Let Them BE

About six years ago, I was sitting in my therapist’s office, discussing a new relationship. She made a statement to me that made NO sense to me at the time, and yet something inside of me believed it could be true, simply because of the fact that she was WAY smarter than me.

“The highest level we can achieve in our relationships, is when we have the ability to stand alone in the presence of another,” she said.

What in the whatity what? Like what in the actual heck are you TALKING ABOUT? I looked at her like as if she had grown two heads–this was one I wasn’t even going to ask her to explain. It was too…BIZARRE. And what fresh hell is this in re: to dating? You mean I have to stand alone even if I’m dating someone? I’d rather run away from someone than have to show up as I am and be alone in his presence. What is this crappy alternative universe she is speaking of and how can I make sure I NEVER GO THERE?

Those ⬆️ were my thoughts.

And yet..here is where I want to go with this today. Today is right now. 7:51 pm on February 19. I am thinking about this alternative universe my therapist mentioned, where people can stand alone in the presence of another, and I can still honestly say that it feels just plain WEIRD to me that this is even possible.

AND YET

… I now believe in different things: I believe in BEING STILL with the stupid negative feelings that come up. I am still sometimes afraid of pain or rejection or even intimacy, but I know I can tolerate them so I SIT with them and sometimes I EVEN SIT WITH THEM IN THE PRESENCE OF A FREAKING OTHER PERSON. Which is still not fun, but I CAN DO IT, which is the weirdest thing ever.

This is what it’s like: Here I am, living my life, joyfully, or sometimes not so joyfully, doing my thing. “Doing my thing” basically means BEING MYSELF. Showing up as me. And then, in the midst of me doing my thing, someone else tells me or shows me in his or her actions that he or she doesn’t like my thing-whether it’s the way I express myself or my belief system or even the way I look or show up to him or her.

And this hurts when they communicate this to me. Because that’s how I’m wired– I am wired to care about people and thereby I sometimes care a little too much about what they think.

But I can TOLERATE the discomfort of the disagreement. I can still stand as myself, being myself, allowing myself to be who I am.

And furthermore, I am allowing the other party involved to BE WHO THEY ARE.

And here is what I now KNOW to be true:

WE MUST LET PEOPLE BE WHO THEY ARE. LET. THEM. BE. WHO. THEY. ARE.

Let them BE who they are.

And know that you CAN still stand in their presence.

This is how this *could* look in various relationships:

Scenario 1: Pretend I’m married. My husband always forgets to turn off the coffee pot in the mornings and this drives me crazy. I keep telling him to do it and he keeps forgetting or maybe just plain doesn’t want to. Instead of continuing to get angry, I let him be who he is. I start turning off the damn coffee pot because it’s important TO ME.

Scenario 2: Pretend I have two kids who are angels. Then I suddenly give birth to a third who is literally hell on wheels. I say go left, he goes right. He is HARRRD to parent. But I continue to show up as I am in my parenting and exercise my beliefs and values in the way I teach him and treat him. He continues to show up as himself in his strong willed, yet sensitive nature. We butt heads, but we still ALLOW each other to be who they are WHILE still enforcing the boundaries and teachings that as parents we must enforce.

Scenario 3: Pretend I am dating a man who has a lot of qualities I like. And he has some other qualities, that, while are not deal breakers, are TRIGGERS for me. So that basically means that he’s a human being who is just minding his business and being himself, but then I text him something and he doesn’t respond to it, and I am triggered. It is at this moment that I have choices. I can text him in anger, asking for a response. I can text him with a humorous, playful tone, but still with the express intent of getting a response. (Which can actually be controlling since I am texting him as a way to diffuse my triggered emotion, instead of just owning that emotion MYSELF). Or, I can LET HIM BE who he is. And do nothing, unless I am sure I am responding from a place of love, instead of a place of being triggered.

You see, we ALL have our triggers, and we have to OWN them. Another wise person once told me, “What other people think of you has nothing to do with you,” and I thought that she had grown two heads too. But guess what?? She actually only has one head and she’s right. If someone doesn’t like how I show up in this world, that’s about THEM. If I don’t like another person, or if I feel “triggered” by them, that’s ALWAYS about me. It’s never about them. They are just doing their thing.

