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'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.

Liturgy for Marriage

In the past year or so I have often found myself unable to pray – with too many thoughts running through my head and no coherent words. In those times I’ve found it particularly helpful to use form prayers and liturgies. At times though I have found it even more helpful to write my own liturgies and form prayers. I think writing helps me to process all of the thoughts I’m having on the topic. Lately I’ve particularly written prayers in liturgy format, with everything broken down for different people to read – I’m not sure why I do it that way since often these are read/prayed only by me or occasionally by my husband and me together. Maybe I break it down into more people because I’m longing for community in my prayer life or maybe because something about communal prayer just feels right to me – I don’t know…

Anyway, this past week I was thinking a lot about marriage – my marriage and the marriages of a few friends who have chosen to share with me about their marriages. I wanted to pray for us and each of them, but I felt stuck. It felt like there was so much I could pray and I had no idea where to start. So, I went to the books. I started with The Celtic Book of Daily Prayer, The Anglican Book of Prayer and the Bible. Before I knew it I was writing – piecing things I found together with my own thoughts and concerns for all of our marriages. This is what I ended up with:

Liturgy for Marriage

Leader:
Father of Marriage,
you created us one for another,
and first established the holy gift of marriage.

Women:
In  your infinite wisdom you knew that it is not good for Man to be alone,
and shaped us from the clay into corresponding shapes,
perfectly fit for one another.

Men:
And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife.

Leader:
Father of Marriage,
draw us back to the beginning.
May we be naked and unashamed before our spouses.
Take away the walls that we build up between us.
Give us courage to open our hearts, minds and bodies to one another ever more deeply,
that we truly can become one in all areas of our beings.
Grant that in our openness we can meet each other with grace, forgiveness and understanding.
Just as there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, may there be no condemnation in our marriages.

All:
Father of Marriage,
forgive us for the ways we have tarnished your gift of marriage.

Person 1:
You know our every hidden part, forgive us for the things that we try to keep hidden from our spouses and shine light in the dark places of our souls.
Forgive us for the anger, resentments, and hurts that we hold on to and tuck away.

(pause for reflection)

Person 2:
Father of Marriage,
transform our marriages into your intended sacrament of unity.
May we be to the other a strength in need,
a counselor in perplexity,
a comfort in sorrow,
and a companion in joy.

Leader:
O God, creator and preserver of all life, author of salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the world you have made, and especially upon our marriages, which you have sanctified. Eternal God, you are the giver of all good gifts, all that we have has come from your hand, and you have given us one to another.

All:
Draw us this day into a more perfect union, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Leader:
Jesus of Love,
Out of tender love for each one of us  you walked this earth
and chose the way of the cross.

Women:
You have generously bestowed your love upon us,
setting for us an example of how we also should love.

Person 3:
For you, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with
God something to be
grasped;
but made yourself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
you humbled yourself
and became obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Men:
Lord, in our marriages may we each have that very attitude of Christ –
Daily humbling ourselves and taking on the nature of a servant.

Leader:
Jesus of love,
teach us to submit mutually to one another.
May we love one another deeply as you love the church –
a love marked by giving, not getting.
Your love makes the church whole.
Your love reveals each of us for who we really are, Children of the living God.
Your love evokes beauty.
You see the best in your church, your bride.
Open our eyes as well, that we might see the best in our spouses,
May we see them for the magnificent children of God that they are.
May we see the best in them, believe the best in them, and speak the best of them always.

All:
Jesus of love,
forgive us for the ways in which we have let our self centeredness keep us from following you to the cross in our marriages.

Person 4:
Forgive us for the hurt we have caused in our marriages by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
Forgive us for the ways we have not obeyed you and lived out the gospel in our marriages.
Forgive us for the ways in which we have hindered our communion with you because of the ways we have hindered our communion with our spouses.

(pause for reflection)

Person 5:
Jesus of love,
transform our marriages into a reflection of your love –
that unity may overcome estrangement,
forgiveness heal guilt,
and joy conquer despair.

Leader:
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon us, that we may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that our homes may be a haven of blessing and peace;

All:
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Leader:
Spirit of Unity,
Through you two become one flesh.

Women:
You intercede on our behalf and on behalf of our marriages.
You are full of infinite wisdom and truth.

