Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Time For Some Cathartic Relief

In 2006, I had another blog site, hosted by a Christian blog company called Life With Christ. During that time, I got a reputation for writing some fairly articulate and thoughtful articles. I also got a reputation for being remarkably "transparent", in the sense that I shared many details about my personal life, some of which were not pleasant to share.

I didn't write under a pseudonym. I revealed my contact information, including my full address, to any and all who wanted to know where I could be reached. Some would have called me naive for doing so, but my feeling was that I had an obligation as a Christian to be a person of honesty and integrity. In my view, that obligation did not end when I sat down at the computer keyboard and went online. I felt that if I wasn't willing to stand behind the things I had written, then I probably shouldn't have written those things.

Unfortunately, there are Christians who cannot seem to make the connection between Christian discipleship and the need to be honest with one another. They're often dishonest with other people, and they often can't handle honesty from other people when it comes to serious problems that need to be addressed.

I've experienced that type of thing on a number of occasions in my own family. In particular, both my parents have both demonstrated an inability to appreciate the importance of keeping promises whenever possible.

Divorce, of course, is nothing but a broken promise between a husband and wife. Or at least that's the case when the marriage began with vows to the effect that the two people would love, honor and cherish one another until they were parted by death. My own parents took such vows, but that didn't stop them from divorcing one another prior to my 16th birthday.

The marital vow may well be the most sacred vow any person can make to another person. If a person cannot be trusted to keep that vow, it ought not to surprise anyone that such a person is unlikely to be trustworthy when it comes to other types of promises.

I acknowledge that there are extreme situations in which individuals in broken relationships can justify the decision to get divorced by the abusive nature of those relationships. But I think that that ought to be a last resort, and even then, I think that it is nothing less than a major tragedy for any marital relationship to end in such a manner.

When I was a sophomore in high school, shortly before my parents' divorce, my mother (Jean Pettigrew) became a new believer in Christ, after an emotional experience at a prayer meeting I'd invited her to attend.

At the time, I thought that that was marvelous and wonderful. For the past several years, we had been at odds with one another, to put things mildly. I'd invited Jesus into my heart a couple of years prior to that, and I'd subsequently expressed interest in certain aspects of Christianity (such as speaking in tongues) which were not part of the doctrines or traditions of the Methodist church in which I'd been raised. Mother had been very critical of me at the time, telling me that I'd "gone off the deep end" (as opposed, presumably, to merely dipping my toes into the shallow end of the pool of faith from time to time). Nevertheless, in spite of my mother's opposition and criticism, I later experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit for myself.

During my mother's spiritual encounter at the aforementioned prayer meeting, she began speaking in tongues herself. From then on, my mother was a changed person. She became extremely passionate about her Christian faith. She attended many of the same Christian meetings that I attended, and she ultimately ended up leaving the Methodist church for the Assemblies of God church. She attends an Assemblies of God church to this day.

At first, I was thrilled by the change I saw (or thought I saw) in my mother. We no longer argued with one another about doctrinal differences, and we tended to argue with one another less about other things, compared with the way things had been in the past. It was almost as if we had both willingly joined the same club, and the fact that she was my mother was no longer the only thing that bound us together.

In many areas of my life, I'd gotten my ideas about right and wrong from my mother. Now that we were both "born again Christians" (and "spirit filled" to boot), it seemed as if we had even more in common.

Over the years, however, I have slowly and painfully come to a realization about my mother. In spite of the fact that she claims to read the Bible regularly, my mother is as self-centered and deceitful as the day is long. I would trust my mother about as far as I could throw a full-grown elephant. Promises mean nothing to her. A promise, to her, is something she makes easily and impulsively --- and then breaks, just as easily.

That realization did not come about as the result of just one experience. It is the result of a number of broken promises over the course of many years. It's gotten to the point that it's almost predictable. Yet, every time it happens, I am somewhat surprised, mainly because I have tried to be a forgiving person, and I have tried to be optimistic about the future. Maybe this time will be different, I naively tell myself.

