I want to tell you about the day my bedroom disappeared, the day I woke up from this construction, and how, for a short and glorious window in time, I knew who I was, who we all are and what we’re all doing here.
I want to tell you because it happened and it hasn’t happened since, and when it happens it feels like we should all shout for joy and say, “Did you see that?! Are you seeing this?!”
I want to tell you because sharing this story is the only truly useful thing I can do at this point in my life—and who, in the end, wouldn’t prefer to look back without regret?
Before we start, a little background:
By the time I turned 30 I thought I had life all figured out: I’d married a smart and handsome man, worked for two iconic men in Silicon Valley and become accidentally semi-wealthy as an early vice president of PayPal, the online payment service. Not bad for a girl from Iowa with a journalism degree, I figured.
I had the big and shiny life I’d always wanted.
But when I left my career to be the stay-at-home parent after the birth of my first son, I slowly came undone—eventually finding myself divorced, career-less and running low on cash in Colorado. I loved being a parent but the voice in my head just couldn’t find peace, constantly searching for something, anything, to replace the sense of self-worth I’d lost by leaving my title and my paycheck behind.
What Am I Going To Do? became the pitiful background refrain of my entire life, filling every open space of any moment I found alone. When I finally hit the bottom I spent three months trying not to kill myself, convinced that I was failure of a human and a complete waste of space.
But then one morning a friend left a bag of books on my doorstep, after I’d burst into tears over coffee with her the day before. “How are you?” she’d asked.
How am I? Let’s see, I’m thirty-six years old and I’ve just divorced my husband of eight years for no apparent reason. I’ve subjected my two little boys to a disconnected life, shuffling themselves, their toys and their shoes between houses, to childhood memories split in half between people and places.
I’ve gone from being a start-up vice president and millionaire to stay-at-home mom, cook, cleaner and laundress. Then from housewife to single-but-financially-stable mom—and from there to oh hell, I better get a job.
I’ve moved from our big, new home to a small 70s ranch with original gold toilets and wood-paneled appliances, and I’ve wasted tens of thousands of dollars on cars, country-club memberships, furniture and failed business ideas, trying to buy some semblance of happiness.
I look in the mirror and see a million wrinkles lining my eyes from years of laying in the sun, the mush around my middle stubbornly spilling over my jeans and even my breasts are sad, like unhappy pancakes. My whole body hurts.
But I’m fine, really, thank you for asking.
Each book in the bag was intended to engage either the emotional, spiritual, or intellectual side of being human, and she’d thrown in a yoga tape for good measure. Brilliant.
I immediately sat down with a book called The Shack, and although I hadn’t heard of it before, it’d been on the national best-seller list for nearly a year by then. In case you haven’t read it: The fictional storyline is about a man who gets an invitation to meet (the Christian) God at the run-down shack where his daughter was killed after she was abducted as a little girl.
The man is angry with God so he goes, finds God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the shack (which turned into a beautiful house and garden upon his arrival) and spends the rest of the book having Q&A sessions with them about Christianity, humanity and the meaning of life.
I struggled with the author’s interpretation of Christianity in The Shackbecause it was so startling different from—so much nicer than—what I’d been taught as a child, but one particular thread really stuck: the importance of living in surrender. The author meant surrendering one’s life to the God of Christianity, of course, but I didn’t care so much about that.
On the off chance that there was something, anything, out there that would hear me—that would help me—I wailed loudly that night and then hollered to God, god, and the ceiling fan: “I give up! I don’t know what’s out there for me, but whatever it is, please bring it. I can’t do this by myself any more.” And then I went to sleep.
This is the story about what came next.
Julie Anderson lives in Colorado.
Editor: Lara C.
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