Life is Messy

Posted On May 31, 2016

Life is definitely messy, but it’s also marvelous, say Columbia life coaches Merck and Montanez.


Columbia psychologist Rhea Merck and Marriage and Family Therapist Amy Montanez, longtime best friends and professional colleagues, are known for their generous gestures. 

Montanez often shares home-cooked meals with neighbors and Merck is known for her impromptu supper parties so friends can catch up with one another other.     

They are appreciated for their giving nature both among their neighbors and professional circles. This year, they are sharing with the community life skills they consider vital to mental health through their blog, “Life is Messy, Life is Marvelous.” That acknowledgment inspired the blog’s name, LiM2.

“We’ve been through it together,” Montanez said. “Child-rearing, marriage, separations, divorce, dating, deaths, grief, illnesses, family craziness, betrayals, business dilemmas, institutional madness, and world crises, just to name a few. Does this sound like your life, too? We bet it does, because we know we’re not alone and that this is life.” 

“We are passionate about telling the truth – as best we can – about life. And the truth is, life is never all messy or all marvelous. Telling this truth often involves facing reality, being vulnerable, and harnessing courage. These things may not come naturally,” Montanez said. “LiM2 (pronounced lim-squared) was created to helping people manage that truth and give them skills that will make life’s messiness easier to navigate while keeping life’s marvelousness alive. We see LiM2 as an equation for manageable living.”

Each week Drs. Rhea Merck and Amy Montanez highlight a personal coping strategy. Now numbering almost 50, and approaching its first birthday, recent posts discuss: “Ask for help; Solve your solvable problems; Know your story; Keep your priorities straight; Buckle your seatbelt; Prepare for re-entry: and Mind the gap.” 

Merck explained, “We have created LiM2, because we are still passionate about helping people with the messiness of life, hoping there will be more marvelous moments. Technology is allowing us to broaden our impact and to spread the word. A little age and some chutzpah encourages us to speak from our hearts more freely.”

Merck’s philosophy of both teaching and practicing psychology mirrors her experience in life. “Psychology is life. If I continue to learn anything, it is that regardless of my plans, sometimes, the most marvelous things lie on a path I never expected. My career in psychology that I love came after a life-altering injury. I never would have dreamed I’d one day be teaching the very courses and in the very classrooms as in my undergraduate years.

“The mentoring community I cherish and which has given me delightful professional experiences developed after I didn’t get my first choice of doctoral internships. All of my plans about being married for a lifetime to one person didn’t work out. It has been a messy journey that didn’t follow my well-laid plans for my life. And yet, I marvel at the joy in my life.

“What I have learned in all this mess is that the old adage ‘when one door closes another opens’ is true. But it is most true when we remain open to mystery. I’ve also learned that there is potential for excitement when I embrace the messiness of ambiguity, when I don’t have an absolute plan or when I don’t know what’s next, but am willing to walk through that door,” she said. 

An alumna of the University of South Carolina, Merck received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of North Texas. In private practice in Columbia since 1996, she has worked in hospital in-patient and out-patient settings and university counseling centers. Currently teaching at the University of South Carolina, she is also vice-chair of the S.C. Psychology Board of Examiners and has served on the National Alliance on Mental Illness Board of Directors.  

While her practice is general in nature, she especially enjoys working with adolescents, families, people with eating disorders, and adults navigating major life transitions.   Professionally, she is interested in ethics, mind-body health practices, and early career mentoring. 

Montanez, who began her career as a public school teacher, says her life has been a pilgrimage, as she initially never thought she would become a professional therapist or a published author. 

“In my middle school classroom, I found I was as interested in my students’ lives as I was in their academic achievement. I spent many lunch hours and after-school hours listening to accounts of very messy lives. Eventually I got my master’s degree in counseling and became a school counselor. From there I moved into private practice mostly as a way to have flexible time to devote to mothering my daughter, which was and still is a passion of mine. Now, licensed as a professional counselor and as a marriage and family therapist, I try to stay open to wherever the journey will take me. Whether I am coaching, practicing therapy, speaking, leading retreats, or writing, my roots as an educator are always being used.”

