(I am) Under Construction: I Believe in the God who keeps time and has a long view that I cannot comprehend

daughter & dad

I am grieving my father’s absence today.

I miss him terribly. (This is true, even while it is also true that I was afraid of him all my life.)  He was my father and I loved him.  He was wise and could be gentle and kind.

Yesterday while reflecting on where I have come from, I realized that my perceptions of what I see as my “successful” years are a direct result of my Dad’s view of the world and his active presence in my life.

The way he viewed one’s personal value was that it comes directly from one’s significant contribution to the world, the “great” things you would do for God. 

This has messed me up.

I went to work for my Dad soon after college.  I wanted to be near him, to come to know the man who others seemed to revere so highly.  As a child, I missed out on a lot of time with my father because of he was constantly working and frequently traveled.  I thought that this was a way to be close to him.

Those years working for him at InterVarsity and on Urbana conventions were full, busy and challenging.  I learned a lot of good things:  the value of being a hard worker, of doing things excellently, of receiving correction, of trying things even when not an expert (basically taking risks!), and the value of pursing your passions.

I also learned some things about myself — one is good, that I loved hard work.

But I also came to believe that work could fill the empty spaces in my soul – places of loneliness, need for relevance and love, and the insidious fear of being a failure.

All of my life it was those people who served others, who worked hard, who accomplished many things, who were pioneers in their ideas and accomplishments, who challenged the status quo, who took risks, who “made a difference” – those were the people admired by my father! 

And that is what I learned to do and believe mattered most.

Growing up the things that were okay to sacrifice were family, friendship, and knowing and accountable relationships.   I even saw that it was okay to not live up to the great character qualities aspired to in Scripture, if you meant well or asked forgiveness afterward.  Growing up in a missionary family it was made clear to us that you should be willing to work for less, less money as missionaries and nothing in terms of payment for my mother, who worked for the mission but received no monetary compensation.  And we learned that God would always provide.  We lacked for nothing materially growing up.

Dad was driven to do many “important things” and I admired him for this, even as I missed having a daddy in my life.   It is only as an adult that I accepted the power and impact of being driven on one’s priorities, relationships and family for the worse.

When I left work to be at-home, I had become my father — driven, passionate, crazy busy and “weary from well-doing,” as well as lonely and constantly fearing failure.  No matter what I accomplished, I was unsatisfied and rarely felt good about it or myself.   It just made sense to leave, if I was that unhappy at work.  We had three children in diapers and a budding teenager, my stepdaughter, at home. When I quit I was a mess and didn’t know it!

I am now grateful to have learned, after more than ten years at-home, that there is more to life than what you do but even now, even yesterday the devilish ideas return saying that I am nothing without what I am doing, and it better be something significant!  Accomplishments are heady things and degrees boost the ego, but they do not offer one the solid, sweet confidence that comes from knowing who you are in the Lord – beloved, fully known and loved.  I thought that my father would love me more if I was able to do more!  He had spent his whole life driven by this need as well.

This was what I knew “You are loved, more lovable, when you are doing important things.”

It was in November, 02, that I got the call that my dad was sick – he’d been having what they thought were TIAs, losing the ability to speak in mid sentence.  Through some connections, my parents always had connections, Dad got in quickly to see a brain specialist who made the diagnosis of cancer.  It was tumors in his brain.

The first of December found us in Colorado, with brain surgery on.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the only time, in the months that he was sick, that Dad would allow a conversation about his possible death.  He could sometimes be a pragmatic man.  Going into surgery held risks and a conversation needed to occur with his children just in case something went wrong.  

I wish I had known that this was the only time he would allow such a conversation.  I still have so many questions, things that remain unspoken, proper goodbyes, … 

But that was his way … He lived absolutes and when he came out of surgery alive, he believed that God would heal him and more importantly that he would return to work.  “God still had plans for him, things Dad was to do.  It was unacceptable, lacking faith to be quite honest, to talk of his possible death.”

