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When Depression is a Killer: My Story

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Anxiety crushes me in sleep. It wakes me in the middle of the night with my chest already full of dread before I’m even conscious of being awake.

For two years this Depression has been inside me.  This is the longest duration I have ever experienced. At times my depression is a low hum and at other times she devours my strength, my resolve, my appetite for life, my interest in food, love, and intimacy. She renders me hapless. She steals my judgement and intellect, covering my brain in a fog. Many days thinking is like wading through thick murky air.  Rational thinking is obscured. The irrational and the lie seem real.

I choose to see my Depression as something Other than myself. I must. She is a killer that wants to devour me. Lately I wake up in dread of her.

“What gets you out of bed and on to your day, when you wake in that state of terror?” a kind Psychiatrist asked? “Duty,” I reply without thinking. Now I would tell him: “Devotion. And resolve.”

I resolve that I will not crumble. I will survive this. As I write these words down it is out of a Hope that this episode will pass like so many that came before. It’s almost a mantra.  If I repeat it enough it will be true.

I’ve recently found a meditation class. I’ve discovered again how helpful it is to simply be aware of your own breath (or of holding it, as I so often am.)  I love the becoming aware of your body, then coming out of your body and entering a different space.  For fifteen minutes we breathe together in perfect silence. I find myself repeating in the intake breath “I trust you God” and releasing my lack of trust out into the room. Out of me.  Releasing stress, and the ache in my chest, and an anger that I wasn’t even aware of until that moment. I discovered that I am not trusting God at all.

I am angry at God.

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A friend described his body’s response to chemotherapy as unpredictable from one day from the next. He doesn’t know when exhaustion will strike.  A simple walk up the stairs can feel like running a mile. I thought, this is like my depression. I say nothing, thinking only: My depression is killing me. Thinking irrationally I’m dying. (This is not the same as being suicidal. I have been there before. This is a deep exhaustion and grief that comes from suffering for a very long time.)

Depression is an invisible disease that bullies and devours.

She steals the strength to call oneself Artist or Creator. And worse still, she kills the desire to create.

I hold with two fists my belief in God’s love for a person living with a torment like mine. Surely God has forgotten about me? I don’t know what I believe anymore. I cannot hold on to my faith or belief solidly. It is tenuous and ethereal.

I have stacks of books about suffering and faith. I stare at them on my nightstand. I am unable to read more than a few minutes. My consciousness wants an explanation for this suffering but my subconscious knows bad things happen.  My friend with cancer isn’t asking what did I do to deserve cancer? Cancer happens.

Still as a person of faith there is the ever-present question. Why has God deserted me? While knowing God is here.  I find sitting in the quiet early stillness of the morning alone with God, no words, is a comfort.

This isn’t self-pity. I tell myself that I know that I didn’t do anything to deserve this illness. That insight has been a long time coming. I am as biased as anyone, thinking that surely a depressed person needs to simply get up and live. And people of faith are wondering where your devotion to God stands.

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There are things I do that make depression slightly better. I know them by heart.  But they are not easy and the key is to Make Yourself.

Make yourself eat good food. Make yourself go for a walk. Make yourself do the simple tasks of daily life; shop for food, cook meals, launder, vacuum, drive places, make and keep appointments.

I must engage with my Mother’s dementia and her daily fears and needs. You may have other demands.

Take your meds. See your doctors. Tell the truth. Work at therapy. Be with others and reach out or follow-up with friends. Participate in church life. Serve communion. Keep up with children’s homework. Write daily.  Read if you can.  Answer the phone.  Stop reading all the bad news on Twitter and obsessively passing it along.

And then on another level that is bottomless and yet crucial to being a mother and partner, show an interest in family members. Smile and laugh.

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Depression feels like failure. It’s personal when you can barely wade through the thickness of your day and your daily challenges aren’t hard at all; or shouldn’t be. Depression will lie and say you’ll never work again. You’re sick and broken.  You are no longer capable. You aren’t able to serve others.

Depression screams her rebukes and you begin to believe. Fear overcomes your knowledge of yourself; your abilities and experience. She crushes logic and creativity.

Depression tells me to be ashamed. But I’ve always told my story readily and without shame. Because I can imagine all the people suffering with depression who don’t have the words or don’t tell anyone. I want you to know you are not alone.  May my words be yours.

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Your mind churns and roars like invading waves in the ocean before its undercurrent pulls you down. Before you know it you have become her—depressed and incapable.

Then you wake from the nightmare to face another day. And silently scream to her: You are Other.  You are not me.

And you begin again.

P.S.

Much of the story of this blog is my story of struggling with major depression which began in 2001.  You will find this in my poetry and other posts.  Check the headings above or search for Depression.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know I haven’t written in months.  I do write, daily lately but deemed most of it unfit.  I’m sharing this part of my story because with the recent death of Robin Williams and some of the conversations surrounding it, I saw a great intolerance and lack of understanding of mental illness and specifically depression.  I hope my story helps you. If you suffer from depression that you’ll find your story in mine and feel less alone. If you love someone who suffers, I hope that you’ll feel a new level of compassion and empathy and a greater understanding what it takes to live with this disease that 14.8 million  adults in America suffer from, that is 6.7 % of the population over the age of 18. (Source: NAMI)

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{When the Truth Hurts: “Being Broken” is Not My Life’s Metanarrative}

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Rilke says to celebrate the questions.

1.

A truth has circled me like a persistent fly, zooming in close and then away again. When I stare straight at it, it becomes momentarily clear. Then suddenly it’s gone disappearing into thin air.

The truth hurts almost as much as my perception of my Being Broken has wounded me, at least at first.  Perhaps that is why we sometimes stay stuck in a static and gray malaise.

Recently the fragments came together – swiftly, an epiphany—through the help of a friend.  What I had struggled for so long to understand now made perfect sense and then it was echoed by several other people reinforcing what I heard.

2.

There is a sacredness in tears…They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.  Washington Irving

The last decade has included repeated seasons of depression, ongoing recovery from addiction, and spiritual upheaval. These were all things I had to pass through to become who I am today. I am grateful.  Through it all I learned that I am resilient.

I have been stuck.