This latest incident occurred after I had been talking with my mother about the problems I'd been going through here in Chicago. In addition to a prolonged period of unemployment, I'd been living in a building with a serious pest control problem. I'd been waking up in the middle of the night with painful insect bites. I had no money with which to move out, and I was supposed to try to look pleasant and cheerful during job interviews in spite of the fact that I had not gotten sufficient sleep the night before.

I was getting close to the end of my unemployment insurance benefits, with no sign of a job with which to pay my living expenses once those benefits ended. On top of that, I'd worked for a week for a jerk named Paul Stuck who refused to pay me the $500 he had promised to pay me for a week's worth of work.

Mother, claiming to feel bad about what I was going through, voluntarily offered to let me move back to Springfield and stay in her house while I sought employment there in my hometown in the Ozarks.

A few years previously, I never would have been stupid enough to believe that such an offer from her was actually genuine. But she'd recently asked my forgiveness for several extremely hurtful things she'd done to me shortly before I moved to Chicago, and I had granted her the forgiveness she sought. We seemed to be getting along well when we talked on the phone, and I suppose that I thought that she was finally beginning to actually care about my welfare. In the back of my mind, of course, I knew what she'd been like in the past, and the rational side of me said that she couldn't be trusted. But I wanted to believe that she could be trusted this time, partially because I had so few options other than to trust her.

In fact, for the past couple of weeks subsequent to Mother's offer, I've been spending a good deal of time working on things pertaining to the possibility of an imminent move back to Springfield. I applied for a job back in Springfield, and I thought (for a while) that I had a good chance of getting that job.

That job opportunity fell through, due to problems which were inherent in the fact that I didn't live in the same town. I was very disappointed, but when I told Mother about losing that job opportunity, she said that her offer to let me stay with her until I could get a job and an apartment of my own still stood. So I renewed my effort to get as much information as possible regarding where I'd store my things after moving there, and regarding other matters pertaining to that move.

Today, I learned that that effort had all been a big waste of my time. She said that she'd been praying about it, and she'd decided that she shouldn't let me move back home after all.

It was "like deja vu all over again", as one baseball player famously said.

Isn't it amazing, how God seems to repeatedly tell my mother to break her promises to me? The wonder of it is that I'm still trying to hang onto my faith in the Lord, in spite of the fact that some of Christ's alleged disciples seem to be utterly lacking in anything resembling integrity.

Not long ago, my mother took out a reverse mortgage on her house, as a means of having a nest egg with which to deal with crises. Well, to be more specific, she wanted to be able to deal with crises she deemed important. Apparently, that doesn't include crises which threaten to destroy my life.

On more than one occasion, she has made it clear to me that she doesn't give a hoot about whether or not I become homeless due to lack of an adequate income with which to pay my rent. In fact, it was precisely because she evicted me from the home I was renting from her, in 1991, that I was forced to move to Chicago in the first place. When I had dared to express my frustration with the fact that she was putting me into a financially precarious and dangerous situation by evicting me without giving me adequate time in which to find a new place, at a time when she knew full well that my income was inadequate for the purpose of finding a comparable dwelling elsewhere (due to the lack of money with which to pay a security deposit), she responded by filing a restraining order against me. I could have been arrested merely for speaking with her when she didn't want to speak with me, despite the fact that she lived right across the street from me. To say that that was extremely hurtful to me would be the understatement of the century, both then and now.

I could not bear to live in the same town, knowing that my own mother felt that way about me. So after considering my options (which were few and far between, due to my financial situation), and after failing to kill myself at the end of a rope hung from the ceiling in my garage, I decided that one of my few remaining options was to move to Chicago and become part of a Christian ministry in this fair city. I've been living here ever since.

For a long, long time, I was so bitter and angry about the way that my mother had treated me that it ate away at my insides on a regular basis. When I was able to get work, I managed (most of the time) to keep it together, but I spend a lot of my evenings crying my eyes out, in the lousy YMCA room I called home. I didn't go back to Springfield for another 5 or 6 years, and when I took that first bus trip back home, I deliberately avoided seeing my mother or having anything to do with her. My only reason for that trip was to retrieve some of my things from a storage room I still rented there.

