For the 3 of you who do not know, The Pioneer Woman is Ree Drummond, a homeschooling mother of 4 who lives with her husband on a working ranch. She has an enormously popular blog, is a talented photographer, cook and writer. She is beautiful and stylish and has great taste. Her kids and her house are comfortably imperfect, but are never so out of hand that someone will wonder what’s wrong with her. She has a new show on Food Network, has written several books and has more followers than a snow plow in traffic. I begrudge her none of her talent, success or happiness. I hope she is enjoying it all to the fullest.
What does occur to me, however, is that she is the latest, albeit one of the most authentic, in a long line of women providing lifestyle porn to American women dreaming of having a life which is more beautiful, comfortable, happy and morally sound than their own. Few of us have the talent to pull of a life like the pioneer woman’s. And many of us are just struggling to overcome the cruelties that life has thrown at us alongside other people who are struggling to overcome their own tragedies and errors. Sometimes we have children who are not merely mischievous or strong willed, but defiant, resistant to correction of any kind and simply uncooperative. I call what Drummond offers lifestyle porn because although this one woman has created this life for herself, the rest of us are watching someone do things we will never be afforded the time, talent or breathing room to do while thinking that perhaps we ought to be able to do it. It’s a nice fantasy, but just like with the other kind of porn, one that leaves us less secure and less satisfied with what we do have in real life.
I, however, am not The Pioneer Woman. My life is such a mess right now that its considered polite to keep it to myself because it causes other people too much stress to even be aware of it. I wish I were kidding. I have had people tell me that they didn’t stay in touch because the small peeks of my life that they saw were too hard for them to deal with. And normally I am pretty private person. If you look through this blog you won’t find a lot of information about my personal life. Heck, I’ve had two kids since I started keeping the blog which hardly got mentioned! What I do share a lot of is my personal take on the big questions of life and tackling some of the unsolved problems of life and religion that fascinate me.
A lot of what I’ve been writing lately could probably fall under the category of “inspiration” or encouragement. But today, I want to do what I normally do not do and share more about my personal life. I want to do this now in order to provide some context for the things I write. Because I can’t do what Ree Drummond does and offer a vision of a life that is better than the ones the rest of us find ourselves in. But what I do have to offer is a vision of how to approach life when it is ugly and messy and unhappy without being defeated. When I write something encouraging, it doesn’t come from someone who hasn’t been there. It’s not even coming from someone who has gone through hard times and can look back and offer encouragement to those still in the struggle. The things I share are the things I am hanging onto right now, in the middle of the battle. They are battle tested and true.
So, for those who don’t know me, here’s some background. I have 5 kids ranging in age from 16 down to 1 1/2. Early this summer, my husband left me with said kids and very little support. This was not a mutual decision. In the last 6 years, my husband had suffered 4 job losses – none of which was due to any error on his part. He also started, experienced some success with and then lost a small business. Two years ago one of our daughters was the victim of a serious crime which fortunately caused no permanent physical damage, but was emotionally wrenching. And my stepson came to live with us and caused more trouble and heartache than you can imagine before getting some counseling and pulling himself together. All of which is simply to say that it’s not like a wind blew and my husband fell down. We’ve been standing in the face of alternating hurricanes and droughts for years. And until the incident with our daughter, we were standing strong together. People who saw us together would often comment that we were cute and obviously happy together. Not that everything was perfect, but when the social worker we had to deal with after the incident with our daughter asked how we were weathering this as a couple, we responded that we were leaning on each other and strong.
But then things started falling apart. My husband couldn’t forgive. I was struggling with going from having 4 kids to 6 kids in a year in the middle of all of this while also suffering from clinical depression. I had been worried for some time that my husband was enduring the challenges we faced, but wasn’t growing stronger through them. And he was working, but he had stopped taking care of any other responsibility. Sometimes he stayed out drinking and doing Lord knows what until all hours – even on work nights. Alarm bells really started going off for me when he walked in one day irate and declared that he was going to start taking it as a personal affront to his position as father and provider that the kids kept leaving bikes in his parking spot in the garage. Shortly after that, there was a very ugly conflict that got out of hand and in the aftermath, my husband decided that I was his enemy. He went from being my best friend to blaming me for everything that was wrong with our lives – big and small.
