Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Picking Up When You've Lost

You lost the promotion to a co-worker.
You lost the boy to another girl.
You crashed the car. 
You bet on the wrong horse.
You lost the friend.

And here you are... broken and beaten. Hopeless and helpless. Without purpose. Just... making it from day to day. Hour to hour. Minute to minute.

You need time.  Time to heal, and even time to hurt. Rushing through it only covers and hides the need for healing, never addresses it.  So, take some time.  Hurt. Feel it.  But, deal with it, don't just sweep it under the rug thinking it will go away.  It won't.  Not even time can heal things that you refuse to look at honestly.  They will come back.

But, eventually, when time has done its job, when you've felt the hurt as much as it can stand to be felt...  eventually, the choice lies before you and you have to choose.

Do you continue to wallow in it? Or do you choose to let it go, turn your face to the sun and your back to the pain, and take a step forward?

That choice can require some brutal honesty with yourself. It requires you to face the hurt head-on. It requires you to face your own faults head-on, your own mistakes, your own blame. Sometimes that hurts more than the original failure did. But, not all pain is bad.

Sometimes a little honesty is all you need to see the whole thing clearly.  To know where you messed up. To know where you didn't.

And to know where to go from here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Love Isn't About Competition

The message today is simple.

You are enough.
Just as you.

If you're finding yourself in a situation where you are constantly competing for someone's time and attention (and losing), it might be time to consider that relationship and whether it's worth your energy to continue pursuing it? I've heard it said that if someone wants you in their life, they'll make time for you. So, if someone is consistently not making time for you in their life, what is there left to pursue?

This doesn't have to be some grand drama-heavy thing. I think that there can be many reasons why some relationships end up not working out. Maybe you find yourselves in different phases of life or no longer interested in the same topics. Maybe your normal growing and maturing has led you into different directions that don't match up anymore. Maybe you hurt them and they're just holding you at arms' length, afraid to trust. Sometimes it's you. Sometimes it's them. Sometimes it's a bit of both. Sometimes it's just life, time, and change.

But, in the end, you get to choose what you put your time into. You get to choose what you put your energy into. Your love, your emotions. And if what you're choosing leaves you empty-handed, you might need to ask yourself why you're willing to sacrifice so much for so little.

Maybe your answer changes nothing.

But maybe...  maybe it changes everything.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Time to Get Un-Manipulated?

If you had asked me five years ago if I was easily manipulated, I would have flat out told you "No." I would've been wrong, but I definitely would have denied it.  But honestly, I didn't know. I didn't realize it.

I can remember having a conversation with a friend once.  It was private, and I had no intention of sharing it with anyone. A mutual friend of ours later asked me what the person had said.  I really didn't want to share that.  But when they fixed me with a series of hurt "I'm just trying to be interested in my friends' lives" and "Nothing interesting ever happens to me," I caved.  I felt really guilty. I always regretted that.  And this sort of thing happened again and again.

It took me awhile to see it. It took me a long time to be able to see over the friendship to the manipulation that was so prevalent in it.  But once I saw it, I couldn't un-see it.  Not only that, it opened my eyes to the other areas and relationships in my life where I allowed myself to be manipulated, where I succumbed to the guilt trips.  Until then, I simply didn't know that I was so simply controlled.

But once I began to be aware of it, I didn't like it. I really didn't like it. The thought that I was so easily swayed bothered me, and I began a slow process of changing that.


First, I had to learn who the manipulators were in my life.  I needed to understand my friendships better. I needed to understand which of my relationships existed because we actually liked each other, and which merely existed for the services I provided. That took some time and some honesty. The honesty was probably the hardest part of this. It's hurtful to admit that people that you thought loved you were willing to do that to you.

But once I figured out who they were, I had some decisions to make. I had to decide essentially how to curtail my exposure to them. Were they friends that were fringe-y enough that I could just fade out of relationship with them and no one would really notice that much?  Or were they people that I had to figure out how to deal with?


