Surrender

The ache was all-consuming. It tugged at me, strong and relentless as an undertow, pulling me down, down into its vastly terrifying and limitless ocean. I felt powerless. Breathless. Sucked down… down into the depths of a darkness I’d never known.

My feeble attempts to escape it’s clutches seemed futile – laughable. I’d been caught off-guard, now here I was slipping silently into its unrelenting grip.

I could no more stop myself from feeling every agonizing sensation any more than I could tell the sun to stop shining. Such forces of nature cannot be reasoned with… they just are.

I felt disoriented, out-of-control, and lost… lost as a single grain of sand on the beach. How did I wind up here? How could I have drifted so far from safety? This ocean was cold and relentless. I’d never felt so alone.

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With no rescue in sight, and no answers to quench my confusion, I was on my own. And I railed against those waves. Angry. Tortured by the merciless “what if’s.” Over, and over, and over again, I fought those waves until I was spent. ‘Til I had no fight left. Finally, laid bare, I had only one option left: surrender.

“What? Give up? Give in to the bearer of my own destruction? Never!” How could I? And yet, what good had all my fighting done? I was exhausted. Wasted. Tired. No… more fighting would do me no good. So, I did the only thing I could do.

I began to welcome those waves. The same waves that had brought me into this cold, abandoned place. I named them, and I welcomed them. Each of them. And as I did, almost instantaneously, the terror that had overtaken me before began to subside.

As I continued welcoming those waves, I also began to release every part of my body, piece by piece, to move in sync with their rhythm. I embraced the breathless exhilaration of exposed existence, submitting myself to the wild fury surrounding me. I let the powerful current carry me where it willed.

And then, slowly, like a desert mirage that slides into focus, something inside of me began to shift. It happened as I lay suspended… as I accepted into my soul the brutally honest lessons from a heartless ocean … it happened when I stopped kicking and screaming and instead embraced the chaos. A strange calmness enveloped me. Velvety smooth, and addictively peaceful. Suddenly, it was ok that I wasn’t in control. It was ok that I wasn’t fighting anymore. It was ok that I didn’t have all the answers. In fact, it occurred to me that perhaps having all the answers was an imaginary destination.

No… in my surrender, I became powerful, and stronger than I’d ever imagined. I would survive this, that I knew. I would feel the sun on my face again… I would dig my toes into the sand… and maybe… just maybe… one day, I would look back and realize that all of this chaos and destruction was, in fact, exactly what I needed.

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*I’ve been experimenting with poetry and allegories lately and have found it to be both incredibly cathartic and also terrifyingly vulnerable. But if this spoke to you, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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The Greatest Gift

Ask anyone for a list of what they hope for in life, and I can just about guarantee you that one of their answers won’t be “pain.” Big shocker, right? Well, I can also almost guarantee you that “winning,” in some form or fashion, will usually make it on the list. And while the things we want to win AT are as varied as there are people on the earth, deep down inside, we all want to experience that sweet taste of victory.

 

Unfortunately, throughout our lives, along the way to our dreams, we will inevitably encounter these awful interruptions called pain. And unfortunately, you are almost guaranteed NEVER to win if you don’t first learn how to embrace and unwrap these unplanned gifts of pain.

 

Now, before I go any further, let me just say something – I really didn’t want to write about pain. At all. I wanted to write about something happy and cheerful and bubbly and “shareable” (for instance, why couldn’t I be good at baking?!) And yet, here we are. I’ve been fighting the rising urge, almost like nausea, for weeks now, trying to steer my thoughts and my heart in a different, happier direction. “Anything but this, God…. Please?!” But trying to fight off nausea is basically a losing battle. If your body legitimately needs to get something out of your system, you will reach a point where there’s no longer anything you can you do to stop it. Instead, you eventually cave, and out it comes; no matter how much you might dread the process. And then, afterwards, miraculously, you always seem to feel better, and a little bit lighter.

 

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So, while I’m fully aware that all this talk about pain can feel heavy, and sad, or even depressing, I’m also learning, slowly but surely, not to despise what is inside of me… or anyone else for that matter. As a rule of thumb, whatever isn’t given an appropriate outlet to come out of me will only torment me until it eventually releases itself in some other un-healthy behavior.

 

So, back to our topic: Many of us will find out along the journey of life that pain is actually not our enemy. Quite the contrary! If welcomed as a friend, pain can and will teach us, ever so deeply and painstakingly, life’s most valuable lessons. Pain actually holds the key to us achieving our greatest life victories. Professional or Olympic athletes are, of course, a perfect illustration of people who understand this concept. After all, most of them spend their days engaging in strenuous activities that will most assuredly cause them a certain amount of stress and fatigue (if they’re doing it right). Why do they do it? Are they chasing misery? Are they gluttons for punishment? Shouldn’t they be doing something better with their time? All valid questions. Why would anyone submit themselves to willingly go through intense physical, mental, or emotional strain every single day of their lives?” The answer lies is this: not that they are chasing pain, but that they are chasing a dream. A dream that, I believe, was placed inside of them by their Creator. A dream to WIN! And the only way to WIN is to learn how to overcome pain.

