Dates with God, Chapter 7, Part 1: Emma’s Letter #7

I am actually posting an excerpt on time today! Yes, it’s Tuesday, so it’s time to post a letter from Emma, one of the fictional characters from my Dates With God novel. In today’s episode, Chapter 7: Part #1, Emma’s Letter #7, Emma acknowledges that the wistful thoughts she gets about marrying someone else come from the enemy. She delves into her body image and the legacy she received from her Grandma and her “third mom” LaVonna Mae. She finally accepts that it’s OK to get out from both of their shadows and find her own senses of mothering and fashion. She comes up with an affirmation, a drill and a passion project that will make Jane Austen jealous. For background information, please read the companion book, Like Dragons Did They Fight, by Maurice Harker and Lucas Reynolds. The Kindle format is free!

Emma’s Week #7

 

Dear God,

 

I was feeling so many attacks lately that I knew something had to change. Clark seems to have turned for the worse. He alternates between sleeping, eating, being on the Internet while eating, to playing games or surfing, and coming up for air to go to church. I’ve had some feelings that I finally recognized come from satan, because they aren’t the fruits of the spirit listed in the scripture. The feelings involve depression and hopelessness about our marriage. I realized I was experiencing a Level 2 buildup. I also have had thoughts like “Why did I have to marry the first guy I fell in love with? Why didn’t I wait for Shaun to come home from his mission?” After I had the thought I realized that was the enemy talking in my voice.

 

I never felt pretty in high school and I never flirted. Part of it was that I felt fat and I had freckles. I actually felt like I might have a pretty face, but I didn’t have the confidence to go with it because of my body shape. I remember sitting at my desk, in 9th grade seminary, when out of the blue, this boy sitting in front of me turned around. He grabbed my cheeks, looked me in the eyes, and said “You have such a pretty face!” Before I could say anything, he turned around and never said a word to me again. I remember blushing and hoped that he wouldn’t say anything more. I didn’t know what to do about it. With my lack of confidence and emotional baggage of my childhood and home life, I was too shy to say anything to boys. No mystery there as to why I never went on dates. It was only after I went to college and figured out how to work with my naturally curly hair instead of against it by perming it (talk about overkill!) or flat ironing it and got contacts instead of glasses that I finally stopped feeling self-conscious about my looks.

 

I also lost weight because I actually stopped eating sugar for a time and only ate two meals a day, never eating after 6 PM. I lost about 60 pounds my second semester of college. I started forgiving my parents as well for neglecting me. It was a totally landmark healing time for me.  I stopped feeling like a victim so much and started making a lot more choices for myself.

I spent my whole growing up time wishing that Grandma would be more like her. Why didn’t Grandma pay much attention to how she looked? Why didn’t she care about clothes and fashion? Why wouldn’t she hardly buy me any clothes? I only ever remember having hand-me-downs, which seems to be my lot in life. As an adult, I still get hand-me-downs. 90% of my closet come from friends, family, or the thrift store. It’s like I have a sign that says, “Just hand over the clothes.” Wait, no, it’s more like, “Will you please give me your extra clothes? I need them. Please???” I just feel so needy and I know I got that from my childhood years with my mom and Grandma. My mom was stoned, so she hardly had any money, and my Grandma was divorced and poor and frugal and that’s where I get all of my lack-of-money issues from. Another thing that bugged me was that Grandma wouldn’t let me wear makeup. She thought it was evil to care about the body and its looks.  She never shaved her legs and told me not to start or the hair would grow back darker and thicker. She ground her own flour, grew her own herbs, and never went to the doctor. She would hardly trim my hair or teach me much about grooming. I never went to a hair salon, until I after I left home for college. She didn’t care what people thought about her image and my image. I remember she had this friend named Gloria who had a daughter who was a bratty, wild child. Gloria was into some free-thinking child-rearing philosophies and didn’t believe in correcting her daughter or forcing her to do anything. I hated it when Gloria and Sunshine came over. I was at LaVonna Mae’s house as much as I could to escape the craziness of my grandma’s friends.

