What did you just call me? (part two)

Yesterday I was talking about the difficulty I had with the concept of Divorce Care in terms of my own situation.  Today I want to talk about something I learned a couple of weeks ago.

We were in session six called “What Does the Owner’s Manual Say?”.  The idea was to explore what he bible says about divorce.  I was pretty sure I knew where this was going.  Once again we would watch a video and then we were told the pastor was going to come a say a few words.  I was doing my best to keep my inside voice inside.  I agreed with the scriptures but it was kind of like preaching to the choir.  I got it, but then we got to Matthew5:32.  “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adultress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”  Say what?  I’m a what?  He walks and I’m a whore? I refused to accept this as God’s truth.

I listened to the entire video and heard them soft shoe around the subject stressing whether you were the guilty party or not and that maybe it didn’t really matter if you tried not to divorce etc. I could also remarry if it was a devoted Christian man.  No.  They didn’t have verses backing that up.  I know pop psychology when I hear it and I was simmering.  Now really I’m not a hot tempered person.  I make baskets, rugs, and bake apples crisps.  I’m actually quite calm but being labelled as an adultress was not something I could let

stand or excuse away.  What was the scripture really saying and was I going to be seen as tainted as long as I was in the church?

The other thing the verse said was that if anyone married me they would be an adulterer.  Let me understand this.  I can only remarry a devoted Christian man but if he does this then he is an adulterer. I do not know of any sincere Christian man who’d sign up for that title.  Talk about your double whammy.

By the end of the video the pastor started to talk. Before he got two paragraphs in I couldn’t stay silent.  I said I couldn’t get past this verse and told him I didn’t know how to read it as I did not believe God would label me with a sin I didn’t commit.  What was the truth? Was I condemned to stay single?  If so tell me straight out. Whether I liked the answer or not I needed the truth.  I didn’t want my ears tickled.  I wanted to know what God was really saying.

You have never seen a more uncomfortable looking person in your life. Then he spoke and everything changed. Tomorrow I’ll post what he said.

What are your ideas on this verse?

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My reality as a teenaged boy and other science fiction

The truth is that I’m not a rainbows and kittens kind of girl.  I enjoy science fiction, sculpting, abstract painting, comic books and a good burger.  A great night is a vintage godzilla film marathon, popcorn and an ice cold Pepsi.My ex once said that I was just a teenaged boy in disguise which in hindsight I think disturbed him. As my ex mother in law would say, “You have odd tastes for a woman”.

I was never a tomboy, just creative with a Far Side sense of humour.  I was a medical social worker and science fiction was infinitely more interesting or exciting than any movie of the week and it was a great escape from the intensity of my work.  It asked all the “What if?” questions and everything was in technicolour.  In truth the monsters were usually extensions of the human condition and a lot of the stories were morality tales but with the greatest make up and special effects.  In the hollywood movies it was usually clear who were the bad guys and the good guys and I could suspend disbelief and just enjoy myself.  In the books you were provoked with moral and intellectual dilemmas that challenged you to new perspectives and sumptuous feats of imagination, and they were just plain cool.

I hadn’t always been involved in art but once I got engaged I found that I was home alone a lot (what’s wrong with this picture?) as he was in an intense school program that lasted until the end of our first year of marriage.  I’d never been a good art student as most of that had to do with perfectly replicating drawings of horses.  That is how I remember it.  Very neat and tidy girls would draw replicas of horses with their perfectly sharpened pencils and got As.  Mine looked like disgruntled weasels with gland problems.  Needless to say I did not win any scholarships. I hung out with friends, attended youth group and watched too much TV. My parents were so proud but I digress.

During the time alone I started having dreams with amazing colours and textures and patinas and I wanted desparately to try and reproduce them. When I experimented crafting in 3D I came alive.

I began to explore my need to create.  I found that with a husband that traveled constantly the need to communicate became more pressing. I could express emotions with colours, shapes and forms and lose myself in learning.  In all of this I was learning who I was, what I liked and how I interpreted my world.  Unfortunately it wasn’t what my ex wanted.  I wanted him to be proud of me, of the shows or occasional article in the news but he was still a singularity apart.  I tried to change myself.  I packed up all the supplies and focused on making a clean home a show home, the meals upgraded from healthy to trendy, be the best mom possible and my spare time spent at the gym.  None of it brought him closer and now I was the one feeling lost.  I didn’t know how to fix things, what to be to be wanted besides at night time.