Second, I had to learn what acts of manipulation worked on me. They aren't the same for everyone and you can't recognize it when it happens to you if you don't know what to look for.  These are the things that are really difficult to un-see once you've seen them.  As I went through this, there were so many "I can't believe I let this go on" moments for me. I couldn't believe that I had never seen these things before, and I felt ashamed and really mad at myself.

Some common methods people use:

  • Projecting their own superiority on a matter, minimizing your ability to contribute anything useful
  • Making you feel that you are unworthy, unable, or stupid
  • The "After everything I've done for you, you can't just do one thing" approach.
  • "You have so much and I have so little."
  • Using your weaknesses against you
  • Using their weaknesses as leveraging tools
Do any of those feel familiar to you?


Finally, I had to set some boundaries with those people and stick to them. This was definitely the hardest part of the whole deal.  When you start to resist the manipulation that has always worked on you before, they won't be happy.  After all, it used to be so easy to get you to do what they wanted.  Of course they won't be happy.  The trouble is, they'll work harder and use every trick they know to get you to go back to the status quo. They will treat you like you are the wrong one, the unkind one, the disrespectful one.   You are the one being unfair. 

You will have to stand your ground and be strong.

Be Strong

Friends, you deserve to be respected. I'm not saying that you or I deserve OUR own way all the time either. But, it's not unreasonable to expect to be respected. It's fair to expect to not be used by those in our lives. You are not wrong for standing up and asking for that respect.

Don't lie back down in front of them. You can do this. Seek out those friends who care for you just for being you. Ask for their support and encouragement.  You're probably going to need it as you learn to not give in.

But, when you come out the other side... and I pray that you will... You'll be stronger and more amazing.  

And I can't wait to see that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Tales: Waiting for a Boy

Rachel dropped the brush back into the bottle and blew on her nails. He would be here any minute.  Applying a layer of lipstick, she made a kissing face at her reflection in the mirror. Did she look okay? Something always seemed to go wrong.

She checked the window, but the street was still empty.  The clock said he would be here in five minutes or less. Five minutes or less.

Rachel eyed her reflection one more time.  Her hair was perfect. Her make-up was perfect. Her outfit was perfect. Everything was perfect this time. Nothing could go wrong this time.  She heard a motor and ran to the window.

His car stood in her driveway.  He climbed out and glanced up at her window. He was so handsome. Tall. Dark. And very Handsome. Rachel was so transfixed that she jumped when the doorbell rang.

She ran down the stairs and pulled open the door. "Hi Jacob," she greeted breathlessly, leaning against the door in what she hoped was an inviting pose.

Jacob nodded.  "Hi Rachel.  Good to see you... again."  He unbuttoned the bag in his arms and pulled out a box. "You guys having a party or something? You're sure ordering a lot of pizzas."

Rachel blinked. "What? Umm... yes.  Yes, a party. That's it." She smiled up at him. "Do you want to come in?"

Jacob shook his head. "Sorry, I have to work.  Pizza delivery, you know.  But I'll see you around, okay?"

Rachel gave him the money for the pizza and waved goodbye as he walked down the path to his car.  Closing the door behind her, she wandered into the kitchen and tossed the pizza onto the stack already delivered.  He said he'd see her around.

Picking up the phone, she pressed a few buttons and waited.

"Hi, Pizza Hut?  I'd like to order another pizza..."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Both Happy and Sad: How Can That Be?

Everything isn't simple.

I am both happy with and frustrated by the events of my life.
I am sad for the losses of friendship but grateful for the lessons they taught me.
I am hurt by the betrayals but glad for the situations they helped me avoid.
I am delighted with the experiences I've had and jealous for the ones I missed.
The same events bring me joy and envy, grief and solace.

And I don't always know how these things can be, but they are equally true.

To hurt so much for things with one part of me, but also to be so grateful for the same things.
To know that the losses were right, but to grieve for them as well.
To be happy for growing but to grieve the roads I took to get there.

Life is full of contradictions, and it is okay and real and true for them all to exist at the same time.

Everything isn't simple.
In fact... few things are.

But, perhaps it's their very complexity that make life interesting and fascinating and worth getting up for.

