Messy Middles

This week I’m guest blogging my testimony over at Heather’s Faith’s how it came out:

You and me. We’re not so different.

The story starts: she was born.
It ends: she died.

This is my story. It’s also yours.

In these ways, we are all exactly the same.  And yet you are nothing like me. Because you didn’t have my “messy middle”.

Within our messy middles are the things of fairy tales, drama, suspense, comedy, and tragedy. It’s those messy middles that make the story unique and interesting. Messy middles don’t make anyone comfortable. They’re not supposed to. Not everyone will understand the whys and hows and how comes. Again, they’re not always supposed to.

Amazing rich stories, ending with a good bitter-sweet cry—leave me knowing—understanding—that all those messy middles were needed.

My story started like a fairy tale. In hindsight I can see how blessed I was to be born in America. Into a family that loved me and went to church. My life should have gone off without a hitch. But my messy middle started to show itself in junior high; and kicked into full gear as soon as I left home to conquer the world. There was no way to know what a hot mess I would become based my fairy tale beginnings.

Picture a long bridge spanning a vast canyon. On one side is God. The other side holds what the world has to offer. From God’s side of the bridge, the other side appeared to have greener grass. It looked better and felt more powerful. And like a small child who doesn’t know better, I stepped out on that bridge. One hand holding God’s while I stretched my body as far as I could. I was reaching my hand out to the other side. I just wanted to see—and touch. Eventually I released my grip and God let me go.

This happens to all of us. Some sooner than others. Our lives start the messy middle.

For me, I started to dabble into the New Age movement. Even now, I know the very day it happened. The innocent details, the music I heard, the smells, and sights. It started so harmlessly: a store in San Francisco, a store owner who deeply intrigued me, and “ambient” music I’d never heard before.

It truly could have been a benign experience. It was just a short run out into the middle of the bridge and back. I tested my bravery and strength, each time running further to the other side. The more I played, the easier it was. I became fearless.

I’ve done terrible stupid things. I turned my back to God’s side of the bridge and began to enjoy what the other side had to offer. Funny, now that I think of it, as I turned my back to God’s side, the other side came out onto the bridge to greet me. I was quickly ushered into a life that catered to my hearts desires. I was in relationships I had no business being in. Drinking myself into oblivion. Behaving in ways and getting into scenes that were dark and edgy and sadistic. I liked this place. I was in complete control with feelings of immense power.

I existed in that extreme place for many years. Looking back, I honestly believe I lived a life of one foot on the bridge and one foot on that “other side” opposite God. Eventually, things started to fall apart. What felt like power and control became a ball and chain. Here I thought I was the master of all things, and suddenly I was becoming a badly treated slave. I couldn’t keep up my level of cruelty to others and myself—but I also didn’t know how to get out.

I guessed the answer required facing God’s side of the bridge—turning my back on the world’s side. I had to begin crossing back over. But I was prideful. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. I resented God’s corporate church for how it treated me and my family (a very important plot in my story—but glossing over it for the sake of time). As bad as I felt in my current situation, I feared God’s side might feel equally awful.

One day, driving home from work, I broke down and begged this stranger I called God, “God, if You get me out of this mess—if You fix this, I’ll go into a church—I’ll try again.”

At the time I called it luck. I got out of the “extremes” and back into some middle-ish part of the bridge. I started studying every religion on this earth. Trying to find just the right thing for me. It would take me nearly ten years before I considered that God—this stranger—might have actually answered the prayer I begged on a commute home.

And then I recalled my unfulfilled promise.

A big part of my messy middle is the comedy of returning to church. The crazy tirades of getting to church and back home. Hiding it from my husband, family, and friends.

Looking back I can see how God led me to a church just right for me—at just the right time—on just the right day. That first day, a music video by Linkin Park was played. I knew this song well. It was called What I’ve Done.  The lyrics played, “So let mercy come and wash away—what I’ve done. I’ll start again, and whatever pain may come. Today this ends. I’m forgiving what I’ve done.” And the pastor proceeded to speak on forgiving yourself.

Some days it’s hard to imagine that God cares about me. That He’s involved in my little details as opposed to the big world He has to deal with. But all I have to do is look at the day I re-entered church. God took my difficult ugly hideous past; remind me of a prayer I said to Him; and at just the right moment and day, He landed me in a place where I would see a secular video I could relate to. I would hear God say through the music and message, “I don’t care about your past and failures in the messy middle. In fact I can use those moments for My good. Just trust Me. Forgive yourself, because I forgave you. You are loved, messy middles and all.”

Today I’m allowing God to use me how He wills. It’s not always easy, because I still exist in the messy middle, and will until the last chapter of my story concludes. And on that day I’ll finally step over onto God’s glorious side of the bridge for eternity. 

But until then, what we do with our messy middles matters. I’ve chosen to let God turn my messy middles into good things. The good, the bad, the ugly – He can use them all. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Copyright © 2009- 2011 Sherry Meneley . All Rights Reserved . . . soiled wings

5 thoughts on “Messy Middles

  1. Thank you for your willingness to share your story. Stories are the only way we can learn from each other.

    Their story, yours and mine – it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them. ~William Carlos Williams

  2. Beautifully written story – WOW! Thanks for sharing as I’m sure we can all relate in some way and learn from your experiences. You continue to be such an inspiration to me.

  3. “Eventually, things started to fall apart. What felt like power and control became a ball and chain. Here I thought I was the master of all things, and suddenly I was becoming a badly treated slave.”

    WOW this really hit me hard don’t know what it all means, thank you for your bravery & vulnerability in sharing.

    • I’m sitting here trying to think of something even remotely creative to say about this blog. Something that could possibly come close to the great understanding you opened my eyes to. But, I can’t. All I can say is WOW!
      Sharon you hit the nail on the head. Wow, Wow, Wow.

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