Friends – to be, or not to be

What constitutes a friend? When is someone just an acquaintance? Can you really say that someone is your “BFF” if you’ve only known them for a year? When is it time to admit that they just are not that into you?

I have very few friends from high school. In fact, I have very few friends I’ve known for more than ten years. I’m a little exacting about what makes up a friend. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to be present. And they do have to be kind and considerate.

About five years after I graduated high school a person I knew showed up at my workplace, asking if we were still friends. I would think that she already knew the answer by that point, but we were young and nobody had told us what the rules were about how to have a friend or how to know when a friendship is over.

We’d not talked in years. I was surprised she even knew where I worked. We’d just drifted apart, because we had nothing to hold us together. Leaving the artificial environment of high school does that. Life does that.

The fact that she just showed up where I work rather than calling me first and asking to talk to me was a clue that things were over. Regular friends are considerate of your time.

She wasn’t a regular friend. I was assigned to her when we were in fourth grade. A teacher came up to me and asked me to be her friend because she was a loner. Her life was a bit sad. Her father has died, but before that he had been abusive. Her mom was doing the best she could raising her alone, but they were poor. The already bad start was just compounded. The teacher was trying to help her out by pairing her with someone she thought would be sensitive and kind.

I don’t think the teacher thought about what this would do to me.

It taught me that friendship is about sacrificing your own needs for others. It taught me that friendship is about taking care of others. It taught me that my own needs don’t matter. It taught me that I had to be there for the friend, but the friend didn’t have to be there for me.

I read recently “I’d rather have four quarters than 100 pennies.” The person was writing about friendship and about quality over quantity. When I first read it I didn’t get it. They both add up to 100. Surely it is the same.

But it isn’t the same at all.

Time is precious and life is short. I’d rather have a few real friends than a bunch of acquaintances.

I had a gathering for my birthday recently at a local vegetarian restaurant. I invited about a dozen people. Most were able to come. It was a very good evening. Nobody was needy. Nobody had to be entertained. Everybody there was the kind of person who is comfortable being in her or his own skin, and it showed. Everybody there was the kind of person who knew how to get along well with others, especially ones that they didn’t know.

And I felt better. I’m glad that I’m making healthy choices for myself. I’m glad that the food that I’m putting in me and the people I’m putting in my life are healthy ones.

It has been a long time to get to this point.

Edge – Moses, David, and me.

I always feel that I’m just on the edge of knowing what I’m doing. That if I take another class or read another book I’ll know what I am doing.

I feel like life is a pop quiz. That every day, as soon as I just barely learn something, it gets tested. I don’t feel like I know it well enough to do it yet, but God apparently thinks otherwise.

Look at Moses. He wasn’t an expert. God said “Hey, I need you” and Moses said “You have got to be kidding. Me? Talk to Pharaoh? I stutter. Lead everybody out of Egypt? Me? Who would follow me?”

And yet he did. No training. No expertise.

God likes using amateurs. Look at David. He was just a boy. He was too small to wear the armor that was given to him when he went up against Goliath. The whole Israelite army hadn’t been able to get past this giant. One boy, armed with the strength of God and a rock, did the job.

Why a rock? Why not a sword’? David used a rock because that is what he knew. He wasn’t a warrior. He was a shepherd. He used a slingshot to chase off the wolves that were terrorizing his sheep. This time, Goliath was the wolf. One hit, and he was down.

God uses us like that. The small stuff becomes the important stuff. The underdog wins.

I feel like everything is my teacher. I feel like I’m being fed my lines. I feel like as soon as I learn something, it was what I need to know right then. No waiting. It is a little overwhelming. It doesn’t give me any time to polish my skills.

But maybe that is the point. David didn’t use a sword, he used a stone. He used what he knew. But notice this, he didn’t even bring the stones with him. He went to a nearby stream and found them.

God provides what we need for the task at hand at the time we need it.

It isn’t on us to do the work. It is up to us to show up and let God do the work through us.

Tree pose without doing tree pose.

I know a lady who dislikes going to the grocery store. I understand. I feel the same way. It isn’t all the food. It is all the people and color and noise and choice. It is all too much and it is overwhelming.

