Just Bethany

Reinventing myself

If I Don’t Say It . . .

If I don’t say it, it’s not true. If I don’t say it, it didn’t happen. If I don’t say it, I can sweep it under the carpet. Right? As much as my reticent Scottish ancestry would like to believe that, it’s not accurate. Feelings can only be suppressed for so long; events happen whether or not I verbalize them. 

This past two years (more like seven), so many things have happened that I don’t want to acknowledge. But I’ve learned that acknowledgment and acceptance don’t necessarily equal approval.

By accepting that certain things ARE, I free my heart to figure out how to live with their realities without losing my mind.

But how on earth do you accept losing your second chance at love, your health, your finances, your job, your church, and your dreams for your family? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer! Then . . .

You get up, dress up, and show up! You put one foot in front of the other. You cry. And you cry some more. 

Then you dry your tears and do the next thing. But the thing about crying is not allowing yourself to wallow indefinitely. So many bitter people wallow forever and never get through. They are stuck in the Fire Swamp of despair—like the quicksand in Princess Bride, but without hero Westly. 

Whatever you do, don’t keep it all bottled inside! From experience, I can tell you that doesn’t work. Forty-eight years is a long time to keep a stiff upper lip. When you keep it bottled up, it bubbles over—”out of the abundance of the heart, [her] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). And that’s just not a pretty sound.

Feelings have to be traveled through. There is no around. Going through does not mean getting stuck in them, though. It means processing those feelings, so you can heal. Healing comes from going through, not from stuffing. 

David struggled with this very issue when he was being pursued relentlessly by his enemies. He was honest with the Lord about his emotions, but he didn’t stay there. Many of the psalms document David’s struggle with accepting the hard stuff of life. One of my favorites is Psalm 79. David begins by telling God what others have done against him. Then he lets the Lord know what he’s feeling. “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?” (v. 5). He is honest with God about his feelings; he doesn’t keep them bottled up inside. Rather, he gives them over to the Creator of feelings who knows best how to soothe them. He next asks for help: 

“Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name’s sake! (v. 9).

But the real sermon in this psalm is the last verse. David gives thanks to the Lord WHILE he’s in the middle of his mess. That’s what we need to do, too.

For me, writing is often the way through hard stuff and its accompanying emotions. What’s your way through the quagmire of messy life?

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Take It to the Cross

How many times do we hear—or say—that phrase and not know how to take our burdens to the cross and leave them there?

“Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge

I connected immediately with this sculpture, “Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge, the first time I saw its image. Others have called it “The Weight of Grief,” and that’s what I see. Grief, bitterness, struggles, loneliness, loss, all these things weigh us down. It’s not just all in the mind or in the heart; hard things take their toll physically too. 

All this weight that we carry can make daily living difficult. Imagine carrying a 30-pound backpack on your back all day, every day. Sounds exhausting, right? Well, that’s what we do when we don’t let Christ carry our spiritual and emotional burdens for us. 

I’ve tried to envision how free I would feel to be rid of all the weights I carry. I can picture Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress stumbling toward the cross. As he nears it and lifts his eyes to see the symbol of his Savior’s love, the weights fall right off his back. Can you imagine the freedom and lightness he felt? Can you imagine the freedom and lightness you and I would feel if we could only lay down our rock loads at the foot of the cross.

We can!! In order to help those of us (me) without an imagination, I’ve thought of doing this physically, but I haven’t yet. Gather up a bunch of rocks, use a sharpie to write a burden on each one—whatever’s weighing down me heart and mind and causing me to be bent over with grief. Take those rocks, those burdens to the cross and set them down on the ground beside it. I imagine Jesus bending over and picking up those rocks and in exchange giving me His yoke of peace, love, and grace. How much lighter I would feel! Those aren’t burdens at all; they’re blessings!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Once we’ve laid our burdens down at the foot of the cross, we can’t pick them up again. Not that I would want to, but we are creatures of habit. 

Recently when I was struggling with a particular issue with one of my children, I was keeping it all inside and not telling anyone about it—even my closest friends. I was so crushed by this burden—just like the person depicted in the “Rising Cairn” sculpture—that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was filled with anxiety and grief. My dad finally encouraged me to let it go, to let others help me carry that burden to the Lord. It was hard to share what I felt like was my failing as a mother, but I did. It took several months of prayers, tears, and sharing with friends who carried me to Jesus, but I have let it go (mostly). When I dwell on this issue, I still cry. I pray constantly for this problem. But I don’t carry the burden of it around with me, and in that, I am free. 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

John 8:32 ESV

I have other burdens that I’m working on releasing, but sometimes I feel like the rocks are superglued to my hand! Why do I hold onto my burdens instead of loosing the backpack straps and letting the whole bag fall to the ground at the cross as Christian did? I don’t know! But I’m working on it, and I’m inviting Jesus to help me release these burdens. 

