Friday, February 10, 2017

Adversity and Triumph: Can't have one without the other

I have been thinking a lot lately about how God loves to turn the tables of adversity into opportunity and triumph when we trust Him. My life is such a perfect example of that.

My abusive ex-husband did everything in his power to hold me back and hold me down for 27 years. He reinforced every insecurity I ever struggled with. A friend once told me (and I have never forgotten this) "He uses YOU against YOU." He knew me so well. He knew all my buttons. He knew all my wounds. And he used those to his advantage because what he cared about most was power and control. He told me my own family didn't love me in order to weaken me. And I remember him laughing while telling me that even if he had more money than he knew what to do with, he would never waste it on buying me a large diamond. I don't remember ever asking him for a larger diamond. But that wasn't the point.

The message he was sending was, You wouldn't be worth that to me no matter how wealthy I was.

I spent so many years feeling worthless and unlovable. I wondered where God was in my situation. Why did He not care enough about my suffering to come to my rescue?

But my rescue and deliverance were always in play. God knew the day and the time. He also knew what He had planned for me after the rescue. Had He simply intervened and "rescued" me sooner, there are many lessons I might not have learned. Lessons that involved time and a process. I would be far less equipped to help others; to be a compassionate friend and advocate for victims of abuse and domestic violence.

His goal for me is not comfort. The goal is growth. In order to reach my potential, He knows I must suffer. In order to overcome and triumph, I must be faced with adversity and sorrow. In order to feel compassion more deeply for others, I must know pain in my own life.

By no means do I advocate staying in an abusive marriage. I would never urge any woman to submit herself to abuse. Abusive men don't turn into healthy men by way of a woman's compliance and submission. Abusive men become more abusive and they will further exploit your efforts to please them the more you try to win their love. But even though I would have been justified in leaving sooner, I can't regret the journey because of what I gained.

I have lived long enough now to see how God operates in my life. He presents opportunities for me to grow that involve pain. Sometimes these opportunities catch me by surprise. And when caught off guard, I initially feel devastated, knocked off balance. I might spend a few days in the weeds emotionally. But then I remind myself of the opportunity to grow through my circumstances.

God doesn't allow adversity because He enjoys seeing me hurt. He allows it because He is teaching me how to trust Him and not limit Him. What looks impossible to me is not even a challenge for God. When it's time, He'll intervene. There has never been a situation in my life where God did not eventually turn the tables in a dramatic way. I've had many a long wait for deliverance and healing. But every time I've given up my need to understand and fix things through my own efforts, He's shown up in a way that surpassed my imagination.

It's easier to trust Him today than it has ever been at any other time in my life. And He keeps making it obvious to me that He loves to respond to my most passionate prayers.

I cry almost every time I thank God for His goodness to me. But I have to be in anguish to plead with God for His help. I don't know why that is. When I'm just dealing with the normal stresses of life, I would have to say my prayers are kind of flat and unemotional. I don't expect God to fix everything or answer all my prayers. I don't like giving Him a list of my needs. Again, I'm not sure why I'm that way -- but I am. I can vividly remember the pleading, passionate prayers of my life when my heart was in a million pieces and I was desperate for Him to help me cope in a supernatural way. That happened to me recently. And the very next day, I experienced His response. He must be pleased when we turn to Him in complete dependence -- and perhaps in desperation. That's when He alone can be our strength; in our weakness. When we stop trying to find that strength within ourselves.

I could recite a long list of ways God has turned the tables in my life. One of my favorite examples rests on my left ring finger. But it's not about the rock. It's all about the man. God gave me a husband who loves, values, respects and protects me as if I am a precious jewel to him. That's what I longed for. That's really ALL I longed for.

And while one man was demeaning me, laughing about how I would never be worth a large diamond to him, God could see the man in my future who would feel just the opposite. For months after my engagement to John, every time I looked down at my ring, I would think, "I can't believe anyone loves me enough to WANT to give me a ring like this (even if he can)." That's what my ring still represents to me.

