November 2015 Final Issue
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Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

From what do you draw your worth? Do you ever find yourself working or performing in order to feel good about yourself or valued by others? I would have said no, until I came to the end of myself and all I could do. Take a momentary trip back in time with me. Born an over-achiever, the description served me well for decades. I entered this world weighing less than three pounds in a medical era when that was not considered viable. I fought my way past the doctor’s predictions that I wouldn’t live or would be brain damaged if I did. Three years later, the doctors again predicted my death when I contracted a life-threatening illness with an equally threatening treatment. Unaware I was deathly allergic to aspirin, the doctors prescribed the medication to reduce an extremely high fever in hopes of saving my life and preventing brain damage. While my body endured anaphylactic shock, my parents prepared for my death, brain damage, or at least severe physical and cognitive consequences. Doctors warned I would never again walk. Those doctors didn’t know me or my personality. I sustained the least devastating effects, but was left with physical deformities of my legs and foot. My feet were significantly different in size: one grew to an average women’s size, while the other remained the size of a small child, twisted and misshapen, resulting in months of physical therapy and requiring me to re-learn to walk. The words “average” or “quit” did not exist in my vocabulary. People identified me as a self-starter, hard-worker, and over-achiever. In school I earned top honors and straight A’s. Each accomplishment was merely a stepping stone to my next great achievement. In that, I resembled my father. I didn’t know the term at the time, but today I imagine some referred to my father as a “work-a-holic.” He took his responsibility as head of the household very seriously. But every “a-holic” pays some price. My father’s came in the form of his health. He suffered a massive heart attack when he was merely 40 years old. True to form, however, he took that experience and worked to full capacity beating the odds: another cigarette never again touched his lips, his diet became completely “heart-healthy,” and he took up exercising, running every day for the next 2 years until a second massive and fatal heart attack took him from us just a few months after he turned 42. I was just a young teen at the time. But given that my mother did not have any post-high school education and was from another country, I jumped into the familiar role of do-er. I was determined to help support our family in my father’s absence. I resolved to ensure I would be able to support my family once I married and began a family of my own. I had the personality to make it happen. Nothing stopped me. I first earned my bachelor’s degree, then my master’s, and finally my doctorate. My husband and I held together through four years of a cross-country, commuter marriage so I could complete my clinical internship and post-doctoral fellowships allowing me to specialize in the very male-dominated field of neuropsychology. I had never before known failure. It wasn’t an option for me. When met with obstacles, I just dug in deeper, tried harder, and worked more. After reuniting permanently in the same household, we started a family with the birth of our first child. That’s when the walls came crashing down around me. Shortly after our son was born, my mother and best friend, received a cancer diagnosis. That knocked the wind out of my sails, yet I endeavored to dig in deeper and do whatever needed to be done. Within the year, my husband received his very rare abdominal cancer diagnosis. Doctors told us to get our affairs in order, and in the course of caring for my mother and husband, my physician apologized as he told me I was miscarrying our baby. I couldn’t count the number of times people asked me how I did it while exclaiming that they didn’t think they could if our situations were reversed. I never quite knew how to respond. I never felt I had a choice. It was as if over the course of my entire life I had been groomed to manage adversity by just digging in and doing more. Curling up in a ball and pulling the covers over my head never entered my mind as a possibility. Still stunned and in shock at the doctor’s words, I called the hospital where I worked to schedule a higher level ultrasound around my own patients’ appointments. What was I thinking? Dig deeper…work harder and it’ll be alright. Except when it won’t. At some point, no amount of effort will change your situation. Jesus even declared, “in this life you will have trouble…” I’d feel better if I could tell you I learned my lesson the day I saw our baby’s flat lined heartbeat. Or when I received the call telling me cancer took my mother. Sadly, I didn’t. Even then, I just kept doing. I just tried harder and worked more. To some degree, I think I went from a good work ethic to just trying to numb the pain. When it didn’t work, I just kept trying. Until I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. My body would no longer let me. Several emergency room visits and two surgeries later, I could no longer do. Trying harder was futile. I could no longer accomplish anything. Unable to hold down liquid or food on my own, IV fluid and nutrition kept me alive, while I dwindled down to a 74-pound skeleton of my former self. Never before nor since have I felt so weak or helpless. Weak and helpless never existed in my vocabulary nor my mentality. All I could do for days, weeks, and months on end, in-between home health visits, IV-sticks, and dehydration checks was think, pray, read, and reflect. I came face to face with the very place I had unknowingly run from my entire life. I had accepted the enemy’s lies that the more I did the more value I had as a person. Extending that just a bit further, the more I did and the better I did it, the more God would find me acceptable and worthy of His love. Raised in a Christian home, I had accepted Jesus Christ’s shed blood on the cross for me, and received Him as my personal Savior. Yet somewhere in my naivete, I missed the assurance that God would not withhold His love, nor grant me any more love regardless of what I did or didn’t do. That revelation came only when I could no longer do, and had to simply be—without any accolades or accomplishments. I needed to rest in His presence, relying on Him for my very strength and life-giving sustenance. Through that season, I realized all He required of me was that I believe in a God who desired nothing but a relationship with me. He already loved and approved me—I didn’t have to earn it. What a heavy burden that lifted. Now the work He provides for me to do is done out of love for Him rather than trying to perform in order to receive His love or acceptance. Do you need a special touch of the Father’s love today? All He asks is that you believe in Him and His Son, who paid the price for us to be found worthy and acceptable of His great love.
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About Michelle Bengtson

Michelle Bengtson
Author, speaker and board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson is also a wife, mother, and friend. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith. She addresses issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for those who suffer. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith. Dr. Michelle Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She blogs regularly on her own web site.

One comment

  1. Michelle,
    I adore this article – I learned so much about you. I still admire your amazing tenacity and get it done attitude, but I admire more your dependance upon God and your yielding to the Holy Spirit. I think those things all together make you one amazing servant and leader. I am so glad to be your friend.

    Love,
    Jan

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