Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: February, 2016

Slap! It’s Past Future

It happens so suddenly sometimes. You are just walking along, humming, and minding your own business. When out of nowhere, your past future just jumps up and slaps you in the face!

You know past future. The future you thought you were going to have before your life suddenly changed and everything got re-arranged. The future that was expected and hoped for but now will never be. The neighborhood you planned to move to, the business you were going to start, the relationship you were going to have, the house you were going to build, the kids you were going to raise, the job you were going to get.

And like a slap, it can leave you dizzy with your ears ringing and tears stinging your eyes. It’s a terrible deja-vu. A taunt from the past.

You see a young couple walk into a house in the neighborhood you dreamed of living in and they just look so much like you. You find the exact name you had picked out for your business on someone else’s art fair booth. You smell the dinner he used to cook for you but now cooks for someone else. You go to a friend’s kid’s birthday party and realize she is turning the same age your kid would have been now. You receive a business card with your title but another person’s name. You notice your engagement ring on someone else’s hand.

Your head swirls and reels through all the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” like a nightmare carousel ride. Your imagined and expected future flashes before your eyes in a startling technicolor array.

And then just when you wonder if you might go crazy considering all the former possibilities that now will never be, the wild ride slows to a stop and your heart and mind settle back into the here and now. You remind yourself again that none of that future was ever a promise or inevitable. You calmly explain to yourself that there will always be grief and maybe a little regret for what “could-have” been but that you really don’t want to waste the present you are living now by focusing on a future that will never be.

So you put one foot in front of the other and start softly humming again until your back straightens up again and your gait becomes confident again. And you keep walking through the present with your eyes and your heart and your mind wide open into whatever your future future will be.

A Warming in the Heart

Cor (Latin) – heart; innermost feelings.
Courage – the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.
Encourage – to fill with courage by giving support, confidence, or hope to someone.

The word “courage” had always intimidated me a little – it seemed to connotate a stiff upper lip, pushing through fear and pain no matter the backlash, and machismo. It seemed hard and daunting and fierce.

That is, until as a freshman in college I learned that “courage” comes from the Latin word for heart. Then I fell in love with the word instantly. Epic poems I read in college referenced courage as a “warming in the heart” and courageous men as “men with hearts”. I loved picturing courage this way – overcoming fear, pain, and hardship with strong full hearts. Strong people moving through the world chest first.

It was still several more years before I learned to view myself as a person of courage. I thought of myself as a rational person, carefully evaluating and planning out each decision and each new foray into the new or unknown. I did not think I needed courage because I was being careful. I was minimizing risks. I was making “smart” decisions and staying “safe”. I saw myself moving forward head first into the world.

But when my thoughtful decisions and careful plans failed, when my mind could not find a logical reason or practical answer, all I had left was a slight warming in my heart. And that warmth was small, almost insignificant in the face of what I was confronting. It was not the great full thing I had always pictured. I did not know how this slight warmth could possibly enable me to face the great difficulty, fear, and pain in front of me.

And that is when I re-discovered another word I had always had lukewarm feelings for – “encouragement”. “Encouragement” brought to mind cheesy Hallmark cards and church ladies with too much perfume gently patting you on the shoulder. It seemed sickly sweet and insignificant. I gratefully discovered that that was a weak, anemic definition of encouragement.

Encouragement is a filling with courage. It is a stoking of the flames in another’s heart. It is giving oxygen and fuel to the courage in the chest of another; often when their flames are starting to smolder out. I began to see the dear friends and family speaking words of life and truth and beauty to me as holding their hands around the small flickers in my heart and blowing the embers back to life. Encouragement also came through the work of writers, artists, and musicians whom I have never even met. Their words, music, and art offering strength and courage. The days when I did not know if the fire in my heart could possibly be enough to keep me moving forward, were the days when I became most thankful for my encouragers.

Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap because it can seem like all it is about is happy couples, pink teddy bears, and chalky candy hearts. There is a lot of mystery about the origin of the holiday but my favorite stories all involve St. Valentine sending notes of love to people who needed encouragement – prisoners, widows, orphans, the poor. I like to think of St. Valentine as a model for the best encourager – noticing the people around him whose flames were dying down and needed stoking. People who may not have been experiencing much love or care from others. People who may have been kept going by a simple heartfelt love note.

We will all confront seasons in our lives that call for courage beyond what we think we have inside of us. It is those times when we need to look for the encouragers in our lives – people who know us and love us and can fan the dying embers in our souls. And we will also all find ourselves in seasons where we are called to be the encouragers – breathing life and giving fuel to the fire in the hearts of others – some loved ones and maybe even some strangers. We never know how much our words of encouragement could be strengthening another. May we all lean into the world a little more heart first.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day.