I honestly never longed for a large diamond ring. It wasn't important to me. I'm not a person who values status. I often feel self-conscious about my material blessings. But for the rest of my life, I will remember seeing my ring for the first time, my astonishment that he would want to buy it for me, and hearing John say, "It's the ring you deserve." 

Second only to the cross, the most dramatic demonstration of God's love for me has been the blessing of my marriage to John. And no matter what I had ever been through, I could never have viewed him as a reward I deserved. But God is so merciful. I do believe that He delighted in demonstrating to me just how much He did care about my suffering and how He had seen my future waiting for me through all those years. He orchestrated that contrast to emphasize to me that He was never absent or uncaring when it came to my suffering. There was always a plan.

So I will trust Him as I face the challenges of today knowing He is accomplishing something in me through every experience. He will sustain me as I wait for His plan to unfold.

And while I wait, I will grow and change and get closer to my potential in Him.

Monday, January 9, 2017

So, what did YOU think?

I watched The Golden Globes last night. I like the awards shows, for the most part. I like them better when they have great hosts. I had higher hopes for Jimmy Fallon last night. Let's just say he didn't entertain on the level of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And, sure, I enjoy the fashion on the red carpet. I'm a girl. But my favorite part of these shows is the comedy. I love great humor. Last night, the comedy highlights were Kristin Wiig and Steve Carell. Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer were also very funny.

But I digress.

About halfway (or more) through the show, I commented to John that I was glad the majority of award recipients had chosen not to do political commentary and sarcasm. The election season was SO long this time and we know how divided we are in this country. We know that most of the people in the room were for Clinton. We know that those who oppose Trump loathe him and many of them do not want him to succeed because he was not their choice.

I get that.

I didn't have a choice this year, but I want Trump to succeed and I would have wanted Clinton to succeed if she had won because I want our country to thrive.

So, not long after I expressed how nice it was to not have to listen to political speeches, Meryl Streep (one of my favorite actresses) chose to use her time to make a political statement. And I cringed when she went there. I cringed the same way I cringe when staunch conservatives take shots at President Obama. Once a person gets elected, it is my belief that we respect the office; at least giving someone a chance to do some good things. No president does it all right. And no president does it all wrong. If Trump does it all wrong, his opportunity will expire in four years.

Yes, I cringe at things that come out of Donald Trump's mouth. And his tweets are not serving him well when it comes to his respectability going forward. He comes across so mean and vindictive; honestly, like a child. It makes me sad. And I wish someone could get through to him. But that's not the way narcissism works. I know. I lived with a narcissist for many years. When you cross a narcissist, prepare to be vilified, objectified, belittled and/or at the very least insulted.

In saying all that, I guess I'm just wanting it to be understood that I'm no Trump fan. I think he may be good for the economy and he may reinstate us to a more feared/respected super power in the world. But I'm no fan of him as a human being.

Nevertheless, when Streep started going in the direction of politics while accepting a prestigious award for her acting, I was disappointed. I wanted to talk back to the TV. I wanted to say, "Please! We know what you think. We know your candidate didn't win. We know! We know! We know! Can you just accept graciously and not use your time to take a shot???"

But instead, I listened to what she had to say. And you know what? I couldn't disagree with her on the subject of empathy and accountability. She didn't just take shots. She articulated her concerns regarding empathy. And I share those concerns.

A lack of empathy can be contagious. What we accept and embrace in our leaders will have an impact on our society. And Christians, perhaps more than anyone if we are to have any credibility or effectiveness in our witness for Christ, should be mindful of that. We should not resent her words. We should take them to heart.

Streep didn't do what Stephen Colbert does and go off on a belittling rant. She was focused on one thing. Empathy. And she made a very good point when she said...

"This instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

She went on to say that we need the press to hold leaders accountable. But I would hope that we would all take our roles more seriously in holding others, including but not limited to our leaders, accountable for demonstrations of empathy, respect and kindness.

Streep contended that no community is more vilified than Hollywood, foreigners and the press. I don't agree with her there. I think she failed to include an obvious target, which is Christianity. But the way to counter her is to step up and show more evidence in our lives of true Christianity.