What rocks are superglued to your hands? What burdens are in your backpack weighing you down? Take them to the cross and leave them there, friend! If you need someone to pray with you about your cares, let me know.

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Me Too . . . Again

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When I logged back into my lonely blog, I discovered this half-written post. I don’t remember starting it, but it’s still applicable, so I cleaned it up and posted it.

My biggest fear when it comes to sharing my story is that I’ll be judged, condemned, and rejected. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I share parts of my story? I’ll find out that maybe some people weren’t true friends. Or maybe I’ll find out that some people are gossips. Those discoveries hurt. A lot. I’ve had those things happen, and I survived.

But I’ve also discovered that others have gone and are going through the same things that I am. That makes the process a little less lonely. And when I’m able to focus on helping someone else, my current problems seem to diminish just a bit. I feel like maybe that’s where God’s calling me to go with this blog–helping others who are going through separation and divorce, abuse, job loss, financial loss, home loss, car loss, health loss, reputation loss, friend loss, caring for aging parents, suicidal kids, watching adult children walk away from everything you’ve taught them, being condemned at church, starting over . . . again.

So, how do I get brave enough to give a voice and a face to the story that God’s weaving in my life? First, I waited. The beginning isn’t the time to share. I didn’t even know what was going on myself. I journaled, read, and received counsel from a variety of wise sources in the midst of my storms.

Then I looked for people who have been through what I went through. Somehow, hearing stories with which I could identify made me braver about sharing parts of my story.

Jo Ann’s book, When a Woman Finds Her Voice, was a tremendous help at the beginning, and it helped me to find my voice even while others were suppressing it.

Does this mean I have to share all the gory details (and there are a lot!) of every part of my story? I don’t think so. As always when writing, I need to analyze my audience and purpose, then filter through my story through a more objective lens.

Care to rejoin me? Let’s walk together through this journey called life (shoutout to Prince; yes, I’m totally an 80s girl!).

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Identity Crisis

Us-passportWith my recent divorce, I decided to revert my last name to my maiden name. My married name has all kinds of negative connotations, and I don’t want to be associated with that name or that person anymore. As my girls are in their late teens, they’re old enough to realize that I need my own identity and that they’ll soon be changing their own last names.

Names identify people with other people. Names identify people with certain groups, ethnicity, regions, religions, and jobs.

What I didn’t realize when I decided to change my name is what a humongous hassle the whole process would be! So many, many places needed to have it changed. And, of course, half of them couldn’t just get it right the first time–like the DMV and my bank. Oy! Then there’s the whole email address change. I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet has my old email address. And persists in using it. Furthermore, it’s associated with all of my online bills and every single site I ever signed into in the entire World Wide Web. If one more person asks whether I just got married, I will scream! This whole process was so much simpler (and happier) 22 years ago when I did it the first time.

Throughout this whole process, I feel like I’m having an identity crisis, and I don’t just mean having trouble remembering how to sign my name. I’m not married, so I don’t want my former last name. Even though my father is an honorable man, and I am proud to carry his last name, I am not under his protection anymore as I was when I was growing up. With whose name do I want to be associated? To whom do really I belong?

I belong to God, first and foremost.

The Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are MINE” (Isaiah 43:1).

As long as my heavenly father knows my name, it doesn’t really matter what my earthly name is. That’s comforting.

 

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The Scarlet Letter

S I’m branded forever now with that letter; you know, the one that screams at people from across the room. Yes, I’ve got that huge S on my chest. You know, S for Speeder. Everyone asks me about it all the time.

“I just heard the news! I can’t believe you’re a Speeder!”
“When we were in college, I voted you least likely to be a Speeder.”
“What happened? I must know all the details! Where were you? Just how fast were you going? How much was the ticket?”
“That place is a speed trap! Better drivers know how to avoid getting caught there.”
“How could you? You grew up hearing the rules every time you were in the car!”
“Didn’t you read the manual on how to avoid being a speeder?”
“Is this the first time?”
And my favorite: “You need to tell me all about it so I can pray for you that you won’t get another speeding ticket.”

They’re right. I did read the driver’s manual, and I did know how to avoid getting a speeding ticket. I knew where the speed traps were. I remember hearing during my childhood how terrible speeding is; those lectures increased in intensity and frequency when I first got my license. I thought that if I bought my car at the conservative sales lot that it wouldn’t be marked for speeding. How wrong I was.

For years, no one noticed that I was a Speeder. Then I got my first warning. From then on I was labeled. Every time a police car was behind me, I just knew the officer was pulling my record. One day I saw a police car at the speed trap. But on my second pass down that road, I forgot. I was just careless, and I got busted. Worse yet, I had to pay a huge fine! Sure, people told me I could fight it and get a lawyer, but I knew I was guilty. I paid the fine. And then I had a record. Oh, the shame! I thought people would never stop talking about it!