So, perhaps today I will be happy and sad.
I will be anxious and calm.
I will be broken and whole.

And that will be my life, which I will embrace wholeheartedly.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Afraid to Trust You

You hurt me.

Or maybe I hurt you, too.  I don't know anymore.

I forgave you for that. I know I tried. I hope you forgave me too.

But when it came to trying again, when it came to putting myself at your mercy...

I held back. I couldn't give you that power.

I'd been hurt once.

That's not even all the way true.  I'd been hurt a lot of times.

I'm not sure you even cared.

I was afraid to trust you. I was afraid to be hurt.

Because, you see, the words you spoke and the things you did, they didn't match up.

I didn't know how to separate the truth from the lies anymore, and I wearied of trying.

I am not a very discerning person. I am often fooled, often hurt.

Some people call that gullible. Some people ridicule that and make me feel that believing people is a shortcoming.

Maybe it is. Maybe it's naivete to hope for and believe in the possibility of the good.

All I know is not being discerning means I'm wrong a lot.

Not being discerning means I hurt a lot.

And I was afraid of hurting again.

So I decided not to trust you.

That remains a decision filled with pain and doubt and sometimes regret.

The past can be loud.

And misleading. We don't always remember the truth, often just a twisted version of it.

But I decided.

And forward is the only direction left to go. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday Tales: My Pirate Story

It happened about three years ago.

I was first mate on a merchant vessel, and we were cargoing fine linen from Italy to London.  Well, that isn't 100% honest.  We were shipping fine linen. But the real money was in the Italian wines we had stowed away in the belly of the ship to smuggle into England. Liquor taxes took the profit of sea travel right out of the equation!

It was my eighth run.

There was always a danger, once we got into English waters, of getting held up by the Customs officials. But, we'd all gotten pretty good at being convincing in our story. I could lie with the straightest of faces, and the Captain's young wife could make a man quickly forget whatever it was he was there to do with a toss of her head and a slipped button.  And she did, too.

The bigger danger, though, was Pirates.  Customs had to follow protocol.  Pirates could do whatever they damn well pleased.  A few slit throats meant nothing to them, and if you had cargo they wanted, they'd board you, slice you to pieces, and take off with your entire ship. Although, I suppose you wouldn't care all that much about the thievery if you were lying there dead.

So, it was with a bit of panic and dread that I woke up that night to hearing Billy, who was on lookout, cry out, "PIRATE SHIP!!" I shoved my legs into a pair of breeches and ran out of my cabin, still tugging on my boots.  I nearly knocked the captain down in my rush to get to the deck.

"Sorry, Captain," I said to him.

But, he just nodded at me.  He was a man of not many words.

We reached the side of the ship and looked behind us into the mist.  Sure enough, Billy was dead on right.  A dark ship slid behind us in the water, black flag at its mast.  I glanced up at our own sails and then behind us again, judging the speeds of the two vessels.

"We can't outrun that, Captain," I said.  But again, he only nodded. We watched as the pirate ship came alongside us, our swords drawn.  Just waiting.

Someone on the pirate ship threw an anchor over the side of their vessel, anchoring the two boats together.

"ARGH, Matey!" came a growl from across the way. "You have been caught by the dreaded Pirate Greenbeard!"

I raised an eyebrow and muttered to the captain, "Greenbeard? You ever hear of a Pirate Greenbeard?"

The captain shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

The pirate's announcement continued. "We are the scourge of the Mediterranean! We've captured dozens, nay, HUNDREDS, of ships! Burned them to pieces!  Took their women! But we are in a fair mood on this night...  Simply pass over your cargo and we will let you pass!"

I looked to the captain. It was his ship. Finally, he spoke. "Nay! Come over and get it if you want it so badly!"

"Captain, is that wise?" I said under my breath. "They're pirates."

His eyes never left the pirate ship. "If I'm going to lose my life savings, and even my life, I'd like to look the man responsible in the eyes while he's doing it." the captain said quietly.

There was a long pause.

"If you don't comply, we will take your ship for ourselves!"

The captain called back. "Try it."

A crack sounded and we were suddenly overrun by Pirate Greenbeard and his... crew.

