I have written a post on my other blog that fits with what I was trying to do with this space. I invite you to join me in my other online home.
Several things coalesced to form an insight bomb that exploded within me. My unmet yet unvoiced expectations have been causing me pain.
I spent the last day listening to, thanking and then dismissing the internal voice that wanted to heap on the guilt and shame and self-recriminations. What do I tell the pre-marital couples I work with? That unvoiced expectations become unmet expectations and drive wedges in relationships. How much easier it is to explain these concepts to other people than to live them out in my own life. I’m very good at teaching these concepts to others. I’m not as adept at internalizing them myself. The good news is, eventually I do internalize them. Eventually I get there. This was one of those times.
What led me to this epiphany? It started with finding out on Saturday that my MIL is coming to town and will be staying with use for a few days next week. Any time she comes to town I start to feel a certain level of dread, but I was able to put most of this aside after an insightful email exchange with Claire and a night spent in prayer and, okay, generally bitching at God.
But something was still gnawing at me. I couldn’t put my finger on what.
The weekend came and went. I have a pre-marital couple who are considering coaching so I brushed off my materials and did a quick review of expectations. Nothing new, but I haven’t coached in several months and I wanted to make sure the materials were able to be adapted for a couple who had been living together for a couple of years and were expecting their first child. That gnawing started to get louder, became more of a chewing. Still, I couldn’t identify the source.
Yesterday I read this post by a good friend and fellow blogger and boy did I relate. I was nodding my head as I read and started to see a picture of me looking down on my husband when he told me he talked to his mom and she was coming for a few days next week. I turned to myself and it was as though the conversation was put on pause and the version of me who was interacting with my husband was able to turn and look at the me who was observing. I asked conversation me, ‘Do you know why you’re so upset inside right now?’
She paused for a moment, obviously mulling things over. ‘I’m upset because he doesn’t see what I see, but I can understand that. He’s lived with her, she’s behaving in patterns that are familiar to him. I’m on the outside of that. I see things differently. I have a different relationship with her than he does.
“What’s really eating at me though is this one simple thing. He didn’t even bother to ask. Again. He didn’t bother to see if it was okay with me. Again. I don’t seem to count in the decision-making process.”
Does he know you expect to be a part of this process, rather than just be informed after the face, I asked myself.
“He should. I’ve told him this often enough over the years. How it bothers me. How we’re a team and when it comes to making a commitment or decision that impacts the other person, I want us to be involved each other in the decision-making.”
But does he KNOW this? To which I had to answer, I don’t know. Outside of having a heated discussion after the fact, I don’t know if he knows this is an expectation. Or if he even shares this as an expectation. In fact, I strongly suspect he doesn’t share this expectation at all after he told me that others make decisions that impact him without his input all the time, it’s just the way life is. And that if the situation were reversed and we lived closer to my family, I would likely be making commitments and decisions like he does with his family and tell him after the fact.
Okay, that last statement aside because I can only deal with so much insight at a time (and isn’t that last one just loaded?), I realized part of my problem in the drama with my MIL is that my husband and his mother decide when she’s coming and how long she’s staying and I am treated like I have no say. Rather, I feel like I have no say. I feel like an after thought. Maybe I am. I expect to be consulted and to be given the choice. I haven’t voiced it this way to my husband, but it’s what I expect. What I want. And when it doesn’t happen, I feel like I don’t count. I don’t matter. Does he feel that way about me? I don’t think so. Is his intent to hurt me? I don’t think that, either.
He’s operating with a different set of values and expectations. Is my expectation unreasonable? No, but…
What were to happen if I let that go? What if I just let it go and didn’t bring it up ever again? If I were to accept that right now, this expectation doesn’t align with my husband’s expectations? Can I be happy even if I’m not consulted? Does it make me walked on or less valued? Does my worth change if this one thing doesn’t happen?
When I talked it over with the Holy Spirit I ended up apologizing to my husband for holding this against him. I let him know I had an expectation and when it wasn’t met I was hurt and angry. I told him that this expectation had to do with a picture I have of what it means to partner and to ‘leave and cleave’ from our families of origin. That this picture was more about my needs than his. I asked him if he understood my expectation and he told me he didn’t. I wasn’t trying to hurt me, he just didn’t understand why he needed to ask me. He certainly didn’t expect me to ask him if it was okay for my family to visit. Just to inform him of when and how long.
