Life in Three Words

This week, the lead headline in my LinkedIn Today news blast was Why Weirdos Outperform Normals. The banner across the top boasted ‘Top Content, Tailored for You’. Thanks for that, LinkedIn. Good to know you scanned my profile and this is the story you came up with.

So I read it – with a title like that I practically had too – and I was both intrigued and repulsed all at the same time. The author named four extremely successful business people and factors that differentiated them as “weird”. You know. Things like “wants his daughters to be lesbians and drug addicts.” Wait. What? That got me pretty fired up – what kind of freaking idiot parent would EVER wish addiction on his daughters – and I followed the associated link over to a blog entry by James Altucher called I Want My Kids to be Drug Addicts. In it, he tells the story of his kid’s babysitter, Lynn McKay, who overcame an addiction to Ecstasy, wrote a book, wound up on Oprah, traveled the world encouraging other recovering addicts, and then started a gluten-free bakery to the Stars. As you can imagine, it was tweeted over 100 times and at last count, there were 53 comments.

One commenter wrote, “Very interesting and inspiring. We need darkness to see light.”

Lynn McKay, responding to another commenter, said:

Every day is a choice, will I take responsibility for my life, my happiness, my choices, etc. or will I lay blame to my past, my limitations, and clutch my misery like a comfy old blanket? Sometimes when you dig deep you realize that you like the misery, the known, the old ways of acting, doing, and being. It is the light that truly scares the shit out of us.

There is a lot of darkness in life. There is darkness around us and there is darkness inside us. I understand what Lynn is saying – sometimes there is so much darkness, we get comfortable with it. It feels like a friend. The light tries to break through and we close the curtains and put on our sun glasses. As if its the light that’s going to hurt us.

Jerri reminded me of this just yesterday when she brought up a particularly dark moment from our past.

When we were teenagers, she brought home a stray dog, a German Shepherd mix, and named her Chelsea. Jerri has always had a soft spot for animals and was forever bringing home the lost, the injured, and the unwanted. Chelsea was a beautiful, warm-hearted dog and not too long after she came to live with us, our family moved from a house on a dirt road in a very rural area to a house in another town on a busy highway. Dad put up a fence around the backyard but Chelsea was a jumper. She liked to hang out in the neighbor’s yard, terrorizing her cats, and after several calls and said neighbor’s husband threatening to get out his shotgun, Mom began confining Chelsea to the garage. We had other dogs at the time, all of them house dogs but seems like Chelsea didn’t play well with others.

At the time Chelsea was sentenced to life in garage, Jerri was 15. She hadn’t adjusted very well to the move, she’d finally reached her limit with Mom’s constant criticism and had begun talking back, and she’d started dabbling in drugs. Chelsea was Jerri’s responsibility and in the midst of her own emotional chaos, she’d forget to feed the dog. One day, after she’d forgotten yet again, Mom took Chelsea to the vet and had her euthanized. Just like that. She could have taken Chelsea to the pound. She could have put an ad in the paper and tried to find her another home. But no. Mom had a healthy dog, in the prime of her life, killed. And after it was done, she told us.

I can still hear Mom trying to justify her actions. “She was locked up in the garage all the time anyway. It was no life for a dog.” Yeah, but it was, at least, LIFE. I can still feel the horror of that moment. I can still see Jerri’s face as she processed what Mom had done. Her outrage and utter despair.

Years later, Mom admitted, in so many words, that she regretted killing Chelsea. That she was so angry with Jerri for all the trouble she was causing, for making her life hell by refusing to be a perfect daughter and positive reflection on her stellar parenting skills, that she used Chelsea to lash out. That is one scary, vengeful streak. What I suspect is, in that moment, when the darkness was rising, when Mom could have fought it, instead she succumbed and carried out a terrible act that could never be undone.

Ok, so we’ve all felt this, haven’t we? The moments when the darkness creeps in, lurks in the recesses and waits for the perfect moment to rear its ugly head. It starts as a whisper, encouraging you to do that thing that you can never take back, that thing that will destroy you or someone around you, or both. It gets louder, building within you, driving you to the edge of the cliff. I’ll admit it. I’ve experienced it, most often at work when I suspect some of the decisions are being made, at worst, by flying monkeys, or at best, by the senior leadership team passing around a Magic Eight Ball. Thank God, I’ve never succumbed to pressing send on those emails to the CEO.

Most of the time, I recognize when the dark tide’s rising before I drown in it. I ask myself, if you do this, what will be the consequences today? Next week? Long term? I think of my life as a story. If I do this thing, how will it change my story? Will it make me the villain? Because I want to be the heroine. The light shines through the darkness. I come to my senses. I recognize the destructiveness of the contemplated action. I take a deep breath and make a course correction. The world is safe (at least from me) for another day.

