Patience To Stay Open

Fear wants us to act too soon. But patience, hard as it is, helps us outlast our preconceptions. This is how tired soldiers, all out of ammo, can discover through their inescapable waiting that they have no reason to hurt each other. In is the same with tired lovers and with hurtful and tiresome friends. Given enough time, most of our enemies cease to be enemies, because waiting allows us to see ourselves in them.” – Mark Nepo

I have a friendship that is in trouble. When I ask my friend questions about herself, she doesn’t answer but instead redirects the question. This is change in our 10+ year friendship. I’m not sure the cause but I’ve supported my friend and her husband through some difficult issues so my suspicion is that it’s more important to her to have a seemingly friendly relationship where I remain “on her side” rather than an authentic one where she has to tell me what’s bothering her or what I’ve done.

Just writing about this makes me a little light-headed. Because it touches on the divide between barely living and living barely. That is to say, I spent too many years barely living when I pretended that life was great and I buried all suffering deep down. Then I discovered that living barely, trying to keep the thinnest possible covering between my heart and the world actually lets more things in and more importantly, more things out.

But just because I want to try to live without pretense doesn’t mean my friend can right now. And what I understand from my tentative attempts to open a space between us to speak is that she isn’t ready to talk.

So I’m trying not to break things in my impatience. To declare the friendship over because I can’t stand the uncertainty or to insert a defensiveness because I don’t understand. Or to assume or imagine anything.

My dad told me of a group of olive farmers he met who owned a prime piece of land in a contested part of the world. Even though they had a deed of property they were regularly hassled by local soldiers. They developed a motto, “We refuse to become enemies.

That phrase has stuck with me of a reminder that no matter what the other side is doing, we can keep open the channel of our hearts. The motto tells me that we can be in conflict without stirring up that fear within.

When something reminds me of my friend, I’ve found that instead of ruminating on the problem with all the dark alleyways of anxiety I can say a quick loving-kindness chant: “May I be happy, may you be happy; May I be at peace, may you be at peace; May I be loved, may you be loved.” It helps keep me from closing down.

What do you do when things aren’t going well with a friend?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Ripple Effect

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

My dad once made a comment that when he focused on a topic for a sermon, there was a noticeable effect on his life. If he was preaching about parenthood, he’d be a better parent for that week. Likewise about being a better husband, friend or citizen as he focused on those topics.

As I was writing my post for Pointless Overthinking this week, The Art of Apology, I found the same ripple effect in my life. Reading through Dr. Harriet Lerner’s book Why Won’t You Apologize gave me so many great talking points for how to sincerely apologize and it also reminded me of the practice of accepting apologies, especially from kids.

Two points that really resonated with me. The first was not to brush off an apology with a “it’s no problem” when someone, especially a child, has worked up the courage to offer one.

And the second was not to use an apology as a springboard to a lecture. Responding to an apology with something like “Well, I’m glad to hear you apologize for hitting your brother because we don’t do that in this family” is the best way to make kids regret ever offering one.

When we apologize, we help heal the wound however slight for someone else. When we accept an apology, we affirm the courage of someone else to voice their mistakes.

As Dr. Lerner says “We take turns at being the offender and the offended until our very last breath. It’s reassuring to know that we have the possibility to set things, right, or at least know that we have brought our best selves to the task at hand, however the other person responds.”

The other day my 6-year-old daughter was making sticker art for people in her life. One mermaid that she made lost an itty-bitty piece of her tail and my daughter said, “I’m going to give this one to Nana. Because even though I lost the sticker, she’s a great forgiver.”

Isn’t that a great way to be known?

Open and Even

Be a fountain, not a drain.” – Rex Hurdler

My 6-year-old daughter recently came home from an extended play date and I had no idea who she was. I mean she looked like my daughter but one minute she was super confident and magnanimously sharing the candy sitting on the table with her little brother. But the next minute she was lying on the floor yelling that she couldn’t get ready for bed by herself, even though she’s been doing it for at least two years.

My take away from this episode is that the line between our big space where anything and everything seems possible and our small space where problems loom large is really thin. And the line seems to teeter on proper care and feeding.

