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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.

(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.

Financially Together as Two Single People – Part 2

“For many years now Tom and I have felt like we’re playing the Game of the American Dream.  Although it looks perfectly delightful on the outside, the conspicuous consumption of our lives keeps us awake at night.  …  We are continuously asking ourselves how can we live more deliberately? “(From Week One.)

Week Two: Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey

Let me get this off my chest first and then get on to what’s really important.  It’s a good thing Ramsey spoke about men and women the second session because I might have over reacted asking for my money back.

SOAP BOX:

What a bunch of superficial generalizations and stereotypes about men and women and how we relate to one another!  It’s irresponsible and dangerous actually.  And it is no wonder that we don’t understand one another when a man or woman stands up on a stage, using their God-given authority and spews out a bunch of crazy old-fashioned ideas about how men are this way and women are that, with no research to back it up, except some equally ancient thinking from the likes of Gary Smalley and Dennis Rainey.   Or John Gray suggests one that I particularly loathe:  “A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results. A woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships.”

We are all uniquely different but I don’t think that these differences are broken down by gender.  And he spent too much time “being funny” about these very unhelpful generalizations.  I suppose I could have just said that without the soap box.

He did stress that the number one conflict in marriage is over money and I have seen this played out in many of my friends and relatives.  He want on to say some things that made sense.

  1. You must BOTH agree to the details of a budget and work on it or you will fail.  If you both have a say it is more likely that you both stick by it.  That’s very democratic or egalitarian.  I thought it made sense.
  2. If we look at the flow of money in our lives we will see what our values are and what is important to us.  We have found this to be true for us.
  3. For many of us, how we handle our money represents failure to us and the result is low self-esteem. Oh so true:  Money comes to equal stress, bad emotions, and so we avoid dealing with it.
  4. Dangers for falling off your budget:  time poverty and fatigue, thinking you “deserve” something, making impulse purchases, and for singles loneliness spending.
  5. You need a written plan.  This will give empowerment, control and accountability.  And something I never thought about but if you are single you have no-one to be accountable to so he suggested finding someone.  Good advice.
  6. It is the job or a parent to teach  their kids how to handle money.  (He referenced Proverbs 22.6&7.)  Ramsey has a whole theory/program for teaching kids about money.  I thought the emphasis he made on the connection between money and work made particular sense.  The value of hard work.  The result (usually) being money.

Here’s where it got personal.

Ramsey went on a bit too long about the Geek vs. Free Spirit in marriages, saying there is one of each in a marriage.  As he talked Tom and I were having trouble relating.  We struggled to find more than a one or two characteristics that related to us and neither of us were all Geek or all Free Spirit, based on Ramsey’s characterizations.

What we finally concluded is that we are living our financial lives together as two single people. We’ve been together almost fifteen years and for the most part we don’t do this money stuff as partners. Yeah, weird!!!!!  Totally!  At first we laughed! We found ourselves joking with our friends also attending the seminar that we need to “get married” financially.  But then it didn’t feel as funny.  Quite often I do my thing and he does his.  We make impulse purchases, splurges, choices and rarely face the other one because we have always had the unspoken motto: “live and let live.”  He has his musical ‘slush fund’ that he manages and I mange the day-to-day family expenses.  And luckily (or not depending on how you look at it) we’ve had enough income to stumble through. A few important choices over the last few years we made together are investing a good percentage into retirement and insurance.  We are paying off our debt “as fast as we can.”  We refinanced our home so that it’ll be paid off in fifteen years.  Debt in the next two or three.

This realization of our separate financial lives has led us to deeper discussions.

That led to an equally important discussion about how we spend our time as individuals and where we focus our energy as parents.

We are not what I would call bad parents.  We provide for physical needs.  We love and encourage.  We listen and guide.  We set limits.  We pray for our kids.  We have intentionally provided good influences.  Some would say:  good enough.

Well, I’ve felt more alone in parenting that I have wanted to admit.  Tom is a good father for all the above reasons.  But when it came to our free time I have told myself that he “deserves” to have his time free to pursue his own interests — his music — because he’s the breadwinner and I don’t work outside of the home.

