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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..

6

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.

{Do I see, hear, or know the least of these? Do I know Jesus? (and an apology to white men)}

For several days I’ve been trying to figure something out. Why did it hurt so much?

I like to ask questions and throw things out on Facebook, sometimes (many times) that I don’t even think through carefully. I’m something of a rabble-rouser. I sometimes even take pride in it, thinking it’s my “special gift” to provoke others.

Why did it hurt each time I read her words?  And I did read them, over and over, again and again.  I thought about it all weekend.  Even becoming grumpy, bothered, then deeply troubled as my stomach lurched and tears sprang to my eyes, after days there was still, so much pain. And I have come to know what this means — linger here.  Deeply, scrupulously sit with this, discover what it is.

I am mouthy, petulant and troublesome, even stupid at times, on Facebook. This is what I said:

“I’ve long wondered why it doesn’t occur to white men that they are so privileged, but as Julie Clawson says if you don’t get that you are a part of the problem. It’s not tokenism rather catching up to the world, where women and non-white are your equals and simply want the opportunities to represent themselves.  In a WHITE and in a MALE dominated culture.” 

Okay (in retrospect) that was arrogant and whiny. (Perhaps I really do need to give up Facebook.  It feeds all the wrong parts of me.)

Then my old  and dear friend, she challenged me. I quote the entire conversation because it matters to me.  Here is exactly what she said (Emphasis is mine):

I wonder Mel if in the logic of what you are saying in your statement whether it cannot be applied to anyone who has any privilege in any part of the world. And I do mean that literally within the logic of your statement. It is known as systemic sin and it can be applied in other ways…I wonder why people who earn over $20,000 a year, or I wonder why persons who were able to go to college, or I wonder why people who have running water in their homes and carry through the logic. I think you are able to speak in these ways because you are part of a white and economically dominant culture so then you are in a similar situation to the people you are accusing.

I am not saying therefore change cannot be brought about. I am saying we all live in power dominated systems. It is what Scripture means when it talks about principalities and powers, and we ALL have our blind spots where we don’t see our privilege and we don’t see our power orientation and we don’t see that we don’t see. I do see that the Gospel calls us to a different way – of being the servant in love. I find it fascinating that Jesus was among an oppressed people, the memory of about 2000 Jews having been hung on crosses at one time within the living memory of people alive at Jesus time,

the fact that the centurions came out at Passover in huge numbers because Rome knew what Passover celebrated,

the fact that Jesus told them don’t just walk one mile, walk two…what is that about…it is about

the fact that by law a centurion could require you to carry all his gear for a certain length of his journey,

the fact that Paul didn’t free the slaves but gave alternate teaching…

So even those who do get it who have a household of over $20,000 a year, or a University/college education, or have water running through pipes to their homes are still part of systemic inequality how often do YOU, do I not get it when we eat an ice cream when that money could have gone to digging wells etcetera….

I am not saying stop seeking to bring about change but let’s recognize we white women are parts of a fallen world too…

And then ask ourselves what concretely does it mean to be a servant in love to those whose lives we can impact concretely … Why does Jesus define His kingdom in the manner he separates the sheep from the goats…

Me: So, what then? Certainly yes, white women are born into a world of privilege and opportunity and we too should look for ways to give up our power. I suppose I just assumed this was understood.

She said: But why do you assume it was understood, when you constantly are commenting about white men…

Me: I never/rarely say “white” men, but it must be implied. Your “constantly” gives me pause perhaps I just talk too much.  I don’t mean “white” when I talk about men. We all have our lens through which we process obviously.

And that was the line that cut so deep …

when you constantly are commenting about white men…” 

You see I don’t want to be known for that, for constantly commenting and complaining about white men.  Even if I do feel a challenge to speak on issues of women in the church, as I do, I do not want to be known for that.  That feels wrong.

That is wrong. 

To my friends who I have offended or verbally accosted, white men mostly I ask you to forgive me if you can.  

[Friends, I hope you will bear with me, I think you will be glad that you read to the end.]

And not having read about the sheep and the goats and not remembering the story at all (apologies to all my Sunday School teachers) today, it’s still bothering, even nagging at me. So I read the account from Matthew 25:31-46 of the Sheep and the Goats (again emphasis mine):

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fireprepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”

Whatever you did for the least of these …

I have so much it’s sick.  I am rich.  I am white.  I am educated and privileged.  I have every opportunity and I have every responsibility to see and to do something. 

And most days, other than that, if I am not going to do that I think I just need to shut up. Yes, I write.  And I may have “things to say.” But I was struck to my core, shattered, stunned with the conviction that this is the core message so many of us (me, I am missing) are missing.

Do I see, do I hear, do I know the least of these? Do I know Jesus?

Thanks to a dear friend, who loved me enough to challenge me, I may never (I hope) be the same.  This is one of those serendipitous and life altering moments.  I have a choice — to see Jesus, to invite Jesus in, to clothe Jesus, to care for and heal Jesus.  I have a choice to know him.

The question remains what that looks like with my hands and feet.  I remain open for that.

I am so grateful.

the middle years (a poem about aging and knowing that you don’t know…much of anything)

The middle years
of middle age come without fair warning.
Raising the young
who think they know everything.
And those of us solidly wedged into midlife know
with confidence, that we know next to nothing.

The middle years are half way to a certain death,
while breathing in a life we did not pick.  For
life happens even as you make plans, dream dreams, and pray.

The middle years
when the body betrays,
the heart is crushed
by what actually happened,
not our plans.
The mind with every strong conviction
is suddenly even more
uncertain.
Oh, for the days of knowing everything!
But then going back there to certainty
would mean doing this
all over again.