I spent a year trying to salvage the relationship and doing whatever I could to hang on and buy time for him to come around. He spent that year being my accuser. He rewrote the entire history of our relationship together to paint me as manipulative, lazy, controlling and selfish. Even things that I did purely out of love were now seen in his eyes as a means of getting what I wanted. All of my flaws became the defining features of our lives together. Every disagreement we’d ever had and every decision we made that wasn’t his first choice became examples of how he’d been forced to live a life he never wanted because of me and my insistence on having my own way. My side of every issue was dismissed as ridiculous and wrong. Everything I had put into the marriage – all of the love, forgiveness, understanding, grace – was not asked for and didn’t offset the fact that I was a mediocre housekeeper. Being a good mom was now a weapon used against me to demonstrate that I only cared about the kids and not at all about my husband. Being a good mother was nice for the kids, but did nothing to benefit my husband. He went so far as to accuse me of breaking my marriage vows of “forsaking all others” by being a better mom than wife (according to his view). I had forgiven and stood by through things that would have destroyed other marriages and in return my husband created spreadsheets to track when I came to bed with dirty feet, pictures of the house on days that I didn’t get it cleaned and a detailed account of every check that we bounced in 2001 (all my fault, of course).
Through all of this, I kept praying, “God, if you want me to love this man, please give me your heart for him so I can.” And for a long time, God did. So, I kept getting myself back up and doing my best to let go of the latest assault and return love for hate. Sometimes my husband would show some sign of willingness to stop the war, but it never lasted. In time, I sensed God telling me to let him go, but I couldn’t bring myself to and hung on for several more months. Finally, we had an argument where I got very upset and begged my husband to lay off – even temporarily – because he was hurting me and it was for no purpose. And he wouldn’t stop. He stood by the most outrageous, cruel, hurtful things he had said and pinned the blame for them on me. And I realized that he didn’t care how much he hurt me. He might view it as regrettable, but he had no empathy for my pain and no qualms about inflicting more and more pain on me. At that point, I accepted that whoever he was before and whatever we had between us in the past, that was all gone. And all that was left was a very, very bad person who would intentionally hurt those who love him the most and would tell himself whatever lies he needed to in order to feel justified in doing so. So, I stopped fighting for the marriage and he moved out.
And this is the nightmare I’m living in. When he first left, he left me with a few days food and $30. That’s gotten better, but my stepson moved back with his mom and a third of my husband’s income in going to her, so there isn’t enough to go around. I’ve sold all my jewelry and savings bonds and anything else I can find to buy food and gas, but now that’s all gone. I keep waiting for God to come and rescue me, but so far, the rescue has been wholly spiritual. So I can write things like this and this and this. But winter’s coming and I have no heat. My parents have been angels and my godmother sent money to get the kids what they needed to go back to school. I published the book I always wanted to and have another one in the works. I’ve taken a job as a wedding DJ to make some money. But I’m waiting for lightening and I’m having a hard time getting static cling. It’s more than I would want anyone to have to go through and it’s not fair.
I’m not sharing this so that anyone can feel sorry for me (please don’t – I feel sorry enough for myself w/out anyone else’s help!). What I want is for people to see this and know that if I can go through all of this without shutting down or self destructing or abandoning my faith, so can they. And I want people to read something like Hey You Doubters and know that it’s written for someone like them – no matter how dark and messy their circumstances are. Like I said, these are battle tested truths that I’m putting out there. Someone like The Pioneer Woman or the zillion Christian women whose twitter info reads “daughter of the King, married to the love of my life, mom to 3 and loving every minute” can show you a life that’s better than your own, I can’t help but think that I’m privileged to be able to sit in a dark, messy, painful place and still be able to point people back to God. And I hope that unlike the porn – lifestyle or otherwise – that is enjoyable to watch, but leaves you feeling insecure and dissatisfied, what I have to offer will leave you feeling more hopeful and courageous and trusting in God. Because that’s real life for all of us – not just the talented and fortunate and successful.