I’m finished with being stuck in regret, wishing that I had made different or better choices, and imagining who I might have become, and thinking of life with different parents or greater personal fortitude or less fear or more gumption. We don’t get to choose our parents or our family of origin with its dysfunctions and ghosts.  It’s all too easy to look back and wish, wonder or hope for something unattainable.

I have lived long enough in the shadows of my father‘s rigid control and in the murky, gloomy regret of my mom’s life. I love them both, but I don’t want to become either of them.  No matter how afraid I am, I will forge my own path.

Finally, I have admitted to myself that I am afraid of the future, of autonomy from children, and of a purpose greater than what I can plan or believe for myself.

3.

The years have left their mark on me with many gray hairs and furrowed facial lines. I turn 48 in September and we’ll be married twenty-one years in June; we have three teenaged children and an adult child, who are all learning to fly.  I love being a mother, but while my children learn to fly I will also grow some wings.  I will search for my voice. And find it.  This is frightening for me.

In 2001 I walked away from a PR & Marketing job I was proud of and was successful at by any standard; I was thirty-five years old with three babies under four.  I turned my back on my leadership and creative talents. I hid them away. Now I see that I have been like the servant in the Gospels who buried and “protected” her talent and waited.

I accepted a lie that “Being Broken” was the metanarrative of my life – the only narrative I have to offer others, as if it safeguarded me from the uneasiness of finally rising up afraid of my authority.  I began to believe the lie that I was broken beyond usefulness, because of the years I spent addicted to booze and healing from the illness of depression.

The hard truth is that my brokenness has consumed and side tracked me. I came to believe in my aching places that at forty-seven years old my life was over.

Every time I imagined otherwise or began to dream fear took over.

4.

Finally it’s time to kneel hard on my father’s grave and say: Daddy, I’m sorry for many things but most of all for how I wanted to hurt you. But this bitterness became a virus in my soul telling me I am the failure you were afraid I’d become.

Only this hasn’t hurt him. It’s become my self-fulfilling prophecy—an obnoxious, stench of a lie that I’ve been living. I’ve been scared to open my mouth. I’ve been too insecure to believe I have anything unique or worthwhile to say or give. I have been waiting for validation from my dead father that will obviously never come and that I don’t need.

I thought I was no longer trust worthy. I’ve written BROKEN on my body; a lasting tattoo reminding me that because daddy said or thought so, I wouldn’t amount to anything. My father has been the Puppeteer controlling me, even now his power looming though he’s been dead eleven years.

It’s time to find another image to prick and stain on my skin!  To mark myself with promise.  I am a blank canvas full of dreams. I want to believe in me again, to stand up and clear my voice and shout, even if it is shaky and quaking at first. This new thing has been a long time coming.

It is also true that I have used my words and my pictures, quietly seeking to tell a story to help others.  And in my little corner of the universe I have made beauty out of shards of my pain.

So I say out loud, I am worthy to speak and it matters little my pedigree or that more than a decade of my life seem to have disappeared like a vapor.

5.

“I think I need a job” I spoke hesitantly to my friend. She asked why, saying “you’re an incredibly gifted writer and a photographer.” “My life feels wrong.” I replied. “I want to contribute. Perhaps I want a paycheck. And I am lonely at home.” I added this as an afterthought.

This friend brings out the best in me. The ME she sees, I don’t see for myself.  I tell myself and out loud I tell her, “I am all these bad things.” And she gently laughs and tells me honestly who I am.

I ask her, “How do you have the courage to do something new? What do you do with your fear?” Changing the direction of our conversation completely, she asked the question that changed everything.

“Melody, what do you have that’s uniquely you?” Her question forced me to peel away truth from my regrets, self-doubt and fear.

It came quickly and quietly: “I have my words and my way of thinking. That’s what I have to offer. That I know is true.”

We all get stuck or believe in our own mediocrity.  Perhaps your life isn’t quite as ambiguous as mine.  But I believe this is true for everyone.  As we face our daily challenges, we have to keep believing that there’s a greater and enduring purpose to our life.  It may not be a grand opus we’ll compose. It may be much more humble and much less exciting. But whatever it is, it is important for each of us to discover.

It’s never too late.  None of us are too broken.  We only have today.  What will we do with this day and days ahead, together they become our life..

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Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

Today has been a long time coming—growing out of distress, blunders, and discomfort. I still have a lot of spiritual work to do, but I accept that embarrassment and shame will be a part of the past and the future is a blank canvas.  The uncertainty of tomorrow forces me to deliberate, knowing that life can be snatched away in a moment.

I’m uncomfortable with generalizations about gender but I wonder if this is a particularly female instinct? To have a proclivity toward self-doubt, a desire for external validation, (for me especially) a Daddy hole the size of the universe, to imagine that your life could serve no purpose and to believe that you don’t have anything unique to contribute.   Male or female, I know all people experience these doubts at one time or another, Perhaps it is middle age that bring a wondering if your life could be over, when it could be just starting again.

Taking a decade long break from a career is a frightening proposition that is traditional to women.  Combine that with my particulars, the idea of believing in my future takes faith.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I’m taking the first shaky steps toward a future still unwritten. My life isn’t over.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that I’m only forty-seven years old. It is time to dream.  I have a unique voice and a way with words.

I intend to use them.

{An Ordinary Tuesday Afternoon: Depression, Social Media and Rooibos Tea}

Being faithful in the dailies is a test for me, summers especially.

Doing the dishes, again; picking up that little plastic army man, marbles, blanket, pillow, books, for the umpteenth time; kids needing to be fed three times a day!?!  Giving rides, so daily.

The highlight of my day is finding an open window upstairs, with the air still on.  The waste, a definite low! But it’s no wonder the upstairs is humid like an amazon jungle.  Mystery solved. How interesting.

Argh, it’s just all so boring!  And tedious.

I used to be able to avoid this feeling. I’d do almost anything to not feel bored!  Working when I still had a “job;” shopping was a favorite, compulsively, without needing anything, “just browsing” I’d tell myself.  These days it’s cooking or exercising.  My garden has grown wild from lack of attention but it used to distract me.  Once, I avoided this feeling with drinking.  All with the single purpose of not feeling this crazy feeling and not being left here with—this—moment—.  