And so he and I went to tea.  It was a conversation that changed my life.  For the first time, I knew I could say whatever needed saying.  I was admittedly terrified!  He could be volatile and capricious.  And later, in a conversation with my sister he proved how much so.  This was partly due to the tumors changing him but he was erratic and mean many times over the years, which made it hard to trust in the benevolent moments.

At great personal risk, I told my father how his actions throughout my life had hurt me — his anger, his raging, his criticism, his absence had injured me. And this was his reply.  Yes, regret and he sought my immediate forgiveness.  (It was a transaction for him, forgiveness.  One asks.  One receives.  End of story.)

But he also said something that struck me as strange , a non sequitur, which I have reflected on many times since. It was new information.  He said, “I didn’t know how to be a parent.  I felt incompetent.  But I was good at doing work …  accomplished, affirmed and admired. And so that’s what I did, I worked. “

Yes, I felt that growing up.  Both that being a parent was not his priority though I didn’t know why.  And that what you do was a way to feel good about yourself.  And I also did that for many years and when work became untenable, even the accomplishments weren’t enough, would not fill the hole in my heart and made me feel like there was continuously more I need to do.  Have.  Accomplish.  Take on.  Achieve.   And so I quit.

I was unprepared for the full stop! Of all of a sudden, not being significant in the world’s eyes.  And what I had done in the past was irrelevant.  

And it wasn’t that being a parent was too hard but rather that I didn’t believe in its value.  In many ways still don’t.  I mean intellectually I do know the value of parenting, but I cannot seem to convince my heart and soul.

This is the root of my discomfort with being at home.  My depression came on very soon after.   I wasn’t happy but not because of being at-home, or being a mother, or even because I no longer had “a job” to make me feel important or worthwhile.

I had never been that happy.  I was only now coming to a place of acknowledging that reality.

I had a very good friend and mentor years ago, Pete Hammond, that wrote this wisdom:

“Being a sinner means having the terrible ability to misuse every good thing!  That ability to misuse includes relationships, possessions, passions and pleasures, citizenship privileges and rights, freedoms, work and jobs, family, etc.  Thanks be to God that Christ offered to help us break this terrible pattern on the cross.” – Pete Hammond, Re:Learning Family.

The good news is that though I am broken and lost, I have hope.  Paul progressed in his transformation, he said,

“Christ died for our sins … I am the least of all the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle. … But, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and this grace toward me has not been in vain.”

“I know that nothing good dwells within me… Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me?… Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“I, too, had reason for confidence in the flesh (religion, ethnicity, family, profession, temperament, citizenship) … but I have come to regard these as loss… and regard them as rubbish… I want to know Christ.” 

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the greatest.  For that reason I received mercy…making me an example … To God be the glory for ever and ever!”

Transformation seems to take time.  I have to trust in God who keeps time and has a long view that I cannot know, comprehend, but I can believe in.  Looking at Paul, he was also growing in his understanding of himself from being a dangerous pre-Christian to becoming a mature and humble leader.  Paul changed.  In his life, I find hope!   He was being changed, he was “under construction” and when he said “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”(In 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:11 and Phil 3:17, 4:9) I understand what he meant!  Not that he was perfect, but that Christ was still transforming him.

I long for a day when I will have arrived to full maturity and not have days like yesterday when I sink into depression.

I pray for the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in life.

For serenity and healing, I pray.  And I believe that Christ is still transforming me.

Amen.

Flow of Consciousness – 1

1/11/09 It is stunning that it is mid January already.

It is a fine time as any to reflect on the past few weeks. My house is quiet. I have my youngest snuggled in against me as he “can’t sleep” (after five minutes of trying) and I’m a sucker for cuddles.

The holidays were really a blur ending with the death of a friend that has thrown me in major ways.  But I just can’t process that yet.

