Learning to Fly

As a young teen, I once took a ground-school flying course. If you don’t know, that’s basically an intensive round of classes where you’re taught everything you need to know about flying an airplane without ever actually flying an airplane.

I got roped into it when my mom enrolled, and since my step-dad is a pilot and both my parents are certified information junkies, they decided it was a great use of our whole family’s time too.

And I’ll be honest – it was intense!

There was a LOT to learn about concepts I was only vaguely familiar with – airspace, altitudes, and strict rules about how to fly safely (and legally) within the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) guidelines.

I hadn’t actually planned on getting my pilot’s license anytime soon (I wasn’t even old enough yet), but because I come from a long and proud line of private pilots, it didn’t seem as weird back then as it seems now for a barely-14-year-old to memorize altitude-zones for when flying her hypothetical airplane one day.

But we all pushed through and “graduated,” and in the end, my mom even took real flying lessons and solo’d a plane for the first time! I’ll never forget the date as long as I live because it was the evening of September 10th, 2001. And if you’ve been alive long enough you’ll know that the next morning was September 11th – the day that changed the world, and aviation, forever.

In the aftermath and the in-between of shock and grief, there did surface some token jokes and sideways comments to my mom about her impeccable timing and impactful entrance into the world of flying. (leave it to family to never let you live down weird timing like that!)

But I’ve been thinking back on that story lately. I keep thinking about the funny lessons life offers us – the opportunities we’re handed to choose risk vs. safety, and the confusion of timing that leaves us with more questions than answers – scenarios we constantly encounter throughout our lives, both physically and metaphorically.

I can think back on several other instances in my life when I once again learned aaaaall about something really interesting – spent countless hours, energy, money, and brain space on it. And then?

Nothing.

Nada.

I didn’t do anything with it.

I didn’t take the risk to test it out and trust the process – to go do the dang thing I’d just learned about.

I took the class but I didn’t actually learn to fly.

Head knowledge can be pretty deceiving – I see and experience this all the time. Every day, people around the world have access to more knowledge and information than they did the day before. Sometimes it seems like the universe of collective global knowledge & content is expanding at the rate of the actual universe. Whether it’s skateboarding, gardening, painting, baking, or swimming, you can read blogs, watch TikTok videos, and read tip after tip on how someone else has done it and is going to show YOU how to do it; but when it comes down to it, you have to actually do that thing, not just read about it / watch it. Some of us decide we’re qualified to teach something we’ve watched a LOT of videos on but never actually done.

But if there’s anything I know now that I didn’t know in my 20’s, it’s that most of us will only actually be good at a pretty limited number of things (unless you’re Leonardo DaVinci, in which case you have permission to be good-at or dabble-in literally everything).

But really, there’s so much more to life, knowledge, the world, and our-place-in-it than you or I will ever know. NO-ONE has all the answers, and honestly, there are some problems around us that just don’t have straight solutions or answers at all. We simply cannot and will not know all the things we’d like to know in our lifetime.

Now before you turn and walk away from this wonderfully depressing speech, this is the part where we find some really beautiful truths to explore – here at the end of our human capacity.

My view coming in to land at PDX, March 2022

I still believe that our God of the universe is, was, and always will be the only endless source of true knowledge and wisdom there ever will be – so please don’t replace him with the Internet. But also, You yourself are capable of learning a WHOLE LOT of really cool things! All of your accumulated knowledge and life experience up to now – the good, the bad, the uncomfortable, the weird all of it has made you who you are, and any of it can be used for good when shared with a purpose. In fact, we need to hear from you – from each other. We need to hear wisdom gleaned from the life experience that each of us can uniquely offer the world.

So if you have an itch to go do that “thing” you can’t stop thinking about or researching, maybe it’s time to “get in the plane,” grab a trusted advisor, and use the knowledge you’ve gained thus far to take.off.

Because it’s in the doing that we gain experience and understanding, and it’s through the failures, recoveries, and questions-answered that we become qualified to teach it to others.