She does yoga, so I suggested this – do tree pose, without doing tree pose.

There is a certain deliberate calmness you have to adopt to do tree pose. You have to pull all of your energy into yourself. When you are there, you can balance. You can breathe better. You can stand strong, even though it is only on one foot. You aren’t holding on to anything, yet you don’t need to.

You are strong. You are centered. You are whole.

Do that. But without doing tree pose. The pose is just a reminder. The point of the pose has little to do with the physical balance you gain and the strength you develop in your ankles.

That’s nice too. Not getting hurt from twisting your ankles anymore is a nice side benefit of yoga. But it is only part of it.

The real part is what happens inside. The real part is what happens deep down. The real part is the balance and the centeredness and the calm that you are able to call on when life is too much and too crazy and too full and too much.

The real part is that you don’t even need to stand on one foot to get there once you’ve done it enough.

Victim beads

The last time I went to my spiritual director, we talked a lot about the people who have harmed me in my past. This wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about. I’d rather just jump right ahead into forgiving them. She wants me to pick open that wound and study it for a bit. She wants me to dig down to what I’m feeling. Then dig down below that.

Anger, sure. But beneath anger is sadness, and grief. It is a sense of loss, of not-having, of never-will. It is a sense of something that I think should be mine, isn’t.

This is a foreign feeling, and even more foreign that an expert is telling me to stay with this feeling. Surely I should “turn the other cheek,” right? Surely I should “forgive and forget,” right?

But she says to stick with it. Every month I come back and I’m ready to forgive and she thinks I’m not ready yet.

So, par the course for me I made a bracelet to help me remember. I put a bead to remind me of each person who has harmed me. I did this fairly fast, so there are some I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but fast work means that I don’t overanalyze it.

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I’ve also been writing about how I was harmed by my parents, and also my brother. Writing about it is hard. I don’t want to dig up these old bones. She had me look at that feeling – why do I not want to talk about it? In part it is because I feel like I am betraying them. I feel like I’m being disloyal to them. We aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead. Nothing is stronger than blood, right?

I say that they meant well, that they didn’t know any better, that they themselves were raised badly. She says those are covers. That there is something I’m not looking at. That I need to focus on how I was harmed. I need to focus on that I was harmed.

There is certainly a bit of shame that comes in the mix when using the word “victim.” Am I to blame for what happened to me? Is it my fault? Could I have stood up for myself? Was I too passive? By not speaking up for myself, I allowed it to happen. They couldn’t have known they were harming me unless I said something. To not speak up is to give acceptance.

I hate going to the spiritual director’s. Every month, about a week before, I start to dread it. I don’t want to talk about what she wants to talk about because it is going to be hard. I want to make a list and tell her what we are going to talk about and use up all the time so that I don’t have anything hard to talk about.

But then that wastes the whole point of going. It is like going to a personal trainer at the gym and saying all I want to do is jumping jacks for an hour. I’m not going to work on anything meaningful that way. I’ll have wasted my time and my money. She’s like a personal trainer for my soul. We dig down to uncover broken pieces and blockages.

I read once that the goal in life isn’t to learn how to love. It is to remove all the barriers we have put up against love. I think the person quoted Rumi. I’m sure he said it better.

But look, here I go, walking away from the topic again. I’m a wiggly one, always trying to get away from what bothers me. I guess that is normal human nature. We often try to anesthetize ourselves or run away.

Let’s try again.

It is important to acknowledge loss. It is important to admit that it happened. To heal it, you have to know it is there. And that means a lot of digging.

So while I’m constructing the victim bracelet, I’m realizing that these are all people who have sinned against me. And then I think – what about all the people I have sinned against?

Am I justifying? Am I putting the blame back on me? Am I letting them off the hook? Am I avoiding the problem? Sounds like it.

So I’m staying with this. I’m not through it. I certainly want to be. I want this to be over and done and healed and let’s go on to the next thing and make it a happy one, please.

And I’m running away again.

I’ve heard that grief takes a long time. I’ve heard that you grieve for half the amount of time that you’ve known the person. This is grief. This is going to take a long time. It has grown down deep. And just like digging out privet in the back yard, this is going to take a lot of work and some special tools to get all of it out. Leave just a little bit of privet root and it will come back next year. Cut it down at the top and it will get even stronger and root down further. The only way to get it out is to dig it up, all of it. And the only way to do that is to work on it patiently and thoroughly.