We had lots of family, mostly at our place, which was actually fine and quite fun to cook. I baked a lot and remembered how much I love to bake: pies and cakes, and many meals including crepes for Christmas morning.  Most memorable was baking and decorating Christmas cookies with the kids which I’ve decided to turn into an annual tradition it was so much fun and the kids were literally giddy!  I have tons of good memories, mostly centered around sharing food.  But I missed not seeing two of my sisters, their kids and husbands.  My sister Tonya has a new son Daniel whom I haven’t yet met.  I hate that we live such a distance from one another and right now are too “poor” to travel.

It really wasn’t an issue not drinking. I’m not sure if it was because it isn’t around (Not much anyway; some people still drink around me and that’s cool. It’s just that a few of my friends that I sometimes drank with are not around, but that’s another story. I get a pit in my stomach every time I think of it.) Or is rather simply because I’m at a place in my abstinence where it isn’t an issue. I’m not so naive that I believe I’m done with it being an issue, but at least for this holiday I felt okay about it.

I am feeling my age and you can see it in my face, puffiness around the eyes and age spots, wrinkles.  And gray hair, though you can’t see that in this image.  I am carrying extra pounds that haunt me and make me feel old, make my knees hurt on the stairs and just make me plain lazy.  My TMJ is acting up again, just like last Christmas strangely enough. It must be some internal stress that manifests at night, as I dream I clench my jaw causing it to ache in the daytime. And ache in the evenings when I am reading to my kids so that by the time I am done it’s throbbing.  But I won’t give that up, I enjoy it too much! We’re reading the Narnia series and it’s so terrific to read aloud. I do have a good memory of my dad reading that series to us when I was around that age.  Anyway, I suppose it’s time to visit a specialist for the TMJ.

My depression has held itself at bay for a long while, but reared its ugly head at Halloween, and again before Christmas and then again recently. It’s strange when you have a chronic thing like this which is something that people don’t understand. I’ve had it so long, and know so much about it at this point.  But it never ceases to amaze and dismay me how little people know about Depression; how they lack true understanding, which makes it difficult to feel or express real compassion.  I hope that it has made me kinder and more sensitive to others – at least that would make one positive outcome from this hellish illness.

I think in our culture we don’t really believe depression is a disease. Honestly, I might have been in that same place before this happened to me. I have always been one of those “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” kind of people and in many ways I still am actually.  I do believe that if you’re feeling ill you should get up and face your day as if you aren’t. Nine times out of ten, you can work through it and the world is none the wiser.  And sometimes I can even do that with this, but it takes so much to do it.

[Caviat: I have been thinking that it is time to start writing about this experience and some of the others of my life.  If there was one thing I will take away from my friendship with Pete (there were many) it is WRITE!  He even went so far as to scold me, gently, about it.   Pete, if you can hear me, I heard you!  I promise to start writing!!  I don’t know what will come of it, but I’m starting with this Flow of Consciousness series. ]

But back to the topic at hand, silly me, I’ve got major depression which is not like anything I’ve ever experienced. Oh, I’ve always been melancholy, (“Melancholy Melody” my friends used to say jokingly in college and at that time it was true. I also put a pessimistic spin on everything and was always slightly anxious and filled with dread in social settings.)   But this, which began in June of 2004 (I’m not sure I’ve got the right year ’cause I’m terrible with dates and will have to think back which I’m far too tired to do right  now) is by far the most difficult thing I’ve encountered in my 42 years. Worse than my dad getting sick, worse than facing my mom’s alcoholism, worse than the shit of my childhood, being raged at and shamed, worse than all the heartaches I’ve faced in relationships in and outside my family, worse than being an alcoholic myself and worse than having to admit it, simply the worst thing in my entire life is Depression – admitting it, accepting it, living with it.  Did I mention admitting it because that is a story in and of itself, for another day.