As followers of Christ, we should be champions of empathy and compassion, not making allowances and excuses for bullies. To lash out against Meryl Streep because she said some harsh truths about a candidate we may have voted for is doing what Donald Trump does. To be able to hear her words and acknowledge that those of us who voted for him had to make compromises with our faith and our convictions to give him our vote; that demonstrates integrity.

When we react defensively without being personally attacked, it reveals something inside of US. I will never forget my counselor asking me in a particular situation of conflict:

"Did you feel defensive?"

I said, "Actually, in this instance I did not. Sometimes I do. But this was ridiculous. There was no truth or basis for what I was being accused of. It was so far from what was in my heart that I didn't even feel the need to defend myself."

And he said, "Good. Because whenever you feel defensive, there's something you are protecting; something hit the target; a nugget of truth you don't want to confront in yourself. So you defend."

I had never thought of defensiveness this way. And I've used that as a tool ever since to gain insight into myself. If I feel defensive, especially when nobody is attacking me, I ask myself why I'm protecting myself instead of hearing what is being said; what I don't want exposed; what I may be feeling guilty about. It's a valuable exercise and it's helped me to grow.

So, now that you know what I think about her comments, I'm curious what you think. And I wonder if any of you will tell me.

Either way, have a great day!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Nostalgia, Gratitude, and Moving Forward...

I should begin by confessing: I am not a nostalgic person. 

I think there are several reasons…
  1. I don’t remember enjoying being a kid. I just wanted to grow up…
  2. I grew up in a legalistic, controlling, cultish church where I was forbidden from doing a lot of normal things that kids and teens later feel nostalgia for, while being told that nobody went to heaven unless they attained perfection (which I was pretty sure I could never do), and...
  3. I entered into an abusive marriage at the age of 16, which I did not break free from until I was 43.
It’s not that I don’t have any good memories from all those years. I do. But not much causes me to experience (by definition): 

a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: aka nostalgia.

I had to read that definition twice to realize that nostalgia can be a moment of desire to return “in thought” and not a desire to go back TO a time. And it got me thinking about the little things that repeatedly spark, even in me, a desire to return “in thought” to the past.

Any time I clean glass (whether a window or a mirror or a table), I think of my mom. There are other things that bring her to my mind, of course. But I have this mental image of her constantly cleaning our sliding glass doors in California. If she saw the tiniest smudge anywhere, she had paper towels and Windex in her hands before you could blink. The memory makes me smile. And I think that would make her smile. 

I was only 28 when she died and, as a younger girl and woman, I was pretty focused on what she did wrong in our relationship (prior to her cancer diagnosis). But from the perspective of today’s wisdom and understanding, I see her in a much more flattering light. I see her as a human being with flaws just like me. I look back and see struggles and challenges she met head on that I couldn’t comprehend, let alone appreciate, while she was alive. 

Today I am thankful for many things about her that I took for granted or overlooked at a younger age. 

When I think of her, I smile, I feel a few tears well in my eyes, and then I think about what it will be like to see her again and tell HER these things face to face. I want to stay here as long as I can, but when I get to the other side, that’s a conversation I can’t wait to have with her.

My mom is very much alive in my heart and mind, especially around the holidays. She made holidays so special. She really was Martha Stewart in so many ways. I am in awe of how she cooked and presented the entire Thanksgiving meal with the kitchen fully cleaned before we were all seated at the impeccably set table of fine china and crystal stemware; every item in a china or crystal serving dish. I, on the other hand, serve from the stove buffet style and neglect my china because it has to be hand washed, which is just too much work. 

Every Christmas, she bought a pile of gifts for each of us and our spouses. She loved Christmas and threw her heart into gift giving and baking. But she took a tree down faster than anyone I've ever met. It was gone by Christmas night. With both my tears and my chuckles, I do love to return in thought to those moments and days. I think I love my mom even more now than I did when she was alive and I long to tell her that.

Any time I hear a trombone, I am flooded with memories of my dad. My favorite memories with him are when I was in my tweens and early teens. We played duets; him on the trombone or banjo and me on the piano. We played Stardust and Sentimental Over You. But my favorite was Mame. We played and sang, with Dad on the banjo instead of the trombone. And we even performed it at a school talent show. I think I was in eighth or ninth grade. 

