Tag Archives: faith

Closer to Love

Mat Kearney: Closer to Love

Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two very thought-provoking things happen. The first was when a dear friend asked if I “missed being in a relationship,” after I mentioned the commitment I made to ride this year out single so I could focus on self-reflection and getting to know MYSELF through a variety of people and experiences. The second was when I ran across an incredibly dynamic and attractive individual – one of those people you just instantly connect with, that get you thinking intensely about what you want in life, somehow. You know those people – the game-changers. The “hail marys” of your life that skyrocket you into self-reflection and sometimes, powerful life changes.

Between those two incidents, I’ve been thinking deeply on how my approach to love has changed in the last decade. Thinking about the assumptions I now make about self and world, about how I’ve lost the romance along the way amidst the pain, and about the bigger picture of human relationships and connection.

I’ve been reading an amazing book lately called “Waking Up: a Guide to Spirituality without Religion” (available on amazon – highly recommend it!). In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that people tend to love one of two ways: first, for what you give them or how you make them feel, and second, for who you are. He calls the first “transactional love” and makes a firm point that this type of love exists in a vacuum – it cannot survive if practiced by one or either individual – in any type of relationship. Ironically, I’ve said this in my own way upon reflecting on my past this last few years. I say often that “it is possible to be loved selfishly, while loving selflessly.” 

My own experience of platonic and familial love has been powerful and life-changing. I have an incredibly, unconditionally loving family. Parents who love each other and their daughters with reckless, selfless abandon. I have friends who will be there for me at the drop of the hat – who truly love who I am, regardless of what I can do for them, or how I’ve changed. I’ve magnetized more and more of these people this last few years, and I am deeply grateful for them.

What has been painful for me is the romantic aspect of love. I have a deep, vested interest in the success and wellbeing of every stranger I meet. Truly, I care instantly for people, and want their best. If I only touch their lives briefly, I want to touch them powerfully, positively, and inspirationally. I want to help everyone. I’ve always been that way, and I passionately love this about myself.

This is, however, crippling for me in romantic relationships. In a culture where what we have – what we own – seems to determine our self-value, people seem to be just another commodity to acquire. Something entertaining, fulfilling, satisfying – to discard when the amusement has passed or the newer model becomes available. We’ve marginalized human relationships in our quenchless thirst for the next-best-thing.

I’ve never loved this way. I can honestly say that even in two long, emotional, deeply powerful, monogamous relationships, I’ve felt every day that I wanted the best of my partner first and foremost – even if their best was not me, or not what I wanted. I was more invested in their future, their health, their self-fulfillment, than in my selfishness on any level.

There is a fine line to walk here. I fully recognize that while selflessness is admirable, a martyr mentality is not a healthy approach to romantic love. What I’ve come to recognize the last few years is that love is at times, selfish. Love begins with self-love, and self-love INCLUDES a certain level of selfishness – the courage to say “I want this.” The commitment to speak up when we are hurt. The ability to ASK. 

Somewhere along the way, in the darkest places of my broken marriage, in the corners of my living room – as small as possible, hiding from the world and from my shattering reality – I learned that if I expected nothing, asked for nothing, dreamed of nothing – if I turned fear into open-handed coexistence, if I took away the romance… I was less brutally torn apart by rejection and sharp words and raised fists and a relentless verbal destruction of the things I had always found most beautiful about myself.

I learned not to ask, not to hope, because there is nothing more painful than loving selflessly, and being loved transactionally in return. There is nothing more painful than realizing that you love more deeply and powerfully than your significant other is capable of loving you. There is nothing worse than being loved intermittently, haphazardly, while loving someone with love like the ocean – vast, expansive, endless, deep, constantly moving and changing but always there. There is nothing sharper and more destructive than the careless wounds of someone you love wholly and completely for everything they are, and can be. 

I’ve swung to the opposite extreme these days – not to selfish love, but to the absence of romantic love. I expect nothing, hope for very little, and keep my hands open. I reassure people over and over that I’ll never ask anything of them – that I expect nothing of them – I don’t dream or read into things or romanticize anything, because it is much easier for me to accept the transience of human relationships than it is to hope that something powerful, purposeful, and earth-shattering could come into my life, and remain. 

