[Note: This is a long one! And it’s not for everyone; in fact, it may only be for my own edification. Just know that while this post may appear to be a snapshot of discouragement, it’s actually about the ashes from which I anticipate beauty. To paraphrase Rumi, this is my descent from which I plan to rise.]
If you grew up in the Warner Brothers generation, your first physics lesson probably came from Wile E. Coyote. You are not bound by the law of gravity unless and until you look down. Then you crash. Simon Peter combined this lesson with a more powerful – and authentic – lesson in faith when he took Jesus’s invitation to step out of the boat and walk on water in the midst of a raging and terrifying sea storm. Gravity is a bear if you take your eyes off the One who created the earth & its natural laws and start to look around. Then you get wet.
And me? For as long as I can remember, I believed that I was holding my world in balance, everything held in place by two other laws: The law of motion and the law of cause & effect. If I did this, then this would happen, and as long as everything kept moving along, everything was fine. I truly believed I could keep myself safe by maintaining careful control over everything.
I need that!
- Say the right things and be seen as bright, competent & clever; always offer to help, and I’d be liked.
- Keep all the bills paid on time and in full because that’s what responsible grown-ups do.
- Make sure the family has food to eat, and they stay healthy and happy.
- Work harder than everyone else at work and be rewarded with respect, raises, better opportunities and preference.
- Above all…Don’t make a mistake!
However, I’ve been in the process of having any of the identification or security I thought I had ripped and stripped away from me.
To be brutally honest, I am a 55 year old woman who stands 5′ 1″ and weighs about 225 lbs. Both of my knees are in great pain, so I waddle. I also lose my balance easily, so my gait is unsure and cautious. When I’m tired, excited or frustrated, my speech is slurred. My left shoulder, being dislocated, fails to fill out my clothes the way it once did, so it’s not unusual for my shirt to be nearly falling off my shoulder. I seldom notice my bra strap showing because I’m busy trying to stay focused and on task. The hair on the top of my head is so thin that there’s as much skin showing as there is hair, but I finally gave up wearing wigs because they insinuated a deeper shame than my thin hair did. And in the last few months, I’ve lost two crowns – both of which are right up front.
I am not attractive to look at. And some days I feel a deep sympathy for anyone who has to look at me. (Not really, but pretty much.) I’ve given up my driver’s license in the best interest of everyone because my brain and body don’t work they used to.
I wonder what people see when they look at me. Do they see a woman who’s had too much to drink staggering through the store? Or perhaps a “special needs” woman who needs to hold someone’s hand? I’m confident they don’t see an intelligent, clever woman whose wit puts others at ease and makes them laugh. I’m sure they don’t see a woman in pain who’s absolutely terrified of falling. I do know they no longer see a woman who is quick to flash a wide open smile at a total stranger because it just bubbles up out of her spirit.
I’ve whined, complained and explained so much of this in previous posts. It would be simple enough to say I have been a big baby, but in all fairness I don’t think I’m all that different than most people. In the past 12 months, I’ve dealt with a lot of unknowns that, quite frankly, I can’t even Google. If I can’t Google it, I can’t research it. If I can’t research it (for at least 36 days in a row until 2 am each day), I can’t understand it. If I can’t understand it, I can’t control it. And if I can’t control it, I am vulnerable.
I can’t bear to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a sure opening for pain, fear and discomfort. And I am no match for pain, fear and discomfort. This last year has changed me more than any other year.
So now, I have to reset my idea of who I am. Who is LaRonda now?
I know the answer is that I am a beloved child of El Roi, the God who sees me. I know I am loved by a Father who is merciful and gracious and who longs to bless me for his glory. I know that when my Father looks at me, he doesn’t see a short, fat, toothless woman who can’t walk straight; he sees the child he formed in my crazy mother’s womb, a child he chose before I could choose him, a child who now stands before him covered in the purifying, sacrificial blood of his son, Jesus Christ, redeemed and his.
That should be enough, shouldn’t it?
But it’s not. What I know and what I feel are often mutually exclusive. I need to feel affirmation, appreciation and affection.
I can’t be the only one who didn’t get those things from their family or had them kept away from them as a means of punishment and control or had them horribly perverted.
I can’t be the only one who bartered herself for attention or affection, hoping to be “picked” by anyone, even if it was closing time at the bar and I was the last girl standing, feeling like the last kid left to be picked for a miserable game of dodgeball. Again.
I can’t be the only one who wanted a baby, thinking that if no one could love her, she’d give birth to someone who would love her – because that child wouldn’t know any better – for a few years at least.
At 32 years old, I was still hoping for a man who would keep me. I wasn’t delusional enough to expect love. I would be content with someone who would just help me make sure my needs and the needs of my daughter were met – shelter, food, clothing and – eventually – wifi. In turn, I would do a good job of making sure we had groceries in the fridge, all the bills were taken care of, and I didn’t embarrass him among the people he knew. That’s when God gave me John. And since God always seemed to know what he was doing, then I figured John would keep me, and I would secure my position by doing for him everything that needed to be done.