I’m thankful for those sweet memories. I have no desire to actually go back in time, but I do wistfully return there in thought.

Any time I hear “The Stranger” by Billy Joel, I think of my brother Todd. For a couple of reasons. I have a mental image of Todd in his first car, a purple MG, with Billy Joel’s album “The Stranger” playing on the tape deck. But also, for most of our adult years, Todd and I were kind of strangers. We loved each other but we didn’t really know or understand each other on so many levels. This has changed drastically in recent years. We have come a long way and I feel like we are close now. We even talked recently about writing a book together. (I don’t know if my writing ability is enough to tell the big story he’s carrying in his imagination. But it would be fun to try.) 

His ringtone on my cell phone is still “The Stranger” because of my teenage association between him and the song. When I hear it now, though, I think, I should probably change this.

But I don’t. 

And I think it’s partly because it’s a warm and funny reminder of how far we've such a good way.

Every time we sing certain songs in church, I’m taken back to a pivotal time in my life and the emotions I was feeling, along with gratitude for God’s deliverance in my life. I have a specific memory of the first time I sang "Amazing Love" in a congregation. I had recently left the cult I grew up in and was visiting churches with my son and his wife. I was in an emotionally fragile condition because I had just filed for divorce from my abusive husband. I was scared. It felt like I was completely starting over in life at 43. I thought I was old. I was living with my dad so I could go to school full time. And it sometimes felt like I had wasted a lot of my “best” years trying not to bail out of a bad marriage or the church I had spent my life in.

Every time I sing, "I'm forgiven...because You were forsaken...I'm accepted...You were condemned..." I go back in my mind to a little community church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where I sang that song for the first time and was in my infancy of understanding the Gospel. I have a mental image of my sweet daughter-in-law holding her hand over her heart as she sang "You are my King...Jesus...You are my King." That is a moment I will always want to return to in thought, even though I would never want to go back in time to the pain and anxiety I was in the middle of.

There are several songs that especially take me back to chapel at Lipscomb University during this same difficult time in my life. One is "The Heart of Worship." 

"I'm coming back to the heart of worship...and it's all about You...It's all about You Jesus...I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it...when it's all about You...It's all about You Jesus..."

And perhaps the most emotion-packed-time-travel song for me is, "He Knows My Name." 

I remember how the tears of anxiety, followed by tears of comfort and gratitude, would fill my eyes every time we'd sing:

"I have a Maker...He formed my heart...Before even time began...My life was in His hands...He knows my name...He knows my every thought...He sees each tear that falls...and hears me when I call...I have a Father...He calls me His own...He'll never leave me...No matter where I go..."

That song was SO powerful and personal for me; especially "He sees each tear that falls..." because I was crying so much of the time back then. There were days on campus that I could hardly get through without anti-anxiety medication. I didn't understand how my life could have gone so far off track from what I desired and had tried so hard to achieve. It felt like an ending much more than a beginning of something good. But I learned through experience that God has a sunrise for every dark night. And my life was truly just beginning with those painful days, weeks and months.

Tim Keller gave a sermon once that I listened to over and over again. In it, he talks about how the deepest joy is birthed out of the deepest sorrow. And I am living proof of that. I am so grateful for all that God has done in my life. But my capacity to appreciate the joys of my life today are much greater because of the adversity that brought me to them. 

I was much more broken and damaged, back then, than I knew. I still carry some scars and post traumatic stress, which bleed into my mind and heart when someone unknowingly triggers a wound. But I am in awe of the healing and restoration God has brought to me over the last 13 years.

Finally (for this blog post), any time I hear or read a reference to Joel 2:25, I am taken back to a day in August 2003, when I showed one of my psychology professors my engagement ring. He knew my history because I was very open in all my classes and shared my experiences with faculty and students alike. This verse of scripture hadn't been one I had ever focused on, so it caught me by surprise when he looked at my ring, then smiled into my beaming face, and said these words to me:

"I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten."