We have to allow the people in our difficult relationships to be who they are. And that may mean that we sometimes take a break from them, and that’s called self care. It’s also called “being still” until you are confident you are interacting in a spirit of love, instead of fear.

It’s a tricky thing. Because it involves being yourself 100 percent of the time and staying true to you, while simultaneously showing the utmost respect to a person who is 100 percent being who they are in this world.

If we could all do this… even just SOMETIMES. We maybe could teach others in our world what it’s like to respect humanity. What it’s like to be true to who you are, not betray your values, while also allowing someone to be who he or she is, and not taking his or her behavior personally.

This involves knowing ourselves. Knowing what rubs us the wrong way. And then digging deeper with that. What’s under that feeling? What thought or belief is behind your experience? Why do you feel that way?

While all the while, remembering that the highest form of relationship and love you can show to another person and to yourself is to be willing to stand alone and stay true to you, while still standing in their freaking presence. 😳

It’s so hard. Yet so easy. And I’m convinced it’s the best way. But you can disagree with me and still stand next to me and I will still love you.

(Picture in my house I look at every morning before I get in the shower. And I sometimes even pray, “Dear God, help me to love others just as they are. Just the way they show up, while still being true to me. 🙏🏽)

Grace Elaine Sommers Whitehead

This past week my mom turned 79. It’s kind of jolting, because I don’t think of her as being someone who is close to entering her octogenarian years. She’s just my mom. However, she’s MY MOM. And being that I’m a mom, this has caused me to reflect on what it must be like to be my mom.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself from when I was a kid, and try to remember what my personality was like. I’m guessing my mom would say I was a happy and talkative child, and I was, for the most part. I liked to play outdoors in the dirt, ride my tricycle, talk to the neighbors, and play in the sandbox. I also liked to pretend I had imaginary friends and even children. One day I told my mom that I had two daughters–one named Ruthie (after my grandma who I was obsessed with) and Crouton (after my favorite salad bar topping-BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE SEASONED BREAD?!). I was creative and liked to color and draw and watch the birds at the bird feeder.

My mom would sit at the foot of my bed every night until I fell asleep. We said bedtime prayers, and she helped me to learn how to pray. She cooked healthy food for us, and we always ate at the table.

(God, I should stop reminiscing because this is actually making me think about all the ways I’ve failed as a parent.)

But before I stop, I must mention one more thing.

I remember lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. Only I wasn’t a child anymore. I was 30 years old. My mom had pulled the curtains up, in hopes that I would feel the sunshine. It was springtime and it was beautiful weather. And yet, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew my parents were concerned, but every time they tried to speak to me, I either cried or shut down. And all I remember thinking was, why can’t I just enjoy the sunshine? There are actual people who are getting up with the sun and going outside and living their lives and going to the grocery store and shit. And getting up to go pee was overwhelming to me. Eating was overwhelming to me. Showering was overwhelming to me.

I felt like I was getting evicted from my own life. This was during my second separation from my husband. Things were crumbling and I did not want to surrender. What I didn’t yet understand was that, as Glennon always says, nobody gets evicted from his or her life unless she is being called to a truer, deeper life. Rock bottom is always an invitation to something else- something even more authentic and beautiful.

My mother came into my bedroom. She sat down on my bed. She told me she had baked some homemade bread and had fresh strawberry jam, made with strawberries from our garden. While my mother is an incredible cook, it was very out of character for her to make homemade bread. I looked at her, perplexed. But then I knew: she’s trying to get me to eat AND baking may be her way of coping with the fact that her child is feeling hopeless and not eating or sleeping.

She convinced me to eat a piece of bread. She brought it upstairs to me and sat on my bed. I put the bread in my mouth and could tell it was nearly a perfect tasting piece of bread, so I began to chew it, even though I wasn’t enjoying the process of eating. Every time I swallowed food, it went into the pit of my stomach and I thought would vomit. But I didn’t vomit. So I continued to slowly and thoroughly chew the bread in my mouth so that I could nourish my body at least.

“I’ve been thinking,” my mother suddenly said, “about you.”

I sat up in bed. She had my attention.

