Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: November, 2016

Arrival

I tumble into bed after a long day (week? year?). I reach for the book even though I am more ready for sleep than for inspiration but I am in the middle of an experiment and I would hate to mess up the consistent streak and have to start all over again. So will (determination? stubbornness?) wins out over desire (healthy emotional boundaries? self-care?) and through squinting, tired eyes I read:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(St. John)

Even through my exhausted haze, the symmetry of this passage quietly thrills me as it does every time I read it. The writer’s allusions to nature, ancient literature and symbols, Greek and Hebrew philosophy, cosmic forces, and the cyclical nature of time (among other things) are all so unpretentiously condensed into one poetic paragraph explaining the mystery of incarnation. I sigh contentedly in my sleepy contemplation and find a moment for pure wonder before nodding off.

***

I can feel my soul struggling like a runner in the last miles of a marathon. I am tired and I admit to being tired. I am not entirely sure where the finish line is for this leg of the race. But I am also aware that I need to do all I can to just keep going. And I hope with the deepest hope I can muster that some triumph is just a few miles away.

***

I leave work and drive to my favorite independent cinema through slow evening traffic. I am being unusually spontaneous but after two weekends and most of a week of being sick in bed with a seasonal cold, I can’t just go home and go straight to bed again. I feel my soul starting to give in to the cold as well and I need a remedy stat! I’m afraid I’m still too contagious to be social so I bargain with myself that if I buy a hot tea and sit far from anyone else in the theater (which shouldn’t be difficult on a Tuesday night) then I can see a movie without further harm to myself or others.

I make it to the cinema just in time to get a hot peppermint tea and find a seat two rows from anyone else. I am expecting a visually beautiful and mildly philosophical exploration of how we view “the Other”. And the film definitely delivers that but also explores language and time and symbols and moral obligation in ways I have rarely seen film do so poetically.

I watch a woman struggle to love herself while loving her work so devotedly that she will risk her life to accomplish her assigned task. I watch her come to know herself and her people in deeper ways as she comes to know “the Other”. I watch her passion for language and communication drive her to keep working on the most difficult job she has ever been given. I watch her receive the gift of seeing her whole life with all of its joys and pains and disappointments and choose it anyway – again and again.

And in the last 5 minutes, as her story comes full circle, I cannot stop the tears flowing down my face. I sit stunned in the dark theater until the last note of the score has faded and lights come up. I walk stunned out of the theater to my car and sit in weeping silence until I feel like I can drive home. I walk silently into my room and close the door and sit in the wonder.

I am deeply grateful for the gifts that Story has given me over and over again – new perspective and understanding. Watching someone else do the deep wrestling and make the journey gives me hope and inspiration for my own journey. Watching the pieces fall into place for someone else helps me understand how the pieces are falling into place for me. I settle into a deep peace before I fall asleep.

***

On the first day of my vacation week, I have to complete a list of errands that are important but I never have time for during regular weeks. One of the tasks I am dreading the most should be straightforward – name change on my social security card – but it involves going to a government office. I know most people don’t like government offices but after a childhood spent in immigration offices in various countries, I have a near-phobia of them. I push myself through the line. I steel myself through the waiting time. I will myself to slide the papers across the desk and answer the bureaucracy as politely but succinctly as possible. I am so caught up in just making it through the ordeal that I almost miss the parting words of the administrator. They are words I have been desperately hoping to hear for almost three years. But never in my wildest imaginings did I ever expect them to come from a government employee behind a cubicle divider.

“You are restored.”

I blink twice and my jaw drops. I stammer a “thank you” when I understand that he means my legal name has been restored. But I walk out of the government office with my heart beating a little faster and my step a little faster.

***

Advent. (n. Old English, from Latin adventus ‘arrival,’ from advenire, from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come.’)

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. Like all things new, it marks a renewed hope for what is to come. Every year we remind ourselves of the Word that was here from the beginning but that we are also waiting for. That which we hope for but have also already received. That which we know is within our grasp but we are also running toward.

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
(Adolphe Adam)

Do Hard Things

I don’t like to admit it but this time of year is hard for me. There are layers and layers of memories stacked on top of each other like pancakes. Some are crisp and clear. Some are indistinct and mushy. Some are so sweet and lovely and some leave a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the dearest and some of the most painful memories of my life are all crammed into about 8 weeks on the calendar.

This time of year,

8 years ago I was falling love with the man I would eventually marry. It was lovely and magical and unexpected and everything I could have dreamed and more. It felt like the best gift I had ever been given.

7 years ago we got engaged on the weekend between Thanksgiving and my birthday. We were both so happy and excited for the future that we couldn’t stop glowing for days.

6 years ago we celebrated our first married Thanksgiving by inviting a bunch of people over and cooking our first turkey. We planned to make it a tradition and host Thanksgiving as often as possible for as many as our home could hold.

3 years ago my then-husband began the process of leaving me though I was unaware until several months later and even now I don’t really know all that transpired in those months. I was not part of the decisions being made about my life. All I knew at the time was that everything felt strange and confusing and out-of-place.