I have moved forward with my life and I don't spend much time focused on the past, as I once did. I'm more blessed than I could ever deserve if I spent every day of the rest of my life doing good deeds for everyone in my path. I don't want to go back to any other time in my life. I'm savoring the moments that will become sweet memories I want to revisit down the road. But as I wrote this post, which started out with the admission that I am not nostalgic, I realized how many moments I do appreciate going back to in thought and in gratitude. And I have only listed a few.

As we approach the end of another year, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for all I have been given. And I am not thinking of material things. I'm thinking of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, restoration, redemption, friendship, family...all the stuff that makes life so worthwhile.

I was asked recently what my favorite Christmas song was and I said probably "My Grown Up Christmas List" by Amy Grant along with "Sweet Little Jesus Boy/We didn't know it was You" by Trisha Yearwood. My friend said, "You like depressing songs!" Which made me laugh very hard. I like the fun, happy songs too. But I'm drawn to more deeply meaningful messages, for sure.

I will close with the words to this chorus because they move me every year and these truly are my wishes for a world in pain (because at some point or another, we will all know pain)...

No more lives torn apart,
That wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts.
And every one would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Saying Thank You

I was recently asked to write a guest blog post thanking someone who has made a difference in my life. My first thought was, “How will I ever choose one person?” I have so many friends who have been important in my life. They have all made a difference.

My next thought was, “Who has made a difference in my life that only they could have made?” And there was one person who came instantly to my mind. My former sister-in-law.

We were married to brothers for 27 years. During those years, there were times when our husbands had issues with one another and times they weren’t even speaking to each other. But she and I always got along.

When my marriage ended in divorce, I was sad to also be divorced from a family I had loved for decades. I still wanted my sister-in-law in my life. And I would have loved to continue being an aunt to my nephews by marriage. I only wanted to divorce the man who abused me. But my ex was an extremely divisive person who drew lines and expected loyalty. I knew there would be unspoken pressure on my sister-in-law to withdraw from me. My ex actually had the audacity to text me after I was remarried, ordering me not to communicate with any of his family.

But when my ex-husband passed away suddenly in 2011, the only obstacle standing in the way of our continued friendship was removed. And we resumed contact.

In 2012 I began exploring the possibility of writing my second book. My former sister-in-law told me she had seen me post on Facebook about it. I wasn’t sure at that point if my cathartic writing would culminate in a finished book, let alone a published book. But the memories were flowing. I trusted her and offered to share my first two chapters in their rough draft form.

When you write about painful truths, as I have in both my books, you make yourself vulnerable to criticism. You have to endure being attacked by people who don’t want the truth to be told or (as Jack Nicholson once said) can’t handle the truth. People label you in ways you don’t deserve. And you anticipate being called a liar by someone.

For anyone who highly values truth, as I do, there is nothing harder than accepting the reality that someone who should know you better actually believes you would even consider writing lies in a book.

I didn’t know with certainty if she would believe how badly I had been treated during those 27 years. But I knew she was a trustworthy person. And I believed she genuinely cared about me. So I decided to risk sharing my writing with her, chapter by chapter, as I recounted memories going back to before we had met. I reasoned that even if I was not fully believed, at least I would have had the opportunity to be heard. And being heard is a big deal to any victim.

After reading the first two chapters, my sister-in-law responded with such compassion. She wanted me to know that they (my in-laws) had no idea I was being treated so badly. They had only heard the skewed versions of our life that he had told them. It did seem odd when he would show up unexpectedly without me. He would often leave as abruptly as he had come. And they knew he had a dark side. But what I was sharing with her was beyond anything she could have imagined. It was important to her that I knew she was not treated abusively by her husband. And she told me she was sorry for buying into the lies she was told. Not her fault, in my opinion. We lived hours away from each other. She couldn’t have known how abusive he was based solely on his difficult personality. But she remembered also being the butt of his stinging jokes and sarcasm at times, and how uncomfortable she was. She dealt with it much the same way I did; by taking it in stride. The only difference was that she saw him occasionally and I lived with him daily.

I couldn’t have confided in her back then for obvious reasons. And I was careful what I shared with my own family for a whole different set of concerns. Avoiding undesirable repercussions was a continual focus for me.