Plain old life. 

For many years I thought I just wasn’t faithfulenough.  Surely If I was more devout, prayed better or at least more frequently, even fervently; or if I served with a restored attitude—this feeling might go away.  But that’s just another excuse.  Prayer, study, reading, serving are all ways to avoid this—feeling—.

I was irritated, as I was reading, quietly sipping my coffee and most importantly alone, when he kept chirping at me.  I just wanted to left alone in the quiet reading more of  the Prophets.

I was irritated that my stepdaughter didn’t come home last night, again and didn’t let me know.

I was irritated that my daughter slept on the couch for the third night in a row; left food out overnight; didn’t pick up after herself.  So when she asks me to make her breakfast toast I went off, like a tea kettle boiling then erupting. I will owe her an apology.

I was irritated that the boys make such a colossal mess in their room.

And irritated that the house decays so quickly.  That there are dishes in the sink, again.  That the dishwasher is broken, that the disposal is broken.  That the floor is degrading.

The house is falling in around me and I’m—furious!

I try to distract myself wondering what classic books I can start reading.  Wishing I could go on a vacation and resenting all the people that are on vacations or have taken them this summer.  Instagram and Facebook are constant reminders of others travelling to exotic locations.

I used to travel when I was young, before I met Tom; before we had kids and I quit my job; before we cut up our credit cards. This too is a part of the harsh reality of minding our Ps and Qs financially.  We don’t spend money we don’t have. Sometimes I hate being a grown up.

And so I yell at my daughter for asking me to make her toast, for asking for lunch money, for not picking up the comforter from her nights on the couch.

I slink around the house irritable, and then, anxiety come seeping in.  And I know from experience that if I don’t figure out what’s truly bothering me this will worsen.  This could get really bad, before it improves.

I pop on to Facebook, even though for the most part lately it makes me feel grumpy and alone.  Someone I don’t even know (in real life) posts an article.  I know he struggles with depression though I cannot remember how I know that about him, as he is a stranger to me.  Weird that I know this piece of information about this stranger but because of it I’m intrigued by the title: Depression, Gift, and Legacy.  Reading it, I meet a new poet (to me) the late Jane Kenyon by reading her poem “Having it Out With Melancholy.”  I make a new friend in this poet.  Here is a piece:

when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing 
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And for a second I have the energy to write this.  I know that for this day at least, it will pass even as I long for greater contentment and peace. But for today, for the moment it is enough to find a poet that understands me.  I this moment I do not feel so alone.  The wonders of social media.

Caroline Langston, the article’s author too becomes a friend today because I get her and what she wrote.  

It is like puzzle pieces clicking into place, deep inside of me.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle,” said Philo of Alexandria. Oh how I love that quote.  I remind myself of that all the time. My own battles with depression have allowed me to see others more clearly, with more empathy and understanding.

And Caroline paraphrases Walker Percy saying: “The hardest thing in life is to get through an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. One is far happier to be facing an imminent hurricane.”

As I sit here petulantly bearing my boring day which weighs on me; heavy like the summer air outside, thick and impenetrable, ghastly.  But rather than avoid, I will sit here a moment  with my sweet and smoky Rooibos tea.  I will feel my irritation, my wishing, my longings, my fear, my resentments.

I will sit and be in this day.

{A Miscarriage of a Life – a post Mother’s Day Lament}

Yesterday I told myself over and over — I have had a miscarriage of a life.

The day before, I spent all day celebrating my older sister as she received a doctorate of ministry in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Yes, I was happy for her but I could not enjoy the day fully because I was so disappointed with my own life.

After the very long ceremony (those Lutherans know how to “party”) I asked her what was next on her list for world domination? It was a backhanded compliment, which had a risk of offending her, but luckily she was gracious. (I get snarky and sarcastic when I’m feeling bad about myself.)

These sisters of mine are capable of doing anything.

Harrison’s seem to have the brains and talent, ability to work extremely hard, a yearning for justice to prevail and the certainty that injustice is, in part, our life’s call, challenge and responsibility.  We are strong, capable, and powerful women. Some days I actually believe that about myself.

I have come to believe that much of the spiritual journey is one of being stripped of all that we would put our trust in, other than God.

Life is found in losing it for Christ’s sake.  The life that God has for each of us, if received–changes us.  There is not one sacred path for all.

My journey over the last twenty years has been a stripping, for I never knew Jesus, before.

I never knew I was beloved. I didn’t believe there was a purpose for my life outside of what I could accomplish, a life purpose that is all about Jesus.

Until my father died nine years ago, I was in many ways “asleep.”  Because of the severe damage to my psyche from his anger, I did not know myself.  I did not know the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in any real way.

I did not know it, but I was bankrupt in spirit.

But even in that absence of belief, God planted questions, passions and strong desires inside me, a prompting that has never left me to know the Word of God and interpret it. I know that I am to receive that– and submit to the unique journey God has laid out, even when I cannot see clearly the road ahead.

Trusting is painful — the stripping away of sin, of selfishness and in many ways of aspects of my humanity, my character, that I thought were who I was.  But there is grace, protection, comfort, provision and shalom in submitting to the Holy One’s purposes.

It is the only safe place. And yet it hurts so much when I feel I do not understand clearly.

In my 20s and 30s I lived for my job, it was my identity and all that I knew.  Strangely, I believed it was all I was good at and I thought that I was choosing to walk away from that work, because the environment was unhealthy, but I see now that God led me away, took everything that made me feel good and strong and powerful.  I thought I knew.

I could have lost my marriage and family because of my addiction to alcohol.  I thought I knew, thought I was strong enough to beat it with will power, but the addiction beat me and I found that I was nothing without the Holy One.  Even if I gave up the drink, without the Holy One filling me, healing, and strengthening me I was nothing. I thought I knew.

I sat Sunday scrutinizing people who had given many years of their lives to learning, thinking, writing, believing, enough to sacrifice time with their own children and partners, to achieve this incredible goal of a masters or doctorate. Some were restrained, some were giddy, and many were just slightly stunned to survive it, it seemed to me as a bystander.

