Author Archives: Bethany

Trust

Sometimes I pray prayers that I don’t really mean. Or rather, I mean them, but I don’t really know what I’m saying. I don’t think about what they’re going to cost me. Like the one I started praying about a year ago.

       Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
       Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me
       Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
       And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.
-Hillsong United, Oceans

Some days it’s hard to sing that without visions of grand exploits. Doing great things for God. That’s what I thought of when I first heard it. I thought about all the things I wanted to do, all the things I felt God calling me to, and I imagined the faith those things would take. I imagined doing them well because, after all, I had trust without borders.

I didn’t know it then, but that was the easy side of this prayer.

Yes, those things do require trust. Stepping into them means we step out farther than we think we can go and we learn a stronger faith. But I’m starting to wonder if most of that trust is built in the moments when the rug is pulled out from under us. It’s a painful thing to learn to trust like this.

The past eight months have thrown me in way over my head. The waves have threatened to overwhelm me and more often than not the most honest prayer I’ve been able to pray has been, “I don’t trust you with this.” But still I’ve had no control.

One day last fall I actually said it. “If this is what it takes to have trust without borders, I don’t think I want it.” The words hung heavy. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it. I just never thought it would be like this. I didn’t think it would be so hard.

I have to wonder if even after he looked back at Jesus Peter still felt like he was sinking. He wasn’t, but it is a terrifying thing to stand in the middle of the ocean supported by nothing but water and the Savior’s gaze. Still, he did it. And I imagine he was better for it.

We pray this prayer and it is a costly one. But we continue to pray it because something deep inside us knows that it is worth it. So in the moments when we are stretched beyond what we think is possible may we find the grace to trust.

Trust is, after all, not something we can conjure up on our own. It is a gift. And even when it comes with great pain it is a gift worth asking for.

To God be the glory, great things he hath done

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I spent last weekend at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky with a group from school on a silent retreat. This is some of what happened during that time.

After Saturday’s lunch I slipped over to the church. The enormous wooden doors whispered shut behind me and I sank into a back pew. Just me and God and the silence in this gigantic space. My fingers traced the wood grain on the top of the pew in front of me.

I was still restless but starting to quiet down. Rain pattered on the windows. I pulled out my journal and started the long, slow work of detangling. A combination of processing and petitions emerged on the pages. I had more questions than I did answers and for the moment, that was okay.

The door opened again and a woman shuffled in. “Will it bother you if I play the piano?” she asked.

I looked up and smiled. “No, of course not.”

She walked across the sanctuary, pulled the heavy black cover off the instrument, and sat down. The melody that fell from her fingers was that of an ancient hymn. She played many of them. Some I recognized, others I didn’t. I leaned back into the pew and let them sink in.

The next notes she played were the beginning of a hymn I knew well. It was one I did handbells to in kindergarten. It’d been a long time since I’d heard it last but I still remembered every word.

To God be the glory, great things he hath done…

I could still picture what it was like to stand on the stage of that small protestant church playing and singing my heart out. Oh, for faith to feel like that again. There I was, thirteen years later, sitting in a Catholic sanctuary hearing the melody and crying.

This faith, the faith of my fathers and mothers and grandparents, handed down from generation to generation, is shifting under my feet. I am wrestling to make it mine and some days it feels so frail. But still the foundation stands. And through her fingers on the piano keys He whispered, “I am the same in kindergarten and in college and forever.”


These days I am learning to pray a new kind of prayer. It’s a kind of confession, I suppose. Not one about actions but belief. “I don’t trust you with this. I can’t do this. What the heck are you doing?”

In the moments when the rug is pulled out from under me, when I feel lost and I don’t know what’s next, the only prayer I can muster is, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Or sometimes, “Lord, I’m not sure that I believe. Help my unbelief.” Like Jacob and the angel but this time begging, “I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. Please don’t let me go until you bless me.”


We slid into our pew early Sunday morning. Five protestant kids in the back of a Catholic sanctuary. We looked at each other not quite sure what we were doing. Together we stumbled into a liturgy different to many of us but so beautiful. Standing, we sang the Responsorial Psalm, an arrangement of Psalm 23.

Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants,
Beyond my fears, from death into life.

The words were sustenance in the midst of all the questions.


At lunch we talked about the morning. We couldn’t get over the wonder of it. I said, “I grew up in a charismatic United Methodist Church, I currently go to a Nazarene school and a Presbyterian Church, and I attended Mass this morning. Detangle that one for me.”

“Well,” a friend said from across the table, “You’re just an ecumenical movement.”

We laughed and others began telling the stories of their faith and how they spent these years in this place and those years in that place and look where God had brought them now.

Yes, this faith is changing. It is hard and good and right and beautiful. After all, what would it be if it weren’t growing? So today I sit in the questions. I wrestle with the tension of faith and doubt, hope and despair. Still, in all of it He whispers that He is the same yesterday and today and forever.