2 years ago I had the hardest conversation of my life and agreed to my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s terms of divorce. I cried and prayed for days before we met not knowing how else to prepare for a conversation like that. But then when we finally spoke, I felt the deepest peace.

1 year ago our divorce was finalized on the day of our engagement anniversary. I felt immense relief and freedom but also so much loss and grief. I felt drained of everything that had come before but hopeful and expectant for whatever would come next.

It is overwhelming to process all of these memories that fall within the same couple of months. Our first date was the night of the first presidential debate in 2008 and the air feels familiar. The time the sun goes down each day is the same as the year our life began to unravel. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and my birthday is a week later. I look forward to the celebrations but also dread the residual grief.

This time of year rolls around and my heart and spirit feel weak and kind of fragile. I look for opportunities to create new, happy memories. I try to be gentler with myself. I lower my expectations for what I can accomplish because I know my soul is working hard to keep processing and healing.

But if I’m honest with myself, I just want to have it all resolved. I want to have all the whys answered and all the details clear so I do not have to keep processing complicated grief. I want good and bad memories in separate tidy baskets when most of life does not actually sort that way. I want things to be black and white but they are often truer in gray. I am learning to be comfortable with uncertain but it is hard to do.

When I am ready to just throw up my hands and give up, I remember the words a dear friend repeats often, “You are doing hard things. It is so important to do hard things. Hard things can sometimes take a lifetime but they are still worth doing.”

I know we are all doing hard things – processing complicated feelings, loving those who are difficult to love, taking good care of ourselves and our people, reaching out with empathy and understanding to those we don’t agree with, grieving, hoping, and trying to continue moving into greater wholeness. It’s difficult. The road is often hazy and unclear.

But keep going – doing hard things is worth it. And it’s so important.

Complicated Gratefulness

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I am standing on top of 2,500-year-old temple ruins in southern Mexico and my breath catches in my throat. I look out over the green grass and the rocks and the perfectly blue sky with a smattering of clouds and as happens so often when I see something unspeakably beautiful, I can feel tears welling up in my eyes. The moment is so brief but holy and lyrics of a Gungor song come to mind:

I see it all like a hymn
The constant refrain of the echo and change
And all is beautiful

There is no giving without any taking
There’s no love without any loss
Everything everyone building and breaking
Oh I see the grace of it all
All is beautiful

I did not travel here on some spiritual pilgrimage or even a vacation. I am actually here for work and we took an hour break from panels and screenings and receptions (not to mention the mountain of emails that need attention) to see a bit of the city we are visiting. And it is in that seemingly mundane situation that I remember again how incredibly fortunate I am to do what I do for a living.

You see, my job (like every job) has monotonous tasks and lots of hours in front of a computer screen and sometimes working through weekends and tedious things that just have to be done however unexciting it is to do them. But it has also taken me all over the world and allowed me to meet artists in cities whose names I had never even heard before. It is rewarding and fulfilling and I know how rare that is and I do not take that privilege lightly.

At the same time, I am keenly aware that the only reason I can do this job is because I don’t have young children. And because I don’t have a spouse or even a serious partner, picking up and jetting off to another country or city for a week is something I can do easily. When I started this job, I had a spouse and we were talking about children in a couple years once we felt more settled in our careers.

Sometimes I think about those plans and how differently my life has turned out. I think about how many places I would not have gone, how many amazing experiences I would not have had, how many fascinating people I would not have met. And I feel this complicated gratefulness. Grateful for the the really unique experiences. Grateful for the openness and freedom that permeates my life but also sometimes grieving the seeming stability and clearer future of the life I had planned.

I look at my friends who have laid aside or taken less demanding jobs so they can spend time with their babies and honestly, sometimes I feel a little jealous. They are watching a little person learn to walk or teaching her new words or hearing him giggle when he discovers sand for the first time. From talking with them, I know they keenly feel the privilege of what they get to do as well. I also know there is a complicated gratefulness for them as well. Grateful for their children. Grateful for the time to spend raising them but also sometimes missing the personal fulfillment that comes with more free time and a more results-oriented job.

Complicated gratefulness–it almost feels inherently ungrateful to even mention the difficult parts of what we are grateful for. To mention the sacrifices that come with the blessings. To sit in the tension of having something really wonderful but also aware that it is still not what you truly desire. I wonder if those things we are grateful for that are complicated are where we actually learn what gratefulness is.

We are thankful for our warm houses but also aware how much work it takes to pay the rent or mortgage. We are thankful for our families but also aware of the brokenness that even the best families experience. We are thankful for our friends but also aware that our friends have gossiped or been petty or forgotten to invite us to a birthday party.

That we can still be grateful for these gifts even while acknowledging the difficulties or hardships that come with them is incredibly beautiful to me. It feels richer and deeper than only being grateful for the simple or easy things. It feels both more honest and more gracious to look at the world as it really is and be thankful for the gifts while also acknowledging the hardship or pain that can accompany them.