Sunday, July 15, 2007

As Raw As I Have Ever Been- The Post That Has Been A LONG Time Coming

This post was actually started last week. It was really only the first part about Amelia and what I think of as Amelia's song, a song by Jamie Soles based on Psalm 124. The rest will be new today. I mean, it's all new to you, but I have been hashing through it all for the past week, and really what you will see is that it has been coming on now for a little more than seven days- seven years would be a much closer guess, though I think we can safely say it has been even longer that the Lord has been working this in my life, perhaps for the entirety of my life this far. I know, whoa! Brace yourself now!

There is some good news on Amelia lately. It is kind of hard to know exactly what is happening (how good or how bad) when we are just reading blog posts, but if you haven't checked, go ahead, you will be glad. Even in spite of gladness, I still feel pretty emotional about their situation. I mean, I am an emotional person; it's very obvious and is often very embarrassing. For example, I always cry over Christmas carols. So much hope and help all illustrated in one song; it is an emotional thing, the Gospel! So today on the way to church we were listening to Ascending, a great album by Jamie Soles based on Psalms 120-134. I have come to think of Psalm 124 as Amelia's song as it is my hope for her life. The "people" rising against her would be the horrible disease she is fighting. You can right click the link open in a new window so you can read the lyrics as the song plays:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
Let Israel now say
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
When people rose up against us
They would have swallowed us up alive
When their anger was kindled against us
The flood would have swept us all away
The torrent would have gone over us
Raging waters over us

Blessed be the Lord
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler
The snare is broken and we have escaped
Blessed be the Lord
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler
The snare is broken and we have escaped
We have escaped

Our help is in the Name of the Lord
Who made heaven and earth....

Blessed be the Lord
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth....

I love the chorus to this song, which is unfortunately not complete in the sample link. The idea is that she (or we/Israel) has escaped from a trap like a bird, that she was caught but the trap has broken. And it is so perfect, because it does seem as though she has been caught. But I am, and we all are, so so hopeful that she will escape, that the Lord will deliver her. And so of course, today when I was listening to this song on the way to church (with my freshly painted mascara) I began to cry my eyes out. Also we were really late and came in after worship during fellowship time before Sunday school (I know, we are total messes!). So there were lots of concerned looks once I got there. I guess people don't want to pry, so no one just came out and said "you are really late and look like you've been crying," but there were many worried sounding "are y'all doing okay?" type questions that were simultaneously disguised as casual everyday "are y'all doing okay?" remarks so as not to embarrass me. I appreciated that. But at the same time, I was embarrassed, because I guess everyone could tell I had been crying. I guess this is me telling everyone what the deal really was, and of course, reminding you all to pray and hope in the Lord for Amelia's recovery.

Moving on to this week, it seems good news with Amelia is slow coming and there is concern that there may have been some permanent damage from her infections. We have been so distracted this week with Amabel's birthday, and meanwhile Jen had her own birthday. I want to remind everyone to please pray for their family. Imagine how exhausting this ordeal has been and is becoming ever more so I am sure. Pray that the "snare" would "break," that God would deliver them from this illness.

Today our pastor preached about Perfectionism. Well, disclaimer, I hesitate to say what he was really aiming toward as I was really tired and also found that I really related to some of what he said. So then, you know, you can think someone is talking about the part you relate to and actually miss the real message they wanted to send altogether; but in today's case the Holy Spirit used at least part of it, and the part I was ministered to by was about perfectionism. He recommended a book called Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter if you are interested in that. I have read another of Dr. Winter's books that I thought was really helpful, but I have not read this one (yet). He talked about two different kinds of perfectionism. One he called "private perfectionism" and characterized people with this type of trouble as timid (rather than arrogant), fearful, and anxious. He said they are always worried about measuring up, and I guess most of us can relate to that on some level. If I had been even more vulnerable with y'all, you would know that that is a giant I daily battle and usually lose to. It runs very deep with me, a debilitating sense of being forever inadequate and falling short, both with God (or especially with God) and with man. He went on to describe another type of perfectionism that is more like the Pharisees, as opposed to the first which would be more like the tax collector. The second type he described as being arrogant, being the kind of perfection that talks down to others, just as the stories of the Pharisees go. He said that Spurgeon once said "I have only ever known one perfect person and he was a perfect nuisance." We all kind of chuckled because of course it is true that really perfectionistic people are totally annoying. Think of Martha Stewart! He warned us against this type of perfectionism which I am also personally acquainted with. Often times we think our denomination is better than another, that we somehow have the inside track with God. He reminded us several times that this is absolutely not the case. On an even more serious note, he talked about situations of child abuse, where perfectionist parents demand perfection from their children, talk down to them, discourage, berate and abuse them, and injure them so deeply as to leave them with permanent "injuries," this emotional state of being where you are always uncertain and afraid of devastating failure, perfectionism not fueled by arrogance but by deep fear and pain. Wow! This was not something I had never thought of before, but more some dots that no one in authority had ever connected for me before. This was, to say the least, a huge relief to me. I wrote him a letter during the Sunday school hour, though in the end I decided maybe I'll just grab a chance to talk to him sometime, thanking him and telling him that this is the thing I wish more people understood about me. And I am sure there are other people who were there who felt the very same way.

It sounds simple enough. People who don't know what I am talking about will say that everyone has feelings of inadequacy. I know this is true. I just have a very strong idea that people who came from regular homes have a helplessness, that is actually a blessing, in understanding what some others of us feel like. Just as I think I take for granted growing up in the church or having a relatively good education as opposed to people who never heard the Good News until later or who were not blessed with access to knowledge, and can't fully realize how those things have really made me who I am and that I would be a completely different person without them, I think people who grow up in good sound families take it for granted as well. How could they not? And I know that they do because they say insensitive things. They say things like "every family is dysfunctional" or they just don't get what the big deal is when you share something that for you is nothing less than heart breaking. I know that they can never know how different their life would be if they grew up feeling hated rather than loved, but I think it is important that they know that, that they know that who they are is all wrapped up in that love and that who someone else less fortunate is is going to be equally wrapped up in the absence of that love. Not sure if I can ever express this well enough. But when my pastor preached today, I really felt that he got it. I felt like he expressed it perfectly.

And I finally felt understood. So I was free to move past that big un-understood part of me to the next thing. And the thing I thought about next was what I should do with this private perfectionism. Because of course, what I have always thought I would do would be to meet the standard, eventually- lose the weight, somehow grow non-acne prone skin, be on time all the time, become organized all the time, friendly all the time, the perfect mom with the perfect children, etc. etc. And I thought of this time in seminary, these past three years where I have gradually unraveled completely. I was so close to perfect, you know. I was on my way to having two perfect children, we were ready to buy our first perfect house, I was getting back down toward my previously perfect size 6 figure (yes, those of you who know me now, I was a size 6, almost effortlessly, throughout high school and college!), I was the perfect hostess, homemaker, mom, etc. Well, I mean, as close to perfect as I thought I needed to be- this is all based on the bizarre standard in my head. And what do you think happened over the course of six months? Well, let me tell ya.

First George lost his job and couldn't find another one for five months. We lived off the generosity of people we knew, in the form of both odd jobs and handouts, and off our savings from our first four years of marriage. Savings for what? Right, the down payment for our first home (in the meantime, all of our friends without the two kids we had had their own homes in the most charming parts of town and we were still renting in the way far away cruddy part of town)! This was near heartbreaking, but I held out some hope. We lost a baby about eight weeks into pregnancy during this time and it was incredibly awkward as we had not really announced the pregnancy and it was also an unexpected pregnancy. I felt a weird obligation to blow it off when I was secretly devastated. In the wake of all of this, we left all of our friends to move to St. Louis for seminary, a decision we had been considering for years but never could afford to do- we had nothing left to lose anymore so we finally just came. Well, the move to St. Louis pretty much broke what was left of my heart, we finally completely lost hope of owning a home, we lost our friends, and for me, the culture I had been raised in. I came to a place that felt very unwelcoming and cold, and feelings aside, a place that is, at the very least, very different from anywhere I had lived in the twenty six years before. I became friends at that time with a very sweet person who really didn't understand me very well. Although this person meant well, this person made me feel that I could not struggle through the things I was going through. I felt the need to constantly explain myself and apologize for myself. I felt like everyone was constantly critiquing me and I was failing with a capital F. After about a year of this we moved thirty minutes across town, switched churches, and I quit my job. It was nice to start over, but it was as if we moved to St. Louis all over again. I had to find streets, grocery stores, post offices, malls, libraries, restaurants, a new church, and all new people all over again. Less than a year later, we were faced with another necessary move, though this time there was nowhere to move to so we were just praying desperately, and were going through all of this with another baby on the way. The day we moved out of that house in spring of 2006 was seriously, to this day, the worst day of my life. I was in excruciating physical and emotional pain and I was at the very end of whatever faith I had been hanging on to. At the same time, I felt very ashamed of all of those feelings and nearly everything that was said or done to encourage me felt like a rebuke. Someone had told me nightmarish stories of a woman losing her unborn baby at 23 weeks, I was 20 weeks and in bad pain. I had a pretty big breakdown that day, but it was just a shadow of what was going on inside of me. God had already taken my home and my unborn child before. He seemed like an unmerciful dictator. We had a long summer last year, as most of you will remember, and I lived in fear and shame. But we did find a home right before school started and our darling Elspeth was born. We named her Peace in hopes that she would have what I had none of while I carried her.

All of the feelings from all of these events have sort of lingered. All of the unmerciful remarks or actions of others, the lapses or even losses in friendship, the feelings of being completely forgotten and forsaken, they just haven't ever resolved themselves. And I have been really questioning God's goodness, really pretty dang angry a lot of times, all the while thinking that I'm supposed to be Susie homemaker pastor's wife soon so I best get myself together! Don't get me wrong, I've been hammering away at it, it's just been pretty slow and really difficult lately- "lately" as in always, but increasingly so as time has gone by. And it's been really humiliating. It's that perfectionism that's been telling me that I never should have "strayed" this far and that my attitude was outright "sinful." Yet, I just couldn't get over this feeling that God seemed to be wanting to destroy me. The whole time we have been in St. Louis I have told George that I feel like I walk into a room and people can sense right away that this is a person who is coming to pieces before their very eyes.

But praise God for all of that! Today I was given a notion of "what might've been." Our pastor warning us against the Pharisees' perfectionism really illuminated that snare for me. And suddenly, I could see that all this time God wasn't destroying me, just my perfection. I spoke to a counselor once who told me that if we compare ourselves to other people or some sort of made up standard, we will either feel bad because we don't measure up or we will feel awesome because we do. And I just think what if none of this had happened? What if we were still back being the parents with all the answers in some darling house in Cahaba Heights with a closet full of Ann Taylor and Southern hospitality pouring down our garden walk (brick, and lined with pink tulips, of course!)? Seriously! What if I hadn't been destroyed, hadn't moved here and gained a kazillion pounds (or closer to thirty, but kazillion is good too) and realized I had no idea how to parent (that one size does not, after all, fit all) and made a friend that criticized me so much that I became afraid to be friends with people? All of my crutches, all of my perfection, were taken away. I couldn't measure up so I didn't get (any more) puffed up.

And that's the thing, the perfectionists I know, the people in my life who make me feel inadequate with every encounter, are actually people who at their core are very sad themselves. You know the old joke about the Sadducees, "they're sad, you see." That debilitating perfectionism, the kind that comes from abuse or from wherever it comes from, can turn into the really puffed up kind if you start to make your mark. All of these things that I thought were a plague to me, this total lack of a concept of time despite so much struggling, this total inability to lose weight despite so much exercising, and all these other things, have been a blessing to keep me from turning that corner to feeling like I have it all together. Of course, I still have high hopes that some of this baby weight will go away and that I will get better at being on time or knowing how long it takes to complete a task; it is really frustrating to work and work and feel like it is completely useless. But I thought of Amelia's song today. I thought about the snare I was caught up in, the standard of "perfection" that I nearly met, and how it broke. And I have escaped! My children have escaped.

I still have no idea what will become of my "private perfectionism." That was one of the things I was going to talk to my pastor about. I know that part of that snare being broken was God placing me with George (told you this has been a long time coming). We have joked before about our marriage being arranged by God as we have looked back and talked about times where each of us thought of breaking our relationship off, even as far as minutes before our wedding. It seems it might have been a pretty reasonable, even wise, thing for either of us to do at the time, but we are so glad neither of us did (though it made for a pretty difficult go of things for a while)! Besides being very well suited for me in all kinds of ways, George is a total departure from scary standards of perfection and mercilessness. I have been aware for a long time that God delivered me from being "swallowed up alive" when he put me with George. But as I have just related to you, the standards and assumptions from before are just sort of part of me and are a giant to be reckoned with. But you know the old GI Joe saying, "knowing is half the battle." I feel like God reveals these things at the "proper time," as the Psalms say, and that maybe being brought to this point of understanding and renewed faith is a big piece of the puzzle. As I have now pretty much told you every secret thing about myself, I should have no problem sharing what happens next huh?

I shared all of this because I think there have definitely been allusions to all of this, if not more. I think it is important to follow through reports of sorrows and struggles with reports of God's faithfulness and deliverance. So this has been it. May it encourage you and bless you today. Oh, and the song is from the ESV translation, did ya notice?!

We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.


the good, the bad & the ugly said...

I am so amazed at your vulnerability and courage. I am glad that God has revealed so much of how He is working through your struggles/devastation. He is our Great Deliverer. It is quite amazing when you realize that all of those couples in Cahaba Heights and Brentwood and every other perfect little town are hurting and struggling and hiding, too. (I don't say that to imply that others are hurting as you have been, only to say that your life is much more appealing in many ways than the good ol' suburban life! In our marriage, times when we have been wealthiest have simultaneously been our most miserable times.) So glad you and I have the Gospel to cling to. I hope I have never said anything to discourage or hurt your feelings while you have been in this hard place.
Much love,

Abby said...

Oh, thank you! I can't think of many specific things people said, especially not anyone on the blog, so do not worry. I always appreciate your sensitivity. I saw EOR today and she has a sweet sweet new baby. Not sure if you keep in touch still, but she looks great and it was fun to see her and her new baby boy :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Abby...I was just listening to Ascending yesterday--I LOVE that cd! So many good ones, and I love how those psalms come so easily to my head now.

love, elizabeth

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