This year of committing to be single is so very intentional. These are the revelations I need to make – the observations about my extremes that I need to master, to conquer – to find that middle ground. To find the balance between love and martyrdom. To practice discernment in avoiding transactional lovers, but investing fully where I find the possibility of something lasting.

Somewhere amidst the ashes of my former life, there are burning coals of romance and hope and passion and a curious desire to be loved the very same way I love everyone else in my life.

But if there is one, simple way to explain the evolution I am undergoing, it is this:

The more I love myself, the closer I feel to love. 

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What Doesn’t Kill Me

If you look back on a brief synopsis of my life the last decade, you’d wonder how I am who I am today, how I am where I am – and where the hell I’m headed.

  • 7 years of chronic illness. Hospitals, dressing changes, PICC lines, never a normal life like all my friends had from 18-24… so much crying and so much fear. I went to bed wondering how much pain the next day would bring.
  • 3 years of intense emotional and physical pain in my marriage. Leaving and starting over as a single mother. Begging for money from strangers on my drive. Minimum wage, credit cards. The devil at my back, driving me to succeed because a Little Someone needed me to.
  • Moving for an opportunity that fell through 2 weeks after I had spent my entire, meager savings relocating and signing my first lease as a single mother. Getting a job two days later that fell through 2 months later when I was fired for reporting sexual harassment. Washing cars to make ends meet. Studying my ass off to recertify as a trainer. Never knowing every month if what I had would be enough. Eating rice cakes and peanut butter to survive. 11 things in collections… I simply couldn’t pay them.
  • Finally relocating for a better life, with someone I truly loved who treated me well, and MAKING it, first time in my life I wasn’t afraid of not surviving… breaking up 11 months later and facing my life head-on again, with a dramatic increase in living costs, and no help – once again, single mother, running from all of the possible failure at my back.

With the amount of fear and crying and that tight throat feeling I’ve had this last decade or more, I should be a bitter, jaded, angry, person. I should be cynical, fearful of change, living in anxiety and closed off to risks. I should be, but I am not.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” – we have all heard it, but it’s not automatically true.

What doesn’t kill you can leave you broken. Your pain can debilitate you. Change you, degrade you, hurt you. Leave you alone in the darkness.

What doesn’t kill you can leave you destroyed – a shipwreck of humanity on the shores of broken dreams and one too many prayers for salvation.

Or…

It can make you stronger. But you know what the difference is in that “or”?

It’s just YOU. YOU are the difference. Your choice is the difference. Your determination, your ability to keep your chin up no matter how many times life throws a left hook and drops you. No matter how many times you’re beaten down and broken and hurt and afraid, no matter how many times you hit the “can’t” wall – no matter how many times life abuses your hopes and tarnishes the beauty of your optimism – YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE.

You decide what you will make of your pain. You decide what will come of your past. YOU. YOU DECIDE.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL TO ME. The little things are precious. Human connection is empowering. The ability to relate to others in pain I’ve experienced is priceless. Faith is a beacon. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I live hopeful, determined, progressive, disciplined, driven, strong. The world is bigger, more open, less limiting for the limitations I’ve experienced.

Life has never been easy for me, but my callouses are hard-earned, and impenetrable. I’m tough as nails, because I CHOSE TO BECOME STRONGER.

I am deeper, wiser, kinder, more hopeful, more loving, more outward-focused, more joyful, because life didn’t kill me. It didn’t break me. I pick myself up every damn time, and I FUCKING CHOOSE TO LIVE.

Here I am in sunny San Diego, surrounded by amazing friends, strapped again but LOVING the fact that I GOT MYSELF HERE. I toughened up, I CHOSE. I DECIDED TO BE STRONGER.

What didn’t kill me made me BEAUTIFUL.

Never forget that YOU are the determining factor in your life… who you become will be a result of what you choose to do with what COULD kill you. BE STRONGER. BE WISER, BE MORE FAITHFUL, DRIVEN, PASSIONATE, OPEN, LOVING, KIND, POWERFUL, CAPABLE…

Be STRONGER.

I believe in you.

smile

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The Power of Experience

Day three  – in a row – of blogging. This has certainly never happened before, and it feels as good as my coffee tastes this morning. 

The older I get (as I approach the ripe age of 27, ripe being an apt adjective for this post), the more I realize that when people said “you won’t understand until you’re older”, what they’re really speaking of is experience. 

There are some things that you simply cannot learn without time and experience. 

