Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: February, 2017

Radical Acts

I spend my third post-divorce Valentine’s Day pondering how incredible love is and how much I have experienced in my life. I am amazed at how we can attempt love over and over again. How often that love is overlooked, disregarded, and even outright rejected. How often our hearts are broken and mended. Still we keep loving and looking to be loved.

In a dim dance hall, I stand alone and listen to people tell their stories of broken hearts and I am seriously in awe of each of the storytellers and the little glimpses of their hearts they share. They are each just so stunningly beautiful and reveal flashes of gold however rough and unpolished. Some of the stories make me laugh and some cause my throat to catch and one or two make my cheeks wet with tears but each is so fully and magically human that I am afraid to breathe too loudly and break the spell.

The couples in the room and on the street walking back to their cars holding one another close do not make me jealous. They make me hope and they make me celebrate. And I silently cheer each one, “You are doing it! You are brave and courageous and doing hard work! And you have found something sacred. Bravo! I hope your love does the work in you it is meant to do. May you be fuller and richer than before you encountered it.”

* * *

I am driving with my sisters back from a day in the mountains and we are catching up on podcasts. This one from On Being was next on the playlist and it was an interesting discussion but the last 10 minutes shook off my drowsiness and made me lean forward to not miss a word:

“I feel that trust is something of a radical act. And I go to great efforts to trust the people around me…For me, it’s a rewarding way to live. That doesn’t mean that people haven’t disappointed me and broken my trust. But it tends — when that happens to me, it tends to be in situations where I never would have anticipated it. And I feel like this does come back to the question of fear. I think there’s some people who feel that nurturing their own fear will be a balm against danger. If you just feel fearful enough and often enough, you’ll save yourself from the dangers of the world. And I don’t think that’s true. I think you get hurt either way…So you either you get to live as a suspicious, wary person, paranoid, who gets hurt, or you get to live as someone who trusts other people and gets hurt.”

“Yes!” My heart and mind shout together.

And I think about how closely tied love and trust are. How we would not have any human connection or relationships or even really conversations without daring love and trust even in small amounts. How the more we risk, the more we have to gain. Or lose. But even in the times of losing, aren’t we somehow gaining? In the giving trust and love, don’t our hearts grow – if we let them? If my choices are to live closed and suspicious or open and vulnerable, I don’t know that I even really have a choice. Even more than the fear of heartbreak, I am afraid of living a small life.

* * *

I get to watch one of my heroes at work and it is inspiring. She asks big questions but leaves so much room for answers that the air feels warm, generous, and inviting. She knows how to create space to probe the biggest questions of life through art, science, philosophy, and religion that allows the interviewee to speak honestly but also not frighten the listener. It is a skill that few have and one that is beautiful and also a little unnerving to observe in action.

She asks the artist why he does what he does. He answers that the work of an artist is to dig deep and uncover Truth. He explains, “Each artist is finding their own way to clean the glass to look toward something.” He goes on to say that each artist is looking for something and by sharing their art, they are inviting the viewer to look for it too. And the humility is that maybe the viewer will find something you could not find yourself.

Cleaning the glass. Making things clearer. And trusting the viewer to see what you are pointing that glass toward – maybe even more clearly than you did?

* * *

All of this feels like grace. Stepping heart-first out into the unknown and leaving the space for whatever might happen. Venturing love and trust and sharing your view of the world and waiting for others to respond however they will. It is a radical act because it is the greatest adventure and the greatest risk and one we are living every day.

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Valentines


I have been thinking a lot about love lately – what it looks like, feels like, lives like. There are so many ways we can both give and receive love, as well as withhold and reject love from others and even from ourselves. Three years ago I believed I had lost my one chance at a Great Love and that love was over for me. I was told I was unloved and unwanted and I believed it. But that could not have been further from the truth and when I look for love in my life today, I am overwhelmed by all the places I see it and know it. So in honor of Love and St. Valentine, I am sharing a few of my love notes publicly today. 

