Only the Martyr

I was having lunch the other day with a new friend of mine, who happens to also be an only child, when it suddenly occurred to me. We onlies are expert martyrs. We stink at receiving. Not compliments. Not money. Not gifts. Sometimes, not even solicited advice is welcome.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that we spend our entire lives attempting to negate those stereotypical labels of being spoiled brats. Maybe it’s because we became SOOO good at sharing that it morphed into sacrifice. Whatever the case, it’s not ‘healthy’ to stink so badly at receiving. It’s not ‘healthy’ to play the martyr all the time no matter how naturally it comes for us.

So, why isn’t it good to be a martyr? I mean, giving is good, yes? Taking is bad, yes? Well, not all the time. Here’s the thing – martyrdom, like anything else, is good in small doses only. Here’s my experience-breeds-wisdom based list of WHY you should take up….errr…taking.

  • It makes others feel good to give or help – I am aware that this isn’t ALWAYS the case (but really, what is?), still…9 times out of 10, if someone is offering to help you with something, it’s because they can and they genuinely want to, and by giving them the satisfaction of helping you with something you need, you are actually still participating in a different form of giving, right?
  • Sanity Maintenance – The more we take on, the better we feel about ourselves, right? Wrong. Up until a certain point, we may feel quite impressed with ourselves, but if you keep throwing more balls into the juggling queue, eventually you’ll end up dropping them all, and it’s not so funny when someone signs you up for the funny farm.
  • Taking time for you and yours – Chances are, when we say ‘yes’ to help, we are also saying ‘yes’ to sharing that freed-up quality time with loved ones. While you may do no more than spend that time cuddling or sharing a meal and conversation, one thing is for sure, you won’t regret it. Life is so full of activity sometimes that we forget to enjoy the moments. The more moments we have in full presence, the fuller our lives. Period.
  • Reciprocity – If none of the other arguments worked, this one SHOULD. The more we allow others to give and ourselves to receive, the more others will allow us to give in the future. Nobody should keep score in love and friendship. I have bought into that philosophy since first watching ‘Love Story’ back in the 90’s (I know…. a little late). The motto for that movie was ‘Love means never having to say your sorry’. If either love or friendship were tallied on a simple putt-putt score card, I’m betting that neither the scores aren’t always tied. This is because we’re human! I’m also betting, however, that when all is said and done, the two most successful ‘players’ end up pretty close to each other – both numerically and emotionally.

In other words, we have to work on being REAL. Being real means admitting when we’re exhausted, lazy, overwhelmed, or just plain over-committed. For the sake of our sanity and the sanity of our loved ones, we’re doing no one any favors by playing the martyr, no matter how naturally it comes to us.

So go on…take that outreached hand. It’s actually comforting to know that we onlies are not doomed to forever be lonely, but we have to make that choice to ‘take’ a chance on others.

Letter to an Ex X

Dear X,

If I had known what I know now, we wouldn’t have gotten married. We wouldn’t have had an amazing child together. I wouldn’t have stopped trusting so openly and without cause. I wouldn’t have been carrying around baggage. I wouldn’t question myself on every single decision. It’s likely that I wouldn’t have sold the family business. I wouldn’t question my mind.

But it happened. You conned me. You fooled me, my mom, my family, and your step-son. When it comes down to it, you felt unworthy. You started using more routinely. Because, I believe you were already using. You decided that you couldn’t do it without superhuman characteristics. So you sold your soul, and your wife, your ‘sons’, your dreams, for something that made you feel so good at the time.

I have a hard time understanding, because I haven’t been there. I won’t even take antibiotics. But I have been addicted to things. I ‘needed’ cigarettes for many years, and diet coke, and sugar. So that makes me just as ‘bad’, even though I manage to hold a job, pay my bills, pay for our child’s holidays, birthdays, school functions, soccer, karate, church functions, and playdates.