This valued ingredient of maturity, experience, is also the reason why some people age and never mature. There are people so sheltered, who run and hide from the challenges, risks, successes and failures that life brings, and as a result fail to develop the depth of character that can come from experiencing more of the world. 

The majority of the unexperienced are narrow-minded, and lack empathy and respect. 

It is fairly impossible to be immature without being unexperienced. 

Here is the best illustration I have for you:

Growing up, I was quite sheltered, as has been previously discussed. This kept me from much pain, but also slowed my maturing, and kept me close-minded, arrogant, and self-righteous. 

I would hear about women who were married, unhappy, wanted a divorce, and I would be shocked, and make generalizations common to the church culture: “Well, she shouldn’t have gotten married if she didn’t realize marriage was work”. “Divorce is way too easy these days”. “They need counseling”. “She didn’t ever love him if she wants a divorce”. “If she prays more fervently and realizes her heart is deceitful, she will come around”. 

One woman left her husband, and weeks later was with another man. My brain processed: “Adulterer”. “Sinner”. “Slut”. 

My categories for right and wrong were limited simply to what I had heard was right. They were limited by my inexperience.

Years later, many years later, I left an abusive marriage. I was a shell of a human being. Destroyed emotionally, and terrified. I felt I had no value. I was lost and broken. If I had stayed in that marriage, I strongly believeI would have eventually killed myself (or been killed) from fear and depression. Very few people knew anything of that marriage but the happy exterior. The young me, the inexperienced me, looking in, would have been appalled that I left. Shocked that I wanted a divorce months after I left.

But it was right. 

Months after this, I was on the road to recovery in abuse counseling. I was dating. 

What. Dating? And still legally married. 

The young me, the inexperienced me, would have been stunned.

But it was right. 

Even more stunned when, after months of a few dates with various individuals, I met the love of my life, a gentle, amazing, kind, empathetic, patient, loving man, and he moved in with me, long after I left my ex-husband, but before the final processing date for the divorce. 

Technically, according to law, I was a married woman living with another man. Our separation paperwork agreement allowed for this, but my younger “conscience” would not have. Nor would the culture I grew up in, I’m sure. 

But it was right. 

Looking at every step of that journey, I regret none of it. I know exactly why every decision was made, and made in good conscience. Experience has taught me that many things which seem so very black and white are never so until you walk through them, alone, yourself; painfully, slowly, sincerely, with all of the emotional wrestling matches you will encounter on the way, and all of the incredible “AHA!” moments that experience brings with those painful struggles.

It is to my shame that I made so many harsh judgments of others growing up. The older I get, the more I learn to never judge what seems a certain way from the outside. Unless someone is hurting someone else or directly self-harming, no judgments are made. I cannot speak without walking in their shoes, and the likelihood is, because I haven’t had to, I wouldn’t be strong enough to understand the lessons they are learning, anyway.

Experience is the greatest teacher, and the most painful one. 

I note, painfully, the inexperience of people I know, as a reason for their judgment, arrogance, and self-righteous behavior. 

Purely and simply, people fear what they do not understand.

Put more clearly, they fear what they have not experienced. 

Fear drives people to judge, hate, and hurt.

Be slow to judge what you cannot understand, what you have not been called to experience. Respect the painful journeys of others, in their own uniqueness, with their own set of trials and understanding.

And pursue experience. Take risks, interact with people outside of your “experience circle”. Learn from them, learn to love and respect the differences, and release fears of the unknown. 

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Time

Toss a pebble of sorrow

Into an ocean of memories

Salty with tears

Ripples of unfulfilled promise

Waves of emotion
Crashing on the shores

Of bitter sand; grains of beautiful shells

Once homes to cherished jewels
Laughter, friendship, and hope.

Gaze on the shoreline
A mellow moment of history’s introspection
Reflection of shimmering sun’s rays of joy
Darkened by clouds of shattered dreams
Tempests of self destruction
Helpless at the helm.

Listen to the wind whisper stories past
Vivid imprints of the footprints of a soul
Ghostly shadows of haunted dreams
Frustrations brightened by threads of past beauty
Clipped, snipped, broken, a tapestry undone
A landscape unpainted
A story, with no final chapter
A neverending storm with an eerie final calm.
 