“I have this vision of you in my mind. You are an exquisite, beautiful flower. And yet, you’ve been buried for so long under the dirt. The ground above you is hard and cracked, and the soil is not good. However, you continue to grow and you will soon sprout above this ground that is holding you back–this ground that has held you down for so many years, and you will begin to bloom. And you’re just the most beautiful flower. You’re becoming yourself and you’re stunning. You are going to bloom and break free.”

I looked at her in awe, because she was envisioning things for me that I simply couldn’t see. But what she said–her words–were so intricate and fascinating, that it drew me in.

Everyone has always loved my mother. At times I resented this, because I didn’t like sharing her. I would get jealous and hide for attention or act out (when I was a child, to clarify-not last week 😜). But now I know why people are so drawn to her-it’s because she showed up for them, and never fell apart. It’s because she’s a vault when it comes to trust. My mother has exhibited grace under pressure, time and time again. When others are stressed, she remains serious. When people are crying and crushed, she responds with compassion. That’s why people love her.

So that is my mother. She is a believer in things that dwell in truth and possibility. Happy birthday, Mom.

Should I Stay for the Kids?

When a couple is in a committed relationship, and one of them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask him or herself questions such as, “Is this bad enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when that same couple is in a committed relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.  I am divorced.  I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.  I am not going to furl data or research at you.  However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:  What would leaving my children’s father or mother do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While I️ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what I️ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.  And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.  If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in that relationship CANNOT be what’s best for our children.

When a mother walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative effect on the little people in her home.  When a girl looks into her daddy’s eyes and sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn’t live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.  When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.  I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most curiously perceptive people on our planet.  They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.  They know when we are trying to distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.  And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.  We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and I️ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

I️ don’t know about you, but for as much as I️ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what I️ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

I am a Pokémon 

It is 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I am lying here in darkness and typing this blog on my phone on the eve of my 41st birthday. 

I am contemplating who I am and how I want to evolve. I’m like a Pokémon or something. (I don’t really understand Pokémon at all, but I know they, like, evolve, right?)

I want to continue to evolve and change who I am by changing what I do. In honor of my 41st year of life, I am sharing 41 truths I’ve learned as I have changed my thinking and my actions over the years. 

I love to elaborate. People who know me know that I’m the queen of elaboration and talking too much and overexplaining things.  But I will refrain from doing that in this instance because I only have a few minutes to write before my yoga class.

So here we go. How to evolve like a Pokémon, a.k.a, 41 random things I have learned:

1. Kids pay more attention to what you do than what you say.

2. A daily practice of meditation and prayer will change your life.

3. Judging others is not good for your health. It’s also a negative “low vibrational energy” way of thinking. 

4. Choose being truthful over being nice. 

5. You don’t have to be nice.  Like, really, you don’t. 

6. It is your responsibility to practice loving kindness, but this does not equate with being “nice.” It simply means you act in love for others and for yourself. 

7. The most courageous people show up even when they don’t feel ready. 

8.. That still, small voice inside of you will never let you down. It is there to protect you. It is the voice of God, speaking to you in quiet moments of truth. That is the voice that reminds you of what you need in this life, what to do next, and who you are. 

10.  When you are laughing you are healing. 

11. Practicing yoga helps you develop an understanding and compassion for your body.

12. Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. 

Geesh, I can’t think of anything else. Maybe I don’t know 41 things. I’m going to yoga and then coming back.

13. It is not our job to make everything sunshine and rainbows for our kids. It is okay for them to experience pain and discomfort, and we walk beside them in this experience without trying to take it away. This is how they become resilient, kind, empathetic adults.

14. You don’t have to wear underwear. 

15. Processed food can make you ill. 

16. Meditate and pray. I know I already said that but that one needs to be on the list twice. 

17. Do not be afraid of pain.

18.  When you feel sad or anxious, go outside and breathe in the outdoor air. 

19. Let people be who they are. 

20. Do not assume what others are thinking. Ever. Ask them instead. 

21. Things that matter are going to take some time. 

22. You deserve happiness, respect, and peace of mind. 

23. What we cannot see, we cannot heal. 

24. There is no power in pretending. 

25. When you’re angry, ask yourself, “What needs to be protected?”

26. We can do hard things. 

27. Drink lots of water. 

28.  It is beneath your dignity to maintain relationships with people who do not honor your self worth. 

29. Relationships that you have to keep a secret are not relationships that contribute to your freedom. 

I can’t think of anything else. I lied about knowing 41 things.