I have accepted that you will never be a part of anything financial in our child’s life. That you will forever disappoint him because you cannot test clean. I’ve watched every episode of Intervention. So has my boyfriend. We have talked in great length and depth about how we will never unburden ourselves or Ethan from this massive web of destruction you have casted upon our lives. I have had nightmares about what you are doing to destroy your life, and how that affects our son. He loves you, but he accepts that you are not here. You cannot be there for yourself, let alone him.

You talk as though everything wrong you have ever done is in the past, yet you have zero proof that you are any closer to that next milestone of where you ‘should’ be. You have clued me into how you cheated on your lab tests. How you used until 3 days prior, and then switched to suboxone – the very drug that now, people are getting hooked on. The very drug that could kill someone like me. I didn’t deserve this, but no one that lives through the cleaning up of an addict does. Why should I be immune?

I shouldn’t. That’s the truth. It was God’s plan for me, and God will continue to see me through. Losing our home, my car, your job, your income, your support, is not the worst of it. In truth, the worst of all of this rests in something much deeper.

Our child has learned that he can only depend upon one of us. Now, he is happy to lean on anyone else. This creates the gang-mentality that I will likely have to always combat. I always dreamed of having the family I didn’t have. That will likley never happen because of the environment your addiction has created within our lives. But as a Christian, I am supposed to forgive you, accept you, and turn the other cheek. And this is the worst part. I hate myself for not being able to do any of that.

You have ruined my life. You have ruined our child’s life. Instead of starting from the bottom and working our way up, I am forced to start in the trenches. Our son is 8. Your addiction, you say, began when I was 5 months pregnant. You are repeating what you knew. I am a workaholic, repeating what she knew.

You had a horrible childhood. Your parents both had serious issues, and were heavily medicated. They spent most of your childhood unemployed because of it. Guess who gets lost in the shuffle?

I refuse to disappoint our child. He deserves a family who shows him love, who teaches him how to love unconditionally. I may not be able to reconcile what you have done, but I can work to improve the future of our child. And while I may have spent the bulk of my life believing that I don’t deserve more, I believe that I absolutely do.

So my plea to you is this – please work on you. With everything you are, and everything you ever wanted, work on you. Make strides in that direction. Go to meetings. Make valuable friendships, based on trust and clean living. Pray. Listen to what God has to offer. Earn a living. Be a grown-up. Show our child what it’s like to be a man.

We will take your recovery seriously when you do the same. When you’re finished with the lies, the manipulation, and the fiction. Our son wants his dad back. You told him the truth. Now live the promise. I refuse to assist in the lying, in the promises, in the fairytale. The work is yours to do. Whether you do it or not, our child will feel loved, with or without you. It’s your call. I cannot do it for you, and I cannot help you anymore.

If anyone out there is contemplating destroying their lives, consider this. When you were a child, you had those lucid, beautiful moments. You will continue to experience those, but not if you are leaning on substances. Those are lies. BE YOU. Naked. Truthful. Genuine. And vulnerable. Beauty is found in solace and serenity. Not in substance.

Solitary Contentment

Do I enjoy alone time? Absolutely! I always have. I can remember as a young child, sitting in my room, listening to albums & playing paper dolls for hours on end. On some days, the only reason I left my room was to eat. Truth be told, If I had been blessed with a real working kitchen in my room (at least with a microwave, fridge, and pantry), my mom and dad probably would’ve entirely forgotten me!

While mom was busy taking care of my dad, I was busy amusing myself. Not that she didn’t do her part of the raising, but the ‘entertaining’ part was up to me, especially after dad’s kidneys failed.

As only children, most of us learn at a young age how to self-entertain, self-console, maybe even become self-aware, and have a strong sense of self-love. Maybe that’s why we (as a species;) come across as so self-absorbed. In reality, most onlies that I know are actually so self-aware that we can become rather lost in our own thoughts and appear to not care what others are feeling or thinking at all. BUT also in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of us truly want to understand others, but we’re too afraid of putting ourselves out there, which is really what it takes to form healthy relationships.

As onlies, we don’t always know how to relate to others or how to reach out and ask others for help. When we feel as though our worlds are crumbling, many of us turn inward, to the only person we can fully rely upon; ourselves. That’s not to say that people with siblings aren’t the same way at times, but I would say that onlies have nailed the whole solitary confinement thing….to a fault.