When he finally left I cried convulsively for two months unable to focus, terrified of the future and knowing that if only I wasn’t me maybe I could have been loved.  If only I could have sketched lovely fricking horses and could have watched daytime TV and pretend that the hosts weren’t muppets from hell, and if I could golf and drink white wine, if only,…. If only I wasn’t me.

When I finally stopped crying I pulled out the clay.  I began with little pieces. Then I left all my supplies out.  With a shock I realized I could do that.  In time I found that I didn’t have to stay up late creating to avoid my life. I could create when I wanted because my space was my own and I could sleep when it was good for me because I was free.  The person I’d become, the real me didn’t have to apologize for what I wasn’t. I love weird, quirky things, indie music, late night discussions about faith, politics, flying carpets, eternity, travel and love.  I can do that now.  My reality is wide open and I can explore.
Divorce can seem like a complete rejection of who and what you are but you have the choice to embrace your inner teenaged boy, your foodie, your world explorer, activist or humorist.  I realize that by rejecting who I was I could never be who I was meant to be. I’ve spent most of my life saying I believe that God loves me.  I believed that I knew who I was and liked that person but when my partner threatened to reject me I was willing to toss me out too.

Being divorced means re-evaluating who you are as a singlette. I pray you all find your reality and appreciate your own voice.

D.Isaiah 61:7

Stinking Weasel, Self Esteem and Other Popular Myths

O.K. I feel a rant coming on.  I swear it isn’t my fault.  Yesterday I was stuck waiting in a doctor’s office and was subjected to a canned bad remix of Sinatra’s “My Way”. The lyrics at the best of times set my teeth on edge  but this should have been banned under the Geneva convention. Besides being made to feel like I was trapped in an elevator I  just can’t get on board with the whole premise. The dramatic message of the song is that the highest value is to be true to yourself and to do things your way, but there’s a problem.  What if someone in their heart of hearts, at the core of their being is a stinking weasel?   Why is being true to that a good thing?  I’m thinking that who we are should not always be the marker by which we set the bar. Be honest, for some of the people you’ve met that bar would be subterranean, yet we accept the concept of “to thine own self be true” without critical reflection.

Since my divorce (that word still gives me the shivers) I have been given a fair bit of self love advice.  I admit that I have the occasional committment issues with self love as I know myself too well but all in all there is an abiding fondness.  What worries me is that the goal of these “love yourself” books and talks seem to border on stalkerish behaviour.  I think that knowing yourself and finding the things you enjoy about yourself is good. You spend a lot of time with you and having a nice working relationship is helpful.  Being infatuated with your every thought or action, putting yourself on a pedestal that says that everything you do, say or think is magnificent, is delusional.

Self esteem is a thorny issue.  You need to believe in your own decisions, opinions, tastes and values.  You need to know who you are and find your voice.  The problem is the wholesale acceptance of everything you are without any critical assessment. Have you really reached your end goal?  Really?  There is no tweaking to be done? I’ve yet to meet the person who couldn’t use a little emotional nip or tuck.

I’m an artist and there is a brilliant story teller Ira Glass.  In a little video series he talks about the gap between your taste and your output. http://youtu.be/BI23U7U2aUY (If this link doesn’t work go to YouTube and look up Ira Glass on Storytelling, part 3 or 4).

Part of his point is to know your goals, produce work, acknowledge the gap and keep on producing until you’ve narrowed the gap. He also says that it wil take a long time to get from here to there.  It’s the same with personal, emotional and spiritual growth.

I think this applies to self esteem.  Loving yourself doesn’t mean that you are the finished product and ready for worship. I really hate the whole attitude of, “Well this is me and if that isn’t good enough for you then watch my dust as I leave because I’m perfect the way God made me.”  If I was truly the way God made me that would be great but I’ve done some alterations of my own and maybe some self assessment isn’t unwarranted.  I go to church because I need to. We need people to love us as we are but that doesn’t mean that some of our behaviours and attitudes don’t need adjustment.