If something feels off — as if one of us is in one of those tight parking spaces where we can’t open the doors, we are cursing those parked next to us and it feels like we have to use a can opener just to get out, I’ve learned to check the basics. Is anyone tired, cold, hungry or wet? And yes, I’m talking about my kids but I’m also talking about myself. Have I meditated, exercised and eaten well? If I have, then 90% of the time I’m operating from my big space.

Ten years ago when I started meditating, I had no idea that sitting in silence for ten to twenty minutes a day could change the experience for all the other minutes in a day. But for me it’s like a daily washing of the windows so that I let more light in and my perspective is brighter. It is a parking space I feel so lucky to have gotten, looks out to the most beautiful vista and I want to whoop with delight.

I assume with my daughter that she was exhausted by having the navigate the ground of relationship in an unstructured play with someone her own age. Grown-ups are pretty easy for her because for the most part in play, they generally will give her whatever they want because no one wants to be the jerk who won’t share a doll with a 6-year-old. But it’s a completely different ball game with other kids. And negotiation is exhausting.

It’s precisely because navigating relationships can be exhausting that I come back again and again to self-care. Because I want to be operating from my big space in case I meet someone temporarily parked in their small space.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Dispelling Shame

What you cannot turn to good, you must make as little bad as you can.” – Thomas More

We bumped up against shame a couple times this past weekend. As always, it left a mark.

The first time was when a group of young kids, including my 6-year-old daughter and her friend were looking into a stream that’s on the way to the salmon spawning grounds. They weren’t doing anything wrong and I believe the grown-up that was with them was making sure they weren’t going to but an activist yelled at them in case they were thinking of stepping into the water.

The second was when my daughter dropped an old iPhone that I’d given her to play with. It’s so outdated that it doesn’t have any value to a grown-up and can’t connect to the Internet but it does turn on and take pictures. She’s old enough now to understand the cachet of a phone and was so excited that she even put on jeans so that she’d have a pocket to carry it in.

But when she discovered that after dropping it a few times the screen had cracked, she followed suit and cracked. Her melt down was in part because she accurately assessed that I wouldn’t replace it. But more than that, she was ashamed that people would know she was a person who couldn’t take care of a phone.

Shame reminds me of an incident when I was 18-years-old. I was with a group of guys in a bar in Idaho. We were too young to buy drinks so we were just standing around when someone who we’d helped tow his boat earlier in the day offered to buy us a pitcher of beer. I was the closest and because I didn’t drink, I said, “no thank you” even though I meant “not for me.” The guys I was with could have killed me. But no one said anything.

This incident still marks me more than 30-years-later because I’ve never talked about it. I felt like a goodie-two-shoes even though I didn’t care – I just misspoke. Even typing it makes me feel that burn all over again. It’s because it’s so trivial and yet I still remember that I know how powerful shame can be.

After the incident at the stream this weekend, my daughter and her friend bumped into each other and they got into a kerfuffle about space. As an observer, it was clear it had nothing to do with who bumped whom and everything to do with discharging the shame of being yelled at by a stranger when they very much like to follow the rules.

The night the phone cracked I sat with my daughter at bedtime and we talked about shame. About how silence and secrecy are the things that shame feeds on and if we want to stop the shame spiral, we have to talk about it lest we give it the power to make us feel unworthy.

As we talked, I realized that I was confused as a parent about which message to emphasize because I think taking care of the things we own is important. But making the distinction between it was bad to drop the phone and being a bad person because she couldn’t take care of the phone was more important to me. Because shame leaves a mark. But how deeply etched the mark is depends on how quickly we can pull out of the shame spiral.  

As a postscript, when my mom came over last night, my daughter pulled out the phone she had hidden when she was ashamed and talked about what was on the phone, how it got cracked and what we need to do to take care of our stuff. It was like getting immediate feedback on a test and we passed. Phew!

Day of the Dead

At some point, you have to realize that some people can stay in your heart but not in your life.” – Sandi Lynn

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dear dad lately. Not surprising since today is the Day of the Dead and next week is the 7th anniversary of when he got on his bike one sunny afternoon, collided with a car and died suddenly.

