Call me Mara.
A long time ago in a land far away I sat in my high school guidance counselors office. I do not remember exactly why I was there. Perhaps it was time for my "whats next" session - college or workforce. Perhaps I had been in one more fist fight with another girl and she was trying to help me mend my ways (I do wish I was exaggerating). Perhaps I had been excused from cheerleading one more time for wild behaviors, not representing the school well. I really dont remember. I was a mess that even I couldnt understand. If I had had eyes to see back then I would have seen that I was developing a pattern in my life - a pattern of responding to disappointment or conflict or disagreement or loss in an angry way.
What I do remember is what the guidance counselor asked me. That moment is crystal clear. She was trying to lead me to water, or at least I choose to see it that way. She looked me in the eye and asked me what I enjoyed doing more than anything else in the world. I choose to think she was doing what I do with my girls now, having them evaluate their passions and gifts. She did not plan for my response - how could anyone? But my answer, as shallow as it was, was all I had. I looked up and with all my heart answered, "lie by the pool and shop."
My life existed for my own glory and contentment. I felt a deep sense of entitlement. There was no thanksgiving, only demand. I would not live by others rules, I wanted attention and satisfaction at all times. Therefore my days consisted of hedonistic behaviors. That was all I knew. My idea of love and adult life was a Hollywood ideal - comfort, attention, needs being met. I did not want to be put out in any regard. Period.
Time passed, years passed, and thankfully, when I was twenty two, the Lord called me to Himself. And though my eternity is now Sealed with Him, I still deal with the consequences of years of nurturing and feeding that beast within me - the one that responds in bitterness, anger - the entitled one. Most pointedly, what I deal with is wanting attention and comfort. They are the idols I find myself bowing to over and over again. The patterns I set for myself in my younger years are still reflected. When life becomes less than what I think it should be, I can quickly become angry and entitled. What that says about me is profound, alarming. Not in a past tense kind of way, rather a very present one. I talked with Taralyn a few weeks back and shared with her how Doug had said in passing conversation that he knew most deeply that I wanted to help people. I confided in her that, frankly, no I dont. What I want most deeply is to lie by the pool and be admired (the real root of the youthful shopping desire). She laughed. It was only a partial joke. What I was trying to communicate is the real and raging war of wills within me. The war never ceases and I dont believe it ever will as long as I am here on earth. So I continue to learn to fight in that war.
I havent written at all for over two months. Laughing here as I type that... since this summer was supposed to be dedicated to writing. Two months. Since I sat at that coffee shop in Marble Falls, TX going on and on about being full and bringing Life back to my life. Well, when I returned to my life I returned to difficulties beyond words, very intense demands and no answers. I returned to literally praying for daily bread for our family, for myself, and that is where I have remained. In the earliest hours of one morning a couple of weeks ago I went to our basement and wailed, the pain and confusions of this life season a flash flood of emotion threatening to drown me. I was desperate for my God and His Embrace... which hold His Guidance, His Disciplines, His Mercy, His Love. I felt torn, lost, invisible.
Our family is in contractions once again. We are on the verge of new life and are acutely aware of that, but it has not yet come. We are hard pressed from every side, writhing in pain at times. Dougs continued unemployment has left us living on the edge of a knife. And like a woman in labor, I have many times wondered why I ever let this man get me into this situation! I laughed in agreement last week as I read Ruth Graham's words regarding her marriage to Billy. She said she prayed, "Lord, if you forgive me for marrying him, I will never do it again." I laughed... and cried. No one ever wishes for what trains them most deeply.
Like when I was a teenager, I regularly find myself in a place of anger. The difference now is I have the Holy Spirit to guide me and show me what is really in my heart. Like the words from Amy Carmichael we all know, I too am recognizing in these days that "a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted." But alas, bitterness spills from me, and so I know I am bitter. That is not true for my husband. He is an oak, a rock, a steady stream of faith. He has only kind and true words for everyone in our family... and outside our family. He is not despairing but rather waiting in faith. He is teaching and shaping me once again. I admire him more than I ever have.
Have you ever read Proverbs 7? I find so much there when I am deep in the struggles of self absorption. At first glance it is a passage for men, warnings for men. But a deeper look shows a woman like me: seeking attention rather than the Lord, manipulative for my own desires, clamoring, pursuing not waiting, resistant to following but rather desiring to lead, discontent, building justification for sin. I find a mirror in those words.