I tried to find a good church here in Chicago, but most of the churches I attended treated me like absolute garbage, the minute they learned that I had unresolved issues they weren't prepared or willing to deal with. That made things even worse, because I felt totally and miserably alone in the world. No one wanted to fulfill their biblical responsibilities to help me, even though the Bible clearly taught that Christians were supposed to "bear one another's burdens".

When my father died in 1999, I went back to Springfield again, in order to attend his funeral. I'd had a lousy relationship with my father for many years, even to the point that I once called him to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that I hated him. On one level, I felt that that was the wrong thing to do. But it also felt honest. He had become a miserable, good-for-nothing drunk, and I attributed many of my financial struggles to the fact that he wouldn't lift a finger on my behalf when I needed help.

So why did I go back to attend Dad's funeral, in spite of how I felt about him? Largely for the sake of my dim hope that I might one day be reconciled with my mother. I felt that the chances of such reconciliation would be nonexistent if I didn't attend Dad's funeral, and I didn't want to close that door. So I bit the bullet and went back even though I didn't really want to see my mother at all. (My relationship with my brother, Matt, wasn't much different. Like my mother, he had demonstrated a willingness to stand by and do nothing when I was right on the verge of homelessness, even though the possibility of living on the streets of Chicago terrified me.)

There was some tension during that visit in late 1999, but things weren't quite as bad as I'd feared. Matt and I both stayed in Mother's house during that brief weekend visit, and we parted on what seemed to be good terms. Subsequent to that visit, I travelled back to Springfield a couple of times, after having been appointed as the Executor of my father's estate, in order to deal with matters pertaining to his estate. I visited with my mother again, and we seemed to get along fairly well.

But then another crisis came along in 2003. The money from the estate ran out, and I still hadn't been able to find work after losing my most recent job. I was on the verge of eviction from my room at the Lawson House YMCA, and I was desperate enough to ask for my mother's help, even though I still remembered how she'd treated me in 1991. Naturally, she refused.

In October 2003, I took almost two full bottles of over-the-counter sleeping pills, wanting desperately to end the struggles once and for good. After awaking the next morning and foolishly confiding in someone here at the Lawson House YMCA about the fact that I'd just tried to kill myself, I ended up spending a miserable weekend in the mental ward at a place called Chicago Reed Hospital.

Somehow, I persuaded the doctor to let me out, when he saw me on Monday, by telling him that I was no longer suicidal. And in truth, I wasn't. Sleeping on the miserable beds they had at Chicago Reed was like being tortured. But it did force me to face up to my situation. Previously, I'd thought that if the suicide attempt failed, at least someone would take care of me for a change. That weekend at Chicago Reed made me aware that their idea of taking care of people left a lot to be desired. Apparently, they reserve their comfortable beds for people who can afford medical insurance.

Subsequent to that incident in 2003, I have somehow managed to keep body and soul together without being evicted and without yielding to the temptation to end it all. But the struggle continues.

My IQ was tested once, and I got a score of 140. I like to think that I'm a pretty smart guy in some respects. But I confess that there are still some things that completely mystify me. For example, I cannot fathom how a person could expect to be able to treat another person the way that my parents have treated me, and then expect that such treatment would have no negative consequences insofar as the relationship is concerned. My perplexity is compounded by the fact that such treatment has come from people (particularly my mother) who have claimed to be good Christians.

Spiritual transformation is not just about how often one goes to church or reads the Bible or tithes. It's also about how one treats one's fellow human beings. If one's Christianity doesn't have an impact on one's sense of morality and ethics --- not just on an abstract level but also in ways which actually affect one's behavior --- then it seems to me that it's all rather pointless.

One of my biggest challenges has been to fight against the temptation to reject Christianity itself on account of the hateful things which have been done and said to me by various Christians. An equal challenge is to try to rise above such behavior in my own life. I don't claim to be perfect, but I can honestly say that I do try to treat people with love and compassion, to the extent that my extremely limited resources enable me to do so.

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