And as for me, well, I had to accept it when he told me that I’ve become a bit of a slacker.  It was hard to hear and even more painful to admit but I’ve been called out and I confess that I have abused the freedom of being at home.   I suppose over the ten years the pendulum swung from being an overachiever always thinking about work and how to improve.  I was always pursuing how to do the job better and directing others toward those goals.  Applying that grit to being a homemaker?  Not so much.  I excuse myself saying I’m not that good at it.  But the crystal clear truth is that I am not that inspired by it.  So I do a truly half-ass job of homemaking.

When I left InterVarsity, I basically agreed that I was going to carry most of the load for the house and he agreed to “bring home the bacon.”  He’s been keeping up his end of the deal and I have kind of pursued a lot of other interests, many of them virtuous, but the harsh truth is that I get to the house cleaning and laundry eventually, on a good week.  Why does this matter?

  • Firstly, I have broken a commitment I made.  It was sort of an erosion of my commitment.  Those are the hardest to face but it is true.  Gotta face it.  Turn about and change.   And, financially where this connects is that I could save us a lot of money by applying my brains to careful spending.  Another thing I was going to do when I quit work.   This will require planning ahead, having a schedule that ensures that the yucky stuff gets done every week.  That’s the plain facts!
  • And Tom, well, he totally stepped up to his disappearing act.
  • And together have committed that we’re in it together so let’s do it — together.

The only way that we could see and face the crazy cycle we’ve been on was by stopping to analyse our patterns for spending money.  By backing up and looking at how we spend our time. Tom has a theory that usually a person is doing what they want, no matter how much they belly ache about something else. Except in the case of abusive relationships I agree with him.

But here’s a startling truth.  “What I want” and “what makes me happy” is not always the Godly way.  It is not naturally and easily what Jesus might have done.  It is not always based on your values.  Or convictions.  Or much of anything but old comforts.

What patterns and cycles we have seen!

It is important to say right here that there’s a spiritual dimension to all this that cannot be overlooked.  I think as we face the sickness of careless greed in ourselves we should forgive ourselves and pray:

“Give us, Lord, the same kind of faith with respect to thy ability and willingness to heal our souls.

Give us to desire the pardon of sin more than any earthly blessing or life itself.

Enable us to believe thy power to forgive sins; then will our souls cheerfully arise and go where thou pleasest.”

— Mathhew Henry’s Concise Commentary

Then and only then (Tom took the lead on this) could I be forced to say what really I want with my life.  But that I think is for another day.

Blessings friends!

dance on the tightrope of life

The feet of a tightrope walker.
Image via Wikipedia

That cosmic space

where we balance so gingerly,

where we so often live

between discontent and content.

Surely it has a name?

Presuming I know, I believe we are meant to live in that space as Christ followers.   If one becomes too content we become apathetic to the cries of the world and to God’s priorities.  We forget to listen for his voice .  We may even stop believing that Jesus has the power to do something important in our life.  We forget what it was like to just be walking in the garden of Eden with Jesus.  An easy stroll in the twilight of the day — a peaceful not frantic moment. We just forget when we are too content.

But I can easily fall into discontent and quickly be overcome by bitterness and then I become hard to be around.  Yeah, I know this about myself.

And so there I am dancing on the tightrope of life.  Right now.

D i s c o n t e n t.  With a capital D.

God’s quiet voice seems to be saying “Don’t push so hard Melody.”

I have wrestled hard.  With myself.  With God.  With the voices in my head.  I feel angry. And anxious.  And lost.  And frustrated and simply scared to be in the place that I am.

No real job (at least not for money) and no real prospects in the middle of the recession of the century.  I am ten years out of the marketplace and have only worked at one organization for my entire short career of thirteen years.  I do have certain abilities and gifts that have risen to the surface over the last ten years but they have little to nothing to do with my previous job experience. I could go on, but I won’t.

I am not content.  I am so not!  Right now, I am anxious.  Feeling uncertain if God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit truly care about this conundrum I am in.

(But before you despair for me read to the end — there is hope in the struggle.)