 

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Here are some synonyms I found in the dictionary for the word “winning”: victorious, successful, triumphant, vanquishing, and conquering. Hmm… do those words sound almost…. “Biblical” to you?

 

It seems like in the church, ”winning” and “conquering” has had negative connotations tied to it… especially towards women. Since when did being a conqueror seem to invite so much shame and isolation? Many have tainted the desire inside of us as Sons and Daughters to WIN and to conquer adversity by seeing our desire as something evil, dangerous, selfish, and “ungodly.” But, I’d like to present an alternative…. An alternative that says, “The longing to “win” or to “conquer” was placed inside all of us by our Creator, given to men and women alike. It is born out of a GOOD desire for GOOD things, and can ultimately lead us into alignment with His GOOD plan for our life!”

 

Of course, problems can arise in several different ways if our desire to win becomes warped. One way that a warped desire to win will manifest is when we, out of selfishness and independence, develop tunnel vision, until all we can see is our GOAL. We become so focused on our goal of “winning” that we will do anything and everything to make that goal happen, and to avoid all pain in the process. We then decide that we are in a competition, not with ourselves, but against other PEOPLE. This is where you begin to see things like cheating, backstabbing, lying, abuse, manipulation, slander, and all kinds of damaging behaviors. Are these actions caused by our desire to win? No! They are caused instead by our pride, our independence, and our unwillingness to embrace pain as part of our beautiful journey.

 

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Another way this desire can get warped is when we stifle our desires, trying to convince ourselves that we don’t want anything at all. Personally, I experienced the latter for many years of my life. “Well if I just don’t want anything, then I’ll never be disappointed. Done. Fixed. No more pain.” Sounds logical enough; but unfortunately, this attitude will quickly turn against you. While you may feel protected from some pain in the short term, you are also sacrificing your joy in the process. True joy comes from being honest about the desires in your heart, and choosing to hold onto hope within the mystery of an unknown future.

 

Now let me backtrack for a second and address an earlier point: I did NOT say that pain is a genie who will walk up to you and hand you the keys to life. Nope, not at all. I think what pain does instead is it walks up to you and hands you a choice. A choice wrapped as a gift. And the decision you make when given that gift is what determines the outcome of your life. We all get to choose our response to pain, no matter what circumstances present themselves. Every one of us will encounter unwelcome pain in some form or another throughout our lives – it is guaranteed to us as humans. Pain will come. It’s just a matter of when, and how it will be dressed.

 

Some of us will get more pain handed to us than others. Arguably, you could also say that life has handed them more “gifts” than it has to others. But whenever and however those gifts come, we all get the same choice. Who will we be? How will we respond to it? Will we react out of anger? Fear? Will we blame? Will we lash out? Will we cover it up and pretend it doesn’t exist? Will we treat our pain and the people through whom it comes as the problem? Or…. Will we instead choose to lean into the pain. Is it possible that we can lean into Jesus, and instead, say things like, “This hurts, but I choose not to push it away just yet.  Jesus, I trust you. Jesus, why does it hurt so much? Is this a pain I should accept or reject? What is this pain teaching me about myself and my life? Is this pain the result of an area of my life that needs healing?” Hard questions! But I do know that they are absolutely critical ones. These questions are vital to our ability to thrive and conquer, and to keep us on the road toward “winning.”

 

So, to all of you winners out there, to all of you seekers of truth, to you who long for meaning, peace, and understanding…. This is for you. The world needs you, and it needs you healed. This is my pain, handed to you as life lessons learned, in hopes that you too will turn your pain into beautiful gifts that you can offer back to the world.

 

 

 

*Note: There’s a book called “The Gift of Pain,” by Phillip Yancy and Dr Paul Brand, which I’ve heard about but never read.  If you would like a more in-depth discussion on the significance and importance of pain, I would probably refer you there. This post has no direct connection to that book.

Roots

I was winded and my back was dripping sweat.  The clothes I’d worn to work that day, necklace and all, were already covered in dirt. I’d only been out here what, 15, 20 minutes? Maybe it’d been closer to an hour. I wasn’t keeping track. I should know what time it is. The kids were already starting to whine that they were hot and thirsty and wanted to go home. This was supposed to have been a quick trip.

“Almost got it,” I muttered to myself between grunts.

Why had I thought this was such a good idea? I didn’t know the first thing about gardening.

It had all started off so well. “Come to an informational meeting about your local community garden,” they said. So I went… and learn I did! It was all so wholesome and inspiring. So of course I got bit by the “sign-up-for-your-very-own-organic-garden-plot” bug. What did I have to lose? Besides, something inside of me was urging me forward. I needed a garden… yes, that was it! That would be therapeutic and healing; to get my hands in the dirt and bring forth goodness.

