenged me. I have been looking forward to Mother’s Day as a day to relax, maybe have my husband take the baby for a while, take a nice calming bath, etc. But, this video discusses the history of Mother’s Day being rooted in a Peace movement after the civil war. It mentions a Mother’s Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe. She wrote this just after the civil war to a nation still in desperate need of a deep peace. She called on all mothers, all women really, to “Arise then… women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts!” She asked them to “take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace… Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God – In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient and the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”

It got me thinking about how I might “promote the great and general interests of peace” this Mother’s Day? How can I promote peace within my own heart, within my marriage, within my family, and within my world at large? How can I, in my unique role as a mother and homemaker, join with other mothers to fight on behalf of peace?

Honestly, I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I’m thinking about them. I want to keep my eyes and ears open for ways I can further peace in my community and world. And I want to instill a heart of peace within my son.

From the beginning of my son’s young life I have prayed that he wouldn’t be a fighter, a warrior that just charges ahead at the front lines not thinking of the cost of battle. I have prayed instead that he would be a man of peace. I have prayed that he would be filled with compassion and that he would have a soft heart. I have prayed that when he fights he would do so prayerfully, wisely and intentionally. I have prayed that when he picks up his weapons it would be as a guard, fighting to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

How do you “promote the great and general interests of peace”?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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

Great Things People Gave me when I had a Baby

I got a lot of wonderful gifts when I had Thaddeus, but there are a few gifts that really stand out to me. Since I know a few beautiful mamma’s having babies in the not too far off future struggling to pick things for their registries I thought I’d fill you all in on the best things I got. These aren’t necessarily the most important things, or even essential things, but they have been some of my favorites. If you know someone having a baby then these gifts are things I would highly recommend and things that I personally use almost every day. Of course this is not an all inclusive list, but these are just the things that I have time and time again been exceedingly thankful for in the past few months.

1. Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers were by far one of the best gifts we got when having a baby. We got a few cloth diapers at my shower, but the majority of our cloth diapers were hand-me-downs from some dear friends of ours and for me that made them even better. I love cloth diapers – they are super easy and I love knowing that I’m not filling up the landfill with disposable diapers. Did you know that by the most recent estimates it takes 200-500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose??? Isn’t that crazy?! Anyway, I’m a big fan of cloth diapers and would definitely advocate others using them.

2. Baby Carrier

We have two carriers – a Baby Bjorn that my sister found on sale and bought for us and a Sleepy Wrap that a friend gave me at my shower. When Thaddeus was little he didn’t like the Sleepy Wrap, but loved the Bjorn. Now he loves the Sleepy Wrap and I’m so glad because I personally like it better than the Bjorn although the Bjorn is a great carrier. Really I think every mom needs some sort of baby carrier, whatever kind it is. It makes life so much easier when you can put them in the carrier and have them close and happy being near you while you can still get a few things done.

3. Petunia Pickle Bottom Diaper Bag

With the above two things I am not really very brand specific, but with this I totally am. My sister has always loved Petunia Pickle Bottom, but I always thought I don’t really need a diaper bag that is that stylish or expensive. Then my sister gave me her used PPB Diaper Bag as a hand-me-down and I totally fell in love with it! I love this bag! It’s a backpack so it divides the weight nicely across my shoulders and doesn’t slip down my arm while I’m carrying my son like most shoulder bags do. It’s got pockets in all the right places and a big roomy middle space for putting all the necessary items. But, my favorite feature is that it has a changing pad that is attached to the bag with zippers – you just unzip both sides of one of the pockets and the changing pad folds out. It’s only attached with Velcro at the top so you can still take it off and wash it if needed. This has made changing Thad in public everywhere from airports to restaurants to friends houses so easy. It really is a great design and a great bag.

4. Board books

We only got a few baby books at my showers, but the few that we got are invaluable. The board books (like these ones) have been special favorites because he can’t tear the pages so he can grab at them and suck on them with being too destructive. They have been so helpful for me when I need something to keep Thaddeus entertained. He really loves when we read to him and he will often be happy hearing his stories over and over again. And I love knowing that reading to him at such a young age will help with his language skills and instill in him a love of reading latter on.

5. Bugaboo stroller

This was another thing that my sister raved about and we have been so happy with it. I know that there are a lot of great strollers out there and the bugaboo is just one of them, but I also know that I would definitely recommend this stroller. It looks great and it’s fairly intuitive to adjust and put together. It’s light and really easy to maneuver. It’s got great shocks and big wheels that are great even on the cobblestones of Europe and bouncing up and down stairs. I love carrying Thad in my wrap, but he’s heavy and for walking around the city a good stroller is invaluable. I have been really happy with this stroller and definitely recommend it.

6. Blessings and prayers

Probably the best gift of all, though, was the prayers and blessings that so many gave me as I became a new mom. At my shower in Prague a small group of close friends prayed and blessed me from head to toe. They wrote down their prayers and blessings and I often have gone back to those messages of love and encouragement on the days when I just need a little extra help. Becoming a mom for the first time can be scary and overwhelming and I can’t even say how much it meant to me to feel lifted up by a whole community of women who know and love me. That kind of encouragement was better than any other gift I received.

If you’re a mommy what was your favorite baby shower gift?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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

Fresh Eggs

IMG_4719About a month ago we started ordering fresh free range eggs from a local farm. Well, actually we order them from The Pub at Sir Toby’s Hostel and they order them fresh from a farm. Anyway, I have loved getting these eggs. I even love that when I get them they are usually really dirty.

When I first get them I usually spend a good amount of time washing them – not with soap or anything, but I gently rub them with my fingers while running hot water over them. I’m not sure if this is something I really should or shouldn’t do, but I just don’t like the idea of putting them in my fridge that dirty. And each time that I’ve washed the eggs it feels somehow like a very sacred act.

There has been something very beautiful to me about gently rubbing the dirt away from these fragile little eggs. As I thought about this very basic and common activity today, I prayed this prayer:

Lord, there is so much in my life that feels fragile right now. There are IMG_4728so many dreams and desires and abilities that feel like fragile little eggs. There is so much potential there for life and for nourishment, but there is also dirt. There is much that is hidden in the bushes, covered by dirt. And there is much that is covered with the dirt of my own selfishness. Lord, would you reach down and find the hidden dreams, desires and abilities that need to flourish and clean them off? Would you find the eggs in my life that need to be nurtured so that they can grow to maturity, and the ones that need to be killed so that they can nourish other activities? I need your gentle hands, Lord. I need your help. Much in me feels fragile and easily broken. Be gentle, be kind. Wash me clean. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

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