Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Poem, and a Reflection on Perfection

"I saw what I saw and I can't forget it,
I heard what I heard and I can't go back,
I know what I know and I can't deny it
Something on the road, cut me to the soul.

Your pain has changed me,
Your dream inspires....
Your courage asks me what I'm afraid of,
And what I know of love."
~Sara Groves~

I read this poem on this blog today, and wanted to post it here. Of course, for me, it is about Katie.

I have been thinking of perfectionism lately, and what it means to me.

When I was growing up as a Christian Scientist, perfection was a standard that was firmly held. Perfection applied to every aspect of life, because God was seen as perfect, so we (in His image), were also expected to be perfect. I will oversimplify here and say that the idea was, "if it is good, then God made it; if it is bad, then it is an illusion." Carrying this through into my life meant a constant process of evaluating things and events as real or illusion, and then, acceptance or denial of them. I became a perfectionist.

A perfectionist was once described to me as "a person who takes great pains, and gives them to others." I find this to be true; I did this. I tried to get the perfect report card, to get into the best college I could, to keep my "purity" perfectly intact until marriage, to follow the rules, to do the highest, best job I could find in service to God, to dress well and have the best figure that I could form, never taking medicine or seeing a doctor, and keeping the high standards of my culture. My motives were very cloudy, because my belief system was flawed, but I did the best job that I could, at everything. It sounds exhausting when I put it down in print this way, and it was, but I had a lot of energy then. Along the way, I got married twice to people I never should have married --and was divorced from them. I changed jobs so many times in my 20s that I have lost count. After finally finding a healthy love with, and marrying, Gregg, I nearly died in childbirth (and put my son's life at risk in doing so), refusing medical intervention until it was necessary. I was rigid; I was trying so hard at things that could have been much simpler.

After David was born via emergency Cesarean section, my paradigm shattered. I spent years trying to understand how the perfect equation had failed to produce perfect results. No one in my religion could answer my questions. I couldn't get an honest "I don't know; this is a mystery." I got a lot of mumbo-jumbo that did not square with the perfect picture that I had been sold.

The one person in the church who made sense to me was a sort of lay-minister, a woman who had had to watch her husband and adult child die. She KNEW. She helped me through the years of questions...and then she died, presumably of cancer, with no medical help. That was it, for me. I will always remember visiting her in the sanitarium and being appalled at my inability to help her...and at the fact that she was being allowed to live out her days in this fashion. She had spent most of her life caring for other's souls, and now it looked to me as if she was being left to die in a FACILITY. It's one of the worst images in my memory at that point in my life.

I began to look elsewhere for answers, and over a period of years of searching, I found an eclectic Presbyterian church, grounded in the Bible, but open to the Word of God in all things. This was one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. I joined, was baptised along with my children, and proceeded to serve in the ministries of the church as I was called and able, making some of the best friends of my life along the way.

When Katie was diagnosed with a presently incurable form of cancer, my family and I had for 6 years been immersed in the beauty of this church community. The people were a support to us in countless ways. I had been in spiritual direction for about 7 years. I had seen that things are not perfect, and that they are not going to BE perfect, the way that I had been taught that they should or would be. But somehow (perhaps this is a gift from God), I had a deep faith that Love is adequate to all things, not to make them perfect, but to give us what we need. And that has turned out, so far, to be true. Not only true, but much more healing -- and less painful -- than perfectionism ever could be.

Nowadays, when I can't remember simple things, or can't do things as well as I used to do them, or can't multi-task, I tend to laugh more and stress less. This reminds me of a story that was told at our friend Cary's memorial service: Cary was a very bright woman, with a degree from a prestigious women's college and an impressive professional resume. She had a sharp mind and a voluptuous figure. However, after her cancer diagnosis had necessitated a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy, she was not feeling as sharp as usual. One day at work, Cary was asked to find something for someone, and she was unable to do it. She looked at the woman in need, and said, "I used to be really proud of two things: my breasts and my brains. And now I seem to have misplaced both." I can so deeply and personally relate to the heart of this funny comment.

I am broken; I am not perfect. But perhaps I can be a safer person for myself and others, if I am more accepting of that fact, more humble, loving and open, and less perfect.


amanda said...

I think sometimes we forget that our imperfetions are what make us unique. And these imperfections are ok because regardless of what they may be, we are still perfect in the eyes of the Lord.

I am, as always, amazed by your strength and realize that a large part of that strength comes from your faith. What a lovely gift you have given your children by sharing your faith with them.

The poem is beautiful as is your writing...

suz said...

What a great post. I love the poem too.
I tried for years to be perfect, do everything perfect. I thought it would make me a much better person. All it really did was make me unhappy because I could not control everything and make everything perfect.
I gave up years ago, and my life has been much better for it.
I am much more relaxed(well mostly)
Life is short, we must try to fit all the happiness into it as we can.

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

This is a beautiful post, Karen. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.

You are really an exceptionally wise woman.... I believe what is happening in your life now may very well lead to your "calling" or "ministry".... just a hunch.

Peace and Blessings to you....

suz said...

Karen, the Yankee soy candles are delish. You will love them. cross my heart.

Dawn ~ Mom of ^i^Brandon^i^, Jordan, & Seth said...

Beautiful post that shows God's Grace, Mercy, & Love in the flesh!

Have a wonderful weekend!

~ a while back you had asked about Brandon's site ~

Anonymous said...

Because we are saved by the grace of His son, Jesus, we are, indeed perfect (despite ourselves! Your posts have continued to inspire me as I follow in the same journey, just 8 months later than your began. So I will continue to pray you through the anniversary of Katie's homecoming in heaven and the joy you remind me to have in the memories of our time with our precious daughters here on this earth and the anticipation of our reunion with them when we get to join them in the "tomorrow" of our lives here on this fragile earth.


Sheri said...

A wonderful blog entry :)

I want to tell you that in my mind, your "purity" has never ever been lost. I know what I speak of is not the physical sense in which you protected that part of you. But I believe purity to lie somewhere pretty different. I see a lot of purity in your spirit.

Anonymous said...


My prayers are with you and your family. Stay strong, your words are honest and heartfelt and truely an inspiration to all.

An old friend

Kristi said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. I still have so much of life to yet experience (i.e I'm not married and have no kids)yet there is much here that I relate too.
I grew up in a loving Christian home but I'll never forget the day where I REALLY finally grasped and understood God's unconditional and relentless love for me.
Praying for you (even though I don't know you!) during this time. God is doing something beautiful in your life.