However, a whole new bond was formed between us (for me anyway) through my sharing and her empathetic responses. Her confidence in my honesty and encouragement to keep writing meant more to me than she could have imagined. But I think it even meant more to me than I could have anticipated. Sharing my deeply personal journey and receiving the kind of feedback she consistently offered was both healing and empowering as a woman and a survivor of abuse.

The need for affirmation is strong in someone who has endured many years of emotional and verbal abuse. One of the most painful aspects of my abuse was having my character, my heart, and my motives continually questioned and/or crucified. Malicious and hateful intentions were assigned to me in every instance of conflict. So I became a person who felt the need to chronically explain myself in the hope of being understood.

Years of this abuse results in scars that may fade over time, but are always faintly there. Those scars are partly why I tend to over-explain myself to this day.

After reading each installment (which she acknowledged as quite painful for her to read), she would consistently close with this sentence: “Keep on writing!” She assured me I was going to help someone, which was the primary goal of my writing. I was so comforted and reassured that she knew I wouldn’t make up lies.

S., for your love and friendship, your compassion, your support and encouragement, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Even though we are separated by many miles today and mostly communicate through email, I feel closer to you than during all the years I was still an official member of your family.

You could have walked away and shown no interest in me or my struggles. I’m sure it would have been easier. But you cared enough to want to know my heart and my pain. To do that, you had to be willing to open your heart and to feel pain that wasn’t your own.

Many people choose to look away from the suffering of others rather than to take it in and be immersed in it – even through reading a book. Many people don’t want to be burdened or stressed beyond their own problems.

You are not one of those people. And I’m grateful to have you in my life.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Choose Laughter

I cleaned for several hours today. After my final task of mopping the kitchen floor, I took a deep sigh of "It is finished!" satisfaction and made my daily protein shake. As I eagerly anticipated sitting down to relax with my smoothie, I knocked it over while reaching for a paper towel, dumping probiotic and ground flax seed all over the freshly mopped floor, the kitchen cabinets, the counter, and me.

Protein shake everywhere! I would normally just make an "Ugh!" sound, but today I was feeling especially grumpy (because I was cleaning and I hate cleaning), so I said a "bad" word. John heard me and said, "It must be bad. You don't usually cuss."

I hadn't chosen laughter quite yet.

What felt initially like an enormous mess and setback only took a few minutes to thoroughly clean up. Even re-mopping the floor wasn't that big a deal. Literally, within ten minutes I had made a new shake and thrown my clothes in the washer. But in that moment of, "I can't believe I did that!" it felt like a much bigger deal than it was.

This morning I accidentally locked myself out of an online account because I couldn't remember my password. I requested an email change from the website. I waited and waited and waited. The email didn't come. So I attempted to answer the security questions instead. It told me my answers were wrong. And one of the questions was my place of birth! I knew I didn't give the wrong answer. There is only one answer and I know where I was born! Nevertheless, my account was automatically suspended. And only THEN did it occur to me that the email might have gone to my spam folder. Sure enough, there was the email I needed with the temporary password.

If only I had thought to check my spam folder before I impatiently went on to the next option!

Of course, I couldn't get through to customer service by phone. It's a government site and I got nothing but a busy signal every time I tried. So I sent an email request. Then I got a reply telling me email responses can take up to three business weeks. Ugh.

Yesterday we went to an appointment we had to make five months in advance. It was a very long time to wait. But September finally arrived. And as we approached the building, the thought occurred to me, "I hope we weren't supposed to bring our passports with us." I rejected the thought. No way. Our passport numbers were in our application, which was already approved.

We arrived early, hoping we might be taken early for our interview. And, luckily, that actually happened! John was called back first. But I bet you can guess what happened next. Within a minute or two, he came back out saying, "Guess what? We were supposed to bring our passports with us for the interview." Ugh.

By the way, the account I managed to get locked out of today is the same online account I need to request a new interview appointment. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I don't actually believe in luck. But if I did, I'd have to say I'm not having a streak of it.

The reality, though, is that my misfortunes are small.

