With Apologies To Emily Dickinson

img_0822Hope is a thing with feathers, “ she said,

However, I am not so sure

I carry my hope piggyback style

And the weight’s a chore to endure.

 

My hungry hope eats everything

It’s the least picky eater I know

So carrying it around all day

It has nothing to do but grow.

 

Sometimes it gets too heavy for me

And I drag it by the feet

At times I rest with my head on its chest

Other times, I’ll admit my defeat

 

While carrying Hope around all day

It burns a hole and sears

It scratches at your sanity

And it preys on your worst fears

 

Hope’s words are dipped in poison

On every inch there is a thorn

But if you swallow every word of Hope’s

Your passion is reborn

 

Hope is not a thing with feathers.

Dickinson was wrong

I’ve waited

and waited

and waited

I’ve waited for so long.

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Are Your Relationships Up On Blocks?

Along with our sweet tea, SEC football, and good manners, in the South we also have an affinity for lawn ornaments.  These can range from the occasional flamingo, the weeping angel statues you’ll find in gardens, or my favorite eyesore- the car up on blocks.  I’m not sure why you will see so many cars up on blocks here in the South, but I like to think that it tells us a lot about the person that lives in the residence.  When I see a car up on blocks I have a few thoughts about the person who owns that car, and things that might be true about him or her.  Cars can be a lot like people, and symbolic of relationships.  Some cars can be members of the family and some even have names.  A few questions come to mind when I see a car up on blocks.  Is it fixable?  Is it worth it?

Cars aren’t meant to work forever.  However, if treated properly, they can last for a long time with maintenance.  If a car isn’t maintained, much like a relationship, it will break down and it will not be usable.  When a malfunction occurs it could be something simple, but odds are, if the car is up on blocks than it is definitely a problem much more complex.  Most of the time before a vehicle completely breaks down there are a lot of signs that something has gone wrong.  There might be a little symbol in your dashboard, or there could be a noise you hear when you are running the roads.  Relationship symbols and sounds are a little different when they are signaling trouble, but they are there nonetheless.  Communication is usually the key to both the breaking of the relationship, and also whether or not it gets fixed.

Signs your relationship are headed for a breakdown are easy to spot.  While oil in a car is necessary, the relationship equivalent of oil is communication.  It is the one thing that can help keep everything running smoothly.  As long as communication is open and honest, there is hope to keep your engines running.

Another sign your relationship is headed for a breakdown is the same as if we were talking about a car.  Sometimes, with little warning, something breaks. Something changes. It could be circumstances, it might be something deliberate.  With a car it doesn’t matter if someone cuts your brake line,or someone let the air out of your tire, time is of the essence in figuring out what it wrong and getting it fixed.  The same can be said of most relationships. Getting to the problem is half the battle, but fixing the problem can be the most tricky.

Which leads me to what happens when something breaks? When a breakdown occurs, one thing is for sure.  It won’t fix itself.  With relationships, because there is more than one person involved, this is a complex situation.  In order for it to function properly it is not as simple as replacing a malfunctioning part.  The process can take a long time.  Also, there is the risk that it might never be fixed. Not everything is fixable.

When something has gone wrong you can respond in one of a few ways.  You can try to fix it yourself, take it into the shop, or you can rely on a friend to help you.  As a last resort the car might be beyond fixable, and therefore you might have to make a bigger decision than you first planned.  In rare instances, a car might end up on blocks until you can decide what direction to go in.  Restoration, trading it in, scrapping it, and just letting it sit there are all things that could happen to a car that is in need of assistance.  When a relationship runs into trouble, the options are very similar.

Restoration is the first option.  When a car is a wonderful piece of machinery and it could be worth much more fixed, people will choose to restore the car.  It will require much time, hard work, and probably money, but when they finish what they started, it will be something to be enjoyed for years to come.  Sometimes restoration is a wonderful option in relationships too.  Sometimes with a little tender love and care an old beat up relationship can seem new as long as both parties are committed to the process, and it will be a process.

You can trade a car in, and sometimes that is truly the best option. Maybe you aren’t attached to the car emotionally, and the best thing to do is to just replace it with a new car.  Getting a new car can be exciting and fun.  The same is true with a new relationship.  If the commitment isn’t there, maybe the best option is to get a new one.

Sometimes you don’t need the car, and you can just scrap it.  If it doesn’t work anyway, it’s a great option.  You might not need to replace the existing car, but you know holding on to it isn’t the best thing to do.  This is also true about relationships.  Maybe you are better off single for the moment, or maybe you just need some time to figure things out.