To my parents whose love for me I have never once doubted. Thank you for patiently and consistently reminding me that you love me simply because I am yours. For reiterating whenever I forget, that as tempted as I am to believe it, there is nothing I can do to make you love me more or less. Thank you for demonstrating over and over again what it looks like to love sacrificially without expectation of acknowledgement or reward. The depth of your love for others challenges and inspires me everyday. I love you both too.

To my grandparents who have cared for and supported me since before I can remember. You have encouraged my growth and education in every way you possibly could. I can only hope to grow up to be as generous and loving as you each are. I love you all and I feel incredibly blessed to get to have five grandparents!

To my sisters and brothers who have been my most faithful and loyal friends. I am incredibly grateful you are my tribe and that I can always call on you. I cherish that we can both laugh and cry together, that we can argue and also snuggle. I love that we have shared weird and wonderful experiences that very few other people can relate to – it makes our bond extra special. It is one of my deep joys to watch you become even more the amazing people you each are. I am inspired by the beautiful ways you each love – me, each other, your friends, your loves, and even strangers. I love each of you so deeply and I am so proud of who you all are that it hurts sometimes.

To my new niece/nephew. Little one, you are already teaching me so much about love because we all adore you and we haven’t even met you yet. You have done nothing and you are already so deeply loved just because you are.

To the friends who know how much I love words and gift them to me through texts, messages, Facebook comments, emails, handwritten notes, works of art, jewelry, and more. Each word you give is treasured and makes me feel so loved. Your encouragement has kept my heart warm on more than one cold day.

To the friends who know the surest way to my heart is through a good conversation and call me up or meet me for coffee to share their thoughts on the latest film, podcast, news article, or social media phenomenon. The friends who share their epiphanies on life and love and relationships. The friends who let me rant when I need to and also engage me in dialogue, all the while trying to find our way to Truth and Beauty. Thank you for believing in and loving the Logos with me. I often reflect on those conversations for years afterwards.

To old friends that I may not see often or interact with very much anymore, I am so thankful you have been part of my life. I hold our memories dear and still feel the love of the months or years we spent exploring the world together.

To new friends that I am just beginning to get to know. I’m grateful and excited to be part of your life – for as long or short a time as our paths may cross!

To my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends who have shown me parent love even when I am not really your daughter. Thank you for accepting me into your family’s life and pouring into my life. I am more and more grateful all the time that I had the privilege of experiencing love in other families in addition to my own. It helps the world look a little less scary and a little more loving.

To the friends I have lived with. Thank you for cooking me meals and eating the meals I cook. Thanks for letting me be alone when I need to and letting me dance around the living room when I need to and reminding me to sleep when I need to. Thank you for letting me share a home with you and letting me be myself at my most personal and exposed. I have been pretty lucky with roommates and I am grateful for each of you.

To the friends who remind me to laugh and play – I need you. I often forget to do this on my own. Thank you for making space for me to be silly and foolish. To the friends who can make me giggle until my stomach hurts, you help make life feel full to overflowing.

To my couple friends who have stayed my friends even after I was no longer half of a couple, thank you. You helped me feel like I had not lost my whole life when I lost a spouse. And watching you continue to love and support each other as partners helps me keep believing in committed romantic love. Let me know how I can continue to support your relationships even as a single person.

To my parent friends who have invited me into their children’s lives, it is an honor. Watching you become who you are as parents is beautiful and miraculous. Holding and reading books to and getting to know the little people you are loving and raising brings me so much hope and joy.

To the friends who have just sat with me in hard times while I cried knowing that sometimes there are no words or answers or solutions. The friends who have so gently held the pieces of my broken heart in their hands when I didn’t know if it could ever be put back together again. Thank you for showing me love at my weakest and ugliest and not looking away from my tear and snot streaked face. You have each taught me (and keep teaching me) so much about friendship love and I love you too.

My heart is full. It is full with each of you. Happy Valentine’s Day, dear ones!

Home

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This is the written version of a piece I shared at a storytelling event last year.

When my friend Hannah announced that the theme for this storytelling event was Home and told me I had to tell a story, I got nervous. You see, I have a lot of stories but I also have a somewhat conflicted relationship with Home.