Living with my husband, the love of my life, has meant 12 moves in 17 years. It has meant 6 rounds of lengthy unemployment. It has meant learning to be alone with my thoughts and feelings (when all I want is companionship) until he surfaces from his own sole provider preoccupations and then being ready and waiting to embrace him without complaint. It has meant following a man that none understand. It has meant dying in many, many ways to the woman who just wanted to be comfortable. More than anything else, Doug and my marriage to him have been the instruments God has used to train me to live a life of faith. Those instruments cause me to cling to my God, to wait on Him, to not scheme nor plan, to submissively follow, to learn contentment, to confess and confess and confess my sin.
Long ago when Doug was in seminary and on staff at a church in Denver (which means we both were) and I was the mother of two children under the age of two, I made the decision many times in that life season to stuff my real feelings and put on a smile in the name of ministry. I did not know a way live in Grace or to show realness and leadership - so I faked it. I was miserable and felt Doug was unappreciated and overworked, abused actually, and demeaned. He silently felt the same emotions and thus withdrew in countless ways which put a strain on our marriage. We ended up leaving staff but staying there for another year teaching the same group of single adults and college students because we truly cared for them and wanted them to know our investments in them were not of a job requirement but of a heart desire. But senior staff there remained consistent in their behaviors. In the end Doug took a job that moved us back to Texas and away from ministry, though we both knew that ministry was his life calling. Sadly, I had begun another version of what I had done as a teen, only now I was doing it in the midst of a walk with God.
And so we moved but my bitterness came along. And the girls were 1 and 3 (and demanding) and another shoot of bitterness grew alongside the first. And Doug was gone all the time because he was now an MBA student in the evening hours of every day, encouraging another bitterness shoot. And my mentor decided to step out of my life - more bitterness. And then Doug decided to sell the house we had just built and quit his dependable, steady corporate job. And then to take a job in Minneapolis. Three more plants of bitterness emerged in my hearts garden because comfort was being ripped from me. Then after being gone from the family for 7 months he moved us all to Minneapolis. By now my garden was more weed than fruit. So when he left that job that had brought us across the country to a place no one wanted to be, and took two more jobs only to leave two more in the three years we lived there, I had a nervous breakdown - the bitterness, rage and anger overwhelmed me. I was so mad at him, so filled with insecurities and fears that could no longer be camouflaged - I was ravaged. I was not seeking Gods Grace to cover me in those years. I was using up my own storehouse of sensibilities and coping mechanisms. Thus I became exhausted, disoriented and depleted. Sin is, afterall, its own punishment.
You would think that a nervous breakdown would cause one to till ones heart. Instead I mowed through the garden of my heart, cutting down the weeds of bitterness - pulling only a few by the root. It looked maintained, manageable, neat - but beneath the surface bitterness still grew. I wanted comfort. I wanted ease. I wanted attention. I wanted the road to a faith driven family to not be filled with circuitous unemployment, loneliness, uprootings and buckets of tears.
And so we moved to Colorado again. Without employment. God Provided. But I was still bitter with Doug because it was a desperate struggle, that move. And Doug got a contract job with Compassion but eventually the contract ended and Doug didnt accept the job they offered because he felt it wasnt the right one. I was bitter. Why cant he just live like everyone else does? Why does he incessantly keep saying that he is seekingly the Lords guidance for our family and yet we keep ending up in places of desperation? Really what I was/am saying is, "Lord, is ALL this really necessary?" Doug took another job that ended with a layoff in only three months. I was so bitter and silently judgemental. And now, 8 months later he is still unemployed and guess what, I am still bitter. But for the first time, I am calling it what it is. I am looking it in the face and going to war with it. Why? Because it has stolen days and years of life from me, leading me only to weariness and despair. It is a road that is not leading me where I want to end up. By the way, Doug still feels like we are exactly where we need to be, doing exactly what we need to be doing. I shake my head at it but deep down, somehow, think he is probably right. Do I trust the Lord to lead me through my husband, regardless, or not?
A life of faith is harder than I thought it would be - because I am more attached to comforts than I thought I was. I prayed all those days for the Titanic of our family to turn ("away from the ultra comfortable life we were living"), when in reality I think it was my own heart that most needed to turn. Away from worldly security and instead to Christ. I cling to this world more than I thought I did. I didnt know that we would be without food, utilities, insurance and the most basic of transportation multiple times over as these prayers were answered and these lessons were taught. Poverty is exhausting! But I think it is exhausting because I am doing it wrong. I am praying to learn the correct way, for increased Faith and Trust. Poverty is scary and it keeps one ever on the edge of bitterness unless Faith and Trust are truly learned.
This week I had two hours alone. And I prayed this prayer: