What’s at the End of Your Rope?

steelmagnolias.jpg
Scene from Steel Magnolias
There’s a scene in the 1989 drama Steel Magnolias where Shelby’s father, Drum, is fussing with his incorrigible neighbor Ouiser over a Magnolia tree dividing their properties.

Drum had cut flowers from the tree to use as pool decorations for his daughter’s wedding reception, and Ouiser was less than happy about it.

I am just about at the end of my rope with you, Drum Eatenton, Ouiser says after she’s exhausted all her fight.

Well then, why don’t you tie a noose and slip it ’round your head? he replies, laughing.

Have you ever come to the end of your rope and realized the place it stopped was your feet?

Have you ever thought that the only option left was to slip it ’round your head?

I have.

Not too long ago I had to admit two hard truths to my husband:

  • I was unhappy, and he actually wasn’t the problem, and…
  • I had lived 37 years never feeling intrinsically worthy.

For the past 15-ish years, I have been telling my husband that he makes me unhappy.

Easy to do. Not taking responsibility for our actions has been a human strong-suit since Adam and Eve ate the apple.

If it’s not your fault, it’s not on you to fix it.

But lately—especially since we moved to Oxford—victimhood has left me feeling a bit jaded. I can keep up a facade for ten days, but not eleven. I can continue to pretend I’m not to blame for my lack of joy, but only until I choke on my own words.

I’m unhappy because I’m unhappy. Not because Clayford, my kids, my parents, my past, old friends, family members or any circumstance made me that way.

I’m unhappy because it’s a habit. It’s wired into my brain. It’s a set point and I’ve been too lazy to change it.

But I’m also unhappy for an uglier reason, one that has shot poison into my body, soul and spirit.

I’m unhappy because for so long I believed my worth came from what I did, who I was, and what I brought to the table.

This is a lie from hell that has hovered around me nearly all my life.

I grew up in the suburbs of a city. In my community and the surrounding areas, there was a larger amount of money and status in comparison to the tinier towns and more remote places in my state.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you grew up in a similar town.

A town where some families and children are known in a good way for what they have, what they do and what their last names are. Or known in a bad way for purposely seeking to be the opposite. Or not known at all because they fit neither of the above.

From reading my posts, it’s probably not so hard to tell where my family fell.

So even though I wasn’t specifically told to find my worth in doing, being or having, that was exactly what I gathered from all I saw around me.

I saw that pretty girls who dressed in the right clothes and did the right activities were liked.

I saw that boys who acted like men and played sports and wore a certain jacket were popular.

I saw that money, or the perception of having it, made all of the above possible.

And I saw that parents and teachers encouraged this, participated in it, and often schemed to make sure it happened.

I’m not judging a soul for this. I feel quite sure this same merry-go-round has been spinning since the dawn of creation.

But longevity doesn’t equal right.

However, longevity does mean that something probably won’t change anytime soon, and this same scenario happens in Oxford as in any other mid-sized, economically advantaged town.

Strangely, however, it never occurred to me that this was a false way to live until I was sitting at the Starbucks talking marriage with a friend of mine.

I told her some struggles Clayford and I had been dealing with.

When she asked me out of the blue if I felt worthy of having a good life, I said no, giving her a very solid list of all the ways I had no right to feel worthy of anything.

My past and present failures are great examples, I said.

She looked at me like I was crazy, and replied, I’m not talking about feeling good for having money or accomplishments, Toni. I mean, Do you feel good just because you are here and you are you?

This. Blew. My. Mind.

I knew in my head that one should feel valuable just for existing. I’ve even written about it before.

But in my heart?

My image of God and redemption has been so skewed for so long that the concept of worthiness has always seemed tied to doing everything right, having material ‘blessings’, and being graced with sheer luck.

Our greatest calling as humans—especially Jesus followers (love your neighbor as yourself)—is to make everyone feel worthy, because feeling intrinsically valuable helps you make good choices, choices that lead to feeling externally valuable too, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

I believe my lack of self-worth, as seeing myself as intrinsically valuable, has led me to do some pretty outrageous things.

I don’t need to vomit them on a blog post, but suffice it to say, I’ve looked for worth in a lot of wrong places, even places that seem good.

And I could wrap up this post all cute, but instead I’ll just tell you that this year has officially been titled “End of My Rope.”

I have zero clues where I’ll be come December. Every day feels like I’m peeling back layers of an onion and finding more and more rottenness underneath.

What about you?

Are you performing for value? Trying to sell something for money and success? Taking selfie after selfie for likes and comments? Living through your name or money or children? Hoping to be known for what you do as opposed to Whose you are?