 

So that’s some stuff about Grandma. As for LaVonna Mae, her influence was both good and not so good. For years she curled her daughters’ hair every week for Sunday church services with sponge curlers. Then when perms were popular, she permed all of her daughters’ hair, and wanted to perm mine too. So I let her. It just exacerbated my naturally curly hair. I looked like an overgrown poodle! Nobody knew how to deal with my red, crazy naturally curly hair. I remember one day, missing the bus to junior high school, because I could not get my bangs to curl right. The natural curl would not succumb to the curling iron and they looked totally dorky. I remember crying in the car as Grandma drove me to school, wishing that I didn’t have my hair.

 

Looking back, I appreciate all of the fusses and gushes LaVonna Mae gave me as a nurturing female, although I didn’t appreciate them much at the time. She taught me a lot about manners, homemaking, beauty tips, and grooming, more than I ever learned from my mom and grandma. Yet as I have grown older I realize that as I make the choices that come from my own place of desire and wisdom, about my hair, my clothes, and the way I spend my time, and the way I mother, I don’t need to do my life or my mothering the way LaVonna Mae, or the way my mom and grandma did or didn’t do it. I can do it my way, as I find a balance between my mom’s example and Grandma’s on the one end of the spectrum of total laissez-faire-ness, and LaVonna Mae, who came straight out of the Donna Reed mainstream, life-on-a-conveyor belt-to-the-stage world. She was definitely groomed and polished to perfection for shining on a stage or screen. As much I love LaVonna Mae, I don’t like constantly being around the maternal fuss and gush types.

 

One example of how my empowerment/rebelliousness against her fussing and gushing started was in high school when I decided to grow out my bangs. LaVonna Mae was quite bothered by this and kept telling me how gorgeous I would look if I did my bangs the way all the other girls did it, in the bangs to heaven style. But I liked the sleek, smooth look of no bangs, so I did it that way. I had to flat iron my natural curly hair to do it, but it was worth it to me back then. Now I don’t have time for such things.  Another example is when LaVonna Mae wanted me to take piano lessons from her. I refused. Looking back, I realize now she was just being motherly and kind. I don’t think I would extend the same offers to neighbor kids, to help them with their hair or teach them music! She truly was amazing, if not sometimes a bit controlling and into looks for looks’ sake. I love her and am grateful for her but I am also still learning to get out of her shadow. It was LaVonna Mae who taught me how to wear pantyhose when I was 12. She had very excessive instructions about how to put them on so that I didn’t create runs, how to wash them after every time I wore them, and how to store them. Finally when I was 30, I got tired of the whole pantyhose business. I felt like a stuffed sausage and gave up trying to squeeze my body into a pair, and prevent runs, fix runs, and wash them. I started wearing sandals in the summer and boots in the winter with socks and haven’t looked back. LaVonna Mae would be aghast.

 

She was also aghast when her daughter Christy and I got accepted to BYU and didn’t want to do things the way she did 25 years before. My grandma wanted me to live on campus at BYU, as she was influenced by LaVonna Mae, but I  wanted to live off-campus. So for my next school year, after a summer job at home with Grandma, I moved into off-campus housing. A whole new world of older guys opened up to me in my student ward. Christy gave into her mom and lived on-campus. While she was dealing with a whole student ward full of immature freshmen, I had a ward brimming with wise, mature, returned missionaries, shopping for wives.

 

I met Shaun in one of my classes and dated him a bit, but we both knew he was going on a mission so we didn’t have an exclusive relationship and parted ways. Then I met Clark in my ward, when he was an R.M. We fell in love and got married, fairly quickly after we met, just four months. I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately though that I should have waited and married someone else, and also gone on a mission, because he hasn’t turned out to be that great of a provider or husband. I actually sometimes think, why, or why, didn’t I fall in love with Christy’s older brother and have LaVonna Mae for a mother-in-law? She would have been so much better than the one I have now. Wait, just a minute. Didn’t I just write a few paragraphs back that I couldn’t stand to be around LaVonna’s fussiness and gushiness all day? See how confused I get, God?