It’s not that I had a bad home life growing up. If I know anything, it’s that my parents love me and my seven siblings. And we all love them and each other too.

It’s not that I don’t like homes or have anything against homemaking. While some little girls daydream about their future weddings, I spent a my time imagining what I wanted my grown-up home to look like one day. I always imagined it big with a huge attic to read in on rainy days and a giant yard where I would spend every sunny day hosting parties and entertaining friends.

So it’s not the idea of home that I am conflicted with. It’s mostly that I don’t know where my home is and I feel like a lot of my life has been spent looking for it.

By the time I was 18, I had lived in 10 different cities in 4 different countries and I think 18 different houses. In each of the houses we lived in my mother worked really hard to make them feel like home and many of them did. But I was always aware that I was not Home. For one thing, I was a TCK (a third culture kid). For much of my formative years, I was not living in my parents’ home culture (first culture). We were not immigrants to the culture we were living in (second culture). Instead my siblings and I and many of the kids we grew up with formed our own culture (third culture). (And as any TCK is quick to note. one of the most famous TCKs of all is President Barak Obama.) As exotic as all of this sounds, the point is that I didn’t even have a “home culture”.

One of the first chapter books my dad read to me when I was little was “The Little House in the Big Woods”. The first book in the Little House on the Prairie series. Almost all of the books in the series are named after where the family was living at the time. And even though they moved often in Laura Ingalls’ young life, they never seemed to doubt that they belonged where they lived. (Which is actually a whole other conversation about colonialism and American settlers and whether any of that land really belonged to them. But anyway…)

In high school, I (along with everyone else who was in high school in 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out) read the Lord of the Rings series for the first time. And to many of my nerd friends’ surprise, my favorite book in the series was “The Hobbit”. I loved Bilbo Baggins. I completely understood why he just wanted to stay in his cozy hobbit hole. But I also related to his sense of accomplishment for going out, having an adventure, finding treasure, killing a dragon and then coming back home again.

In college, I read “The Odyssey” and was riveted. (I think I read an abridged version in a high school literature class but it didn’t really stick with me the same way.) I realized the story is not so much about all of the adventures Odysseus had along his arduous journey but the fact that he was just trying to get home. (Or at least that’s how he tells the story. He did spend a really long time “stuck” at that sexy witch’s house.) His journey ends not once he has fought off his wife’s suitors and reclaimed his large mansion as his own. But it ends once he is back in his elderly father’s arms. That is when he has arrived Home.

After college, I moved back to Istanbul, Turkey because it felt the most like home to me of all of the places I had lived. And it was 2008 while America was in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. (An economic depression ironically brought on by problems in the housing market.) So I was happy to claim my “citizen of the world” card and live in a place where the economy was still humming along and there were jobs to be had.

My boyfriend at the time followed me there and proposed to me in a historic Byzantine church – once the home of Eastern Christianity. We got married in LA and with Odysseus in mind, as his wedding gift I gave him a brass compass inscribed with the words, “May you ever, always find your way home.” We decided to return to Istanbul for our first year of marriage because once again, it felt the most like home. And really, we had both decided that we felt like home to each other. I thought that from then on wherever he was would be my Home and I loved how romantic that all was.

After we had been married a year, we felt like maybe it was time to live on more than just love so we moved back to LA to actually pursue careers and build a physical home. I hoped that maybe I would finally have a little bit of the home I had always wanted. I now had my own little family and soon I would have my own house that we would make sure was large enough to have people over all the time and we would have the best dinners and gatherings.

Unfortunately that beautiful dream was short-lived. Though both of our careers flourished, our home plans did not. Just 3 and a half years after our wedding, my husband announced our marriage was over by moving everything he owned out of our little apartment. It still strikes me as more than a little poetic that the way I found out I was getting divorced was by discovering an empty home. It was and is confusing and sad but that is a much longer story for another time.

While I tried to figure out what to do next, I was welcomed into the new home of a dear single friend. She had just bought it the week before I moved in and the roommate she had lined up had backed out at the last minute so there was a place for me. I loved watching her set-up her home those first few months I was living there. It may seem an odd thing to find comforting as my own home was crumbling but it felt very hopeful and forward-looking and I needed hope wherever I could find it in those months.