A couple of days ago in a post called “Walls” I quoted from Isaiah 58: 11,12. It talked about God guiding and restoring and rebuilding in our lives. It is a wonderful thing to soak in. What I didn’t include were verses 9 and 10. There were conditions on these blessings. They called for personal corrections. It talked about what you needed to do and stop doing.

” If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Hhm. No making others pay for our pain. No yelling, blaming or bitter talk.  Be useful and helpful. Look to the needs of others. Don’t you love that phrase, “then your light will rise in the darkness”?  How can you not want that?  Here is the blue print and it has nothing to do with making yourself the center. The opposite behaviour is the way out.

In the name of self esteem it doesn’t mean that we are the gold standard of all we could or ever should be.  What if we have our own stinking weaselisms (that word is probably going to give my spell checker a nervous breakdown)?  Maybe I’m just talking to myself but especially in the church we have to be able to be transparent withourselves. I will never understand why anyone who has been forgiven could ever twist it to the point where they think that they are the example to be followed.  So many of the disagreements in the church come down to the fact that we want others to worship and serve and pray as we do in order for the other person to be correct.

One of my favorite quotes is that real evangelism is one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.  I have no defence. If you look to find fault in me you won’t have to try too hard. We were saved by perfection. We are not perfection, and that’s O.K..

I’m also always leery of people who proclaim that they have bad self-esteem. I’ve always found it to be an excuse for really bad behaviour towards others.  What it often means is they are upset that they aren’t treated as the lead dog of the pack and they resent it. In fact they have the opposite of bad self esteem. Their insecurities have to do with how they think they ought to be treated.  Real low self esteem people rarely say a word.  They don’t believe they have anything to say worth hearing.  Those people break my heart.  Telling them they need great self esteem is useless as they don’t see what is beautiful in themselves as they are fixated on their flaws.

Either way we fixate on what is broken or pretend that we are beyond being challenged. Neither brings healing or wholeness.

May I suggest a middle ground?  What if we could see the pretty, shiny things inside, enjoy them and set goals for the other stuff?  No hand wringing, no stomping out with an attitude, just a pinch of humility, a little light humored acceptance with a dose of reality? The “self” is a modern mythological god that is notoriously unreliable.  Appreciate it as a work in progress get rid of the pressure of being a small “g” god.  Make Isaiah 58:9, 10 a personal goal.

Now if I could just get that muzak out of my head!   (The above cartoon is the cover of an “Agnes” book by Tony Cochran)

Squaring Off

I can’t tell you how good it felt when I first read this quote.  I finally felt vindicated in being what I truly am.  I am a circle person.  I admit it.  I have tried for years to be a square person but it was all a lie.  Contemporary lines in furniture and kitchen design just left me cold.  I was always drawn to round shapes.  If I had my choice my front door would be round like one the ones from the Hobbit’s little homes under the hill in the shire.  Wouldn’t that be cheery?

I’d been toying with the idea of getting a backsplash for my kitchen and saw endless walls of square and rectangular, in style tiles. These were proper tiles. These were the type that “helped with resale”. I was uninspired and the truth was that my heart would beat faster when I would see the rogue board of round smooth beach pebble tiles or a great rounded mosaic with swirling patterns. “Yes!” my psyche screamed (my psyche is rather dramatic so I don’t let it out in polite company) that this was me and circles were my people.  I wanted these but they just were not wise. No. Future buyers would look at them as odd.  I knew this because almost every person that has ever been on House Hunters has walked into the kitchens and said, “My style is granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. It’s my thing.”.  How could the same thing be everyone’s thing?  They’ve been told it is “The” thing so it is their thing, thus square tiles were the “right” tiles. As you can see, even writing about them has provoked the overuse of quotation marks.

I knew my circle tastes needed to be limited to hoop earrings and cookies (both of which make me happy).

