Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tis The Season for the Family Newsletter

Denise has asked me a couple of times this week if I would write our family newsletter. It is that time of year . . . as our mail box has been full of them coming our way.

I approach this with strong mixed feelings for a couple of reasons. For one, while I love to write, I long to write honestly. Using my metaphor about a building where the basement is raw reality, most of us live at least on the third floor being insulated from the truth by a pretentious spirit. I think Evangelicals live on higher floors. But Denise wants me to write a “normal” letter. I know what she means, avoiding the honest truth but showing just the fluff that keeps of the mirage that we are the perfect family.

But she has a point. Because our culture, especially our Christian culture, expects us to lie to such a degree, when we are honest, they take it far too seriously. For example I can say Denise and I had a disagreement over an issue. The readers will believe that it is a subtle hint that we are having marital difficulties. The thinking goes; we would never let it be known that we weren’t perfect unless our marriage was on the brink. But I would mean it at an honest, face value . . . we had a simple disagreement.

The second reason that I have mixed feelings is because I usually get a note from someone that I should “let” Denise write the letter sometime. The term “let” or “not let” makes no sense in our marriage. I don’t tell Denise what she can or can’t do and the concept is as strange as a Martian bathing ritual. She hates to write newsletters so she chooses not to.

When the newsletters start coming in this time of year I fist greet them with great enthusiasm. I love tearing them open because I miss my old friends. However, I am quickly disappointed. Invariably, the newsletters are fluff . . . “My perfect kids doing perfect things, miracles happening every day . . . big smiles for everyone.” The worst ones are the sermons. I hate sermons. I’m sure that on my death bed I will look back in regret about all the hours I’ve spent listening to sermons and lectures which re-hash the same Christians truths over and over and over. So when an ole friend, whom I have a deep desire to hear from, sends me a generic sermon with only a brief hand-written note at the bottom, it is very disheartening.

I would love to get a letter from a friend telling me about their struggles with one of their kids, or how they feel too fat, or how much they enjoyed a concert . . . anything real. My favorite Christmas newsletter of all time was from a dear Christian brother, writing from Germany (where they went as “tent-making” missionaries) and very candidly informing everyone that he realizes he is an alcoholic. I had to get in touch with him right away to show him my support.

I know I’ve told these missionary newsletter stories before, but I will share a couple again.

Once I was corresponding with an old college friend as I was putting together a class reunion. She had been very involved with Campus Crusade and now her husband her lead several ministries. They have five kids like we do. As we were corresponding (and she was talking about all the wonderful things God was doing for them) suddenly, out of the blue, she sent me this letter of great distress. She described how she hated her husband, had thought about killing him, that they are always fighting about money and she felt trapped. She was trying to decide which would be better, leaving him or committing suicide.

I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I was very concerned about her. But, it is dangerous territory to become involved with the opposite sex and at their moment of distress. But because she said the word, “suicide” I didn’t just want to pretend that I never read her e-mail.

I started writing her back asking, “Are you okay? Are you getting help? Do have any friends to talk to?” I bet I sent her five or six e-mails . . . and she ignored them all. Then, it was Christmas, and we got their family/ministry newsletter. You would think that they were the happiest, most blessed . . . perfect family in the world. I thought maybe that I had the wrong e-mail address however she did eventually write me back to tell me that she would not be attended the reunion and she used the e-mail account that I had been responding to.

When I was a missionary, I knew of three different missionary men in trouble, one with TEAM in Paris, one in China and one in Egypt. They each had very similar stories. Each husband had to be admitted to a mental hospital in their perspective countries for severe depression and suicidal ideation. These men hated where they were living and what they were doing. To even consider leaving would be turning their backs on God.

In the midst of each of their great distress, they wrote these glowing missionary newsletters of how great their ministries were going, how much God was blessing them and how much joy in the Lord they were experiencing. They wrapped some sermon around their “news.”


Anonymous said...

My gift to you. :)

Dear Friend,

The past year has been hard. Perhaps the hardest yet, each seems hard when you are in it.

J.'s hours have been cut, and while he was praying all the way to work at first, he has stopped praying completely now. There just doesn't seem to be a point anymore. God will do as He will. For those of you who keep asking where we attended church this Sunday, PLEASE STOP.