==================================

Hey! I’m back four days later, and I’m now too legit to quit, which brings me to my next truth…

30. Don’t quit on your goals just because they are hard or you’re having a brain freeze.

31. If you want to find your tribe, you must first find yourself. 

32. When choosing a life partner, consider first and foremost if the person is right for you (and your kids, if you have them). Family members and friends love to give their two cents, but when it’s all said and done it is you that must live with the person. 

33. Ask for help when you need it. 

34. Set boundaries with people. 

35. Get your “news” and facts from reputable books and research–not television news channels. 

36. Don’t write lists like these. 

37. I know nothing. 

38. Only you know what’s best for you. 

39. After all, I’m a Pokémon. 

40. When trying to decide whether or not you should stay in a relationship or marriage “for the kids’ sake,” remember that you being in a state of unhappiness is not healing for you or your children.  You being authentically YOU is what your children desperately want from you. 

41. You are what you love. So make sure who or what you are loving is good for you. 

Maybe Love Isn’t What I Thought

I bow my head in preparation for Namaste, as I hear my yoga teacher say, “As you go about your day, open your hearts to love.” I cringe. Yuck. I can’t. I don’t want to. When you love, you hurt.

************

I am four years old. I am sitting on the countertop of my parents’ kitchen in Kokomo. My mom picked me up and sat me there because she is about to give me a spoonful of cough syrup. I ask my mom, “What is love?” She looks at me strangely, and cocks her head to the side as she ponders a response.

“Love is…caring for someone. Like, me giving you medicine now. That’s love.”

************

I am 25. I sit in the women’s Bible study at the Baptist Church. I look up at the pastor leading the study. I like her because she tells me what to do and I have been searching all my life for someone to just tell me what to do.

“Love is a choice,” she says. “Pray for your husband. Show him love in your actions. You will not always feel like loving him. But you can make the choice to be loving.”

***********

I am 27. I am lying in bed in my apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. It is 1:00 am. My husband is not responding to my texts. I wonder if he is coming home. I feel crushed because I know in my soul that he simply doesn’t give a damn about how his actions affect me. The words from the Bible study echo through me, “Love is a choice. Make the choice to be loving.”

And so I do. Again and again. If this is love, I hate loving.

***********

I am 34. I look into my boyfriend’s eyes. He tells me, “I more than like you. I think I’m falling in love with you.” I repeat this back to him and believe it, because I feel it. I know it is a feeling, though, and feelings can be fleeting.

When we break up 9 months later, I channel my inner Whitney Houston and tell him, “I will always love you.”

**********

I am 35. I do not speak to my ex boyfriend anymore and barely remember loving him. He is a memory.

**********

I am 33. I see my daughter running at the pool at the YMCA. She slips, falls hard to the ground and has a concussion. I cradle her in my arms and carry her out of the building. I drive her to the doctor. She vomits and then falls asleep as I am driving. When I arrive at the doctor, I run in and tell the office staff through tears, “She has to be seen! Right now!!”

I know she is going to be fine, but I am afraid. I love this baby. She’s all I have. It doesn’t matter what she does. Love isn’t in the doing when it comes to her. It just is.

***********

I am 39. I tell a man I love him. He is not my boyfriend. It is…complicated. I tell him not to say it back because I am afraid he doesn’t love me back. But then I realize I don’t care. I realize I can love without receiving love in return. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because it causes me to love without expectations. It is bad, because I forget that I am worthy of being loved in the same way.

*********

I sit in hot yoga class. I am 40. My teacher repeats the same mantra at the closing of class. “Open your hearts to love.” I realize that I am not cringing this time though. Maybe that’s progress.

Perhaps love is not simple. Maybe it is layered. Maybe it is light and it is dark; sadness and laughter. Maybe it’s supposed to be scary because it requires courage. I am still terrified to love; but I begin to think that love is a lot like faith. When you have faith, it does not mean things will go as planned; it simply means you show up and are open to what may flow out of you and to receiving what comes back.

*********

Today, a week before my 41st birthday, I lie at home in bed, and take out a book I have been trying to read for some time, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love.  “As we demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are lovable and we learn how to love more deeply…We will always learn what we have chosen to teach.”

