Lenten Reflection: Of Stardust & Sacred Questions.

Rob Gendler-nebula-dying star flower ring

There is this word that I’ve always been afraid of, but which now feels like a gift to my faith:


It’s taking its place in a landscape of new language I’m developing for this season of my faith: Wholehearted. Sacred. Wilderness. Scarcity. Abundance. Justice. Grief. Change.

This word came to me a few nights ago while I was watching Cosmos on Netflix. I can’t fully explain the episode* because I’m terrible at science, but it was about stardust and ghosts and the space-time continuum and the edges of the universe.

From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” never felt more true or made more sense, and the fact that this marked the beginning of the Lenten season for me made it all the more sacred.

In Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, he writes,

“Faith is not some hard, unchanging thing you cling to through the vicissitudes of life … Just as any sense of divinity that we have comes from the natural order of things – is in some sense *within* the natural order of things – so too faith is folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed mental product.”

This is the mutable, messy process of my evolving faith: searching for God in that fold between natural order and unexpected change, tucked away in a space I’ve never looked before. It might be found in the pages of a faith memoir, or in a Netflix binge-watch, or in the pages of my own journal, or a walk in the woods.

The truth is that I think more than I feel my faith at this point in my life.

The deep affection I have felt for God and the Church, once demonstrated through singing hymns and reading scripture and sitting in pews, is demonstrated through solitude and sacred questions right now.

Maybe you have experienced this too: that our love and our questions aren’t separate, but deeply connected. There are seasons when our questions are the fruit of our deep affection for God and the Church. Because we love, our questions matter. Asking these questions is an act of tending the soil – the sacred ground – of our faith. Some things that once marked our growth have ripened and fallen to the soil, fertilizing it for other seeds to take root and grow in the seasons to come.

” … it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.” – Wiman, My Bright Abyss

Maybe we are made of stardust. Maybe we look at the sky and see the ghosts of centuries past, lighting the darkness for us. Maybe we see the stars and unknowingly see the spirit of our mothers, gathering the universe unto themselves like they have since our birth. Maybe Mother Earth is that ineffable God-love I feel when I tend another sacred question.

Whatever, I still believe:

She makes everything beautiful in its time.

*Cosmos Episode 4: “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” for my curious readers.

[Post image source.]

Wholehearted 2015: #OneWord365

2015 started with a bang, quite literally.

On the second day of the new year, my housemate and I were in a car accident.

In the week since, my memory has already begun to edit itself into a highlight reel of moments surrounding the crash. I will always remember how it happened – with no warning, no screech of tires, no horns blaring, no crunch of metal as our vehicles collided. We were driving along in one moment, and in the next, an airbag punched me in the face and I screamed. The car filled with an acrid smoke as the airbags deflated. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Caitlin gasped. We swiped the airbags out of the way and tried to comprehend what had transpired. It happened so fast.

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It’s taken me several days to get over the trauma of feeling like the universe had assaulted me somehow. The accident happened on the third anniversary of my mother’s death. Caitlin and I went out to dinner with our friend Emily, and then we were going to go home and watch a funny movie to try and live some modicum of normalcy and happiness on an otherwise dark day in my life. A day in which I already carry a heightened awareness of my mortality and life’s brutal, cruel unfairness. I did not need to be smacked in the face with it, thankyouverymuch. It’s a wound in and of itself that will take time to heal.

I laid around the whole weekend afterward in a sort of post-accident hangover. I wondered to myself: how am I supposed to embrace a new year, making resolutions and feeling hopeful about the future, when crap like this happens? Or, in other words:

How do I live and love in a world that scares the shit out of me, every single day?

Bethany Suckrow Blog_Wholehearted_OneWord365

The details of how and why we crashed don’t matter now, I guess. Caitlin’s car is totaled, and every day when I go out to toss the garbage or fetch the mail or run an errand, I see her poor Toyota Camri sitting in our driveway, folded at the front as though it were a piece of paper instead of a metal machine, and I’m reminded all over again: it was bad. And it could have been so much worse, but it wasn’t.