Of course, like you, I have challenges bigger than a messy kitchen floor and a delayed appointment. But everyone has problems.

Not all of life's messes are cleaned up in five minutes like a spilled drink. But often what seems devastating or crushing or maddening on any given day will fade or disappear from memory in a few days, weeks, or months. So why do I frequently waste precious time dwelling on anything I can't control or fix?

Like everybody else on this planet, I have internal struggles that occasionally get the best of me. I think we are the most susceptible to self-condemnation on days when it seems as if we can't do anything right (however small our messes may be). Today was one of those days for me. I know MY mind has an auto-pilot for dwelling on everything I haven't been able to figure out how to "get right." Unfortunately, this default flight plan is actually a holding pattern that circles endlessly, using up fuel but not going anywhere.

For me, the key that unlocks the holding pattern is gratitude. I am blessed.

I will not focus on what's wrong. I'll remind myself to focus on all that is right.

I won't focus on setbacks. I'll focus on the opportunity to live and love ... and clean ... another day.

As I was cleaning up the mess I made today, I consciously reminded myself how blessed I am to have a kitchen to clean and more ingredients to replace a spilled protein shake. Eventually, I'll get to that appointment WITH my passport. And I'll probably never give another thought to the waiting.

But if I do, I know I'll be laughing.

So, it seems to me, the sooner we move on to laughing at ourselves and our imperfections, the better off we'll be.

Sooner rather than later...

   But better late than never.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Upper Hand

In relationships, there are people who care less and people who care more.

Whichever category we fall into, our DNA almost certainly enters in. However, the person who cares least is making a choice; whether consciously or unconsciously. 

A tendency can stem from the instinct to self-protect. It can be learned behavior, a victim mentality. It can be the result of wounds and scars. And it can be flat out pride, arrogance and self-absorption that cultivates this strong desire for superiority. But no matter how well we grasp the psychology of this dynamic, seek to depersonalize it and rise above it, it is still challenging -- at best -- to navigate an honest, loving relationship with someone whose default priority in conflict is often gaining the upper hand.

I'm not simply writing about a concept. I have experienced this again and again over my lifetime. And I've experienced it recently. When a fresh wound is inflicted on top of many old wounds, the pain is magnified. The pain is as familiar as it is deep. 

The pain is not my struggle, though. 

I am good at rising above disrespect and insensitivity because I've had a lot of practice. I've always chosen gratitude over "poor me." 

My struggle is in figuring out how I should choose to respond. 

Years of counseling, books and college courses on emotional health remind me that avoiding conflict is not the equivalent of peace. Sometimes conflict is healthy and necessary. But I am inhibited and haunted (in all relationships) by the fear of not being able to verbally express myself perfectly and uttering words that can never be unsaid in a moment of my own hurt, disappointment or anger. My worst fear is inflicting a wound on someone I love. I never want to intentionally strike or hurt back because I'm hurt. So I either write (because I can choose my words more carefully) or I shut down and withdraw. 

I suppress and wrestle and suppress and wrestle ... until I can rebound, let go, and move on. 

I'm fortunate to have a husband who is my best friend. He listens to me. He gives me insightful feedback when I ask for it (and sometimes even when I don't). Because he is honest with me when I am being sensitive, he has total credibility when he tells me I am not being sensitive.

It's my nature and personality to pursue people, resolution and understanding even when no effort is being made in my direction. I can't think of a single time in my life that I've let pride stand in my way. My greatest struggle right now is in knowing I am going to have to form some new boundaries of my own and guard my heart better than I have up to this point. I may have to accept that the potential for a particular relationship is more limited than I would have hoped or believed. I've come to terms with this reality in other relationships only to have them surprise me and flourish at a time of God's choosing, not my own. With this post, I'm attempting to release this relationship to God in that same way. 

But in spite of the pain and vulnerability that accompanies it, I still want to be the person who cares more. I want to be wise and guard my heart. But I never want having the upper hand to be my goal, much less my priority, in any relationship. 

When I come to the end of my life, regardless of those who do, I know I will not wish I had chosen the upper hand over a compassionate heart.