Multi-faith prayer beads.

This is a new creation. These are prayer beads, in a whole new way.

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I took three different sets of prayer beads, broke them apart, and then put them back together again. There is no centerpiece, and there is no beginning or end. They are all connected, and they are all one. I have included a fourth faith tradition as well with the number of beads that I used.

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I have Hindu prayer beads, made with rudraksha seeds, said to be the face of Shiva. These are the knobbly brown beads.

I have Christian prayer beads, from a Catholic rosary. These are the ones that are made with iridescent faceted glass.

I have Buddhist prayer beads, made with bone that has been dyed with the OM symbol, to reference the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”

Then I have put them all together so that there are three sets of 11 beads, so there are 33. This references Islamic prayer beads, which sometimes have 33 beads, which are said three times to complete the 99 names of God.

Four faiths, in one chain, hand linked with copper wire, because it is a conductor of electricity and power.
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We are all one. We are all searching for connection with our Creator. We seek unity.
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Here, now, is a visual symbol of it.

Disagree – words and food

I’m OK with people disagreeing with me, just not all the time. I certainly don’t want people around who only agree with me. That isn’t healthy. It is important to have friends who can help keep you from doing something stupid.

But it also isn’t healthy to have people around who constantly disagree, even if they try to soften the disagreement by saying they “respectfully” disagree. This is like saying I’m going to hit you, so brace for it. It is for your own good.

People who constantly disagree are like food that disagrees with you. If you know that eating pepperoni always gives you heartburn, you will (hopefully) stop eating pepperoni. The pain and discomfort just isn’t worth it. If you go over to your aunt’s house and she always serves you pepperoni, then do you eat it, out of respect to her? What if eating pepperoni was part of her childhood and serving it is how she shows love?

Yet eating it makes you sick. Do you tell her, and break her heart, or do you eat it, and get heartburn? Somebody is going to get hurt either way.

Does it matter who serves you? Are you more likely to take something disagreeable from a relative, or from a long-term friend?

The same is true with words. If you have someone who constantly disagrees with you, you don’t have to take it. Balance is good. If all that person does is disagree with you, you are not obliged to “eat” it, no matter who they are.

Ideally, it would be great if people were thoughtful enough and considerate enough to not “feed” you anything that makes you sick. Ideally, people would be mindful and look out for each other. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to tell people to stop hurting us.

Sometimes they don’t know they are being harmful. Then it is on us to tell them. Then it is up to them.

Sadly, there are people in this world who know what our triggers are and they ignore them. There are people who just don’t care what our needs are and they do their own thing anyway. There are people who feel that our boundaries are suggestions rather than rules. They are the same kind of people who if you tell them you are allergic to a particular food, they will serve it to you anyway.

Whether they do it intentionally or accidentally makes no difference. They are harming you. They are either being malicious or mindless. The result is the same. You are harmed.

Then it is up to you to decide – continue the relationship, or terminate it? Is it worth getting sick to be around this person? You may love them, but by their actions they are proving that they don’t love you. Is it worth that sick feeling you have in your stomach every time you are around them?

Death, or not.

My mother-in-law is dying. Or isn’t.

She has pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed in December of last year. It was stage three, possibly stage four. There is no stage five. She was given until about May. It is now late December. We are planning to have Thanksgiving at her house. We are talking about having Christmas this year too.

A year ago, just thinking about how that particular Christmas was going to be her last Christmas just tore her up. She was very teary. She didn’t think she’d even make it to another birthday, which was in November. She’s made it, and made it better than anybody expected. She’s still driving herself to her doctor’s appointments. She’s still at home, sleeping in her own bed. Hospice has not been called.

The trouble is, she has changed personality, and it really isn’t for the better. She was married young, and married to a very domineering man. She was very submissive. Her own personality was overshadowed by his. She grew up stunted, with all her energy being focused on one thing – the house.