If all of this sounds scary, it’s because it is! Trying out new skills always involves risk, and you might even need more than one experienced person in the passenger seat who can offer advice and reminders, and answer your frantic questions in the moment.

You’ll most likely feel incredibly nervous when taking off for the first time, but I also hear that’s pretty normal. (although I still haven’t solo’d an actual plane yet.)

My adorable son Jesse, age 4, practicing being a pilot

It’s more than OK to be nervous when doing a new thing, but just decide on the front end that you’re not going to back-out in the critical moment; instead, give yourself permission (on the front end) to ask for more help in those moments. Because once you take off, really your only option is forward – you have no choice but to figure out how to land. And chances are, if you’re paying attention and listening to good, solid advice, you will.

Eventually, we all come face-to-face with big decisions around what to do with our hard-earned-knowledge, wisdom and life experience, and we’re going to keep on bumping into those decisions over and over throughout our lives. But the good news is, when we’re learning to fly, the more often we choose to take-off, the more confident and skilled we become. It’s no longer the scary unknown we dive into, but an exciting adventure. And it’s through our active trust in the process of doing that we build the containers of our deepest joy.

If you want more from an area of your life – more joy, more fulfillment, more excitement, etc – you might have to do things a little differently than how you’ve done them. You might need to decide that you don’t just want to learn about flying, but that you are actually going to learn how to fly.

So test out what you’ve learned so far, lean a little deeper into the mystery, take another breath and another step forward, and surrender a little more trust to the process. You might just find that the view from above the clouds is way better and more exhilarating than any amount of ground-school could have prepared you for.

Me, riding my step-dad’s “motorcycle-in-the-sky” – 2016

Cheslie

A Tribute.

*⚠️*  Warning: This post mentions a suicide and could be triggering for some. 

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I learned this week about an accomplished woman I’ve never met or even heard of before now, but her story touched me and has been haunting me for days. Her name was Chelsie. 

She died this past Sunday morning.
By choice.
Jumped from the top of her sky-rise apartment building in Manhattan.

She was 30 years old. 

It’s heartbreakingly tragic, but there’s a whole lot more to her story than meets the eye (and even more that I’m sure no one will ever know). And more often than not, it’s the quiet, unseen parts of our stories that become the really, really important parts.

Cheslie Kryst was educated, kind, intelligent, warm, accomplished, and beautiful. In 2019, she won the coveted title of “Miss USA” after several consecutive years of competing for it. She even set a new record that year by being the oldest person EVER to receive the crown – at the “ripe old age” of 28.

Chelsie clocked-in physically at a relatable 5’6” tall, with a lovely, strong, toned body wrapped in chocolatey-hued skin. She also sported a cascading mass of the most luscious and impressive natural curls I’ve ever seen.

She did all of the things you’re supposed to do before you turn 30. She graduated from a prestigious university. She carefully designed and built her resumé. She worked hard. She fought for the marginalized. And she overcame racial and age-ist barriers. 

Cheslie Kryst Long Curly   Black    Hairstyle with Side Swept Bangs  - Side View
Images © MediaPunch / TheHairStyler.com

She was crowned. 

Praised. 

Celebrated. 

But she was also bullied by online trolls for her “lack of perfect beauty,” she was often lonely, and privately unfulfilled by her glittering performances in the spotlight.

(BTW: Please please please don’t fall for the lie that says because a woman looks beautiful she must get everything she wants in life, including being complimented 24/7. She doesn’t.)

May we never forget that we are ALL human. We’re all just walking, talking miracles made of flesh and bone, hope and joy, fear and insecurities. No matter who we are or what titles we hold, news and social media outlets are only ever a highlight reel. It’s NEVER the whole story.

It’s also incredibly important to note that not everyone who looks beautiful on the outside is convinced of their own beauty and worth on the inside. 

And it’s important to realize that not everyone who wears a crown feels like a Queen. 