I remember when my boyfriend (also an only) and I started dating. We fervently read every article and blog we could find on ‘only’ couples… ‘only’ to find discouragement and disappointment. Most opinions and stories erred on the side of either ‘don’t do it’ or ‘it never works out’. After almost two years together, I think we would both agree that this is not true. Like any other relationship between any two people, effort has to be made, people cannot take one another for granted, and compromise and full communication should be practiced daily.

In fact, I would say that the most difficult factor in an only dating an only is that we are so fiercely wired to turn inward when we don’t know how to react to an emotion that we choose instead to bottle up the hurt. While my boyfriend and I rarely fight, I can honestly say that any and all of the disagreements we’ve had have resulted from one thing; a lack of communication.

Lesson… in progress…

Still, communication takes lots and lots of effort from both people. Leaning on each other when we’re accustomed to sucking it up solo is the first step. While that feels a bit awkward and out of our neat little boxes, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as I had expected. I think this is monumental and essential for all couples, but especially for relationships involving two onlies.

While one only can understand another only better than anyone, we also tend to have the same passive aggressive tendencies, and let things go on far longer than we should. It’s far easier and less confrontational to shove those small disagreements under a rug than to sweep them out into the open and work through the kinks. Unfortunately, as we all know, if you gather enough small things together they collectively become a very huge thing. That huge conflict under the rug becomes a major obstacle over which neither of us can avoid tripping.  And because we really ARE two separate people, with two separate pasts and two separate loads of dirty laundry baggage, we’re not always going to completely understand. And that’s okay.

We all come at these relationships with our own muddled perceptions, and whether we’re onlies or otherwise, it takes oodles of communication, effort, and determination to build a strong healthy relationship. But above and beyond everything else that takes effort in this world, love is worth every last bit of blood, sweat, and tears. After all, we may have come into this world alone, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live a lonely life. Like my good friend Michelle always says (and I couldn’t agree more), there really is a ‘lid for every pot’.

Here’s to Heroism

When our mothers pass away, something happens to us. Now, I am not saying this as a person who felt disconnected from her mom, but as someone who felt she was a huge piece of her mom. While my mom passed 2 1/2 years ago, one of my oldest, dearest friend’s mom just passed on Christmas Eve day. My best friend’s mom passed years ago, and years before my mom would pass. She always used to say that I ‘couldn’t understand’ because I wasn’t ‘part of the club’. Of course, that stopped when my mom died.

We were all close to our moms, all cared about pleasing our moms and making them proud. And we’re all a mess, all in our various places in the grieving process. One thing though, that we all have in common, is that particular loneliness that we all share. To say that we all feel disconnected from the world as we’ve always known it, is a downgrade from how we actually feel. To say that we feel like we’re floating around solo in a black galaxy feels a bit closer to reality.

I visited our newest member Julie, just tonight. The one thing that stands out most is her saying that she could ‘hear her mom’ in her own words. This continues to be the case with me on a daily basis. I am a person who rarely ever displays anger or edginess with a stranger, even though I don’t hesitate with those with whom I am closest. Yet, since my mom’s passing, I find that I don’t have as much trouble standing up for myself or those I love. Sometimes, the words passing through my lips surprise even me, and in some small way, I can feel my mom patting me on the back. I do this without much thought or planning. So to me this feels foreign, more like an out of body experience than my actual life. For Julie, who is naturally more assertive and aggressive, this same thing is taking place, and she recognizes it as the manifestation of her mom. Yet, she asked me ‘why isn’t my mom communicating with me?’. This is a question I receive frequently.

My answer is simply that, it isn’t time for her to communicate. That time will come. In those everyday life decisions, where you have no idea how to react, just ask. She will come surging through your veins and mouth quicker than you can think it through. It’s at that moment that you will know, that in her own way, she is there. Really, she never fully left.