Montanez is a licensed marriage and family therapist, life coach and spiritual director, with a private practice where she sees individuals and couples. Specializing in working with clergy from many denominations, she has taught in several spiritual direction training programs.  Her first book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power Of Everyday Life was published by Morehouse Press in 2013 and was named Spirituality and Practice Top 100 books of the year. It is available from Amazon and Cokesbury.

Her areas of expertise include all aspects of women’s issues, leadership during hard times, forgiveness, grief work, couple’s work, building healthy families and communities, the spiritual journey, healing, the mind-body-spirit connection, and professional advocacy.

She received a doctorate in ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation, South Bend, Indiana, and is a graduate of the Sursum Corda Spiritual Direction Training Program and the Institute for Spirituality, Spiritual Direction Training Program. She has a master’s in counseling from Clemson University and a bachelor’s degree from Furman University.

For “Life is Messy, Life is Marvelous,” see www.lim2online.com or on Facebook as LIM2.

Life is messy, Life is marvelous

Psychologists Rhea Merck and Amy Montanez were inspired to develop their blog, “Life is Messy, Life is Marvelous” by their knowledge – both personal and professional – that life is filled with paradox. In their words, “While you are in a wonderful exhilarating moment of your life, a friend or family member may be in a serious crisis. While the economy of the United States may be on the rise, there is genocide in another country. While you’ve ‘gone fishing’, a family is mourning the death of a child. Of course you can flip each of those statements around so that the messy part applies to you.” 

They know the skills and virtues needed to deal with the messiness of life - the skills and virtues that make life manageable and marvelous - these are teachable skills which they share with others through their blog. 

Skill #1: Ask For Help

The blog was launched in June 2015 with “Skill #1: Ask for Help” written by Montanez. She wrote in part, “Sometimes life hands out more than we think we can bear. Sometimes we have blind spots and can’t see our own problems. And I can tell you that having been a therapist for 25 years now, and a teacher before that, that the most successful and well-adjusted people know when to ask for help. The people I know who are making a real difference in the world ask for help.

“For some reason, asking for help from a therapist feels threatening to many. We are not only saying we need help, but we know we may have to admit how and when we are wrong, and that might feel shameful and embarrassing. And so things get messier and messier until there is a true threat, like the relationship might be over, and then it seems like maybe asking for help is the last ditch effort. Better sooner than later, I assure you.

“. … Here’s what I think. Life is hard and life is messy.  … But the truth is that asking for help and getting good help can change the messy into marvelous. And if you are getting help, and the messy isn’t changing, get different and better help. Things can and do change. We need skills and accountability to make changes. We need others who know more than we do and can guide us on the journey. … Ask for help. Because life is messy and life is marvelous.”

Skill #2: Solve Your Solvable Problems

Merck followed with the second skill, “Solve your solvable problems,” concerning married couples. She wrote, “Over the years, many people have said to us, ‘We are two smart, educated people; how come we keep having the same stupid fight over and over?’  

“Virginia Satir, the mother of family therapy and a favorite therapist and theorist of mine, said, ‘There are at least three possible solutions to every problem: yours, mine and the ones we haven’t thought of yet.’ 

In many spiritual traditions, this is also known as ‘the third way.’ These are the solutions we must seek—the ones that take us out of our ‘me vs. you rut’ - to the ‘we’—from competitive to collaborative. … Solve your solvable problems because life is messy and life is marvelous.”

Other life skills they have discussed include:  “Make a decision; Engage in your community; Engage in nature; Be proud; Take a stand; Cultivate resilience; Show up; Embrace and create rituals; Stay flexible; Prepare for re-entry; Buckle your seatbelt; Keep your priorities straight; Know your story; and Mind the gap.

For all the steps in their entirety, see www.lim2online.com or on Facebook as LIM2.