Sink into sands of time
Memories slipping through fingers
Coarse, real, tangible, present
Shifting, falling, moving, passing
Eroded dunes of opportunity
Withheld but barely by thin roots of seagrass
Clinging desperately to a past heavy with companionship.
 
Hear the albatross cry hope
Over the siren’s song of the past
Horizons bright with promise
After blood red setting sun
Captain’s pride
Destiny’s wake
Strong oars
Weathered hands
Bright sails
Steady wind

Tomorrow’s promise.

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Redemption

Life has been a wild ride

Of broken, faltering merry go round
Horses, wooden

Up and down;
Splinters of bygone pain,

Blistering skin,
Callouses, rainy

Storms and tempests wearing thin

Faith in the real

Truest forms of friendship:

The relationships which seal

Longevity with integrity and slip

A thread of hope

Through walls constructed for safety

Guarding hearts; rope
And steel, woven thick

From time and hurt

To keep out tricks,
Lies, false promises, the worst

Betrayals of love and truth.

That tendril curl, a vine
Twisting green, alive, promising
Thriving, growing, twining
From roots deep, shining
Sun’s rays from souls
Tenacious, unfaltering, beautiful
Made stronger with time and full
Knowledge of self;
Of value, of needs, of the world.

Dreams once shelved,
Dusted, cracked open, unfurling
Promises; tomes of wisdom,
Beauty, amidst unforgotten pain,
The surest confidence of future to come
Bright with honest gain,
Seen largely from contrast:

Diamonds of present company

More brilliant against mistakes of the past.

 

 

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The Classic Cop-out: “Everything Happens for a Reason”

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with someone who is not only intelligent and funny, but also takes the time to think deeply on things and to challenge me (another way of saying “call me on my bull shit”). I was quite surprised to find myself challenged by this person the other day on a phrase I regularly toss around: “Everything Happens for a Reason”.

In my arrogance, I’ve always considered this altruistic phrase to be a by-product of my character development from circumstances I’ve been through. To me, it was a way of saying that good can come from the worst situations; it’s all about how you use it, what you take from it.

However, just because that is the nuance I cling to does not mean that it carries that weight and inference with others. As my friend pointed out, it’s really a dumbass saying: “Everything Happens for a Reason” is honestly stating the obvious.

No shit, Sherlock. Everything happens for a reason… even science alone tells us that. Chain reaction theory, causal events…

like, duh.

This was one of those slapped-in-the-face-with-a-wet-noodle-step-back-catch-your-breath moments for me. (You’ve never had those?)

I use this phrase with EVERYONE and didn’t realize how condescending and stupid it sounded until I was called on it.

Here’s how this phrase effectively holds ZERO water, and since I like a full, honest, deep life vs. fluff and bull shit, it’s worth looking into:

1. “Everything Happens for a Reason” implies a lack of control over our actions, choices, words, and thoughts.

“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll;

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my   soul.”

-William Ernest Henley

No matter your view on God or fate (I believe in free will), there has to be some acknowledgement of the weight of influence over your own future by the choices you make today. The truth is, we have the ability to choose, always. It is perhaps the most powerful thing about humankind: our ability to reason, and to choose. I tell this to clients all the time: today is all about choices. Every day is about choices. Who will you be today? What will you do? In the end, it’s not me that will motivate someone to get in shape or to take ownership over their eating habits: they are 100% in control. They. Choose.

In the same way, the choices you make every day influence your character, your future, and what you take from your past. Even your thoughts are choices. When we abdicate control over our thoughts, we may find ourselves shipwrecked on the rocks of the demons of our past.

2. “Everything Happens for a Reason” robs our future of its joys.

If you adopt a fatalistic stance toward your choices and the power you actually possess to make something of yourself, your relationships, and the world around you, you rob your future of joy. You drift through life as a byproduct of fatalistic and inconsequential reality, another puppet on the stage of a broken drama. In this instance, the concept of “Everything Happens for a Reason” becomes a cage. You are trapped by your inability to influence your present and your future.

As we just saw in the previous point, this is not so. Therefore, rather than abdicate responsibility over our choices and the influence we have in a very powerful way, we must consciously both accept and acknowledge and act upon the power we possess over our future.

Doing this brings a heavy weight of responsibility, yes, but it also brings a carefree confidence if our character is sound. We acknowledge the power we have, we choose to use it to make sound choices, and we reap the consequences of doing so. We can CHOOSE happiness, joy, faith, beauty, nature, holistic thought patterns, and we benefit from doing so.