At this point, I told him I was letting it go. We have different values here and I had to be responsible for my expectations, my feelings, myself talk and even my happiness. That wasn’t on him. Do I still want that picture to be reality? Sure. But it’s not. And right now I think I need to accept that. I can be happy and not be asked if my MIL can come stay. I can be happy while she visits. I can choose something different. I don’t need to control the situation. I don’t need to agree with my husband on whether a spouse should be consulted before inviting someone to stay. I can learn to see his perspective.
It’s not perfect. He’s still miffed at me for being upset with him. I’m still adjusting to the concept that I don’t need to have a say, I just want to have a say. Marriage can be messy, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my beliefs, my behaviors, my actions, and my happiness. This expectation, it needs examining and maybe I need to trade it in for something else.
Hearing my parents’ ringtone two days after I had just spoken with them was jarring. We speak once a week and email or text other important – and unimportant – news as we feel led. Additional calls during the week signal BAD NEWS. Family members dying, in the hospital, losing jobs, getting divorced. Crises.
This was the sense of panic I felt as I answered this unexpected call. It was a crisis and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
My grandmother Zelda is in the hospital. She has COPD due to years of heavy smoking and late last week her health care worker found her struggling to breathe. The episode was so intense that an ambulance was called and my grandmother was rushed to the hospital. Tests were run, as the staff at hospitals love to run tests, and it turns out my grandmother has a couple of life threatening issues beyond the COPD.
Apparently Zelda has cancer that started in her colon and is now in her lungs. She also has an extremely large aortic aneurysm located in her abdomen. Doctors are concerned. A vascular surgeon is being consulted regarding the aneurysm. Zelda would not be able to withstand treatment for the cancer so that will not be tested or treated. For now.
I feel as though I should be sad. My grandmother is basically dying. I’m not sad. When I first heard the news my first thought was one of immense relief. Behind it came shame. How could a granddaughter feel relief that her grandmother is dying? Joining shame for a little shindig was anger. When it comes to my grandmother, there’s always a little anger swimming around within my psyche. Why? To explain you need to know that Zelda has an axis-II personality disorder: borderline personality disorder, or BPD. Like many people with BPD, she can be manipulative and she is not a safe person.
For years she has pulled out the Queen/Witch persona and reigned hellfire down on people in her path. She emotionally, verbally, and quite likely physically abused my mother and my two aunts for years. Zelda’s favorite form of abuse is to withhold her favor from one or two of her daughters while singling out the other daughter as the “Favored One”. Her favor is never without strings. You must kowtow, placate, do anything to please her or she will yank her favor out from under you so quickly you won’t see the floor rising up to hit you on the ass.
While I have no doubt this is a frightening time for my grandmother, I can see her using this as a final opportunity to force her children to care for her while she criticizes, manipulates, and spews toxicity upon them. She will want them to suffer as much as she suffers. She will blame her discomfort on them.
I’m not saying this to be mean or to malign my grandmother. She is God’s child. She is also mentally ill and that illness has been untreated all her life. I struggle as I write this. How vulnerable can I be here in this space where I chronicle my journey? What does it help to talk about a woman who has BPD and is so very mean within her mental illness? What point is there to sharing about her repeated abuse of her daughters, her grandchildren? Why write about a woman to whom I haven’t spoken in years?
In some ways, Zelda holds keys to my identity and some of the spiritual issues I have been dealing with as of late. I have very real and twisty feelings toward my grandmother and layers of things to forgive. I have guilt that is displaced and needs to be shed. I have anger, pity, compassion, and shame all having a party within me.
Despite or because of her mental illness, Zelda is a very angry, very bitter woman. When she is not locked up in her apartment avoiding the world, she reigns supreme and demands…everything. Grown men have walked in fear of triggering one of her cold rages. Lesser mortals shrivel and die a bit inside when faced with her displeasure.
And as I write this, flipping through my mental picture album for those few and far between good memories of time with her, I realize that I am also angry and if left unchecked I could become very bitter. There is legitimate anger within me, but very little mercy. At least not toward her. Not toward the woman who spoke curses over me when I was a very young child. Not toward the woman who emotionally eviscerated my mother in front of me every chance she got. Not the woman who, at my high school graduation, told me a looked like a tarted up slut. Who seemed to find pleasure in criticizing a person for dreaming or reaching for something more.
As I type, that anger starts to seethe. And that scares me. Is this the legacy Zelda is leaving me? Anger and bitterness and judgement? Is this who I want to be?
