October 30, 2012

Image versus Vision

I have many thoughts running through my mind. Things I want to talk about. So I'm sifting and sorting and conglomerating. First things first.

I returned from my trip to the east coast on Sunday. The day the hurricane hit. I sat in the airport on Sunday morning kicking myself for not going with the first flight of the day. You always have a better chance of getting out when you start first thing in the morning. Thankfully, we made it out with no problems. As we were taxiing it began raining and the pilot said it was the forefront of Hurricane Sandy. Thank you, Jesus. Just in the nick of time. 

On my flight from Harrisburg to Detroit I read a lot and thought a lot and out of that time something struck me very deeply in the center of my heart. I had just finished reading an article about a practice of reading a mother had with her children. My first thought was how much I'd like to do that. My next thought was, No, don't do that to yourself. Don't put pressure on yourself to be That Woman. The one who does everything always right the way that you'd like to do.

But as I thought about it I realized that I had missed something important in my quest not to be her.


Vision versus Image.

An image is something that's fixed, static, unmoving, unchanging. When I have an image of the type of woman that I'd like to be, there's no bend to her. She's this way no matter what and anything less or different is not her; thus, it's wrong. Translation: I'm failing. Again.

Vision is vastly, radically different. Vision is an idea, a goal, an ideal. Vision is flexible, living, moving. When I have a vision, an idea, of the type of woman that I'd like to be, it's a goal to move towards. It's something to keep my eye on as I move along the path of life.

An image shows me that I'm not there and probably never will be.

A vision gives me an idea of much closer I am than I was last week, last year, 5 years ago. I have something to mark my progress, not my failure.

Philippians 3:12-16 speaks of this as well.

In my desire not to weigh myself down with unrealistic expectations, I don't want to fall off the wagon on the other side. No, I will never make perfect decisions. But I can start to make consistently better ones than I did before. Lord help me if I turn 50 the same person I am today. I'd like to at least have some new problems and said goodbye to some old ones. To know what I'm looking for helps me to better find it.

2nd Peter 1:5-8 exhorts us to add to our faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Just this morning in 1st Thessalonians I read several places in which Paul commended them on their love for one another and then exhorted them to increase still more and more.

If we have a picture (or vision) of the type of person we'd like to be, then, together with the work of the Holy Spirit living in us, we know to add to who we are. If we're excelling in certain areas, fantastic, let's excel even more. If we lack a certain quality, then let's add to it. I love what Lysa TerKeurst said in Unglued, I may not be gentle by nature, but I can be gentle by obedience.

What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Vision will help you, and me, get there.

October 26, 2012

Toxic Friends Part 2

This is Part 2 of Toxic Friends.

(If you didn't already catch that from the title......Clever, those titles.)

I mentioned in Part 1 that I would delve deeper into triggers and behaviors. The book speaks to this so much better so I'm going to limit this to my experience. For me the biggest trigger is simply being in an emotionally unhealthy place but refusing to deal with it. When I'm not handling things how I should (coming to the feet of the Lord, casting every one of my cares on him, having faith when things don't feel like they should, being thankful, keeping my head in Scripture) then I'm a textbook Unglued case. I either stuff or explode depending on who it is. If it's not family, I usually stuff. 

(Family has to love me, friends don't.)

This will play out in my actions in some way. Are my words cutting? Am I refusing to celebrate with another's joy? Am I being passive aggressive? Critical?

I understand that on some level we all deal with insecurity and jealousy. Just last night I finished the chapter in this book in which she talks about that. We can even feel that we've finally conquered all that and be totally blindsided by something unexpected. She makes this point (which I love) of how much it would mean to each other as friends if we took a minute to call those close friends and say something like, "I just wanted to let you know that I think the world of you and you don't ever have to worry that you've said or done something that makes me think less of you. I'll tell you if I think we've crossed wires, you don't ever have to guess. I just think you're amazing and I'm so thankful for your friendship."

How great is that? I love that. 

But what can you do if you're in a relationship with a toxic person? 

You can only do what you can do. You can do everything right and they can still choose to do everything wrong. What you can do is be honest, humble, gracious, committed to loving them, forgiving them, etc. But you cannot force them to see or change. Believe me, I've tried. I've tried directly and I've tried indirectly and the bottom line is only the Lord can turn stone hearts into flesh. If things simply do not change, then it seems the healthiest course is to let the friendship go. 

There's something that I've thought about lately. I have limited time. I'm not crazy busy by any means (thank goodness) but I still have limited time. Which means that the time I do get with my friends, I don't want it to be toxic. I want (need) it to be a place of mutual encouragement and enjoyment. A safe place for both of us. 

I'm in a place in life where I can thankfully say I have that. The Lord particularly this year has blessed me with rich friendship. A Bible study group has become more than that for me. A new friend, recently moved from the northeast. An old friend, recently moved back to town.  