While it may have been her ‘time to go’ because she was exhausted, tired from the fight to sustain life, she knew (and loved you so much) that you could not completely release her. That’s when the Holy Spirit stepped in, disguised as her, to comfort you with her spirit. Years after my mom’s passing, I only believe this more intensely. I am constantly comforted by this. It’s as if her love for me remains, even though her spirit has flown away in bliss.

This has become my understanding of God, and Heaven, life and death.

We all grieve differently. Absolutely. No two people grieve the same. But we are all sent the Holy Spirit as a gift to help us through. There is no time limit for the Holy Spirit.

I dreamed of my mom for over two years, yet when I sold her business, it all stopped. However, when my boyfriend and I went to Ireland, those dreams started up again. It’s as if God knew there was room again, and need again, for the Holy Spirit to sprinkle itself upon the memory of my mom, and all that she was to me.

Death is not the ending of life, but a renewal of the love we shared. I am grateful for this gift. for the comfort and serenity it delivers, and the love and hope it springs. We must do our part. Keep living. Keep breathing. But there will be times, there will always be times, when we feel despair. And for those moments, there is the love of the lost to comfort us. They are not actually ‘departed’. The are simply there on another level, a deeper level, and they will never actually part.

Why Worry?

My mamaw was like many downhome Southern grandmothers who had been raised poor and gone through lots of unspeakable hardships. She worried. Constantly. And about everything.

The sun could be shining, everyone employed, everyone healthy, garden growing, food in the pantry and fridge. Everything could be perfect in our family, but she would seek out someone – a cousin of a friend’s sister’s aunt – and worry about her sad diagnosis at the doctor.

This isn’t to say that she was a ‘negative’ person. Not at all. We would pull over on the side of the road in late spring to pluck daisies and black-eyed Susan’s and make bouquets for neighbors. I can’t remember a single night spent with her that I wouldn’t awaken to the sounds of her singing a beautiful gospel song while she fixed up her famous sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

She was so positive in fact, that I can’t see a sunrise, a sunset, or a butterfly without feeling her presence even though she died over 4 years ago.

We’ve all heard it said that ‘worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength’. For the most part, this is true. Like anything else in life, too much worry is bad. But what is worry in the first place but sympathy or empathy ignited by a genuine love of others or self?

Worry in and of itself is not bad because it fills today with a reason to pray, to talk with God, to think about what is on your heart and ask for God’s hand in your life. Should that be the only time we pray? No way! We should always give praise and thanks. But when we come to God as vulnerable, flawed humans asking for help, we are coming to God as naked and raw as the day we were born. This is when we get to experience true closeness to God.

However, like most things in life, we don’t need to dwell in the land of worry for too long. My contention is that worry gets us started in prayer, and that is wonderful, but by the end of the prayer, we should completely give it to God. We do this with sins, with gratitude, with bad memories, but sometimes we surrender to worry and live there forever. This lifestyle spits in the face of Christ. It’s like saying ‘I don’t like what you’ve done with my life, and I’m going to make you suffer through me for the rest of my days’. We’ve all known people like this, right?

Let’s not be that person. Let’s NOT spit in the face of Christ. But let’s do worry. Just a little. A little worry goes a long way in prayer. Just don’t live there! It’s like a houseguest or a vacation – while small doses are appreciated, long stays are overkill. Don’t let worry control you, rather let it guide you gently to prayer.

 

Evil Ego

Between two loving beings, there is no room for ego. There is no room for impatience, nor fear. There is no room for doubt, or hurt. But inevitably, in every relationship or friendship, the closer we become, the more likely it is that the ego will try butting in and messing everything up that you’ve worked so hard to build. Why does this happen?

In my very humble, very human opinion, it happens because the bigger the love grows,  the bigger God becomes and the more the ego feels threatened.

You may have heard people say that the devil is trying to win someone over. The ego is the devil. He can destroy the strongest of castles, harden the softest of hearts, and possess the humblest of people. What he can’t do is continue to exist in the shadow of love. We have to recognize the evil ego and stop his flames before they destroy us. It’s an every day battle, and then sometimes it’s not. But when couples have been married for decades they say (and they always do), ‘it hasn’t always been easy’, this is what I feel it boils down to.