Lastly, you could just let it sit there.  This is the option I refer to as putting a car up on blocks.  This particular choice makes me wonder more than the other options.  Letting something sit there with no progress toward the greater good also means that there will be negative consequences.  Things rarely just sit and don’t get worse.  When a car, or a relationship, is up on blocks it’s not going anywhere, and there are usually no plans for it to go anywhere.  So, why keep it? Sometimes it is the sentimental reasons that make us reluctant to let go.  Maybe a lot of firsts happened.  Maybe you just aren’t ready to have a final decision.  Maybe you don’t know how to fix it, and you are waiting on something to happen to guide you in the right direction.  Perhaps you just don’t have the time to devote to fixing it, but you don’t want to let it go just yet. Whatever the reason, when I found myself pondering this recently, I found myself judgmental of those I knew with those kind of relationships. Then I realized I was in possession of a few relationships up on blocks myself.

I decided that I had been holding on to things because I was scared of letting them go.  I was scared because I wanted to keep them so much, I didn’t care if they hurt me.  For a long time it was worth it to not say how I felt because I wanted to protect someone that meant everything to me, but I knew that in their eyes, it was me that was up on blocks.  The truth is as human beings we are worth the best life we can lead.  It may not be what we want, but maybe things will find their way to make them okay.  So if you are reading this and someone is not choosing you, then choose yourself.  You choose  you, because you are worth it.  A good friend of mine has a dream car I’ve never heard of, but that means there is someone out there for everyone.  You are someone’s dream. It might not always be perfect, but you deserve something amazing.

A relationship is not a trophy.  It’s not a merit badge we wear with our accomplishments.  It’s how we treat another human being , and they in turn translate that into having value to you. You are essentially letting someone know you love them when you are investing in your maintenance. When you invest in a person, you should get a return on your investment.  The value of a car that is being worked on rarely goes down, and the same could be said about most relationships. But if for some reason you are pouring money into the car equivalent of the Money Pit, and you love it with all your heart, but it will never transport you anywhere again, please ask yourself why you are doing that.  At the end of the day, you aren’t going around in circles, you are going nowhere. We all know that it is rare that a car up on blocks ever actually makes it off.  Luckily, here in the South, with a little kudzu we can consider them yard art.

Love Without Fences

  The world tells us a lot of things about love. It tells us that it makes the world go round, is a many splendored thing, means never having to say you’re sorry, conquers all, and is blind. As we all know, most of that is not even close to being true. It doesn’t even matter what kind of love we are talking about. Whether we are talking about love for our parents, love for our children, or love for our partners, or even the many other kinds of love we file under that four letter word, we can surmise it’s a lot more complicated than the trite sayings the media throws at us. I’ve come to the realization that there are two very specific kinds of love. There are people that love you with fences and those that love you without fences.

All of us know that a fence is a divider. It can designate property lines. It can create a barrier between two things. It keeps something separate. Fences can avoid giving direct access to something. We can even tell people they are on the fence. More importantly than whether a fence is pretty or ugly, above or below ground, or made of material that one of the three little pigs would have used is that the fence exists. In order for a fence to exist, someone had to build it. I’ve discovered that when people claim they love people it is too often that their love includes a fence preinstalled.

A fence can be something as simple as expectations given to someone without their knowledge. It can be a test with no rubric that a loved one has no choice but to fail since they didn’t know what was on the test. It might be something they have made up in their mind about you that may or may not be true about you. A fence could be a box they have put you in inside their brain. In my personal life many fences were placed emotionally both for my protection, as well as other people’s protection. What a fence really adds up to in a relationship is conditional love. I will love you when, I will love you if, and I will love you if you don’t – those are all conditional love. Perhaps those exact words aren’t spoken, but implied.

When I first had my daughter I realized quickly that a parent’s love is different from any love I had ever experienced. If someone had told me the moment that she was born that she was going to grow into something disappointing to me I would still love her just as much. In the almost 13 years since then I can still say the same. My child might disappoint me sometimes in her choices, but my love today for her is 13 years larger than when she came into the world and I held her for the first time. That was the first time I think I ever understood love without fences.

Because of this, my view of love changed entirely. I began understanding about this reckless form of love that is all encompassing. It is consuming. It is combustable. It can cause arguments because of the deep level of caring, but those are solved by remembering who that person is to you. Love with wide open spaces to roam is beautiful. That kind of love is the only kind of love that has no boundaries. When you place a fence, you limit love.

