What’s at the End of Your Rope?

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. 😉

What My Husband Can Never Give Me (divorce, part III)

We lived in a tiny gray rental house just outside of New Orleans.

My dad worked a normal day job and played bass guitar in a local band some weekends.

My mom stayed home and helped the household the way many stay-at-home moms do: She kept kids in our house, sold Avon, sewed a little.

My parents were young when they married. They didn’t come from money, and we didn’t have money, but I didn’t know it. I had everything I could want or need.

If my parents weren’t happy, I couldn’t see it. I was too young and innocently self-absorbed to understand that marriage has to do with love and not just raising children.

The night before we moved to Mississippi, I wailed. Even at six years old, the cries felt heavy and foreboding, as if I knew that whatever we were leaving behind in Louisiana would remain there permanently.

I was right. We moved in the fall of 1986; by the fall of 1993 my parents were separated. They eventually divorced and to this day have barely spoken to or seen each other.

Adults mourn marriage, I’m sure of that. There are scars, and they must heal. But most grown-ups have a magical ability to reenter the world of matrimony, even build another family.

Children didn’t get that superpower, unfortunately.

The years surrounding my parents’ divorce are a painful blur to me. If you ask anyone who knew me well during that time, you’d likely hear one extreme or the other, that either they didn’t have a clue anything was wrong, or that they knew I was ten shades of crazy.

I was blindly clawing my way out of a pit that I had never fallen in before. How do you go from being one family to being another? How do you navigate the rough waters of mourning, celebrating, crying, laughing, hurting and being happy, all at the same time?

There was no one to tell me.

And so I ran.

I ran through muddy relationships and rocky experiences and dark days and even darker nights.

I pushed people away, and then I desperately pulled them to me. I cursed and I prayed. I begged for someone to love me and thought they were damn fools if they did.

But the whole time I kept running, just to be sure hurt wouldn’t catch me again.

By the time I made it to college, I was a train wreck, and that train barrelled right into the happy station that was a guy named Clayford.

At first he loved me. Oh man, did he love me so much I felt healed in no time at all.

But then he didn’t love me. It was obvious and it hurt.

And then he loved me again. We got married. I was confused but too afraid to say anything. He was, too.

A sad omen, the way that first official week of marriage to Clayford began:

We married on September 8, 2001. Because Bubba was a newborn and we didn’t want to leave him too long (not to mention that being seniors in college, we were flat broke) we got hitched on a Saturday, took a short trip to Memphis, and arrived back home on September 10, a Monday.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, even though Clayford and I started out with armloads of baggage, I still held the same dreams in my heart as any other young woman. Dreams of being swept away by a knight in shining armor, like a princess needing a prince.

Except this princess felt more like Cinderella, rejected and dirty, undeserving of the fairy tale because of all that had happened to me and all I had done in reaction to it.

So for me it was perfectly normal—even expected—that I would come home from a honeymoon to find destruction awaiting me.

Clayford played ball at Ole Miss, and that morning he sat in the field house having his shoulder examined.

I sat at Bancorp South, holding Bubba in one arm while I set up our bank account with my free hand.

I answered my ringing cell and immediately noticed the shocked tone in Clayford’s voice.

I’m watching ‘The Today Show,’ he said. Can you believe a…? 

And then there was silence before, There’s another one. I don’t think it was an accident.

Planes had flown into the Twin Towers. And terror had flown right back into my life.

You see, my wedding day had been a failed attempt to escape these emotions: terror, fear, anxiety, panic.

I thought marrying Clayford, creating a ‘normal’ family, would make me feel ‘normal.’ I’d somehow be less broken under the shelter of marriage.

Of course that wasn’t true. And I have openly shared that our road has been far from easy. The word divorce has been tossed around like a, and or the.

But last year the fighting stopped. So much so that Clayford even mentioned it in December:

Do you realize we barely fought? I don’t think we said divorce one time.

I alone knew the reason: A part of me was dead.

I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I had settled into marriage—accepting what would never change—and everything was okay.

I didn’t see that indifference had crept slowly inside me, its incendiary suffocation so crafty I couldn’t feel my heart being numbed and dulled.

I told him at the beginning of this year I was absolutely sure I didn’t want to be married anymore.

He wasn’t surprised. And he agreed, exhausted with feeling like he could never get it right.

There were some ugly words said. Then peace.

But then he said no. Just like that. He said no, he would not give me a divorce. He didn’t believe it was what I really wanted. He knew how much I loved our family, and he didn’t want to lose it.

And secretly I was glad he refused. Because in recent weeks, the pain of my childhood had returned to the forefront of my mind with such vengeance that I’d been on the verge of major depression, returning to bed some mornings after carpool because I felt drained and alone.

I now know it was a fear that had been lingering deep inside me, ever since I’d given birth to Bubba:

I was afraid of being a parent. Afraid I would hurt my children irreparably, the way I’d believed my parents hurt me.

Can I tell you how full-circle this was for me?

For years I’d believed I was over the past. For years I’d claimed victory. But deep inside me were fears and resentments that I’d kept laying at God’s feet then picking up again.

I hadn’t fully forgiven. I was still expecting my parents to fix the mess.

And not just my parents. All kinds of people from my past needed to be forgiven.

And I desperately needed it, too. I’d wreaked havoc in many a life by my words and actions. That is not an attempt at humiliation; it it pure and simple truth. 

Being a human is nothing short of accepting imperfection daily, and Grace—the greatest gift the Father has given us—is the sword that slices bitterness to pieces.

So now we’re stuck, Clayford and I. Stuck, but still here.

He will never make me happy. Isn’t that sad? I think so. I’ve had to grieve what will never be.

He isn’t my Savior. He can’t make me whole. 

Sounds harsh, but it’s true. For starters, he’s human, like me, and because of his very nature, who he is at his core, I’m aware that he will never give me what I need. He would have to become a completely different person.

(I hope you know him well enough to know he is a WONDERFUL person. An amazing father, a good provider, and a friend to many. If you don’t know Clayford, you’re missing out.)

Likewise, I truly believe I’m probably not the right gal for him. He would never say those exact words, but his actions tell me he’d be happier with someone who had less jagged a past, and a whole lot less of a need for his time and attention.

These are facts I can’t change, can’t do a single thing about.

Honestly? I don’t know what to do with that.

I don’t know how to begin a new life where I simply accept the way things are. I don’t know how long that kind of “dying to self” can sustain energy.

So for today, I won’t say I’ll be married forever. I will say that Clayford will always be my family. The six of us will always be Team Overby. Always, no matter what.

And my deep respect and love for him and the family we’ve created compelled me to wake up this morning willing to try again.

And I suppose if the two of us wake up every morning from this day forward saying, Today I’m willing to try again, we might just make it after all.