The question has become a joke around Bethesda Workshops: “You mean THE MARNIE FERREE is going to be there?” I always find it ridiculous that I – the person who just picked up trash along the road in front of our building, or moved tables and chairs for the next group, or washed blankets that were used for comfort as much as for warmth, or did whatever simple and mundane task that was needed – would be viewed as THE MARNIE FERREE. I may fit that perception in terms of accumulating some accomplishments (what a grace!); AND (as we say at Bethesda), I’m equally the vulnerable, wounded, anxious one who struggles with navigating life and trusting God much more than I wish were true. I’m just me – the complicated “whole package” as a dear friend says.
Bethesda’s transition into new leadership is gaining momentum as we move toward January, and I predictably find myself reflective. In part, I’m wondering about my “legacy” – about how I will be and want to be remembered.
The concept reminds me of the last scene from Saving Private Ryan, which has haunted me since the first time I saw the movie in 1998. The WW2 story is of an epic mission that was commissioned to bring Private James Ryan safely home after his three military brothers are killed in battle. Under the command of Captain Miller, a small group of soldiers goes through hell to find and rescue Private Ryan, and most of them are killed in the process, including Miller. In a climatic scene, a mortally wounded Miller admonishes Ryan to earn the sacrifices that were made to send him home.
Decades later, an elderly Ryan visits Captain Miller’s grave at Normandy Cemetery, where he tells Miller that he has thought of those compelling words every day. Ryan adds, “I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that it was enough.” The words give me chills.
For most of my life I was driven by the internal command, couched perhaps unintentionally in misguided yet fierce theology, to BE ENOUGH. Based on equal measures of shame, fear, and devotion, I tried to fulfill that mission “the best I could.” And of course, like most of us, I failed miserably, including in very hurtful and impactful ways.
Today I’m so grateful for the shift in my understanding and acceptance of God’s true commission, which is not to be enough or to earn the sacrifice made through Jesus. It is to accept God’s unconditional love and unimaginable grace. That pivot from fearfully striving to be enough into shaping my life in response to God’s love and grace profoundly changed me. It prompted a radical shift to live from being rather than from doing.
Although I am proud of the tangibles that I’ve accomplished and appreciate the kind recognition of those legacy-building opportunities, it’s the non-“accomplishment” of being that has made all the difference for me. Certainly, I haven’t been successful at fully being, either. Yet this awareness of living-as-being rather than finding-meaning-from-doing is what I view as my most meaningful legacy.
This mindset of being involves four choices that were foreign to me until I was graced with being catapulted into a healing journey at age thirty-five. These decisions and actions have not only shaped me personally, but they have also hugely influenced my leadership of Bethesda Workshops.
First, be willing to ask for help. My felt-experience was that my family of origin discouraged this practice. Ours was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. (No help beyond God required.) People didn’t feel available to help me, and it truly never occurred to me to ask. The painful kicker was that I couldn’t enter a redemptive path until I admitted that I was desperately in need of help and was willing to accept the form that it came in. The help that I received looked vastly different from the kind of help I wanted, which was a quick and easy miraculous fix. Many times, it was (and still is) hard to lean into the painful, messy process that ultimately is beneficial. Today I routinely ask for help, especially for emotional and spiritual assistance, and Bethesda Workshops teaches this practice.
Second, be human. Asking for help requires being human. Historically, I was ashamed of my imperfections and frailties, which I thought made me less than, needy, exposed, and unacceptable. Being flawed meant that I lacked some knowledge or capability, and that lack was dangerous, especially when I didn’t learn healthy strategies for coping with life. The risk of being human forged an ensnaring double bind: a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t dilemma. Healing showed me the value of my softer, less rigid, imperfect self – the one who cries more, but who laughs more, too. The one who can forgive herself, which helps me to forgive others. This seismic shift guides Bethesda’s commitment that all humans are welcomed at a healing workshop, and they are embraced, loved, and provided help.
Third, be present. Learning to be present in myself, relationships, life, and environment has been life changing. It started with learning to endure the quiet – to listen to silence unmitigated by external or internal distractions. Eventually, I learned to be present with my emotions and in my body, which were both terrifying at first. Fueled by mindfulness, restorative yoga, contemplative practices, and more recently by hiking, being present brings such incredible joy. It allows me to notice the hawks and redbirds who visit me, to be moved by the moon, to be undone by kindness as much as by tragedy, and to be astonished at the God-visitings that grace my every day. I term all these things spirituality, and Bethesda Workshops engages this way of being.
Fourth, be committed to life-long growth. After the first couple of years of therapy, I foolishly thought that I should be through with the healing process, that I should have arrived at a state of “healed.” Impatiently, I shamed myself for any ongoing challenges, needs, confusion, or distress at unmet desires. Ironically, being present to the pain of life was ultimately the prompt to embrace a life-long commitment to growth. That on-going process today involves every aspect of being: physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Bethesda’s transition to new leadership provides another chance to grow in faith as I trust God to provide, equip, and guide Mike Vaughn as he assumes leadership of this ministry I birthed, nurtured, and will always love.
All of us leave a legacy, of course. Although mine may seem more public in terms of so-called accomplishments, we all get the chance to shape our own lives, which, in turn, influences other lives both now and in the future. What do you want your legacy to be?
Marnie C. Ferree