I was so incredibly jealous and sad for myself, even mad at myself.  Though the day wasn’t about me, inside my head everything was about me and my feelings of not exactly failure, but a strange bedfellow to it, a miscarriage of a life.   In that moment, how dearly I regretted leaving my career in my early thirties and staying at home with my kids. Deep down a part of me still believed that I would not have succumbed to alcoholism or depression in the end if I had continue to work fulltime.  I’d still have a great career, I’d be able to leverage it toward other work, and I would be respected by others.   Pretty much bullshit and lies, but I almost believed it again as I sat there fuming internally.

I said all that and more to my mother as we drove back home.  I don’t know if I really believed it.  I do know that who I am, the real me, the person I never knew until I had no job, suffered from major depression and became a drunk – that woman needs Jesus! She believes in the Creator in a way that she never did before she lost it all.

I remembered that my boss, while I was trying to decide about leaving InterVarsity told me to go have babies and come back in five years to continue my part of world domination.  Only, I never went back I was too busy having a breakdown and drinking myself stupid.  That’s what I mean by a miscarriage of a life.

I was debriefing the day with Tom, who is extremely smart and has an almost PhD from the University of Chicago.  As his head hit the pillow he exhaled, he said something like:

Higher degrees have their purpose, and there is a sense of personal achievement if it is important to you, but being a parent is three times harder than getting that PhD.

“Yeah,” I said, “but the world doesn’t esteem parents.  Parenting won’t get you a job.  Parenting won’t bring you any real regard or admiration from others.  Parenting is something everyone does.  (Not to mention you don’t get paid and the hours are terrible.)  It’s not enough.” 

My eyes filled with tears so many times on Sunday, I felt like I was choking most of the day.  I was happy for my sister, genuinely — for I know only in part the many sacrifices she and her loved ones have made for her to accomplish this incredible goal.  I know my father was doing a happy dance, wherever he is.  My mother was beaming.

I spent my mother’s day celebrating my sister in part because I believe in doing things even when they are hard.  I want my children to grow up knowing that doing the right thing isn’t always what’s easy, nor is it usually about you. That there will be many opportunities in life to choose yourself over others, but when given the chance to celebrate someone you love, you should take it.

All day I had moments of deep self-pity and self-loathing for my choices and beating myself up about the last fifteen years.  Hindsight is 20/20 and all, still this is what I have come to know.

I know I would be different and horrible person if I had continued on the path of a workaholic and constant striving for external approval. My character has been changed through these experiences.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a true understanding of God’s mercy and grace in my life. I know that I am loved by Jesus – I didn’t know or believe it two decades ago.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a daily dependence on God for my health – my mood, my purpose and meaning.

For even as humbling and hard as each day is and how much it feels like a sacrifice to not have a viable lauded career at this time, I’m on my knees ever more.

Most of what I am learning is yet to be understood or written I suppose.  Clearly, I am still broken, still too easily overcome by the wrong motives. I continue to be frustrated and discontented and I am frustrated with myself because of this.

In studying the book of Proverbs (because that is where we are in Eat This Book reading the entire Bible in a year at church) I am being drawn to Proverbs 31.  I look forward to learning what a 21st century feminist wife and mother, a homemaker, budding writer has to learn about being a Proverbs 31 woman.

I am open, and fearful. I am angry and aching inside, deep where no one understands me except God.

I know I should be grateful but everything about me is wired to work hard, to please other people, to get the acclaim of others, to be esteemed and admired; it is the entire human condition without God.

I pray for spiritual understanding and an ability to lay all that down — to trust and obey.

Deep down I know that as long as I keep longing for all the wrong things, I can’t grasp what is good, whether that is understanding of what I already have or whether it is receiving what God has for me next.  I cannot grasp it because I am still so filled with discontent.

I thought I knew.  There is very little that I do know.  But my story isn’t fully written.


(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.

I Sold My Soul to Work: A response to Blackhawk’s sermon “Success”

One of the strongest messages I received from my father was don’t be a slackerFairly regularly he communicated to me that he was fearful that I just might be one.  It was subtle, but I got the message that I needed to work harder. He was always pushing.

He was very driven.  I thought being driven was a positive quality growing up.  And Dad’s motives were good I believe.  Dad and Mom were doing the Lord’s work and how could we not give the Lord 120%?  I suppose that is why I was so afraid to quit my job to stay home with my children.  I was afraid that deep down I was the slacker he saw in me.  What would happen to me if I didn’t have fear of failure, or good-natured competition, or general-freaking-out-all-the-time-to-get-things-done pushing me? For those were the things motivating me at the time.

As I sought God’s direction for my life in the decision to stay or leave InterVarsity, I had no idea how much I needed to learn.  And that began a decade long journey.  Ironically, this simple message was taught on Sunday at church about the idol of Success.  I sat there wishing that I had heard the sermon fifteen years ago, perhaps it would have saved me a lot of grief.  But truthfully I likely would not have “heard” it.  I needed to go through what I did, to learn a difficult lesson.  I hope the younger people listening yesterday can learn this earth shattering lesson without living it out painfully like I did.

I grew up believing that I WAS what I accomplished.  My worth was in what I could DO.   I don’t think my parents knew they were teaching me that, but I got the message that the harder you worked, the better you could and should feel about your contribution.  The more degrees you got, the better you could feel about your brilliance.  The more areas of responsibility you were given, obviously, the more of a Star you were and the more respect and affirmation I received from Dad.  I sat at the master’s feet, my father, who was a doer.  He was an extremely talented, hard-working person that motivated others to do great things.   He was always coming up with new ideas.  He was generally a big shot in the mission world, quite important and well-respected.   I learned my ideas about work from him.

I went to work for my father soon out of college mostly because I wanted him to like me.  When he gave me my first promotion I heard angels singing and the sun came out a little brighter.  I had finally arrived in his good graces.  And then I quickly became scared to death, because even though I knew what was expected of me – DO NOT FAIL – I didn’t believe I was capable, or talented, or smart enough.

That began my decade of perfecting the life of a workaholic.  I would not fail, because I worked longer and harder than everyone around me.  (This is what I thought at the time anyway.  There were many workaholics at my side as well as balanced people who worked smarter than I did.)