One of the freedoms of being on my own again (and don’t I feel guilty for admitting to finding something enjoyable) is to assert my own tastes in my own home.  The funny part was that though I had the freedom to do this I didn’t feel the personal freedom to do it without approval, and yes this is as weak as it sounds.  It really confounded me.  If I thought of it in terms of the Einstein quote, I wanted to swim but felt guilty I wasn’t working on my tree climbing skills.  I realized that it wasn’t that I wasn’t allowed to change things but I’d stopped trusting my own judgement to make good decisions.  I was shocked at my self doubt.  I was a circle girl in a square world and needed to figure out how to make peace with that without someone giving me approval.  I realized that by making circle decisions for my home I wasn’t redecorating but making a step into singleness and letting my home reflect me rather than us.

The dark side of this was that the pained little voice inside me said it was another reminder that no one cared what I did. Thinking that thought made me mad.  Did I really believe that my life didn’t have value just by itself?  How many women have said they don’t bother to cook anymore as it was just for themselves? Why?  Aren’t they worth a good meal?  Don’t they deserve circles?  Our marriages got broken but it didn’t mean that we as women are broken and have no value.  I realized that I was acting like I died instead of  my marriage. I realized that I had to trust that who I am is enough and whole as is.  It was time to believe that my life has purpose and value and to live like I believed it even if I didn’t know how God would shape it.

It was time to accept myself as a swimmer rather than judge myself as a climber.   It was and is time for circles.

Walls

I have to admit I have a long standing affection for walls.  It isn’t just because they keep the roof from hogging my bed space but I find them beautiful.  As I went through my divorce one of the things I found myself doing was traveling.  I found that a lot of my photos included walls. It’s the patina that comes with age and experience. Here are some of my favorites.

All of these pictures represents something different. Some walls are only pieces of their former glory. In Pergamon, Turkey I went to the Red Basilica, which is the Red Court of the book of Revelations.  I stood in the huge room with the remnants of Egyptian gods. How the people must have trembled as they stood in the closed high walled round room surrounded by these foreign gods. There is the library of Celsus in Ephesus. It’s two story facade towers precariously at the end of the walk right beside the ampitheatre where Paul preached. All these walls mean something different.  The walls of my marriage represented warmth, home and belonging.  They were the arms of our sanctuary. I was safe.  Suddenly new walls went up. These were cold and gray, not the happy mexican yellow of the kitchen but the cement of new boundaries within our home. The walls had no doors and represented not only closed spaces but ones that would not be shared and forever changed the floor plan of our home.  The walls now echoed for the emptiness that happened as possessions were moved and talking ceased. The walls of the office no longer held hand drawn pictures of the family but reminders of documents for the banks and lawyers.

One by one the bricks were removed. Some just disappeared and others shattered as there were wrenched from their mortar. During this time I started painting and it made sense that I found myself painting walls.  I realized that the mortar was red. The walls of our marriage were living and suffered with each change.  In the end I ended up buying out my husband for his half of the house even though it took everything I had.  When my son asked if he would lose his room these walls represented one of the choices I was able to make for myself.  They started to become a refuge again. It took time for me to go from triage to convalescence but eventually these walls became a stronghold rather than housing for the walking wounded. It became a place where I could cobble together my life and take ownership of my decisions. I began with redecorating in little ways. I painted and hung new artwork.  I even found that that changed with time. Last night when I painted I realized it was again a wall and the stones were a mosaic of warm colours and soft weathered stones. The wall was handmade with local materials, all the stones were different in size and placement but there was a harmony. Two of my friends said the colours looked like me. That felt good.

From barriers to strength I continue to love my walls as they take on their own patina.

Isaiah 58:11,12  ” The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like  a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls. Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

Our stories- K.

Today I wanted to have a friend of mine, K.  share her experiences. She’s been divorce for over five years. She is a gifted writer who shares an unvarnished truth and has a real heart for God.  She is compassionate and one of the first people who will volunteer to walk along side you no matter where you have to go. Today  and tomorrow I want to share, in her own words, some of her experiences.

“Starting life over on my own at 39 was not something I expected to happen to me.  When the unthinkable happened and I was faced with a failed marriage and two angry teenagers, I nearly came undone.  I was stuck in the loop of being so terrified I couldn’t even imagine my way out of the blackness.  Facing each day was a huge challenge.  Trying to get back out into the workforce after a 10 year hiatus was a daunting task.  Fortunately God is so much bigger than what we expect.  God provided a full-time job quickly for me that was close to home and was doing something I was very comfortable with so getting up to speed after not working for so many years was much easier.