She has spent her entire adult life playing house. She paints the rooms, again and again. She redecorates. She buys knickknacks. Decorating the house is all she talks about. All of her energy has gone into decorating her house. The results aren’t anything exciting. It is hard to believe her life energy has been spent in this way and there isn’t anything real to show for it. It is hard to believe that God put her on this earth to do this.

So she now has become assertive. She still works on the house, but she has gone from being passive to being pushy. She uses the fact that she has pancreatic cancer to push people around. She has cancer, so nobody else’s plans matter. Everyone else has to drop whatever they are doing and drive over and visit with her or do her bidding. She doesn’t ask, she commands. The fact that she has a limited lifespan is always part of it. You’d better do this, or else.

Or else what? She’ll die? You’ll feel guilty that you didn’t spend more time with her?

While I’m glad that she is starting to wake up to who she is, I wish she’d have gotten past the toddler stage a little sooner in life. Toddlers are always about me me me, and they never care about anybody else’s feelings or plans.

The problem is, she is in her 70s. She has had plenty of time to grow up, and she hasn’t. She has had plenty of time to be a productive person, and she hasn’t.

We all are dying. Being born is the beginning of death. None of us have any guarantees on how long we will live.

So there is nothing especially sad about a 70-plus year old woman getting cancer, even cancer that has a high rate of death. Death comes to us all. Many people don’t make it to her age.

What is tragic is that she didn’t wake up to the fact of her mortality sooner and do something useful with her life. What is tragic is that she didn’t stand up to her abusive, bullying husband earlier and leave him, taking their two sons with her. That would have saved them from years of being harmed in every way possible. What is tragic is that she is treating this time as a time to push other people around, when life isn’t ever about that. What is tragic is that when told she had cancer, she kept on decorating her house.

Maybe I’m reading this wrong. Or maybe I’m not. I’m angry at her acting hurt and put upon that she has a death sentence, when my own Mom died at 53. My mother in law has lived nearly 20 years longer than my Mom, and has nothing to show for it. My Mom volunteered all the time. She made the world better for other people. She wasn’t well educated, but she had an open heart and gave constantly. This woman, however, is a little child in an adult’s body.

I’m tired of her. I’m tired of her neediness. I’m tired of how shallow she is.

And I’m sick of myself for feeling this way. It isn’t very Christ-like. It isn’t very nice.

I wish she would have protected her son, my husband, when he was a child. To stand by while your child is being abused is to condone it. I don’t think she understands the depth of damage that caused. I don’t think she understood that her inaction was just as abusive because it translates to abandonment.

I wish she would have grown up sooner. I wish that she would have woken up to the truth of her mortality sooner. I wish that she would have become a human being sooner.

I guess late is better than never, but it still isn’t happening. She’s not blooming very well. She’s stunted and warped from her life, the life that she chose. There is nothing passive about this. She chose to marry him. She chose to continue to live with him. She chose to raise two boys when she herself was still a child. She chose to do what everybody else did rather than think for herself.

She chose to stay asleep.

She’s mirroring what she has seen her whole adult life, living with her husband. Her role model is a self-centered man who beats up on anyone he finds weaker than him. So she is blooming into a self-centered woman who pushes everybody around and expects them to drop whatever they are doing to take care of her.

God help us all.

Bad habit weeds and good habit flowers.

Weeds are bad habits. Flowers are good habits. If you want more flowers, you have to dig up the weeds, sure. But you then have an empty space where the weed was. To prevent a weed going back in, you have to plant more flowers. You also have to weed regularly to keep them from getting so big that they are hard to remove.

We have to be intentional about our time in order to not lapse into bad habits. The New Year is coming, and plenty of people have resolutions. Sadly, the resolutions last at most a month for many people. Who wants to start going to the gym when it is cold and dark outside?

But that is the very best time to do anything – when it is hard. It is easy to quit smoking when things are going well. It is when things are going poorly that the old habit will come back. You have to have a different thing to do to fill that mental space; otherwise that bad habit “weed” will take up residency again. It might even be worse than before.

I have a morning routine that helps me set my day on the right track. I try to do all of it, but some mornings I have less time before work than others. I do as much as I can and I don’t obsess about it. Obsessing about it is yet another bad habit. It doesn’t change anything.