It comes and goes but it has come again and well, it feels like it is here to stay a while. I’m doing all the things that I know help fight it and fight is the only thing you can do.  Unless you’re just going to lie down and give in to it, say your goodbyes perhaps and be done with this life.  Yes, another day has passed, I fought, and hope against all hope I will sleep hard and well, and start again tomorrow.  For all we can do it Hope in a new day.

I think that’s all I have for tonight.

Slip Sliding Away: thoughts on grief

I was drawn this evening to some lyrics from a Simon & Garfunkel song.  We have had an intense ice storm here over the last 24 hours – I fell twice today.  And, you guessed it, we’re ‘slip sliding away.”

Funny enough, but my mood is more sober.

Verse 3

And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again

Chorus

Whoah God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re workin’ our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away.

Feeling mortal and a little unhinged, slipin’ and slidin’ on the emotional roller coaster of grief.

Facing my maker and asking lots of questions.  It is going to be a long week.  I have two friends who lost their father in the last few weeks, another that lost her father a few years ago, and I lost my Father almost six years ago.  His diagnosis came in the month of December so it starts a long period of loss for me.

How to be?  What to think?  How to help?  What to do?

“Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away.”

Goodbye “Uncle” Pete

goodbye “uncle” pete

Originally uploaded by M e l o d y

It was Christmas eve. The kids and I spent the day making and decorating sugar cookies. The kids had so much fun. (Of course we told them to slow down with the candies on top, or no-one would want to eat them!) Emma and I took a few cookies over to “Uncle” Pete, our neighbor.  He’s a widower and lives on one side of a duplex next door, his daughter and her family on the other. They were traveling and it had been “pretty quiet” he said. We rang his bell and as we handed over the plate Pete said, “Oh that will brighten up my table! …. We’re still on for pie tonight?” He was coming over that evening, after Christmas Eve church service, for pie.

That was one of my last conversations with Pete.  He did indeed come over later that night, and enjoyed “cheesecake with the drippings!” as he called it.  He laughed with my kids, asked questions about our traditions, and shared some of his own like the opening of the presents.  He talked about a friendly squirrel that visits outside his porch, which his daughter Layne has named.  He seemed kind of down, or quiet, or extremely tired.  But I was so glad that he came.  My mom was there as well and we had nice dessert tastings.

While he was here, I invited him to eat Christmas dinner with us the next day. He wasn’t sure, as he was trying to finish up a project for Layne & Andrew.  He called the next day around 1:00 to say that he was actively working on the project for his kids and wanted to finish it. Later that night, around 6:00 (I don’t exactly remember?) pm I called over to see if he wanted a plate of Christmas turkey, stuffing, etc and/or to come over for more pie. He declined as he was tired, happily full from where ever he had just been. He mentioned he was weary from waking at 4:00 am and he had to get up early for his conference. He had spent the morning writing, he was happiest when he was writing.   He sounded exhausted, but at the time I wasn’t concerned in any way, just disappointed that he didn’t come on over.

I had woken Christmas morning with the flu, and had a whole day on the 26th of more preparations and the Hanson Christmas celebration. I wonder if I would have gone to check on him if I hadn’t been so distracted by things.  But really, Pete travels all the time and if he’s gone or here, his car is in the garage. There is no way that I could have known.  I snow blowed their driveway on Sunday, but nothing seemed amiss.

The next day, I ate that plate of food I had made up for Pete. By that time, I think he had passed away.  Sometime that morning.

My friend, “Uncle” Pete, passed on to be with the Lord (likely) Friday, Dec. 26th, in the morning in his home.

Around 11:00 this morning, an InterVarsity staff person came by a bit alarmed by the fact that Pete hadn’t shown up at a conference on the 26th. (The one he was packing for.) I found him.

I still can’t believe it. Sometime soon, I will write my thoughts about Pete. Right now I am in shock, just stunned and shocked that he is gone.  I’m writing all this down, because Pete often reprimanded me about not writing more.  After my father died, I did not write things down and I have forgotten a lot of the detail.

Goodbye Pete. I miss you already.