Do you understand that you are entitled as a living and breathing creature of the Universe, created by a God who knit you together, to feel intrinsically worthy?

Do you know that no matter how long you live (or even if you had never made it here in the first place) your life is still incredibly valuable just because?

Maybe like me, you didn’t know that.

Maybe like me (and Ouiser Boudreaux, bless her soul) you’re at the end of your rope, and you’ve found it halts right where it started: YOU.

Don’t pick up that rope and tie it around your neck.

Burn it. Toss it. Get rid of it.

You don’t need it.

We don’t need to lasso value from other places.

It’s been inside us all this whole time.

It’s on you to know your worth.

It’s on me too. Any change I make, any happiness I accept, any trials I face, it’s my decision to pick which lens I see them through.

And for once I’m okay with that.

Because I’m starting to realize I’m worth it. 😉

Before You Hit Your Husband in the Face with a Chair, Read This

I don't see a thing in the world wrong with occasionally smacking someone in the face with a chair...try it sometime:

Disclaimer: This post is NOT intended for the many women who have to work outside the home. Nor is it meant for women who love to work outside the home and have zero problems doing it. Work it, girl.

Recently, I had a coffee date conversation with a friend that left me a little frustrated, not at her and not at our spouses, but over the general way both men AND women have come to view wives and mothers.

Sorry-not-sorry, I feel my generation has created an absolute debacle out of two of the most important titles on Earth.

We have allowed ourselves to buy into a false belief that women can and will do everything: work endless hours at an awesome career, raise perfect children who excel at life, volunteer their time to others, dote on their husbands, keep a perfect home.

What’s worse is that we’ve even bought into the lie that women will do all of the above in designer clothing, with abs of steel, perfect make-up, and a smile across our face as we cash a $100,000 paycheck.

The only place I’ve seen this woman is on television. And she usually comes with a closet drug-habit and a side-guy her husband finds out about in Season 3.

What I see when real-life women get saddled with a full time job, the house, and the kids—AND they’re expected to dress perfectly, make a fortune, and keep a magazine-worthy home?

They grow resentful. They grow angry.

They grow bitter.

Disclaimer #2: This is only MY opinion. It may not be your experience, thought or opinion.

Here’s the thing: Most of us go into marriage and motherhood believing it will be completely different than every other woman’s experience with marriage and motherhood.

Somehow ours will be so much better, much more pleasant, full of rainbows and sunshine and a neverending pot of gold.

We think if we want to stay home we’ll be able to, and if we want to work we’ll balance it all just fine.

We think our marriage will sustain itself, our kids will be perfect, and every other part of our life will magically fall into place.

And then some of us get here and start to question and maybe even regret all kinds of decisions we’ve made regarding our career paths.

We may feel trapped into employment because of the lofty degree we hold that comes with the insane student loan payment.

We may be the primary breadwinner or are afraid we won’t find employment if we take a few years off. (That’s actually a very legitimate concern that I don’t have time to fuss about in this blog post.)

Maybe some women think they can’t justify staying home because their children are in school full time. What would they do all day? (I could give you a list of a thousand things I do, but I get your point.)

And maybe—just maybe—they love their jobs BUT feel guilty for not being home.

After all, some stay at home moms can be VERY judgmental about women who choose to work outside the home. (Just so you know, I’m not one of them. I don’t even consider myself a stay at home mom because that implies I have a  job that revolves around my children.)

Let me speak to the women who feel guilty first:

Do NOT feel guilty.

Women are so blessed to be able to work. Did you know that even as late as the 1970’s some employers were barred from hiring married women? How crazy is that?

I have mountains of respect for women who pull off careers/motherhood/marriage and do it half-way decently.

However, I can’t tell you how often I encounter women who chose to aim high career-wise, yet are surprised at how hard it is to balance full time employment with being a wife, keeping a house, setting up childcare, dealing with family stuff, etc. etc.

Many times frustration occurs because, while their husbands LOVE that extra paycheck coming in, they don’t always want to do equal amounts of household and child-raising chores that in years past were held traditionally by women.

Heads up, guys. In years past women did those chores because women weren’t working outside the home. Duh.

Women weren’t waking up at the crack of dawn just to get a little quiet time before they had to get the kids up for school, AND get dressed for work, AND deal with a full time job, AND grab kids from school/daycare, AND come home and do all the dinner and bedtime chores, AND use the weekends to do whatever odds and ends they missed during the week, AND try to squeeze in a second of loving their spouses while simultaneously entertaining children who can’t be outdoors alone anymore.

Is it any wonder studies show women are less happy than men with each passing decade?

Because my husband grew up in a family where his mother and father had traditional roles, he subconsciously expected the same, whether or not I worked outside the home.