I’m taking it as a token reminder of my One Word for 2015: Wholehearted.

The word, inspired by Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, holds so much interpretive potential for the 353 days to come, but for today, it means this:

Keep living and loving anyway, even when life scares you.

Keep showing up.

Dare to be vulnerable, brave, and ambitious.

Don’t tie your self-worth to your circumstances. Don’t sabotage your own joy by dwelling in tragedy and shame.

Own your healing and your words with your whole heart.

This is my sacred ground.

For When It’s Too Late to Turn Back.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetIn May 2007 I found myself climbing the side of a mountain in Northern Ireland without being entirely sure how I got there.

I had joined a missions team at my evangelical university, and we planned to spend two weeks ministering to local youth in Dundrum, a little bayside town of Northern Ireland. The climbing-a-mountain thing was one of those spontaneous group activities that seemed like a fantastic idea until I was actually doing it. The mountain peak didn’t seem so, well, vertical, when I was admiring it from sea-level.

But suddenly there I was, fingers gripping rock with every last ounce of strength I had. I didn’t know if I could make it to the top without killing myself. I didn’t know if I could make it back down without killing myself. I had to decide which would be the more honorable death.

I usually tend to dwell on that euphoric moment when I reached the peak of Mount Donner with pride, but today I reflect on the in-between moment, when I was clinging to the side of the mountain and had a singular thought running through my head as I looked back down the steep incline of how far I had come:

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

In September 2008 I found myself embarking on a semester abroad alone. I was sitting on a flight I had just boarded by myself after tearfully saying goodbye to my fiance for the next three months. I had been anticipating this experience since high school, had been planning and saving for this particular trip for more than a year.

To this day, I still say that it was the best decision I ever made for myself, choosing to study abroad. It widened my worldview by thousands of miles and it helped me grow in a million important ways. My memories of that time are still so vivid – – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the memory of good meals and remarkable moments.

But I also remember that in-between moment, after I left and before I arrived, when the wheels went up and Chicago shrank to a spec outside my airplane window and I was all by myself. All of the anticipation I felt, all of my bravery and courage and motivation, felt like it had been sucked out of the plane. I could hardly breathe.

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

There is this hard, messy part of every adventure that no one wants to talk about.

The part where you realize that you are very far away from home, and you’re really on your own. The part where your expectations meet reality. The part where it gets frustrating and expensive. The part where the plans you make collapse into one another like a stack of dominoes. The part where you have to tell yourself, “it’s too late to turn back now.” The part where you say a few swears because you’re scared.

I don’t think this feeling can accurately be called regret.

I don’t regret moving to Nashville.

Just like I didn’t regret climbing that mountain in Northern Ireland.

Just like I didn’t regret boarding that plane to Europe.

What I’m feeling is anxiety, and I know that this anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I made the wrong decision. I don’t necessarily want to be in the position I am now, broke and struggling to make things work, but I also don’t want to be anywhere else. I just want to move forward. I’m under no illusions that I would be any happier or more fulfilled if we had stayed in our rundown, overpriced, single-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs.

In fact, I knew that it was entirely possible that there would come a point about six weeks into our new life here when money would get tight and plans might be out of sync and I might miss my support system back home. If you’re at all like me, you spend a lot of time trying to prepare yourself for every conceivable consequence before embarking on adventure, but in the end it doesn’t save you. The inevitable moment will still arrive when expectation meets reality and you have to keep going, no matter what. Even if you do feel like a chicken-shit.

And just like all the adventures before this one, there will come a day when I remember this with season with gratitude, pride, and fulfillment. And maybe even a little compassion for whatever in-between moment I find myself in then, too.

Prodigal : Owning Failures on My Résumé

This article originally appeared on ProdigalMagazine.com.

10 a.m. and I’m just rolling out of bed. It’s my morning off. I work this afternoon at my part-time office job, and I’m blissfully happy that I don’t work at the restaurant again until tomorrow.

Until the phone rings.

It’s my restaurant manager. I don’t trust her any farther than I can throw her, and apparently the feeling is mutual. She’s called to tell me that I’m fired.