And not everyone who has glamour shots taken of themselves likes what they see. 

And not everyone who advocates for others knows how to advocate for themselves. 

And not everyone who gets celebrated in a spotlight also gets celebrated in a living room, surrounded by people who know them, love them, laugh with them and cry with them. But after 30-some-odd-years of living and breathing, I’m more and more convinced that THIS is the kind of celebration we actually crave.

Our culture seems to have swallowed a fantasy that celebrity-status is the ultimate goal. We imagine it filling our cup of acceptance and belonging. We believe that the images of people we see in the spotlight are the realest and truest versions of themselves. But it isn’t, and they aren’t. Spotlights wash out the details, and too often a stage becomes a hollow substitute for the joy of actually being known, instead of just being an added bonus to it.

“Spotlights wash out the details, and too often a stage becomes a hollow substitute for the joy of actually being known, instead of being an added bonus.”

In fact, research shows that people who ONLY get celebrated in a spotlight tend to believe that they only deserve to be celebrated in a spotlight or when they look perfect. Or when they make money. Or when they win titles. Or when they dress for success.

But the truth is, it’s the days we feel FAR from perfect that we MOST need to be celebrated and reminded of our worth. On the days when life feels too hard. When we’re messy. When we make mistakes. When we’re heartbroken. When we have to ask for forgiveness. When we lose our way and long to find it again.

I’m reminded of this truth everywhere I turn right now. In this crazy, unstable culture, we all need people in our life who know us. Who can hear our hearts when we speak, who remind us who we are when we forget, and who speak to the person we CAN be. We ALL need people who can celebrate not just our big wins but also the little daily victories. Who remember where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and where we’re headed. Even if the only people you can find right now is you and God, that’s enough! More will come with time.

There’s a story I love in the bible (Luke 15) about the son of a wealthy man who runs away from home and, after some bad decision-making, loses literally everything he owned. BUT the moment he comes back – dirty, weary, and homeless – he finds outstretched arms that had been waiting expectantly for him all along. Then there’s a huge celebration thrown in his honor! Not because he was wise or successful or smart, or really any reason at all except that his Father was GOOD and loved him, and his identity as “beloved son” had never disappeared, even when he took it for granted. He took a risk in coming back, and within that space of vulnerability he discovered the gifts of unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness that changed his life trajectory. 

“…his Father was GOOD and loved him, and his identity as “beloved son” had never disappeared, even when he took it for granted.”

We.don’t.have.to.earn.true.love. It’s waiting expectantly for us. It’s so very earnestly available. But we have to open our hearts, walk towards it, and lean in. Like, ALL the way in. 

And when someone reveals their pain, we’ve got to learn how to STAY and listen. To believe them. To hold safe space for their fears and sadness to be expressed – and often, it’s the same kind of fear that exists in us too. I can’t hold the weight of the world, but I CAN share the burden of a person I love and offer them the gift of feeling seen, known, and loved. Sharing our burdens and heartache with each other is JUST as important as sharing our joys – we need to regularly do BOTH to be known. 
(Brené Brown is the absolute expert resource on this topic if you want to dig deeper.)

I know I’ve just shared a really sad story, but if you’ve stuck it out this far, please hear my heart. I am so passionate that the world needs a LOT more kind, curious and humble people – especially so stories like THIS one don’t keep happening. You never know who might have given up on hope, but if you’re lucky enough to be nearby, you could be someone who reminds them where to find it again. And if YOU’RE the person who has given up on hope? Look around for the kind people – I promise you, they’re hiding in plain sight.

I wish Chelsie could have felt more deeply seen, known and loved in her 30 years. I wish she’d found more friends with a listening ear and a genuine hug, sharing hope with her on the dark days and nights.

This doesn’t happen to me very often, but I sat down at the piano after reading her story and needed to put my feelings into sounds. So I did. And I’m leaving the result here as a simple, raw tribute.