R. is amazing, totally 3 years old, and totally wonderful. She has huge impulse control issues that make us doubt everything we believe about parenting. People automatically adore her upon meeting her, she's so engaging. Then she hits their child upside the head and they freak out. After a particularly lousy morning at church I wondered aloud if we should looking into finding adoptive parents as nothing we do seems to work. But I do so love to watch her grow. She fights as hard as I do to figure this life thing out, and she's so so very happy.

On Father's Day we began miscarrying our second little one. I wonder if it would have been so hard without the job situation and everything else. I told everyone I was ok, because if they pitied me I knew I would fall apart. I tried to tell my mom how much I was hurting in August, but she just gave me all the right little things like "It's ok to grieve." I didn't want to grieve, I wanted to punch someone in the Kisser.

In July we began visiting a food pantry at the local Vineyard Church in order to have food and still pay our mortgage. We have been loved there, and that has been incredible. Love helps.

I am embarrassed to have begun job training to be a school bus driver. I have a degree, and feel this is akin to flipping burgers at McDonalds. But I can take R. with me to work, and I can't bring myself to put her in daycare while I work anywhere else. I need her close to me. If I can actually pass the behind the wheel test, we have have hope of an easier financial situation in the new year!

As we approach Christmas, I have held the Advent close. The Coming. Promises fulfilled. This feeds my soul and I hope it warms yours also, my dear, dear friends.

With a full heart, Merry Christmas to you!


MJ said...

Now that's a real and rustic newsletter! I loved it. Is this your's personally, someone who wrote it to you . . . or a fictional example?

Anonymous said...

It's real, but I certainly don't have the guts to actually send it! ;)


E. A. Harvey said...

I just came across your blog, and perfect timing too, because I've been planning on writing "the newsletter" in the next few days. I've been mulling over the most tactful way to say "2009 has been the year from hell" but coming up blank. I want to be honest, especially since some family and friends know how tough a year it's been for us, and there's no use faking it. It would be easier to be honest if I had some foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel, so that I could end our laundry list of troubles with a glorious "but then God..." But I can't.

I heard somewhere recently that if you get depressed around Christmas, don't despair, because it just serves as further evidence for why we needed the Savior to come in the first place. I think I'm going to take that route somehow- "Life sucks right now. Someday it won't, when God sets everything to rights, and we're happy Jesus came to set those wheels in motion. But until then, we're barely hanging on by God's grace and a very meager amount of faith. Pray for us. Merry Christmas to you and yours!"

peaceofchange said...

I quit sending the "newsletter" years ago, the truth is, if you're not perfect, perfect people don't care to hear from you.

MJ said...

EA Harvey, not to be flippant about it, but I am sorry your year has been tough.

I can honestly say that this has been a relatively good/easy year for us. However, we've had our share of years of hell. I'm talking of depression, thoughts of suicide, marriage about on the rocks and near bankruptcy. So, I feel some of your pain although I don't know the depths of it.

I think during our hard years I was completely silent. None of our Christian friends, save a couple, didn't give a damn . . . but as an opportunity for them to give us the "1-2-3 steps to happiness." I do want to add, that those friends who came to the surface during those hard times were friends that I will cherish forever.

MJ said...

Peaceofchange, what the imperfect people? Maybe they like to hear from you. I love long candid conversations with people who are broken . . . who realize that they are not perfect and except for the grace of God they would have imploded a long time ago.

E. A. Harvey said...

Wow, MJ, your years of hell sound a lot like our year of hell. Severe depression, suicidal ideation, a week in the psych hospital, underemployment, job offers falling through, growing debt from underemployment and medical bills, marriage in crisis, health problems, etc. I'm glad to hear having a good/easy year is possible after such a crappy one! It gives me hope. :-)

MJ said...

EAH, Yeah, I've lived in hopelessness for long periods of time . . . but good times do come again. I wish there were a magic wand that you could wave, or a series of hoops to jump through that would make everything better. But I think the gift of time is the great healer. Good times WILL come again, eventually.

peaceofchange said...

didn't you know...perfect people don't need grace..:) Seriously, Thanks for the encouragement.