I’ve never been fired before, and it’s a feeling worse than (God forbid) getting a failing grade on an English paper, because I’ve just flunked real life. I’ve lost out on an entire paycheck, maybe even several paychecks.

Angry, hot tears well in my eyes as my mind scrolls the rolodex of handy excuses. My boss played favorites, as did the other waitresses. I was the outsider, the one that didn’t come from their hoity-toity, upper-middle class neighborhood. I was the college student working three jobs and trying to earn my degree. Once I graduated, I was the girl working three jobs and trying to plan my wedding. And then I was the newly-wed commuting 45 minutes for each 4-hour shift, just so that I could get paid to have screaming mothers and their toddlers berate me because they wanted booths instead of tables, soy milk instead of half-in-half.

I was book smart, not restaurant smart.

I was the artsy type, the type that wasn’t great with mental math or memorizing daily specials.

I roll over and look at my husband. He stands at the small mirror tacked to his wall, adjusting his shirt collar before he leaves for work. He’s been working in music retail for two months, and every day before work he gets shaky and nervous, his blood pressure skyrocketing as he faces another day working on commission. All he wants is to provide for us, but if he doesn’t sell a $3,000 keyboard today, he will earn less than minimum wage. We’re working these hard, ridiculous jobs, and it’s getting us nowhere.

I feel it, this overwhelming pressure :

Make money. Pay your bills. Figure out your career. Find a full-time job. Be a good wife. Write a book. (And don’t get pregnant.)

It took me six months and another waitressing job, but I finally got the point :

If I had just owned my mistakes, if I had just taken a moment to be embarrassed by my own behavior, if I had just admitted that I made waitressing harder than it needed to be by believing that the work was beneath me, I might have kept the job.

One thing is for sure, we’ll never hear God say that our behavior is contingent on how much slack other people give us.

Thus, I can’t erase those waitressing jobs from my résumé; they keep me humble. Those jobs are a bigger part of my career than I ever planned. It’s like my mom always used to tell me,

“In order to earn the big things, you have to be faithful in the small things.”

Whether it was schoolwork or house chores or even in my relationships, the wisdom in that has never failed me. Our overall grades depend on our faithfulness and consistency in our everyday effort. We may hate jobs like retail, food services, manual labor, or nannying, but those stages of our lives are what God has provided in the meantime.

It’s a chapter in a bigger story. It’s the work that God has given you today.

It is your daily bread.

Be thankful. Steward it well.

I’ve known for a long time that God made me a writer. Maybe not for my whole life, but for a good portion of I’ve known that it’s what I do best. Eventually it dawned on me: working is a necessity, but working a job we love is a privilege. We are not entitled.

God will provide the right work at the right time if I just begin.

This is why I started blogging. In the past three years it has helped me exercise my writing muscles and hone my skills. I started by venting about my sucky job situation and all my dreams of being a celebrated writer.

Becoming a writer didn’t start with a best-selling book. It started with writing.

Through blogging I’ve realized that in small increments, my blog is my writing at work. This has transformed my writing life. It connected me with Ally and Darrel, and now Prodigal Magazine. I couldn’t have predicted that. I certainly didn’t have the confidence to believe that it could happen, but here we are.

It makes me wonder :

What experiences do each of us need to own up to in order to live a better story? What moments in your life stand out to you, the ones that you wish you could erase from your résumé? Where do we need to demonstrate faithfulness in order to be the people God has called us to be?

More than likely, those moments feel scary because they hold a significant amount of truth and freedom for us, but we have to humble ourselves enough to admit it.

Poem : The Movement

The Movement 

I’ve never been able to cartwheel.
Even as a kid.
But since everything in my life is changing,
Upside down and backwards to how
I thought I would feel,
I figure,
I should do things differently.
Make changes.
Try, for once, to feel triumphant,
I did it!
I’ll stretch my body out.
Reach my hands to the firm ground.
Let my feet feel the wind,
the free-flowing sky.
Let my stomach muscles loosen
and my belly-button see daylight.
Because I am capable of movement.
I am capable of being moved.