Psalms 75 says “The righteous do not exalt themselves.  God will promote them in the proper time.”

RT Ritenbaugh says of this, “In the meantime, it is best for all of us to be content with where He has put us …  The cure for presumptuous behavior is realizing what God has given us, where He has placed us, and what is best for us at the time. If we work within the parameters He has set for us,we will grow and we will perform the task He has asked us to do.”

Eventually!???

There is a verse in Song of Songs that talks about “bringing contentment.”  Wow, that strikes me like a fist in the face, as even in my best days I am not that kind of person.  I am afraid that my very soul is defined by what is aggravating me.  By what is causing agitation.  I look for it.  Yes, I seem to seek it out.  I’ve always seen this as a asset, or at least a (somewhat) good thing, in that my voice is one that (perhaps) needs to be heard?   But I also have my doubts about whether this is true, or effective, with such a state of discontent radiating through it?   Yes, my heart and mind and soul gets shaken and moved by the things of this world — stories of the downtrodden, powerless and those that are experiencing injustice. And yet, I so long to be a person that brings contentment.  It’s an amazing concept.

It’s so not me.
The dance on the tightrope of life just became more challenging because of this.  And it’s more than trite smiling while you balance there on your tippy-toes.  True contentment is peace.  Bringing shalom (contentment or peace) to a world that is so chronically dissatisfied, stale, empty, barren, hungry, and afraid.

My soul longs for that to be true.  Of me.

In the Hebrew, the word that is translated “contentment” is shalomCompleteness, soundness, safety, peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment, friendship, peace (from war). The noun comes from a verb that means to be in a covenant of peace, to cause to be at peace, to be complete, to be finished, to make safe, to restore.

Being that person won’t just happen.  It is uncomfortable to think about how little I bring that to people I meet every day!  May I have courage enough to ask God for that!  That is my prayer.

These are the questions I wonder:

Am I a safe person? Do I help others to be more at peace?  Do I cause others to hide from me?  What aspects of my life bring restoration, peace and safety to others?  Even the Apostle Paul says he learned to be content. (Philippians 4.)  If Paul the great agitator can learn it, surely I can.  Apparently that didn’t just happen for him when he became a follower of Jesus, but he found over time that he could count on Christ to meet his every need.

I guess being discontent conveys that we don’t totally trust that God has a plan.  Something good.  It makes me remember the Israelites in the OT who were such a terrible group, an example of  lack of trusting God for any goodness in their lives.  Such chronic whiners they were constantly rejecting the manna, which was provided by God, a daily source of strength.  They thought wasn’t good enough.  Too blah, too bland.  That is eerily familiar.  Yikes, I have to ask myself honestly:

Am I also rejecting God’s provision saying “Too bland Lord.  Surely there is m o r e?”

Jesus is the “true manna which came down from heaven.” (John 6:33)  Am I not throwing my own cosmic tantrum saying  that it’s inadequate?

Is Jesus enough?  Can I forget about my surroundings (of being a jobless stay-at-home mom) long enough to walk with him in the garden?

The dance on the tightrope of life just became more challenging if true contentment is:
  • to be with Jesus in the garden.
  • to trust Jesus to make me into a person of peace, safety and restoration.
  • to not allow my circumstances to distract me from what is important and true.

And then, and only then, I may be a person that brings peace, Jesus’ shalom, to a world that is so chronically dissatisfied, stale, empty, barren, hungry, and afraid.

My soul longs for that to be true.

——————————————-

This is what got me writing today which was not in the plan.  Reading the blog: A Holy Experience.

Anticipation … is Making Me Wait.

“Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises … Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.” — Frederick Buechner

It’s the new year.  Which means nothing really except a calendar roll over.  It provides an opportunity to reconsider our focus and intentions.  The children continue with their job of school.  Husband continues with work and musical passions.  He started a shoe-gaze type rock band in 2010 and that will continue to be his focus outside of work.  We each continue with the opportunities before us.  At church we are taught to love where we live; that’s my challenge in 2011, as I seek clarity about …well,  me.

What I’m Learning.