I’ve talked about some of it before, but not in this context. I have added some things too. I offer this as a suggestion – take of it what you will, or none at all. I find it helpful, and I hope that some of it is helpful to you.

When I wake up I’ll say the Modeh Ani – the Jewish prayer of thanksgiving to God for letting me have another day of life. This is a new practice. If I don’t say the actual prayer, I’ll at least be mindful and conscious of the gift of life and health and another day. I think it is important not to take anything for granted. That keeps me in a state of thankfulness and mindfulness. With that mindset, everything is a blessing.

I’ll have breakfast (either oatmeal or yogurt) with grapes and a banana. During that time I’ll check the computer for my “news”. I don’t read regular news because it is so depressing. One day I’d like to see news that is balanced – good and bad, but until then I’ll find out what is going on in the world in different ways. I discovered that starting off the day with negative news made the day start off very badly. My goal is to have the mindset of new day, new chance.

I’ll read the Daily Office – a daily set of readings from the Bible. If left to my own devices I’ll read whatever I want, which will end up being nothing at all sometimes. Having a set structure helps me a lot.

I’ll finish up a blog post I’ve pre-written the day before. I’ll write during the day on my phone or Kindle and email it to myself. When I’m at my home computer I’ll pick one of the posts I’ve started and I’ll finish it up. Sometimes it is something I’ve started the day before, sometimes it is something from months ago that I just didn’t have the desire to work on then. Rarely do posts come fully formed from my head in one sitting. They never come in easy-to-manage chunks of time. I’ve learned I don’t have the time or focus to start and finish a post from scratch every morning. It is jarring to me to switch gears from being creative to having to get ready to go to work, so I create at other times. Waiting in doctor’s offices is ideal.

I pray while I’m in the shower. Every day during my shower I make an intention that that day will be dedicated to God. I try to treat every day as if it is like a retreat. I expect to see and hear from God every day. I know that God is in everything and every time, but this way I’m reminding myself of that. It isn’t that I’m calling God into the day – God is already there. I’m calling myself to be awake and alert and mindful to the presence of God.

After that I go do some yoga. I have a mat out in my craft room and I will practice yoga for about 10 to 15 minutes. During this I will focus more on being mindful and present.

Then I’ll read that day’s page from “Affirmations for the Inner Child” by Rokelle Lerner. These are simple one-page affirmations that are very healing and help me slowly heal myself. I’ve found it is easier to face the fact of my abusive upbringing in little chunks. In my head I want to not deal with it at all, but in my heart I know I need to face it to heal it.

Then, if I have yet more time, I’ll do a “Praying in Color” sketch/meditation. This is yet a further way to clear out my head and connect with God.

Jesus tells us about how dangerous it is to not have good practices in place, in Matthew 12:43-45

43 “When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it roams through waterless places looking for rest but doesn’t find any. 44 Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house that I came from.’ And returning, it finds the house vacant, swept, and put in order. 45 Then off it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that man’s last condition is worse than the first. That’s how it will also be with this evil generation.”

The bad habit, whatever it is, is like an unclean spirit. When you get rid of it, if you don’t have a good habit in the place, it will sneak back in and bring reinforcements.

Winter sunset

There are some colors that are impossible to name. They are beautiful and elusive and fragile.

I seem to be enamored of colors that aren’t really solid. They shift from one to another. If you wait ten minutes they change. If you take a picture it will never look like what your eyes saw. Yet, you still try.

I’ve tried to paint these colors, knowing all the while that they can’t be nailed down. That is part of their beauty. They don’t exist on a paint sample card from Lowe’s. They are several colors at once, and nothing in particular.

The winter sunset is one such example.

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Sleeping cows.

This is the time of year that you see large round bales of hay on farmland. You’re driving along and you’ll look over to a bit of farmland and there they are, haybales.
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Normally, you’d see cows there, but it is fall, and getting colder, so now you see bales of hay.

You either see cows, or you see big round haybales, but you never see both at the same time.

So I have a theory. These are hibernating cows.

They’ve rolled up, snug in a nice warm bundle of hay, and they are going to sleep right through the winter.

Now, you’ll never look at a big round bale of hay the same way again.
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