 

The thing is, on the outside, things look fine. He is paying the minimum bills and we have what we need. But…he’s using this inheritance money up and doing nothing to replace it. Not only that, but he signed us up for food stamps when he first lost his job. Then he got the inheritance money and never reported his windfall to the food stamp office, which he should have done. He’s not being honest! We have a lot more money now, and he could be working harder! I have very little say in how the money is spent, or “earned.” He isn’t connecting with me or the kids or helping with any chores around the house. I was amazed when I visited Kate a few weeks ago. Her husband Dave was home, but he was active the whole time, doing various projects around the house. I asked Kate if he ever chills out to watch TV or plays video games and she said no. She said that he knows there is too much work to do around the house to spoil her and make their house pretty as she likes it, that he would feel too guilty sitting around being a couch potato. He was putting up shelves in the boys room and installing lockers in the laundry mudroom off the garage when I was there.

 

I have tried the Lost Classical Womanly Arts for over a month now, and it’s not making any lasting change. I prayed about it and asked Thee why it’s not working. I got the answer from Thee that it’s because my husband is mentally ill with his depression. I believe in the womanly arts, and I’ve seen now that they work best in healthy marriages, not when the husband is depressed. I’ve really started feeling like the victim again, and that scares me. I start feeling my childhood feelings of helplessness and fear engulfing me.

 

I realized by answering the question “What does it feel like when satan is sneaking up on you?” that the victim feelings are from satan! The victim feelings of helplessness and fear are what it feels like when satan is sneaking up on me. I start being sorry for myself in my marriage and then exasperated with Clark. I feel tremendously dissatisfied with our life together and sad. This isn’t how it was supposed to be! I wasn’t supposed to be struggling at age 40 feeling like a single parent on welfare! I did everything right! I graduated from college, got married to a returned missionary in the temple, and he got his degree. I thought if I did all those things I wouldn’t have major problems. I start fantasizing about how I can run away with kids. The problem is, there’s no money to do that because we are on a strict budget since we are just living on the inheritance.

 

Where can I go? I guess I can go to Grandma’s, but I want to be independent and not involve her in my marriage woes. I wish I had money to just go stay in a hotel indefinitely until I see some change from Clark. Aack, there’s the victimy feelings again of lacking money because of a choice, someone else, my husband, is making. I feel so alone in this situation. Everybody talks about physically abused wives, but wives who are neglected or not properly provided for are invisible. There are no support groups or shelters for women whose husbands are unemployed or lazily underperforming.

 

At least I’ve learned that the victim-y feeling is really not me, it’s from satan. So now when I feel it, I realize, oh my gosh, I’ve been feeling this victim-y feeling in more than one way for my whole life. I’ve been hearing that voice that I thought was me everyday for years, telling me that I should not have married Clark, saying, “I’m not happy here. Things would be so much better if we divorced. I should have married Shaun. I wish Clark were more like Kate’s husband.”

 

It’s so freeing to realize it’s not me! This awakening feels like a birth process of letting go of the past and starting new. I realized the other day that is what that scripture is all about. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) I am so grateful for this knowledge that because of Christ and his light, as I remember Him each day  by spending time in the scriptures, keeping the commandments, and serving him by serving my family and neighbors, I can see truth with the light of Christ. I can recognize more and more when these negative feelings of satan creep into me. As soon as I realize the feelings and acknowledge them as negative I can let go of them and start over, feeling new in Christ.

 

It’s kind of like satan is that mean girl that used to sit by me in the lunchroom in 6th grade. She would sit there for about 10 minutes and whisper rude things to me. Satan is like that and I’ve been falling for his lies all these years. I am finally awakened to his sneakiness! I can say to him and his feelings, as soon as I feel them, “That’s not true! Go away and leave me alone, you big fat liar! You don’t know me. Yes, I have challenges, but I am not going to let them get me down. I am rising above them through the power of Christ, who can make all things new. I am a royal daughter of God and can handle all of this with graciousness, fidelity to my covenants, and courage.” I also liken this whole experience to what it felt like for a while when my little brother went through his annoying phase when he was always sticking by my side constantly pestering me.