I’ll end here by telling you what I’m learning to tell myself and what I wish I could have told Chelsie –

Lovely human,
Find your people, share bravely with each other, and believe more of the good stuff than the bad.
Because you are enough. You are wanted. You are needed. You can share your pain with others.
And you.are.loved.

Chelsie’s Song / “If I Fall”

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*If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help or call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at : (800) 273-8255

The Juneteenth of Free

If you know me this won’t come as a shock, but in case you don’t know me, I have a confession to make: 

I don’t have black skin. 

I don’t have brown skin. 

Heck, even if I’m lucky, the closest I’ll get is having a nutty glow for a few weeks at the end of summer. (*sigh*) But even that takes effort. And it’s beside the point. 

The point is, I want to shout out from the rooftops today how much I love and celebrate my black and brown-skinned brothers and sisters and fellow Americans! I’m so thankful for these precious ones and the (albeit slow) forward progress of a country who managed to release its own enslaved people. Thank you, June 19th (“Juneteenth”) 1865 for being the last known day of socially accepted physical slavery in the United States. It was a good step – but there’s still so, so much work to be done to move us onward and upward. 

I especially want to acknowledge today the beauty, strength, dignity, and perseverance I see in an entire race of people who have faced the fires of hardship and suppression, yet who continue to become stronger and wiser for it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you – for persevering and for being you. Also from the bottom of my heart, please forgive me for when I, or others, have been unkind or unfair based on outward appearance. For my part, it was never intentional. 

I do NOT pretend to know what it’s like to walk around the world inside black or brown skin. Especially within the borders of a self-absorbed society subconsciously relying on ancient hierarchies and mantras meant to monitor and control the image of their own success, power and worthiness. I grieve for the many years and layers of pain, aggression and trauma caused by unbridled racism.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the nuances or even the larger scale of racism on humanity and our culture at large; I can’t speak to police brutality, other than to say that it’s absolutely gut-wrenching and wrong in every way, and I don’t think I can provide solutions to all these complex racial injustices we find ourselves face to face with.

BUT – I CAN tell you what it’s like to walk around the world as a human being. And as a woman. A petite, white-skinned, brunette woman who, unless she’s charming, or flashes some skin in just the right places, feels like she might possibly fade into the background of every social hierarchy there is unless she pushes back with all her might. 

So here are some things I DO know and understand: 

Being a human is hard.

Being a woman is hard.

Being a black or brown-skinned human is even harder.

And we ALL want to be free. And equal. 

ALL of us. 

FREE. 

And EQUAL. 

So, here’s the question I’m left asking: what does “free” even mean? I thought I lived in a free country. Wasn’t it founded on the principles of freedom 3 hundred (plus a few) years ago? Just how long does it take for a culture to understand freedom? Did something go terribly wrong? Will we ever understand and experience what this longed-for freedom truly looks like on a large scale? 

Maybe. Maybe not. In fact, PROBABLY not. And yet, we will still long for it. We will still talk about it. We will still push for a better world. We will still speak up. We will still protest the injustices. We will rail and push back against the powers that be and force them to face the reality of just how jaded and corrupt they have become. 

Will it work? Maybe.  

Will it help? I think it will …. eventually. 

Will protesting change the course of history? Darlin’ it already has! 

But what will you do if your country doesn’t change? What will do you if those law don’t get passed? Or the justice doesn’t get served? Will you stop trying? Will you give up? Will you only see yourself and the world through others’ eyes? God, I hope not. 

See I think we get it backwards. I think the freedom we long for is found INSIDE first. Not outside. The kind of freedom that tells us we’re here for a reason. Or many reasons. The kind of freedom that tells you you don’t need to force anyone else to validate your existence. The kind of freedom that reminds you, when someone speaks harshly, that they’re probably having a crappy day … and that has nothing to do with YOU. The kind of freedom that reminds you that you could climb a mountain if you wanted to. Or write a novel. Or be good to your family. Or give food to the homeless. Or smile at the sad stranger. 