(Note: one of the most powerful ways to choose joy in the present is to remove the influence of others who bring only negativity and pain to your life. THIS IS NOT SELFISH. This is wise, and it’s something I’ve learned to do.)

3. “Everything Happens for a Reason” is an asshole thing to say to anyone.

Yea, I went pretty informal on that one^^. But it’s true! I feel absolutely terrible for every time I said that to someone. In every instance, someone had hopes, dreams, beliefs, something that was totally destroyed in some way. I hate preachy people, and by saying that, I became one of them. Was it my intent? No. But I said it, and I sounded like a jerk for doing so. Essentially, you’re saying “Well, there it is. It happened. Too bad.”

What I MEANT was that not only do you have power over your choices, you have power over the negative things that happen to you that are out of your control because you can choose to take from them what you will. You can choose bitterness and anger toward someone who has wronged you, or you can choose to learn a lesson and to move forward and leave the past behind. They only have as much power as you choose to give them.

While all of this was my intent, it’s not what comes across. If I liked a guy and he broke up with me and said that to me, I would want to slap him… and yet I’ve said this to dudes when I wasn’t interested. Ouch. My bad. Public apology extended.

One way I deny my ex power over my present is to avoid taking the low road with him. Do I speak honestly about what happened? Yes. Do I share his name, trash his character in an intimate way, talk to his friends (most of whom I chose to have no contact with for this reason after I left), steal from him, chew him out, lash out at him, etc.? No. Those actions degrade ME. They show weakness of character in ME, and they give him power over my PRESENT and FUTURE by allowing past situations with him to continue to effect me. I will not give that to him, and I choose to take control over my present and take the high road by not doing so. Anyone who gets off on the pain they inflict on another human being, even if “deserved” has no integrity of character. Don’t do it. Move forward.

4. “Everything Happens for a Reason” is an inadequate way to wrestle with pain.

If you say this or hear this and leave it there, you haven’t dealt with whatever hurt you that you’re trying to justify.

Personally, I don’t just say this; I’ve wrestled, wrestled, wrestled with things that have happened to me. Many, many, many painful things in the last 8 years. But not everyone does this, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, there is no justifiable reason for the pain that was inflicted on me, and I can’t understand that. I can’t cope with it. So I stonewall my emotion by throwing this up as a safeguard, when in fact it is a cop-out. Grief is a process. If you run, it will find you… and a fatalistic saying in an altruistic disguise is a terrible way of coping.

 

I could go on, but this post is getting long. Essentially, it’s a fucked up phrase. I won’t be using it anymore. It’s become a part of my vocabulary, and now if I start to say it, it carries a shock value because it’s stupid, empty, worthless, selfish, and unhelpful.

No more cop-out for me.

Today I acknowledge that I am powerful.

That I have value.

That I deserve good, and beautiful things.

That I can make something of myself, of my relationships.

That I can choose, today

to be

do

think

desire

and demand

the best of things, a beautiful inheritance, a depth of character and insight, a passionate concern for the wellbeing of others, a love for all things beautiful and real, integrity to myself; who I am, what I want, and all I am capable of.

Let us say instead Everything I Choose to Be, I Will Become.

Acknowledge your own power with confidence today, and lay both hands on the helm.

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xoxoxo

-sportyspice

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The Souls that Save Us

The Souls that Save Us

I’ve wanted to write a post for a while about the people in our lives; the constants, the ones that weave in and out, and the transient relationships which play a small yet powerful role in the process of our evolution of character and personhood.

Before I begin, here’s one. You should follow this man. Rarely am I hooked enough by someone’s transparency and writing style to read through the entirety of a post. Want to be inspired, encouraged, uplifted? Check him out:

https://badmuzz.wordpress.com/

There are many people whom I have crossed paths with over the years. I have learned something from each of them. I moved at least 8 (if not more) times in the past few years, and have come across some interesting characters. I have had people encourage, exhort, affirm, build me up; I have had others tear me down, use me, abuse me, mistreat me. I have had those people in my life who simply shine with the radiance of tested character, and the people whose presence is so negative that the room seems to darken when they enter.

Everyone is a part of your journey.