I eventually got a cute apartment with my longtime best friend. Its selling point was the huge front patio where we could host parties. And we made it home in the extremely feminine way that only a house inhabited by two women can be. There are flowers and pastel colors throughout. There are teacups in the bookshelf and books in the china cabinet and as many potted plants as we can keep alive. It is not the house I always imagined or the way I imagined it but it is home for now in the way the many houses my mom made feel like home when I was growing up also did.

Last year I returned to Istanbul for a visit. It was the first time I had visited since my divorce and before I went, I was a little nervous about what it would feel like. There were parts of it that were hard and parts of it that were beautiful and there were parts of it that still feel like home. But there have also been a lot of changes since I called that city home.

The political and social climate has shifted dramatically in the 5 years since I lived there and much of the country is in an existential crisis searching for a new understanding of their home. Meanwhile, Turkey has become a temporary home for millions of Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have lost their own homes and will probably never get them back. The whole country now feels like they are all looking for an elusive home together. And that felt familiar and well, relatable.

I know it has become a Christian cliche to say and hear, “This world is not our home.” And unfortunately I think too often that phrase is used to dismiss rather than deal with injustice and pain and brokenness. But it is also true. I think in many ways, we are all searching for home. And I am sure I am not the only one who feels like I haven’t found it yet.

If all of those stories I loved taught me anything, it’s that a desire and yearning for home is deep in each of us. Maybe some of us find it in this world and some of us may not but we are all looking for it. And there is something about that that is encouraging.

Super Bowl Sunday

I knew he was sad. I had known for a few months. We had talked about it until he was tired of talking and I was just tired. I tried everything I knew to cheer him up – his favorite food, shows, friends, activities, hobbies. Anything and everything I knew brought him joy I tried to encourage. I stopped nagging about the things I knew annoyed him – vacuuming and dishes and laundry. I could do them if it would help him feel happier again. I tried to just focus on the essentials – health and well-being and connection. But I was getting sad too. You can only carry another’s sadness for so long before it starts to seep into your skin too. We were both working hard – at work and love and health – and we were both tired.

I kept telling myself: Just keep going – a little longer. He finally had normal working hours and weekends. He was about to get a raise. Maybe we could move to a part of town where his commute wouldn’t be so taxing. Spring was coming soon and it would be warmer and the light would stay out longer. And we were already planning our summer getaway to one of our favorite places. Peace and nature and beauty and time for just the two of us was only a few months away. Just keep going. Only a little longer I would tell myself.

That afternoon was a relief. I had been away working for almost two weeks straight and I was spent. I needed a little attention and care myself. Snuggled into his side on the plush sofa for a whole three hours was exactly what the doctor ordered. I asked him to explain each play of the game. By this point I had watched enough football with him to understand the rules but I knew he loved teaching and I knew he loved the game. Mostly college football he would remind me. “There is no excitement in the pros – it’s all just a machine at that level.” Between you and me, I just wanted to listen to his gentle voice for a couple hours. Honestly, I could have listened to his voice forever.

His arm squeezed me tighter when he laughed at a commercial or yelled at a play. I felt like he was pulling into his joy and excitement and it strengthened me and made my heart glad. It was one of the first things I discovered about marriage that I loved – that you can experience someone else’s joy for something that you have no personal feelings about. Marriage had nearly doubled the things I enjoyed and I couldn’t believe it but somehow an occasional sports game had made it onto that list too.

We were not alone. His whole family was there – eating and talking and laughing and yelling at the referees too. But in that corner of the sofa, I felt like I had my whole world right next to me and it was so peaceful. It felt like home in that warm belonging way that only home can feel. Another’s sadness can seep in through your skin but so can their love. I don’t remember the game or who won. I don’t even remember who played. But those several hours of quiet joy and deepest contentment remain one of my fondest memories.

The odd part of this whole story is that that was one of the last Sundays I ever spent with him. About ten days later I would come home to our apartment and find out that he had gone to find his peace and joy and love and home somewhere else. I always hope that he has found it.