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. 😉

Through the Eyes of a Child (divorce, part I)

You were seven years old when you watched your father stuff his belongings into a suitcase and pull out of the only home you’d ever known.

He drove straight to a new family’s home and heart. He raised another woman’s children for the next fifteen years while largely ignoring you and your two brothers.

I have a seven year old. The image of my little Nims watching Clayford pull out of our driveway as she cries and begs for him to love her makes me want to curl up in a ball and pull the covers over my head. It is too painful to bear.

As a result of your father’s actions, you’ve never been able to trust your husband. You are always waiting for the rug to be ripped out from under you, and often, you’ll find ways to test him, wondering if he’ll be the one to pull it.

But you, my other friend, didn’t experience the absence of a father. It was your mother who bailed.

The role hadn’t fulfilled her and she wanted a new life. Being a daughter who lost a mother—by the mother’s own choice—has affected every female relationship you have to this day, including the way you parent your own beautiful daughter.

It happens more and more these days it seems, this careless tossing away of our children’s feelings and security. This burgeoning practice of putting our own wants and needs ahead of theirs in the name of being ‘happy.’

I hate divorce, God said. But because of our hard hearts He has allowed it.

And before you think I’m about to go all preachy and self-righteousness on you, let me say that while I wish two people could love each other perfectly for eternity the way I believe God intended it to be, I’ve been married long enough to know that sometimes we make mistakes. We do marry the wrong people. We do realize we just aren’t cut out for marriage.

Too often, however, couples don’t just divorce each other. They divorce their family.

They cause their children to experience the same death that only the marital vow was supposed to endure.

And that is wrong, plain and simple.

Divorce can be messy, no doubt. Hurt and resentment can rule the day.

But never should a child shoulder that resentment. Never should a child be put in the middle of harbored hurt.

Never should a child handle the details of what occurred within a broken marriage. Allowing your children inside an adult decision is asking them to carry issues they shouldn’t be burdened with carrying.

And never should a child be left behind, even temporarily, even if only perceived in their tiny mind. There isn’t another woman, man, job or city worth shattering a child’s heart. Trust me on that.

I get it, though. The perceived in their tiny mind part, that’s what we struggle with. That’s what it comes down to so much of the time in all kinds of relationships.

The selfish side of us wants what we want when we want it. And we expect other people to see situations the way we do.

We justify the choices we make before, during, and after a divorce by believing our kids will understand them the way adults do.

They won’t.

Kids seek self-preservation. Even adult kids. It is a biological, evolutionary and I believe truly spiritual instinct.

Until they’re old enough to understand what it means to be a flawed human, children will seek to believe their parents are perfect and here to keep them safe. They will believe only the best, even if one parent has shown them nothing but bad.

So it is in their best interest for you to put away any kind of malice towards one another, seeking peace.

It is in their best interest for you to take TIME to move on, even if you only give the appearance of doing so. (Because hey, hey, hey, some of y’all won’t even be outta holy matrimony before you jump into the next relationship. 😉 )

I can’t tell you that’s easy to do. I haven’t been divorced, so I have zero clues about how I would handle it.

After fifteen years of marriage, however, I do understand that it’s possible you’d grow to hate and wish to run from a person you once vowed to spend a lifetime chasing and cherishing.

(And maybe we’d all be better off if we actually sat alone with the word ‘lifetime’ for a day or two before our wedding…it’s a LONG time, and that freaking annoying habit they have of falling asleep at night with the TV full-blast might want to make you shove a pillow over their face around year ten.)

So I can’t tell you what it’s like to go through divorce as half of a splitting couple. But I can tell you what it feels like to be a child caught in the middle of her parents’ contentious one.

It’s painful, it’s confusing, and the death of your family lasts the rest of your life. Your parents are able to move on because they’re allowed to, and you’re happy for them much of the time. But you have permanently lost the family you entered life with. Though there are ex-wives, and ex-husbands, there are no ex-moms and ex-dads.

Parents, if you get nothing out of this post but a need to defend your actions, you’ve already lost.

What I hope you get out of this are two crucial, life-changing and life-giving actions:

Remain in your child’s life.

And make as much peace as possible with the other parent.

On that note, I had more than a few Facebook friends tell me their parents’ divorce was the best thing that ever happened to them.

A couple of them told me their parents are the best of friends. That while they couldn’t work it out as husband and wife, they now enjoy time sharing meals, grandchildren’s birthdays, family holidays—even vacations—with each other and their new spouses.

It can be done.

Divorce can either leave a legacy of separation and hurt or a legacy of forgiveness and love.

The choice is totally up to you.

*Come back tomorrow, when I’ll discuss in Part II the number one reason I believe marriages are struggling to last.