I tell people often that the reason I am not aggressively seeking a relationship, nor am a clingy, obsessive person, is because I have learned many life lessons about a word I overuse but love: transience; the very unquestionable reality of the brevity of existence, of relationships, of materialistic things, and of life. Everything is passing, waning; a breath away from moving on.

7 years of chronic Lyme disease taught me to hold things loosely: to treat them with care, to invest fully where I am (Jim Elliot: “wherever you are, be all there”), and to value what I have been given; but to keep open hands. What I cling to becomes my foundation, and shifts with the sand; the only thing that will endure is my God, and my own character.

I learned to treat my tomorrows without guarantee, to treasure the good people in my life and to remember that nothing given should be taken for granted. I love these lessons; I wouldn’t trade them for 7 years of perfect health and the return on all of the moments I missed as a chronically ill individual during that time frame.

Enter relationships: I feel I may be one of the few people that desires something lasting and beautiful but readily accepts that if something ends, and I have acted with integrity to myself and to the other person, it is because that part of my journey is over, and it is time to move on. Relationships are not an end-all. Make a relationship your everything, make someone your world, and you forget that you really should be with someone who helps you DISCOVER the world, discover yourself. It’s a partnership focused on life and learning: relationships are not an end. They are the means to the greatest end: discovery of self, of the world, and of God.

This also allows me to treat men (and women) like human beings: people I can learn from, hopefully mutually strengthen, encourage. I find my greatest validation in the benefit and impact I am able to somehow have on others. Men are not objects, either for sexual gratification or for “marriage prospecting”. They are people, and many have contributed to my life in powerful and healthy ways.

I have learned more in the last six months of pain and soul-rendering than I have my entire life about myself, others, and the world. Would I wish this on others? No. Would I trade it for ignorance, uncertainty, insecurity of self and less depth of relationship with God? Absolutely not.

Life can bring its worst. I am ready for it. This has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the unwavering assurance that “when all else slips away, He then is all my hope and stay”. In addition, it has to do with the powerful presence of courageous souls in my life who have paved a way for me, lifted me, carried me, tirelessly loved me… unconditionally so.

I have “Hope Anchors the Soul” tattooed on my right hip, from my favorite verse in Hebrews which says “We have this hope as a SURE and STEADFAST anchor of the soul; that Christ has gone before us on our behalf”. The same is true of the souls that have strengthened mine: iron sharpening iron, men and women teaching me about the depth and the brevity of life.

Thank you to the beautiful souls that have many times saved this one.

Dad: thank you for showing me what real love looks like. What a man should be for a woman, what a father should be to his daughters. I knew what my husband was not, because I know what he should be from your example.

Mom: thank you for your beautiful spirit. You empower others constantly and are the single most selfless person I’ve ever met. You never gave up your identity as a person, so you stand out as a mother who knows and values herself but also loved and pours herself into her family.

Liz: thank you for your ceaseless thirst for knowledge and your incredible capacity for pain. You fight onward when the world and your health are against you. You are my personal hero.

Katie: thank you for speaking truth with courage. Even when we don’t agree, you are the most truth-focused, honest person I know. You say it like it is, but you mean it from a heart of love.

Gran-jan: you are feminist through and through. But you deeply loved Paw-paw. You taught me to stand up for myself and my goals, and to follow-through, among many other valuable lessons. I love continuing to learn from you.

Paw-paw: you have gone before, but I remember you daily. I tell people all the time that you taught me this incredible lesson: “Never lose your curiosity for life; the moment you do, you stop living”.

Josh: thank you for the incredible, deep appreciation you have for women as a gender. Sounds odd, but you do. You cherish your lady friends, you treat them like gold. Thank you for being the first person to tolerate buckets of tears after I left. Thank you for reminding me that being feminine is not weakness.

Max: thank you for being a constant friend. We didn’t date, and we are both glad we didn’t – ha. You value me so much as a person that you want nothing else from me. This is rare, and beautiful. You approach the world with so much enthusiasm. I love it.

Cory: where did you come from? One of the best men I know. Your character and confidence shine as you continue to grow as a man… you are unashamedly you, but humbly so. God has used you powerfully in my life and continues to do so.

Katie D: you are fiercely loyal. I love you for it! You’re a champion of other peoples’ goals. That’s a precious thing. You fought for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself.

Jess, Charisa, Em, Sam, Jordan: you always have my back, and I hardly know you. You all face your own struggles but take the time to affirm me and reassure me of my own value when my past sneaks up and trips up my confidence.