I sold my soul to the god of success.  The truth was more painful.  My identity was completely wrapped up in what I did and accomplished.  Tim Mackie said on Sunday, “Our culture worships at the altar of success and achievement.”  And how!  He also said, “A counterfeit god is anything that is so central to your life that should you lose it your life would not be worth living.”

That was my job.   I completely lost my way.  I lost my faith, kneeling at the idols of work, perfectionism, achievement and power.  I was ironically doing many good things for all wrong reasons.  Every day at work I attempted to prove to everyone, but especially my dad, but also the doubters and haters who (quite rightly) worried about Dad hiring two of his children for major roles in the Urbana convention.   Every day I thought I had to prove that I was good enough and deserved to have my job.  Deeply insecure, I didn’t know my value as a child of Yahweh. I finally burned out and then I quit—mostly out of a need to get away from all that, from the person that I had become, who I didn’t like at all—to be at home with my children.  I had three under the age of four and a pre-teen step daughter.

Right about now you are thinking, those poor kids.  Yeah, in some ways it is true that you could feel sorry for them but the lessons God taught me have made me who I am today and I wouldn’t trade them even knowing my children had to live with me through several struggles with major depression and my alcoholism.

This breakdown of Ecclesiastes 4 was so beautiful in its simplicity.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.  Fools fold their hands and consume their own flesh.  Better is a handful of quietness than two handfuls of toil and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:5-6)

The same word hand in English means three different things in Hebrew. (And people wonder why we don’t trust the translators?)  Hand is used three times here to mean three different things.

  • “Folding your hand (yad)” in Hebrew is forearm, visualize folding your arms on your chest.  That is the slacker or lazy person I spoke of. The person taking it easy dishonors themselves and God, and is a fool.  It is good to use your time and talents to honor the Lord.
  •  “A handful (kaph)” is a word that helps you visualizes an open hand, palm up.
  • “Rather than two handfuls (khophen).”  This  is grabbing a fistful of something.

When I worked, I was grabbing for everything—the next project, the next department.  I was constantly dwelling on what I didn’t have and could not appreciate the honor and responsibility of what was before me.  I couldn’t enjoy my own successes.  I trampled on people in my department blindly so that I could grab at more responsibility and power.  I was never satisfied with my own work.  I was never content with my accomplishments.  I look back now, ashamed.  I was too young and more importantly without the spiritual maturity to know what I was doing.  Being raised to believe that I was what I accomplished, well, I was doomed — destined to fail.

The open hands of tranquility!  Even now, there are still areas where I push myself out of insecurity and fear and out of a desire to “be somebody.”  And a big one for me is being a feminist.  Let me explain.  I fret continuously about the lack of power and influence that women have – not only in the Church, but that is a large part of what I think about.  The role of women and being a feminist has been  at times an idol in my life in that I have made it the ultimate thing.  I am afraid of personally giving up whatever bit of power or influence i have as a women and think about this for all women in the Church.  I am afraid of women being perceived as lightweights, that men (who already have power) might think we take up needless space in the universe and really only have one significant purpose.  I know!  I have been totally two-fisted toward God about this, distrusting the leadership of the church as well as individuals I interact with on this subject. 

I come to my role as a feminist woman in the evangelical church often suspicious, fearful and distrusting.  I have not been tranquil or at peace about this for a long time.  And here’s an earth shattering realization for me.  I feel like I am letting “womankind” down by being a stay-at-home mom.  As if somehow I should have a career that shows that women can make money, contribute ideas, and make a significant difference in the world just as well as men, and I should be doing that for womankind.  I know how silly and pathetic that sounds.  I care so much more about my own reputation as a woman and I deeply care what others think of me still.  I worry that I am not doing enough or not proving my worth with my choice to be at home.

This remains unresolved in my and all I can do today is admit it, confess it and pray that I can do this work that God has put before me from a place of trust that my life is a gift from God. I must trust that He gave me my mind and heart; he gave me the things that make my heart ache or my soul sing.  All these are from Yahweh!   Pray for the peace found in doing the things He put before me – in raising my children which is profoundly challenging, daunting, and an incredible honor.   I want to approach motherhood openhandedly while bringing my screwed up, sinful, dysfunctional ideas about my value to the Cross every day.  I want to breathe in the peace of knowing I am beloved and that I am forgiven for those years of fretting and striving for significance and meaning in things that would never satisfy.  I am forgiven for the years of trying to earn my earthly father’s and Yahweh’s love.   My task is to wake up every day remembering that I have nothing to prove — not to my father, not to myself, not to men or women, not to anyone.

Melody

———

Here is a poem I wrote in response to last week’s sermon, about the greatest of idols self-identity – allowing our meaning and purpose to come from anything but Yahweh.   The sermon  kicked off a series titled American Idols.  The premise is that anything in your life, even a good thing, that becomes more important than God is an idol.  In an age of psychology and self-healing, through medicines and talk therapy, self-worth can all too quickly become an idol.  For me, the journey of finding my way back to faith and belief was so huge in my development of a healthy identity.  Still, many days, as I search, as I long for, need, wander, hope and fear — the process becomes an idol.  The process becomes this thing that distracts me from who God is, what it means to be his beloved child, and the few things that he calls me to each day.

Here is what I wrote the week before in response to the sermon Stop.

These are a series I am writing called: Be Real.  One of the ways I’m going to do that– be real — is by writing a response to the sermons I hear at my church, Blackhawk. These responses are not from the church, just my reflections.  I am always challenged by teachers at Blackhawk, sometimes profoundly, but I don’t — to be honest — always take the time needed to apply them to my life. But, if life is too busy to apply what you’re learning about your faith and if you don’t change and grow, what’s the point? So here goes.  Many people are busier than I, including my husband, and I just hope that this helps reinforce in some small way what God was already saying to you.

————————

I searched hard for an image from Urbana 96 or Urbana 2000 because those are the events that I did the promotion for, but the website seems to be stripped of the historic images. The image above was taken after I left.  I suppose I should say for the record that I by no means failed at filling the Urbana conventions that I worked on.  They were both more than full, bursting.  If that is what you are measuring as success.

re|think everything

(re|think)

noun

Pronunciation:/ˈriːθɪŋk/

[in singular] a reassessment, especially one that results in changes being made.