Is this kind of scary? Absolutely, it is terrifying. You could lose everything in this kind of relentless, reckless love. You can even lose yourself. This is the kind of love that you want to never stop giving more of it. You wish you could paint a picture of it and use the whole box of crayons. It’s what makes you look at a photo and cry. It’s what changes the way you see a sunset or a sunrise. It makes you fear death. It makes you value life. Love without fences puts beauty in the world that held nothing for you before. It’s honest, wholesome, art, and it can cut you like a knife at a moment’s notice.

It’s a safer world when you love with a fence up. Once I loved my brother with a fence up. He is gay, and we were raised in the South where people tolerate a lot of things with a “bless your heart,” when they really aren’t meaning anything but “glad it’s not me.” My brother is amazing. I never saw him as gay growing up. That was a label and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to label him as anything but awesome. We built forts together out of pilfered landscaping beams,and we tried to swing all the way around the swing set. We listened to New Kids on the Block and Poison in the front yard while took turns on the tire swing. My brother was not just my brother. My brother was my friend. Then we grew up. People placed labels on him and all of a sudden I had a fence between us. I didn’t understand the fence, want the fence, or even like the fence. It took me a decade to tear the fence down. One day I realized sometimes the best gift we can give someone is to let them be who they are and not just the parts we agree with or understand. I don’t have to understand someone to love them.

Something funny happened when I tore the fence down. I got my brother back. I got my funny, amazing sense of humor, kindest person on the planet but WILL kick your butt if you are mean to me brother back. I will never put the fence up again. See, this love with no fences is hard at first, but once you do it, it’s addictive. You want to let everyone be themselves. You start finding things in people you never dreamed were there. If we only loved people for the parts of ourselves we see in them, then that isn’t really love, is it? That’s just you seeing yourself and putting your stamp of approval on it. You put the heart in your relationship with people when you remove your boundaries. You are free to love with all your heart because there is a heart. What people forget is you aren’t going to change a person just because you disagree with them or don’t understand their viewpoint. You will only hurt them, and hurt the relationship. Giving someone permission to be themselves is not just a plain gift, it’s a “tucked behind the Christmas tree, biggest bow you’ve ever seen, beautifully wrapped gift when you think you’ve opened your last one” gift.

I have had friendships and a marriage where boundaries were placed for me. The typical response once a boundary is placed on someone is they place a boundary too. Because if you aren’t willing to be relentless and reckless with love, they won’t either. They won’t assume risks for you, and they won’t ever have the relationship with you that you could have if you’d just let go and love. Boundaries create more boundaries. Wars are fought over boundaries in relationships, just as they are among countries.

My hope for everyone is they can find people to love that love them in the stupid, careless, amazing way that we can love without a fence. I know some of the best times I ever had were the times I erased the line between good and bad, right and wrong, and just was a human with another human. Mistakes will be made, but when you love with no holds barred, rest assured that love will come back around to you and you won’t be sorry you made the choice. Fences might multiply, but so does a love with no boundaries.

Lies I Told Myself and the Truth That Set Me Free Kicking and Screaming

Have you ever told yourself a lie?  Did you keep it up for days? How about months?  I think I reached gold medal status because I told myself lies for years.  I’m not sure how I got away with it, but I do know why I did it.

I am an optimist.  I love smiling.  I love the feeling when all is right in the world around me.  I believe when I see a pile of poop, there has to be a pony in it, right?! But what if that pony made a pile of steaming mess and left? What if that pony is not there anymore?  At what point is optimism actually denial?  And, at what point does that denial turn you into someone you don’t really want to be?

The word denial can mean the refusal of something requested or desired.  It can also mean a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.  The first definition is very simple, but it can also lead to the second definition.  If someone is denied something they really want, they can be in denial about it.  Denial begets denial.  Because no one ever wants to believe something painful, it is easier to just lie to yourself.  The lies we tell ourselves are the ones you have the greatest belief in.  You are invested in those lies more than you are invested in the truth because, let’s face it, the truth freaking hurts.

The first lie I told myself is probably bordering on the limits of pitiful and possibly institution worthy. I told myself my father, after committing suicide, wasn’t actually dead.  That’s common enough, I know.  Lots of people tell themselves that lie when someone they love dies.  I didn’t stop there.  I had a dream about him living in a little cabin at the top of the mountain where he died.  He asked me to come in and told me all about how he just wanted to live up there forever, so he did.  He had handmade all his furniture.  It was a beautiful little dream, and I didn’t want to wake up.  I had to pass the place he died on the way to and from visiting my mom several times a year ,and each time I passed the location where he died I would whisper to him I loved him.  I would visualize him up there on the mountain ridge and not really gone.  Twelve years after I first hatched this lie, I took a walk with a friend of mine to the top of the mountain where my dad died.  It was an emotional walk, and while I knew I wouldn’t find anything at the top of the mountain except nature, I wanted to see for myself.  The truth was hard for me to accept, and I didn’t do it all at once.  It took twelve years for me to admit to myself that there had never been a cabin, and my father had not heard me whisper my love for him all those times I passed.  I knew it all along.  But in seeing it, I finally believed it.