I’ll never forget the day I asked my husband if he still loved me and I heard the responding answer of “no”.  At that moment my world turned on its axis and I became numb.  I froze; not knowing if I should scream and cry, rant and rave or just collapse.  I vaguely remember asking if there was someone else and being told no.  I also remember asking when it happened and he said he didn’t think he had ever truly loved me.  I had just been hit extremely hard in the solar plexus and was having an extremely difficult time just trying to breathe.  I was suffocated by the shock.  The next 24 hours were pretty much spent crying.  I couldn’t really feel anything except pain and betrayal.  Nothing made sense.  The first thoughts that started after the crying subsided were:  What did I do wrong?  What did I say?  Was I too dependent?  Was I too independent?  Was it because I am overweight?  Was it because I’m no good in bed?  The second thoughts I had were:   How can I change?  How can I fix this?  This is all a dream; this isn’t really happening.

Out of desperation I made a phone call to an acquaintance to tell everything to.  I don’t know why I ended up calling her but looking back it was definitely a God thing.  This friend was able to let me talk, let me rant and then she would turn everything around to make me start looking at truth.  She forced me to look at this truth:  That the reason for my marriage breakdown was not a one-sided issue but rather it was the choice of each partner.   My friend was the one who started me on the path towards thinking.  It definitely wasn’t a quick or easy path.  Each phone call came with her asking me what I was going to do, how I was going to protect myself and children from the emotions spiralling out of control, how I was going to manage finances, etc.  It all sounds so easy on paper.  I made a phone call to a friend and it all started to sort itself out.  Far from it; I was a mess.  Phone calls happened pretty much daily with my sobbing and not able to string coherent sentences together.  My friend was patient and very forgiving.  When she just wanted to scream at me to stop being a doormat and to get tough she would instead talk me firmly yet gently through the crisis at hand to focus on even little things.  I was not in this alone:  I had two children to think about and to force myself to make some choices.

I had a decision to make:  Was I going to try and give my husband the time to figure things out and still live separately in the same household or was I going to make another decision?  The snag was I could not comprehend any other choice.  I felt the best choice for my children and I was to live together with my husband in the same house and try and work things out.  I did not want my children to be without their Dad.  I think deep down I thought this would all blow over and that everything would work out.  That if I made too rash a decision too quickly that it would only push my husband further away.  This scenario may work for some people but I definitely would not recommend this course of action.  When my marriage broke down the best thing I could have done for the emotional and physical health of myself and my children would have been to find out what my options were and move out.  Instead I was too terrified to even know where to begin.  I had no money; no job; my children were in school so how could I possibly move?  if I did move out I figured I would still be responsible for half of the mortgage payment as well as half of any utilities and/or household repairs.    I also convinced myself that since my husband was the one to fall out of love he should be the one to make all the sacrifices.  He should be the one to lose out.  This reasoning didn’t work out so well as all that it caused me to do was feel guilty and horrible whenever I had negative thoughts.  I didn’t give myself a chance to really be angry.  I was too busy in trying-to-make-it-mode that I never took the time to get angry and grieve.

I felt I was stuck since I did not have a job to venture out on my own.  I never considered there could possibly be some agency or persons that would or could help me.  I felt so very alone.  I felt like a failure and that I had to travel this path alone because I had somehow failed.  I felt like I was a horrible Christian since I couldn’t make my marriage work.  I figured I must have done something bad and that God was punishing me.

During the last ten years of my marriage I was so blessed to be able to spend the time at home with my children.  I relished the times I could hear my children laugh as they played and would never trade the times of having my kitchen obliterated by cake-making messes.  Even the earliest years were both challenging and memory making.  I was able to be with my children as they faced fears of going in for surgery, to be with them as they screamed into the anaesthetic mask before falling asleep, being by their side as they woke up and being able to care for them through recovery.   I still remember the early years of baking with my children where I would have a chair on either side of me.  One chair would have my 3 year old and one chair would have my 2 year old.  The children took turns pouring the pre-measured ingredients into the mixing bowls.  They would then help to put the cookies onto the cookie sheets and after the pans went into the oven would get rewarded with a beater each.  That was the reward until the cookies finished baking and then they would have a wonderful tea party with Mom.  I can still hear their sweet voices as they asked questions, laughed, giggled and clapped their hands.