I am thinking about many things including the future of this blog.  I was particularly challenged by a conversation this weekend.  My sister questioned why I “live so much in the past?”  She was wishing for me that I would be able to “get on with my life.”

Long before that conversation, I have asked for a clear insight about what is next for me.  I have been seeking — praying — listening.

Rethinking What I Know about Myself.

  • I need to know  that my life contributes to a grander and larger story than simply my own.
  • I have certain passions — God-given, I believe.  Most notable photography.  biblical studies.  women.  any injustice.
  • One spiritual gift I have seems to be Mercy. My heart breaks over the corruption and greed in some that leads to poverty and pain for others.  Over persecuted people groups.  Over homophobia, racism, sexism.  Over anyone being homeless.
  • My voice, in writing, is loud and clear and sometimes even challenging.  Out loud I am meek and unclear, which I experienced this weekend to my dismay.

Rethinking Biblical Translation & Interpretation.

I have a hunger to understand scripture for myself.  Dare I say this?  It frightens me that so much of (most or all) biblical interpretation throughout history was done by men.  It gnaws at me from inside out.

I am not a raging neofeminist or even a strong proponent of a feminist or liberation theology.  (I guess I don’t know enough about them to say one way or another.)  Simply put, things have been stacked against us:women

  • A patriarchal society& culture brought us the message of the scriptures that we live our lives by. 
  • Another group of men translated it into the language for “everyone.”
  • And, then in most churches today men stand up and interpret scripture every Sunday and all week long.

“The Bible has shaped the life of the church in a way that nothing else has done and Christians today are the product of the history of its interpretation.” 1

Why should I trust their translations and interpretations categorically without question?  This is simply foolish, in my opinion.  And still I pray for a spirit of humility — that I would be a fertile ground.  I ask why do I think these things and if my motives are wrong or I am simply being foolish in my thinking, that this thinking would change.  And, I have thought of many responses to this conundrum, from applying to be an unpaid intern at my church in biblical hermeneutics, I would hope, to bring a feminine voice to the teaching being done, to going to seminary.

Rethinking My Role.

As I seriously consider the perception of being a “woman of leisure” which I wrote about recently, I get mired in my own frustrations and can’t pull together clear thoughts.  Because it is emotional for me!  I don’t care about the money (perhaps I should) but I want respect.  And I know if I don’t respect women who stay home, then how can I expect others to respect me?

And before you email me about the value of being at home with kids, know that I’ve had more than ten years to ponder this subject.  I don’t need “encouragement” in that regard.  It is an incredibly complicated personal decision for every women and I do respect the difficult place women (so much more than men) are in.  So if you are a man, butt out. No one can make this choice for a woman or explain away her doubt, fear, aspirations, goals, or desire for “accomplishment” or get why she cries to be away from her babies.

Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama was named Most Powerful Woman of the Year, beating out heads of state, chief executives and celebrities in Forbes magazine’s annual listing.  Some women came out saying Ms. Obama talks about herself as a wife and mother and were questioning how that makes her influential?   Gr…..

But I digressed into an issue that is only a side story in my search for a place to make an impact and contribution.

And I am still left thinking at this point, is this blog much ado about nothing?  Is it time to stop?”

Rethink Everything.

It is difficult for me, at times, to look back over the last decade of my life.  In human terms — quitting  a meaningful, challenging job, succumbing to clinical depression, becoming addicted to alcohol, and straying far away from the LORD — it was all failure on my part. And yet, it was through those experiences, as mortifying as they are and were to me, that I have come to recognize many things.

I am actually grateful to have been brought so low.  I can only hope that I am still learning and am becoming a person useful to the LORD.  I had to trudge through the violence of my childhood and my feeling of betrayal and disappointment towards my parents — and forgive them.  This has opened me up to a new life.

Christ’s broken body for me was real and meaningful in a new way never understood until my humiliation.  And gratefully I can say, this drove me to my knees.  I went from someone who felt she was competent, powerful, knowledgeable and puffed up with my importance to a broken reed, hardly knowing up from down.  Alcohol devastated me — became the thing that I lived for.  The passion, the dreaming, the hoping, the living stopped.

I am so grateful to not have lost everything. It is humbling to sit here in the comfort of my home knowing that I am loved by my husband and adored by my children.  Undeserved, as I know how close I came to losing  all that I now hold dear and even my life.

As I consider what the future holds for me I want to be fertile ground.  Looking back, mostly glad to have fallen.  To have learned.  As I look ahead there is no perfect plan.  I must trust while serving, not knowing the future.  Trust that I have a contribution to make, but if that “thing” the “plan” never happens, hope that I will continue to be grateful and if I am never made whole, still I will ask for it.  And hope.  And stay open.

===================================

I have more than fifty poems I have written here.  This one, is called addict.


Being an addict catches me by surprise.  Today,

seemingly innocent things — a drink, a smoke, a purchase, food, even exercise can become

urgent

need.

In the time that it takes to feel a flash of happiness, sadness or regret;

less than 60 seconds of my life

and I remember,

I am an addict.  How could I have forgotten?

Today I must ask what brought this on?

For tomorrow I must fill the need

with OTHER.

As for yesterday, I can only look back and remember

I am an addict, but I am stronger than my need.

And as for this moment — I know I am an addict;

I am. I was. I always will be, always will be

an addict.

ADDICT written april 9, 2009 by melody harrison hanson

Those that have no background in addiction look at the word ADDICT and the word alcoholic as kind of wicked and weak.  Face it, our culture doesn’t understand.  But if you’ve been there, if you live there, if you love someone who does or has you know exactly what I mean.  And I thank you for understanding.

1 Bray, Gerald.  Biblical Interpretation: Past & Present, 1996, IVP

What’s a Woman of Leisure? (Not that you asked)

“I just want to be happy.”

As I spoke those words to my father on the telephone, I meant them.  I could not remember the last time I felt genuine joy.  I was coming off of three pregnancies in rapid succession and being a person that worked 60+ hour weeks in a rewarding but stressful job.