Your timing is perfect.
And in you is infinite peace.

Men:
You are the vine and we are the branches,
Apart from you we can do nothing.
We cannot change ourselves or our spouses.

All:
We recognize that it is only by your indwelling that we can hope for transformation in our marriages.

Leader:
Spirit of Unity,
We believe and trust that you are present with us and active in our marriages,
And we ask you to come and breathe fresh life into our love.
Give us the light to understand our spouses better.
Give us strength to fight for one another instead of against one another.
Give us passion and deeper desire for each other.

All:
Spirit of Unity,
forgive us for our arrogance and pride.

Person 6:
Forgive us for trying to make our marriages better in our own strength, instead of looking to you and your strength for our transformation.
Forgive us for our lack of unity – for the ways in which we seek out our own personal desires instead of seeking what is best for our spouse and our marriage as a whole.

(pause for reflection)

Person 7:
Spirit of Unity,
transform our marriages into an unbreakable bond.

Person 8:
Excite our love,
strengthen our weakness,
encompass our desire.

Person 9:
Shield our thoughts,
and cradle our bodies,

Person 10:
and as we breath this prayer,
in our hearts may we feel
Your presence.

Leader:
O God, by the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out the abundance of your blessing upon our marriages. Defend us from every enemy. Lead us into all peace. Let our love for each other be a seal upon our hearts, a mantle about our shoulders, and a crown upon our foreheads. Bless us in our work and in our companionship; in our sleeping and in our waking; in our joys and in our sorrows; in our life and in our death. Finally, in your mercy, bring us to that table where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home;

All:
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey –
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.

“Bethany Was Here” – Desiring to be Known

On Tuesday I went with my friend, Kara, to photography the Lennon Wall. I had walked briefly by the wall in the past but had never really stopped to look at it. I really enjoyed reading the things people wrote on the wall and the pictures people drew. It really was beautiful in its own unique way.

I was thinking as I took my pictures about what makes people write on a wall like that. Many people who write on the wall do nothing more than sign their name and that’s it – “John was here”. I think there is something in the human psyche that desires to be known, to leave a mark on the world and the people around them – something in us that wants people to know “Bethany was here.” And so even though we long for our mark to be bigger than just a name on a wall, and we desire to be known by people in a more intimate way then just our name, when faced with a chance to do something even as little as writing our name on a wall we’ll do it.

I think that’s why blogging has taken off so much. I think that desire is a lot of why I blog – it’s a way of leaving my mark. It’s a way of being known and saying “I was here.” It gives a little fuller picture of me then if I just wrote my name on the Lennon wall, but in a lot of ways it’s still pretty shallow. Blogging is still just a mark on a wall. It paints a picture of who I was at a certain time in my life and who I am now, but it’s not a full picture. “It’s true but not complete” as my friend, Tara, says. It might be a fuller picture then just my name on a wall, but it still doesn’t satisfy that deep need inside to be known and remembered – to belong and matter.

Today I met for coffee with some friends. They are probably my closest friends in Prague and currently my closest friends in the world (besides my husband). But, there are days, like today, when I still feel very unknown by them. There are times when I withdraw and don’t fully reveal myself, there are times when I show only a half true, manicured picture of myself and my heart. Why is that? Why is it that we have this deep longing to belong, to be known, to leave our mark, to matter and be accepted and reveal ourselves to other human beings, but that we often run from that desire? Why is it that especially in those moments when I so deeply want to be known I pull away? Is it fear? Is it that I don’t feel valuable enough to share with another? Or is it something else entirely? Does anyone else do this or feel this way? Or is it just me?

Maybe part of why we leave marks on walls and write blogs is because we long to be known and remembered, but maybe part of it is that it’s safe. It’s easier to leave a mark on a wall and feel like you made a mark on the world, than it is to actually go out there and make a mark on the world. It’s easier to write a blog and reveal a little part of yourself through the privacy of your own home and the small window that is cyberspace than it is to actually reveal yourself when face-to-face with another human being.

So, there’s my mark, for today, this is where I was at on September 11, 2008.

“Bethany was here”

Rejoicing in the journey –
Beth Stedman

Photographs by Beth 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.