These words are words I can now understand, but they are still hard to swallow. I want to love but not stop loving myself. Perhaps that is the whole point: what you put out will come back to you. In some way. In some form. No love is wasted.

Happy Re-Birth Day to Me


9 years ago today, after laboring for 30+ hours, my daughter, Aliana, was born via Caesarian section at 7:50 am. After experiencing what my OB-GYN proclaimed to be a freakishly challenging pregnancy, that included sciatica, kidney stones, preterm labor, and gestational diabetes, it was mind-blowing to me that a human this extraordinarily healthy had actually been percolating inside of me for nine months.

On this day, June 15, 2008, I was 32 years old, yet I was just a shell of a person.  I had no personality, no likes or dislikes, and no idea how I had gotten myself into the mess of an abusive marriage.

And now I had this tiny, gorgeous human with a full head of curly black hair, that was staring at me with the deepest coffee colored eyes I had ever seen.  And somehow, those eyes were the only thing that ever could break me of my numbness.  You see, I could no longer disassociate from my life, because that would mean I was disassociating from MY OWN CHILD. 

In the intensity of her gaze, I imagined she was saying to me, “I am here.  I am LIGHT.”

Her existence broke me into a million pieces so that I would be somehow be forced to make a plan to put myself together again, because her eyes–HER LIGHT–showed me that she needed a mama who was whole, and that mama had to be me.

One day, I was giving her a bottle when her father entered the room.   I don’t remember what I had said that upset him so much, but he spat on me.  His spit ran down my face and dripped onto my shirt.  I didn’t react, as I knew that would make it worse, but Aliana did. She screamed at the top of her lungs and she no longer wanted the bottle.  Her screams and her terror reminded me of my own terror–reminded me that I needed to finally be terrified in order to be her mother. My heart of darkness slowly began to crack, and I allowed her light to seep into me.

Her birth was my rebirth, so in many ways, this day, June 15, is sacred to me and forever will be. It is a day that I was also born, as this baby was the one who brought me back to life.

Sometimes people say to me, it’s unfortunate that you and your ex husband conceived a child together, because that means you have to still communicate and can’t be completely unattached. What people who make these comments don’t understand is that if I hadn’t had my daughter, I might still be living in that marriage. Aliana’s existence propelled me into a completely new level of life, because I finally loved a person so much that I didn’t want her to live the way I had been living.  The love I couldn’t feel for myself, I could feel for her. 

Something deep inside of me knew that I could never be the mother she needed unless I could fully be myself, and the journey to self discovery started with her birth. 

Changing lives is serious business, and this girl wasn’t even planning on getting into that business; the universe simply deemed it so.

And for that I will always be thankful. Happy birthday, Aliana. 

Sit Still, Look Pretty

Sometimes it’s hard to be a girl.

“Why do you not want to give me another chance?” I hear the boingy Facebook messenger notification sound, and look down at my phone to see this message.

I am confused by this question, because I already told him why, several months ago. We dated almost five years ago. He broke up with ME. 

Five years ago when he told me that he and I just “didn’t fit,” I drove with my then four year old daughter all the way up to Fort Wayne to visit my aunt and uncle to escape the pain I associated with this statement. But you all know what happens when you try to escape your devastation, right? Those feelings of devastation end up hijacking your body. They cause you to lean up against the kitchen counter in your aunt and uncle’s home and find yourself sinking into the floor because you can no longer stand. The feelings then cause you to crumble and get smaller and weep and suddenly forget that your very aware four year old daughter is looking at you, and tearing up at the sight of your pain. 

Your aunt and uncle distract your daughter by taking her into the basement to watch the Disney Channel. This is good, because you need to cry, and so you do. You sob, crouched on the kitchen floor, with your back up against the cabinet, until you’re tired. 

And then you wipe your face, drink some water, take a hot shower, and realize somewhere deep inside of you, that you are still loved and still worthy of love. The voice that tells you this is very quiet, but you still know it’s true. 

Fast forward to five years later. You receive the aforementioned message from this guy who broke your heart, and you remember sitting on the kitchen floor at your aunt and uncle’s house, and all you can say is what. in. the. f*ck. 

But I (because we all know I’m talking about myself, and not you), decide to provide an explanation. 