 

So when I get these feelings of fantasizing or feeling bullied or pestered I can say, “Hey you satan, nice try, but I know it’s you there! You are so sneaky, getting me to feel sad, victimy, powerless, envious, and dissatisfied. Scram! And take your minions with you!” Then I picture Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, previously full of brashness, skulking away, with bats floating above him. I also get my Mother Bear Chemistry on when I picture satan/sauron pestering my babies like he pesters and bullies me. I feel this surge of commitment not to let him get me feeling down! What power I have as long as I stay with Thee God! I’m also going to keep my journal close by. I just bought a small one that will easily fit in the drawer in the kitchen or in my purse so I can quickly grab it and write out what I just wrote. So that is my new drill.  I am going to drill saying what I just said, and then run to my flagpole which is my journal and then write what I just wrote. Then I will work on one of my passion projects. My passion project is to write my novel, the one that will make Jane Austen admiringly jealous of me. Another passion project is to research all of the references to royalty in the scriptures and write some kind of eternally real princess story for my girls.

 

I have found a third passion project as well. Jill’s been talking about how ever since she had her last baby she hasn’t experienced postpartum depression like she did with all of her other babies. She attributes it to two things: 1. eating lots of real fat, like butter, raw milk, raw cream, and coconut oil, and 2. doing indexing work. I was listening to a General Conference talk by Elder Richard G. Scott from October 2012. He said that we can eliminate the influence of satan if we engage in family history research and temple work. That must be in part why Jill is feeling happier after this baby. I need all of the elimination of satan’s force that I can get. So I finally got Sister Webb to come over from the ward and teach me how to find names. So she did and I have been working on it every night after the kids have lights out. I love finding these names! I just barely found out that I am descended from Governor William Bradford of the Mayflower Pilgrims, four other Mayflower Pilgrims, as well as George Mason, one of the Founding Fathers. Wow! That is a huge legacy I have of self-governing people. I feel so much less victim-y and more self-governing just to know that this pilgrim blood flows in my veins. No victims there! I have been learning about these great men and telling my kids stories about them during dinner time.

 

I was reading Mosiah 9:17 and got this huge epiphany. This is what it said, “Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites; for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.” As Thou knows, for a long time I felt mad and sad that I didn’t have parents who were “kind and dear.” Then I remembered what I realized a few weeks ago, that my grandma was my “kind and dear” parent. Even if she didn’t care about fashion like I wanted her to when I was in high school. As I connect to her and the stories of my ancestors, through her, I am “awakened to the remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers” and I get more help from Thee to be delivered from my bondage. These stories of my ancestors are how I awaken to the remembrance of my fathers being delivered. Thou was there for them. Thou hast been there for me. Thou inspired Grandma to come get me from Indiana, and deliver me. Now I am being delivered again. Please help me to continue to have faith in Thee that I will be delivered somehow from our financial stress.

 

This past week, I happened to get stuck in the car with my mother-in-law in the parking lot of Walmart, while Clark ran in to get something. That woman had the nerve to start bragging on her son, telling me how wonderful and amazing I must think he is and how we must be so in love. Her speech was so preposterously comical I just about about burst out laughing. But at the same time, I was so mad at her lack of observation and discernment that I just wanted to smack her. I’m sorry God, for these feelings. I am just not perfect like Thee. Honestly, I can only handle that woman in small infrequent doses. This last exposure exceeded my threshold. I’m not even ready to pray to ask for more patience in tolerating her. I’m just not there yet, God. Sometimes she is so clueless and out of touch with reality that I just want to put her out to pasture, so to speak, and not have to deal with her. How do you tell your mother-in-law that her precious boy is being a bum?

 

Love,

Emma

  copyright 2015 Celestia Shumway

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