Kenny, Bill: gifts I hardly deserve, purely from hearts of kindness, from people I haven’t even met. Amazing.

Christina, Brittany, Kevin: taking me in like family. Resilient, confident, beautiful people and amazing personalities.

Joe C: kicking butt, going for your goals, steering me gently during a really painful time. You and your family played a crucial role.

There are a million more, I need to stop.

Thank you all. Every single name brings to mind something about you, some way you’ve contributed to my life.

I am a blessed, blessed girl.

Cheers to the bright future. Look for the souls that save you, and take your lessons to heart.

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Strength vs. Control: Dating 101 PT 1

edge

In the bodybuilding world, if we’re being honest, the focus is actually on how strong you LOOK, not how strong you ARE.

This is why crossfit competitors and powerlifters and competitive athletes have my respect. Don’t get me wrong, TONS of work goes into bodybuilding competition prep, but the focus is on how you APPEAR, not how functional your fitness actually IS.

Let’s carry this analogy over into my personal experience in the dating world.

Growing up in a strict church culture, I wasn’t allowed to date anyone until I was 18, preferably later. I was in two fairly long, committed relationships between the ages of 18 and 23. I was single for about 6 months and then met my ex and was married for 3 years.

My abuse counselor has been pushing me to be open to casual dates for the sake of self-recovery and healing as I make my way through the difficult process of moving on from an deeply abusive experience. Trust me, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

What I’ve found is that for some reason, I have been conditioned to view a certain “type” of guy as “attractive”: the guys who give off that strong, aggressively “masculine” vibe; the military guys, construction workers, trainers, cops, coaches… usually guys in that line of work are instantly “attractive” to me by the way they carry themselves and the confidence which they portray.

The key word is “portray”.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am in NO way identifying these job descriptions with abusive behavior or writing any of them off. I am simply speaking from personal experience. There are wonderful, loving men in every profession and equally terrible, abusive, controlling men of every job description. I also have a deep personal respect for the careers these men choose and particularly for the sacrifices made by military men and their families. “Rah!”

No matter what the job description of the guys I’m typically attracted to, I’ve come to find that MANY times this “overtly masculine” vibe is actually a harsh mask for deep insecurity and controlling behavior.

Here’s a stellar example:

I meet – let’s call him “John” – John at the gym. John is pushing some serious weight, he’s rugged, tall, “confident”, and clearly approaches me to ask if I’m using the tricep press for one reason.

I’m flattered. We flirt a little.

John gets my number.

I have a deep feeling of concern which I ignore over attraction.

Texting happens over the next week or so.

John disappears. Then reappears, more interested then ever.

I fail to text John back one evening while working a 6 hour shift on my feet (no phones allowed).

I return to my phone to a string of insecure, concerned text messages such as “Where are you?” “Are you okay?” “I hope I didn’t offend you” “I didn’t mean that to sound that way” “I know sometimes I come off too strong” “If you’re upset at me you should tell me, you’re being immature” “I guess I’ll talk to you later, this is ridiculous”.

In the span of a few hours of not talking, in a non-committed relationship with someone I barely know, this man has gone from happy and confident to angry, upset, self-abasing, worried, anxious, critical, and dismissive.

Whoa. BRAKES ON.

If you find yourself CONSTANTLY having to reassure someone you’re not even dating (let alone actually in a committed relationship with) that you’re honest, loving, non judgmental, faithful, and available in order to make them feel they have self-worth and that you’re “into them”:

BACK THE EFF OFF.

One of the things I’ve learned in abuse counseling has been the vicious path that

  • begins with insecurity
  • moves on into fear
  • then to control
  • then to anger
  • and then to abuse.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Lesson #1: Don’t date anyone who “needs” you to be constantly affirming in order to feel they have value.

Here’s another scenario for you (these actually happened):

“Ryan” comes to me as a client via FB. We hit it off via email and move to texting or phone calls.

Things are going swimmingly: we have a lot in common, easy dialogue, attraction. I’m considering saying yes to the offer of a coffee date.

After a few days of talking, Ryan starts pushing a very sexual vibe into our conversations.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sex. I miss it. I had a deep, personal, intimate relationship with my ex and a very steamy sex life (at first). Might be TMI, but I’m just saying.

