Friday, August 10, 2012

Standards for Stuff

My quest to scale down and pare back continues. Below are some questions to consider when looking at one's belongings and prospective purchases.

For items already owned:

Does this fit me? (Whether physically or emotionally, where I am now and who I want to be?)

If it does not physically fit, can it be altered? Is it worth the hassle and/or cost?

Does this have negative memories or emotions associated with it?

Do I love it?

Is it unique or beautiful?

Does seeing it around my house amuse me or otherwise bring me pleasure?

Do I use it regularly?

Does it fill a specific need or do double duty?

Does owning it and maintaining it actively add value to my life?

Am I keeping it for a dream lifestyle that exists only in my head?

If gotten rid of, would it be difficult to reacquire if it was needed after all?

Do I know somebody who would benefit more by being given this item than the use I am currently (or not) getting out of it?

Can I consume the content of the item in such a way that I don’t have to store it? (digital media)

For prospective purchases:

Does this work with what I already have?

Is it a more attractive or durable replacement for something I’ve used a lot?

If I buy it, will I use it frequently enough to justify the cost-per-use?

If this isn’t an emergency and I am unsure whether I’ll enjoy the item long-term, do I know somebody I can borrow it from to try it out first?

Am I feeling less-than in some way and am I shopping to make the feeling go away?

Does the item live up to the high standards of what I already own?

Is the item worth the time I worked for the money and the time it will take to maintain it?

Will purchasing this item slow down my long-term goals?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What do I want?

I've been reading a lot about minimalist lifestyles lately. I know, cue the superstitious shudder. But I think there's a lot to glean from the perspectives of those who purposely downsize their lives to free up time, energy, and money. The whole spirit behind minimalism is identifying your core values and aligning your priorities to match. So what are 10 things I want out of life? 1. I want to work fewer hours someday. 2. I want to have more time to hang out with my husband. After all, I do kinda like the guy. 3. I want to spend less time maintaining a house and yard. 4. I want to someday live in a semi-urban, walkable area. The picture I have in my mind's eye is downtown Chattanooga's River District, but I'm not limited to that city by any means. 5. I want to get to know every nook, cranny, restaurant, and attraction of whatever city I live in. 6. I want to reduce my environmental footprint. I'm by no means an obnoxious hippie type, but I do take stewardship of the earth seriously. 7. I want to practice more intentional hospitality - as in, inviting people over as opposed to simply having an open house for our single friends. 8. I want to be able to take off on an adventure at a moment's notice. 9. I want to become well-off so I can meet needs within my church and donate frequently to charity. 10. I want to travel the world with my husband.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Punting the Anklebiters

This summer is already emotionally tough for me and it's only halfway through June. Several factors have converged to create an ugly mess. Like a pimple you think you've squeezed out, but it won't heal because it keeps refilling under the scab and you realize there were three clogged pores, not one.

I recently read an article that made me choke on my lungs. This specifically deals with raking over a childish, unreliable father. That wasn't my problem. The 2x4 to the heart came when I read these words:

Tommy's eyes lit up.

"Wow," he said. "Amazing. What you just described is a dead-on, classic symptom of something called 'projective identification.'"

"Good gracious, what's that?"

"It manifests itself in different ways, but one of them is when people tell painful stories just to get a sympathetic reaction. It gives them a little high when the other person says, 'Oh, my goodness! I can't believe you went through that.'"

"What's wrong with that?" I asked. "People do it all the time."

"You're right – they do – but the problem is the person isn't dealing with his own junk – he's getting someone else to do it. And you especially see people do this when they've gone through painful experiences they haven't properly grieved."

It was exciting, in a way, to get a concrete diagnosis from Tommy, but it was also disturbing. If he was right, if I was retelling these stories so I could watch the listeners process my baggage – rather than do it myself – then I was basically just using these people.

I can't pretend I don't do that. I've been locked away from my emotions so long that telling the story of the 6 agonizing years before I escaped to college feels to me like I'm gossiping about someone else's sad life. "Isn't she brave? Bless her heart, to have gone through all that, and she doesn't even drink? The narrator shakes her head in mock-sympathetic admiration.

I also had a person from my past resurface suddenly whom we'll call Number 24. A man from my church back home, who went to middle and high school with me. We carpooled. I had a terrible crush on him that the entire church knew about (so it seemed). He and his wife just got out of seminary with counseling degrees (gulp) and moved to Charleston to find work. They're attending my church. (double gulp) So now Will and I are thrown together with this sweet, outgoing couple with fresh training, and one of them remembers me clearly from the bad old days. (triple gulp) I admit to a minor freakout when I heard Number and Mrs. 24 were moving here. It wasn't all vanity that I didn't want to have someone around who knew me when I was dumpy and belligerent; I also didn't want to tar this couple with my brush of old, sticky pain. I wanted to get to know Number 24 as an adult, and Mrs. 24 as her delightful self, free of association.But of course, in catching up and talking about the old days, it's all coming up again because my memories are dyed dark with the pain and grief, and this kind and compassionate couple, with their fresh training, are all too ready to practice on me.

