If my life these days could be reduced to series of equations, I think this would be one:
In other words: four kids, one adult, and all the stuff we are working on around here, results in one adult that is definitely "negative": i.e., not enough, especially by the end of the day.
Here's another one that has been paralyzing me this week (I was never any good at math anyway, and I'm not even sure I can express it as algebra):
Previous monthly income = x
Previous monthly expenses = y
See? I told you I couldn't do the algebra right... But I think you get the idea. And when you increase the complexity of the equation by the number of years I've been out of the full-time workforce (14), and the income I used to make in that profession = almost 0, (teaching English as a Second Language--something that is most often volunteer work), the picture doesn't look much better.
Andre was a great admirer of German engineering and loved to joke that his German heritage made him no good at relationships, but great at things mechanical: "Vee do it by zee numbers, baby", he would chuckle, in his terrible fake-German accent.. It's not much of a stretch to understand part of why life was complicated around here, when Andre could only really understand things "by zee numbers". He would talk about understanding life only in a binary sense: things were "zero" or "one", on or off, black or white, right or wrong, win or lose. The notion of talking through a conflict, working toward "yes" for both parties, was alien to him. So was dieting (a slow, steady process of choices, compromises, incremental progress) or training for a 5K race, (again, incremental progress, with compromises along the way for age, injuries, weather...) or raising children (definitely a "fuzzy logic" process, combined with a lot of two steps forward/one step back)
or getting mental health help.
It just wasn't a clear "fix".
Another of Andre's only half-joking mantras was "If at first you don't succeed, try a bigger hammer." It's clear, isn't it? Zero or One, on or off, it's either in the numbers or it's impossible. Interestingly, Andre always resisted any attempt to establish budgets or spending plans in our house. It was as if some part of him knew that if he saw what his hobbies and impulsive purchases cost, and compared it to what the numbers should have been, he would have had to admit that it "wasn't in the numbers" and he would have had to stop. His horrible death was also a binary thought process: if life wasn't going to stay the same and be fine, then it was going to be too horrible to continue and had to end.
Yesterday, I sat down with the most numbers I could gather, in order to have a skilled financial planner help me figure out what to do with our family finances.
When I got to my car an hour later, I had to phone a friend who is particularly gifted in calming me down before I could stop sobbing enough to be able to drive home. I was simply overwhelmed by the sense of impossibility that those numbers presented, in the hands of a professional money person. And it wasn't just the money. It was my age (48), the number of kids I have (4), the number of years I will be parenting (until I'm 60 at least), and THEN you add in the money numbers. I walked out of that office feeling like I had done my entire life wrong, at least according to the numbers: married too late in life, had too many kids*, stayed out of the work force too long... oh, and I married an unstable, tortured guy who decided to kill himself... and this is where I've landed. (*not that I regret a single one of my "too many kids" ,except when I'm sorting socks... Oy, there's a math problem: 4 kids X zillions of socks = laundry hell)
But my friend (just as I had hoped he would) pointed out that God doesn't do things by the numbers. He reminded me that we are in touch with a reality that is way, way beyond the numbers. (Don't I have the most amazing people carrying me along on this journey?)
As I've been scrambling for spiritual keys to let me out of this prison of numbers, I've been thinking about a Bible story of a situation that was way, way beyond the numbers: the story of Jesus feeding the five-thousand. Jesus and his disciples had been teaching all day to a huge crowd, way out in the boonies somewhere, and it's getting to that time of day when people are hungry, but there are no 1st-century taco-trucks pulling up to feed this crowd. The only food available is one boy's brown-bag lunch: five loaves (think pita bread) and two fish. The scriptural account says that the disciples told Jesus that there was a problem that they just couldn't solve, it wasn't in the numbers -- a hungry crowd, and not enough food. Jesus told his disciples to start passing the lunch around, and to gather up the leftovers after everyone had had their fill! (Leftovers? Really? from a quick dash-through-Trader-Joe's lunch, shared among 5,000 men and who knows how many women and kids?) And those 5,000 men, and however many more women and kids, ate their fill, and filled up twelve baskets of leftovers.
It was SO not in the numbers, isn't it? And yet, there were people that day who saw how it worked out, and seeing it changed their lives.
Today, I had a really tender time of talking and praying with my new pastor, a time he had set up to get up to speed on the Hedrick family mess (my words, not his), and find out how he could be ministering to us. As we talked, he picked up on something I kept mentioning: my lack of emotional and physical "reserves", my "not being the parent I should be for my kids", not having the band-width to handle much of the job of life these days. At the end of our talk, he prayed for me and he asked God to help me to stop reaching down deep inside myself for strength to continue, but to reach OUT to the strength that only God can give, the strength that we read, "is made perfect in weakness".
It's really not in the numbers, is it? Here's the passage that my pastor was referring to, it's in Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church:
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 )
What if I could accept that I have NO power to change whatever illogical turns my life has already taken, and I can't create a plan that is totally by the numbers, that is guaranteed to make up for those unfortunate turns? And what if, in choosing to accept the numbers, but not be bound by them, I could live the kind of life that looked like HOPE instead of just foolishness?
Want a bite of my pita bread?