I told the second lie to myself for almost the same length of time and during the same years as the first lie.  After getting married at age 21, I knew almost immediately it was going to take a lot of sacrificial love and patience on my part.  My second lie was that my husband loved me, he just didn’t know how to express it.  I told myself this almost daily.  I read books about love languages.  I took personality tests.  I explained to him with patience how I needed love shown to me, and he just let me know in no uncertain terms that it was not who he was, how he was raised, and what I was asking was impossible.  I knew I had made a choice, and we had kids.  I told myself over and over that love was there.  He just didn’t understand me.  He didn’t understand himself.  Then I picked up my Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Now, you don’t have to agree with the Bible or believe in God to believe the definition of love in those words.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My husband was not patient with me,  and he was unkind about my likes and dislikes.  He was jealous of my friends.  As I kept reading I felt so defeated by the truth.  If he loved me, wouldn’t these things be true?  If he loved me, wouldn’t he be exhibiting proof of the love?  The day I stopped telling myself this lie was the day I started breathing in my marriage again.  Now that I knew the truth, I could save it.  But, sadly, there wasn’t much left to save.  Maybe if I had just stopped believing the lie earlier,  I could have made a difference.  I will never know, and I don’t need to know.  The most important takeaway truth I have from this experience in what love is not, is finding out what love is from the people that do show me those things.   Few people in our lives show us REAL love.  A lot of love is conditional.  People are offering that everywhere.  But I found out just how many people I had that would show up for me to show me REAL love when I needed it most.  Those are the people you keep.  My friends that have shown me patience, kindness, and kept no records of my wrongs I count more valuable than anything I have.  This past year they protected me when I needed it, trusted me and let me trust them, shared my hopes, and held up my head when I just couldn’t persevere anymore.  Grateful will never cover it.  ALL I gained outweighs what I lost exponentially after I stopped lying to myself about what love was.

The third lie was the most difficult lie.  I told myself I can’t do this.  What “this” was differed from day to day.  I didn’t know if I had a job from month to month. I felt like I couldn’t do a lot this year.  Being lonely has been the hardest.  I’ve talked to a stuffed unicorn at times. (Don’t worry, he didn’t talk back.) Each time I told myself I couldn’t do something I knew deep down that it was a lie. I called my mom one night crying and told her I couldn’t do this anymore.  She reminded me that women giving birth will sometimes say they can’t do it just before the baby is born.  The beauty of that set up is they don’t really have a choice by then.  Transitional stage of labor is what happens just before you push.  There is no rest between the contractions.  The pain never subsides.  It’s a constant reminder of what you are there to accomplish.  It is the storm before the calm.  This is when most women will start doubting themselves and want medication and possible mallets to the side of the head.  You feel out of control and disoriented.  You just want this to be over. But you know what happens on the other side of the transition stage?  You get this perfect, new life.  No matter how much self doubt you are dealing with, there is a new life on the other side.  It’s that way with life too.  We can have hope in that nobody ever stays in the transitional stage.  Something new has to eventually be born.  You just have to hold the pushing until it’s time, and before you know it all the pain will be in the past and all you will see is the new. In letting go of this lie, night faded away and I started to see the sun again.

So, I told myself a few lies.  We all do it.  We tell ourselves lies because the truth is just too painful.  Grieving a loss is sometimes a lot more healthy than just living with the lie.  We survive failures.  We can move on from the corner of disbelief and stubborn and have something more substantial. Sometimes we just don’t get what we want.  We could tell ourselves we will get the thing we want until we resemble angry toddlers who think if they say it loud enough it will just happen, or we can just adjust to the truth.  Tucking dreams in for the night is hard.  Tucking them in for a dirt nap downright sucks.  Truth is truth.  It sets you free, but first it puts you in a choke hold, throws a few punches, and makes you want your mama.  I’ve learned the hard way the easiest way to tell the truth from a lie is silence.   When everything is silent, what you truly know comes to the top.  Truth doesn’t change, just like real love.  Both never fail.