Not that I'd seen a lot of pirates, mind you, but these were the shortest pirates I'd ever seen.  I'm talking, four feet tall here.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tall.  I admit it.  I started to laugh. The thought that I'd been so scared of these pirates?  Hysterical.

The captain tried to hide it, but he was chuckling under his beard, too.  He bowed with a flourish, mirth still in his eyes. "Ah, welcome to my ship, Pirate Greenbeard. Please forgive me if I don't hand over my cargo at your say-so.  I was prepared to fight a real pirate to the death to protect my livelihood and the lives of my crew and wife.  But, somehow I don't think that's going to be necessary."  He gestured to a cabinboy. "But, I would be happy to have you all escorted back to your ship, with a bottle of wine for your trouble.  A gift of thanks to you for providing me with a much-needed laugh tonight."

Pirate Greenbeard frowned. "I'm afraid that won't be necessary."  He nodded to his first mate. "Gentlemen?"

I'm frankly embarrassed to tell you what happened next.  We were grown men. Sea-weathered. TALL grown men... with swords and daggers and cutlasses. They were... dwarves. Comically short. I don't know how it happened.  One second we were drawing our swords, the next they were stabbing at our legs. I'd never fought anyone who attacked that way.  Grown men can't reach that far down, I suppose. But it was amazingly effective.  Soon, we were all bloody from the thighs down... and...

Tied to the mast.

We watched helplessly as the pirates ran up and down from the deck into the hull, taking every bottle of our precious Italian wine. And as the pirate ship left us (alive, at least), they sang, "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me!"

A lone voice, maybe Pirate Greenbeard himself, started the cheer, and as the ship disappeared into the mist, I heard them all.

"Short people can do anything!!!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Apologizing When You're Not Wrong

"I'm sorry."

Two little words that honestly can make such a big difference.  Perhaps they're not enough by themselves.  I've instructed my children to apologize often enough with sullen acquiescence to know that just saying the words isn't enough.  But, I've also been in relationships enough to know that the absence of the words can be equally hurtful and damaging.

When we're in conflict with each other, it's right to apologize. Maybe they're just words, but they're also words that communicate a desire to be right with each other.

But what if you don't feel wrong?

It's easy to say you're sorry when you feel like you made a mistake somewhere along the way. You have something to apologize for, then.  (Hard on the ego, maybe. But, still doable.) But, what about when you don't feel wrong? What about when, in fact, you're pretty darn sure that you are/were in the right? Why on earth should you be the one to apologize?

The Whys

--What is more important -- The relationship or your rightness? Sometimes we just have to decide that the health of the relationship, the existence of the relationship, is more important than us being right. It's more important to still be friends and care about each other than it is for us to win. Being right simply isn't worth the price. Sometimes you have to choose the high road.

--When a relationship is in conflict, it's shaken up. Trust gets violated. Belief in each other gets shaken. Doubts creep in. An apology gives your relationship a chance to heal.  It isn't an instant-fix.  Any apology needs to be backed up with actions later on in the course of things.  But an admission of regret over what happened gives the conflict enough of a reprieve that the relationship can begin to heal. Trust can be slowly sewn back together. Doubts can be assuaged. Belief can be strengthened.

-- You could be wrong.  Oh, I know that you're pretty sure you're right.  In fact, you're completely sure that you're right.  But, could you be wrong? I think that, for most of us and in most situations, there's a chance.  And oftentimes, when time has passed and we're able to look back with clearer hindsight, we can see that we weren't quite as right as we thought we were.

The Hows - Simple

--Don't lie. People know when we're lying, and we don't want to damage the relationship further with lies and untruths. Sincerity is important.

-- Apologize honestly for what you can.  If you're sure that you were right in your actions, is there a part of it that you can be honestly regretful over?  Maybe you're sorry that what you did or said hurt them. Maybe you regret not taking the time to consider how your words or actions would affect them. Maybe you wish you had consulted them before acting.  Somewhere, you can surely find something that you can be honest about, something you can convey sorrow and regret for.  Apologize for those things and mean them.