I hope the freedom ahead of us will look like a lot more kindness. More openness. More listening. More intentionality. More space. More acknowledgment. More light, and love, and understanding, and forgiveness. 

Isn’t that the “freedom” we all long for? 

Well rest assured … that kind of freedom won’t come from your national government. It won’t come from your state. It likely won’t come from your workplace, and might not even come from your parents. 

So where will this freedom come from? Well … it comes from the God of infinite source. And because of that, it’ll come from me too. And I hope it’ll come from you. 

Goodness I’m holding onto hope that it will. 

‘Cause I like freedom. And I’m willing to fight for it. 

And I hope you are too. 

Let’s do this. 

*I have included no graphics in this blog in order to highlight the grief I feel over the current racism crisis in our country and our world.

Celebrated

It happened when I was six years old. Maybe seven.

I don’t remember all the details, but I had just read a book about a kid who’d celebrated their halfbirthday. *Half-birthday: that day exactly 6 months before and after your real birthday. I don’t remember what the book was called, or if the main character was a boy or a girl. I do remember that they were given a half of a box of crayons, wore a half of a birthday hat, chopped right down the middle, and ate a half of a birthday cake. It was silly and cute and just punny enough. Right then and there, I decided that this was brilliant! had to have a half-birthday party.

 

easter cake with colorful topping
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

The first hurdle in my party-planning scheme was my mom. Now my mom is a good woman. A fairly typical, no-nonsense, practical parent who mostly made sure I’d eaten my veggies and brushed my teeth. She wasn’t exactly a forerunner to the KonMari method of “sparking joy” though. Anyway, I must have asked her in just the right way, or just the right number of times, because to everyone’s surprise, I got myself a half-birthday party!

Ask me to tell you about my actual birthday parties over the years and I’ll remember some more than others. Like my 16th when I went ice-skating with my best friends … or my 21st when I didn’t drink because none of my friends did… or that one surprise birthday party with the reeeaally awkward collection of attendees. But there was something about the unexpectedness of that half-birthday party that felt … well, just that: unexpected. Special. Out-of-the-ordinary. Extra.

 

I’m pretty sure there was a German chocolate cake involved (a whole one instead of a half), and someone gave me nail polish. When asked, my mom doesn’t remember much about it – but I still remember that I felt special. Loved. Celebrated. There weren’t many people there that night – I don’t think there was much time to plan ahead. It was February, and dark, and cold. But I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind how small the party was because, well … it happened!

Now, over the years, this story has felt a bit silly to me. Maybe I blew the half-birthday thing out of proportion. Maybe having multiple birthday parties in a year for yourself is actually a bit excessive and dramatic. But … the longer I’m alive, the more I look around and see that we ALL long to feel seen and celebrated! We all long for the people who know us best to celebrate us being born. To tell stories about us and laugh at the silly things we said or did, or to cry with us when things feel sad. People who aren’t just proud of our accomplishments, but people who see inside to the heart of us … that who we are is already a gift.

Have you ever heard the odds quoted of even one person being born and staying alive through adulthood? Some say it’s a scientific miracle for anyone to be born at all. I recently heard Mel Robbins quote a source saying there’s a 1 in 400 trillion chance that you get to be born as “you.” Then layer on top of that the odds of surviving long enough to live a full life and, well …

Honestly, there’s no tangible way to put a number on every variable, but suffice it to say that there are some pretty staggering odds stacked against your very existence. So let me remind you (in case you didn’t know …. or forgot), that you and I are celebrated daily by a Creator – the source of all life. 
I look around and I see this incredible planet we’ve been given, and I see beautiful, complex people who have life and energy and passion and ideas, and I can’t help but think that we’ve somehow undervalued it all. You are part of all of it, and You are worthy of being celebrated! You are alive, and you carry this delicate source of life we share, and you hold a uniqueness unmatched.