Tom and I had decided together that I would stay-home with our three kids who were all still in diapers for two reasons.  One, because I wanted “out” of my job.  And secondly, it made sense financially to not put three kids in daycare.  But I hadn’t found it to be a positive change for me and after a year at-home I was suffering from major depression — although I did not yet know  what to call.

I was expressing a desire for something that I could not have defined exactly.

Happiness.

This was one of the last real conversations I remember having with my father.  It was the summer of 2002, and I recall my father saying, “Do you need me to come?  I will come if you need me.” and I deflected, thinking as usual that my need was not important.  I said, “No, I’ll be okay.”  Which was the farthest from the truth.

I wasn’t okay and wouldn’t be okay for a very long time.  But that day, sitting on my back stoop looking out at my yard with unseeing eyes, I couldn’t imagine what he could do to make things any better.

You see the idea of him coming was better than the actuality.  My parents did visit in October, and my father was preoccupied with work —  on his laptop and cell phone the entire visit.  He was critical of our choices — We took them out to a Thai restaurant for dinner instead of cooking.  That was wasteful or indulgent, which he did not approve of, never mind that we were buying.

But I was depressed still five months later.  And when you are, things like grocery shopping and cooking are impossible to do.  I didn’t stick up for myself at the time.   And I knew Tom felt no criticism of me for not cooking.  So we went out.

It turns out Dad was suffering from brain tumors (though no one knew at that time) which would be diagnosed a few weeks later.  He had brain surgery in early December.  He died five months later, in May of 2003.)

Recently we were dining (at home, if you must know) with some new friends.

Tom and I are both making an effort to make some new relationships, as this has been a theme at church lately. We were gathered in the kitchen — as often happens in the minutes before enjoying a home cooked meal together — and Tim asked if I needed any help?  I usually do leave some things for when guests have arrived, because it gives me something to do with my hands.  (I’m a nervous, socially introverted tongue-tied  person, especially with new people.)  And a task sometimes makes a guest feel good.

I flippantly and off the top of my head said “No, I’m a woman of leisure,  so I finished everything ahead of time.”  Where in the hell did that come from, I thought immediately? 

I’d never described myself that way before.  Haven’t even put those words together in a sentence before. And I haven’t felt bad about being a stay-at-home for a good long while.

Oh, it creeps in now and then, as people ask the “good ol’ American get to know ya questions” like “What do you do?”  Awkward when you have all your kids in school and you’re not “working” outside the home.  My self-esteem would definitely be enhanced by a salary and some hours working at tasks that have a higher purpose or a more obvious result.  But no, for now this is working for us.  I am at-home.  I am a full-time MOM, two-hour a day max home-keeper, and working on my health.

It all leads back to that desire to be happy.

Am I a woman of leisure?  God help me, no!  But I guess I joked about it because I don’t know how to tell people what my life really involves.  It’s not typical for someone to admit ,

“My #1 job is staying healthy mentally. What do you do?”

Yup, I have a mental illness (there I said it) and it’s chronic (meaning it comes back, all too frequently) and I am learning through trial and error, research, and lots of effort and hard work what it takes to get healthy, stay healthy, and be healthy. 

I know that I could do a 9-5 job and sort these things out on the weekends.  But I am grateful that I don’t have to and so I’m working on my health every day (or most days. Many are too full to think about me. I am a mother of four, active in my church, and writing…)

Major depressive disorder was the diagnosis and it has led me to a half-dozen different therapists, psychologists as well as psychiatrists. A near fatal suicide attempt.  Medication.  Hospitalization.   Alcoholism.  And …the depression comes back.  I start all over again.  Well, the truth is …

I work, work, work  …

on my sanity.  And on the good days I think why the hell does it take so much time just to be healthy?  On the bad ones, well, I just can’t think. I struggle to be functional.  But it’s not quite like that.   A depressive episode builds, like a few rolling waves at first sliding into a tsunami.

If you’ve never been in therapy, you’ve no idea how much work it is.  It’s hard when you are not depressed.  Hellishly difficult if you are.  If you are committed to getting better and growing and changing, you have to do it.  There is no other choice.  No one wants a  relapses, of which I’ve had more than a half dozen over six years.

It feels like two to three months of going through life like The Undead.  Your body is heavy all the time — It feels like you are filled with sand.  And your head, your mind, your soul, your psyche is a Black Hole.  Everything swirls around into it and nothing worthwhile comes out.)

If your commitment is to health you have work on it EVERY DAY:

  • On your spirituality, because I’d hate to give you the impression that “healing” only comes from doctors.
  • On your physical health, I have learned that exercise and diet are probably most important, after Psychotherapy.
  • On your friendships.  Isolation is a big danger and a signal that you’re slipping backwards.
  • On your relationships with family, which must stay positive and healthy.
  • You have get off drugs or alcohol, because at least alcohol is a depressant.  [The story of alcoholism well, it will have to be another day for that.  I am two years and two months into sobriety as of this writing.]
  • You have to do the therapy, which only works if you do the work.

So what does a woman of leisure do?

This one works on her stuff.  And sometimes keeps house and cares for four kids — nine, 11, 12 and 22.  Our youngest has learning difficulties which have involved years and years of advocacy and therapies and doctors appointment.  Being an advocate for him meant getting an education on many things including how the public school system works to help children with disabilities, pushing the insurance company and doctors and teachers, learning about hearing, and speech and attention-deficits.  Learning about nutrition and medication and side effects.  Just regular stuff mom’s do if they have the time.  Most women have much less time for this than I do, so I feel fortunate.  But managing all that, during the same years that I’ve been ill has been hard.  Rewarding but difficult.

I volunteer my photography skills and writing when I can or when asked. I ventured into a photography business for about three years, but decided that I didn’t really want it that badly.  I serve in various places with a variety of things — as I hear of needs at church and school.  I study further on things will help me do all this in an intelligent way.  When they were little I was in the kid’s classrooms volunteering every week and was going on field trips.

I do love being at home when my children come home from school — world-weary, and kind of beat up from their day — offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen or a word of advice.  It just happened last night with my 22-year-old and it is awesome.

