Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: March, 2016

A Love Letter

It’s no secret that I love love letters. Notes of encouragement and love are the fastest way to my heart. A while ago someone told me I should try writing a love letter to myself. At first I balked because that felt silly and maybe narcissistic. But I finally gave it a try and I realized so much of what I had written could be written to so many people I know and love. So I am sharing it because I think parts of it apply to each of you too. And I think you know what those parts are because you know you. ❤️

Dear Bethany,

I’m proud of you.

You’re a lover.

You’re a fighter.

You’re faithful and loyal. 

You hang in there through thick and thin. 

You have an almost naive optimism about the world -believing that everything will work out eventually and you just have to keep going and working hard and doing your part. You think if we all just talked a little more and fought a little less, we would understand others’ perspectives a little better and get along a little better too. The world probably doesn’t really work that way but your optimism is so hopeful and well, sweet. (I know you don’t like being called that, but sometimes you just are.)

You’re strong and you’re brave. When you fall down, you get up, brush yourself off, and keep going. (Probably learned from a klutzy childhood of running and tripping over things with your too long legs and bad balance and not really paying enough attention. Actually, if we’re honest, this still happens pretty often and it’s still kind of cute.)

You pour your heart into things you care about and are learning to count that process as a success even when the end result doesn’t turn out as you planned. The passion you devote to things that matter is moving and inspiring. 

You are there for your family and friends and have decided to leave a margin in your life for interruption because you have slowly learned that people and relationships will last much longer than whatever project you are currently tackling. (Even though people are never projects and relationships are never completed.)

You know you don’t have it all figured out and you do all you can to keep learning and growing. You believe in asking for wisdom and help when you know you need it and even when you don’t because you know there are always more ways to look at an issue and a few more perspectives can’t hurt, right?

You hold onto beauty however and wherever you find it. Treasuring it, cultivating it, and introducing it to others when you can. You have had really beautiful precious things in your life marred and taken from you but that has not kept you from believing in beauty. That, my love, is really tough.

The spiritual fascinates you because it eludes you. You are more comfortable with facts and certainty but you have found that releasing your tight grip on those things opens up another whole dimension to understanding and living and loving the world. When you attempt to step into the spiritual, you are out of your depth, but hopeful and trusting and curious. And, Bethany, that is so beautiful. 

I know you have so much more to give the world and those around you. I know your heart still feels so broken and your soul still feels so crushed. But you believe from the ends of your hair down to the tips of your toes that healing and restoration and redemption are just around the next bend in the road. So you keep loving and you keep living and you keep hoping. I know it’s exhausting but I’m so proud of you. 

And I know some days all you really want is to be held again while you sleep. And that it’s been so long since you’ve been kissed and had someone stare through your eyes to your soul to tell you that you’re amazing and beautiful. And that the world can seem really big and scary and lonely sometimes. And really some days it feels like you’re on a team all by yourself and it can look pretty bleak and you feel so weak.

But you’re really not alone even on the longest tiring days and the coldest darkest nights. You have a family and a community who love you and value you and wish only good things for you. They want to see you grow and succeed and so many of them would be there in a moment if you asked for help or even just a listening ear. 

But even more than all that, you incredibly have a relationship with God – how all that works you still don’t understand. But somehow the only Being who knows everything there is to know about you, loves you the most. The One who knows every flaw as well as every strength thinks you’re just wonderful. He has been there with you every step of the way. He has seen the things that embarrass you and the things you are proud of. He holds your heart and your soul and your future in His large strong hands and He won’t let go and He won’t forget and He won’t move away or leave you or decide He doesn’t love you anymore. And He has been through HELL to prove that to you. 

So even with all of the really great things you have done and accomplished and all the fantastic things you have yet to do, none of that matters as much as you just being you. You. Are. So. Loved. 

And I love you too,

Me

Lent: Making Room for Joy

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I have to admit I had a pretty bad attitude going into Lent this year. I was (and am) tired of being aware of my lack, need, and weakness. The Wilderness has been feeling particularly wild lately, the world has been particularly bleak, and even the lives of others (many of those closest to me in my community) have seemed heavier than usual too. I have been feeling worn out, stretched thin, and disheartened by situations that look and feel like they do not really have a solution. And Lent seemed like it would only compound these experiences.

I considered not giving anything up. I considered giving up something I would not really miss. I considered taking on a spiritual practice instead of giving something up. I even considered not observing Lent at all this year (giving up Lent for Lent). But it is a season and a habit that I have practiced for my entire adult life and every year I have learned something – about myself, about my community, about the world – and you know I can never turn down a learning or growing opportunity.

After taking some time to think and pray about it, I was reminded that I am making it all too complicated (as I usually do). Lent is about preparing for Easter. In different traditions at different times and even now it takes on new meanings and definitions of what it means to prepare for Easter but that is really essentially its purpose.

So I decided to spend this Lent focused on making room for joy. I wanted to take some time to evaluate what is actually bringing joy to my life and what I can let go of to make more space in my life for those things.

I gave up sugar and alcohol because those are the foods I turn to most often for quick happiness. A little sugar in the middle of the day – a little boost. A drink with a friend at the end of the day – an instant party. I want to keep enjoying those things and I do not intend to never eat sugar or become a teetotaler but I also do not want them to become a crutch or even a replacement for joy. I wanted to take a break from them and see if removing them would make space for something else.