In his eulogy, my brother said about my dad, “He met you where you were without leaving where he was.” Which rang so true that I’m still in awe of it. As a pastor, my dad stood with so many others in times of crisis and grief – tragedies, accidents, divorces, mistakes. He had this way of being non-judgmentally empathetic without leaving his beliefs or values behind.

When I asked him about it, he said, “Let’s face it, everyone is on their own journey and we don’t get to see everyone at the top of their game.  Some are just getting started.  We only get a glimpse of them at one point in time, some maybe longer, and our job is to love them so they move forward, closer to the Lord and closer to those God has placed in their lives.”

And then my dad added a bit about what an honor his job had been, “One of the unique things about ministry is that you are able to be with people in some of the most precious, important, holy moments of their life . . . birth, death, baptism, marriage, funeral, crisis. A pastor steps in to the middle of someone’s life at those unique times and that is pretty rare.”

There’s something magical that has happened in the years since his death. Our conversation has continued. Maybe because we talked so much about his life before he died or maybe just because we loved each other so much, but there are moments when I feel him “just beyond the veil” as he put it.

And the more it happens, the more I think about what he’d advise, the more he becomes entwined and embodied in me. Our relationship has not ended at all, it’s just become even more true that he meets me where I’m at without leaving where he’s at.

Trust Me

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” – Confucius

My toddler has learned to say, “Help me” when he needs assistance. He pronounces it with a soft “h” so it comes out “elp me” but it still is very effective at signaling when he wants help opening or moving something.

What’s fascinating to me is that even at 2 ¼ years of age, he is already learning some selectiveness of who he wants help from. He’s happy to let his older sister help him open pouches (those packets of apple sauce he can squeeze out and drink down) and fruit snacks because she doesn’t like those and never takes a cut off the top. But he does not want her to help him open candy or toys because she often takes a sample first.

Watching these two, it’s like they are illustrating the concepts of trust from the recently aired Brené Brown Dare to Lead podcast with author and leadership coach, Charles Feltman entitled Trust: Building, Maintaining and Restoring It.

Charles Feltman’s definition of trust is: “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” Wow – I had to listen to that one twice.

And when we choose to trust another person or company, we not only expect that they’ll take care of what we value but do it how and when we want. This makes me think not only of many examples from my career but also of the precious few clothes that I take to the dry cleaners and entrust them to take care of them, clean them and get them back to me on time.

Charles Feltman colors the definition in with several additional factors: sincerity (meaning what you say), reliability (meeting the commitments you make), competence (having the ability to do the job), care (having the other person’s best interests in mind).

The podcast had so many great examples at how we build and also destroy trust at work. Often overcommitting so that we can’t actually meet the deadline or pretending we have competence that we don’t are some of the ways we erode trust. Those descriptions brought back my first year of work after graduating college. I had been hired to build out the computer network for the local electric utility using Union labor from their Communications department. I overcommitted all the time and pretended I knew what I was doing again and again before I learned my lessons to check with the team before making promises.

But eventually my reliability and competence caught up with my care and sincerity and I was able to build and in some cases rebuild, trust. And then I moved on to manage people and experience the other side of the relationship.

All of this gives me great hope for my daughter who wants to be a big help to her brother but can get distracted by what she wants. My kids are learning to trust and to be trustworthy one interaction at a time. They don’t always get it right but they seem to learn a little bit every time they negotiate it as do the rest of us!

Surprised by Joy

To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” – Mark Twain

I was reading a meditation this morning from Listening to Your Life by Frederich Buechner and he was making a point of differentiating joy from happiness. Happiness, he said, is man-made and one of the highest achievements of which we are capable (a happy home, a happy marriage, etc.). And he goes on to speak of joy:

But we never take credit for our moments of joy because we know that they are not man-made and that we are never really responsible for them. They come when they come. They are always sudden and quick and unrepeatable. The unspeakable joy sometimes of just being alive. The miracle sometimes of being just who we are with the blue sky and the green grass, the faces of our friends and the waves of the ocean, being just what they are. The joy of release, of being suddenly well when before we were sick, of being forgiven when before we were ashamed and afraid, of finding ourselves loved when we were lost and alone. The joy of love, which is the joy of the flesh as well of the spirit. But each of us can supply his own moments, so just two more things. One is that joy is always all-encompassing, there is nothing of us left over to hate with or to be afraid with, to feel guilty with or to be selfish about. Joy is where the whole being is pointed in one direction, and it is something that by its nature a man never hoards but always wants to share. The second thing is that joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes.