That's what I want. Those are the types of friendships worth cultivating. 

But what can you do if you're the toxic person?

This is a hard one because the answers seem so easy, but they weren't easy for me. Honestly, it took several years past the carnage to see that it really was me all that time ago. Yes, people had done and said hurtful things, but most of it came from me. And sometimes it takes losing to gain. 

If you're wondering if this is you, here's what I would tell you. 

Ask the Lord. Ask him to soften your heart, open your eyes, convict you where there's sin, known or unknown. Sometimes we're in such an unhealthy and sin-filled state that it's become our normal. We can no longer discern sin or wrongdoing and we need the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts with the light of Truth.

If you're isolated, stop being isolated. Proverbs 18:1 says, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment." When we isolate ourselves our Abnormal Normal stays abnormally normal. There's no one around to sharpen and slough off our rough edges. We need community. We need friendship and relationship. And if you think you don't, the abnormal has become normal for you.

There's so much more to this. I would encourage you to get the book.

Let's go forth and be Normal together.

October 24, 2012

Toxic Friendships

I'm sitting on a plane approximately 30,000 feet in the air somewhere over the United States. Interestingly enough, this is the first time I've ever bought on-board Wi-Fi. My thought processes seem a little off. Before, when I worked for the airlines and all our travel was free we refused to pay for anything on-board. Not internet, snacks, drinks. Nothing. Today I reasoned (apparently) that since I paid for this ticket, shelling out even more for Wi-Fi is acceptable. Um? Not sure about that.

But it is enabling me to do this so I'm not complaining.

I've had this post circulating inside my head for awhile and I figure now is as good a time as any to write it.

I'm reading this book by Lysa TerKeurst called Unglued. I've been reading it, putting it down, and coming back to it, so I haven't flown through it like I do most books. She writes about making imperfect progress towards "making wise choices in the midst of raw emotions." Being neither a stuffer nor exploder.

This chapter I'm working on now has to do with others when they're the ones causing damage to us. As far as it's depended on us we've worked to make peace with them but they continue to bring destructive or unsafe qualities to the relationship. She's not talking about abuse, physical or otherwise - that should be dealt with licensed outsiders immediately. She's talking about people who cause your relationship with them to be one that tears you down in some way or another on a regular basis.

Toxic people. Toxic relationships.

She has a great description but I'm going to offer my own here because this is something that really grabbed my attention. Because I have had toxic friendships. Boy, have I had them. And some in the not so distant past. But more importantly, I've been a toxic friend to others.

There was a season of my life towards the end of college and the year after that I was a very toxic person. I was in a very unhealthy relationship and I was doing everything in my power (and not in my power) to make it work. The fallout of it fell on everyone around me. I was stuffing anger and anxiety and a broken heart and it was spilling out through every crack and crevasse in the forms of defensiveness, moodiness, sullenness, hyper-spirituality (can anyone else relate with that one?), anger. Everything was everyone else's fault if they could just get it together for the love of everything good and holy. I was a walking case of hurting people hurt people.

So I'm not pointing the finger here. I've been that toxic friend. I've been that toxic relationship for others. And as I reflect back on my own actions and also the actions of toxic friends to me, here are some common qualities I see emerge:

1. You never know if they'll be hot or cold, up or down, happy or sad to you. And I said to you because you really do feel like you're the target. Before you get together you wonder if you'll be on their good side or bad side, if they're happy to see you or are going to punish you through some sort of passive aggressive behavior.

2. You expect criticism in some form from them, either direct or implied.

3. They make you feel inferior to them. And I'm not talking insecurity, that's on you. But because the toxic person is usually dealing with insecurity or anger or pain of their own, they offset that in some way by making you feel inferior to them.

4. They're unable to encourage you or praise any of your qualities. They deliberately withhold it. I can think of a specific example of this in my own life. During my own toxic season I was flooded with insecurity and I felt threatened by everything, particularly by qualities from a good friend of mine. This friend has a witty sense of humor but I had stopped being able to appreciate it and only felt threatened by it. So when she would say something funny I would purposefully not laugh or try to one-up her. I know this isn't shining a good light on me but I'm trying to be real and, thank the Lord, he's brought me out of that and healed my heart in so many ways. But I'm not above going back to that and I want to be mindful of triggers and behaviors. (I'll expound on that more in a later post.)

5. You feel like the relationship is one-sided. Somehow everything seems to always be about the toxic person.

6. You have to constantly watch what you're saying for fear of attack. Anything is game for a volatile reaction and you never quite know what it'll be.

These are some of the main ones that came to mind as I thought about it from personal experience on both sides of the toxic relationship. In my next post I'll talk about what are some healthy, needed, things that can be done either if you're the toxic person or you're friends with one.