There is no reason to feel attacked by those negative feelings when the ego gets out of control. No. We should recognize what’s happening and understand that the love we feel, the glue that holds us together, must be strong and wonderful stuff if the evil ego wants so badly to destroy it. We should feel flattered.

So, be flattered, and then destroy it. Every last bit. We can’t control the behavior of others, but we can control our own. We can choose to feed that ego with anger and watch it overtake our lives and relationships, or we can choose to feed that love with tenderness and devotion and watch God grow instead. We have that choice.

Fulfillment

On most days, this only needs her ‘alone’ time, outside of the work commute and morning workout. When I was working for myself, I could take time when I absolutely needed to, so of course, I took it for granted. Now that I’m ‘working for the man’, and do not regret selling my business, I do look for those small pockets of time when I’m not taking care of anyone else. When there’s just me, my thoughts, and the bright blue autumn air. Today was one of those days. I spent lunchtime taking a two mile walk. Ears plugged with cello music. Hair blown to a frizzy mess. Still, my mind was as clear as the sky. I prayed, but what was even more satisfying than that – I listened.

The words came into my head like they always do, without a voice. They colored in my thoughts. Today, all I could hear was ‘allow fulfillment’. The wheels started turning, effortlessly, as if I had always known the answer.

More than once during our Ireland trip, my very wise boyfriend told me that our adventure would be a life changer. I whole-heartedly agreed! But what I never seem to understand in the moment is the intensity and profoundness of such a statement. When you step out of your comfort zone, you grow. We hear that everywhere. It’s in our newfeeds, in the news, part of every personal development book, not to mention countless issues of Cosmo. We can’t escape it! But when we step out of more than just our comfort zone, and step into a whole new world entirely, something within us switches. Our mind stretches, and if we happen to travel to a land where we are forced to unplug, where the land itself cradles and nourishes life, where the air is so pure that you can actually smell the rocky burren, and where the silence is so broad and thick that it’s deafening, then we are indeed, changed forever. Why?

Because it’s at that point, when we are emptied of all of the world’s thoughts, opinions, advertisements, and noisiness that we become bowls – in a sense. We are left with just ourselves and our thoughts. If we happen to be fortunate enough to go with someone that we are entirely at ease with, we find the greatest sense of security in such ‘solitude’. It’s not that we become emptied of our own identity, but that after so long, we are emptied of the world itself. The beauty of that is that we are adaptive. We have a need to fill things up, even ourselves. When we have nothing but ourselves to fill up our thoughts, we become very clear, and that spoils us….in a good way.

So on days like today, I close my eyes and go back to Ireland. I clear my mind and empty out the noise. I allow fulfillment. And when I do that, when I empty everything out, God can pour himself into all of those dark corners that leave me conflicted and confused. When we fill ourselves up with distractions, transgressions, and all of the other mucky dust that life constantly splashes on our fresh white thoughts, we have little room left for fulfillment, or love, or God, or peace.

These days I don’t clean houses for a living, but I do clean and cleanse and organize mentally. I need more God and less noise, and the older I get, the more I understand that a quiet mind is a happy mind. Allow fulfillment. Allow peace. Allow God to lead.

Enough

I was sixteen, and crazy.

Boys, school, work, pressure, and never fitting in.

Everyone is cuter, skinnier, smarter.

Everyone has it all. I wasn’t

Enough. My life wasn’t enough.

I was twenty-five, and a mother.

A failing marriage, a broken house, but I had love.

I was a mom, and a good one. He made me

Feel like everything. I was enough for a moment, for

Lots of moments. My boy curled in my chest, growing,

Smiling, laughing and loved. We were enough, together.

By myself, I still wasn’t enough.
I had my mom, my family, my friends, my plan,

But was it enough?

Now 39 and lonely.

I have two boys. They hang my moon. Even though I’m

Twice divorced, orphaned, and sometimes pathetic.

I look at other women when I’m low, and wonder why

Can’t I be a wife? Why can’t my boys have grandparents?

Why can’t I be enough?