I think there’s a place for anger when there is injustice. I think that mercy must also exist alongside anger. And that anger, it can’t be where a person stops. There will be justice, but that’s in God’s hands. And what does justice look like? Is it suffering due to illness? No, what Zelda is experiencing are the natural consequences of her choices and of a fallen world. That’s not justice. Sure, I could call it that and feel self-righteous that she’s finally getting what’s coming to her. That doesn’t make me any better than she is. It makes me smug and arrogant and hard-hearted.
Maybe justice would be Zelda understanding she can make different choices. Maybe it’s contrition. Maybe justice is her three daughters undergoing therapy to undo the years of abuse and manipulation so they can lead stronger, healthier lives. Maybe it’s coming to Papa and falling into His arms, a broken woman in need of healing. Maybe mercy and justice aren’t too far apart.
My grandmother is dying and I still don’t completely know how I feel. I do know this – it’s more than time to stop living under Zelda’s legacy and instead live the life God wants so dearly for me to live.
This is the code name I’ve given my mother-in-law. Vampire finches are a subspecies of ground finches that live in the Galapagos Islands and are known for poking holes in other birds and drinking blood from the wounds. They do eat other things, but these innocuous looking birds will actually draw blood in order to ingest it. This feels like my mother-in-law. She doesn’t appear to be unstable or cruel or mentally ill. She’s this older woman who has a great laugh and who looks delicate, almost frail. Tired. She has a sense of humor that starts funny but turns biting and if you’re not looking, you don’t see her slip into a waif-like persona that draws people in to her world like flies to honey.
I’m not trying to demonize her because I have a poor relationship with her. She is a borderline personality and if you’ve ever lived with a borderline, you know they can suck the life right out of you if you let them. There is a borderline fantasy of complete and utter attachment, of two people merging to become one entity. I have seen this in action with her children. And I have seen my husband subconsciously fight this merger. His independence actually works to his advantage.
My mother-in-law does not like me. Some of this stems back to a huge disagreement we had years ago that I have since confessed and sought forgiveness for. Some of this is because I see through her and have seen the truth of the spiritual miasma that is part of the borderline. There is something else with her all the time, and I pray for it to be leashed and muzzled and like Gandolf, I draw a line in the sand that this spiritual ooze will not cross. I will not have my privacy disregarded any more. My space, time, and belongings will not be used without my permission. And I will fight for my husband so he can be brought out from under the yoke of being the son of a borderline mother who is not under the care of a mental health professional and who appears to want nothing more than to keep him her little boy at her beck and call.
She called this morning and is on her way to our city. She has other family in this city – another son, some step children. She has friends here. But…she calls my husband first. Some might think this is a compliment. It’s not. It’s difficult to explain, but trust me, it’s not. This is an out of the blue request. She was going to be in town next week and she had made plans to stay with someone else while she was here. However, this morning she called while she was on the road. Driving from half a continent away to here. Asking to stay overnight with us. Complaining of an ailment. Coming from somewhere that is not her home and coming ahead of schedule. Way ahead of schedule. No other explanation given except she wants to go to Urgent Care when she gets here.
I have a bad feeling about this. Not that she will be in our home. The Holy Spirit resides in my home and my home, the people in it, they will be safe from harm. I have a bad feeling because my mother-in-law has made a male friend over the internet and I think she was visiting him and something went very wrong. I have a bad feeling because what went wrong may be twisted in the mire of her expectations and the truth may be difficult to tease out. I have a bad feeling because even should this be an awful crisis, she carries around with her generational sin and curses and these are nasty and made stronger through her pain. I have a bad feeling because in crisis, she has this way of sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to help her. It’s her nature. Much like the vampire finch. It’s not an evil bird, it’s simply evolved to nip at other birds and drink blood from the ensuing wounds. My mother-in-law isn’t evil. She has an untreated mental illness and is bound up in generational sin and spiritual oppression.
So, I pray. I ask God for wisdom. For the truth to be revealed. I pray for compassion and for boundaries. I pray for protection – mine, my husbands, my mother-in-law. I pray for that which is oppressing her to be muzzled and leashed while in my home. And I pray for healing. I pray for an absence of fear.
As I have been praying, one of my inheritance words has been rolling around in my brain so I claim this promise as well. For my mother-in-law, for my husband, for myself.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
~ Isaiah 41:10