Sure, talk died down some, but people still noticed my scarlet S. The next time I got pulled over, I wanted to sink through the floorboards of my car. After all, I had a different car, one that definitely wasn’t supposed to go over the speed limit. Apparently my new car also has the S on it.

To make matters worse, as I pulled away, my phone dinged with a text from my daughter’s friend. She had seen me pulled over. Now my children will find out! I’ll never live this down! I wanted to keep my kids out of the whole speeding mess because I had lectured them numerous times about the pitfalls of speeding, and kids do tend to do as you do, not asD you say. I can’t give that first speeding ticket back. It will always just be there. I will always be a Speeder.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not really talking about speeding. Oh sure, I am a Speeder, but the letter that really stands out is the D. Yes, D for Divorce. The church’s unpardonable, most obvious, most gossiped about sin. Recognize any of those comments above in a different context?

Kudos to your high school English teacher if you get the references to The Scarlet Letter. If you didn’t, go check out a synopsis here.

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The Next Half

halfI spent the first 22 years of my life waiting to get married. I spent the next 22 years of my life wishing I wasn’t. (Go ahead and figure out my age; it’s easy.) Half of my life was spent preparing to be a good, Christian wife. Half of my life was spent reeling from the shock of the emotional abuse, being cheated on, and manipulation of being that wife.

As of this coming Tuesday, I’ll be beginning the next half of my life. Don’t confuse me by saying that’s too many halves. Looked at from a different angle, one could say I’m at the midpoint of my life now if I were to have an average lifespan of 88 years. So, I’ve spent my entire life so far wishing for and being something that wasn’t what I expected and is now over. That doesn’t bode well for the next, unknown half of my life.

The past two and a half years have been focused on survival, not on preparing myself for this next phase in my life. While I’m thrilled to be out from under oppression, I almost don’t know how to handle it! For the first half of my life, my parents made decisions for me, and then guided me in making my own decisions. For the next half of my life, I was informed of decisions – when he remembered to tell me. How do I make my own decisions now without panicking?

Here’s my answer:

“And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Sure enough, I am not adequate or sufficient. But God is. Pray for me, though, as I continue to make this transition into the next half of my life.

 

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A More Settled 2015

Ahope and grace pics my thoughts wandered over the pages of my very first journal entry for the year, they jumped from idea to idea. I’ve address hopped, church hopped, and job hopped. So many changes have taken place in all areas of my life this year that I’m not even sure where to start.

I’ve moved and unpacked, yet still feel like I’m in someone’s (very ugly, very small) guesthouse. But I chose the address; I signed the papers myself. I’ve replaced stuff that said “we” with stuff that says “me.” I’ve made it a haven for me and for my girls. However, it’s hard not to at least occasionally long for the dream home where we made family memories for 10 years. It’s time, though, to settle into my new home, even if it’s not my dream house.

About 2 years ago, I realized it was time to find a new church home for many reasons, but mostly because it just wasn’t not big enough for me and the ex. I spent a bunch of months either tiptoeing into back rows at 5 after or crying in my bed. Finally, a friend literally dragged me to her church, and it was good. It was a place of healing and encouragement, but it was not a place I ever felt completely settled. I needed more exegetical preaching and more emphasis on reformed theology. I think I’ve found those elements, and I’m starting to settle in. But my reserved nature (For real, I’m reserved in person!) has made it hard to feel completely at ease. It’s time to settle into a new church and to trust people again.

Contrary to popular opinion, full-time jobs teaching college-level English are nearly non-existent, at least here in North Carolina. As a result, I’ve spent the past few years applying for adjunct positions over and over and over again. Some are online and some are face to face. The problem with being an adjunct is that there’s no guarantee of classes from one term (5-16 weeks) to the next; there is zero stability. Stability = steady pay check. This providing for myself financially thing is scary! I’ve applied to a few PhD programs, and I’m hoping for a full fellowship, including a light teaching load. I guess I’m pinning my hopes for stability in my professional life on that, but I won’t know for several months yet.

All of this hopping has me longing for stability. I know my true source of stability comes from God. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Ps. 46:1). The real problem, for me anyway, is the waiting.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:13-14).

My challenge for 2015: settle my hopes on the Lord in order to gain true stability. What’s your challenge for the new year?

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Jehovah Jireh

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100Tonight during our church’s women’s Bible study, my friend Karen shared about the meaning of joy using four specific examples from Scripture. Although we don’t know each other well, I felt that each and every example–including the definition–were meant for me specifically at this point in my life. That’s a God thing, y’all!

Karen’s definition: “Joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives and that he will be there no matter what.”

