Author Archives: Bethany

Here I raise my Ebenezer

I could start this story in a million different ways, but here is the long and short of it:

There is going to be a book.


I started this blog because of my year in the black dress. I wore it from January 11, 2012 to January 10, 2013. That year of the dress and raising money to end human trafficking changed me in so many ways—ways I have yet to realize. When I went into it, though, I figured it would fade away after the year was over.

I didn’t set out to write a book. But here I am.

A year ago I got an email from Janet Kobobel Grant at Books & Such Literary Agency. She asked if I was interested in writing a book about my year in the dress. We talked about shape the story might take and if it was worth pursuing. I talked with family, mentors, and friends, as well, and it seemed like an opportunity worth taking. So I did.

Janet connected me with Susanna Foth Aughtmon for the project. We spent the summer putting together some ideas and shaping the story further. It was no longer just the story of a girl and a dress and a campaign to end slavery. It was about a God of freedom. Not just for the trafficked, but for me, too.

In August Janet sent a proposal off to several publishers. A few months ago, Baker Books expressed interest in publishing it. When I was home for Easter I gathered a few friends and signed the contract.


My fingers worked their way down the front of the dress pulling each black button through its matching frayed hole. It was a canvas of sorts painted with the story of a year. The worn patches and bleach stains stood as a memorial to the hundreds of times I’d worn that dress.

I turned toward the mirror. I’d only worn the dress a handful of times in the last year, and now the shape of it looked foreign to me. It hung slightly askew from my shoulders. I ran my hands down the skirt and it all came rushing back as familiar as it had been when I wore it for that whole year. My heart whispered thanks for the gift that year was to me.

Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by Thy great help I come.

The three of us gathered at the black table in the living room. I stretched my computer charger to the table and flipped open my laptop. It chirped with the familiar ringtone and I answered. The four of us, together, to commemorate this thing.

These girls are my best friends. They’re the ones who walked through the year with me. They keep me sane, they love me well, and they tell me when I’ve got it wrong. Without them, there wouldn’t be a story to tell. So I asked them to join me for this thing.

We talked for a few minutes. It was a little awkward at first, none of us quite sure how it was supposed to go. “Well, I guess I’ll sign this now,” I said, pulling the stack of ivory sheets to me. I signed and dated the last page of the publishing agreement and looked up. “Is this real life?”

We laughed and continued talking. At first it was about the book, but before long we moved on. Because yes, this was a big deal, but at the same time, it wasn’t. We stopped, we celebrated, and then we carried on as before.


 

There is so much about this that I am grateful for. But I am also terrified. Susanna and I are going to spend the next few months putting the rest of the manuscript together. There are parts of this that are going to be fun to tell. There are other parts, though, that scare me. Parts that need to be there but are not going to be easy to write.

It’s a story of raising $8,615, yes, but it’s also a story of joy and sorrow, failure, fabric rips, and lots of tears. And it’s a journey I wouldn’t trade for the world. To those of you who walked with me through that year, thank you. To those who have come along later and continued to encourage me, thank you. And thank you to those who will continue to walk this road with me. I can’t wait to see where it goes!

Home

A week ago I woke to the skies weeping. It was a day of endings and beginnings and seemed somehow appropriate. I shoved the last of my things in my duffel, picked up the boxes lined up like soldiers in the hall, and headed downstairs. I turned in my key and waded through the sea of last-minute hugs and goodbyes. I was the first to leave and we looked at each other like we couldn’t believe it was over.

The year, gone. Just like that.

I drove off campus that day with Eric Peters singing,

There’s so much to be thankful for,
And so much to be forgotten…

At times I thought this year was going to destroy me. Other times I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It was hard, yes, but it was beautiful. And saying goodbye was harder than I thought it would be.

Twenty-four hours later we pulled into the driveway. Home.

It’s been a slow week of late mornings on the front porch swing with a mug of tea, time with good friends, and unpacking. It’s been full of good movies and better books.

In the midst of all that, though, I’m still working to readjust. Getting used to life away from home was hard. I don’t know that I can point to another time of such rapid change. But now I’m coming back and settling in. And I’m finding that I just don’t fit quite like I used to.

A year ago one of my mom’s friends told me that leaving home is like taking a slice out of a pie. Even if you try to put it back it doesn’t fit the same. The slice changes while it’s on the plate, but so does the pie. The edges don’t line up perfectly anymore and frankly, it can look a little awkward.

So I’m working my way back into life at home. It’s harder than I thought it would be, but like so much else this year, it’s good. It’s good to be home with people who know me and love me. It’s good to wake up in the morning to the smell of bacon on the stove. (Thanks, mom!) It’s good to have dinner with my whole family.

And it’s good to rest, to soak up time on the front porch, to slow down. This year has given me so much to process. So much to be thankful for, so much to be forgotten.

Now to figure out which is which.

He is Risen

photo 2For months now I have felt the cynicism growing, cutting its teeth on disillusionment and sharpening them on disappointment. I am finding that some things are not what I thought they were and others that are not what I thought they would be. I still have more questions than I do answers and some days it’s hard to believe that this isn’t going to last forever.

Hope is not always an easy thing to come by.


I pulled the window shade most of the way down, leaned back into my seat, and closed my eyes. This was only the fourth time I’d made this trip since August but somehow it felt like more than that. This time I was heading home for a few days for Easter. Then it was back to Nashville for one more week.

The warm tears slipping down my face told of how weary I was. They honored how hard the transition had been and the long road ahead. They asked the questions and refused to reach for easy answers. What they reached for instead was a shred of hope.

I slid the window shade up again to watch the setting sun and Derek Webb sang in my headphones,

One day you’ll wake and the curse will break and even you won’t be the same
Your hope is not wasted on the day when everything will change.
-Derek Webb, Everything Will Change

Pink light reflected off the clouds. They were thick but we were flying above them and we were free. Free to hope.


The plane descended through the cotton of the clouds and I twisted around in my seat to watch the last rays of sun before they disappeared. The world above us was bathed in color and light but below it was grey.

Suddenly the world was heavy again. There were the same questions, the same fears, the same weariness that there had been before I’d climbed into the sky.

But now I was home. For the fourth time this year I walked off that shuttle toward baggage claim and saw my mamma waiting for me on the other side of security. She squeezed me tight and I knew that for the moment I could leave the heaviness behind.


Sunday morning dawned dark and drizzly. It didn’t really feel like Easter should. The world didn’t look like resurrection. It looked like it was still Saturday, still waiting for hope to appear. Cynicism cackled her harsh refrain. “I told you things wouldn’t get any better,” she seemed to say.

But somewhere, somehow, hope. Easter. Resurrection. A hope that says that cynicism doesn’t get the final word. Saturday will end. Sunday will dawn. Already I feel the weight of it deep in my bones. He is risen. Thanks be to God.


For more good things, I love both of these pieces:

Holy Saturday & the Inbetween Spaces

an Easter[tide] post.

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.