My head realizes that the teenage years can be so much more trying.  My heart finds it so difficult to process what my head already knows.  That my children are slowly spreading their wings and I need to let them go so they can flap, fly and then soar.  It has been particularly hard when the choices I see my children make are in direct opposition to the choices I desire for them.  My hearts prayer for both of my children is that they would love, serve and honour God with their heart, soul and mind.    I think the hardest part of my marriage breakdown has been watching my children turn further and further away from God.  My heart breaks as I see the choices being made that will impact my children’s lives forever and realize I have absolutely no control over those choices.    However, my prayer will continue to be that God will use the choices the children make and ultimately use those decisions for His glory.  That good will come out of the choices I see as being poor judgment or childish decisions.  You see, God is still painting the canvas of my children’s lives and what I see as blotches will turn into a beautiful tapestry as time goes on.  The painting may twist and turn, have contrasting colours, hard angles and harsh shadows but beauty is seen by the Master Painter before the piece is finished.  I trust that God will allow me to put a few slight brush strokes on my children’s canvas and that it will enhance the beauty God has already put there.”

Tomorrow I’ll share more from K. and some of how she’s coped and future hopes and dreams.

It’s all in the Name

“What’s that?” is usually one of the first questions you get from your little ones.  It is usually pronounced “Waz dat?” and it is said 50 million times a day.  Everything needs a label.  It is instinctive.  One of the first jobs on Adam’s resume was that he was a namer of things. We have an insatiable need to apply labels, categories, status, and importance to things as a way of ordering our world.  One of the biggest and strangest losses that happened for me through the divorce was a loss of  a lot of my social identity.  I could no long identify myself the way I had for almost 20 years.

About 5 months after “Bob” moved out of the house I took the mature step of running away from home. Literally.  I packed my bags and headed to Turkey for three weeks. Long story but great photos.  Going somewhere where you are a complete stranger is an amazing feeling of relief because you can escape your life and your identity. The flip side is I didn’t have a clue how to introduce myself anymore.  It was literally like having little fingers point at you saying “What’s that?” and I had no idea what to tell them.  “What do you do for a living?”.  How do you explain that you’ve been a mom and a housewife and created a stable world and safe environment for a family.  You’ve volunteered at the church and for community groups, you’ve been a neighbour, daughter, sister, wife and mom.  You battled illness, lost loved ones and survived. I’d been growing as an artist but it wasn’t paying any bills.   Before I became a mom I had a career as a medical social worker, owned a car and a home, paid my bills, and was an active member of my church.   I realized that people would be uncomfortable without being able to label me, but my labels didn’t apply anymore.  I was not “Bob’s” other half.  I wasn’t a house”wife”.  I’d been downsized. I was a floater.

I was still a mom but even that was threatened as I faced the real possibility of not being able to be with my son at future events and holidays if it wasn’t “my turn”.  All my head and heart could do was marvel at how could it not be my turn?  In the church I was no longer the helper but someone that was seen as needing help. Even my name, the name I’d been given 18 years ago was no longer mine. My labels washed away.

One of the great things about travel was that I realized it was time to pick my own labels.  I was at a loss but I stepped out and said only one thing. “I’m Deborah and I’m happy to meet you.”

I had nothing else to share.  What I got in return was the amazing treat of being able to listen and learn without labels dictating the relationships I developed

 or how people interacted with me.  There were no presuppositions.  I walked free of my past and got a chance to see myself through another culture and new people with no kinship to me through any church, nationality, profession or age.  I learned things about me  and others that I couldn’t have seen while being neatly positioned in my boxes.  I found new labels. I had little women in headscarves come up to me and pat me on the cheeks and tell me my face was sweet.  I had children crawl onto my lap and decide that that is where they would have their dinner.(The picture is of a little dutch boy who adopted me at one meal and just nestled in. Children are well loved in Turkey and they feel the acceptance). I was invited by families for tea, then dinner, then to stay and was declared Turkish. I was embraced and was given the gift of being labeled as still alive.