“Ummm, you broke up with me. So, I got over you. You didn’t like me getting over you, and you unfriended me on Facebook, which is fine. But now here we are: you are messaging me on messenger because you don’t even have my phone number, and you want to know why I’ve moved on. We are at different places. I don’t know what to say…other than I ‘just know’ I don’t want to date you.”

He is quiet, and confused. Not satisfied by my response, but accepts it. 

The next day I receive this message: 

“Are you just trying to make me feel like shit, talking about how I ‘dumped you’? None of it makes sense. I have far more to offer now than I did then, yet either it’s not enough for you, or an excuse. Are you actually saying to me that you can do better, and that’s why we’re not at the same point in our lives?”

I feel these words like a punch in my gut.  They feel like a snake bite, venom pulsing up my arm and into an artery* flowing straight to my heart. 

I choose not to respond to his message. I move on with my day. And yet, I’m clearly bothered by it. 

You see, I was taught from a very young age that you don’t say “no” to others, if it causes them pain. I don’t know if boys are taught this or not; but I know that lots of girls are. We are subtly taught that being kind means being small and pretending to be happy. We are taught that if we say no, we must say it nicely, and that if we offend or hurt someone with our “NO” that it is our duty to ameliorate that. 

In very subtle ways, we are instructed to be peaceful and pleasant and pretty. We do not rock the boat. We apologize when we forget this, and acccidentally rock it. 
When a girl begins to date, this translates to “don’t overwhelm guys by being emotional or needy” or “if he doesn’t like your personality, you need to tone it down” or “don’t ever initiate anything, ever.”

It all comes down to playing small. 

And the problem with playing small is that when you play small, you are never truly being you. And more importantly, you are never truly free.  

I want to be done with playing small. 

I want to be done with feeling guilty for saying how I feel. I want to be done with not trusting how I feel. I want to be done with not trusting my thoughts and my logic.

I want to be loud and take up space. I want to show my daughter that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to say no, if saying yes means compromising yourself–ESPECIALLY if saying yes means compromising yourself. And while being kind and respectful to others is important, HONESTY and INTEGRITY and BOUNDARIES are just as important. So when it comes down to being nice or being truthful, I will hope she chooses to speak wisdom and truth.

Telling the truth is fundamental to our development as people–into our development of WHO God ordained us to be.

And we were not ordained to be small. 

*(It is arteries that go to our heart, right? Or is it veins? I don’t know and I’m too tired to google it.)

Resentment is a Teacher 

Here’s a quick exercise: 

*Think of someone in your life right now who is really getting on your nerves and/or irritates you. Picture that person in your brain. Got it? That was easy. Now, here’s the hard part: think about what boundary you need to set with him or her. 

The hardest part of adulting is boundaries. I hate them, in fact. I mean, it’s so much easier to just complain about people bugging us, while slowly building up resentment towards them, and maybe even gossiping about them. And gossiping is so much fun, anyways. It’s like, a way to connect with friends, right? Let’s get together and talk about all the people who irritate the heck out of us and how we can’t stand them, but then we’ll be nice to their faces and pretend everything is fine.

Only it’s not fine. Because our resentment continues to build up towards that irritating person or people we have yet to set a boundary with. And so then, we start doing things, like becoming passive aggressive towards him or her. Or snarky. Or confusing. Or we just bottle it up and then gossip about it with our friends, thinking it’s making us feel better, without realizing it’s actually MAKING US FEEL WORSE to complain about a person behind his or her back.

I have spent most of my life believing that if I set boundaries with others, then that made me a b**ch or a meanie or not Christian *** enough. When in reality, that’s all bullcrap. Complete bullcrap. What I didn’t realize is that when I was honest with people, it gave them the opportunity to change, and it also was a way of honoring my truth and integrity. 

I once had a friend who spent years asking me for advice. And I spent years offering it to her. She chose to never take it, or when she did, she ended up telling me how bad the advice was or how “that idea didn’t work for her.” At the time, I was really in the middle of my own crisis, but instead of focusing on healing from that, I was focused on trying to save/help my friend. 