 

Since we’re all on this planet together, right now, let’s agree to believe and remind each other that we are worthy to stand tall in the space we’ve been given in this vast, beautiful world. We have already been celebrated beyond our wildest dreams (even more than a half birthday party). Let’s learn how to graciously give and receive the gift of celebration.

 

Maybe we should ALL have a few more half-birthday parties.

Focus In

 

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Well guys, in case you haven’t heard the news… it’s 2020!! Welcome to a new year, a new decade, and once again, a fresh start. We’re already approaching the end of January (AKA: the longest month of the year), the time in life when people everywhere have been decluttering their homes, re-strategizing their lives and businesses, and maybe even still following their newest diet and exercise plan! (I see you over there … keep at it!!)

For me, and maybe for you too, this year is a time to get moving and “focus.”

(get it? because 20/20 vision … yep, we’re gonna be hearing that one for a while.)

 

 

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But for real guys, all jokes aside, this year I really am committing to the word “focus.” And I have to say it came pretty naturally on the tail end of last years’ word which was “intentional.” As I learned massive life lessons on the concept of being intentional in more areas of my life, it was invigorating, and at the same time, incredibly exhausting! I couldn’t be this intentional about everything forever; but, I could implement my newfound intentionality in key directions with a little bit of focus. After all, intentionality, focused in purposeful directions will create tidal waves of momentum toward the life you’re longing for.

 

If you’ve never committed to claiming a “word” for the year, stop whatever you’re doing and start right now! I’ve been practicing this ritual for several years now and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my personal growth! I’ll be honest, I’ve totally dropped the ball on writing / blogging over the last few years, while claiming that writing is a goal and a priority in my life. So, this year, I knew it was high time I blew the dust off my keyboard and got to work. I enjoy life so much more when I’m sharing my heart with the people around me and creating space for us to journey together.

 

For those of you who don’t know me (or don’t know me well), let me introduce myself for a hot second. Maybe we’ll find some things we have in common. Hi. My name is Bethany. I’m married to my best friend and favorite person in the whole world, Luke. I have 2 kiddos, a boy (7) and a girl (5). We live in Vancouver, WA, but I’m a native of Arkansas. I’m 32 years old, and I’ve spent more time and money in therapy than I care to admit … but I’ve also learned a lot about life in those years, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I love people, but unlike my Enneagram 9 husband, who can get along with just about any person (and dog) within a 100 mile radius at the drop of a hat, I walk into most of my relationships slowly. Like molasses.

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I identify as an Enneagram 4, which means I’m a big, deep feeler. Sometimes this is awesome. Then there are the other times. Like the times I get moody, depressed, and stuck in my head instead of staying positive and moving forward. But I’ve discovered that writing from that place of stuck-ness and honest struggle is cathartic and actually helps me to get “un-stuck.” And no matter what your personality type is, we ALL need to connect with each other in those deep places of the soul … it helps us feel a little less alone. And we all definitely need that. 

 

For me, writing is almost a compulsion. A natural way to process the jumbled up thoughts in my head that don’t make sense yet. Rarely do I share them, because it can feel so dang scary to name the thoughts in my head “out loud.” Sometimes I worry I’m the only one in the world who feels the way I do. Sometimes I’m afraid my words won’t sound as good as I’d hoped they would. Sometimes I think somebody else has already said what I’m saying, just better, so I back away.

 

But this year … this year I’m fighting back against those voices. Against the fear. Against the hesitation and the anxiety. This year I’m choosing to be brave and to focus on the things that need to be said and then saying them. Because life is fragile, and our days aren’t guaranteed. And we desperately need to hear from each other.

 

I’m inviting you to walk this way with me. Will you share in the comments what has been good for you in the past year? Or hard for you? What have you learned this past year? What did you enjoy in this space just now? I’d love to hear from you and connect with you, because when my vulnerability connects with your vulnerability, something beautiful happens. And you and I, we need a lot more of that in our lives.

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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!

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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