I’ve thought hard over the past few years and realized that I am stuck in a way.  As God has done this incredible work in my heart, mind and soul and then put me back together into the person of his making, rather than being confident in the transformation, I have grown afraid.  Fearing the hell of depression returning I’ve grown cautious and careful, reluctant to take risks of any kind or to believe in the possibilities of my future.  I have forgotten how to believe that I have a future and a hope.  Sounds strange and odd to me as I write it down but as I sat at coffee this week with a new friend, we talked about our areas of brokenness and healing.  I expressed my worry that my “mess” is impacting my children in negative ways.  I was expressing the worry I have over my complicity.

I realized in a flash of insight that I have carried an awful load on my back.  A load of fear.  And in many ways of doubt and lack of faith!  Doubt that God has plans to use me … any more.  Doubt that I have something unique to give … to the global plan of God or even local Madison.  Doubt — nagging at my soul, tearing at my heart, filling my mind, even consuming my hope.

If I could sum up what I feel God has led me to and through in the last few years, it is found in the lyrics of the song Holiness by Sonicflood.

Holiness, holiness is what I long for, Holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what You want from me.

So, take my heart and form it. Take my mind and transform it. Take my will and conform it. To Yours, to Yours, oh, Lord.

Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for. Faithfulness is what I need. Faithfulness, faithfulness is what You want from me.

Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness is what I need. Brokenness, brokenness is what You want from me.

© 1999 Gotee Records; HOLINESS LYRICS – SONICFLOOD

What I Know.

This path and my story over the last few years has been about the metamorphosis of my person.  A reshaping.  A tempering.  An internal spiritual revolution if you can forgive the dramatic way of expressing it.  But it has been nothing less!  Healing implies God is finished, which is untrue.  But He allowed me to fall apart and he put me back together again.  And I learned a few things from those years of pain.

… I know God has given me the spiritual gift of Mercy. I have never been more sure of anything.  Painfully sure, to a point that I question  His care because it hurts so.  But I am learning what to do with that.  There is so much more I need to know about this and what to do with it.

… I know God has given me a Voice through writing and my photography — a way of speaking that people listen to.  A way of telling the truth.  I am learning to hone it.  And learning to listen to Him.  I seek more quiet spaces in order to listen well.  I find the noise of life to be debilitating and soul sucking!  My ability to listen to God and to listen to my heart, mind and soul and believe in my ideas is also progressing.

… I know God has put in me a thirst, a hunger, a hollowed-out cavern of unsatisfied need for the WORD of God which I cannot live without satisfying.   I want to know what to do with it?  And so I wait.

... I know that God has given me “eyes and ears” for the Ancient Tears of Women through out the history of the Church and perhaps this is a part of the heart of mercy.  I do not know why, but I do hear them crying.  And I know something must be done, said, understood, written so that future women & girls do not have that same spiritual pain.  I live in it, breath it in and out.  Their tears and cries echo in my soul becoming my tear, my cry for justice, mercy and hope for women in the Church.  As I said, I don’t know why.  I don’t know what I am to do with it yet.  And so I wait.

… I am impatient to see and understand why I have these gifts and why I hear these voices with an equal measure of apprehension and anticipation.

… I confess that I have not trusted God or believed that I have a good future ahead of me.  In my years of being broken down, losing e v e r y t h i n g that I knew to be true and solid,  God has taken the shards of what I once was, swept them up and formed me into something else — someone other than who I once was.  I just haven’t believed that this someone could be useful to God.

You see in those years, I was driven.  And insecure.  Hungry for authority and power, for significance.  Passionate,zealous and perfectionistic.  Continuously pushing myself.  Never satisfied with my work.  Rarely satisfied with others and overly judgmental, critical and irritated.  I became lonely, sad, and most importantly spiritually lacking a true faith.  I was bereft and lost as up until a few years ago I did not comprehend that Jesus died for me — yes, if I were the only one here on earth Jesus would have given his life for me — my life, my sin.  Me.  I could not accept that.  I didn’t not understand G R A C E.

And then God began to work.  And though painful it is beautiful.

But I still don’t want to live a small life.

“I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail.