Listening to Your Life by Frederich Buechner

Reading this made me think of my most recent moment of joy. It was last night. My kids and I had gone for an after dinner walk to see some cool mushrooms that my daughter had found. But in the 2 hours since she’d discovered them and I took a photo, they’d been removed. Then it started raining and my son fell down and scraped up his palms. The whole escapade was a little bit of a disaster.

So we got cleaned up, ready for bed and snuggled on my bed reading books. As I got off the bed and as I turned to pick up my son, I bent over him pretending (but not having to pretend much) that I was too tired to carry him to his bed. We all dissolved into laughter, me bent over like that, my son folded underneath me, my daughter on the bed beside him.

And we laughed all the way into his bedroom where we all sang, even my toddler, Brahms Lullaby as he settled into his crib.

Say More

You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life and what you’ve become yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The other day I was having a conversation with an acquaintance that I know professionally. She was sharing her concerns for her younger son who is starting his freshman year of college 3,000 miles away. Trying to find the balance between listening well and not prying, I remembered a prompt that I’d picked up from a Brene Brown podcast, “Say more.”

It works like a can opener! I’m a pretty good listener but since I think the art of listening always can be improved, I’m always trying to expand two things to make me better: curiosity and space.

My acquaintance was telling me that her son got a nose ring and was trying out partying. Her story had two threads. One was a little bit of a mother’s grief because she thought she knew who her son was and thought that he did too. And who he was, a smart geek, didn’t match with his freshman year antics.

The second was her effort to be open supportive of her son as he grew and changed. As he texts her updates about what he’s doing, she is trying to find the right balance of how to respond. In many ways, she said she wished he wasn’t telling her because she was having to walk the line of condoning what he was doing.

Curiosity and space. It’s what her son is experiencing in these first months of college. It’s what my friend is trying to give her son. It was what I was trying to give her so that she could vocalize her story. Two gifts that allow us to change and to still say more.

(featured image from Pexels)

COVID Crush

We are fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.” – Japanese Proverb

My daughter came home from first grade the other day and announced that Will has a crush on her. “Will?” I asked because I wasn’t familiar with that name. She said, “Yep. He’s from another class but he’s also a number 15.”

Apparently the school has the hearts that they line up on outside numbered. My daughter’s is number 15 and so is her new young friend’s.

My friend Eric calls it a COVID crush and had some other suggestions for other pandemic rom-coms:

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have face masks made of the same material. Breathless in Seattle?

Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet meet at the drugstore while getting booster shots. CVS-ic?

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have to quarantine in the same Irish village. 15 Dates in Isolation?

My daughter told me she has a crush on Will too. Sometimes the hearts just line up!

I Like It!

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” – Agnes Repplier

When I first started actively blogging, I was pleasantly surprised by the email that WordPress sends out. “Person X liked your post. They thought A Randon Post Title was pretty awesome.” But then those “likes” get pretty addictive, don’t they? So I recently I started thinking about “likes.”

If you hit “like” on this post, is it because you like me and generally think I’m a good person or is it because what I’ve written means something to you? And if you don’t hit “like” is it because what I’ve written doesn’t resonate or because we don’t have a relationship?

I know it isn’t such a cut-and-dried thing but if I break it down that way, I think about feedback and what I give away. After all, “likes” are free for me to give, so why not like everything? If I do, do those likes count for much anymore?

I read a beautiful metaphor that Mark Nepo included in The Book of Awakening. He was talking about someone who was interviewing for a job and she said she wanted to jump and down and yell “pick me.” In this way he said we are all like puppies at the pound, dying for someone to pick us and take us home.

But when I perform for “likes,” it can cost me my authenticity. Not always – sometimes it pushes me to do a better job writing and communicating. But I have also found myself at times changing my voice based on who I think is reading. The former is great, the latter is destructive.

I want you to like me. But as I discover again and again, whether it’s blogging, parenting or being a friend – more than important than that is whether I like me. From there, I’m okay with how many likes I get or don’t get as long as I’m telling my truth.

(photo by Pexels)