The first thing I noticed was that joy does not equal happiness. The second thing I noticed is that joy is not dependent on our circumstances. The third thing I noticed is that God will be here for me no matter what and no matter who else is not in my life.

Because the examples that Karen shared seemed to parallel my current life so precisely, I want to share them briefly here.

1. Ruth. She left her family behind, as did I. She had no husband to provide for or protect her. Neither do I; I actually need protection from my ex. God orchestrated ahead of time for Boaz to advocate for her. God has used many unexpected people to help me over the past year and a half. The Hebrew word for provide is jireh. Just as God was Ruth’s Jehovah Jireh, so he is mine as well. The cool thing about that particular phrase–Jehovah Jireh–is that I already have it written on the memo board by my desk.

2. The widow and her cruse of oil. Elisha instructed the widow to use what she already had–oil–in a way that she could pay off her debts and still have enough money left over to live on. I also have talents and educational degrees that the Lord can, and I believe will, use for me to find a full-time job that will provide for my needs and for the needs of my children. Not only did three out of the five classes I was supposed to teach this semester fall through, but I have also not been receiving alimony for the past two months. Jehovah Jireh provided for the widow using the oil that she already had; I believe he will also provide for me financially.

3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Lord not only protected these godly men from being burned to a crisp, but he was also right there with them in the midst of the flames! If (since) the Lord can be present in a furnace, I believe he can be with me in the midst of a courtroom. I believe God can protect me from the flames of the enemy, no matter what form those flames take. It is ONLY through God’s strength that delivery comes! The Israelite men didn’t have fireproof suits. My ex-husband-induced panic attacks can only be overcome through the Lord’s strength.

4. Peter. He was thrown into prison, and the key was thrown away. He had no earthly hope of escaping, but that didn’t stop a group of Christians from praying fervently on his behalf. Imagine their surprise when, while they were praying, Peter knocked on the door–free!

Lord, I want to have this kind of belief and this kind of prayer life!!

My current life situation looks fairly hopeless, a lot like these four biblical examples began. Thank you, Karen, for sharing the hope and encouragement that I can have real JOY right now. It’s not about me. It’s about God and what he can do!

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Why Not? The Better Question

dad's bookEver asked God why bad things happen? To you? To your loved ones? To a whole country? Me too. All the time. But sometimes I wonder if the better question would be, “Why not me?” 

God never promises us that we’ll be exempt from life’s hardships. In fact, he pretty much says the opposite. Many reasons exist, but let’s go with this for now:

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. . . . Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:11-12, 16

In our suffering, part of what God wants is for us to learn lessons about trusting him and living through pain. He also intends for us to use those lessons to help others who follow along behind us. What good is learning lessons about godliness if we keep them to ourselves?

In a country where more than half of marriages end in divorce, why should my family be exempt? I thought I did everything right, but maybe that’s not what I should be asking myself. The only thing that God has promised to me through this is that he will somehow, sometime, someway work this mess out to be a message for his glory and for my good.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom. 8:18

Maybe instead of asking, “Why me?” we should instead be asking ourselves, “Why not me? How can God’s light shine through me during this time?” 

What do you think?

If you want to read more in depth about the whys of suffering and ugliness in our world, I highly recommend the book The Beauty of God for a Broken World: Reflections on the Goodness of the Bod of the Bible by Dr. John K. LaShell.

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Redecorating

Sometimes, reinventing means doing some redecorating because visuals are reminders. With some Christmas and birthday money, one of the first things I did was to buy a new comforter and make new curtains for my room. I wanted to make it feel like my retreat, not a place to reminisce.

While I loved the lighter, brighter colors, they made my ancient dresser look downright dowdy. My dad painted that dresser for me when we got our first apartment, complete with country stencils. Before that, it graced my parents’ room for as long as I could remember. Twenty years is a long time between paintings, and my dresser showed the wear and tear of four moves, two kids, and lots of makeup and dust. So, I bought the forbidden spray paint (hey, no one was around to tell me that I couldn’t do it myself) and went to town.

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And then I put the same old stuff on top of my dresser. In the same pattern.

Isn’t that what we do with our lives sometimes, too? We think we’ve done some sprucing up, like a new haircut or a new outfit, but when we open our mouths, out comes the same, old yuck. Instead, we ought to “be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds, that [we] may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). I’m working on changing my mindset through Bible studies and relying on God to help me settle into the new normal and a better reinvention of my heart–a bit of redecoration of my soul, as it were.

As far as my dresser top goes, I bought a piece of shiny, smooth Plexiglas to protect the new paint job. (Side note: Plexiglas is not the same as glass. Don’t put your hot flat iron on it.) Then I swapped out my jewelry box and put my international decorative boxes on display. Voila! A new and improved look to the same room, and it didn’t even cost too much.

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What about you? Do you need to do some redecorating?

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