For 22 years, I’d genuinely thought that was the arrangement. Then God’s renovation project came along. I came to the end of 2019 worn down and tired, as was John. Everything we thought we had – decent insurance, acceptable health, enough money at the end of the month, a secure relationship – all fell away bit by bit.
Just after the middle of December, our “Night before Christmas” looked like this:
- My husband had a $55 bonus and some rebates from Menards.
- His weekly paycheck was half of what we were expecting because he didn’t get paid for Thanksgiving after all.
- I didn’t know if I was even getting a bonus.
- We had no savings account.
- We had no credit left, and we couldn’t have afforded higher or additional payments even if we did.
- We had already advanced our checking reserve in full.
- And we hadn’t gotten anything for our daughters yet.
I was looking at our balance and the carefully maintained Excel spreadsheet that listed our bills, due dates, monthly payments due and balances (you thought I was kidding about control, huh?). When there was no reconciliation to be found, I turned everything off.
In utter defeat, I turned to John and admitted, “I can’t.”
“I can’t do anything. I can’t pay this bill. I can’t find a way to get the money to pay it. I can’t tell you how we’re going to buy anything you can’t get with $55 cash and Menards rebates to give to our girls for Christmas. By the way, Santa’s off the payroll so you’re getting nothing, and all I want for Christmas is some Xanax.”
I’d like to say a Christmas miracle happened that night as the miserly old neighbor drove 12 miles in the moonlit snow on a sled that was full of food and gifts for our starving family, but it’s not true:
- Our neighbor is just next door, so it would have been silly for him to drive 12 miles simply for the sake of a good story.
- It wasn’t snowing – which was uncharacteristic of southern Minnesota.
- The only thing our neighbor has ever blessed us with is the excess leaves that Mother Nature (that’s what we call his trusty leaf blower) happened to leave in our yard. A yard with no tree.
- We were far from starving, unless not having enough dip for the chips counted.
- Our daughters are 18 and 27 years old. They each have their own jobs and can buy what they want for themselves. As could we, and we had; hence, some of our debt.
- None of us even needed anything!
So now that it’s too late for me to say, “Long story, short”, follow me down the spiral recap (because I obviously like bullet-pointed lists):
- Big changes in 2019
- History of low self-esteem with a crumbling facade
- Hopelessly low expectations of a marriage
- Dismal pre-Christmas/year-end
- I CAN’T!
- Wile E. Coyote and Simon Peter
So…the laws of nature! Wile E. Coyote looked down and fell. Peter looked around and began to sink. And I made the mistake of looking in. I’d counted and recounted all the things that had gone wrong that year ad nauseum! I was terrified of losing what little grip or control I had on things. And I crumbled.
The Whaa-ambulance came to a sudden, screeching stop at year’s end, and everything that wasn’t tied down was hurled forward into the new year. In the stress of the mess, I questioned everything – my life, my job, my marriage. I looked to find what had gone so wrong – so I could make sure it never happened again. After sorting through the debris, labeling and cross-referencing it, I came to this irrefutable (and most obvious to me, of course), conclusion: It was clearly my husband’s fault. What a relief it was to be able to finally wrap up this mystery and pit a big bow on it in time for Christmas.
I’d gone to a lot of effort to create a nice family letter, and I’d asked him to do one simple thing – just address the envelopes. But he didn’t do that. I don’t know how our marriage had lasted as long as it had because I obviously couldn’t rely on him to do anything I asked. Ever! Furthermore, if he didn’t want to help me, we each may as well go to our own metaphorical corners and JUST EAT WORMS!! (Except it was nastier – a lot more Dr. Phil than SNL.)
But I submit that there may have been a Christmas miracle in there after all.
After the curtain closed on my personal drama, I sat down with my husband. I explained to him that I didn’t think I had ever asked for much from him and that all I’d ever expected from him was to keep me, not walk away from me, and meet the most basic of my needs – like addressing 10 envelopes! Then I asked him what he had expected from our marriage. John simply said, “I just wanted someone who would love me.”
I thought that was a pretty stupid thing to say! Hadn’t I taken care of him?
I had, actually. If it needed to be paid, organized, remembered or resolved, I had probably been the one to take care of it. I’d handled the lion’s share of anything done in the kitchen. To be fair, I cannot take credit for any cleaning! But God revealed to me over the next few days that the one thing I hadn’t done is love my husband. John had given me what he needed – love – yet he was so afraid of not meeting my standards and he had a such a stronghold of anxiety that he wasn’t as confident as I was at doing. And I needed some doing. What’s more, I realized that every single day that John had told me he loved me over the past 22 years, those three words had been lost in translation because I really didn’t understand love for the sake of love.
It’s time for some changes, I think. It’s time to let go of so many of the beliefs I adopted early in life, beliefs that once served as strong survival skills but have been keeping me from enjoying what’s been mine all along. I am lovable and loved – by my husband, my two daughters, my friends and a gracious Father. It’s time to take comfort and joy in that love. No more keeping score.