I’m uncomfortable with the vibe. I’ve been used and hurt and I’ve come to understand that friendship and care are the basis for healthy relationships. You need passion and sexuality, but you can’t start there.

I’m very, very hesitant to give into this type of talk. Ryan pushes and uses all sorts of manipulating phrasing and sentences like “Guys need sex to feel love” (we’re already talking about love??), “You’ve just been hurt, you need to let go of it and move forward”, “If you never open yourself up to a passionate relationship with someone again, you’ll just be lonely forever”, “You know I’m not that guy, I’m really into you”, “I’m not asking for much, just tell me/show me ___”.

SCREEEEEEECH. BRAKES ON AGAIN.

There’s a REASON time has taught me to distrust this as a starting place for anything healthy and real and lasting.

Once again, it may come off as confident and flattering, but in truth it’s from a place of selfishness and control. It’s manipulative and it’s probably not new to them.

The right guy will understand several things about me, and these may apply to you as well (guy or girl):

  1. The right person will understand your hurt and be patient with it.
  2. The right person will value you as an individual enough to wait until you’re ready.
  3. The right person will be secure enough and ACTUALLY, truly strong enough to avoid rushing the relationship.
  4. The right person will let time develop intimacy and will not ask you to prove yourself.
  5. The right person will make you feel safe, vs questioning yourself every time they want something you aren’t ready for.

I describe my previous relationships and mistakes to people often as “instant coffee relationships”:

Very hot water. Add nasty fake coffee. Strong, heady, quick, hits you right away… and then the grinds start separating from the water, it goes all lukewarm because you only nuked it, and you’re left with a bitter aftertaste.

Lesson #2: The good stuff takes time.

So French Press that bitch if you want it to last.

Be very careful to cautiously analyze whether or not someone is legitimately strong in character, intentions, and integrity.

I’m learning to redefine “strong”, “masculine”, and “attractive”. I’m reconditioning myself to appreciate the humble, patient, loving, caring, quietly confident types. Those are the good ones.

You would think I would’ve picked up on that a long time ago, because my mother married one, and 30+ years later, they’re happy as can be.

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New Years REZ: simplified.

New Years REZ: simplified.

I started to write out my New Year’s resolutions… and they got really long and complicated. Yes, I want to learn French, martial arts, get my Masters degree, etc.

But since I’m not the queen of brevity, I sat and thought a bit and was able to summarize.

This year, I want to:

1. Be more: open myself up to love and to healing, and let myself shine rather than suffocating my personality or dreams to keep other people happy or unintimidated.
2. Do more: go hard after my dreams with all of the bull-headed tenacity I love about myself. Get it done. Do what I want (within reason), rather than what I’m “supposed” to.
3. Love more: more time with my son and more time with good friends. Narrow my circle and invest in those people. Have a few people that know me well rather than a hundred that know me slightly.
4. Learn more: keep an open mind. Take the best I can from every friendship and relationship; read, grow, explore, travel. Pay off debt and save money to secure my future.
5. Breathe more: take the time to slow down and think, to listen to God’s voice and guidance and to enjoy the simple things.

2013 was a year of pain, hard lessons, courage, and brokenness.

May my New Year be a year of healing, empowerment, beauty, love, and grace.

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Notes on Shame

Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.

You are disgraced because you acted less than human, [or]  were treated as if you were less than human…

You feel worthless: of little or no value to those whose opinions  matter to you.

Someone who has been on the short end of a divorce – the spouse who wanted to stay in the marriage… despite all evidence to the contrary, if you are the forsaken person, you are sure there is something very wrong with you. You are worthless. It doesn’t matter that divorce is commonplace and you are (probably) not shamed by neighbors or fellow church members. You…heap the shame on yourself.

Verbally battered men and women are filled with shame. They have been told that they are wretched and, once they get worn down, they believe it. They feel compelled to endure the abuse in silence because it is shameful to reveal that someone who is supposed to love them now berates them.

Any rejection, neglect, or demeaning words by someone who is supposed to love you, such as a partner or a spouse, brings shame.

We can be bold in the face of shame because shame can be removed… shame is tackled best in the context of a relationship. Granted, going public with your shame is something you try to avoid, but being open about it, at least with someone who is a wise encourager, is part of the way out of shame… do not allow shame to intimidate you into silence.

– from “Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & Rejection” by E. Welch

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