And this is what we do. We measure. We fail. We shrink. We lose

track of ourselves because we lose ourselves in the comparison.

Why would I want to be someone else? I have tools, strengths, experiences,

character muscle. I have survived. I have grown.

We all do. We all have purpose, and eventually we learn.

I am enough.

With God, I am enough.

There is no reason to compare. God doesn’t compare me,

He completes me.

Nine Eleven

We all have a story. Most of our stories are peppered with lessons, losses, triumphs, and a hardening of the heart that only time can heal. When we look at our country, the progress we’ve made, the decisions we have reluctantly chosen, and the history we will never forget, we are marked with the knowledge and wisdom that only experience can teach. 

Our country’s past seems almost undeniably parallel to my personal past. We have been challenged. We have broken free of barriers, and we have risen like the Pheonix, in spite of expectations. What I know to be true is this. God is good. Just when we believe we can take no more loss. We can handle no more disappointment. That is when God delivers. And because he waits so long, we realize that we are not in charge. His timing is perfect. I challenge everyone to notice, to recognize and embrace such timing. I promise that it is not just with me or our nation. God’s timining is perfect everywhere.

If you are doing your best to live a life of prudence – a life of purpose and compassion – God meet us halfway. In truth, it’s not just halfway. He makes things happen that do not seem possible. Fourteen years ago, when we all felt that our lives were threatened, what transpired in that moment? Parties dissipated. Differences diffused. Arguments ceased completely. We were all one. What would happen, what would occur if we felt that patriotitism in a time of peace? This is my challenge. This is what God intended for us to learn. We all face the same challenges, the same differences, the same struggels. What happens then, if the lines disappear and we UNITE? This is my prayer. This is our purpose.

As for me…

This month, it will be four years that I’ve been the only adult in my home. That’s the longest I’ve ever been ‘head of household’. Ever. Right now, as I’m interviewing for jobs, there is on consistent theme going on in my conversations. I am Robin. I am the sidekick. I am not Batman. I may be at home, but I don’t want to be full-time, all the time, day-in and day-out Batman. I just don’t have it in me to be the happy boss lady. My mom was the boss. I was the minion. And maybe I wasn’t okay with that until she passed away, until I HAD to be Batman and was forced out of my sidekick flip-flops and into my superhero boots. Still, that has been my epiphany. Some people are born leaders, and admittedly, I always thought I was one of those. Maybe in a way, I still think I am – on an emotional intelligence level but NOT on a business level. 

I am the girl who will give everything away if it’s up to her, and no one is telling her to do otherwise. I am the girl who understands people’s hardships a little too well, and will cave in to their sob stories. And guess what? I don’t want to change a thing. I could’ve become hardened by now. By the grace of God, I haven’t. Have I grown wiser? Yes. At least I hope so. Have I stopped caring so much what others think? Yes. That sort of ended with the passing of my mom. So what’s a girl with sidekick talent and no live-in superhero to do? 

Wait for it.

That’s all. Don’t dive in. Don’t rush things. Just wait until his time is right. Can I get an Amen?!

After two divorces, the absolute LAST thing I want in my life is a husband who is NOT ready to be married, or be committed, or say ‘forever’. Robin is Batman’s sidekick because he respects his superhero and his superhero is respectable and committed as well. Robin didn’t just start following Batman around one day in hope’s that maybe…just maybe he would be accepted. There’s is a mutual friendship, and a mutual commitment. That’s how it should be. That’s how a marriage should be as well.

I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain that Robin could handle his household just fine without Batman. He could pay bills, do laundry, handle the kids’ fighting, keep the yard tidy, shop for the groceries, get the mail – he could do all of that perfectly fine without Batman. Batman could do all of that without Robin. 

But no man (or woman) was created to be ‘a rock’ as Simon and Garfunkel would say. We were made for each other, in our own time, when we’re both ready. Because while both Batman and Robin are perfectly fine alone, together they save the world.

We will also save the world, in our own little way. Until then, we have daydreams and roadtrips. We have weekends and long talks. We have time to savor. Time together, until we have all the time we are given  and we are ready to fly as one.