You do have to experience darkness to fully appreciate light. I’ve experienced enough of it to know that I can’t overcome darkness on my own. It is too much for me. Darkness is relentless. It is too clever and too strong. But here’s something from John’s gospel I hold onto:

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

20130331-122531.jpgRemember ABC’s video series “Our week in 3 words”? Years ago, my friend Susan shared one that included a dog with a sign around his neck and his week in 3 words was “I was rescued.” If I had to sum up my life in 3 words, I would just lift that sign from around that dog’s neck and put it around my own. Jesus rescues me from the darkness every day of my life – the darkness within and the darkness without.

Darkness has existed from the beginning. It is always with us. But the good news, on Easter Sunday, is it cannot overcome the Light.


6 Comments on “Life in Three Words”

  1. anony-girl says:

    Wonderful, just wonderful. Jesus does rescue us, and without him I would have no hope.

    I have been enjoying your blog for some time as my brother was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. My parents are caring for him now, but someday that will be my responsibility and I fear it so. The last 6 weeks have been hell as he’s been hospitalized three times (his first hospitalizations ever), and two of them were via commitment hearings. He doesn’t believe he is sick, won’t take meds, etc. I am wondering how we will get through this now, much less how will I handle it on my own some day?

    • Anony-girl, I’m so glad you also know Jesus. Very difficult to make it through this life without him. I hear your apprehension and the prospect of caring for a sibling with schizophrenia is very scary. Jerri’s neighbor, Catherine, also has schizophrenia and is constantly going off her medication. God is constantly talking to her. Every time I see her, I just want to hug her. Some manufactures are trying to address this problem through drugs that are injected and last for a week (I think).

      I cannot recommend NAMI’s family-to-family class strongly enough. With knowledge comes power. At NAMI you will find others struggling with the same challenges as you. They’ve been there and can offer practical advice. You are not alone.

      Let me also say how awesome it is that you are even willing to think about caring for your brother. So many siblings are not. I commend you and wish you all the best!

      • anony-girl says:

        Thank you so much. Well my “willingness” to care for him is begrudging at best. I have no desire on my own to do it and I’d be quite happy to never see or talk to him again. The only reason I will do it is because I love my parents, and they want me to do it, while they also realize I could refuse. But I couldn’t be so selfish as to do that — it would cause too much of a rift between us, and it would place an even larger burden on them to make arrangements for his care, when they are already struggling as it is to make plans. I’m the only sibling, and there’s really no one else to do it. My parents have basically assumed I will, but they haven’t been manipulative or guilt-tripping about it either, and we’ve been working together to make plans for the future. I am single too, so I REALLY worry about doing this alone without a husband for support.

        He was horribly abusive to me growing up, and on top of the schiz, he is just a selfish and obstinate jerk. Truly a first class ass. He always has been that way, even well before he became ill. So we are often stuck saying “is this behavior the illness, or is it his ass personality?”

        The one bright spot is that I will inherit plenty of money which I hope will make it easier, including a trust for his behalf. So my hope is that I will be able to make decisions behind the scenes and I will be able to buy some distance by having caregivers who can do the hands-on. Not sure how realistic that plan is, but I should probably explore that in the NAMI class. I am extremely grateful for the help the money will be, but I am realizing it isn’t a magic bullet. We’ve been amazed at how hard it is to find the help he will need, even when money isn’t an issue.

        Because of the abuse, I have a lot of fear about taking care of him and there’s a lot of baggage. He and I don’t even have a relationship, we never have. I’ve done a lot of therapy and prayer work, and I will likely need to do more. My prayer is God will change my heart radically, such that caring for him will become like caring for a distant cousin I hardly know — neutral, with no baggage. That would be a miracle in itself. Bless you for this blog. It is a hope to me.

  2. And the Good News is that even the smallest glimmer of Light erases the darkness – a faith the size of a mustard seed.

  3. Isa says:

    Ooh, this post about killed me. My daughter had a ferret we all loved, but she neglected his cage sometimes, and there was such friction between us about the messes he made in the house and the shoes he chewed up. I warned her many times that we would have to re-home him if she wasn’t more attentive. And one day, I put an ad on Craigslist and a teen boy, very knowledgable about ferrets, wanted him, but couldn’t pick him up for a month. My daughter seemed sad, but never asked me to change my mind…and we sold her ferret. She claims he was her best friend. Our relationship is so much better, but I feel terrible. Am I like your mom? I feel like I am. The worst mother in the world.

    • Absolutely not. It’s very important for parents to teach their kids there are consequences. It’s also extremely important when you’ve warned your child about the repercussion of a particular action or non-action that you follow through. You warned your daughter numerous times. You rehomed the ferret-you didn’t kill it. And it sounds like you weren’t acting out of anger or vindictively. Completely different scenario. You were just being a responsible parent.

      Also, for the record, anyone who asks themselves “Am I a bad parent?” probably isn’t. 😉

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