So, when I worked full time, I found that I was still doing almost 100% of the house/child tasks as well.

Not that Clayford wouldn’t help if asked but let’s be honest, asking your husband to help kind of makes you want to hit him in the face with a chair, right?

You’re like, Can you not SEE what is going on here?!? Do you not GET what needs to be done?!?

Be gentle with them, ladies. I speak from experience: Some. Husbands. Do. Not. Get. It. As much as we want to blur the gender lines these days, that pesky biology continues to rear its ugly head.

My advice if you have to work or want a career but don’t want to be stuck with all the responsibility at home:

  • If you don’t have children yet, have the talk ASAP. And then have it again and again and again, and once you have kids, immediately begin to divide chores, etc. Without a clear understanding, some men will assume you’re good to do it all. And then you might hit them in the face with a chair. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • If you already have children and/or you’ve already hit your husband in the face or are seriously considering it, have a Come to Jesus. Carry that man to the Cross and lay him directly in front of it and tell him EXACTLY how you need life to be from this point forward.

Now this is where the talk gets difficult.

When asked how I manage to stay home with four kids, the number one comment that bothers me comes from women who tell me they would ‘love to stay home, but can’t.’

Could you stay home?

I mean for some of us that’s the real question. Not if we want to but if we could afford to.

If you are paying for private school, a couple of brand new luxury SUVs, a house in the nicest suburb of Wherever, U.S.A., a golf club/gym/pool membership, and numerous travel ball teams, cheer squads, and piano lessons, then no, you probably won’t be able to stay home.

If you pile on top of that $300 jeans, a maid, a sitter, and all the boutique children’s clothing money can buy, then no, you probably won’t be able to stay home.

If you eat out often, yet spend a whopping $250 a week at the Krogers, then no, you probably won’t be able to stay home.

And in addition to some/all of the above, if you have loans and bills galore–cell phone, cable, etc.–then no, you probably won’t be able to stay home.

(On a side note, if you see someone who has all of the above and DOES stay home, assume one of three things: Her husband makes a boatload of cash—like abnormal amounts; her family has a history of trust funds or inheritance; or they are in some serious eyeball-high debt.)

The other question is whether or not your husband is willing to allow you to stay home. If this was even remotely a thought at my house, my husband would be smacked in the face with a chair before he ever used the word allow again.

But I realize some husbands are just that way. I could say something about that, but instead I’ll list the ways we as women may have unknowingly bred a spirit of hesitancy in our spouses towards our staying home:

  • If you stayed home in the past and loafed in your pj’s all day, there’s probably a reason for your hubby’s hesitancy. (And I don’t mean right after giving birth or while raising those creatures we call toddlers. Honey, wear those pj’s proud. You deserve it.)
  • If you want to stay home but have a monthly discretionary spending bill of $500 (another word for discretionary is Target), there’s probably a reason for his hesitancy.
  • If you have a family of four but see nothing wrong with spending $1500 a month at the grocery store and eating out for the same amount, there’s probably a reason for his hesitancy.

I’m in no way judging the above examples. Hey, my dream life is to sit around all day drinking wine, reading home and garden magazines, and watching Dr. Phil.

I’m just saying that sacrifices come with being married and having children anyway, and being a one-income family in a world of two-income families only makes the sacrifices bigger.

I don’t live out this housewife thing perfectly, and to say my husband and I haven’t struggled financially along the journey would be a flat-out lie.

But these are a couple of things that have helped us along the way. If you are struggling financially or pondering whether you could live off one income, they might help you, too:

  • I can’t think of the last time I bought anything full-price. If it didn’t come from TJ Maxx or a clearance rack, there’s a good chance it didn’t go on my body. And there are no daily shopping sprees for this gal. Not even close. Never have been.
  • I clip coupons. I run into any and everybody at the Krogers (and always looking ratchet, btw), and there I am, my little orange coupon holder in hand, digging for my $1 off on Folgers. (Is coffee made of crack? Why is it so expensive?)
  • I’ve accepted that there won’t be new cars every two years or a perfectly decorated or landscaped home. I’ve learned to replace experiences for things, and the time spent not dwelling on what I don’t have has opened up room for being grateful for what I do have.

Some of you will find that because of what you need to have, want to have, or would like for your children to have, a full-time job is simply a necessity. No judgment here. None whatsoever. Been there.

Others will find that with some sacrifice you can stay home and also want to. I hope that works out too.

My advice either way is to accept what you can’t change and change what you can.

And try really hard not to hit your husband in the face with a chair.

That’s a tough one, ladies. 😉

*Clayford has never been hit in the face with a chair, although I’ve pictured it in my mind several times.