Because the relationship is worth it. Because your care for each other is worth it. Because being part of each other's lives is worth it.

Be willing to apologize... even if you're sure you're not wrong.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Respect Yourself Enough

Respect yourself.

Do you find yourself always sacrificing because you think you have to?  There's a difference between being kind to others and letting them walk all over you, and it's really important for us to find where that line is. I think we often confuse humility with self-degradation.

Respect yourself enough.

Do you ever find someone using you for a doormat simply because they always know that they can? If you let them, they will keep on doing it... forever.  Why would they stop?  You're there, you're easy, you'll let them. You'll do whatever they ask you to do.  They won't stop unless you stop lying down in front of them.

Respect yourself enough.

Do you find yourself in situations where those in your life refuse to take responsibility for their actions because they know you will take care of it? You don't have to fix everyone. Help?  Sure, maybe. But, others' choices aren't your responsibility. Your choices are your responsibility. Their choices are... their responsibility.  And if you continue to take on the consequences for their choices, everyone loses. Even them! We're meant to take our own, learn our own lessons, grow and mature. If you take away the opportunities, they can never grow.  And you end up paying their prices and never getting around to your own lessons.

Respect yourself enough.

Do you allow those close to you to guilt trip you into getting their own way because they know you will cave? Don't let them lay that on you. Be strong enough to do what you know is right. People who guilt trip are manipulators. Don't... do not... let people like that dictate what you do, what you say, what you like, how you feel. Don't give in.  Every time you do, you give them a little bit more power over you. And that is not the kind of person you want having influence over your life.  They don't care about you at all. Why do we let those kinds of relationships into our lives?

Respect yourself enough.

You are strong, so much stronger than you think you are. And you are amazing.  I guess that's the thing.  You don't think you're amazing. You see all the places that you think you lack, and those places seem so big.  They dwarf, for you, the places in which you shine. They make you think that you're lesser and that you aren't good enough. They make you think that you don't deserve respect from anyone, least of all yourself.

But I think you're wrong. You do. And you're better than all that. You don't need to let people walk all over you. You don't need to let people use you. You don't need to let people make you think that you aren't okay if you don't drop everything to give them their way.

You're better than that. You're stronger than that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Shaped by Our Pasts

I refuse the idea that we are defined by our pasts. Stubbornly. I reject the notion that who I am today is nothing more than a predetermined result of the experiences I've had, the trials that have been put upon me. I am not a victim. We are not victims.

At the same time, those experiences do help to shape who we are. I suppose this is a good thing. After all, it's in the way we push through and survive our trials that we are able to grow and become stronger people. Our experiences and hardships are a part of who we are.

I think my resistance to the whole thing lies in the idea that our pasts have a dictatorial say in who we become. I have a friend who recently wrote about how her parents' divorce made her anxious and instilled a need in her to exert extreme control on her life. I have another who spends so much time bitterly blaming her past that she can hardly see the blessings in her life to move forward. For myself, the crash and burn of some of my recent friendships has made it really hard for me to trust anyone, and very easy for me to cocoon myself in social isolation.

All these things are true. Our lives are definitely influenced by our pasts, Who we are is shaped by our pasts. But I can't leave it there. I just can't.

We still get to choose how we respond to those pasts. We can choose to let go of the control we've convinced ourselves we need to have. We can choose to stop blaming our pasts for every little thing that's wrong in our lives. We can choose to trust, even if we've been hurt before. We get to choose how we respond.

I'm reminded of an experience I had in college. It was an early education class and we were discussing our own childhood experiences. The girl next to me recounted how her parents had divorced and she'd become a second mother to her younger siblings. She was very bitter and angry about this.

It struck me because I had the same experience. My parents divorced when I was 9 years old; my sisters were 6 and 2. Being positive that my dad had no idea how to take care of children and with my mom going back to college, I also took on a 2nd Mom sort of role with my sisters -- only bitterness was the last thing I felt over it. I was glad for the close relationships with my sisters that resulted from the situation. I was grateful for the skills and qualities that had been bred in me through the experience.

