Intentional. Risk. Health. Confrontation. What do those four words have in common? I’m certain most of you could connect the dots in some pretty interesting ways. But for me these four words have been about a journey, my journey.
Four years ago I was in my third year of a graveyard shift job in a group home for developmentally disabled adults. I had a four and a half year old at home which is why I worked the graveyard (to avoid daycare). We had just moved to a new house. Four of our five children lived at home. I home schooled my youngest son. It was his junior year of high school. My oldest daughter who started out home schooling with us decided she would rather go to public school after all. And, I was miserable.
I had been blogging for over two years and had met a variety of people on-line. I found them interesting, engaging, challenging, and at times frustrating. Of course, I hadn’t actually met any of them but I followed their blogs and engaged in various on-line discussions. Having walked out of what I’d tagged Building-based Christianity nine months earlier I felt I’d found a new fellowship. I have never been particularly social, or comfortable in large groups so an on-line fellowship suited me just fine, especially since I could chime in or bow out at will.
At the beginning of the year, rather than a New Year’s resolution I felt like God gave me a word. A word to ponder through out the whole year. The word was INTENTIONAL. About mid-March I decided I wanted to go back to school. I toyed with the possibly of law school but eventually settled for renewing my teaching certification. I applied for a loan and signed up for classes. I quit my job a couple weeks before the semester started. And most surprising of all–I told my husband what I was doing through out this process. I didn’t ask his permission. To the best of my ability I planned classes around my family’s schedule since one of our children was just starting kindergarten and I was still homeschooling our youngest son.
I began school thinking I could pick up both an art and a political science endorsement but by the middle of the first semester I knew it had to be one or the other. Art won out. I didn’t know until it happened that I would get a new word as the new year rolled around and wasn’t quite sure what to make of the word I got. It was RISK.
I decided to let the word inform my art. I pushed myself to let what I was wrestling with internally find expression externally. I did a series gum and cyanotypes in Alternative Processes Photography which explored the weight of legalistic religion and I did a series of beds in Drawing II that spoke of brokenness and relationship. Both were break through pieces for me but the beds were the most successful artistically.
By the end of my first year I realized I needed to go back to work if we were going to meet our financial obligations so in May I applied to my current place of employment. That summer I started once again working graveyards. This time it was in a group home for children who were removed from their homes due to severe neglect or abuse. I was determined to keep going to school. Thus, even though my plate was full I signed up for 9 credits. While I’d never describe going back as easy I was soon going to find out what difficult meant. The first semester with one studio class, two ed classes, and a lot of neglected “home” work I eked through.
And, in December I already had my word for the coming year–HEALTH. I wasn’t impressed.
I tried to forget about the word. I didn’t want to diet and I didn’t have time to exercise. I tried to focus on school. I saw a flier telling art majors to get their BFA applications in by the middle of February. I looked at the course requirements. The credit requirements were the same. The difference was that BFA students had a couple more required courses and BA students a couple more electives. I applied. I figured if they said no they said no. The feedback would be valuable regardless. I believe the review shows went up the first week of March. My life began a free-fall the night I set up my show. It hit bottom two months later just before I told my husband I was done doing what we were doing, that I didn’t know how to try any harder and what I was doing obviously wasn’t working. I told him he needed to get healthy and I was going to get healthy even if it meant ending our marriage.
Not knowing how to keep going was hit head on by not knowing how to stop. Over the next two month we told various family members that I wanted a divorce. My plan was to separate, move out, and try to figure out how to do our children together. My father was outspokenly against my plan and angry at our second oldest son for supporting me. A friend cautioned me to look carefully at the financial picture because it could impact my ability to keep my daughters. In the end I did not move out of the house but I did move into a separate bedroom. I was broken and angry and hurting. But, I also had to face a very important fact: I had not actually done everything I could. Instead, I had told myself it wouldn’t matter. And, I had begun to act on what I really wanted to do–give up and run away.
My husband ask me to go to counseling with him. Our previous attempt–20 plus years ago with a husband and wife Christian marriage counseling team–was in my opinion religious, sexist, and not at all helpful so I agree to counseling with one condition, I insisted we go to a secular counselor. Honestly, I had very little hope in saving or repairing our marriage and felt the best I could expect was for the counselor to help us figure out how to end well. What I told my husband was that if we did go the counseling route he’d better be ready to look at a whole lot of shit.
Somewhere between that conversation and our first appointment with the counselor it dawned on me–I was guilty of censorship. I had withheld the truth (about how I felt, what I thought, what I wanted, how I saw him functioning in our family, what was important to me, and what I expected) in the name of trying to be loving and kind and godly and selfless and…So, when we sat in front of our counselor for the first session I promised myself I would be honest. I would NOT sugar coat my feelings. I’d face my anger, and hurt, and frustration. In short–I would chose health over peace or ease. It has been the best decision I ever made. But even so I’ve had to make it again and again over the past eight months.
Last January I got a new word–CONFRONT. I suspect I will understand a whole lot more about how I function and what I truly want my life to be about before this year is done. I also suspect the relationships in my life will either become more authentic or less important. I hope that while I confront my dragons, and adversaries, and issues I also begin to more honestly realize what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes. I at least know that what ever this new word brings my way I am on a journey and the journey isn’t over yet. Thank God!