A Creative Valley

Sometimes the blank page calls to me, hollering out words that demand to be written, thoughts that demand to be shared, pictures that demand to be painted. Work grows from me. I create. I generate. I am part of the flowing forward of the tide.

 

Other times I stare at the blank page with contempt, even anger, as it taunts me, hiding it’s message. Receding away from me. Previous work that glowed with the first light of creating, now pales and I delete half of what I wrote before. I weaken. I retreat. Creative energy ebbs away.

 

Although I know that I am not alone in this creative ebb and flow, and that it is quite normal, I fight against it. I try to rush through the walls that block my creativity and try to lengthen the muses visits in whatever way I can. I hate my own seasons of receding, disdain my writers block, and long again for inspiration.

 

But, wisdom has been gently whispering to me a new truth, “there is a time for everything.”

 

The ebbs in creative energies are not dry deserts, they are rich landscapes filled with the food to fuel the next creative endeavor. Creating requires gathering, observing, and living. The uninspired days of weakened resolve and receding inspiration are not to be disdained they are to be respected. In the long run they are actually the true power of the creative process.

 

This is where I find myself today. Riding the receding of the tide. Ready to throw out every creative project I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. Staring at a blank page that taunts me. And then I look out the window and see the bare trees just beginning to blossom again. Everything must have a season of dormancy. I notice a squirrel gathering a seed from a bush and running off to hide it for use at another time. We must gather before we can feast. I can almost feel the wind as it blows the trees into a dance, back and forth, back and forth. And my mind wanders to the coming and going of the waves on the shore and the cyclical changes of the moons glow. This is as it should be.

 

This ebb and flow of creativity is not only quite normal, it is quite natural and necessary. We need both seasons to create and seasons to consume.

 

So, where do you find yourself today in the ebb and flow of your own creative endeavors? If you are, like me, in the midst of a creative blank page what are you choosing to consume, to gather, to observe?

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

 

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

A Writer Just Starting Out

It was my first Northwest Christian Writers Association meeting and I was frightened.

“What do you write?” Sarah asked casually and comfortably.

“Well, I guess I’m still figuring that out.” I stammer thinking to myself, “Do I really have to pick one genre? One type of thing to write.” In a moment, my mind flashes with the children’s book that I am working on for my three year old, the fantasy novel I just finished for elementary age children, the novel I just started for young adults, the random magazine articles I’m working on.

 “So, you’re just starting out.” She said, smiling.

“Well, no… I mean… I’ve blogged for ten years. I…I just finished my first book… a fantasy story for elementary age kids, I think. And I started another novel this week.” I stumble over my words, my nervous energy filling the space between us.

 

Just starting out.

 

Something within me rises up in protest. No. I’m not just starting out. I’m thirty years old and I’ve been fascinated with story for as long as I can remember. I feel like I’ve been writing since I was little. Perhaps that doesn’t count. But, blogging for ten years, filling page after virtual page with thoughts, stories, and ideas has to count for something. Spending three years (on and off) on a story and finally finishing it has to count for something. The journals filled with scribbled poems, the computer files filled with stories started, it all has to count for something, right?

I don’t want to be just starting out.

I always thought that by the time I was thirty I would be somewhat established. I would know what I wanted to do and I would be doing it. And in a way I was right. I do feel like I have come to a new found clarity about myself and what I want to do as I have entered my thirties, but, somehow, I thought I’d be farther down the road. Not just starting out.

Today I am sitting in a coffee shop all by myself for the first time since having kids. And it feels amazing! But, as I pull out my computer and read again over the novel I’ve just started a reality washes over me… I am just starting out.

So, today I’m writing a new response to the kind Sarah Madson, and to the world:

 

Yes, I’m just starting out…and I’m terrified. I’m a thirty year old mom with two kids, who’s secretly dreamed about being an author for more years than I can count, but who’s only recently gotten up the courage to really try.

I don’t have hours and hours to write, re-write, and write again. With two young kids, my life is not entirely my own. My family tells me I have some skill, but what do they know? None of them are authors. They are biased by love. So, when it comes down to it I have no idea if I really have what it takes, or have the time and mental space to put in the work to get what it takes.

I’m stepping into a world that I know nothing about and my fear makes me want to pretend that I know what I’m doing, pretend that I’m farther along than I am. But, the truth is I am just starting out. And all I really have is desire… and somewhere buried within me I hope that there is just one story worth telling. One story that the world wants and needs to hear.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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

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)

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

Litergy for a time of Change

Here is a litergy that I wrote for a friend a little while ago, but lately it has felt very appropriate for not only her life, but also mine and many others in my circle so I wanted to share it.

*Lord, God you are Alpha and Omega,
 beginning and the end

You are God of our beginnings
You are God of our endings


*God of the ending

*God who causes the sun to set
And the leaves to fall from the trees

*God who inspires the caterpillar to crawl into the cocoon
And the tides to rise and recede

You are in the endings

*May we be a people who end well

 

*This is a day of ending

We mourn together for that which will not be again.

(silence)

*We say goodbye to the years that have past,
And thank you for the years gone by

*We thank you for your presence

*We thank you for your guidance and provision

*We thank you for your love

We thank you for the work of your spirit

*We thank you for the mystery of cocooning,

*The darkness of uncertainty,

*The tears of yesterday.

*We thank you for the beauty of the setting sun,
the wonder of your presence in our midst,
the laughter that has been.

*May we never forget where we’ve been and where we come from

*May we honor the past that has been,

But move forward in power and freedom

*God of endings, break clean the ties that hold us down,
tear loose the chains that bind us

And set us free to fly into new beginnings

 

*God of the beginning

*God who causes the sun to rise
And flowers to blossom in new life

*God who inspires butterflies to burst forth into the sky
And the tides to rise and recede

You are in the beginnings

*May we be a people who begin well

 

*This is a day of beginning

We sing together for that which is yet to come

(silence)

*Together we welcome the coming tide of change
and look forward to the years to come

*We look forward to your presence with us

*We look forward to your guidance and provision

*We look forward to your love

We look forward to the work of your spirit.

*We thank you for the mystery of new birth,

*The lightness of your presence,

*The freedom of tomorrow.

*We thank you for the beauty of the new dawn,
the wonder of your presence in our midst,
the laughter which is to come.


*May we move forward in strength into that which is yet to be

*May we lean into your leading in our lives,

Move us forward in power and freedom

*God of beginnings, break clean the ties that hold us down,
tear loose the chains that bind us

And set us free to fly into new beginnings


*Alpha and Omega, you are God of All

*Be God of this new season. Amen. 

* change readers
Bold read in unison

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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