So I gave in to the voice telling me to let go of fear and plunge into a new adventure. I’d just have to learn as I went.

Well, thank the Lord for helping hands! Who knew that preparing a 4 x 24 empty plot of dirt would be so much work!? There are so many things you need to think about before you begin – things like, “What’s the acidity level of your soil?” “Don’t forget to fertilize!” “Make sure you research which crops are seasonal right now.” “Don’t kill the earthworms while you’re tilling!” And, oh yeah, “Do you even know how to use the tiller?”

And because Jesus is kind and compassionate, on the day I set out to break ground, I happened to catch the two very best people for the job already there, who actually freed their schedule to jump in to my mess and help me get it done!

Isn’t that, after all, what we all need sometimes? Someone who will, without hesitation, jump into our mess… who won’t judge us, or be deterred by our inexperience and the long process ahead… who will freely teach us what we need to know as we go? Those are the real heroes of life after all.

Well thanks to their help, within a matter of hours, I boasted a beautifully prepared, earthworm-laden little garden, ready to give life! I told anyone who would listen about my new venture, and it wasn’t long before the plants began rolling in… eggplant, cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, watermelon, butternut squash… how were they all going to fit?! I spaced them as best I could, and let the earth do it’s job.

For the first few months, I couldn’t get out there often enough! I’d rumble down the street several times a week, hauling the kids in their big red wagon and we’d check out all the new growth. I was watering and weeding like a pro, and it was paying off! My little garden was bursting with life and flourishing like I’d never imagined. This was easy!

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That is until the heat of summer came, and suddenly, those “little trips” down the street turned into giant ordeals, after which we all needed a bath and a long, cold drink. Life got busy, and the trips slowly died down until, until one day they stopped altogether.

Well, apparently gardens don’t get along very well if you neglect them for too long. As shown below, this was the final result of my embarressingly too-long summer neglect.

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After a long hot summer, everything was overrun and over-grown. September came and went, and I finally braced myself to face the mess. It was time to pull everything out and start over from scratch.

So, I started purging. But in the process, I started realizing that I had a problem …. with briars. I had noticed them at the beginning of the summer, but most of them had just gotten chopped back and forgotten about. But now, here they were, waiting for me again. Apparently I had inherited a garden boasting a significant population of these prickly little pests.

If you’ve ever dealt with briars, you’ll understand. They are spindly, thorny little vines, and they will grow back, no matter how many times you cut them back… unless…. you dig up the root.

These roots live deep down below the surface – often more than a foot deep, and boy, are they stubborn! IF you manage to trace the vine down to its source, you’ll find a fat, ugly, bulbous root, packed so tightly into the earth around it that extracting it is, well, what I imagine removing a brain tumor would be like – tedious and exhausting. (But so satisfying!)

Somehow, I started becoming obsessed with digging up these ugly roots. I’m not really sure how all these briars found their way to my particular garden plot, but what I quickly became sure of was this – I wanted them gone!

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And that’s exactly what I found myself doing, in my work clothes, hot and tired, and losing track of time.

“Who had this garden before me anyway?” I muttered. Didn’t they know what a mess they had left for me to clear out? What was their problem anyway? I directed my questions to the Lord. “Why are all these roots even here? How did they end up in MY garden? And why do I care about digging them up? No one else did. I could just cut them back. Then I could start planting sooner. I could do what everyone else is doing. Why am I so obsessed with these ROOTS?”

I quickly heard a sweet, gentle whisper in my spirit, “Because you’re good at this, Bethany. You’re good at getting these roots out.”  Something inside of me instinctively knew that He wasn’t just talking about briars – He was talking about so much more than just this little piece of dirt.

“I know it’s hard work, and I know its frustrating. I know you wish someone else had dug them out first. But the truth is, they didn’t have the tools required to get these roots out. It wasn’t their job. It’s yours. I’m not punishing you… I know it feels that way sometimes. But it’s actually my gift to you. A special, and rare gift that people need, even if they don’t know it. It’s a gift you will pass down to your children, and to their children. This ability to see and dig up ugly roots is part of your inheritance from me.” 

The tears started flowing. I knew He was speaking to me about my life. My family. The generational curses passed down, whose symptoms I was currently battling. My frustration. My longing. My disappointment. The fighter spirit inside of me that wouldn’t let go. All of it. Exemplified so clearly through these ugly little roots.

I didn’t get to dig up all the roots that day. There’s still lots of work to be done in my little garden. And maybe there always will be. But today? Today I know something I didn’t know before. I know that the work I’m doing matters. It matters for me. It matters for my children, and for their children. It matters for the ones who came before me, who couldn’t do it. It might be dirty, and messy, and frustrating, and may often go unnoticed. But it matters.

Today, it matters that I know who I am, that I know what I’m working towards, and that I know I’m loved unconditionally. And today? That’s enough.

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