Sometimes I still look in the mirror and think, “What’s that?” but now I know that it is different than what I’ve been or what I’ll become and I’m determined to only keep the names that matter.  In Him I am dearly loved. That’s stone cold truth.  I don’t know why but I’ll take it. The same goes for you too. Don’t argue just run with it!

Maybe you have been given a label that was wrong or hurtful.  Choose a new one from God. Refuse to be defined by names that are not yours.  Write them down and burn them. It is time to choose your own name. Ask God to give you that name. See what He brings to you. Ask friends that love you to give you five names/words that is true of the real you. With much love, Deb

So empowered I could hug myself

AgnesI love Agnes.  She flicks on a light of truth into the junk room of our lives.

I have been handed a few how-to books since “Bob” left (not his name but easier than calling him Mr. G.)  Many of them have stories of women who have been horribly wronged, left with nothing and arose from the ashes to become CEOs of fortune 500 companies, join the speaking circuits at women’s conferences or excelled in the field of excellence.  Other books talked about how I need to get to the point where I can go to the local Save On, stand on a carton of avocados, fling open my arms and declared the awesome, wonderful, glorious radiance of Me.

It promised that once I embraced my uniqueness that others would be dazzled by my shiny brightness.

I tried to build up to that by going to a fruit stand, nudging up to the spoiled produce and telling passers by that I was going to be their new best friend.  Needless to say there were no takers. I’m thinking that my charisma hadn’t caught up to my new empowerment.

All right so maybe I’m exaggerating a little but seriously why the extremes?  In Christianity everything doesn’t have to be a major made for TV movie.  O.K. so maybe Agne is shooting a little low with the flies on the paper but I get it.  My awesomeness today  is measured in remembering it is my day to do the carpool, getting the garbage to the road, thinking about dinner prep. before I hear, “What’s for dinner?”, and checking the day timer.  I might even file away some papers in the office stack that have become a modern fibre sculpture. For tomorrow’s act of awesomeness I might tackle the junk drawer.

Thank you Agnes for resetting the bar to a workable level.

Still in her pyjamas, D.

What a shame

Ashamed, shame-faced, shameful, and bearing the shame.  It has been one of the heaviest burdens of being left as a woman of faith.  When my husband made his announcement that we just didn’t click (Did I really just get a variation of, “My wife just doesn’t understand me”?) I couldn’t stop convulsively crying.  I would try and pull it together but everything I ever thought I knew about him, me, us, life and Christian marriage was blurring into some bizarre Daliesque landscape.   One of the worst parts was that the one place I should have been able to hide and run to was the place I absolutely couldn’t enter.  I would try to walk into the church and four weeks in a row I had to back away and race back to my car, heaving sobs and horrified if anyone saw me.   It had to be written all over my face.  “I have failed as a Christian woman.  I couldn’t keep my marriage together.  A real woman of faith and grace would have engendered such love from her spouse that he would call her blessed.”

I was dying of shame.  I could not face those smiling faces.  It took months before I could enter into normal conversations where I wasn’t afraid that I’d blurt out, “I’ve been left. I’m unwanted and unloved.  I’m a  failure but enough about me. How are the kids?  Is your life still good while mine has gone to hell?”. I knew that this was not socially acceptable small talk.  I knew that the majority of these people wanted my best but here was the truth.  It was just too uncomfortable a topic for most people.  I didn’t end my story with “He left but through prayer God led us back together and we are better than ever!” or ” His behaviour was so odd and unnatural that I made him go to the doctor, we found the medical problem and now that he has that new metal plate in his head he is more loving than ever!”  Nope.  I didn’t have a feel-good faith story.  I couldn’t even point to a clear villain like another woman, addiction, or being a secret government agent who’d used me as a cover.  I would have not felt so ashamed if maybe I could clearly paint myself as a pure victim.  I was just unwanted and that doesn’t make anyone feel too easy.

