Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: May, 2015

Why It Is Important to Tell Our Stories

There seems to be a growing interest in sharing our own personal life experiences and hearing those of others. Social media is the most obvious example of this – brief thoughts, photos, and Periscope videos give us a glimpse into the thoughts and lives of others. Even much of professionally produced content is becoming increasingly personal. Many of the chart-topping podcasts are simply people sharing anecdotal glimpses into their lives (The Moth, Strangers, Love + Radio, etc.) There have also been some really artful and beautiful personal documentaries produced recently including my favorite film of 2013 – Stories We Tell. (If you have not seen it yet, skip reading this and go watch it instead. It’s on Netflix so you have no excuse.)

Sometimes these personal storytellers are accused of being vain, narcissistic, or exhibitionist. Maybe some of them are. But for the vast majority, I think the great courage, grace, and humility it takes to share a deeply personal experience squashes any pride or hubris in the teller. It is scary to share your life with others. As a personal storyteller, you are opening up your soul to be examined by strangers who can love, hate, judge, or dismiss you as they choose.

Sharing these stories is therapeutic not just for the teller but also for the listener. We each long to be known and loved but I think we each long to know and love others as well. The sharing of a personal story is like the giving of a gift that brings joy to both the giver and the receiver. I am so honored when I hear a personal story. That someone would gift me with a piece of their history and allow me a glimpse into what makes them bold and flawed and beautiful is deeply moving to me.

Even though I may not be able to relate to the specifics of each of these stories, there is some deeply human struggle underneath each of these stories that I recognize. I see the beauty. I join in laughter with their joy. Tears stream down my face when I hear the pain and confusion. Something deep in my soul resonates with the very personal experiences of others.

A friend tells me her story of dealing with infertility and navigating the ethically and emotionally complex world of fertility treatments and I think, “Yeah. Me too.” Even though I have never had to deal with fertility issues.

I hear the story of a Hassidic Jewish man who was exiled from his religious community and forbidden from seeing his family and I think, “Yeah. Me too.” Even though I am neither Jewish nor a man.

I hear the story of LGBTQ Christians trying to find their place in the Church and I think, “Yeah. Me too.” Even though I am not LGBTQ myself.

I watch the story of a woman struggling to bring together her religious and bi-racial heritage after the shocking revelation of her biological father’s real identity and I think, “Yeah. Me too.” Even though I am not bi-racial and I have never had to question my parentage.

It is so important to tell our stories. The stories we are proud of and the stories we still do not understand. The stories with happy endings and the stories we are still waiting to see how they will end. We can tell our stories over coffee, on the phone, through social media, or for the really courageous among us – on larger platforms like books, films, and podcasts. You never know who needs to hear your stories. You never know how opening up your life in even small ways can deeply resonate with and touch others. I know I have been illuminated and moved and healed by so many of your stories. Please keep telling them.

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Living Naked

My next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand feels naked now.

After signing divorce papers last week, 15 months after my husband abruptly informed me our marriage was over, I finally took off my rings. Since then, I have stopped more than once each day trying to remember what I seem to have forgotten. Only to remember that I have not actually forgotten anything but I am still missing something.

My awareness of my naked ring finger has startled me a little. You see, marriage never felt like an inevitability to me. It came to me as an unexpected and great gift when I was not looking for it. I never believed I needed a mate. My parents have done an admirable job of giving their children the tools to be capable adults and pretty self-sufficient. They wisely realized that whether we ended up with life partners or not, we needed to be well-rounded people able to pitch in and help and serve and love in a variety of situations.

As I became an adult, I became convinced that some people are called to be single and some are called to be married and both are very vital and important roles in their communities. I spent years in college seriously contemplating whether I was personally called to lifelong celibacy. It is a question I believe each young adult should wrestle through. The church misses out on the very vital and important role of lifelong singles in the community when we assume that everyone is married, planning to get married, or hoping to get married.

After college I got to know this truly unique and extraordinary man and I fell head-over-heels in love with him and began to learn what it feels like to have a partner. I experienced the great mystery that is romantic love and relished the ways it brought out new sides of me. I loved the way being in love both softened and strengthened me. I began to get glimpses of why marriage is such a powerful and profound analogy. Embarking on the adventure of lifelong commitment to one person (and especially this one person) became more and more attractive to me.

When he put the first ring on the next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand, it came with a joyful but serious weight. My life story was now forever linked to another’s story. My joys and sorrows were now inextricably linked to another’s joys and sorrows. My successes and failures were now inevitably linked to another’s successes and failures.

As we began planning our life together and charting our course, I began to realize how truly transformative having a life partner can be. Every dream and vision and goal now included someone else in the picture and I loved it. My horizons broadened and stretched in ways I still do not fully comprehend.

Then with the second ring he placed on the next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand came an even greater but also more joyful weight. In my heart and mind, there was now no more turning back. For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, he was mine and I was his.

It took me by surprise how much I loved being married. It was so much more wonderful than I ever expected. It was also more painful and more difficult than I was prepared for but I never regretted a minute. Being married to this man made my life greater and more beautiful and more significant than living on my own and every moment felt so worth it. I became more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as I became more aware of his strengths and weaknesses. My life became more with him in it and he became more with me in his life. My capacity for empathy grew as I learned to laugh when he laughed and cry when he cried. The world became richer and brighter and clearer as I learned to see it through someone else’s eyes in addition to my own.  He introduced me to and I learned to deeply appreciate things I had never even noticed before. And it brought me indescribable happiness to share things I loved with him and watch him grow to love those things too. I barely missed the small freedoms I gave up with singleness as I gained so much more with marriage.

