Author Archives: Bethany

Pain and Justice

“So how was your trip?”

Quite a few people have asked me that this week and I still don’t know how to answer. I’ve managed to say something about just how beautiful it all was, but even after three weeks back home I don’t know how to talk about all the things I saw. I barely know how to think about them.

It is one thing, I have learned, to go to another place and meet people you understand to be vulnerable. You can stand there and keep your emotions out of it and look at facts and figures and ask why.

But that is not what transforms.

It is another thing entirely to stand with them in light of your own vulnerability, to understand where you hurt and how those things mean you aren’t nearly as different as you once thought.

Our Sunday School group talked about suffering yesterday. The understanding we came to is that we can only comfort others in suffering when we know what it is to suffer.

So yes, the trip was beautiful. We saw God redeeming in incredible ways. And as we worshipped alongside those we’d come to meet and learn about, I began to understand the power of vulnerability.

In worship, they invited Christ into the vulnerable places they’d shared with us. In some strange way, though, they also invited him into the places we were vulnerable. It’s only as we began to understand our own pain that we were able to understand what justice really is.

It’s easy to go out and try to save the world. It’s much, much more difficult to go and hurt with others, to let their pain touch yours, and to let God redeem both.

Until we do, though, we’re the ones who miss out.

A different kind of prayer

She texted me Saturday night:

            I just realized… it’s been a year today.

A whole year. A year since a change in church leadership changed everything for us. Maybe not so much for me, since I was leaving in August anyway, but definitely for them. A year since I first felt my comfortable world shifting under my feet.

It’s all part of this growing up, I suppose.

If I could look the me of a year ago in the eyes and tell her just one thing, I’d grab her hands and say, “Hold on, love. It’s gonna be okay. You’re not going to feel like it is, but it will be. I promise.”

So much has changed this year. I know I’ve talked about it before, but every time I turn around, I notice another change. But they haven’t come without pain, though, or a fair share of tears.

I wrestle sometimes with the question of speaking for God and speaking to God and where they really meet in my heart, reminded again of it this week when I read this. I wonder, I suppose, if I am doing too much of the speaking for in lieu of speaking right to him.

But still.

He reminds me of all the change of this year and all the tears. And I wonder, also, if I haven’t been learning a different kind of prayer all along. A prayer that acknowledges grief more deeply than words ever could, that gives me space to begin to understand myself in light of all that’s changing.

I have learned so much in class this year about the beauty of lament. Maybe I’ve been learning it in other ways, too. Maybe the change has pushed me just far enough that I finally have to be honest when I pray.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s a far greater gift then I could have ever expected.

Hold on, love. It’s gonna be okay.


I’ve been home for five days now. The suitcases are unpacked, but they’re still sitting in the corner. A pile of souvenirs has spent the week on my cedar chest and everything from toiletries to notebooks is scattered throughout the rest of my room. I keep thinking that maybe if I clean up and put everything away, I’ll be able to make sense of my scattered thoughts, too.

I doubt that it’ll be that easy, though.

Three weeks ago, on our first night in Bulgaria, we were asked to think about the trip and say a prayer. “Pray,” we were told, “and tell God that he has permission to do whatever he wants in you this week.” The words I prayed that night in my exhaustion were anything but calculated and fairly quickly forgotten.

What I prayed, though, was no easy prayer. I asked God to break me and put me back together new. I was asking, I think, for him to reach into the places I couldn’t and change something.

And he did.

I still can’t wrap my head around all the things that happened during our time in Eastern Europe. God is doing something beautiful in his people and for two weeks, we got to bear witness to it. I don’t have words for so much of it, but I am grateful.

Missing the Wonder

The porch swing creaked with every movement. Back, and forth. Back, and forth. I put my hands behind me to catch the windowsill before I slammed into it. Leaves shivered in the face of the coming storm. Clouds rolled angrily across the sky and a drop of rain plinked into the bushes in front of me. Another followed, then another.

The drops turned to a chorus, life rushing down to refresh the weary ground.

And I almost missed it.

I’m a doer. Parts of my personality are decidedly Type A. I don’t always stay focused on the task at hand, but when there’s something I need to do, it consumes me until it’s done. I spend so many days with my head down just powering through the next thing. The next to-do, the next confrontation, the next hard week or month or year. I forget to look up and I miss so much.

Yesterday I read forty pages on the immune system. I’ve always had a general idea of what it was but I never really knew how it worked. I didn’t know how hard my body works to defend itself from invaders.

Sometimes it takes something like that to get me to look up and notice the wonder I’m surrounded by. When I do, though, I find it everywhere. It’s the way bacon and feta together explode on my tongue, the way the night sky lights up when lightning cracks from cloud to cloud, the way a storm leaves the air cool and clear.

These moments are gifts. They’re gifts that I’m still learning to count. I’ve watched the same scene unfold from that swing time and time again, but I am still trying to see it. And when I do, I am still captivated by the beauty.

It makes me wonder. What else am I missing out on? What else do I not see because I forget to lift my head?

Hard Stories and Ragged Edges

I run my thumb along the end of my ring finger. It catches on the edge of the nail, ragged as a mountain range. I’m not sure when I filed them last. It’s been three weeks, at least. My eight fingernails are bare. A haphazard splash of teal paint is all that’s left of the polish on my thumbs and even that is slowly chipping away.

I’ve been feeling the ragged edges more and more these days. There are so many places where I am worn thin, places where parts of me that I don’t want to deal with are jutting out at odd angles and forcing themselves to be seen.

Last week we started writing the hard stories. On Thursday I managed to pound out 369 words of the worst day of the year in the dress before giving in to the knot in my stomach. It’s not a story that I want to tell, but it’s one that needs to be told. When I talked with Sue about it, she reminded me that the writing itself can be a healing process.

She also tells me that the stories that are hardest to tell are often the best to hear.

We are, after all, people of story. I can’t count how many times a story has reached its hand through the darkness and whispered, “You’re not alone.” We tell the hard stories because of the “Me too’s,” the people around us who need to hear that they also are not alone. Somehow they come out on the other side better for the hearing and we come out better for the telling.

So we wrestle with the words. We lean into the sharp edges and the ragged parts. We turn our attention to the emotions still demanding to be felt and deal with them as well as we know how. Because yes, our stories are hard, but they are good. And more than that, they are ours. They are only waiting to be told.