Unfortunately we have an almost 50% divorce rate in the church.  Until a few years ago I knew of almost no one who was divorced and then it started popping like popcorn.  I didn’t understand.  Surely if people had problems they would talk, go to counselling and seek God’s wisdom for their lives. They’d ask God to help them commit to love again. Right? I found that to admit that people of faith could find themselves divorced was too threatening. If it happened to others of faith it could happen to them. Since they knew it wasn’t possible then the people who divorced had to have some hideous flaw and weren’t really people of faith. I found that I went from a faithful, godly wife of 17 years to someone who was suspect.

As one elder couple wife in the church told me, “Well you have to understand that women have to guard their own marriages. They can’t be inviting single women like you if they are responsible in guarding their homes”.  Thus we wear a taint of shame.  We did not safeguard our homes and we must not infect others.  This is the dark side of things.  I was angry at feeling like I didn’t belong and scared to death.  The church was my home and if I wasn’t wanted and didn’t have a place then I was nothing. I was broken.

What kept me from drowning utterly were specifically two sisters, both neighbours who continued to love me without change. They didn’t trash talk my husband or lecture me on the proper way to grieve.  They helped me not to succumb to the despair and to debrief me from the lies, hurts and pains that come when I was rejected. They let me ask the forbidden questions.

“Why hadn’t God protected me/us? Why didn’t he love me enough to allow me a strong Christian marriage?”  You can argue with me that these aren’t right ways of thinking but there is nohiding truth from God and no real relationship without truthful sharing between you and God. Only when you express your heart can He help heal and correct things between the two of you. Only He can reorder a world of emotional chaos.

My friends walked and continue to walk alongside me.  Sometimes I still feel a searing shame. Maybe it will never really go away. I hate getting asked my status when filling in paperwork. I think it will always hurt but one day it will no longer have the power it has had.  It is a shame that our whole self can be so decimated by the actions of someone else but it is a blessing when there are other to help us rewrite our identity and see us through new eyes and the truth of God’s love for us.  In Him, D.

Don’t want to

There is nothing so frustrating as dealing with crossed arms, a protruding lower lip and a scowl deep as an underwater trench. There is no reasoning with it and it is exhausting.

That was me last week.

I’d had it.  I was trying to balance the finances (O.K. no tears for me there as everyone is doing that), a house without a self-clean feature, a garden that breeds monster clover, stair carpet that I had just had to replace because it had become patterned by the dog my ex bought the month before he left, kidney stones, an artist’s slump and then I heard it.   ” Mom I think the toilet is exploding.” I heard the gurgling. It was 10:30 at night and as I race up the stairs. I could see toilet water racing towards the new carpet I couldn’t afford in the first place.

I started scooping and bailing. My son was doing his best and the dog wanted to inspect the interesting mess.  I tried plunging and it overflowed again. I repeated this useless procedure a few times until I realized that the toilet, that hadn’t worked well it’s entire six years of life, had to go.  I was barely holding back the tears and frustration. I wanted to yell. I should not be having to do this alone. I was shaking I was so angry.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I didn’t want this.  O.K. no one wants this but I just didn’t want to face life alone.  I didn’t know what to do or who to call.  I broke my cardinal rule. I’d done my best in the two years since the ex had walked away to always talk positively about him to my son.  That night I was not so complimentary.

It shook me how angry I was.  I was done. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t want to work so hard at being nice, loving, and still honouring my vows to respect and honour. Forget understanding and compassion. I wanted a backyard brawl that would wake up the neighbourhood. Did I mention I’m a peace-loving Mennonite who makes rugs and soups? I had built up for one major snit. I was done. Instead of pain and growth I wanted something primal and to heck with the consequences at least until the consequences came and then I’d really hate it.

I realized that forgiveness and love wasn’t a one time decision. I understood that about love but not forgiveness. I knew it was God’s way but I just didn’t want to especially when it wasn’t appreciated and it didn’t fix my life. Yes I was in for one major tantrum and the only victim would be me.  I realized I wasn’t in the mood to put up with it even from myself.

I’d love to say I walked with great dignity into a new phase of self awareness and grace but as is more typical I snivelled, dragged my sorry backside to church, sat down with a counsellor, and found a really good handyman to replace the old toilet.

During this time I remembered a poem by George Herbert, a 17th century religious poet, called “The Collar”.  I’ll share it in my next post.

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