It was incredible having this life partner – someone I could share everything with. The knowledge that I would always have his back and he would always have mine was so comforting and safe. I believed that no matter what lines the world may draw, we would always be on the same team. After living all over the world, and moving more times than I was years old, I finally had a best friend I would never have to say good-bye to. I chose to trust him and be completely honest with him. I bared my soul to him and lived with a naked abandon that brought much freedom to my being. I ventured into places of bold vulnerability and discovered the great peace and vast openness that can come with living so transparently.

I so enjoyed this newfound bare, naked way of living that I did everything I could to preserve that openness between us. I pushed to the side the small, quiet murmurs of concerns, worries, and fears until they grew into a great cacophony that I could no longer ignore. And when I began asking questions that could not be answered, I discovered that marriage, in addition to exposing the many beautiful places in one’s soul, will also reveal the great darkness and masked places in one’s soul. Marriage is a great bright light that shines on the beautiful and ugly in equal measures and if you want to live naked, you will have to see and know all, in addition to being seen and known in all your beautiful and ugly parts by your spouse.

I painfully discovered our partnership was not what I thought it was and that the deep joy that came with the openness and transparency I so valued was not mutual. There were stark lines in the sand that we were not both on the same side of and I found out that the commitment that came with the weight of the rings on the next-to-the-pinkie fingers on our left hands was not as irrevocable in his heart and mind as it was in mine. Most heartbreakingly, I learned that the horizon I thought we were chasing together was not the same horizon after all. He had chosen a new road and new travel companions and I could not journey on with him any further.

It is still confusing and disorienting that I could have lived with such nakedness but still not fully know and be known by my life partner. I think that must be part of the unfathomable mystery that is the individual and the individual soul. As much as you may try to share everything in your life, as much as you want to fully embrace becoming “one flesh”, you will still always have separate hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Your partner will always remain to some extent “other”. (That is probably part of what can keep us interested in one other person for 40-50 years.) You will always have something new to learn and discover about your life partner. Some of those discoveries will be dazzling beautiful and some of those discoveries will be heartrendingly hideous and all we can each do is keep loving and learning and forgiving and supporting our partner as we nakedly face the great bright light together with immense grace.

So maybe I should not be so surprised by the nakedness I feel now. I am in a new phase of life where my soul is no longer bared but the next-to-my-pinkie finger is again. I hope over time the naked feeling of my ring finger will fade. I pray the grief and feelings of great loss begin to subside soon. But I hope I never, ever forget the powerful and hard-won truths I learned through marriage and deeply loving and being committed to another. I hope I have learned to live with a new transparency and empathy that will benefit both me and my community. I hope my greater appreciation for “other” and seeing the world through another’s eyes will only keep growing. I desperately hope my horizons keep expanding ever wider and farther.

Maybe my next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand will remain naked for the rest of my life or maybe it won’t. But I will never regret the years it proudly carried the weight of his rings and all the joys and pains that came with them. I did not get the lifelong marriage I was planning, expecting, and working toward but I am still deepened and changed through knowing him and loving him and living life with him. And I think mostly for the better.

Beginnings & Endings

It started on a gorgeous warm summer day in the grand beautiful historic Immanuel Presbyterian church with 150 of our favorite people celebrating by joining in ceremony and communion with us. God felt so near.

It ended almost 5 years and 9 miles away on a gloomy rainy spring morning in an ugly non-descript office building at a conference table with 2 strangers witnessing us sign a pile of papers. Somehow God is still near.

Expecting

I don’t think anyone’s life turns out the way they expect it will. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and talking with friends about it and so far I haven’t heard from anyone whose life looks the way they planned or expected. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. My friends and I are also at the age where big life changes are almost normal occurrences. Engagements, weddings, new babies, new jobs, new homes – they seem to be happening on an almost daily basis.

Several of my close friends have become mothers in the last year and several other friends hope to become mothers soon. Fertility has suddenly become a normal conversation topic. Who is expecting? Who is expecting to be expecting? I’ve noticed that it’s rare that a woman becomes a mother when and the way she expects.

Some friends have had babies earlier than they planned. Some friends have had babies later than they planned. Some friends have had miscarriages. Some friends have become mothers but tragically lost their newborns. And some friends are still waiting to become mothers after many years of expecting to be expecting.

I expected to be a mother by now. I wasn’t one of those little girls who was sure she would be a wife and mother but I always assumed that if I married, I would have children. When we married five years ago, it was firmly in our plan to become parents. After several years of marriage, I thought we would start a family and I would become a mother. But now, instead of becoming a mother, I am going through a divorce. It’s not what I planned or expected but it’s where I find myself.

Even for women who have not had problems getting pregnant mostly on the timeframe they planned, motherhood can look completely different than they expected. Some friends have found it much easier and some much more difficult than they assumed it would be. All have found themselves in a new life stage where they are doing the best they can to juggle previous expectations with a very present reality.

That’s just what we’re all trying to do, right? Living right now the best we can, regardless of the hopes, plans, and expectations that came before. Loving and relishing the blessings and gifts of today while simultaneously mourning the lost dreams and rosy visions of yesterday.

And I think for most of us, most of the time, the present brings more joy than we expected even when it’s nothing like what we expected it to look like. I don’t think it’s foolish to keep expecting good things to come, as long as you are prepared to work through the joy and difficulty of each new life stage, whatever it brings.