And it became exhausting. And then I was like, “Oh my God, this friend of mine is irritating the crap out of me.” I kept telling others about it and asking them for advice on how to handle her. I was angry and resentful towards her for continuing to suck the energy out of me. But I was actually TURNING INTO HER because I was now doing the SAME, EXACT thing with MY friends. They all told me, “Talk to her about it. Tell her why you feel depleted. Tell her you need to take a break from offering advice. Set a boundary.” 

And I was all like, “Why in the HECK are you TALKING like a crazy person… you think I would actually say that to her face??!! As if! ” 💁🏻

But you guys, here’s the thing. A couple  of my courageous friends basically told me, “You need to either set a boundary with this person or accept her for who she is. That’s your choice. But I’m not going to keep rehashing it with you. It is what it is.”

See what they just did there? They set a boundary with me. And at first I was like, “Fine. Guess I won’t talk to you about how upset I am with this person anymore! Hmph!” But then, after a bit, my ego subsided and I somehow realized what was happening. My friends had called me out on my own bullsh*t.

So after gaining my composure, I called up this friend and told her, “I care about you and I know your situation is not easy. But I can’t give you any more advice right now. I need to get my own crap together. Our friendship is important, and I want to be honest with you. I am still here for you and will continue to hold a space for you in prayer.”

“Lord Jesus, I can’t believe I did that,” I told myself as I hung up the phone. 

And to my surprise, my friend actually understood, even though it was weird at first.  It changed the dynamic of our relationship. I was no longer her psychologist. I was simply her friend. 

And I slowly began to heal myself.  I began to give myself the gift of self care and more time alone, to fill up my own cup so that I could give in love to others. 

*exercise taken from a Brene Brown interview with Chase Jarvis. 

*** and speaking of Christians setting boundaries, did you know that Jesus set boundaries, like, ALL the time in the course of his life? And before you get excited, Mom, thinking I remembered that from Vacation Bible School, I didn’t. I just googled that shit. http://www.soulshepherding.org/1998/07/jesus-set-boundaries/

Go, Jesus! I really like him. He’s been keeping it 💯 since the year zero AD.

I promise you it will suck and then it will be beautiful 

Ending relationships is HARD. I need everyone to just process through that challenging truth for a moment–including me. 😳

Some relationships have ups and downs and are meant to survive and keep blooming. 

Others have a short season, and stop blooming. Sometimes people in those relationships keep watering them, hoping that the plant WILL JUST FREAKING BLOOM FOR PETE’S SAKE. And so they water and water, until it is seeped in water and drowning and can’t breathe anymore. 

What I want my daughter to understand, and what I want myself to understand, and what I want others to understand is that once you make the commitment to being you–it is a courageous act. And you cannot just back down, even though you’re scared. You’ve got to shine that damn courageous light of yours–that flicker–so that the other courageous people on your path can find you. 

Once you make the choice to commit to yourself-which means to love yourself enough to live a meaningful life, grounded in integrity–there is no turning back. And if you try to turn back, it will haunt you. You will hear that voice that tells you, “this relationship isn’t right, or this job isn’t right, or something JUST ISN’T RIGHT, DAMN IT!” 

And it will keep you up at night until you make the change. 

Change requires ending something so that you can begin something else. When something isn’t right, yet it’s comfortable, it’s SO easy to just stay there. You can ignore that voice, right? You can, that is true. But you will never be who you were meant to be, if you continue to live in the comfortable state that doesn’t honor you. 

When my marriage was falling apart several years ago, I started to look for answers. I was like a freaking Sherlock Holmes, going through phone records, looking at receipts in the trash. I wanted proof. I wanted that hard core evidence that I had a reason to walk away. 

My uncle, who happens to be a therapist, (which is very convenient for me as you might imagine), listened to me dissect all the pieces of evidence over the phone, until he finally said, “Emily. You don’t need evidence. Your feelings. Your truth. THAT IS ENOUGH TO MOVE FORWARD.”

Your feelings. Your truth. THAT IS ENOUGH evidence to move forward with change. When you commit to a life of integrity and faithfulness to LIVING OUT YOUR PURPOSE (sorry for my overuse of capital letters, but this is important here), you commit to your truth. And gosh, that truth can SUCK. It can be dark. It can be painful. But it is the only way to the other side. 

You must live your truth so that you light the way for others on your path to find you.

