This is a series by Athena Dean Holtz on Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) in the Church. Click here to read part one in the series.
As the regional awards event of our financial services multi-level, Chuck looked successful in his black tuxedo. I sat next to him in my new pink, backless silk dress with my heart pounding in anticipation of hearing my name called out over the sound system. I was pretty sure we had done enough to qualify for the big promotion to regional vice-president, but you never really knew until they called you up on stage. Everyone seemed to be living for this moment. The title meant you were now in business for yourself and had the opportunity to be somebody.
“Chuck and Athena Dean.” I smiled triumphantly as I heard the applause start. We had made it to that esteemed regional vice-presidential position in just 12 months. No one had done it as quickly as we had. This made me feel especially important and satisfied. We were well on our way to riches.
One year after our marriage to each other and to multi-level marketing, we made the decision to move to the Northwest, to Washington where Chuck had grown up. He then began to lose interest in the business once we had opened up the office in Washington. I think he began to see that I seemed to love the business more than I loved him, and he was jealous. The more he distanced himself from the business, the more I lost interest in him. It seemed that I was married to my work and he was now taking on the neglected spouse syndrome. Depressed and always complaining, his communication was mostly critical and nagging. Whenever I would come home, Chuck would whine about the kids, the housework, about being stressed out. Perhaps he thought by getting me out of California, life would slow down a little and I would have more time for him.
“All you care about is that damn business. You never have any time for me or the kids. We don’t even know you anymore. You spend all your time pleasing your clients and your downline, but we don’t even rate the time of day.”
At times he was like a jealous lover, being very suspicious about everything that I did. “So, where were you tonight? Did it really have to take this long for you to finish your training appointment? Why is it that I get the feeling that you’d rather be out working than home with us?”
It got to the point where I did anything I could just to stay away from home so I wouldn’t have to hear his complaining. Almost every six months we seemed on the brink of divorce, but somehow managed to stay together. Each time I would give him an ultimatum. “Either you accept me the way I am, or I am leaving.”
He would then stifle his dissatisfaction with the way our marriage was going and we would stay together. My workaholism and drive for recognition was now in full force and Chuck simply decided to put up with it just to keep our marriage together.
The truth was not as good as the dream. Even though by this time we were cash-flowing $50,000 a year, our overhead was so high that we were perpetually broke. I would always have expensive office rent, huge long distance bills, advertising bills that never seemed to end, and a travel and entertainment tab that was sky high. Even when we hit the coveted $100,000 mark, our expenses far exceeded our income. The need to look successful until it actually happened resulted in huge lease payments on cars, offices, furniture, and our home. While everything on the outside looked great and our numbers on the leader sheets were always at the top, our marriage was on the edge of disaster and the stress of our financial situation only added fuel to the fire.
I was held captive—a prisoner of my own grasping and lustful heart. While I thought I was proving my success by the things I had, those things actually had me. I was miserable. Since I had never learned to value relationships, my dreams for my marriage, family and personal life revolved only around having things, not about anything of lasting value.
If you’re coming in on the middle of the series, I’d like to encourage you to start from the beginning. This post is where I was about a year before surrendering to Jesus. I had become what I’d seen modeled in the home by a workaholic, driven, Type A father, and saw nothing wrong with my unhealthy behavior. As I share the most relevant excerpts from my book written over 20 years ago, it’s humbling to see how God has healed so many of these dysfunctions in my life. It’s also sobering to see that there are still some that I continue to struggle with. I call myself a “repenting Type A” and admit to easily being drawn into “work mode” when I really should just “be present” with those He has brought into my life instead. I’m thankful for a faithful God whose hand can be seen throughout all the ups and downs of my life.