To God be the glory, great things he hath done.

Restless

On Friday afternoon I boarded a bus with 23 others and headed deep into the heart of Kentucky. Our destination was the Loretto Motherhouse. It was the first true retreat I’d signed up for. I’d been on others, of course, but this was the first one without activities built in. It was time for us to step away from the crazy, practice the discipline of silence, and just be.

We were asked to leave electronics behind. So with phone, ipod, and headphones stowed safely on the bus, I stepped off the bottom step and into the weekend. Within an hour I was questioning what I was even doing there.

I walked from dinner down the gravel road towards a cluster of cabins. I stopped in the little chapel there, walked around that area, walked back towards the main buildings, walked down to the pond in front of our house, walked back up to the cemetery, through one of the buildings, and out back again, this time veering towards the lake. I couldn’t stop moving.

As dusk slipped into dark I went back to the house, brewed a cup of tea, and sat outside for a while. I pulled my knees to my chest, hands formed around the stoneware so familiar to them. And I started to pray.

The silence was overwhelming. I was running from something. From the restlessness. From everything in me that just didn’t feel right, that I didn’t want to deal with. But it was nothing new. It’s the same feeling that I put so much energy into not thinking about. It’s precisely that thing I try to drown out with another episode of whatever it is that I’m watching.

I’ve said before that I want to slow down and quiet some of the noise around me. But for the first time in a long time, this weekend I was truly quiet. It was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard for me to be fully present. After all, how can I be present when that presence is the very thing I spend my days fighting against?

This retreat came on the heels of an especially wearying week. It was, for many of us, exactly what it needed to be. There were some incredible moments, moments that will be shared soon. But not yet. Right now, I just want to learn the freedom to be.

Worn Thin

The wings of the midnight crow beat in high contrast to the deep grey sky. Naked trees stretch bony fingers to the heavens. It’s the day before spring is supposed to arrive and I can’t help but wonder if she’s been left on the platform watching her train snake into the distance. Knives of wind cut through my thin jacket and the air hangs heavy with the last bitter taste of winter herself.

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But still, in spite of the haze and the heaviness, I am drawn outside. Bright magenta buds hang low from the branches of the Magnolia tree. Spring has sent her postcard ahead. I hold my jacket close to guard against the cold and wander to the pavilion. The wooden bench, grey with age, is waiting for me. My feet shuffle along the deck trimmed with mold around to the back. Leaning into the rail, I listen to the creek babbling its way down the rocks.

The bench welcomes me like an old friend. I sink into it, limbs as heavy as my heart, and lean my head back against the rough wooden post. But even here there is work to be done. I muster up every ounce of responsibility I have, pull out my laptop, and set to it.

I am looking down when I notice shadows moving across my arm. Late winter sunlight flirts with the ground. It only finds its way out sometimes, of course, because the clouds still hang heavy. But in the thin places it shines through and shapes flutter.

Thin places—a Celtic phrase for the places where the divine intertwines itself with the ordinary and they dance.

Thin. That’s how my heart feels right now. Like one small pull in the wrong direction could rip it in half. But in the thin places I see the divine. It’s the way she slides the tissue box across her desk because I’m starting to cry in her office and I know why but I don’t really know why. And the way she tells me, not in so many words, of course, that she is on my side. That I am where I need to be. That it will get better.

It’s the sweet note from my best friend sent seven months later than intended but arriving with perfect timing. It’s her words that meet me where I am and sink deep into my heart. It’s the assignment to write a poem that becomes a way to detangle the knot of emotions in the pit of my stomach—a poem that, under different circumstances, would mean very little to me. It’s the words on the internet, written by a complete stranger, that feel like they were penned just for me.

And I see glimpses of the divine. Even when he seems distant, even when I don’t feel him there, he sends me these sightings. He breaks through the thin places to say that what I can see is not all there is. That the clouds will not last forever.

By the time I’m out of class for the day the heavy skies have pulled back like drapes from a window. Red-chested robins flit through the lawn and spring whispers that she’ll be here soon. Wherever there is brown border grass flattened by the weight of winter, persistent yellow daffodils push their way through the death to proclaim life. Winter is not the end. The thin places, the cracks, the glimpses of the sun are just the beginning.

St. Patrick & Analogies

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In honor of today, my partially Irish heritage, and the fact that I spent yesterday traveling back to Nashville and wasn’t able to write, I thought I’d share with you some fun St. Paddy’s Day stuff I ran across. (I’ll be back with a real blog next week, I promise!)

I’ve mentioned St. Patrick’s story before—how he was a slave and, when he returned to Ireland, was against slavery. He’s probably most famous, though, for his analogy of the three leaf clover to explain the trinity. Analogies are great because they can help us understand stuff, but they almost always fall short.

So, for a chuckle today, I offer you Lutheran Satire’s “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies” [video].

(Also, I hope you’re wearing green today…)