Same past. Different choices in how we responded.

We all have that choice. Our pasts do shape us-- but we still get to choose our responses to those pasts.

We get to choose.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Tales: The Fairy Wishes Management Meeting


The bell sounded and the employees shuffled in.  The rustle of taffeta and tulle, silk and satin filled the air as the morning's staff settled into their chairs around the conference table for the morning meeting.

Also, the flurry of wings.

Percy Pixiebottom, an unfortunate name for such a distinguished fairy, stood at the front of the room, adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. "Good morning, folks!"

The group mumbled a return greeting, sleepily.

Percy tried again. "I said 'Good morning.'"

"Good morning, sir!" Jenny answered cheerily. Some of the others rolled their eyes. Jenny was always so perky.  Even for a fairy.

Percy clapped his hands together. "Alright, let's get started. Jack, an update on the children's division?"

"Mr Pixiebottom, things are going well." Jack, manager of the Children's Division, stood and adjusted his glasses. "Wishes have been coming in at a normal pace, our call completion rate is at an all-time high, and morale is up. We've had a somewhat higher-than-normal request surge for puppies and candy, so we're going to need to find somewhere in the budget to allow for that. Other than that, we've had the usual request list of video games and cell phones. But, so far, we're on target to hit all of our quotas."

"Thanks, Jack.  Good work as always."

"Video games and cell phones?" A creaky voice came from the back of the room.  Someone groaned.  This speech came every week. Charles Dustinem struggled to his feet, his wings struggling to help him up in his old age. "Back in my day, children didn't wish for video games and cell phones. Back in my day, we stocked swords and shields and arrows. Back in my day--"

Percy interrupted. "Thank you, Mr Dustinem. Of course, we all miss those days. But, unfortunately, even the Fairy Wishes Division must advance with the times. And if the children of the world are wishing for Xboxes and iPhones, well, we must go along with it." He scanned the room for the next update. "Jenny? How are things in the Mother Division?"

Jenny smiled brightly. "Oh, things are wonderful, sir! Wishes are coming in faster than you can beat your wings! Of course, our wishes aren't as easy to grant as puppies and candy."

Jack mimicked her behind her back. Jenny never did give the Children's Division enough credit.

She continued, "We have just brokered a deal with Starbucks to make sure that all harried mothers get a little extra syrup and caffeine in their lattes at no additional charge, and we're very excited about that.  We've perfected a spell to lull children to sleep at naptime, and we're working on a collaboration with the Teenager Division to trade a dip in adolescent surliness for unpunished curfew violations."

Percy nodded. "Excellent.  Dads Division update, Pete?"

Suddenly, the door opened, and a young fairy boy came hurtling into the meeting. "Mr Pixiebottom! Mr Pixie bottom!"

Percy frowned. "Michael, is it? You realize you are interrupting the Managers' meeting? Can't this wait?"

Michael wrung his hands. "I know, sir. I'm very sorry. But I needed to tell you that... well...  You see, I was flying a load of dandelion seeds to the factory. You know the ones that people can blow and get wishes?  They were to be distributed according to plan to meadows around Europe next month. But..."


"I dropped it."

A communal intake of breath sounded throughout the room. Percy spoke carefully. "You dropped it.  Where did you drop it?"

Michael winced. "Along Sycamore Street in Allanstown." He kicked his feet. "Half a block from the new elementary school."

A groan filled the room and Jack hustled to the door. "I'm on it, Mr Pixiebottom.  Although I don't know where I'm going to find the extra fairy staff at this time of year." He stopped to fix young Michael with a look of disgust. "Nice going, Michael. Do you know how much work you just made for my team??"

As the fairies all shuffled out to help take up the slack, Jenny paused at the door to pat Michael on the shoulder.

He looked up miserably. "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm never going to make it as a fairy."

"It's alright, dear. Some of the best fairies were the worst apprentices. You should have seen the messes Jack made when he was your age. Once, he got puppies and elephants mixed up.  You should have seen the look on the mother's face when her son won an elephant at the circus. Keep trying, darling. Look on the bright side.  You can only get better."

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