The next straw on my back comes from my pastor. He's been preaching a series of summer homilies on the petty anklebiter sins that we keep around because they don't seem that harmful. This morning's was on anxiety. I didn't used to be an anxious person, a worrier. Worrying puts one outside of gratitude for God's provision. It cuts you off from the body of the church. He encouraged us to adopt one sin to focus on uprooting this summer. I think my unlovely pet is going to have to be anxiety. I worry constantly. I don't trust anyone but myself. This includes God, my husband and my parents. That's what happens when you're in free fall and the people around you, the church, God's people, don't roll out a net. And God ignores your screams when you hit the pavement. The screams cursing Him for not saving you. The screams begging Him to send help. The screams begging Him to put you out of your misery, because you cannot live with the pain. And eventually, you lie on your face in your pulped body long enough that your twisted bones knit together enough that you can get up and lurch away, an unrecognizable mockery of your former self. And then you get blamed for being twisted and ugly by the people who didn't catch you. Because what doesn't kill you doesn't always make you stronger. Sometimes it makes you horribly disfigured. That's how a carefree, spontaneous, trusting child becomes a worrier.

And finally, there's my husband. I've kept him at arm's length too long. He deserves better. He deserves a wife who has healed, not a shattered porcelain doll who sits on a shelf insisting she's ready to play, even though her legs are in a Ziploc bag taped to the back of her dress.

I want to have an emotionally open relationship with my husband. I want to forgive the people who let me down. I want to learn to trust God again, to recover the innocent faith of the child I was. I want to fully participate in church. To stop treating it as though it's a home and I'm a newly-rescued, formerly abused greyhound who hides behind the couch, only coming out when completely starving to steal the occasional roast off the counter.

This is definitely going to be a rough summer because I don't have skeletons in my closet. I have zombies in there, and it's all I can do to keep the door padlocked. I'm going to have to let them out, one by one, and shoot them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I read several blogs about marriage and male/female relations. I also dip into the Focus on the Family forums when I'm completely desperate for entertainment or nursing a terrible mood that I need to improve by comparing myself to those poor unfortunates. (I really do actually have a lively interest in psychology and counseling. I'm not just enjoying a particularly nasty and impersonal schadenfreude.)

Reading today's tales of woe brought home to me how secular my thinking is becoming. The particular threads I read were all started by women. All chronicled staggering emotional/verbal abuse, incredible financial irresponsibility, and rampant, unrepentant adultery. The advice was all gentle and supportive, with many pious wishes for spiritual renewal in the offender. I got mad. That is the worst advice anybody could give to people who are suffering like that. I could tick down most of the however-many thousand threads in there and change those peoples' lives with two lines: "S/He is abusing you. Leave." (And if I really wanted to do the cruel-to-be-kind thing, I could add "You can leave now, or you can leave later with an STI and an extra child you can't afford.")

I believe this is one area where the Church is failing her people. Yes, Christians should follow the procedure for rebuking a wayward brother. Yes, Christian spouses should be patient and longsuffering. I don't dispute any of that. I believe the Bible gives the correct procedure for dealing with habitual and unrepentant sin. However, I don't believe that enough people are told that when their spouse is that sunk in sin, stupidity, and selfishness (SSS), they are too far gone to be reasoned with. When your spouse is that far gone, they no longer see you as someone toward whom they have any obligation. They don't see you as human, in fact. You are merely an inanimate object that exists only for their convenience. So when you protest, demand pastoral mediation, and Christian counseling, they are as astonished as if their toilet started complaining about its ill-usage while they were sitting on it.

With that in mind, it's clear to see how the normal Christian platitudes about redoubling prayer and submission reinforce the problem. Staying in the home, suffering in silence, trying to love someone out of their sin gives the offender absolutely no reason to change. After all, you're contributing to the problem because you seem to be putting up with it. Your very presence is used against you as tacit acceptance.

So to anyone who's suffering like the people in those forums, please take care of yourself and your children first. Leave the abuser to stew in his/her juices. Pray fervently and let the Lord deal with him/her. Maybe your marriage can be restored after a time. But you should consider whether your abusive spouse needs to see the power of the Lord when his/her passive "toilet" suddenly grows legs and walks out.