We only have a few years with our children and so I have concluded – selfishly perhaps – that if I can take these years then I will.  Gladly.  Joyfully.  And try to best of my ability and with all the strength I have in me to live well. 

For them.  For myself.  For the pure sake of being happy to be alive. 

Who knew, as a child, that just being happy would be so much work.  What does this woman of leisure do all day?  Some days I wonder that myself if I’m truthful.  But I hope I will look back, in the years to come, and have no doubt it was time well spent.

MHH September 15, 2010

For more of my story scroll down to TAGS and click on MY STORY.

So how does a feminist, at-home mom answer the question: What do you do?

I hate that question!

And I hate that I hate it.

Unless you’ve spent some time (more than a month) at home managing things and people, you can’t imagine how the following realities can possibly be true.

When I say that I am a part-time free-lance photographer, I usually gets responses of  “Oh, cool” or “Oh wow” and just slightly impressed gazes.  I know what they are thinking when I say I am also an at-home mom.  I am an out-of-work-highly-skilled-workaholic-manager who hasn’t been able to transfer that skill to home and doesn’t have another job.

It’s true.  My many failings as a house-keeper are evident to anyone who spends more than a few minutes in my home.  I sometimes take images for others, and get paid.  Others I donate my time to like Our Lives magazine (I did this cover and usually have something in every issue. But most of the time my photography is for my own pleasure.  I spend my days super busy and yet at the end of the day I have usually (not always) not made a cent and quite the opposite have undoubtedly helped the economy along.

How do I spend my days?  What’s currently going on … ?

I spend a lot of time and even more soul energy, advocating for my children in the public school system.

When I am on my game I spend quite a good amount of time studying the Bible.  (I can’t take anyone’s word for it any more when it comes to my faith and understanding of things in the Bible.)

My yard is sorely neglected but it is beautiful and has a garden (providing amazing tomatoes, banana peppers, leeks and carrots, Bok Choy, and beans and different herbs.  I am an on again, off again composter but I mow my own yard and sometimes my aging neighbor’s.

My eight year old has — count them — eight cavities and will see the dentist four times this month, along with an orthodontist.   He has the unfortunate combination of: loves sugar, bad hygiene habits, and simply has bad teeth.  He also needs an appointment with an Audiologist, and a Psychologist, and I’m late signing him up for speech therapy/tutoring he receives twice weekly through the UW. I want to sign him up for football, because soccer was not his sport and with his auditory and focus challenges and issues, I think catch the ball and run will be right up his alley.  His IEP will be written at the first of October.  I need to contact a disability rights advocacy group, and figure out how to get his IEP working for him with or without that group, and check in weekly with the teachers, working on things at home.

It’s no wonder my eleven year old thinks she never gets my attention and she has started speaking stridently about e v e r y t h i n g.  (At least I hope that’s why she’s so exercised about every little thing.) It’s absolutely not true about my time, but I do have a lot going on with Jacob.

My middle child is creative and happily goes about his movie making, hoping to slip under the radar.  But he needs daily help with reading and homework whether he wants it or not.

My mother is 72 and although living independently we are beginning to have conversations about managing life.  She has two doctor appointments that I will attend and will require follow-up.  She’s broken her shoulder and so I do her laundry, fetch things, shop and visit daily.  I aim for daily at least.  Now I think she is ready to look into continued living facilities and has asked me to help her find them and go to appointments.  That will happen after she gets out of the assisted facility she is in for her rehab.

I got the physicals done thankfully, with shots for Emma going into Middle School and they asked my kid, like they have for … nine or ten years, … DOES YOUR FAMILY HAVE A FIRE SAFETY PLAN?  NO, No, for the last bloody time we don’t and probably never will!!!!!!!!!!  Lingering Guilt…  My advice in a fire is run!

I can’t seem to stay on top of my daughter’s soccer schedule and commitments, because we missed a seemingly innocuous parent meeting: I didn’t go and Tom didn’t get out of the car. And that’s all I’ll say about it, but she has two practices a week and a game which my husband helps to chauffeur,  for which I am grateful.

Speaking of husbands, I have a book at Borders recommended by a good friend, The Passionate Marriage (by David Schnark) which I haven’t had time to pick it up much less read, or work on that passion!  But I am hungry for connection with my husband, because we have reached those dangerous years when we are so busy “doing” for the kids that we hardly touch base.  The main time we see one another is 6:00 pm daily when we eat dinner as a family.

I am 14 months into my recovery from alcohol addiction and this recovery takes work – time and energy, energy and time.  I missed my Alcohol counseling appointment this month because it was the only day we had free to use already purchased tickets to Noah’s Ark, which we had been rained out of twice already, and the summer was over in a week.  But I haven’t even had time to do my Step 2 homework, so although I need to go, I’m not ready.

Every strain of life seems to be leading back to nutrition and health, with Jacob’s sugar fixation, Tom and I feeling lethargic and being over weight, my kids being a bit chubby, my high cholesterol, etc, etc.  I barely make it to the store, or to cook meals, much less read the 300 page book on Family Nutrition.  Even if I skimmed it I just want to sit down and  …. sigh.

I hadn’t had my teeth cleaned in a year, but did recently and have confirmed TMJ and need to schedule with a specialist.  Any surprise that I grind my teeth at night?  Some mornings I wake up with headache reminiscent of my old hangovers and my jaw pops all day long.  The dentist recommends I quit chewing gum, the same gum that I was chewing so that I could quit smoking.  Sore jaw or smoking withdrawal.  Hm….. Life is full of choices.

I had skin cancer last year and need a followup appointment, my doctor moved, so I have to get a new doctor, and a new appointment.  I have moles that are looking strange, but it will likely be winter before I get to it.

My neighbors have apples that need picking, free for the taking, but I keep buying them at the store because I don’t have time to go pick them.

When all is said and done (or undone) I will go pick an apple, breathe, and rethink whether it matters what my dentist, or anyone else, thinks about what I do all day?

Everyone’s life is full of challenge and we may or may not get to it all.   I go to bed night after night with my to do list still swirling around undone.  But big picture, this is exactly the right job for me, for now, for today, for this moment.