I had a relationship in the not so distant past that really fell into all of these categories at some time or another. I tried very hard to make it work but eventually came to a place where I realized it wasn't a healthy place to be and someone else could be a better friend to this person. What this looked like for me was I simply kept my distance. I didn't initiate hanging out and kept conversations at the surface as much as I could. What I'm learning from this book is that probably wasn't the best way to deal with it. That's stuffing. If I truly was looking for peace as far as it depended on me (Romans 12) then I should have been honest in a kind, loving way that gave this person grace (Ephesians 4) even as I said difficult things. And if nothing changed and they refused to receive anything then I could honestly say I did the right thing and keep a healthy distance.

Ultimately this relationship ended very abruptly (not on my part) and it still makes me sad to think that things could've looked differently if there had been loving transparency and humility on both sides. That doesn't mean that the end would've looked differently but we could have still honored God in it.

Have you experienced a toxic friendship or been that toxic friend? What did it look like for you?

October 22, 2012

Fall, Forts, and Family Pictures

Matt's mom is visiting us this weekend so today we took her to an old Fort. It was a perfect day for it and so much fun. After a full exploration and discussion, we're now voting for a return to the way things used to be. One room schoolhouses. Small cabins. Hard work. Simplicity. (The outhouse set us back a little but we're still convinced it's a better pace of life.)

We explored the whole area, wrapped in Fall paradise.

Micah loved the train. He very sad he couldn't play on it. We were also attacked by a wild dog. (And by attacked I mean he stole our sandwich. And by wild I mean his owner was yonder.) Wild I tell you. Rabid even. Matt was legitimately attacked by a wasp. It got through The Flailing and managed to sting his finger. Why, why, do they exist?

Matt's mom attempted to take some family pictures of us but the boys were not having it, so we settled for lovey-dovey ones.

Visiting made me want to reread my Janette Oke and Lori Wick books. Anyone else? Anyone know who I'm talking about?

Linda heads home today and I already grieve. We pull out all the stops to get her to stay when she's here. Bribes. Enticements. Guilt trips. Nothing's off limits. I'll let you know how that works out.

October 18, 2012

Stewie and Bertha

I've got exactly 7 minutes and 22 seconds to get this post written and published. My mom has my boys for the afternoon to give me time to clean our house top to bottom before my favorite mother-in-law visits tomorrow. (And yes, to preempt your question, she's my only mother-in-law but she's still my favorite.)

But I got to do a practice shoot with some old friends yesterday and I just have to show some of my favorites. Stewie* and Bertha* used to live in my city but moved away over a year ago. Yesterday they were in town and we got to reunite for a couple hours along with their boys who are so close to my boys' ages, I've always been sad they don't get to grow up together.

*not their real names

(I hope that was obvious.)

Some faves.

It was so good to see these guys again.. And seriously, could you ask for a more beautiful family?

Consider joining this site?

Happy Thursday, my friends.

October 15, 2012

A Blossoming Friendship

It has been one of the deepest joys of my life to see a friendship form between Micah and Asher. Asher is at an age where they can legitimately play together, beyond being in the same physical vicinity, but actually playing. Micah has taken on the role of protective big brother like a champ. Not only is he always concerned about Asher but a couple of days ago I got to witness the sweetest thing I've ever seen.

I had my camera on the kitchen table and unbeknownst to me the strap was hanging off the side. Asher, being ever the curious bugger, crawled over and pulled on it, causing my new camera to go crashing to the ground. My immediate reaction was very calm and gracious as evidenced by my, Noooooooooo! Followed up with lots of, No, no, noooo!

I flapped around like a crazy hen checking it over and taking lots of pictures to see if it were acting normal (unlike its owner). Asher sat on the kitchen floor with a confused look on his face (probably wondering how on earth somebody as cute as him could ever do something wrong, of which I agree most of the time).

In the process of this I got to witness the most amazing thing, and it stripped my heart bare. Micah had seen the entire thing, intently watching my every action. While I quickly took pictures, testing different settings, I glanced through my viewfinder to see Micah find a ball (Asher's favorite thing in the entire world), settle down feet to feet with his brother, and very gently toss it into his lap.

Asher, thwow ball? Asher picked it up and threw it back at him.

Good job, Ash-er! You so smarwt!

This happened three times as I sat back on my heels and watched Micah comfort his beloved baby brother in the best way he knew how - catch. Asher's favorite game.

Oh, how it blessed me so. Thank you, Jesus, more than I can say for these boys of mine who bring such goodness and fullness to our lives.

Yesterday we visited a pumpkin patch. I've said it a thousand times, and I'll say it again - I love Fall. Anyone else?

 I love that unruly tuft of hair.

 Matt has the ability to make friends wherever he goes.

 Where's Waldo?

May pumpkin spice lattes inhabit your life today.

(Linked up today with Parent Hood.)