I fear insignificance and I fear my need for the opposite.  The search for significance has run deep in me.  As long as I can remember I believed that God had “saved” my life for a reason.  As a toddler I choked on a peanut and through a series of dangerous events came close to a predicted death (This was in Papua New Guinea and Australia in 1968) but God intervened; At least that is what I have always believed — that He saved me for a reason and I have been searching for that reason my entire life.

I have been Searching.

Do you believe this? I think I do.

“When God created humankind in the divine image, the highest expression of that image is the power to be a decision maker. In this sense, one is never complete, but is always being formed by the decisions we make. If this be true, God casts the responsibility on us to choose that which is best for us. These choices come inevitably from the judgments we make about what reflects our highest selves.  Each one of us is a unique person, with gifts, abilities and desires that give us the opportunities for creativity. To discover who we are and what those deep desires of our hearts mean gives us the clue to making decisions about what we do with our lives. If we choose wisely, we will experience the joy of growing a self and offering it as a source of strength to others. This does not mean that God is not with us in the critical moments of decision-making. Through prayer and meditation, we have access into the divine Presence that provides guidance and inspiration. God is never so pleased as when we stand up and make a moral decision that reflects our desire to live at the highest and most useful level attainable.”  —The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey

To end where I began, with Beuchner, I am reminded that “faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises…. Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.”

Yes, I am waiting with a lump in my throat. I’ve learned some things.  I anticipate the new year with hope and joy.

Yes, anticipation.

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

Stop Trying So Hard!

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint and ...
Image via Wikipedia

Don’t lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone. Don’t rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God’s help. Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say “gently” because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety…I recommend you to God’s mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love.

Francis de Sales

I am not a gentle person. I am warm and generally kind.  I am open to others, making an effort to set them at ease.  My introversion and social anxiety make it so that this is hard work for me, but I do it out of principle.  And hardheadedness.  I want to know people, so I am damn sure I’m not going to let my flat-sides get in the way.

But my gut response to the world is usually to critique it.  It is all too easy and habitual to jump to conclusions and prejudge.  I am the opposite of temperate.  And I often become grouchy and grumbling about whatever displeases me —  from the coffee in a restaurant, to a reporter’s poor grammar, to the design on a book cover or the style in which a book is written.  Whether lyrics are theological or food is spiced correctly or a shop is ambient, you name it, I’ve got an opinion.  [Unless I don’t care and then I’ve got nothing.  Can’t be bothered… but digress.]

I would like to nurture gentleness in myself, however that is done. Even with my children, whom I absolutely adore, I know I can come across harshly.  That is why I love more-than-anything-in-the-world just to hold them.  To settle into a deep, long snuggle because  no words are necessary then.  And I fear that with my words, too quickly, I become evaluative and, oh dear, too soon, my love must feel conditional to them.

I am very diligent. I pride myself in being a hard worker which I learned from my father.  He taught me that a person never sits idle while being paid to work.  He caught me reading a book, as a teen, while I was working in his office.  I had run out of things to do. That was the day that my work ethic started, after a long talk from him.  Ask for more, I learned that day.  Idleness in a job, well that’s plain wrong.  And one must always carry out the tasks at hand.  I have learned that I love to work hard and if it makes me sweat all the better!  I am grateful to have that work ethic from him.

And yet, when it comes to being diligent, I am tense in my diligence, which de Sales claims is “over eagerness and anxiety.”  Um, yep.  That is so me — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, wow do I need God’s mercy and to loose my hands on the vice grip that I hold on my life.  It isn’t pleasant or the kind of diligence required of us.

“I recommend to you God’s mercy.

I beg him, through that same mercy,

to fill you with his love.”

I am just thinking and going nowhere with these thoughts.  Except I that perhaps they were worth writing down.

Once our eyes are open, we can’t pretend we don’t know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act. –Proverbs 24:12

Be well, friends.

Melody

Francis de Sales lived August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622.  He was Bishop of Geneva and is a Roman Catholic saint. He worked to convert Protestants back to Catholicism, and was an accomplished preacher. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly Introduction to the Devout Life.