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An unlikely hero
March 14, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." ~ Fred Rogers
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Glennon Doyle Melton is my hero.
Most heroes don't set out to become heroes. But they often earn that moniker because they make conscious decisions to do the right thing. Heroes do what others fear doing.
It's not as if they are fearless, but they do it anyway. It's not as if they don't have doubts, but they do it anyway. It's not as if they're friends and family don't question their sanity, but they do it anyway.
They do it because they possess a trait that is endangered — they value others. As (another hero) Mr. Rogers said, they "see the need and respond."
Glennon is the founder of Momastery.com, a safe haven where she bares her soul, where she "lives out loud" in order to help moms like me discover that Perfection is a cruel mistress and that the raw truths of our lives are nothing about which to be ashamed. She preaches that "Love wins" and "We can do hard things" and "We belong to each other." She lets us know we're not alone.
Glennon's decision to write about the good, the bad and the ugly in her own life has resonated with thousands. She has 63,000 followers who call themselves "Monkees" because, like monks, they strive to live in peaceful community and support each other.
"The more I opened my heart to the folks in my circles, the more convinced I became that life is equal parts brutal and beautiful. And/Both. Life is 'brutiful,'" she writes in the opening chapter of her first book of autobiographical essays, "Carry On, Warrior," set for release April 2. The book is made up of blog posts and some new material.
Glennon lived the truth of this word cocktail, this "brutiful" life. She confesses on her site and in detail in the book that she was ruled by "Fear" for 20 years during which she tried unsuccessfully, sometimes tragically, to fill gaping holes in her heart and soul with unhealthy things. She was a highly sensitive introverted child who became a bulimic at age 8. She became an alcoholic, a drug addict and a shopaholic who had casual sex, got pregnant and had an abortion. One Mother's Day, she found she was pregnant again and she decided to choose "Love" — which, to her, is Jesus. She prayed there on the bathroom floor, pee stick in hand, for God to help her.
"You see, the hole had gotten bigger and bigger until God fit right in. He just stepped right in. When you're all hole God fits," she writes.
She writes that fear — not hate, as most believe — is the opposite of love. "Love and Fear are opposing voices, opposing ways to live, opposing platforms on which to make daily decisions, view the world, and build a life." That day on the bathroom floor, she decided to quit everything cold turkey (except shopping, she unabashedly admits). She chose to change her life, with God's help.
Glennon is a hero, first and foremost, because she saw her OWN need ... and responded.
She still has "holes." "My experience has been that even with God, life is hard. It's hard because it's hard being holey. We have to live with that. If there's a silver lining to the hole, here it is: the unfillable, God-sized hole is what brings people together."
Maintaining a "public self" and a "private self" is too much work, she decided. "The truth is that I am very rarely fine. I am usually so far behind fine that I couldn't find fine with binoculars," she writes.
After deciding to "live out loud" and founding Momastery, it was as if the stopper on the bottle of Love was removed and its life-affirming essence began to flow freely through cyberspace, through computer monitors and smartphone screens. Glennon's life, her words, began to have a profound impact on others.
Glennon is a hero because she is open about things that many people conceal out of fear. Her abortion, for instance. And her and husband Craig's failed attempts at adopting. And their struggles with intimacy.
She also writes brazenly about what some may perceive as shortcomings in a mother and wife. To wit:
— She never vacuums. You read that right. In fact, she writes in a laugh-out-loud essay that she taught her daughter to roll her baby-doll stroller across the floor in straight lines to give the illusion of a vacuum having passed over the carpet. When her husband questioned it, she mumbled the vacuum was broken. So he bought her a new vacuum, onto the front of which she strapped her daughter's baby doll and announced it was her new stroller.
— She doesn't cook. Glennon, in fact, does not own a pan, her beloved sister — whom she refers to as Sister — discovered one day while visiting. Her water glasses are cloudy and her wine glasses have rings, so she doesn't host parties (she calls it "hostressing"). She writes that she felt she SHOULD host a party for her friends because it's the right thing to do — like getting fresh air even if you're not outdoorsy is the right thing to do. So she invites them, and asks them to bring their own drinks and glasses. They do, and they all have a ball.
— Her first instinct when her three kids get out of control is to "freak out," which her husband, she writes, "suggests is not helpful." So, at the behest of Joan Didion, when she feels she's going to lose it she puts a paper bag over her head with a smiley face drawn on it. "Tah-dah! Instant quiet time, oxygen, and a reminder that things are not necessarily as dramatic and horrible as my kids or jumpy head might suggest."
At the risk of being sent back to the mental hospital, Glennon writes she has decided to bow ever so slightly to everyone she meets and say "Namaste." Why? She aspires to be like Mother Teresa, who saw God in everyone. "Namaste" means "God in me recognizes and honors God in you." She realizes it sounds crazy, but she doesn't care. "I am embracing my spark of madness. Fanning it, even. And I'm bowing. And something's happening because of it. It's working. I'm starting to see God everywhere."
Glennon acknowledges the pain in the world, but she feels she must ignore the Fear that is telling her to run away from it and instead obey the Love that calls her toward it. The pain will break her heart, she knows, but she says "a broken heart is both a badge of honor and the most powerful tool on earth."
Glennon uses that tool to help — with material needs — many women who are down and out. Her contagious "Love wins" belief has led to the formation of Monkee See — Monkee Do, a nonprofit that, among other things, hosts "Love Flash Mobs" through the website and social media, in which people are asked to donate no more than $25 to meet a specific need. The most recent Love Flash Mob raised $100,000 in 48 hours for a teen mom and her 4-month-old baby to move out of a shelter in Indianapolis and into an apartment. The work of Monkee See—Monkee Do, Glennon writes, "exemplifies Mother Teresa's philosophy that we can do no great things, only small things with great love. We have learned that by harnessing the power of a filled-up community, small gifts can make a tremendous impact — on givers' hearts and on the world around us."
My favorite Glennon essay is one of her most popular. I read it a few months ago after my dear friend April posted it on her Facebook timeline. After reading it, I felt I had a kindred spirit in Glennon Melton (and as I read each page of her book, the feeling deepened). It's called "Don't Carpe Diem," and in it, she decries the "carpe diem" philosophy older moms dump on young harried moms. You know, the women in the grocery checkout when you're about to pull your hair out who says: "Enjoy every moment, honey. This time goes by so fast." Glennon understands they are well-meaning, but writes: "Being told, in a million different ways, to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I'm not in a constant state of profound gratitude and ecstasy, I'm doing something wrong."
She likens it to people standing along the route up Mount Everest, shouting at the climbers who are in brutal pain but working so hard toward their goal that they should enjoy every minute. "Parenting is hard. Just like lots of important jobs are hard. Why is it that the second a mother admits that it's hard, people feel the need to suggest that maybe she's not doing it right? Or that she certainly shouldn't add more to her load. Maybe the fact that it's so hard means she IS doing it right, in her own way, and she happens to be honest."
It's Glennon's choice to be honest — to be up-front, raw and real — in the midst of her daily struggles that attracts me ... and tens of thousands of others ... and hopefully, eventually, millions more.
We can do hard things. We belong to each other. Love wins. Thanks, Glennon.
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The cover of Glennon's new book.