Do you know how hard it is for me to blog sometimes about divorce and being alone and having PTSD and being depressed and then being joyful and feeling courageous ALL AT THE SAME TIME?? It is SO hard, my friends. So hard. That’s why it’s easier to sometimes curl up in bed and drink tea and forget that I have stories to tell. 

But tonight I am showing up and telling you that although I am VERY afraid to end those things in my life that do not fit my truth, that I will put one foot in front of the other and, with much trepidation, actually end them so that I can grow. And guess what? IT WILL SUCK. But I will keep writing and keep doing the hard truth telling as best as I can while I go through the endings. 

I dislike the discomfort of change. I really do. But I’m doing it anyways, damn it. 

And I love you for reading this. That is all.  

I’m Looking for a Warrior

I’m grateful to have cool neighbors. One of them is named Megan. And when Megan and I were talking the other day about men and what we are looking for, she said something that stuck to my brain like glue. 

“You see, I’m looking for a warrior,” she said. 

A warrior. And warriors aren’t a dime a dozen. A warrior is brave. A warrior has integrity. A warrior has character. Megan, herself, is a warrior. She is a hard worker–a highly intelligent, intellectual woman who speaks truth to those around her. 

I realized in that moment that I want a warrior, too. But in order for me to attract a warrior into my life, I must consistently work harder at being one myself. 

And the path to warriorhood includes saying a word more often that I’m not accustomed to saying: NO. 

I have a hard time saying no. Sometimes it’s because I don’t trust myself or my feelings. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to miss out on fun. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings. 

And sometimes it’s simply because I’m not mentally prepared. 

And warriors are mentally prepared. They are tough, even though they may actually be sensitive. They tell the truth, even though it causes others to be uncomfortable. Warriors care about other people, but also practice self-care. Warriors believe in their cause.

I made A LOT of mistakes this past year by saying yes to people when I should have said no, in particular in the realm of  dating. If a man asked me out, I said yes–especially if I were caught off guard. This led to a weakening in my mental strength. I digressed from the path of the warrior, that I had already paved.  

There was a trainer I went out with a couple of times, and then I googled him and found out he was actually engaged. #goodtimes, #thisiswhyicreeponpeople, #imaybeoldbuticanusegoogle

Then there was the 28 year old guy who worked from home, watched animae, went to video game conventions, and only would communicate via text. #idontunderstandanimae, #pleasecommunicatelikearealperson

Oh and I almost forgot about the cop who said he wanted to see me–yet never actually arranged an actual date beyond bringing me carry out from Taco Bell. Yet I continued to talk to him, even though his actions didn’t match up to his words. #sorrybutidontwanttokickitwithyou, #iliketacobellbutnotthatmuch

Oh and I didn’t even tell you about the Jimmy Johns employee who sorta stalked me and the Verizon Wireless dude who pretended that he didn’t have a girlfriend and kept asking me out. I didn’t actually go out with those two, but made the mistake of giving them my number when they asked for it in the spot, because I was afraid of hurting their feelings. 

On a side note, at least Jimmy taught me a new acronym.  

 

I think he meant to text “Gtk.” What I eventually had to do was draft a text to them like this: 

“Hey. This is Emily. I’m sorry I haven’t been more forthright with you from the get go. When you asked me for my number I gave it to you without actually thinking through the implications of it. I am not interested in dating you, and I don’t feel comfortable continuing to communicate with you.”

But all of that nonsense could have been avoided if I had already adopted a warrior mentality. 

So here’s the deal, friends. I am now mentally preparing myself to say no to any man that doesn’t strike me as a warrior, while continuing to work on being a warrior myself. I’m going to practice self care and integrity. When someone asks me to do something that doesn’t align with  my warrior path, I’m going to say, “Thank you for (recognizing me, asking me, etc), but I can’t.” I have found in life that it always helps to have a phrase prepared to spit out when you’re caught on the spot. I’ve already practiced standing in front of the mirror tonight and saying, “Thank you, but I can’t. Thank you, but I can’t. Thank you, but I can’t.” I said it 64 times so far. And it felt really good. 

Maybe you want to come along with me and join me on my path to warriorhood. Maybe you, too, are ready to be your authentic, brave, sincere self. Maybe you, too, need to practice self care. 

Say it with me, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t. Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t.”

I can’t because I’m practicing the courage to be who I am meant to be.