I also decided to take on a couple habits during Lent. I resolved to write a little bit each day even if only 10 minutes. Writing is something that brings me a lot of joy but I do not often make enough time for. Especially when it is not writing that I am sharing or posting or publishing, it can seem frivolous. But I wanted to acknowledge that it is something that brings me very deep joy and even if for that reason alone, I should write.

A once a week hike is another thing I took on for Lent. I really enjoy hiking but I have not done a lot of it in the last several years. It is a time-intensive form of getting exercise but also one I really enjoy. I need a couple hours every week to just walk and look and think. It brings me much deeper joy than just the joy of being healthy. Also, I have been thinking, reading, and praying a lot about the spiritual metaphors of the Wilderness in the last year, and this seemed a symbolic way to cap off that year. (And the only thing I possibly like more than a learning/growing experience is a symbolic experience.)

At first I was going to hike alone but then I realized another thing I have been learning is how integral community is to spiritual growth and how personally important community is to me as well. So I invited others to join me and some did. And each time it was a different experience – both depending on the people who joined and also the terrain we decided to traverse. And there were new analogies and symbols that I saw in those experiences that I have enjoyed just as much as the beautiful vistas.

Easter is fast approaching but this week has reminded me over and over – through the pain and hurt and brokenness of our world, of those I love, and even myself – that we live in a Lenten world. A world that is trying so hard to prepare for joy and celebration and something better but living with daily heartbreak and disappointment. Taking this season to acknowledge our hurt, poverty, and lack while also actively making room for joy has been poignant and sometimes very difficult.

Hope is closely tied to joy and sometimes both seem so far off that I wonder if Easter will ever come. But it does. It comes again and again whether I am ready for it or not. But I want to be ready. I want to be able to recognize joy when it comes and for there to be space in my heart and soul to experience that joy as fully as I can. While also recognizing that sometimes joy comes in small experiences like hiking or writing as much as larger gifts like long awaited hopes fulfilled.

The Phrase That Is Subtly Sexist

“There are two sides to every story.”

There are many problems with this phrase. For one thing, philosophically it is rarely accurate. There is usually one story and a plurality of views and experiences and perspectives of that story. “Two sides” implies a binary experience that is rarely the case.

Also, this phrase is rarely used empathetically but instead it is usually spoken to subtly discredit someone’s story or at least raise suspicions that his/her telling of the story may not be true.

Finally, think about the last time you heard that phrase or used that phrase. Was it directed at a woman or about a woman? Was it about her experience in a relationship or a workplace or public setting where she felt maligned or marginalized or even abused?

A woman’s story is often not believed simply because it is her story. Women are often assumed to be hysterical and/or manipulative and/or likely to “blow things out of proportion”. Women are accused of making things up and/or putting themselves in the position of a victim in order to seek attention. Women’s stories and experiences are routinely doubted and and questioned.

Sexism and specifically misogyny in our contemporary western culture is insidious. It pops up at unexpected times in unexpected places. And I would like to believe mostly unintentionally. I do not believe that men are solely to blame for this either. Women also carry unconscious (and sometimes conscious) bias against other women.

A couple weeks ago This American Life aired a great episode entitled “Anatomy of Doubt” which follows two sexual assault investigations – one in which the victim was believed and one in which she was not. Both cases were eventually proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be rape and the perpetrator was convicted. But the woman who was not believed went through significantly more trauma and has had a much more difficult recovery process in large part because she was not believed. She was questioned and dismissed to the point that she began to question her own story and for a while “admitted” to making it up. And the first people to cast doubt on her story? They were women.

Even in much less dramatic and severe situations, women’s experiences and stories are questioned and invalidated. I had never even noticed how gendered the phrase in question is until I heard it repeatedly when sharing my experience of divorce. Divorce is already an incredibly invalidating experience – you are being told that you are unlovable, undesirable, and not worth fighting for. To have your experience of divorce then invalidated with a simple, “Well, there are two sides to every story” can be incredibly painful. I heard this phrase from men, from women, even from close friends.

I do not think most people who used this phrase really understood what it implies. I think they meant to say, “I’m sure your ex-husband is grieving too.” Or “That sounds like an awful experience – maybe it is not as bad as it appears right now.” Or “Maybe you will have more perspective on this situation when you are not in the middle of grief.” Or any number of things that should sound more comforting than condemning.

I am sure they did not mean, “You are woman so your story is probably hysterical and your experience is probably exaggerated and on some level you probably deserve the way you are being treated.” Or at least I really hope that is not what they meant. Because unfortunately that is what it can sound like.

It’s time to start believing women and taking them at their word. Or at least just as much as we take men at their word. We need to validate women’s stories and experiences. Or at least to the same extent that we validate men’s stories and experiences. We need to stop viewing gender as “us vs. them” but as we.

The stories women tell are our stories and the stories men tell are our stories. And I think we can only start moving toward true gender equality once we fully embrace all stories and experiences as our stories and experiences. The human experience is varied and monolithic, beautiful and joyful, painful and ugly and is definitely complicated but no, I do not believe there are two sides to every story. I believe there are as many sides to every story as people in the world and none of those experiences should be trivialized or immediately disregarded.